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Towson Ties, Shocks Salisbury

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Towson Ties, Shocks Salisbury

Towson tied Salisbury 24-24 on Saturday. (Photo: Linda Zee)

Towson has struggled the last few seasons. After an incident with the university in fall 2013, the women’s team was placed on probation. The club was still allowed to play its matrix matches in the DII Capital conference; however, the coach was fired and certain strictures were placed on the team. Inconsistency followed, numbers dwindled, and Towson spent the next two years toward the bottom of the league.

But the team didn’t fold, and when the probation lifted this fall, the remaining members launched an aggressive recruiting campaign to revitalize the group with new, talented players.

“They definitely feel like they’re back,” said coach Sara Nittinger, who came on in late fall 2013. “They’ve put it all behind them and are ready to move on.

“The team’s mentality has changed,” Nittinger added. “They had a pre-season meeting where they outlined expectations and how they wanted attitudes to change. I’ve seen a lot of improvement and intensity; it’s been a dynamic change.”

Towson won its first two matrix matches – 31-0 vs. Catholic University and 20-15 vs. UMBC. Salisbury, the traditional leader in the Capital’s North Division, awaited in week three. Salisbury had opened up its season with a 41-5 win over UMBC, and defeated Towson 54-0 last fall.

“After our first two matches, we knew we were going to do well this season,” Nittinger said. “We had every expectation to take it to Salisbury in our first home game of the season.”

Towson fields a decently sized pack, and its backs are small and quick. Four of the six starting backs are rookies; they just happen to be gifted athletes. The team is rooted in captains Rose Kalala and Sandy Zvitkovitz, Towson’s No. 8 and scrumhalf, respectively. Other impact players include sophomore fullback Masha Romanchak, senior flanker Nicole Melchione, and inside center Miracle Davis.

Salisbury took the pitch with a few players out of position to account for missing captain and flyhalf Jess Barnhart, who is also the main goal kicker. The program has never been low on numbers, but since it’s expecting to lose 15 players to graduation this year, the team’s been focusing on developing the rookies, which comprise a third of the team.

Still, Salisbury has the incomparable Kathryn Todorovich at No. 8 and fullback Mariah Hackett, among several other important veterans. Both players made names for themselves during last spring’s DII championships.

During Saturday’s match, Salisbury got on the board first, but then Towson answered, overtook the lead, and stayed ahead until the final five minutes of play. Salisbury had sent Todorvich, Hackett, and outside center Rayne Trowbourst across for tries, and wing Jessica Werth had added a conversion to trail 24-17 with minutes remaining.

“Salisbury’s scrum was pretty immovable and the No. 8 was very difficult to take down,” Nittinger compared the teams’ areas of strength. “But they couldn’t match our backs’ speed. All of our tries came from our backs.”

A clutch try from Salisbury prop Teresa Alvarez pulled the visitors to within two, and Werth slotted the all-important extras for the 24-24 tie.

The teams translated the outcome differently. For Towson, tying the strongest team in the division was a victory, and a mark of how far they’d come. For Salisbury, Saturday was a game it has typically won in the past, so the team dealt with some shock, some anger, and then moved on.

"The pace of the game on Saturday forced us to play more-than-fundamental rugby, and we did just that,” reported Salisbury halfback Ashley Chafin. “It was frankly challenging, and we knew it would be going in. We knew Towson got better than they have been in years past.”

Both teams are good candidates for the Capital conference playoffs, which will occur on Nov. 7-8, but nothing has been decided yet.

“We're hungry,” Chafin confessed. “Losing on a national stage to UC-Riverside in April left a really bad taste in our mouths. Our focus now is playoffs. We've taught our rookies all they need to know and we trust them to step up on the field. We're going to put a ton of points on the board in the next two weeks and look forward from there.”

In other conference news, American defeated Catholic 57-5 and will pose good competition for Towson and Salisbury in the North division. In the Central Division, George Washington gave Mary Washington a good fight but ultimately fell 32-24. And in the South Division, the two NSCRO teams beat the DII teams in cross-divisional matches: William & Mary defeated Virginia Commonwealth 33-7, and Longwood bettered Old Dominion 47-22.