It was a lot easier to rank teams when the women’s club championships were in the fall, seeing as all but Southern California’s DII league contested their league seasons in the same time span. But with the split season, a team’s record isn’t as reliable as it once was; there are other considerations: Who has left/joined the team since the fall? When will weather allow teams to play playoff warm-ups?
But there are some positive notes, for instance, teams will have a little more room to play cross-region friendlies before the playoffs kick off, and that will lend some insight that is otherwise difficult in a fall-only season. Those comparisons will come later in the spring.
Chicago North Shore tops our list. The former DI champ was perfect through the fall and should have no trouble staying undefeated through the remaining two weeks of league in the spring. NOVA is a close second and had a good opponent in Philadelphia during league. But the east coast power dropped an uncharacteristic game in the fall, and that was reason enough to keep them out of first.
ORSU is the highest ranked team in the competition, having reached the 2012 (and last) finals against Atlanta; however, the destruction of the team’s league is going to hurt the Oregon squad. While Seattle and Emerald City pad their schedules with Canadian league games, ORSU is stranded. We’ll keep an eye on ORSU as it travels to San Diego and hosts Glendale, in addition to finishing out the second half of the ACR1 season.
Boston was the clear leader in the Northeast, which involved six teams, two of which were DI newcomers. New coach Dmitri Efthimiou (who was last seen coaching The Royals to an LVI Women’s Open 7s title vs. Japan Select 2) has made the team much more dynamic, and by fall’s end, the team was playing some fast, wide-open rugby. Providence played a similar game and was the team’s best competition.
The Meat in the Middle
There are a few teams we need to watch. One is Emerald City. As mentioned, they’ve been playing in Canada and won the Vancouver Premiership league in the fall. The Mudhens are playing in Canada’s spring league as well, so they’ll have plenty of warm-up games in addition to round 2 of ACR1 league games. It’s unfortunate that there’s no play-in option, because the Pacific Northwest, with its three teams, could probably beat every other DI team in the American Conference.
Except maybe Austin, but even that’s a tough call. The Valkyries have long been the dominant force in the Texas area; however, the Red River conference is composed of newly promoted teams. So even though Austin is putting up big numbers, its competition isn’t as strong as the rest of the country, generally speaking.
We’re also going to watch Southern California, which has two former DII teams joining two veteran DI teams. For comparison purposes, when Tempe and Belmont Shore played with the Pacific Northwest teams in DI's CR1, they rarely (if ever) won. Maybe shorter travel distances will affect the level play, but again, we’ll wait and see.
Finally, it’s tough to place Denver Black Ice, which gets an automatic bid to the American Conference championship as the only ACR3 representative. They’re filling their schedule with friendlies against DI and DII teams; however, when opponents are playing in a non-league match, one can assume that their best team isn’t on the field. When the CR2 was operating, Denver finished near the bottom of the standings, but we have to keep a close eye on them now since they’re guaranteed a spot at conference playoffs.
Making the Cut
The latter portion of the rankings is a mix of new DI teams and those struggling to regroup. Of the newcomers, Monmouth looks promising. They’re young and have a good feeder system. The New Jersey side took the fourth spot to Northeast semifinals and will have their work cut out for them against Boston. They probably won’t move on but it’ll be good experience.
Santa Barbara got its first DI win against San Diego last weekend, and will lend some perspective when it takes on Tempe on Feb. 22. HARC is in second place in Red River, and its strength will be better known after the March 22 match against Austin.
The aforementioned are a little more buoyant than teams like Keystone and Detroit, who have struggled recently.
Women DI Club Top 20 - Feb. 12, 2014
1. Chicago North Shore (4-0). Cruising through the Midwest; outscored league opponents 173-24
2. NOVA (5-1). Toughest team on the east coast; dropped a three-point game to Philadelphia in the fall.
3. ORSU (2-0). Reigning DI finalist but struggling to find competitive games. Fall wins: 25-0 against Seattle; 29-22 v Emerald City
4. Boston (7-0). Top seed in Northeast; put up big numbers in the fall; got best competition from Providence; will play Monmouth in Northeast semifinals
5. Philadelphia (5-1). Highlight was 22-19 win v NOVA
6. Emerald City (1-1). Fell 7 points short of ORSU; won the Vancouver Premiership in the fall
7. Austin (5-0). Dominating Red River, outscoring opponents 224-16
8. Albany (6-1). Only league loss came from Boston 27-7; also beat Providence 31-24; will play Providence in Northeast semis
9. Providence (4-3). Better than its 4-3 record; will play Albany in Northeast semifinals
10. Minnesota Valkyries (2-1-1). 2nd in Midwest; gave North Shore best game of season, 39-12 loss; will most likely play for absent NCR2 seed to National Conference Championship
11. Seattle (0-2). Fell 25-0 to ORSU, 27-22 to Emerald City; also playing in Vancouver Premiership
12. Black Ice. All of the Denver team's games are considered friendlies, but the most telling game occurred in late October against the Valkyries: 17-22 loss
13. Santa Barbara (1-0). First DI season; defeated San Diego 29-19
14. Chicago (1-3). Currently 3rd in Midwest; potential for playoffs if they win against Minnesota Valkyries in spring season (first game was 15-5 to Valks)
15. San Diego (0-1). First DI season; fell 29-19 to Santa Barbara
16. Belmont Shore (0-0). inactive; first game is Feb. 15 against Tempe
17. Monmouth (2-5). First DI season; 22-17 win against Village Lions and 56-5 win against Morris
18. HARC (4-1). First DI season; 2nd in Red River; definitive game will occur March 22 against Austin
19. Detroit (0-3-1). Last in the Midwest; best game was season-opener: 22-22 against Minnesota Valkyries
20. Keystone (1-4). 3rd in Mid-Atlantic; lone win came against DI newcomer James River 24-19