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Young Bowdoin Forwards Lead Way to NIRA DIII Title

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Young Bowdoin Forwards Lead Way to NIRA DIII Title

Photo Justin LaFleur.

Bowdoin took the NIRA Women's DIII Championship Saturday in a 29-0 shutout of University of New England, but don't let the scoreline fool you, it was a tough slog for the Polar Bears.

Held at Dartmouth College's Burham Field in Hanover, NH, the DIII final was played in cold but sunny conditions, ideal for a team that wanted to move quickly. The game was shown live on ESPN+.

The Nor'Easters of UNE pressured right off the kickoff and Bowdoin was under really difficult for the first sequence of the game. While a nice attacking lineout was lost by UNE, they did block a clearance kick and threatened to score. Finally, though, Bowdoin got out of trouble thanks to their powerful scrum that forced a penalty and allowed the Polar Bears to clear their lines.

Penalties hurt UNE after that and while the Nor'Easters looked to go wide using elusive fullback Jo Robinson, the support wasn't quite there and Bowdoin got a holding-on penalty.

Bowdoin took a scrum there and then after another penalty opted for the lineout. And that launching pad flanker Kyra Bishop surged on. Her forward mates came in to recycle quickly and then Bishop was there for the return pass and the opening try. UNE responded with Robinson and flankers Elizabeth Goodrich and Liz Cogan making excellent yardage. And with scrumhalf Celeste Velerio working hard they were back inside the Bowdoin 22.

But the half ended with no joy for UNE and that was perhaps crucial. It was 7-0; had they lost their chance?

Certainly winning consistent lineout ball was a worry for UNE, while Bowdoin had to be hoping the young side, a team Head Coach Marybeth Matthews said made her enormously proud for their resiliency, would not get frustrated.

In the second half both sides looked to run more. Once again UNE looked close to scoring and marched into the Bowdoin 22 only to be stymied. Wing Saniya Ridley made a key tackle to save a try, and the young Bowdoin forwards, led by Bishop, prop Joja Markella, and Len Dodge at lock, pulled up their socks and defended their goalline.

Off a scrum the Polar Bears ran a planned move that was backs Katie Stomma, Ella Garnett, and fullback Lauryn Eisenhart putting the ball smoothly through the hands and out to Ridley, who beat here opposite and was in for the opening score. 

Ridley was soon set free for an even longer run only for that one to be called back for a forward pass. But the message had been sent that Bowdoin was looking to use their pace.

But Bowdoin mixed it up as well and put the forwards to work with hooker Iunisi Tuiptupou along with No. 8 Rebecca Vakarau making some hard yards. A good mix of play and some UNE penalties led to a tap move and lock Len Dodge going in. That made it 19-0 with Eisenhart's conversion, and then more smooth ball-handling and Ridley once again show her pace and elusiveness to score to put the game away.

Dodge iced it with her seconds.

Matthews praised he team's ability to learn and grow through the season but certainly Head Coach Ashley Potvin-Fulford can be proud of a skilled, hard-working UNE side that just couldn't quite the points they perhaps deserved.

For Bowdoin that backline, with Eisenhart slotting in brilliantly when needed, was excellent, and the young forwards, with Dodge standing tall in more ways than one, were immense in open play and the set piece.

Presented with the game MVP award, Ridley immediately talked about the team aspect of the award, and pointed to those goalline stands as the quintessential Bowdoin rugby moment. Champions all, they deserved the praise.

Bowdoin 29
Tries: Ridley 2, Dodge 2, Bishop
Convs: Eisenhart 2