There’s nothing like the women’s DII club championships. Teams have to play three, back-to-back games in an incredibly grueling weekend. It makes winning the title even more satisfying, and for the Raleigh Venom, the championship was especially poignant.
This is the fourth time that Raleigh’s won the DII championship three times before, but yesterday’s 17-0 win marked the first official title.
“The first three were unofficial, and the last year was the first year it was sanctioned,” Raleigh coach Marc Miles explained. “We’re officially in the books now. When you go to USA Rugby’s Web site, you’ll see Raleigh Venom.”
And that claim came at a price. While Pittsburgh was a tough game, it wasn’t Raleigh’s biggest challenge this weekend. After a 45-0 win over Memphis in the quarterfinals, they held onto a 27-26 win over the mighty Sacramento Amazons.
“We knew that yesterday was going to be tough because of their team size,” Miles reflected on Saturday’s game. “It was going to take a team effort just to get them down. I felt more relaxed today – not to take anything away from Pittsburgh – knowing that we were more evenly matched size wise. Our game plan was better suited for Pittsburgh and I wasn’t quite as anxious as yesterday.”
Raleigh’s game plan centered around getting the ball to their speed outside. The wind prevented many teams from spinning the ball as much as they would have liked, but Raleigh used the wind to their advantage in the first half. Flyhalf Theresa Fletcher kept Pittsburgh pinned in their end.
Even though fullback Donita Thomas (who eventually left with an injury) and wing Lauren Rosso linked up for some breakaways, Pittsburgh did not put the ball into their two most dangerous strikers’ hands enough.
Raleigh made sure that wing Ryan Carlyle got her touches, and she did well to make good use of them. She has excellent speed around the corner and she was never beaten in the tackle. The 7s Eagle accounted for the first try, which evolved after about 25 minutes. Raleigh spent a good portion of the first quarter attacking in Pittsburgh’s end, but stellar defense kept play outside of the 22 meter. Eagle prop Jamie Burke came on at pace, took a pop on the weakside of the ruck and linked up with Carlyle just before being dragged down. The wing kicked it into second gear and motored around her opposite. Theresa Fletcher hit the conversion, 7-0.
Another forwards series, sustained by multiple Pittsburgh penalties, ensued in Pittsburgh’s end, as Raleigh inched closer to the tryline. After a few failed attempts at a dive-over, the ball worked out to Fletcher, who switched with outside center Mari Scamp. She cut right across the sliding defense for the 10-meter try, 12-0.
Pittsburgh showed some promise in the second half, and saw time in Raleigh’s end when Thomas inserted into the backline at pace and hit Rosso on the sideline. She was dragged down just short of the line, but Pittsburgh retained possession and worked the ball the opposite way. The opportunity eventually died when a weakside play ran into a wall of defense that eventually drove Rosso into touch.
Raleigh managed one more try in the match, when Thomas’ attempted return kick was blocked near the 50 meter. As the ball dribbled into open field, Scamp kicked ahead and as inside center Jennifer Larrimore chased it down, she found herself in the perfect position for a bounce right into her arms. Championship MVP Laketa Sutton was trailing in support and one final pass allowed the flanker to dot down under the posts, 17-0.
It was a fine finishing performance, but Miles was more impressed with the team’s adaptability over the course of the weekend.
“We brought in different game plans for each day and the girls executed almost perfectly in each game,” Miles said. “After our game Friday, we watched the Amazons play and knew we needed a different game plan. My concern with the Amazons game was that it took so much out of us. We were up 27-7 and they came back to 27-26. We pulled it out, but I thought we might have been emotionally drained. It was good to see everyone chipper and in a good mood this morning. Then, to come into Pittsburgh, put in our regular game plan, and then shut them out – it was an awesome tournament.”
And every time the Venom visits the USA Rugby Web site, they’ll be reminded of their championship weekend.