An interesting match should evolve between Raleigh and Sacramento during tomorrow’s DII women’s club championship semifinals. Raleigh is a former DII champion gunning for another title, while Sacramento is the new kid on the block.
Raleigh has the benefit of national experience and has added a wealth of talent recently, including RWC Eagle Jamie Burke and 7s Eagle Ryan Carlyle. Sacramento has the element of surprise and looks to have the most intimidating team size-wise to the competition.
Raleigh cruised to a 45-0 win over Memphis today during the quarterfinals. Burke, Carlyle, Amanda Street, Laketa Sutton and Sherry Lyle all scored tries, while Tonya Fletcher and Street handled the conversions.
Raleigh coach Marc Miles watched the earlier games and saw what an impact the wind had. So he changed up the team’s game plan based on the conditions and was rewarded for the adaptability.
“We did exactly what I wanted them to do,” Miles said. “Our plan was to use the wind. Everyone – even the Premier girls – were struggling with it. We wanted to take advantage of the kick, sending our centers and wings chasing and pinning the ball in their end, making them work to get out of their end. In the second half, we wanted to grind it into the wind and keep possession. It was a game-time decision and the players responded.”
Fletcher did a great job of executing tactical kicks in accordance with the game plan. She managed the game well, knowing when to hit forwards like Burke and Sutton or work it out to the backs.
When the opportunities to spin the ball wide grew slim, Raleigh mixed up its attack with some well timed mauls, which kept Memphis guessing as to how to slow different points of attack. Some nuances with tackling, rucking and solidified scrummaging need to be cleaned up for the team’s semifinal, but overall, it was an impressive performance.
Raleigh has a veteran-heavy squad, many of whom remember what it was like to lose in the championships last year. It’s a good motivation for the team, and their next step is against newcomer Sacramento, which defeated Portland 26-15.
Leading up the competition, the Amazons were posting league scores with 60-point-plus point differentials.
“Today was an emotional roller coaster,” Sacramento coach Mary Swanstrom. “Our season has been extremely one-sided and we didn’t know what we were walking into. In the first half, the girls showed they were nervous about that, but the minute they figured out that they could beat these girls, they played hard. The only mistakes we made were those of inexperience.”
Portland got on the board first, but then Ofolangi Mailangi evend it up. Mailangi, who has only played a few seasons but is already a field general, would score later in the game as well. Down 8-5 at half, the Amazons regrouped at halftime.
“Portland realized that we were losing our feet in the ruck,” Swanstrom said. “Part of the problem is that my girls hit so hard that they knock people over an then don’t have anything to hold onto. Portland took advantage of this and it pissed off our girls. Once they controlled it, they got better.”
But sin bins hurt the Amazons and allowed Portland to stay close. Sacramento saw two yellow cards leave the referee’s pocket, and that opened up some space for the NRU champions to score.
“They weren’t malicious penalties; they were the result of inexperience and learning how to play without letting the other team control us,” Swanstrom said. “Portland knew how to drop us and forced our sin bins, just because we didn’t know any better. I’m confident that it will be fixed for tomorrow.”
Although fitness started to affect Sacramento, they still had their size to rely on and battered in three converted tries to nab the win.
“We’ve got size and power, and these girls can hit,” Swanstrom said. “I’ve been with this team for less than a year, and usually you have to teach them how to hit; I’ve had to teach them how to clean it up, but that’s more strategy.
“We’re forward centric in the way our backs hits like our forwards,” Swanstrom continued. “We love to overload our backline, getting our flankers in there. We really do our best in the open field because man-on-man, no one can hit us.”
A physical semifinal awaits the competition tomorrow, so stay tuned for the updates.