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Making Sense of Women College Playoffs This Fall

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Making Sense of Women College Playoffs This Fall

Action from the NIRA DI final Dartmouth vs West Point. Mark Washburn photo.

As with the men's college rugby, women's college rugby has several postseason pathways this fall and we're coming to a head with all of them right now.

Small College

Women's Small College championships have not changed, as they are overseen by the same (albeit name-changed) organization—what was NSCRO is now NCR. December 4-5 will see the semifinals and finals. Wayne State is the #1 seed and got a bye to the semis. Northern Michigan upset MSU Moorhead 74-16 to get to the final four and face Wayne State.

SUNY Cortland beat University of Rochester and then Endicott to make the semis, and they will take on Lee University, which beat Loyola of Maryland 37-17 to get there.

These teams will play semifinals on Saturday, Dec. 4 and the final and the 3rd-4th game on Sunday, Dec. 4. All games at Knoxville, Tenn.

Nothing about this has changed from how small colleges play in the fall.


The American Collegiate Rugby Association is a group of DII-level women's conferences that operate their competition the way they want—Tri-State, MARC, Rugby Northeast, NEWCRC. They invited the Rocky Mountain Conference to send teams to their playoffs and so five conferences sent eight teams to Poughkeepsie, NY for their playoffs.

ACRA Quarters: Vassar, UVM, Coast Guard, Temple

Vassar took on Coast Guard in Sunday's semis and won 36-20 behind Emily Howell's four tries, and Temple edged Vermont 19-17 so it will be Temple vs Vassar in the final. That final will be part of CRAA's Championship Weekend December 4 in the Mathews Sportsplex just outside Charlotte, NC. 

"To earn a win like this every player has to contribute," said Vassar Head Coach Tony Brown.

Grace Skakel was powerful in the tackle and Lauren Thompson was also a defensive force and MC Cicenia made a key try-saving try.

Women College Scores Around the Country

"The team has been reliant on a defense first approach and valuing possession," said Temple Head Coach Josh Pedrow. "The ladies have also come together as a family and it shows on and off the pitch."

Only nine of Temple's gameday 23 are returning players, but they have learned quickly. Scrumhalf Gen Cohen has run the show superbly and first-year players Addie Acker and Patrice Musoke have been picking up meters every time they touch the ball, and flanker/lock/scrumhalf (really) Honor Burke has been excellent wherever she plays. 

"She’s not only played extremely well but has been a calming presence on the pitch," said Pedrow, who added that No. 8 Miranda Kenny "is like having a coach on the pitch. She has an extremely high rugby IQ and sees the game so well." 

So ACRA's championship isn't technically a women's DII championship, but it's pretty close. There are teams that play DII-level rugby and will play in the spring. They won't be ACRA.


The vast, vast majority of teams and conferences that switched to working with NCR for this fall previously competed in USA Rugby's DII competition. NCR has dubbed it their DI.

These teams will join the Small-College teams in Knoxville. Life University, which is fielding a largely freshman and sophomore team, won comfortably over Syracuse and Clemson and is in the semis, facing a Marquette team that edged Iowa State and then soundly defeated Grand Valley State 41-12. Northern Iowa slammed North Dakote 120-5 (!) and UW Eau Claire 66-7; they will take on Notre Dame College. NDC beat Roger Williams University 39-7 and Colgate 57-10.

Led by Mary McLoughlin, Alivia Leatherman, Aviana Matteo, and Raina Perciak the Falcons took control early despite freezing rain. 

"Conditions were by far the worst I have ever seen for a rugby match," said head coach Jack Nece. "I have played in snow before, and I would've rather had that than what we faced. The girls showed determination and strength to overcome the elements, fully knowing there was another match the next day."

On the plus side, "we experienced the best officiating we have had all year, and it helped us learn what to expect going forward. Though it resulted in a few too many penalties in the first half, it allowed us to adjust and learn for the next match."

Behind some excellent work from Leatherman and Kelly Wallenhorst, NDC won on Sunday, too.

"For a program coming out of the COVID shutdown and barely having enough players to compete in a 15s season to have this much success is an attribute to both the players and the coaching staff. Everyone has bought in to the system and the program and with that level of comradery, we will be tough to face going forward."


The vast majority of women's DI conferences are playing as part of College Rugby Association of America. We've got our final set for Dec 4 at the Mathews Sportsplex, with Davenport beating Colorado and Utah State by a combined score of 142-36. Navy had a tougher road. They beat UConn 44-17 and then followed that up with a tight battle, 17-7, against Northeastern.

That game was interesting in that Navy controlled much of the possession and territory in the first half, and came close to scoring tries on two or three occasions, but couldn't get it done. They led only 3-0 at halftime. No. 8 Sarah Skinner remains a key factor in Navy's attack and their ability to get and retain possession.

Northeastern rallied in the second half, and got their best scoring chance about 13 minutes into the second half, and eventually scored off a chargedown in-goal and took the lead 7-3. Northeastern's defense still held on until 11 minutes left when the Huskies gave up a penalty, and then ten more minutes for preventing a quick tap. Eventually Northeastern didn't retreat on another penalty and Navy got a penalty try. Northeastern, amazingly, didn't get hit with a yellow card as well. Up 10-7 Navy kicked, chased, got the ball back, and pounded it over to seal the game. But it wasn't a done deal for Navy until the final minutes.

D1 Elite

The D1 Elite teams are Lindenwood, Life, Central Washington, Penn State, and BYU have been active this fall but they will be playing for their championship in the spring. The results among these teams this fall should be taken with a grain of salt because lineups will likely be different in the spring. But, these results might be an indication of the pecking order.

CWU played BYU and lost 20-17, and Lindenwood, and lost 36-7.

Along with beating Central Washington, Lindenwood beat Life 41-24 and BYU 92-3, and beat Life 34-5. 

Life, going 0-2 vs Lindenwood, also beat BYU 59-20 and Penn State twice.


The competition of NCAA varsity programs had their finals this past weekend with Dartmouth beating Army in DI, AIC beating West Chester in DII, and Bowdoin beating University of New England in DIII.

Perfect: Dartmouth Wins NIRA, Goes 9-0, Over Brave West Point — Watch Game Here>>

How AIC Won NIRA's DII Final — Watch Game Here>>

Special Moments, Players as Bowdoin Downs UNE for NIRA DIII — Watch Game Here>>

That's six different competitions to keep an eye on.