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Navy Clamps Down on Davenport to Win CRAA Women D1 Final

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Navy Clamps Down on Davenport to Win CRAA Women D1 Final

Aimee Dalsimer captained Navy along with Sarah Skinner to a national championship. Colleen McCloskey photo.

Navy shut down a talented Davenport offense to win the fall CRAA Women’s D1 championship with an impressive team display Saturday.

Held as part of the CRAA Fall Classic held at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews, NC, the final was a tense affair throughout.

Davenport’s pace out wide was unmistakable as moments into the game wing Lauren Peterson reeled off a massive run around and through to set up a Davenport chance. Navy held off that attack but a few minutes later fullback Megan Bird sold a summer and fended off another defender as she raced 60 meters before passing to wing Grace Gohl for the try.

Navy seemed to be in trouble, but after that try Navy’s perimeter defense adjusted.

The Midshipmen came back, using a smart ball-control attack that relied heavily on lock Rebecca Peasley and flanker Aimee Dalsimer to keep things going forward. With centers Marissa Meyer and Charlotte d’Halluin making some ground, they provided ample assistance to the redoutable Sarah Skinner.

The Navy No. 8 was able to stride out of tackles and carry other tacklers with her. Eventually Davenport infringed in their 22 and Skinner tapped quickly and just charged through a slowly-reacting Panther defense to touch down. It was 5-5 after 10 minutes.

Navy followed the same formula to get close, although a cutting run from Meyer and wing Jiji Kim got them into scoring position. Then Peasley picked up and was over, and Navy led 10-5.

Davenport kept working the outside with wings Peterson and Gohl, along with outside center Abigail Kowalczk making great gains. But they were generally hauled in, with Kim and especially right wing Ana Olszewski making key cover tacklers, and fullback Siena Hall and the likes of flanker Morgan McPeak getting involved too.

Finally, though, Davenport was able to turn one of those runs into points, camping out in the Navy 22, using their scrum dominance, and then sending big prop Olivia Farkas through from close range. Flanker Ashleigh DeWitt, who was brilliant defensively all day, hit the extras and Davenport led 12-10.

Time was winding down in the first half when Davenport hooker Abigail Jaramillo was penalized for handling the ball on the ground. Skinner tapped quickly and Jaramillo was standing right there, and couldn’t resist tackling Skinner. The hooker got a yellow card for that, Navy charged on, and some snappy ballhandling opened up a chance for  Olszewski, and the wing raced into the corner.

Navy led 15-12, and then another blow for Davenport. 

A counterruck from Dalsimer and Meyer, which Meyer picking up and galloping 30 meters.

Meanwhile, back at the ruck, the Davenport forwards had fallen heavily on the prone form of scrumhalf Aubrey Crist. There was a clear injury of some sort to Crist’s back. The medical team took care of Crist quickly and she was unfortunately taken to the hospital in an ambulance (UPDATE: We have been reliably informed that, fortunately, Crist was not seriously hurt).

The loss of Crist was a tough blow tactically for Davenport, who were forced to move center Adilene Ochoa to scrumhalf and while she did well, it was a change that certainly affected Davenport’s unity on attack.

The second half was almost entirely Navy working the phases and getting into scoring position and trying to punch it in. Davenport’s defense was brave and organized, and didn’t flinch. But the dam finally broke, with Skinner getting through a tackle and stretching over. Navy would hold on 20-12.

Several players made crucial contributions. Davenport No. 8 Bethany Gable was a handful and then when she had to move to hooker while Jaramillo was in the sin bin the Davenport scrum didn’t miss a beat. DeWitt put in a ton of work and Val Goldsmith made key plays. But Bird never really got the space she needed after that one early play and that hurt the Panthers.

For Navy, performances came from a few unexpected quarters. Forced to come on early at prop for the injured Eliza Herring, Joy Ochieng decided to just hit rucks and win ball and her contribution could hardly be overstated. Olszewski turned the tone of the game around by injecting some bravery and physicality in her battle with Peterson and she ensured Navy wasn’t burned badly on the outside. At scrumhalf Yandina Giles urged and cajolled her forwards with the confidence of a future Naval officer and her in-game leadership was a massive reason why Navy dominated possession.

Watch the Fall Classic games on-demand

“We focused a lot of ball retention after halftime,” said Dalsimer. “We stopped doing some of the things that were making us lose the ball. We focused on pining them low and hard in the tackles.”

“The idea was to try not to let them get the ball to their best players as much as possible,” added Head Coach Murphy McCarthy. “We weren’t doing a good job of that in the first half, but then we kind of settled in … we cleaned up our act where we were kind of not playing that well in the first half.”

Two tries and an MVP for Skinner was not unexpected.

“Tap-and-goes are my favorite thing to do, especially when they’re not ready,” said Skinner. “Especially on the one on the side and I ran into the girl and got her a yellow … if I can do it that’s the first thing I’m going to do.”

For Davenport it was a season of tough injuries—they lost some impact forwards to injury earlier in the fall—and Crist’s injury is especially worrying. But they are a talented group and will be back.

For Navy, this was a special season but also an indication that McCarthy has found a special combination. 

“They were ready for this game and they were determined,” said McCarthy. “They were here two years ago and they had that [losing] feeling in the locker room and they were not ready to have that feeling in the locker room after the game again. They dug in and fought hard; it was grit.”