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Princeton Plays Into Post-Season

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Princeton Plays Into Post-Season

The Tigers beat Boston College 86-10 Saturday. (Photo courtesy Princeton Women's Rugby)

Since the creation of the Ivy League conference, it has always been Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Princeton occupying the top tier of the women’s competition. This year, the quartet pursued different post-season paths beyond the conference championship. All but Princeton aligned with the new varsity championship, which contested its quarterfinals last weekend. Meanwhile, the Tigers, which finished 3rd in the Ivies after a 17-12 win over Harvard, moved onto the DI fall play-in round. The varsity teams lost their respective quarterfinals last weekend, while Princeton defeated Boston College 86-10 and continues onto the DI fall quarterfinals this weekend in Pittsburgh.

Princeton went 2-3 in the regular season, posting competitive losses to the varsity teams and blowout wins against the traditional “tier 2” teams.

“Even though we lost all three [regular season] games, they were to three very good varsity teams,” Princeton coach Chris Ryan reflected. “We weren’t that far off from Harvard in our first game, and I think that proved itself in the Ivy championship. Dartmouth, I thought we were close in the first game, but they killed us in the final four. Their No. 8 – Yeja Dunn – she’s a special player. I’m glad she’s a senior. And Brown was really good, too. They’re the only team that really hits you with both a forwards and backs attack.

“It just makes us better in the end,” Ryan continued. “We were expecting to win [against Boston College] – you have to, otherwise there’s no reason to play the game – but we were not expecting a 76-point win.”

Energy was high on Saturday, which quadrupled as Princeton’s homecoming, the 35th anniversary of the women’s team, and the 20th anniversary of the 1995 national championship. There were approximately 200 spectators cheering on the Tigers as they ran away with the play-in match against the Northeast runner-up.

Always prevalent was Jessica Lu, now a sophomore and with a summer of high-level training behind her. Ryan noticed a difference in her fitness and strength this fall, but more importantly in the breakaway.

“Last year, she really only looked for herself. She’d make a break and wasn’t looking for support," Ryan explained. "But now the whole team’s involved – we’re working hard to support her, and she’s looking for support. Her time away has helped but we’ll really see it once we get to the 7s season.”

Directing the back attack was junior Jochebed Muflam. Of All American 7s quality, the flyhalf has good vision, great ball sense, is an able tackle, and has the power to break out of the tackle and the speed to finish off the try.

The forwards have enjoyed the expertise of Eagle legend Phaidra Knight this fall. She has spent the previous two months instilling not only knowledge but also confidence that they can achieve beyond their expectations. Sophomore No. 8 Keren Kabambi has taken that direction to heart.

“She is maybe playing her 10th game of rugby,” Ryan said of Kabambi. “She has become a force. She’s just a big, fast, strong woman. She’s learning how to run people over and pass around them.”

Princeton is leaning on its depth right now, but it’s starting to dwindle as the season lengthens. Ryan estimated that the squad is 20 players deep when considering injuries and unavailability. But the Tigers are eager to get into the playoffs against Notre Dame. Princeton hasn’t competed at this stage since 2012, when it saw Penn State in the first round.

In addition to the DI varsity teams forming their own championship this year (Nov. 20-22, Brown University), the new Women’s DI Elite has removed the country’s top eight teams from the traditional DI competition. What does that mean? There is a lot more room for DI teams to play in the post-season.

“We wouldn’t be involved in playoffs if they weren’t different,” Ryan said. “While we don’t struggle for money, we don’t want to throw it away on a championship if we can’t win it. I like the new format. I think it hurts the upper level more than anywhere else, as there’s really only four teams that could make the [DI Elite] finals, in my opinion. Ours [DI] is diluted no doubt, but we would not have participated if Central Washington, Penn State, BYU were in it.”

In addition to Princeton, Kent State and Iowa State played their ways into the DI quarterfinals last weekend. The Golden Flashes defeated Big Ten Michigan 24-14, while ISU bettered Northern Iowa 36-24. Click here for the full brackets.