Penn State women have banked another MARFU DI College Championship, having played two very different opponents this weekend. The Nittany Lions advanced to the final after a whopping 136-5 win over Maryland on Saturday, and then bullied out a 32-5 win over Navy today.
Where most teams would hope to be hitting high gear by territorial championship time, Penn State is still early in its season. The team toured Wales in early March, and then warmed up for MARFUs against DII powerhouse Norwich University (35-30 win).
“We have a lot of depth and can rest players, but we don’t know who are best 15 are yet,” Penn State Pete Steinberg said. “We had some players step up Saturday and who are now in the starting line. I’m not sure if Maryland put in their strongest side against us yesterday. They might have been saving some players for the third-place match.”
Steinberg put together some combinations that had little experience together, but the coach was happy as the squad ran in 23 tries. Steinberg was particularly pleased with Marikah Davin, who had five five-pointers on the day, and Olivia Lindsay, who dotted down three times. Margaret Leonard also put in a career high with four tries on the day.
Navy was a different story. One of the best teams that Penn State faces all year, the midshipmen held Penn State to a 10-0 halftime lead. Both tries came from Christiane Pheil as the scrum pushed over the line.
“Navy came out hard in the second half,” Steinberg reflected on the midshipmen’s early score in the second stanza, “and we had some lineout issues that allowed Navy to keep possession. The turning point came 10 minutes into the half, when Navy had an attacking scrum on our five meter. We were able to turn it over and clear the line. We kept the ball in their end and scored a couple of nice tries.”
Pheil got her third try of the day and flyhalf Sadie Anderson scored the first of her two tries for the 22-5 lead.
Starved of possession, Navy ran into some trouble with penalties. The referee was very strict about coming through the gate, which gave the attacking side a nice advantage. Navy was especially aggressive in the rucks, but Penn State had the upperhand in the scrums and lineouts and were able to steal more possession from their opponents.
“The score doesn’t reflect how competitive the game was,” Steinberg said. “Navy is one of the best teams we’ve played – no doubt – and their round of 16 game against Army will be a good one.”
Steinberg tipped his hat to the hard work of tighthead prop Lauren Poole, who anchored the dominating scrum. The pack as a whole played excellently, while the backs struggled slightly to repeat their continuity from Saturday. Freshman outside center Brianna Troyer stood out, bringing a good level of intensity on defense, but the Nittany Lions are missing the influence of players like Lisa Henneman, who will hopefully be fit for nationals, and four-year center Deven Owsiany, now a USA 7s resident at the Olympic Training Center.
As the #1 seed in MARFU, Penn State will play Princeton in the first round of nationals. The teams used to play each other regularly before Princeton moved to the Ivy League, but Steinberg is familiar with coach Emil Signes and some of his USA U20 athletes, and anticipates a good match.
Navy will join Penn State at Princeton on April 21-22 and see defending DI national champion Army in the opening round, while MARFU #3 Virginia heads to Mobile, Ala., to face South champion Texas.