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Winona Forwards Set Up Mankato Win

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Winona Forwards Set Up Mankato Win

What’s new with the reigning DII ACRA champion? Winona played its typically toughest league opponent on Saturday, defeating Mankato 39-7 on the host’s friends and family day.

From the opening kickoff, Winona relied on quick, clean rucking to hold onto possession through eight phases, forcing the Mavericks to retreat deep into their end and allowing the offense to find its feet. Throughout the game, flankers Tori Langhans and Sam Wilcox were instrumental in winning the breakdown battle, and their fitness and speed continually disrupted Mankato’s attempts to build an offense. That security allowed captain Georgia Porter to take advantage of a gap on the weakside of the ruck, and the scrumhalf darted through for the game’s first try.

The forwards set the tone for Saturday’s win. They didn’t just win their own breakdowns and set pieces, they stole Mankato’s, too. Powerful locks Kourtney Kavajecz and Brittany Knight propelled Winona’s scrum, and with Sydney Norman’s quick hooks, Winona stole a bunch of Mankato’s put-ins. The lineouts evolved similarly. Succinct lifting from props Rachel Hunter Schlicting and Kathryn Zahn allowed jumper Kavajecz to contest every throw-in. And the counter-rucking was fantastic, with No. 8 Ashley Pomeroy and Norman providing the examples.

This defensive pressure set up all kinds of scores: Both Porter and Hunter-Schlicting scored after a counter-ruck and quick attack; a stolen lineout allowed flyhalf Nikki Linberg to slice through a slow-transitioning defense; and inside center Lanoira Duhart scored after a stolen scrum, which advanced upfield after Pomeroy and Porter teamed up on the weakside.

The backs didn’t have a bad day either, and Linberg quickly discovered the key to manipulating Mankato’s defensive strategy. Duhart had caused Mankato a lot of problems during the All Minnesota tournament, so the Maverick centers converged on the hard-charger. Lindberg took advantage by looping around Duhart for the tight offload or sending a skip pass to outside center Lindsey Bucki.

One such skip pass put Bucki into open field, spinning through defenders and offloading to the looping Duhart once the wing committed to her. Duhart finished off the effort with her second try. The backs secured their ball as well as their forward teammates, and some quick rucking following a Bucki crash allowed the forwards to form a passing line on the weakside. Prop Zahn showcased her speed and power by finishing off the drive with a try.

The game wasn’t a complete success, however, as handling errors stymied the pace of play at times, and the back three of wings Madison Skalecki (who added two conversions) and Andi White and fullback Lachen Esters were handcuffed by the narrow Mankato field. With the score 39-0 in Winona’s favor, the visitors lost the shutout when an oddly bouncing kick fell behind the Black Katts’ line. Mankato’s speedy fullback scooped up the ball to the 22 meter, and an offsides penalty saw the hosts quick-tap from five meters out for the converted try, 39-7.

Winona will continue its campaign to another Northern Lights conference title this Saturday against St. Cloud, which is also undefeated at 2-0.