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Tale of the Tape: PSU v CWU

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Tale of the Tape: PSU v CWU

A bevy of All Americans is just one commonality between the DI finalists. (Photos: Dave Barpal)

How much do you know about Penn State and Central Washington? One is the fall champion, the other the spring champion, and both are vying for the women's DI college national championship. One is the winningest program in the women’s college game, the other is in its first year as a varsity program. But the pair differ and align in many more interesting ways.



The head coaches are eerily similar. Penn State’s Kate Daley and Central Washington’s Mel Denham are Rugby World Cup veterans and were loose forwards for the Eagles. Before taking over their current posts in fall 2014, Daley led DI Notre Dame, and Denham drove DI AIC. The Nittany Lions, however, have a large coaching staff who specialize in attack, defense, forwards, backs, hookers and lineouts, scrums, and strength & conditioning.

Although the players compete on opposing coasts, they cross paths throughout the year, whether assembling for all-star teams like Atlantis or Serevi, or training at national age-grade camps. CWU wing Ashley Rolsma and inside center Queen Fina Toetu’u played with PSU wing Tess Feury and the High School All Americans in Las Vegas. Rolsma also lined up with Junior All Americans Kyla Chipman (8), Katie Mueller (lock), and Gabby Cantorna (flyhalf/center) during last summer’s tour of Canada. Central lock Haley Schafer played with PSU prop Catie Benson and scrumhalf Elena Cantorna during the Collegiate All Americans’ tour of Ontario, too. And that’s only the crossovers since last summer. Work in vets like Cassidy Meyers, Elizabeth Cairns, Nate Serevi, Hope Rogers, Megan Pinson, and Meya Bizer – and that’s a lot of personal familiarity.

Rogers and Bizer were on the 2014 Rugby World Cup team, but Central Washington has players who have been playing together since high school. Meyers, Serevi, Rolsma, Mele Halahuni, Jenny Johnson, among others, all played for Kent; Taylor Duncan and the Pinson sisters for four-time champion Fallbrook; and Angela Ve’evalu and Suli Tausinga are representing the Sacramento Amazons.

Penn State is not a varsity program, but they have all of the benefits that matter – university support, access to all facilities and medical services, healthy booster – the works. Central Washington, as mentioned, is in its first year as a varsity program but has existed as a DII program in the Pacific Northwest for years. The funding that varsity status affords allowed the hiring of a top-notch coach and the injection of quality athletes, some of which were transfer students. The difference in status won’t play out in the 2015 national championship, but it will once these young programs start banking some experience.

Which is what we’ve been seeing from Central these past couple of months. The Wildcats downed Stanford, and then Life and BYU last weekend. In the latter two, CWU had to rally from a first-half deficit to win.

“Going into this weekend we knew that both teams were going to be hard, well fought matches,” Meyers wrote. “Both teams posed different challenges for us: Life had really aggressive pressure on defense, and BYU’s forward pack was very strong.”

Life took a 17-5 lead before Central Washington won 40-17, and the Cougars went up 15-0 before the Wildcats rallied with 29 unanswered points.

“Patience and resilience played a large role in how both games turned out,” Meyers explained. “We had to be patient and see how the game was going, see what was and was not working. At halftime, we made minor adjustments and came back hard.”

Central Washington split its league season between the fall and spring, and then obviously played its post-season in a run-up to nationals. It some regards, that’s a benefit; the team has been building toward this final game, playing some toughies along the way, but also coming into Kennesaw State a little more tender than Penn State. The Nittany Lions contested its entire season in the fall, went on tour in the New Year, played some friendlies and 7s tournaments in the spring. They’re missing that traditional build-up to the final; however, Penn State is arguably the only team in the country that can “get away” it. Penn State knows how to win national championships, has done it nine times – including the previous three.

Finally, Central Washington has some of that “new kid on the block” mystique. It’s pretty remarkable that they’re in the final, and the Wildcats have nothing to lose on May 9.

“I will say that this year stands out to me,” indicated Meyers, who has been vying for national championships since high school and traveling the country with national teams. “We have been practicing for months, and as a first-year varsity team I am really proud of the hard work, passion, and the family bond that has come out of the season. Making such an impact as a team has been something I am honored to be a part of.

“We are all excited and ready for the final,” Meyers confirmed. “Penn State has set the standard for a long time, and it’s our goal to set a new one.”