CSU Northridge was the talk of last year’s women’s DII championship. In their first year as a university-recognized club and second year in existence, the SoCal team advanced to the national Round of 16 in Stanford. But Northridge endured a shocking introduction to national championship rugby, as they fell to Washington State 102-0 in the opening round.
“Our first year at nationals, we were awe struck,” Northridge co-coach Vince Smith said. “We weren’t really prepared for that Washington State team. What it did was make us realize that it [the national championships] was a big deal. This year, I asked the girls for their goals, and all they want to do is be better than last year’s team.”
Reaching that goal turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. The team was slated to lose nine players to graduation last year but instead lost 20. So Northridge had to start from scratch while still working toward their original goals.
During the fall, Northridge realized they had the makings for another great season in Southern California. The team won the Scrum By The Sea tournament, defeating California, UC Santa Cruz, Arizona State, Sacramento State and Humboldt in the final. Then the competitive season kicked off in January, and Northridge went 10-0, scoring 494 points and allowing 58.
“We went into league very focused,” Smith said. “Arizona was our primary competition last year, but this year we had two new teams come in firing right out of the gate. CSU Long Beach has a great program, and UC Riverside was in the hunt. Them, along with Fullerton, were our biggest competition.”
There was some miscommunication between Southern California and USA Rugby regarding automatic bids to nationals, so Northridge's match against Humboldt in the Round of 32 was a late addition to the schedule. On the up side, Northridge was familiar with Humboldt, having played and defeated the northern California team twice in the last year. Additionally, Northridge co-coach Christina Allatorre, a huge driving force behind the team's success, is also a Humboldt grad and lent special insight on their opponent.
During their 11th game of the season, player welfare began to come into question, but it wasn’t a factor on Saturday. Northridge ran up a 59-17 victory over visiting Humboldt for the return trip to the Round of 16 in Stanford.
“During the first 15 minutes of that game, Humboldt had our number,” Smith said. “We scored within the first minute or two, and they came back and scored right away. We knew we were in for a dog fight, but the girls knuckled down and played their game.”
Humboldt had a large pack and used it well; however they were reluctant to attack wide when the opportunity was there. Northridge’s pack was a little smaller but more fleet-footed. Forward captain and prop Cece Mullins got a lot of help around the field from loose forwards Sarah McGee, Lupe Moreno and Jackie Fonseca, who all had stellar games.
But Northridge’s biggest advantage came through the backs, and they helped break open a 17-12 halftime lead during the second stanza.
The backline flourished and saw inside center Korrina Fite run in two tries. When Fite was yellow-carded for offsides, the team not only repelled Humboldt from their goal line, but rookie outside center/wing Katie Kargari ran in two of her three tries, despite being down a player. Fullback Evelyn Avila also contributed a five-pointer, while flyhalf Gillian Chance hit all but one conversion.
“It was the heat,” Smith said. “I don’t think Humboldt were used to the 78 degree weather, and our conditioning was a little better. In the second half, it degraded on their end and we kicked it into gear.”
The team heading to Stanford this weekend will get a boost from the return of center Monique Robles, who along with Chance, was called up to the regional USA Junior All-American camp in March. They’ll help Northridge in their Round of 16 match against UC Santa Cruz, which defeated Washington 20-15 last Saturday for the nationals berth.
“Everyone's very excited,” Smith said. “Immediately after the [Humboldt] game, we had a good ice bath and started booking vans and hotels. Everyone’s very focused and wants to prove themselves. They’re a fun bunch of girls. They enjoy each other’s company, there’s no drama or egos. I like it and it makes my job easier.”