A handful of college conferences sent two teams to the women's DII Round of 32 – Allegheny, Great Waters, Rugby Northeast, Southern California – but only one league saw both representatives advance to the Round of 16: Tri-State. Conference champion Quinnipiac hosted Temple and won 44-0 (read more); while runner-up Albany traveled to Washington, D.C., for a 33-17 victory over American University.
Albany drew some attention in the fall when they played the Bobcats to a 22-14 loss in the conference final – by far the smallest point differential the Connecticut-based team allowed all season. But the Great Danes have proven that they’re more than Quinnipiac’s best competition and have rightfully earned their first trip to the Round of 16 this weekend.
American opened up the scoring five minutes into last Saturday's game, and the teams traded scores until the half (Albany was up 19-12). The turning point occurred in the third quarter, as American launched a 10-minute assault inside Albany’s 22 meter. The Great Danes were prepared for this pressure, as they had spent the previous two weeks training with Albany women, the senior DI team, and focused on defense around the rucks. American hammered away at the tryline but was eventually repelled with no points to show for the territorial advantage.
That victory lifted Albany’s spirits as they pulled away for the 31-17 win.
“We usually start slowly – I cannot explain why,” Albany coach Dmitri Zagorevski said. “But our fitness is exclusive. There is a good tradition where the captains handle fitness [outside of training], and they do it very well, so I can concentrate on the technical aspects. As proof, look at last fall: We scored eight last-minute tries, and that’s because our fitness is better in the second half.”
Having faith in one’s fourth quarter also staves off late-game desperation or panic, especially in close games.
“We had an advantage in our mentality,” Zagorevski said. “In seasons past, this team would give up, but in 2012 we won five or six games in the last minute. Yes, this game [against American] could have gone either way, but in our mind, we weren’t going to lose.”
Albany also had an advantage in the backs, and that attack was led by inside center Alexa Scott. She dotted down twice, and slotted three conversions, while outside center Karlene Freiermuth, flyhalf Camila Osses and scrumhalf Allyssa Phillips also scored tries. The halfback pairing of Ossess and Phillips is an interesting one, considering they’ve transitioned from loose forward and now anchor the backs. Their absence put added pressure on breakaways like Jessica Crall and Alison Delgardo, who have stepped up their play to more than fill the void.
Zagorevski was pleased with the win, as was the team, but Albany are at the point where they don’t simply rejoice after a victory.
“We’ve been gradually improving,” Zagorevski said. “But it’s one of those situations where you take one step, and then you realize there are many more steps to take. They’re confident, and they enjoy every win, but they’re always looking for the next game.”
That next game comes against Appalachian State, which defeated Mary Washington 27-12 in the Round of 32, this Saturday in Annapolis, Md. The Danes are not looking past AHO (for comparison purposes, Mary Washington defeated American 41-19 on March 23), but are hoping to see Quinnipiac, which is also playing in Maryland, in the national quarterfinals.
“We were Quinnipiac’s toughest competition for sure,” Zagorevski reflected on the fall. “They usually beat everyone else by 20 points at least. The girls are looking for some revenge, but they’re taking a very professional approach to the playoffs. We need two wins this weekend.”
For more information on the Round of 16 match-ups, read more here.