Stanford dominated Brown in the Women’s DI College semifinals today, advancing to the final against Penn State with a 46-5 over the Ivy League squad.
“Stanford was very good, very powerful and dominated us,” Brown coach Kerri Heffernan said. “We didn’t respond like we usually do. We put in a lot of effort, worked really hard, but it just didn’t come together today.”
Stanford overwhelmed Brown, which suffered a mentally crippling injury in the 20th minute. Senior fullback Emily Hsieh left the field for good, as did Anna Stancioff just before half, and the defense suffered.
"Emily is our defensive anchor and when she left, that created some cracks,” Heffernan said.
“Losing two of our seniors shook up our senior class,” Brown flyhalf Chelsea Garber added. “And when we started losing set pieces that’s something we haven’t had to deal with in the past. We’re usually really strong in the lineouts, but they had such height that we struggled in the first pod and had to send it to the second pod.”
At the half, Stanford was up 17-5. No. 8 and former 7s Eagle Amelia Villines scored the first try after a series of pick-and-goes at the tryline. Brown answered with a similar scenario, getting downfield with a steady march and sending the ball wide to Shakeela Faulkner. Her grounding was held up, setting a five-meter scrum that Stanford cleared out of danger.
At the 23-minute mark, the ball found Smriti Sridhar and her stunning speed was showcased in front of a packed house, and the petite wing streaked down the sideline 50 meters for the try. Alyson Gleason hit the conversion for the 12-0 lead.
Stanford continued to march downfield and got some good, scrappy yardage out of centers Gleason and Olabisi Ibrahim, who proved incredibly powerful with ball in hand. Flanker Melanie Nacouzi finally found a seam in the defense for the try, 17-0.
Brown ended the half on a high note. Racing to realign after a kick to midfield, flyhalf Garber was in position for an outlet pass but found herself with no options. She spotted a channel around the breakdown and took it for the open lane to the try zone, 17-5.
Although Stanford went into the break with a decent lead, penalties prevented an even larger point margin.
“We wanted to retain possession and play through phases, and I thought we struggled with that today,” Stanford coach Matt Sherman said. “We struggled with discipline at the breakdown. I don’t know what the penalty count was, but I’m guessing we were around 15-20, and that kept Brown in the game. We had them on the back foot and kept giving away penalties.”
Stanford managed to up their game in the second half, while Brown continued to struggle. Stanford was more emphatic on attack, while Brown at times seemed hesitant and indecisive when they had possession.
Fullback Jamaica Osorio, lock Molly Kinsella, Ibrahim, wing Michelle Teo and Sridhar all scored in the second half, while Gleason added two conversions. Stanford didn’t let up throughout the entire match, and while Brown played admirable defense – and scrumhalf put in a highlight-reel cover tackle on Sridhar to prevent the hat trick – they couldn’t maintain that pace for the entire game.
“It was good that we stayed strong in the second half,” Stanford flyhalf Jamie Lawrence said. “We’ve struggled with coming out strong after halftime. We’ll put together a more complete 80 minutes tomorrow.”
“I don’t think it was the best performance that we’re capable of, but it was good in a lot of areas,” Sherman said, “We wanted to get a lot of pressure through our defensive launch and we did that well today.
“We worked harder off the ball to get organized, the same in attack,” Sherman added. “Where we let ourselves down was the breakdown, on both sides of the ball. we turned it over in attack and shot ourselves in the foot with penalties.”
Sherman commended the work of Lawrence at flyhalf. Although she struggled with some kicks early on, she turned it around and kept Brown retreating. He tipped his hat to Sridhar, who had some big moments streaking down the sideline, and credited his excellent back row of Villines, Frances Wehrwein and Nacouzi for playing their typical strong games.
Stanford returns to the championship against Penn State, a familiar scene save last year when the teams met in the Elite 8.
“We need to keep up the thing we did well,” Sherman said with an eye on Penn State. “Stay organized on attack, keep up our defensive pressure and be more disciplined at the defensive breakdowns. And set pieces are always important. Penn State is really good there; it will be a challenge.
Lawrence and many of her teammates have PSU final memories from the last few years.
“We have 16 graduating seniors,” the junior said. “Some played Penn State when I was a freshman, and some played them the year before that. It’s good to be back [in the final], especially because we put in a lot of work these last three weeks working on fitness and technical skills.”
Stanford has an edge being the hometown crowd, but it’s something Penn State has overcome in the past.
“You can feel the aura and vibe from fans,” Lawrence said. “Our team is such a whole team – there isn’t one player who does everything – so you can hear each other over everyone. But it feels really good to look up and feel that support.”
The final kicks off at 3 p.m. PST.