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Drama Throughout In NIRA Finals

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Drama Throughout In NIRA Finals

Alex Goff photo.

The National Intercollegiate Rugby Association crowned three champions Sunday in a day that showcased how much the women’s college game has come with the increase in the number of varsity teams.

Two of the three finals saw the team that led at halftime was not the team that won, and while the wind had something to do with that, it was also a testament to the competitive nature of the games.

Played at a very cold Mignone FIeld at Harvard University, on a day where wind and snow made it very difficult for cold hands, all of the teams showcased some impressive skill and plenty of commitment.

All three games can be seen on ESPN+

Tier III

Just as they had in their surprise semifinal win, the University of New England Nor’Easters scored very early, using power-running center Mariah Chase to scythe around and through the Bowdoin backline. Chase fed wing Katie Berger, who walked the tightrope down the sideline to score with less than two minutes gone.

But Bowdoin started to control their defensive line after that, and used prop Saifya Osei and lock Ashlynn Autrey to ask questions in tight.

It was a thundering run from Osei that got Bowdoin close, and then quick hands out to wing Molly Petronzio, who eluded the chasers to go over.

The game settled down a little after that, with New England looking to capitalize on some pressure, and Bowdoin’s defense holding firm. 

A lineout-and-drive following a penalty got Bowdoin close, and then after Petronzio was caught this time, flanker Amber Ramos picked up, saw no one was behind the ruck, and drove on through.

That made it 10-5 Bowdoin with 17 minutes left in the first half. Then a thing of beauty. From a scrum in the middle of the feld, scrumhalf Sara Nelson controlled the ball as it shot out of the back of the scrum. She popped the ball to flyhalf Catherine Patti, who was flatfooted, but had a plan.

Fullback Sophia Karris was coming in hot from the right side to go left. Patti fed her the ball, UNE was caught a little confused, and Karris was gone for a blazing 60-meter run for a try and a 17-5 lead.

Then from the restart, Bowdoin advanced again and spotted a mismatch, and outpaced some UNE forwards to go 50 meters for a try and a 22-5 halftime lead.

The second half was much slower, as UNE tried to find a way through, and Bowdoin held on. After a long period defending their line, the Polar Bears broke out, with Petronzio beating four UNE players to go 80 meters down the left-hand sideline.

That finished it off and Bowdoin won it 27-5.

Osei was named the game MVP for her domination in the scrum, he massive hits on defense, and effective running in tight that set up several positive moments for the Polar Bears.

Tier II

In a dramatic game West Chester came back from a 14-0 deficit to beat Brown 15-14. Brown was led by center Abby O’Keefe who was their most dangerous runner and most punishing tackler.

Prop Erin Jessop was also strong, asking questions of a West Chester defense that seemed more concerned about committing penalties than just resetting and defending.

Penalties led to Brown turning a defensive position into an attacking one, and it was O’Keefe who made the key break before dishing to No. 8 Zyana Thomas. She fended off two to gallop in for Brown’s first try.O’Keefe also made yardage before Jessop cut through five Rams to race toward the tryline. 

The only defender left was fullback Lauren Madlian, who made the tackle, but it was high. Penalty try, 14-0 Brown.

West Chester continued to be less-than-smart in their defense, getting penalties they didn’t need and as a result the hard running of Heather Spangler and decisive tackling of flanker Juah Toe went for nought.

WCU was also trying to unleash center Autumn Czaplicki, but Brown’s defense kept her bottled up.

IN the second half, things started to change. It was Brown that was committing the penalties, and from one that led to a lineout, WCU scored. Flyhalf Kylie Corliss gathered a bounced pass and sent a flat ball to Madalian, who was screaming into the line. 

She took off for the corner, was caught by fullback Lexi Nelson, but offloaded to wing Corinne Gallagher, who finished it off in the corner.

That put a little spring in West Chester’s step, and that seemed to translate into better defense, and a decision to stop trying to poach or counter-ruck when it wasn’t on.

Still it took a while for West Chester to make all of that positivity count. Little errors close to the goalline kept it 14-5 well into the final quarter. Finally, though, the Brown defense broke. A snappy kick from Corliss bounced around and with wing Kelsey Diabo chasing, the Brown backs barely rescued the situation.

Not for long. A key counter-ruck by West Chester produced the turnover, and center Haley Spangler kept her balance, pushed off a tackler, and was in. 14-10. Four minutes later, Madalian countered on a kick and Spangler then fed Czaplicki for another try out wide.

And while 14 minutes remained, Brown couldn’t keep the ball as West Chester’s defense, sparked by the addition of sub Tina Kimmich, tackled harder and harder. 

That’s how it ended, as West Chester survived a bit of panic to win it 15-14.

Madalian was named the game MVP for setting up two tries and for being solid under the kicks and on defense.

Tier I

Army and Harvard got through a good-old slugfest in the snow that ended with a championship for Harvard. 

Both teams slammed into each other and that produced more than a few injuries. Army flankers Naomi Colin and Nicole Wantlin were active all over the field. Harvard centers Brogan Mior and Sofie Fella were very effective.

Held up in-goal twice, Army West Point finally got over after flyhalf Alex DiMarco and fullback Sam Sullivan combined to set free wing Damaria Morton. Mackenzie Borchers converted from a tough angle for a 7-0 lead.

But Harvard battled well against the wind. While DiMarco kicked repeatedly and for distance, the Harvard backs were able to find their way back. This happened even after fullback and goalkicker Milan Roberts had to leave injured. Her replacement, Freshman Alex Pipkin, filled in admirably.

With about five minutes left in the first half Harvard No. 8 Robyn Beese got the Crimson going with an eightman pick.

A huge run by Fella also put Pipkin over, but Harvard finally did score as Beese crashed over. This cost Army more than the five points. Borchers and prop Kaz Lewis smacked heads as they tried to make the try-saving tackle. Borchers left for a head injury assessment, and later returned. Lewis was bleeding from her head and while she left the field under her own power, she did not return.

So 7-5 to West Point at the break, but Harvard had the wind and the likes of Mior and other backs started to use the boot.

With scrumhalf Cassidy Bargell controlling the tempo and with Mior starting to break tackles, it was only a matter of time. Harvard camped out in the Army half for the better part of 20 minutes, but could not seal the deal. Finally, a breakthrough by lock Lucy Jacobsen got the Crimson right in front of the posts. Army infringed, and quickly captain Emily Prentice stopped a quick-tap and ordered a penalty attempt. Mior put it over, and Harvard led 8-7.

From the restart, West Point pressured, but Harvard got the ball back. Prop Achele Agada and Prentice at flanker took it up, and then a long kick stuck Army back in their 22. 

That turned the momentum around. Army was stuck in their end again, and couldn’t get out, partly because Harvard was very good at handling the kicks. With eight minutes to go a run from Hellander set up a link with lock Erin Wright to Agada, and the prop was over.

Up 13-7 Harvard could still lose it but Army had to press. And so as the Black Knights tried to make that steal or interception to get that crucial try, Mior set up Dom Cantave for the try that put it away. 

It was a brave performance by both, but highlighted by Bargell at scrumhalf for Harvard, and Mior, the Alberta, Canada native who was named the game MVP.