It’s a different route to nationals this year, but reigning women's DI college champ Penn State has taken the first step in defending their title. The Nittany Lions defeated their three league opponents 216-5 to win the Big 10’s East Division, and now look ahead to the quarterfinals against West Division #4 Illinois this weekend.
|Look for PSU scrumhalf Elena Cantorna against Illinois. (Dobson Images)|
Penn State’s regular season ended as quickly as it began. Over the course of two consecutive weekends, both on the road, PSU defeated Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. They had to supplement their schedule with some friendlies, including their most recent bout against Army, which is competing independently this year. It was a great test for coach Pete Steinberg’s crew, and the first half drew a 17-14 lead in Penn State’s favor. But the reigning champs consolidated efforts in the second stanza to pull away with a 39-14 victory. Prop Hope Rogers was particularly impressive, as the front row logged a hat trick to set the standard for a forward-led match.
Indiana dominated the West Division, going 3-0 against Notre Dame, Purdue and Illinois. The Red Storm will take on Michigan State (East #4) at home and are heavily favored for the win.
“I have been coaching this team for almost eight years and this is probably the deepest team I have ever had,” Indiana coach Vaughn Mitchell said. “In our three conference games, I have started 27 different girls. The hardest thing so far this year has not been picking the 15 starters but picking the 22 girls to play that
In the other playoff games, Ohio State (East #2) is favored over West #3 Purdue, and a good match should evolve between Notre Dame (West #2) and Michigan (East #3). The Fighting Irish have the home-field advantage, but we think Michigan’s 17-15 loss to OSU last weekend will motivate and propel the team to victory.
This weekend’s victors will advance to the semifinals on Nov. 3-4 in Elkhart, Ind. However, the path to nationals for everyone but the conference champion is uncertain.
“It hasn't been determined how many seeds the Big 10 will get this year,” Mitchell said. “USA Rugby has not yet determined if we get two seeds, but hopefully they will consider at least two if not three since we have Penn State, a seven-time national champion, in our conference.
“If we only get one seed in the Big 10 Conference, it’s not discouraging, but motivating for us to compete with the best to earn our spot at nationals,” Mitchell added. “Eventually you have to play the best to be the best. We aren't going to shy away from a team because of all their achievements in the past.”