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WSU Holds Off Cal

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WSU Holds Off Cal

Washington State and Cal played in the closest game of the day. (Photo: Jackie Finlan)

Washington State is onto the next round of Pacific Mountain Rugby Conference playoffs, having defeated Cal 37-22 today in Palo Alto, Calif. The win is essentially a berth into the spring Round of 16 and Sunday’s game against Stanford will determine where the Cougars fall in the lineup.



The Cougars have some fond memories at Steuber Rugby Stadium, the sweetest of which was winning a DII championship before graduating to DI. Some of those DII trophy-wielding players are still here – Anne Peterson, Sammie Pedersen – but for the majority of the squad, these high-level games are something new. But the young squad handled itself well today, unleashing an aggressive pack – highlighted by Allesha Reyes, Gillian Fejes and Josie Markoff – that was solid in the tackle (and prop Sarah Young's inserts in the line were brilliant), and a Peterson-fueled backline that saw two freshmen wings – Sierra Lewis and Alex Denzinger – stand up to a very good Cal backline.

“Cal stood up pretty solidly,” WSU coach Conor Bollinger-Smith compared the Bears to PMRC North competition. “Central Washington’s a good team, so they’re good preparation for something like this. But other than that, Cal could hang with anyone else in our league.”

The game evolved in spectacular fashion – something the day’s worth of playoff games lacked. The teams traded tries – Reyes and Peterson for WSU, matched by arguably Cal’s two greatest offensive threats – CJ Whiteside and Stacey Wong. But after that score from Wong, who later left the game due to injury, Washington State started to pull away.

“We stuck to our game plan, won our rucks, kept the ball in hand – that helped settled things down,” Bollinger-Smith said. “Rugby is a simple game, so it’s all about fundamentals. Win your rucks, catch the ball, make your tackles – and you’ll probably win the game.”

Cal’s tackling started to degrade, and WSU ran in two more tries before the break, 27-12, and picked up the second half with a Monae Hendrickson try, 32-12.

Just when the game seemed to get out of control, Cal hit another surge of cohesion. Wing Eva Roodenrijs and All American scrumhalf Jess Lewis scored tries, and it was a game again: 32-22. Strangely, the team did not appear reinvigorated by the score. Washington State jumped on the opportunity and answered right back, as Peterson dummied through the defense and offloaded to wing Lewis for a long try, 37-22.

The remainder of the game stayed in WSU’s end, but Cal could not convert on the possession. Although the ball moved from sideline to sideline, positive meters were difficult to produce. Some of that was Cal, some of that was resolute defense.

“It was a grind,” Bollinger-Smith said. “That was scary from the sideline and that took a lot out of the players. But that’s a testament to the players’ heart, that they didn’t roll over and give up.”

A big test awaits tomorrow.

“We’ve never played Stanford. We’re excited,” Bollinger-Smith said of Sunday’s semifinal. “I watched them play today and I think we can hang with them. I’m not sure if the team they played today had their best game either.”

The Stanford vs. Washington State semi kicks off at 3:30 p.m. PT. UC Davis and Central Washington play at 1:30 p.m. PT.