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Will Conference Strength Influence OSU v Lindenwood?

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Will Conference Strength Influence OSU v Lindenwood?

Saturday will name the quarterfinalists for the USA Rugby Women’s DI College Fall Championship, hosted by ACRA. In the Midwest region, there’s a contrast of Round of 16 games. In one corner, there’s a David vs. Goliath scenario: Long-standing powerhouse and current DI champion Penn State plays young Kent State (read more). The other corner appears similar: Illinois champ Lindenwood playing Big Ten #3 Ohio State, but the relative strengths of each conference have prepared the teams in different manners.

The Big Ten is a long season, but Ohio State got ahead of the schedule and played visiting Canadian university York College twice. York went deep into the Canadian playoffs and won both matches against the Buckeyes by less than a try.

Ohio State then went on to finish third in the Big Ten, enjoying an ideal build-up to playoffs. The Buckeyes experienced a range of competition, from easier wins against teams like Purdue that allowed developmental players to take the field; to nailbiters – like the 17-10 loss to Indiana – that taught the team about grit; to the Penn State blowout, which exposed weaknesses for the good of improvement.

OSU coach Philip Payne graduated some important players last year, but this tough league season has expedited the progress of the young and new. Sophomore No. 8 Brie Rahig is the player to watch. Big, strong and fast, the loose forward has already piqued attention at the national level. Rahig teams up nicely with flanker Logan Sherman, another back row to watch.

In the backs, the center duo of inside center/captain Lindsay White and outside center Cyndi Campbell has proven a handful for defenses, especially when Lexi Getz joins the attack from fullback. The Lakewood High School alum knows a thing or two about high-level matches, as does her sister and teammate Alexis, a former OSU varsity crew member.

Lindenwood experienced a very different fall season. Most importantly, the program hired its women’s coach, Billy Nicholas, late in the pre-season, and he had little knowledge of the squad he had inherited, save a few Lady Lions he coached with Old Blue 7s over the summer. An early-season tournament and friendly against DII Davenport helped the new coach gauge his talent quickly.

“The players were still getting used to the system, and a handful of players played their first rugby match that week,” Nicholas reflected on the 20-5 loss to Davenport. “Since then, we have spent more time together as a team, finding our rhythm and timing on attack, and knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses as individual players.”

Lindenwood then launched into league season and systematically crushed the competition. Sophomore outside center Davon Thomas developed into the team’s biggest scoring threat, and her efforts have earned her a spot on Atlantis’ tour to Tobago in December.

The forwards have come together nicely, led by the bulldozing Morgan Crowell at prop. Nicholas envisions big things for the front row should she remain dedicated to the game. Collegiate All American Kim Shepard is a great presence at hooker, leading the forwards from the front and mentoring a host of freshman poised to surprise the field during the next few years.

On defense, expect No. 8 Tianna Camous to cause a stir.

“She has missed the last two matches with injury, but when she is in and healthy, she is a train on the tracks,” Nicholas said. “She will elevate any player in her path. I’m looking forward to seeing Tianna back out with us this weekend.”

The Lady Lions have received a little extra preparation thanks to good in-house support.

“We had some pretty lopsided victories” Nicholas said. “It's always tough to give your defensive structure a good test when you’re posting big wins. Luckily, we have a great men's program here that put some pressure on us this past week to help prep us for this weekend coming up.

“But you can always improve each week, no matter the score,” Nicholas clarified. “The girls will figure out more things they want to improve – things they thought weren’t right. They are workers, and workers just need time to work.”

Lindenwood will have the opportunity to work hard on Saturday, as it squares up against a very good OSU in South Euclid, Ohio. The victor will play the winner of Penn State vs. Kent State on Sunday, Nov. 16. See the entire DI bracket here