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Tour-Inspired UVA Leading Way in East

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Tour-Inspired UVA Leading Way in East

UVA vs Virginia Tech from Sunday. Photo UVA Women's Rugby.

We're coming down to the wire in women's D1 college rugby with the spring final set for April 30 at Aveva Stadium in Houston.

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The playoffs will be split up into an Eastern and Western bracket, with four teams in each playing two games on the weekend to book a place in Houston.

In the East, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Central Florida, and, possibly, North Carolina, will meet up in Annapolis in two weeks. 

Central Florida is coming off a win in the Florida league and also a win at the St. Patrick's Day tournament in Savannah, Ga. and defeated Florida International, Florida, and Florida State (last week). 

Meanwhile, Virginia and Virginia Tech played in the Carolinas Union Blue Ridge playoffs this past weekend. 

Blue Ridge Conference Joins CGRU

Virginia beat James Madison 92-5 and Virginia Tech beat North Carolina 53-14 in the semis.

In the final, Virginia took down Virginia Tech 29-17.

UNC took third and is petitioning to be the four team in the playoffs.

For Virginia, the playoff win came right after a tour to Scotland organized by Irish Rugby Tours, and that tour had a lot to do with the championship weekend success.

"The tour was great!" enthused UVA Head Coach Nancy Kechner. "George Hook at IRT set us up with three coaching sessions that were great. We also had three matches; two were players our age, which we won, and Jordan Hillheads women’s club in Glasgow, from whom we learned many things."

Meanwhile, between the games, the cultural stuff helped teach the players some things and bring the team together. 

"Our tour guide, Andy Plews, made Scottish history and culture come alive. We went to several battlefields and historic places from which we learned about the clans and more history of places," continued Kechner. "Great bonding trip! We also had a senior dinner for the graduating players, which was lovely. Scotland is amazing, and I plan to go back."

UVA came back fired up as a team and could well be the favorite in the East.

Fueled by some talen from area high school programs—flyhalf Emma Auld played for West End and her kicking and ability to set up teammates was impressive. Scrumhalf Clare O’Reilly played at Fort Hunt in high school and has been excellent. 

"Her rugby IQ is really high, and she has the motor to match it," said Kechner.

Meanwhile, hooker Marissa Kaplan is a rock doing the unglamorous work around the field. Prop Bethany Tran Nguyen has been a force.

"Our strengths as a team are that we don’t get flustered, even with our youth," said Kechner. "We still play an open, unscripted game plan that is fun to coach, play, and watch. We think of ourselves as a '15-as-1' rugby team. It doesn’t matter who scores, and the more players involved in any score the better. The team stays loose, they play for each other, and they are unselfish."

Auld and O'Reilly captain the squad and lead with confidence. This is a young team and the captains' roles are key. They are deep, though, and the reserve players bring in an injection of power. Former chess champion Alita Robinson is a bit of a super sub in that regard and it's her physicality that makes the difference.