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Quinnipiac Heads to First-Ever DI Final Four

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Quinnipiac Heads to First-Ever DI Final Four

Quinnipiac returns to the final four for the second time in the program’s short history, with its debut occurring in 2012. Recollections of that Bobcat squad only amplify the team’s progress in 2.5 years –not only was Quinnipiac playing in DII then, but its stardom also revolved around the phenomenal stiff-arming of Natalie Kosko. The two-time All American is still thudding the opposition, but the team’s two playoff wins last weekend did not hang on her performance alone. The victories against fellow varsity teams Army and Brown have sent the Connecticut team to the USA Rugby Women’s DI College Fall Championship, hosted by ACRA, semifinals.

“No one really expected much of us at the DII level,” Quinnipiac coach Rebecca Carlson remembered the team’s first semifinal trip, “and now going in with some of the best teams in the country at D1, and seeing Norwich on the other side of the bracket as a fellow NCAA program, it's just an exciting time for the women's game.”

The Bobcats built nicely through the playoff weekend, banking a big win against Army Saturday and fighting its way to a tougher victory against Brown Sunday.

Three tries from sophomores Christie Albers and Lindey Wise, and freshman Rebecca Haight gave Quinnipiac a 15-0 lead over Army. But in the 37th minute, West Point lead scorer Kate Roose dotted down from the wing, and Carissa Pekny’s conversion closed the gap to 15-7, giving the Cadets the momentum into the break.

Shannon Durkin and Maggie Myles squashed that potential mood shift with their first tries of the day, and two Aine McKeever conversions pushed the scoreline out to 29-7.

Elisa Cuellar added her name to the box score, and Durkin and Myles repeated their try-scoring performances to build an insurmountable lead. Army’s Rebecca Griswold and Allison Wilson dotted down tries in the final quarter, but Quinnipiac advanced to the next round with a 46-17. Army ended on a high note, defeating Navy 72-12 in Sunday’s consolation match.

Meanwhile, Brown was busy eliminating Navy 41-7 from the playoffs, which set up – surprisingly – the first-ever Quinnipiac vs. Brown game.

Brown’s most exciting attacker, Kiki Morgan, put the Rhode Island side up first, 5-0, but back-to-back scores from Haight and Albers, plus two McKeever conversions, gave Quinnipiac a 14-5 lead with eight minutes remaining in the half. Unfortunately for Brown, captain Oksana Goretaya left the field with an injury. The sophomore isn’t only a motivating force on the field, but she’s also one of the team’s most potent attackers.

Much like Saturday’s game against Army, Quinnipiac surrendered a half-ending try, this time to Amber Reano, to allow its opponent some spirit heading into the break, 14-10.

“Brown had the size on us for sure, and like Army the day before, we took a half to get started,” Carlson said. “Our fitness was certainly one of our biggest weapons, but I think throughout the season it has been exciting to watch many of our players, young and old, make an impact when we need it the most.”

The second half was a thriller, and Quinnipiac turned to some well tested veterans to keep pace with Brown, as the sides traded scores. Durkin and Kosko matched two tries from Brown’s Natalie Klotz, keeping the four-point cushion intact.

But that was the last of the back-and-forth, and Brown couldn’t resurge after Quinnipiac’s fifth try.

“I think one of the biggest moments was when Elisa Cuellar picked off an errant pass from Brown around the 10 meter and dashed through a few defenders to put points on the board later in the second half,” Carlson said of the game’s turning point. “The team seemed to light up after that, and their demeanor changed where they were no longer satisfied with it being so close.”

Quinnipiac logged three more tries for the 46-20 win and second-ever trip to the national semifinals.

“I have to tip my hat to Brown, as they came out with energy, jumped in front early, and then really refused to go quietly the entire first half,” Carlson said. “It was probably one of the most beneficial moments this season – for us to be behind and have to fight back.”

Unlike many of the DI and DII teams still alive in playoffs, Quinnipiac has played close matches this season, thanks to its independent status. The education paid off, and some young players distinguished themselves in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., last weekend.

“Senior captain Shannon Durkin was a locomotive as always but, sophomore Lindey Wise, senior Elisa Cuellar and freshman Rebecca Haight really stepped up at the moments when we needed the points or the key runs,” Carlson said. “My two Wisconsinites, Wise and Haight, showed up big this game [against Brown], and it’s only the start of their young careers as Bobcats. I expect big things from both of them.”

A mountain the size of Penn State lies in front Quinnipiac. The Nittany Lions are the best team in the game and will prove to be the team’s biggest challenge to date.

For the rest of the DI results, click here.

For photos of Quinnipiac vs. Brown, click here.