The University of New Mexico women’s team pulled off something of an upset this past weekend when they defeated BYU (Women’s Cougar Rugby) 29-17 in league play.
With BYU being among the top teams in the country for some years, now, even a strong team like the Lobos, which returned 13 starters from last year’s playoff-bound squad, is expected to struggle.
But BYU has had their issues, too. With the Mormon Church changing the age that women are expected to go on mission from 21 to 19, a large group of players aged 19-20 left this year, leaving Head Coach Tom Waqa with only five starters from last season, and very few B-siders to fill the ap.
“We are young,” said Waqa. “We have talent and we will get it together, but it will take time.”
UNM was led by some superb work out wide.
Wing Tonya Aragon scored the first try for New Mexico, and then 6-2 wing Whitney White added three from her side. Inside center Erica Speer added a a long-range run for a try from about midfield, while Emma McCaslin added two conversions.
BYU’s scorers were all their more experienced players, with Meigham Stevens scoring two and Jordan Gray one. Dana Greenwood added the single conversion.
“BYU is still a really good team, and I don’t think they will have much trouble with the other teams they have to play,” said UNM Head Coach Shannon Robinson. “They like to run their bigger players up the middle so we needed to defend that. I thought our No. 8 Kedra Davis had an outstanding game leading the way on defense.”
Robinson also had praise for his front row, led by captain Cindy Hollon, for their work in tight. Emma McCaslin at flyhalf and her sister, Brawley, at flanker, along with center Brittany Salazar all played well.
“We’ve returned a lot of starters but we also have an influx of young people,” said Robinson. “We played three freshmen and they all did well. I was just glad we closed it out.”
Down 22-17, BYU was surging late, but New Mexico turned the ball over and put away White for her third try to seal the game. That was a key moment, said Robinson.
As for Waqa and his BYU squad, he said the team will learn lessons from this game and keep working at it. In a couple of years he can expect some older, experienced players to return to school and the team,.
“Right now we made some mistakes, especially on defensive alignment, and we’ll work on those and keep moving forward,” Waqa said.