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Game Plan, Unity Sees Davenport Through

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Game Plan, Unity Sees Davenport Through

Davenport celebrates. Sophie Harris photo courtesy USA Rugby.

The feeling that this might be Winona State’s year seemed justified on Saturday evening.

WSU had, after all, powered past Coast Guard using their powerful backline, while Davenport had all they could handle against Vassar.

But this is a two-game weekend, and Winona State didn’t really have a deep bench - most of their subs were new to the program, and they only dressed 19 for Sunday. And sometimes teams match up differently. Vassar, with their slight but fit forward pack, send student body forward over the ball on pick-and-goes. The plan was relatively successful, were it not for Davenport’s quick-strike ability. 

But Winona State’s plan was different - they were going to run Megan Wolff and Lachen Esters through the backs, and key on Davenport’s superb outside center Daniel Ordway. It didn’t work. At all.

The reason was that Davenport adjusted quickly. They knew Ordway would be double-teamed, and so moved to other options. They ran their big props Allison Miedzielic and Veronica Overbeek right at the Winona tacklers, and on defense, clogged the middle, daring Winona to go wide.

In the rain and the cold, Winona State might have done well to kick and chase, but instead they ran cutback moves all day, and the Panthers defended it without too much difficulty.

And when Davenport went to the backs, they used different weapons. Flanker Hannah Garcia burst through on a crashball and scored in the early going. She did essentially the same thing at the end of the game, too. Inside center Tressa Keim hardly ever passed to Ordway because that option was blocked to her. Quickly she realized that keeping the ball and powering through contact, or linking with other options, like Madison Sparks on the wing, was the way to go.

It was that sort of game - adjust and survive. Davenport adjusted extremely well.

If there was one heroine of the day, it could have been Ordway for quietly taking her medicine and letting others get the glory. It could have been Hannah Tennent, the accurate and calm flyhalf who slotted four conversions and two penalties, getting full value for each touchdown and making Winona State pay whenever possible. But for many, it was ultimate game MVP Brenna Donahue. The openside flanker was a sure thing in the lineout, messed up Winona’s lineout, cleaned up garbage around the field, and was a tackling machine.

“That’s what my job is,” said Donahue.

Scrumhalf Olivia Ortiz, who scored a try and was a sparkplug in a game of intense physicality, said it was about unity of purpose. Coach Greg Teliczan and his staff had identified an approach, but also needed the players to pursue what worked, and keep at it. 

“For me I am just searching for the ball and finding who is calling for it and seeing what the defense is like,” said Ortiz. “We’ve got a structure and we stuck to it and even if they shut it down for a short time, we stick to it and it shows on the scoreboard. We kept the ball flowing and that opened up gaps. We’ve really been working on our defense, as well.”

Davenport is “only” the fall champion, meaning if it works, they could play the spring champion for a national title. Regardless, they are the best DII women’s college team in the country. A bunch of Midwestern kids - nine of the starting 15 are from Michigan - who play together, and play smart.

“It is an honor to be on this team,” said Ortiz. “I came here wanting to be best rugby player I can be, and I couldn’t have picked a better school.”

Women's DII Fall Final

Davenport 37
Tries: Garcia 2, Sparks, Ortiz
Convs: Tennent 4
Pens: Tennent 2, Ordway

Winona State 0

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