2012 marked the first year that the Big 10 hosted a women’s division, and Penn State took home the inaugural title after back-to-back wins last weekend. They did so in superb fashion, going 3-0 during the regular season and outscoring opponents 216-5, and then defeating Notre Dame (63-14) and Indiana (45-8) in the final four.
But what is most impressive about Penn State’s season is the number of players who graced the the field and contributed to the 5-0 (7-0 if one includes the friendly wins against Army and James Madison) season. Forty-two players made the trip last weekend (although nearly half were playing in a B side match against Ohio State), 23 different players started the two matches.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year and it really hurt our depth,” PSU captain Kelsey Harris said of the 19 veterans who graduated, “but we took in about 10 rookies this year who have really helped restore it. Our back three is our most competitive when it comes to playing time, but our backrow is probably our strongest. We have depth and experience in our backrow, and any of our backrow players could be starters for us.”
In addition to Harris, players like Elizabeth Cairns, Annie Lucas and Nadia Garnett are just a few athletes fortifying the loose forward positions. They all contributed nicely to the scoreline this season, but none so much as wing Bianca Dalal. She led Penn State with 66 points on 12 tries and three conversions. Also pleading their case for more time in the back three are Jackie Giordano, Kate Flanagan and Lauren Barber.
Lauren Shissler was the second leading scorer on Penn State with 37 points, although more than half came in conversions. Shissler has put in the most time at flyhalf, although she’s moved to inside center when scrumhalf Elena Cantorna slots into the 10 position.
One name that is noticeably missing from this round-up is Sadie Anderson. The Eagle flyhalf did not log a single minute or point during the regular or post-season. She is healthy, however, and will be attending the Women’s National Team tour to Europe in a week.
This quality depth reinforces that good things are to come for Penn State, and the recent championship is evidence of that.
“Winning the Big 10 is a huge deal for us,” Harris said. “We worked all season long to win this championship and our hard work paid off. And winning something new is always exciting, especially for our new players.
“People on campus recognize the Big 10 and for them it means something when a Penn State team beats Ohio State or Michigan,” Harris added. “I think being in the Big 10 will be great for us. It’s a tough and physical conference.”
The fate of the rest of the Big 10 teams has yet to be determined. With the eight DI conferences receiving automatic berths to nationals, USA Rugby will determine the rest of the field, potentially through a subjective play-in process so that teams with long-term success aren't necessarily excluded from nationals.