The women’s DII college competition in New England has reshuffled its lineup from last season, and has seen two of its most competitive teams move to different leagues. National DII champion Radcliffe has joined the Ivy League with predominantly DI teams, while Stonehill College has aligned with Rugby Northeast (RNE), a DII conference serving small New England schools that play NCAA competition in the Northeast-10.
Only Norwich has remained in NERFU, and the Cadets are expected to go through league season undefeated and repeat as territorial champions. Norwich began its fall by winning the Montreal Irish’s Labor Day tournament, and then blanked Bryant University 89-0 last weekend.
USA U20 Eagle and Norwich captain Katie Hathaway scored five tries, while senior All American Hannah Bushey, and 2010 league-leading try scorers Joya Clark and Rose Bernheim added two tries apiece. Juniors Adria Pickin, Corinne McElroy and Andrea Vogt, and freshman Catherine Valentine tacked on five-pointers as well. Emily Baugus (2), Jackie Derocher (2) and Clark (3) handled the extras.
Norwich has cruised through league games in the last few years, but has gotten good competition out of Stonehill and Radcliffe during LAU and territorial playoffs – so much so that Radcliffe beat Norwich 22-7 in the national quarterfinals before winning the title.
“I think our senior-heavy side is intent on getting us right back into the national championship mix again this year,” Norwich coach Austin Hall said. “I don’t think the league restructuring will affect us much, in fact, it should provide more competition if anything. Stonehill’s going to face limited competition in-season, and I’ll be interested to see how that plays out for them in the spring.”
Stonehill coach Derek Jenesky isn’t worried about leaving NERFU for Rugby Northeast, and is excited to see how this young conference takes off.
“We have not lost a regular season NERFU game in five years, usually with the games not being too close, so it is not as if we are leaving a brutal conference schedule and there is going to be some massive drop-off,” Jenesky said. “There are great teams from Division 4 through Division 1 in NERFU, and in a lot of cases, any division can beat a team from a division higher. I bet Bentley (NSCRO DIII champs) would say they would have beaten plenty of NERFU DII teams last year. With RNE, all coaches and administrators are focused on the common goal of making all our teams viable and having an extremely competitive conference going forward. There are some young teams with excellent coaches in the conference, and if we are able to keep some continuity with the coaching staffs, I believe this will take off.”
All of that said, Jenesky acknowledges that his team is the favorite to win RNE and move straight to DII nationals in the spring. Stonehill has lost eight starters from the team that advanced to DII semis last year, and 13 athletes will be playing in new positions.
“We will be good, but we have a long way to go before we develop any type of timing and continuity,” Jenesky explained. “We will have a pretty tough test right off the bat against AIC, so we don’t have much time, and we need to get exponentially better to be anywhere near last year’s team.”
Stonehill warmed up for its league opener with a 62-12 win over Boston University last Saturday. Young or not, Stonehill’s already looking good.
Also looking good early on, Radcliffe won the Beantown Collegiate Tournament with three wins over Yale and UConn for a combined 98-14 scoreline, and then followed with a 54-0 drubbing over Northeastern last weekend.
Radcliffe dropped down to DII a few years ago, and now that the team’s solidified again, it’ll make a nice addition to the first Ivy League competition for women. They join mostly DI teams, and will continue to improve as they play up to top squads Brown and Princeton. Radcliffe kicks off its league season this Saturday against Columbia.
All of this movement means that new teams will have the opportunity to prosper. Hall expects Rhode Island, which defeated Vermont 45-5 on Saturday, to be the next up-and-coming DII team in NERFU. In DI, Brown, Dartmouth and Yale have all left for the Ivy League, and have been replaced by former DII teams Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern. While none are expected to knock off reigning DI champion Army this fall, the race for second-place could be a close one.