By Jackie Finlan
Last weekend was a big one for Texas' women's college rugby. In division one, Texas A&M and Texas Tech entered their third game with one win apiece, and the tiebreaker was to decide who moved onto the regionals. In division two, similar circumstances surrounded the University of Texas and Texas State game, which pit two rivals with undefeated records against each other and put a berth to Westerns within reach.
But the weekend was only half as exciting as it could have been. Texas State showed up with only 13 players, no hooker and were forced to forfeit. Low numbers have plagued every DII women's team in Texas, except UT. When reviewing the recently selected Texas U23 All Star team, someone with little knowledge of the region might assume that competitive rugby is focused in two schools - UT and Texas A&M - which account for 22 of the 28 players selected.
UT supplied Texas State with players and pounded out an 80-minute game, winning 41-0. The regular starters played the first half before making room for the B side, alumni and UT supporters in the second stanza. Seven different players crossed for tries and were led by captain Stephanie Flores, hooker Julia Fortkort and MVP flanker Pooja Patel - all of whom are on the Texas U23s.
One more Texas Cup match against Rice lies between UT and regional playoffs, and coach Anna Kunkel isn't taking March 19 opponent lightly. "Last time we played Rice in Houston 2 years ago, they gave us a run for our money and UT barely eked out a win. So we are taking this game seriously and plan to come prepared," Kunkel said.
Meanwhile, the final DI Cup match lived up to the hype. Texas A&M was riding the momentum of its 34-0 shutout over Tech the weekend prior, a massive win that necessitated the third Cup match. It was a big blow for John Middleton's team, but the squad was determined not to go down so easily in the rematch.
"We concentrated on rebuilding our physicality the last few weeks," Middleton said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to neutralize their size advantage over us. We worked the ball really well, did a great job with ball retention, and disrupted A&M's fluidity with opportunistic counter-rucking. It was a great match, lots of big hits, and both sides played their hearts out."
At the half, A&M led 10-0, but Tech pulled to within three thanks to a converted try from center Katherine Gray. The next 20 minutes saw little ground gained on either side of the ball, until the Aggies broke through the line at 72nd and 75th minutes. Tech No. 8 Marissa Procter scored in the 78th minute, but the game was out of reach, as A&M won 22-12.
"Overall, I am very pleased with the way our girls played," Middleton said. "After all they have been through this semester with losing players to graduation as well as losing our defensive coach Kyle Alvarado, they pulled it together this last week and played a great match. We have lots of potential in our rookies, all of whom played today, with six starters playing their third match ever. We will finish up with a few friendly matches. Be ready for us in the fall."