It was a tale of two halves for the Winona vs. Quinnipiac bout, the second of two women’s DII college semifinals on the day. The Black Katts led by two points at the half, and then exploded with 39 points in the second stanza while holding the Bobcats to five in the 60-22 victory. Winona heads to their second consecutive DII title match.
The first half was a true try-trading affair, but even as the teams went blow-for-blow, it became evident that Quinnipiac needed to make some adjustments if they were going to stay in the game. First and foremost, the Bobcats could not handle big, mobile ballcarriers like lock Kourtney Kavajecz, inside center Caitlin Courtney and outside center Holly Edelburg. Quinnipiac layers like Natalie Kosko and Rachel Stimson worked overtime to clean up missed tackles and stop the hard-charging, leg-pumping Winona players from continuing a solo drive.
Kosko herself was a game-changer for Quinnipiac. Probably the hardest runner on the pitch with a monster stiffarm that sent Winona recoiling backward, the freshman wing scored three tries for the Connecticut team.
“From the beginning, we knew that Kosko was going to be a main player for them,” Kavajecz said. “She’s a good hard runner and scored three tries on our missed tackles. We knew we had to adjust, spread out our defense and just make our tackles. Once we got into our flow, we were in it.”
For Courtney, the turning point occurred just before half, when Winona was down a player and still looking strong.
“We lost our captain and were down to 14 girls,” Courtney remembered. “We had to keep going, and we ended up scoring. Then during the last couple of seconds of the half, we were right on the tryline again. We said, ‘We just did this with 14 people when they had everyone! So we’re going to score again.’ We talked about that at halftime and how we had to keep that momentum up.”
Winona came through on that front. The set pieces went Winona’s way, the forwards continued their assault, opening up space wide, and Quinnipiac was slow to realign on defense. Thirty-nine points followed.
“I could not be more thankful for all my forwards,” Courtney said after her hat trick. “They do so much work for us, and they don’t get any of the glory.”
And now all that’s left is the DII national championship, where Winona will face Washington State (defeated Buffalo 62-0 in semifinal) tomorrow.
“This year we have a lot more focus, and we’re more prepared because we know what we’re going into,” Kavajecz compared last year’s mindset into the final to today’s. “It’s going to be a hard game and we’ve got to be mentally ready. Last year we were excited and ready, but this year we’re at a whole new level.”
Check out photos of the Winona vs. Quinnipiac match here and follow tomorrow’s championship here: https://twitter.com/Rugby_Magazine.