Bad weather canceled a couple of the South’s DII women’s college games this weekend, but the Oak League was able to host both of its matrix openers. College of Charleston and Kennesaw State put in chits as early leaders in the North and South conferences, earning wins over UNC Wilmington and North Georgia respectively.
The most exciting match occurred between Kennesaw and North Georgia, which ended in a 15-10 decision to KSU. The northwest Georgia team surprised the field last season when the first-year club won its conference and then nearly upset Lee University in the league final, coming just five points shy of a trip to the South championship.
Saturday’s match was pre-empted by heavy storms, which meant for a sloppy, muddy pitch and ankle-deep water in one corner of the field. Kennesaw practices on turf, so the squad was nervous about how the field conditions would affect their play.
The weather certainly affected Kennesaw’s scrums, and although the set piece improved over the course of the game, it’s an area of concern for the team going forward. The highlight of the first half came when Madison Denniston scored to put Kennesaw up 5-0.
“It was the first matrix match of the season, so the first half was really just getting back into the swing of things,” Casey Payne said. “Of course we went over fundamentals in practice, but in game situations, things don’t always run so smoothly.”
Coach Blake Schrager delivered a cheerful pep talk at halftime, and the positive encouragement resonated with the squad.
“I know sometimes during halftime coaches yell at players on what they are doing wrong, and it’s a serious time,” Payne said. “But our team works best when that’s not the tone used. We are a very relaxed team and work best when we feel no pressure. We talked about what needed to be fixed, but the main points during halftime were to get our heads in the game, not be so serious and have fun playing.”
Front row Erin Justice and No. 8 Kassidi Wynter led the uptick in performance, and accounted for the second-half tries. They provided a stable base for several players who were in new positions or playing their first-ever game of rugby. Kennesaw traded scores with a determined North Georgia side, which also found its offensive footing in the second half, and ended with a one-try win.
In the addition to the mud, Kennesaw battled a dearth of depth, with only three subs on the sidelines, but Payne insisted that the quality and dedication are there.
“Our team has now developed a new love for the sport,” Payne said. “It took us a year as a team to completely understand the rules of the game, and knowing each other personally helped dramatically on the field.”
With only three teams in each of the Oak League’s conferences, the matrix season will continue in a home-and-away format, and North Georgia will look for revenge on Feb. 11 during the rematch.
In the Oak League’s North Conference, the College of Charleston took on UNC Wilmington. The first half was a penalty-ridden affair, as CoC struggled with high tackles and lost some composure when failing to release the ball a meter from their tryline. UNCW also had some obstruction issues early on, according to referee Jenn Pilat.
But like their South Conference counterparts, the second half made way for some wide-open rugby, and CoC pulled away with a 30-5 victory.
The South was eager to see South champion Lee University in their first matrix match, but their game against Middle Tennessee was canceled due to field conditions, after Lee had already traveled to MTSU. The Georgia v Clemson match was also canceled, and although the Tennessee v Georgia Southern game took place, it was deemed a forfeit since the latter didn’t have enough eligible players. It was an unfortunate turn of events, as Georgia Southern’s 35-34 win will be recorded as a loss.
The upcoming weekend will see the following matches:
Appalachian State v UNC Greensboro
UNC Charlotte (’11 South finalist) v Wake Forrest
North – College of Charleston v Citadel
South – North Georgia v Emory
Middle Tennessee v Auburn
Alabama v Western Kentucky
Florida teams don’t begin play until Feb. 11