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Special Moments, Players as Bowdoin Downs UNE for NIRA DIII

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Special Moments, Players as Bowdoin Downs UNE for NIRA DIII

Bowdoin captain Ashlynn Autrey. was a force. Mark Washburn photo.

Reactions to finishing 2nd in NIRA had a story all their own: there was the steadfast stoicism of Army, the tearful regret of West Chester and … for University of New England … joy.

UNE had endured their struggles through the season, and while they hoped and played to win, knew that it would be an enormous uphill battle against Bowdoin. So 2nd place? Heck yeah!

UNE’s effort to unseat the Polar Bears rested on their ability to control possession, their powerful inside runners, and unleashing their main speedster, Meghan Smith. 

It went relatively well. They answered tries from Rebecca Vakarau and Molly Petronzio with a smart quick-tap from No. 8 Alyssa Ehrenfried that identified the open space along the tryline. But with the score 19-5 and the first half winding down, UNE tried to same player for the same quick tap. This time, she ran straight ahead into a wall of Polar Bears (quite the image) and was held up.

End of half, and dreams of a 19-12 lead were gone. When Ashlynn Autrey picked up and dove over in the second half it was basically all over. Bowdoin was too good all over the place.

So … with this report being a couple of days after the fact, we’re into giving you some observations.

1. Bowdoin rarely just made one pass and trucked it up. Every first receiver, back or forward, usually had someone on her hip to give the ball to, forcing UNE defenders to shift their focus.

2. While Autrey, lock and co-captain, was deservedly noted as a key player, her second row partner, Sadie McLean started the game with some huge runs and huger tackles.

3. Vakarau was the MVP with her three tries, and she was effective throughout. Her best effort had to be last in the first half. UNE wing Brianna Dargin went on a run, cut inside, and was caught. Her support was a shade slow and much smaller than Vakarau, who released the tackled player, poached the ball, and looking up identified that Dargin’s absence left the left side (for Bowdoin) of the field open. Off she went, fending off flanker Emily Ramsey (who was just not big enough to reach the No. 8) and scoring from 50 meters out. It was all about awareness combined with athleticism.

After the game, Vakarau wanted to credit her teammates, but c’mon.

“I want to thank my amazing captains Jenna and Ashlynn and they’re just giving such good advice and I know I couldn’t have done this without all my teammates and coaches; I’m so grateful for them.”

That attitude helps make you MVP.

4. There is always a battle between two players from the same position, and usually it’s in the pack. This time it was on the wing. Petronzio is a special player with a nice sidestep, vision, and a good level of physicality. Against her was Smith, who is tiny and was asked to break through and around the Bowdoin defense on multiple occasions. Several times the two met in a collision that left both prostrate on the ground. Smith would drag herself to her feet and angrily wave off any attention. Both put everything they had into that game and both, but perhaps especially Smith because of her size, were enormously brave.

5. The ball movement of Bowdoin comes from the middle. If you don’t have Colleen Doucette and Catherine Patti at scrumhalf and flyhalf giving others opportunities, you don’t have that approach. Oddly, it was Doucette’s one time that she went on her own that illustrates this. The scrumhalf scampered around the ruck and was off for about 40 meters, beating several defenders. But she was always looking for the support, always looking for someone to pass to. Vakarau hauled herself to Doucette’s left and got the pass. Doucette raised her arms in triumph not for herself, but for her teammate.

(That play was also made because hooker Sage Kashner was unable to make the normal pass expected of them, and so instead just trucked it up—the one time anyone did that, and the one time it was needed.)

The names are all over. Center Mackenzie Burke was excellent for UNE and prop Salma Bezzat made some big players. The Bowdoin tight five in general was strong and openside flanker Ella Slaby always was in the middle of the action; the center paring of co-captain Jenna Clukey and Jess Yang kept the UNE defense busy.

And while UNE will be justifiably happy with a 2nd place in the NIRA DIII for a young and developing program, here’s a nod to Bowdoin and their Head Coach, MaryBeth Matthews, who play rugby the right way, think rugby the right way, and are champions, which is no more than they deserve.


See the whole game here>>