No surprise that Penn State won their opening round game against Princeton during the Women’s DI National Championship today. The Nittany Lions fulfilled expectations; however, the Tigers exceeded their level play, taking the first lead and only relinquishing the 20-5 loss late in the game.
“This game reminded me of the game we played against UMass a few years ago at nationals,” Penn State Pete Steinberg said. “Teams get up to play us. Princeton played great rugby, were physical, and should be proud. This experience will make us better for tomorrow.”
Thirty minutes elapsed before the scoreboard illuminated. Until then, Princeton’s scrum dominated Penn State, while PSU penalties and unforced errors stifled several backline breaks threatening the tryline. One got the sense that it was only a matter of time before PSU was going to find its collective step, and when they did, the game would open up.
One might cite the fact that PSU didn’t roster stars like Sadie Anderson, Lisa Henneman, Lauren Poole and Christiane Pheil as to why there were some missteps, but Steinberg didn’t necessarily agree.
“It’s not fair to call it our B side,” Steinberg said. “We have a lot of A side players, and there is some rotation there so that we can give everyone the opportunity to play. We had a lot of 5th year seniors out there, but even some of those seniors haven’t played at this level. Princeton put us under pressure, and we didn’t handle that well. It’s one of the challenges we face: We don’t get tested that often, so when we do, we have to learn that it’s OK that teams are as good as us and that we have to dig a little deeper.”
Princeton flyhalf Lauren Rhode was key to exacting that pressure, and her boot allowed her defense to regroup and get back into PSU territory. The first score evolved after a series of rucks, after which the flyhalf quickly switched fields and linked up with wing Devan Kreisberg, who burned down the last 10 meters of turf for the try, 5-0.
There the game stood into the half.
“Princeton did a good job of pressuring us in the breakdown during the first half,” Steinberg said. “The referee was kind of lax about having people clear out of the breakdown, and they did a good job of playing to the ref. We also struggled to win quick ball and couldn’t play the wide-open style we wanted, so in the second half we tightened it up and got players to the ball. We were pretty dominant in the second half, and I was really proud of the team.”
The backs really started to strike well and the forwards wore down the defense. Impact subs like prop Nwakaego Onyekwere and center Lauren Shissler all kept the pace of the game at top speed. Onyekwere and Margaret Leonard, Kasey Ferlic and Kate Flanagan all scored tries, while Shissler handled the conversions.
“The game was in the balance for a long time,” Steinberg said. “The difference, however, was that we had better speed, and I didn’t think Princeton had anyone who could go 80 meters on us without having someone catch them – they had a couple of breaks that we were able to pull down. I felt that if we were able to get some of our players into the open field, then they’d be able to go. We have a lot of confidence in the team we put out there today; they were able identify problems and fix them.”
Penn State has Navy tomorrow, a rematch of the MARFU championship. The Midshipmen defeated Army in a 25-20 thriller. Navy didn’t have the luxury of resting anyone for tomorrow’s game, while PSU is more fortunate. Both teams are fairly familiar with each other and expect another brutal game in the round of eight.
“We know them well and how they like to play,” Steinberg said. “They’re committed and physical. They dominated Army in the second and deserved that win – and that was a surprise to me. That tells me that Sue [Parker] has done a good job of improving her team over the last three weeks. We know we’ll have a challenge tomorrow.”