The weather wasn’t cooperating with Norwich’s debut at the 2012 Women’s DII College National Championship, but the scoreline certainly did. Vassar threw everything they had the Cadets during today’s quarterfinal, but Norwich prevailed with a 36-0 shutout.
Norwich advanced to the second round of playoffs unscathed, as Rutgers’ forfeit meant the NRU champ received a bye through the Round of 16. Vassar eliminated AIC yesterday with a big 52-12 win. The two teams saw each other during the Northeast championship last fall, when Norwich blanked Vassar 46-0.
“We’re still a little rusty,” Norwich coach Austin Hall said. “Having one game this weekend was a bit of a disadvantage, and it would have been nice to play yesterday. Vassar did a great job; they’ve improved a lot since the fall, even though the score is pretty similar. Their scrums were stronger, and that prevented us from attacking in all the ways we wanted to.”
But Norwich still attacked from everywhere. Vassar did an excellent job of absorbing Norwich’s attack, especially considering the Vermont team retained the majority of possession. And with the exception of lock Corinne McElroy’s dive-over try, which evolved after a sustained series of punches, most of Norwich’s tries either came from a long linebreak or a quick penalty.
Breakaways Hannah Bushey and Katie Hathaway were great about staying on their feet if the first-up tackle didn’t finish through. They ran with poise and excellent speed through the middle of the field, and were quick enough to out-leg Vassar’s fastest pursuers. Both were rewarded with tries; Bushey had two. Scrumhalf Emily Orr didn’t waiver for a moment and was quick-tapping through every penalty awarded Norwich. The diligence paid off on one such occasion inside Vassar’s 22 meter, and outside center Jackie Durocher was on the halfback’s heels for the finishing pass and corner try.
Norwich’s back three didn’t get too much action today, but when they got their hands on the ball, they made good on the opportunities. Toward the end of the match, fullback Rose Bernheim took the corner from inside Norwich’s 22 meter. She kicked it into second gear and streaked down the sideline. Vassar caught up to Bernheim near their 22 meter, and just before the tackle, the fullback offloaded a perfect little pop to wing Adria Pickin, who finished off the break with ease. Flyhalf Emily Baugus slotted three of six tries as well.
“Everyone on our team is capable of scoring at any moment,” Hall said. “It’s a neat mentality to have.
“Yes and no,” Hall responded when asked whether today’s performance was typical of this season. “That’s how it’s looked all season, but we talk about being an organic team. We’re building and creating on the spot; that’s what we hope to do, and every game is different in that regard. If a team’s giving us the wings, then we’ll take the wings. If a team’s giving us the centers, then we’ll take the centers. We’re trying to see the holes as they appear rather than having a set structure. It’s free flowing.”
Vassar played admirably, but there was just a different level of intensity in Norwich's game. When Norwich punched off the breakdown, they’d take the outlet pass at pace and harpoon a couple of meters, while Vassar often received the ball meters behind the gainline and struggled with body position (with exceptions like flanker Dallas Robinson and captain/hooker Alyssa Bell). In the tackle, Vassar did a great job of bringing ballcarriers to ground, but when Norwich was on defense, ballcarriers were propelled backward and lifted off balance.
The game was more competitive than the score suggests, however Vassar wasn’t able to secure enough possession to really unleash their main attacking threats – scrumhalf Margaret Kwateng, wing O’Mara Taylor and fullback Addie Provenzano, although all three had individual moments of brilliance.
Hall was reluctant to single any one player out from the comprehensive win, but he tipped his hat to hooker Christine Aye, who played a great game in sloppy weather.
With the win, Norwich moves onto the DII semifinals in Palo Alto, Calif., where they’ll face Washington State for the berth to the final.