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Quinnipiac, First Varsity Champion

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Quinnipiac, First Varsity Champion

The Bobcats defeated Army 24-19 in the final. (Photo courtesy Quinnipiac Athletics)

The National Collegiate Women’s Varsity Rugby Association (NCWVRA) season culminated Sunday, as top-ranked Quinnipiac and Army competed for the first-ever title. The pair had split regular-season games by a total of five points, and was best suited to produce a match worthy of championship status. The teams didn’t disappoint, and after a couple of lead changes, Quinnipiac prevailed 24-19 for the trophy.

Quinnipiac coach Becky Carlson suspected that the fourth quarter was going to be influential, and so the team focused on its 80-minute defense. That stamina had really only been tested against Army, Life, and Central Washington this fall.

But before Carlson could test that theory, the teams had three-quarters of a match through which to battle. Quinnipiac took the first lead after sending freshman Emily Roskopf across for the five points. Army took the lead three minutes later, as Kaeleigh Warfield dotted down and Nicole Heavirland added the conversion. The Black Knights pushed their lead to 14-5 after 24 minutes, as Heavirland converted her own try. But by half’s end, prop Karee Helgerson bullied over for a Quinnipiac try, 14-12 to Army into the break.

Quinnipiac retook the lead minutes into the second half, as Raechel Stimson finished off a Flora Poole breakaway for a try, and Madison Gegeckas added the conversion, 19-14.

There the game stood as the 70-minute mark passed. Lindy Clark came through for Army, scoring her team’s third try, 19-all.

Eager to halt that Army surge, a turnover ball moved to Roskopf, who promptly scored her second try, which ended up being the game-winner.

As predicted, late-game defense proved to be a decider.

“EIU transfer Jessica Maricich stepped up her defensive game,” Carlson thought of the standouts. “She was priceless and pressured that first ball out of the ruck. Karee [Helgerson] scored in the game. Some of that was due to the fact that they expected us to spin the ball wide. She was able to take that inside drive and score.”

At the center of the Quinnipiac offense was scrumhalf Mason Johnson, who had the weighty task of propelling her team through two muddy games. She was named MVP for her efforts.

“The conditions were about as soupy as they were on Friday,” Carlson said of the slippery pitch. “When your scrumhalf goes into something like that, you just hope that you can get some good ball. Each pass was flawless. You can’t ask for more than that. And our vision on the field, that was largely due to her communication with the flyhalf and forwards.”

"This has been an awesome season, regardless of how the final turns out," Army coach Bill LeClerc had said after his team's semifinal win. "We played 14 games – the most we’ve ever played in one season. Things are looking promising – we have freshmen at halfback, winger, and fullback – and we played a lot of good rugby. We tried to play the hardest schedule we could, play the best – that’s what you have to do if you want to be competitive and be in the conversation."

For Carlson, the coach couldn’t help but reflect on the process that made the championship possible.

“This was a collective victory for the [NCWVRA] group and women’s rugby – that was the first thing I thought of,” Carlson said. “Obviously it’s a big thing to bring a national championship to our school, but we wouldn’t be standing here if our group didn’t have those weekly conference calls, make those hard decisions – which weren’t always unanimous. A lot of times, programs are so starved for resources, that when they want to do something well for the game, they end up doing what’s best for their own programs – because they have to. Our group, we did things for the betterment of the game.”

That will be a guiding principle as the NCWVRA reconvenes and starts looking toward the future of the varsity league, especially as new, young programs prepare to join in fall 2016. But for now, it’s all about cracking open that crisp new record book, and relishing the first entry: 2015 - Quinnipiac 24-19 Army.