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Why Davenport Won

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Why Davenport Won

Happy Panthers. Austin Brewin photo.

There's more to this story than just who won. The women's DII championship matchup turned out the way it did because Tulane, who won the Spring Final, couldn't make it - so we're going to talk about that for a second.

Now, the reason Tulane couldn't make it is because, really, they came out of almost nowhere to win the Spring, and just flat didn't have the funds to turn around and travel again to play the final. This is understandable, and until USA Rugby has a real TV/webcast contract that brings money into the equation to help with travel costs, we'll run into this issue every now and then.

Of course, the other reason is that, if you label a playoff Fall National Championship and Spring National Championship, you get teams saying "hey, we won a national championship," when really what you did was make the final. The Tulane team got annoyed at this writer for pointing that out, but it's true. Tulane is not the national champion. Neither is UConn, the DI team that opted not to show up for the big final in the spring. UConn is also annoyed at me, because they said I was being "elitist" by suggesting they spend some of the six months between beating Air Force in the fall and the May 7 final to fundraise to get there.

In UConn's defense, I've been insulted before, and I'm OK. And also, they claim to have informed USA Rugby in November that they wouldn't make the spring final. This may be true, but several within USA Rugby were expecting UConn to show, and those several were also a bit miffed to find out that it wasn't so much graduation, as initially claimed, but money, that was the issue.  And since, as we pointed out, UConn took a tour to Scotland, it was clear they weren't handcuffed when it came to funding a trip (yes that trip took years to plan, but they had six months to plan for a trip to California). 

The lesson, then, is this - if you call something a championship, teams might not be motivated to risk that championship by playing an extra game. So the Spring Champions Tulane didn't have the funds to travel - we get it - but they also liked being champions, which, had they played Davenport on May 7, they wouldn't be anymore. Same goes for UConn. We've seen them play, we've seen Virginia and UC Davis. Hard to imagine UConn beating Davis or Virginia. 

(I've got some pushback on this statement so I think I should clarify - in general, calling something a Championship when you've got another game to play seems a little weird. That's my point, and that's USA Rugby's problem. I don't think Tulane or UConn dodged the May 7 finals - I think UConn wanted to do something else, and Tulane had already spent much more than they expected to and had no money left - a place many rugby players have been and can sympathize with.) 

So USA Rugby has to work on the nomenclature if they're going to split the seasons. Or, they split the seasons and leave it at that.

So to Davenport. Dominant, dominant Davenport. No one looked close to them. They are powerful. Alley Miedzielic is an intimidating runner, and while Veronica Overbeek, their other prop, isn't quite there yet, she's a freshman. She will be. Julia Mayer is as classic a #6/captain as you could hope to see. Hunter Moreland was the MVP, scoring a crucial early eightman-pick try and scoring two more. My hero of the game was probably flanker Brenna Donahue, who cleaned up messes, made smart passes, and just did little smart things all day to dominate over a plucky, intelligent, interesting, and overmatched USC team.

Davenport in white. Austin Brewin photos.
Davenport women v USC - Austin Brewin Davenport women v USC - Austin Brewin

In the backs, Dani Ordway scored four tries, and said it was all about the team setting her up. Not all - she's got some pace, does Ordway, and she sees where the gaps are. But she's got a perfect wing-woman in flyhalf Ashley Byrge. The sophomore from Utah knows how to play flyhalf. She knows how to attack. She knows how to make everyone else better. She may be playing DII, but she's got big things ahead of her if she wants them.

So why did Davenport win? Because their forwards were much bigger than USC's. Their strength in contact allowed for offloads that, for other teams, would be 50-50 passes. They could kick ... several of them can kick ... and thus they could turn momentum back in their favor. (Fullback Hannah Tennant also kicked 16 points with five conversions and two penalties - contrast that to the DI Spring Final, where Virginia and UC Davis converted only one of nine tries). Their scrum was dominant, and they have the kind of culture where a talented athlete like Jori Smith or Brenna Donahue or Julia Mayer can put her ego aside, clean up the scraps, make the tackles, and leave the glory for someone else.

I don't know if Davenport can move to DI. Who would they play? They may be quasi-varsity, but Davenport is still a local college (12 of their starting 15 are from Michigan). If you could magically come up with a conference of teams within driving distance for them, they'd jump at it. So, instead, Davenport showed up, shut up, and wore opponents down. They certainly love to play rugby, and that is the most important thing.

So here's the small story of USC. Tulane couldn't make it. Humboldt State couldn't fill in. So Spring #3 USC said, OK, we're in the middle of finals and we might be able to cobble together a practice or two (it turned out to be only one), and we'll pack up the Trojan-mobile and drive up, sure. They trickled in on Friday night - slowly thanks to a mudslide on I-5 and some Byzantine detours. But they made it, all smiles, all ready to play. They were too light, and didn't run with the confidence they needed. They needed a stronger kicking game to make Davenport run. So they lost ... big. No surprise, really. But they pitched up, made the trip, didn't cry, didn't apologize, and showed up. This is their post-game picture (Austin Brewin), showing that they have the right attitude. They're glad to be here, and we were glad they came.