With the 31-10 over the University of Illinois-Chicago this morning, Denison is the first women's college to advance to this year's DII quarterfinals. Half of today's battle was fought against the weather, as the conditions necessitated a tighter, forward-dominated match.
"It was a pretty sloppy game because of the cold and wetness - ball was pretty slick, lots of knock-ons," Denison coach Kevin Scipione said. "We were up here last weekend against Grand Valley [Denison won 15-13], and even though it wasn't as cold, it was still windy, and we had to tighten things up and play in the forwards. We used that same strategy today."
Denison's fowards dominated, and even with the frequent turnovers, the Ohio side was able to retain the majority of possession, especially in the second half.
"We'd knock it on, scrum down, and then our two props - Autumn Stiles and Alyssa Howard-Tripp - would win us the ball back," Scipione said. "That really helped with game control. Our props, they were the pillars today, especially with all the scrumming."
UIC's strength lied in their backs, and Denison defense did an excellent job of containing that attack. When the Denison backs had ball in hand, flyhalf Kate Kloster set her teammates up for linebreaks. She herself scored two tries, while outside center Skarlyn Rodriguez added two as well. Fullback Caitlin Lutz dotted down once and added three conversions.
UIC logged their tries in the beginning and end of the game.
"UIC turned it on at the end," Scipione said. "I feel that if they had started the game with that kind of intensity, then they would have given us some problems. But we jumped on them early, and that might have broken their spirits."
As the team looks ahead to tomorrow's DII quarterfinal, the team and staff have mixed feelings about today's performance.
"The girls are definitely happy. It's the first time this team has been to nationals," Scipione said. Denison went to the Elite 8 in 2006. "But between the coaches, you always want more. There were a lot of knock-ons, bad passing in contact - not the go-forward rugby you'd like to see at the national level. It was a grind-it-out kind of game; we're happy but not satisfied."
Denison will get a boost with a couple of forwards who were unavailable today due to graduate work. Their vacancy forced a couple of first-semester rookies into the pack, and the veterans' experience will be much appreciated tomorrow.
"We don't have much depth, that's for sure," Scipione said. "Injuries plague every team, but it would be nice to have a deeper roster. We traveled with exactly 22 girls this weekend. We'll pick up a couple of forwards tonight, but we're not that deep in the backs either. We lost two starting backs from the fall to study-abroad. Just moving people around and making do, just like everybody else."
Tomorrow's game comes against Winona, last year's DII finalist. Winona defeated Indiana (Pa.) 32-7 to advance to the quarterfinals.
"Winona's poised for another run to the final this year," Scipione said. "We have a tough task at hand."