When reigning women’s DII club champion Albany won the 2010 tournament, their success not only necessitated a promotion to DI but also awarded the Northeast territory with two seeds to this year’s event. Burlington is the happy recipient of that second seed, and while the Vermont team is pleasantly surprised with its success this season, it also acknowledges all of the work that has preceded its debut at nationals.
Burlington formed in 1997, but by 2005 the team nearly folded due to low numbers. The squad joined forces with Saranac (NY) and formed Great Northern. After a couple of losing seasons in DII, the team dropped down to DIII to rebuild. The turning point occurred in 2008 when founding member Tiffany Renaud and Theresa Bertram started coaching the team. Great Northern returned to its Burlington roots and retained a handful of Saranac women on the roster.
“If you told me in 2008 that we would make Nationals in three years, I would have told you that you were dreaming,” Burlington captain Maria Godleski reflected. “We won our way back to division two last fall, and this fall we not only gave teams a run for their money, but also qualified for nationals. I think people are pleased that their commitment to practices and each other has paid off.”
Burlington lost two games during league – a 12-10 loss to undefeated league winner Beantown, which is ineligible for nationals, and 19-0 loss to #1 NRU seed Portland (Maine). During the first round of playoffs, Portland and Monmouth (N.J.) received byes, while Burlington advanced to the semifinals after a 15-0 win over Hudson Valley (N.Y.).
Last weekend’s NRU final four was a miserable one weather wise. Rain turned to sleet then snow, and temperatures dipped into the 30s, and a few players had to leave the field due to hypothermia.
“When we had our team meeting before the game, we knew the weather was going to be horrible,” Godleski said. “Our plan was to keep in the forwards, and in the end, we could only follow our game plan as the backs were literally frozen and the ball was wet.”
The tactic worked, and Burlington’s large pack was able to out-ruck and maul Monmouth. In the first quarter, Burlington inched toward the try line with a series of rucks and punches, until No. 8 Avery McGill was close enough to pick from the base. As McGill dove for the line, flanker Leonie Cowley drove over her fellow backrow to ensure a proper grounding. Cowley converted the try for the 7-0 lead.
Just before half, Burlington banked its second and last try of the day, as the team repeated its pick-and-go march inside the 22 meter. Hooker Ashley Poupoure spotted an overloaded to the right, called for the ball, pinned her defender, then hit Cowley in support. The breakaway took the pass at pace and dotted down for the 12-0 lead.
Both teams’ backlines remained non-factors for the rest of the game, and Monmouth struggled with its penalty count, many for offsides. The second half ended with no points scored, and Burlington advanced to the final against Portland, which eliminated Hartford 14-5 in the other semifinal.
The sleet and snow had ceased on Sunday for the final, but the temperature and field conditions were still issues. Burlington stuck to its forward-oriented game plan, and attempted to shut down Portland’s speedy fullback, who scored two of three tries during the teams’ regular season meeting. Portland prevailed 19-5, with scrumhalf Nadie Paffett-Lugassy getting Burlington’s lone try.
“In both games our team played as a team,” Godleski said. “On Saturday, the forwards won the game, but the backs suffered out on the field for the win.”
The NRU #2 seed affords the team the #7 seed overall at nationals. The team has a very tough opponent in the first round, the Albuquerque Atomic Sisters, who lost 34-22 to Albany in last year’s final. Regardless of the outcome, it’ll be a milestone in the club’s history and hopefully inspire success in the future.
“We hope to continue winning and stay positive because that is the attitude that has gotten us this far,” Godleski concluded.
The women’s DII club national championship begins on Friday, Nov. 11 in Virginia Beach, VA.
#3 Pittsburgh(Midwest) v #6 Santa Monica (So Cal)
#2 Atomic Sisters (West) v 7 Burlington (Northeast #2)
#4 Raleigh (Mid-Atlantic) v #5 Memphis (South)
#1 Portland (Northeast #1) v #8 Sacramento Amazons (Pacific Coast)