By Jackie Finlan
The South has named its first DII women's college to playoffs, as Lee University defeated Kennesaw State 30-26 on Saturday. As close as the match appears on paper, Lee University was always in the lead and it wasn't until the final 10 minutes that Kennesaw made it interesting with two tries.
Key to Lee's victory was building momentum early, and No. 8 cum center Candace Barley was directly responsible for that forward motion. Coach Dr. Michael Freake moved the loose forward into the backline in order to rest a sore shoulder, and the USA U20 Eagle scored three tries and assisted another two for an impressive day.
"She was hugely influential in terms of breaking the line or offloading to someone," Dr. Freake said. "Center was her first position, and we knew that if you gave her the ball at pace and in space, she'd punch through the line and cause some trouble."
Barley's vacancy allowed freshman Brianne Louder a game at No. 8, where she blossomed. "It's only her first year, and she's picking it up like nobody's business," Dr. Freake said. "She had a great game and was all over the place."
Lee used the field better and was slightly quicker and more agile than Kennesaw, an asset that became apparent when Lee worked its kicking game. But KSU contested the breakdown well and elucidated some shortcomings in Lee's defense.
"The speed and agility of Kennesaw showed us some tackling deficiencies," Dr. Freake said. "It is the bane of the women's game - going too high in the tackle. We're going to work on the basics of the tackle, committing a little more and chasing the feet."
Tackling, along with building fitness, will be Lee's focus for the next month, when the team plays in the South's semifinals. For Kennesaw, 2011 was a good start for a team playing in its first matrix season. Rumor has it that the university invested in rugby, brought a South African coach on board, and corralled some good athletes to get the program off the ground.
A little farther north, the Mid-Atlantic hosted a few important warm-up games. A couple of temperate weekends have defrosted the ground, and teams are taking advantage. Virginia hit the pitch for a second weekend in a row, this week downing Norfolk Women 20-8.
"They were massive and skilled," UVA coach Nancy Kechner said of her team's opponents. "They had good speed, lots of experience, and Lindsay Kinzler was dangerous as usual. They also had a very fast, good wing who luckily was against Erica Cavanaugh. It was the biggest test she's had in two seasons."
But the forwards had an even bigger test. While UVA was able to score out wide via two tries apiece from Cavanaugh and wing Minna Choi, the forwards engaged in a very physical game. UVA has typically fielded a small but shifty team, and Kechner has attempted to balance the size disadvantage with counter-rucking skills and fast-emerging ball.
The UVA pack answered the challenged and performed well against their senior counterparts. "We may be back to very good scrummaging, which has been OK over the past couple years, but not great," Kechner affirmed.
DII's William & Mary also logged its second friendly win of the season, defeating Georgetown handily 45-5. The win came after a massive 42-12 win over Mary Washington, which had beat W&M last fall for the Virginia State Championship. Saturday's win against Georgetown helped salve similar scars, considering the team knocked William & Mary out of the D2 national championships during the MARFU finals.
"We had another big win beating Georgetown and that was without three or four of our starting seniors," William & Mary coach Chris Ball said. "We are playing really well at the moment and will be at full strength when we visit Temple for our MARFU quarterfinal game. I understand we are playing at a rugby field located in Valley Forge -- seems like an ideal setting for an underdog to cause an upset!"
But Temple's preparing for the big match as well and scrimmaged DI's Delaware last Saturday. It was the first game of the season for the defending national finalist, and everyone got an opportunity to run around. Delaware won the game but no official score was kept.
"I am very happy with the way the girls played," Temple coach Owen Jones said. "We had several new players join the team since the fall and it was really exciting to see the new girls hang in there for their first game against a solid opponent like UDel. It gives the players and us coaches a lot of confidence moving forward. Last year I was confident that we had 17-18 girls who could play A side. This year we have 25+ girls that could play A side."
Now that the rust has worn off, Temple will focus its sights on West Chester this Friday, and the team will treat the match like a playoff game. Spring break steals a week's worth of preparation before the first round of MARFUs, but the team knows what it takes to progress to nationals.