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This Weekend in DI College

College Women

This Weekend in DI College

Navy and Brown play in an important non-conference match. (Photo courtesy Navy Women's Rugby)

The DI scene picks up this weekend, as teams in the varsity, ACRA, and independent realms play some important games.

VARSITY

AIC @ Norwich. The two teams are very familiar with each other; in fact, the programs faced off eight times across the 2014-15 7s and 15s seasons. Norwich will miss the captainship of Emily Oor and Vanessa Champagne, but will be aptly led by All American Hannah Bell from scrumhalf. She’ll launch a very destructive backline, which is always complimented by fast-moving forwards. Riley Blankenship heads the pack, which sees the addition of All American freshman Sheila Decker.

AIC graduated Eagle prop Jess Davis, a founding member of the varsity program. She always caused problems for the opposition, but that torch might have been passed to Canadian Anne-Laurence Harvey. The center scored and converted three tries against Army last weekend in a game the Yellow Jackets lost 29-26. Harvey is a nice addition to the attack, which was forward-driven last year.

Harvard @ West Chester. The Crimson opened up its season last weekend with a round robin against DII Bowdoin College and Canada’s University of Prince Edward Island (PEI). Harvard dropped its game to PEI 19-7, but Girls High School All American Caitlin Weigel scored the first points of her Harvard career. The team rallied with a 15-0 victory over the Polar Bears, sending Taciana Pereira, Claire Collins, and Sarah Lipson over for scores.

West Chester is without 20+ athletes from last year, with graduation, the military, and injuries forcing the roster into the low 20s. Coach Tony DeRemer is worried about depth, especially as the Golden Rams take on an aggressive schedule that accommodates both the Mason Dixon conference and the new varsity league. Key players like All American Adriana Zeiders, Arielle Gantt, Lizzy Groff, and Sophia Schwab are anchoring the squad, while the underclassmen step up to fill some vacancies.

Quinnipiac @ Army. We think Army is a little better than last year and showed some resiliency in last weekend’s 29-26 win over AIC (read more). Eagle Nicole Heavirland is directing the attack from flyhalf, while captain Mariah Caid-Loos is overseeing the lot from fullback. Erica Stipp finished off two tries from wing, while lock Tranelle Patterson and No. 8 Allie McDonald pierced the defense with power. The key for Army will be defense. The Cadets showed some vulnerability on the fringe and over-commitment in the ruck.

Quinnipiac opened up its season with a 41-10 win over Notre Dame College two weekends ago (read more). The center pairing of Norwich transfer Ilona Maher and All American freshman Emily Roskopf combined for six tries on the day. Toss in Maggie Myles at flyhalf and experienced wings like Rebecca Haight and Christie Albers on the sideline, and a very good backline is ready to strike. Maggie Wesolowski was dynamite against the Falcons, and Lindey Wise, Lilly Weldon, and Raechel Stimson are just a sampling of Bobcat forwards making an impact.

Notre Dame College @ Sacred Heart. We ran a full profile on the Pioneers yesterday (read more), and the new varsity program will sample the DI waters this weekend against the Falcons. Sacred Heart is drawing on experience developed in the small-college ranks, and has added a few on-campus recruits who have shown some promise in the early weeks. In Sacred Heart’s friendly win against Molloy Saturday, veteran center Colleen Semenick was good with ball in hand, and junior prop Rachel Mazza has the power to be a game-changer.

The Falcons will be looking for some redemption after their big loss to Quinnipiac, and conditioning appeared to influence the second-half defensive lapse. Notre Dame College was also missing a handful of important starters, so it’ll be interesting to see – if they play – how big of a difference they make.

ACRA

Northeast. With the exit of Norwich, AIC, and Army, the Northeast conference has settled into one tier of play. There are two pools of three: UConn, UMass, Rhode Island on one side; Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern on the other. Each team plays its poolmates twice during the regular season, and plays the teams from the opposing pool once. This weekend, Boston College travels to UConn, while Northeastern heads to Boston University.

Illinois. The big news in the Illinois conference was the departure of Eastern Illinois. The athletic department suspended the varsity program for want of student interest and was preempted by the departure of longtime coach Frank Graziano. Illinois conference commissioner Shawn McKinney indicated that there are efforts to install a women’s club rugby team but that the athletic department is currently resisting such a move.

McKinney has had to readjust the conference schedule and received USA Rugby approval for a special post-season that sees the hybrid leagues DI and DII crossover. This weekend sees Western Illinois take on Northern Illinois, and Illinois face Southern Illinois.

NON-CONFERENCE

Lindenwood @ Northern Iowa. Lindenwood is an independent entity now and therefore will be pleading its case for post-season inclusion with every game. It’s also opening day, so we might see a mix of veterans and newcomers, of which there are plenty. In fact, Lindenwood easily has the largest incoming class, sourced from all over the country, and sporting talent from as high as the Collegiate All Americans (read more).

This game is a friendly for the DI Midwest champ UNI, but the Panthers can’t afford to take it lightly. The program bid farewell to longtime coach Steve Murra last year and has filled the position with a player-coach in the meantime. Three veterans – Dakota Jeppson in the backs, Eileen Lieb in the forwards, and Megan Salyars as utility captain – have taken over practice and leadership roles in the interim. The aforementioned are all dedicated, playoff-hardened players, but there’s no good substitution for a full-time coach.

Brown @ Navy. Brown has a nice set of returners fueling the 2015 fall season. Saskia Morgan is the big name in the backs, but so is Oksana Goretaya. The pair make a great scoring duo out wide. Influential seniors Tiara Mack and Amber Reano, and juniors Lauren Oxendine, Sofia Rudin, and Daisy Alvarado-Munoz all have game-changing power. Saturday’s game against the Midshipmen will be a nice tune-up for the Ivy League, which kicks off Sept. 19.

Navy and Brown share a nice relationship and routinely play each other. The Midshipmen, who also compete as an independent team, have seen a couple of head coaches come and go in recent years, and that has affected success on the pitch. With that said, Navy has 44 players CIPPed right now, and there’s no worry that the Annapolis team won’t regain its former stature once a coach firmly establishes a presence.

Stay tuned for a look at DII colleges ...