Army and Brown return to the women’s Northeast DI College Championship tomorrow after defeating Radcliffe 30-7 and Princeton 36-12 during today’s semifinals.
The more eagerly anticipated game was the Brown v Princeton game, a rematch of the Ivy League Championship in which Brown won 24-17. Brown’s forwards were outmatched in the scrum during that title match, so getting as much scrummaging practice as possible with the younger players was a major focus during last week’s training.
Princeton adjusted their defense to account for wing Shakeela Faulkner and ran a good push defense to contain the outside attack.
“It wasn’t so much that Princeton’s push defense shut us down,” Brown coach Kerri Heffernan reflected on 10-7 halftime lead. “Our strike lines were awful, but the few times we were able to break through, we were rewarded. Princeton is a very good side, but for some reason, we don’t play well against them. I was nervous about this game.”
At the break, Heffernan instructed the forwards to punch only when they had good reason to, not when the defense was organized. Heffernan wanted her players to take their chances out wide, confident that a touchline-to-touchline game plan would yield more scoring opportunities.
Brown took Heffernan’s advice to heart. Flanker Vanessa Munoz and sophomore hooker Lucy Fernandez took control in the forwards, while the backs saw two tries apiece from flyhalf Chelsea Garber and Faulkner, both of whom were standout players on the day.
“We’re so lucky to have a player like Chelsea,” Heffernan said. “She’s so composed, has great vision, and is quicker than she was last year. And Shakeela is living up to her rep. She scored a gorgeous 80-meter try right at the end.”
Princeton kept at it and was able to break the try line several times, but Brown’s defense continued to prevent the grounding.
“It was discouraging for Princeton,” Heffernan. “They were going over for three tries, and we took the ball away and scored. It’s heartbreaking for college kids.”
Heffernan and players were able to watch the first half of the Army v Radcliffe game, which had the latter winning 7-5 into the break.
“We’re going to have to tackle well,” Heffernan stated tomorrow’s goals. “With us, it’s always a struggle. We have some young forwards, and they’re going to have to get us possession, set the platform, and then get it to our more experienced backs, who will know what to do with the ball.”
Army is the midst of rebuilding as well, and the team struggled to find consistency in the first half. There were lots of unforced errors and the backs dropped some scoring opportunities.
With 30 minutes left in the match, Army was still trailing Radcliffe, so coach Will Riddle made a game-changing decision.
“I wanted to rest Annie Lee for tomorrow’s game,” Riddle said of the DI national championship MVP. “She’s scheduled for shoulder surgery on Tuesday, so I wanted to hold her for as long as possible. She came on, scored two tries, set up another try for Kaitlyn [Kelly] and then came right off.”
Lee provided the spark that the cadets needed. Even though the backline needs to produce more, the decision-making and structure improved on attack. Army was also missing All American fullback Jess Sexauer, who had lasic eye surgery last week.
It’ll be interesting to see how Brown’s and Army’s scrums match up tomorrow. Radcliffe was able to move the cadets around a bit, but Army will be reinforced with some starters saved for tomorrow’s championship match.
The third place match is just as important, as the NRU has three seeds to nationals. When Radcliffe and Princeton played during the Ivy League season, the Tigers prevailed 26-14.