Another brilliant game evolved at the Mid-Atlantic college championships this weekend, this time occurring between Eastern Pennsylvania rivals Shippensburg and Temple in the women's DII final. The faceoff is always a heated one, and the spread is typically in the single digits, but once again, Shippensburg came out on top 12-3 for the MARFU Championship.
Both finalists were coming off of difficult games Saturday. Temple advanced to the final on a game-ending penalty to beat George Washington 22-19, while Shippensburg struggled with unforced errors in its 27-10 win over Mary Washington.
The ERPU heavyweights knew Saturday’s wins secured their spots to DII nationals, but Temple appeared more fired up for the MARFU championship.
“It was absolutely what I was expecting,” Temple coach Owen Jones said. “Both teams played knowing they were going to nationals, but we still brought the intensity 100 percent.”
“We weren’t overly pumped up and went in a little flat,” Shippensburg coach Scott Stratton confessed. “The team knew we didn’t have all our starters in there [namely, star center Lucy Renna], and those adjustments can make things a little shaky. But they did what we asked them to do, worked hard, and didn’t claim they were tired.”
Shippensburg banked some lessons after Saturday's semifinal against Mary Washington, a game marked early on by missed passes and bad body position. The team recommitted to the basics – going forward, making tackles, keeping possession and connecting passes – to produce the win, and then brought that mantra to the field today.
“It’s not rocket science,” Stratton said. “You just have to do it better than the other team. Mary Washington had a smaller forward pack, and they knew it, so they got low and drove through the defensive rucks. We didn’t match their numbers and weren’t able to move the ball quickly, and those two things don’t add up.”
Today, Shippensburg tightened up the rucks and picked up its aggression to win the ball cleanly. Fielding larger forwards eventually played into Shippensburg’s hands, as Temple was still recovering from George Washington’s imposing forwards and grew weary by game’s end. Shippensburg prop Dawn Porowski was especially difficult to take down, and her hard runs off the breakdown opened up some attacking room.
“They were able to turn the ball over at the tackle area,” Owens said. “We were only able to gain 10-15 meters at a time, but then they’d be the first to get there, poach the ball, and kill our attack.”
Temple got on the board first with a penalty from Rachel Bandura, the hero of Saturday’s game. Shippensburg knew it was going to have to contend with the flyhalf’s expert boot, and did well enough on the counterattack to mollify that aspect of Temple’s game.
Bandura’s opposite, Averie Brittin, did her part at flyhalf as well. Not a flashy palyer, she gets better every weekend, moves the ball well, is a solid tackler, and is slowly gaining confidence in her kicking ability. Freshman lock Alyssa Skalski was also a bright spot in the Shippensburg attack. Having never started or played in a full match for her team, she came into her own during the MARFU playoffs.
Temple held Shippensburg to two tries, the last of which occurred on the final play of the game. Credit goes to Temple prop Kristin Shedaker, who was a monster of defense, and No. 8 Karina Sundar, who was all over the field.
Owens was pleased with the team’s overall performance, citing the team goal of qualifying for nationals as reason why the team wasn’t overly disappointed in the loss.
“We love close games like these, as opposed to 40- or 50-point routs,” Owens said. “Everyone stepped up to the plate. We’re going to improve our fitness and conditioning so we’re ready for those back-to-back games, but we’ve done a great job so far.”
Although Stratton wasn't overly pleased with this weekend’s games, he’s optimistic about the horizon.
“Today was not the perfect game, but the championship season is about peaking at the right time,” Stratton said. “Last year, we were loaded with talent, but we didn’t peak at nationals. We played more solidly at MARFUs, came out flat at nationals, and Notre Dame did everything right to beat us. We don’t want to do that this year. You always want to win, but today was about pushing boundaries and fitness, so we’re ready to play for keeps on Sunday.”
Temple and Shippensburg will both head to Mobile, Ala., for the first round of DII championships. Shippensburg will see South #2 Appalachian State, while Temple will face South champion Lee University.