The women’s college game of the weekend will occur in Lubbock, Texas, as Texas Tech and Texas A&M decide who moves on to playoffs. The best these DI teams can hope for is a berth to the West’s DII championship, as Texas secured the top seed and will be heading to the South’s DI play-ins in hopes of getting the fourth slot at the South final four.
Texas A&M seems to be in better shape right now, having defeated Texas 32-29 earlier this week.
“We definitely gained confidence after our win over Texas,” A&M’s Carla Ehlinger said. “This win proved to all the rookies the effects of working hard and never quitting even when our team is down by several tries. We are going to Tech with confidence in each other and our team as a whole.”
But it was more than just determination that broke Texas’ undefeated record. The young team finally started to click, and that cohesion enabled a fantastic come-from-behind victory.
“Issues that have threatened us this season are the age and experience of the team,” Ehlinger said. “Most of our backline have had a year or less experience working together. We have also had to train an entire new front row within the forward pack. We have all had to work hard in order to learn new positions.”
A&M has relied on the performances of a few key players, including scrumhalf Barbie Blair, who is more of a utility player, has the speed of a wing and the fearless tackling ability of a flanker; captain and flanker Kelley Storey, who is one of the best tacklers and leaders on the team; and rookie Marki Hoyne, who has picked up the game very quickly and stepped into a starting position at tighthead prop.
Tech is also young, but more importantly, the team lacks numbers and depth. The team will only be fielding 15 players on tomorrow’s roster. Additionally, all but one of the backs was a forward in 2011, and when the team lost 54-12 to Texas two weeks ago, Tech was working in a new lock, flanker, flyhalf, inside center and fullback. Tech's backline isn't the speediest on defense, so they'll have their hands full against a shifty A&M backline.
“Our struggles have always been numbers,” Middleton continued. “There is a common occurrence of parents objecting to their daughters playing rugby, and it always happens in January when we need them the most. … This season has been a roller coaster of players coming and going. We've dealt with players quitting for various personal reasons, but the ones who have stayed play their hearts out.
For Middleton, tomorrow’s game will be more than a playoff bid; it’ll be his last as head coach of Tech. The coach is working on his Ph.D. and doesn’t have the time necessary to lead the team. Past president and team captain Nkeonye Okafor will be taking over and she’ll hopefully be joined by Katherine Gray once she returns from study abroad.
Despite the consequences of tomorrow’s game, the squads feel equipped to take on this heated battle.
“I don't think that there is a lot of pressure, but a lot of emotion,” Middleton said. “We are graduating six players in May on a team of 15. I know my girls will perform to the best of their ability and they will never quit.”
“We are more than prepared,” Ehlinger said. “Tech is one of our greatest rivals. We spend all year preparing mentally for our matches against Texas and Texas Tech.”
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s result.