Winona ended its regular season in high fashion, defeating St. Cloud 110-0. The three-digit victory wasn’t the first of the season, and after seven league games, Winona has outscored opponents 536-14.
The results aren’t surprising in the sense that Winona has dominated Minnesota for years, as one might expect after back-to-back appearances in the DII Women’s College Championship. Their two previous opponents (and victors), Norwich and Washington State, now compete in division one, making Winona the favorite for the DII title this season. However, Winona and the majority of the Midwest are now competing in ACRA, so the Black Katts will look to become the association’s first champion this December.
Akin to a handful of teams that play well above their league, Winona has had to look internally for its best competition, and the team’s Saturday win indicates that the Black Katts are finding that formula. The scoring, for instance, spread throughout the squad. With the exception of dynamo center Caitlin Courtney, who dotted down four tries, 11 other teammates scored five-pointers: Andrea White (2), Elle Hoffman, Kristen Semrow, Kourtney Kavajecz, Hillary Zimmer, Nadia Nassif, Nikki Linberg, Tori Langhans, Lindsey Bucki, Sydney Norman and Katie Dries all scored tries. Dries (5) and Zimmer (4) handled the conversions.
“With goals set before the game, Winona had achieved many of them by the end of the first half,” Winona coach Roger Riley said of the 55-0 midway lead. “We had stolen four of their scrums and turned over four of their rucks. Because the day was windy, the forwards struggled with lineout ball but did well in the scrums and rucks. The backs ran freely and were able to mix up their runs with well-placed kicks downfield.”
Winona also has some exciting new talent propelling up the ranks. Recent graduate and All American Ashley Nelson (who now plays for Twin Cities Amazons’ B side) is a difficult player to replace; however, Catholic Memorial High School (Wisc.) star Katie Dries has slotted in nicely at flyhalf.
Dries will get her first taste of post-season play in two weekends, when Winona hosts Great Waters runner-up UW La Crosse in the Round of 32. Should Winona win as expected, then the team will face the winner of Arkansas (Mid-America champion) vs. Eastern Rockies runner-up (Colorado College and Wyoming sort out the conference’s two seeds this Sunday) in Wayne, Neb. (see the full bracket here).
Should Winona get to the final four as expected, it will mark the team's longest season to date. But the team has the opportunity to show the country what they can do when they build and peak through one competitive season.