This time of year, we're comparing teams that have finished their competitive seasons with those that are just starting to hit stride, but the Women’s DII College Top 20 ranking is more difficult than its DI counterpart. Close to 100 DII schools participated in ACRA and will finish out the 2013-2014 competitive season with friendlies and 7s tournaments.
Akin to the DI Top 20, the top portion of the list features ACRA teams, but as mentioned, that’s only because we’ve already seen what they can do, and now it’s time for the rest of the country to peak. Nevertheless, we don’t expect anyone to overtake Winona for the rest of the year. The ACRA champions were the heavy favorites for the USA Rugby title – before the competition split – and the biggest push-back they received came from newcomer Notre Dame College. No one knew what to expect when the independent team earned an at-large bid to playoffs, but the Falcons' quick success shows what can happen in a year’s time when the college itself supports the program.
Score-wise, the closest game that NDC played all season came against Ithaca College in the quarterfinals. We resisted placing the New York team higher because, first, they finished behind SUNY Geneseo during league (and they're not on the list), and second, the Falcons weren't at full strength on that second consecutive day of playoffs. That said, Ithaca College was two points away from heading to the Final Four in Florida, and they deserve that #10 rank.
We’ve ranked Mary Washington the highest out of the active DII teams. The Capital conference contested its league and championship in the fall, and Mary Washington edged Salisbury (ranked number five) 24-17 for the first-ever title. The Virginia side has been playing games since February 1 (although two games and a tournament were canceled due to weather), losing 25-17 against DI’s UVA and winning 50-10 vs. Catholic University. Before the Round of 32 on April 12 (should it occur), Mary Washington will play another six games. And if they advance to the Round of 16, then they’ll squeeze in two more games before April 26.
Davenport is one team we’d like to rank higher, however, there were eligibility issues during the fall, which ultimately disqualified the new program from playoffs. But the Panthers haven't wasted any time turning heads again, falling just short of DI's Indiana University, 25-19, on Feb. 22. A highly anticipated match awaits on March 15, when Davenport hosts Notre Dame College.
The remainder of the list is a mixture of teams that stood out during the ACRA playoffs and those west coast and southern teams that are performing well. Fresno State has burst onto the scene and is the only undefeated team in the West Coast conference. They knocked down Humboldt early in the season, but the traditionally strong team has been rebounding nicely. We're keeping an eye on UC Santa Cruz and UN Reno, too. Southern California has had its share of forfeits, but CSU Northridge and CSU Long Beach have been putting up solid numbers. Northridge gets the early nod because they've represented the region at nationals the last two years. It's a long season for these two, but clearly, the highlight will be their match-up.
But some good performances are difficult to judge, as a couple of conferences are rife with forfeits, meaning some of those undefeated records are padded.
The Cascade conference is a prime example. When Washington State and Washington were promoted to DI, the void was filled with teams like Portland State and Idaho, both of which forfeited games, in addition to Seattle. The impact isn’t only felt in the quantity and quality of competition but also in the mental build-up toward playoffs. Western Washington, which used to be the Cougars’ biggest rival before rebuilding the last couple of years, has made the best of it and just finished the league season with a 5-0 record. The Flames are on the list, but the team needs to line up some serious warm-up games before playoffs.
Appalachian State and Lee University don’t have it any easier. The former always battles weather issues and gets one good game a year (against College of Charleston) before playoffs. The latter is in an even direr situation; at present, it appears that Lee is joined by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga in the True South – and that’s it! Lee won the first bout 22-0, and typically has a strong team, but we’ll see how the rest of the spring pans out.
Florida International and North Georgia are both undefeated in their respective conferences, and both have enjoyed one good opponent during league: Florida Atlantic for FIU, and Emory for North Georgia. These regions struggle to make an impact on the national stage, but we’ll test those opinions once crossovers begin. The Texas teams are playing in a friendly season where 7s, 10s or 15s is an acceptable form of play. It's a great strategy for sustaining developing teams, but it's not consistent enough to warrant a spot on the rankings.
Women DII College Top 20 – March 7, 2014
1. Winona (12-0). ACRA champion; defeated NDC 28-14 in final
2. Notre Dame College (4-1). Finished 2nd in ACRA, lost 28-14 to Winona (entered playoffs as an independent at-large bid so there were no official "league" games to track; the Falcons were undefeated in their run-up to playoffs.)
3. Vassar (11-3). Lost 34-19 to Notre Dame College in ACRA semis, defeated Kutztown 24-15 for 3rd
4. Mary Washington (7-0). Won the Capital conference, defeating Salisbury 24-17 in final; lost 25-17 to DI UVA in pre-season and defeated Catholic Univ. 50-10 on March 1
5. Salisbury (6-1). Finished 2nd in Capital conference; lost 24-17 to Mary Washington
6. Davenport (5-0). Deemed ineligible in Great Lakes conference but was crushing competition in the meantime
7. Kutztown (9-2). Lost 52-17 to Winona in ACRA semifinals, lost 24-15 to Vassar in 3rd place match
8. Shippensburg (7-1). Mid-Atlantic conference champ (defeated Kutztown 43-41); lost 38-5 to Notre Dame College in ACRA Round of 16
9. CSU Northridge (3-0). Most important win was the 33-10 victory over UC Riverside
10. Ithaca (6-3). Lost 23-22 to Notre Dame College in ACRA quarterfinals
11. Appalachian (3-0). Won toughest game of season vs. College of Charleston, 26-7
12. Nebraska (5-2). Gave Winona a good, physical challenge in ACRA Round of 16, losing 46-15
13. Fresno State (4-0). Undefeated in the West Coast conference; closest game was the 24-18 win vs. UC Santa Cruz
14. Bowdoin (7-2). Lost 15-5 to Kutztown in ACRA Quarterfinals
15. CSU Long Beach (4-0). Leading Southern California, best game came against UC Irvine (39-10 win)
16. Humboldt (2-1). Slow start with 42-29 loss vs. CSU Fresno but recently defeated UCSC 32-17
17. Western Washington (5-0). Lots of forfeits in this league; best game came from Idaho, 35-25 win
18. Florida International (4-0). Only competition is Florida Atlantic: 15-0 victory
19. North Georgia (5-0). Best competition is Emory: 15-5 and 22-20 slim-margin wins
20. Lee University (1-0). Defeated UT Chattanooga 22-0