It’s a clash of the fantastical as the Midwest DII women’s club playoffs start this weekend.
Just take a look at the four conference leads hosting games this weekend – you’ve got Scylla (of Milwaukee), the monster of Homeric legend (and possibly the mythical manifestation of a real scary cliff-face in the Adriatic).
You’ve got the Amazons (the 2nd side of Twin Cities), the mythical warrior women of Greece. You’ve got the Angels of Pittsburgh – OK so many would say angels exist now, but they are still other-worldly. And finally, from Scioto Valley the … squirrels.
OK, so the theme doesn’t hold for long. But all four teams are something to be reckoned with. And all four face difficult matches against teams that only have one league loss, and are eager to prove themselves.
Minneapolis Menagerie at Milwaukee Scylla
The Menagerie is the one away team to have beaten their conference #1 – they edged the Amazons Bs 17-14 last weekend. However, they needed a bonus-point win, and to deny the Amazons all bonus points, to get first. That really wasn’t in the cards.
The Menagerie now have to travel to Milwaukee. The Scylla themselves (itself?) are in first place in the Midwest Central thanks to a tense 12-11 victory over Wisconsin last weekend.
“That was key for us,” said Head Coach Monica Kaskey. “We have been working all season on building a team that has the skill to adapt to the teams we play against. We know that the Wisconsin strength is in their speedy, evasive backline. So we spent several practices focusing on how to defend against that.”
That they did, holding Wisconsin to one try. The two clubs are close – being in the same state and with Wisconsin being the club Kaskey used to play for. It was the first time the Scylla have emerged victorious over Wisconsin since 2005.
“We have a team full of players that are at their playing peak right now. It's good timing coming into the postseason,” said Kaskey.
Prop is a physical force and leads from the front. She’s a big ball carrier for the Scylla, and while she doesn’t make big breaks, she shoves the line back three to five meters every time.
In the loose forwards, Kristi “Jaws” Smet has developed well at the flanker position.
“She has dominated as a jumper in lineouts and has the tendency to score tries at important times in the match,” said Kaskey.
In the backline, Michelle Enderle is the defensive specialist for Milwaukee. She is tall, strong, and rarely misses a tackle, while breaking several of her own. Captains Kristin "Scrummy" Clements and Jess "Juice" Mueller will keep all on track.
“We couldn't ask for better leadership,” said the coach. “I'm really proud of this team and the improvements we have made this season. I hope this is a strong beginning to a new, improved Milwaukee Scylla and that our Midwest competitors hold a new respect for us.”
Dayton at Pittsburgh
The Angels were national finalists in 2011 and are regular Midwest representatives in the national playoffs – in short, they’ve been there before. Their defense is astounding, having allowed just seven points, one converted try, in four games. This includes a 24-0 shutout of their second –place team, Buffalo.
Head Coach Tony Chappie, DC has an experienced team to call on that has been to three straight national semis.
“We have several new young players in the scrum that have brought fresh legs and more athletic ability than we have had in the past. This has allowed our backs to play a more wide open game,” said Chappie.
Their offense is impressive – 175 points in four matches – but it’s the defense that makes you sit up and take notice.
“We play a tough, scrambling in your face type of defense that has shut down every team we faced this year,” said Chappie. “I expect that this will hold true this weekend against Dayton. We have played Dayton the last two years in the first round of the playoffs and are familiar with their style and type of game they like to play.”
Dayton isn’t too shabby, either. Their average score has been 26-9 and they pushed Midwest-Southern winners Dayton in a 19-10 loss.
Buffalo at Scioto Valley
Well, squirrels are actually scary, especially this time of year when they are defending their food stash. Scioto Valley us used to playing Buffalo in the playoffs – this year marks the third straight meeting between the two. So far they are 1-1 against each other.
“I think we wrapped our regular season solidly enough,” said SV Coach Steve Landes of his team’s 25-0 defeat of Cincinnati to clinch 1st. “We ended the 1st half with just a 3-0 lead and put the other 22 on the board in the second, so we finished strong. For us to win this weekend we just need to play our game. We've improved with each match and we're exactly where we need to be at this point, minus a bit of depth.”
Both teams are expected to have truncated benches.
“I'm really proud of our roster across the board this season,” added Landes, who looks to former UConn and USA U20 forward Alycia Washington and flyhalf and backs captain Sabrina Powers to lead the team. “All the players have bought in to our plan and they all work hard. Our pack as a whole have been doing great work in the set piece. We know the match Saturday will be a challenge, but we are definitely looking forward to the test.”
Wisconsin at Twin Cities B
The Amazons are the B side of the longtime national power Twin Cities DI/WPL team. They will provide a stern test for Wisconsin, which is normally one of the favorites in this region. Wisconsin’s 12-11 loss to Milwaukee will still sting, but they’ve got to put that behind them.
The Amazons also lost last week, 17-14 to the Minneapolis Menagerie. However, they had virtually locked up first regardless.
The Amazons DII team is made up almost entirely of rookies and second-year players, with one or two veterans to make sure they’re running in the right direction.
“I think most of the players want to test themselves to see if they can play at the highest level,” said Roger Bruggemeyer, who coaches both the 1st and 2nd team. “Having a DII team this year has allowed them to practice with very good players and learn the game without the pressure to play in the WPL right away. Like all young players they have a lot to learn, but they have trained hard and have improved throughout the season.”
Bruggemeyer makes no excuse for last week’s loss to the Menagerie.
“It just was a physical game and they came up just short,” he said. “The players didn't know they had come in first until after the game, because they didn't understand the bonus point system. And I didn't tell them because I wanted them to play under pressure. From a coaching standpoint players learn more in losses, so it wasn't the end of the world.”
Leading the way for the ‘Zons are Ashley Kastendick, Angie Ahrendt and Katie Sjeklocha in the forwards and Rachel Lentsch and Carla Schleicher out wide.
“To win this weekend we will need to play our best game,” said Bruggemeyer. “The forwards will need to dictate play, instead of reacting, and our backs will need to play good defense. I know it sounds cliché, but that is the bottom line.
The coaching staff is just happy that they get to play another game with something on the line. Because learning to play under pressure is the best teaching tool for any coach.”
This weekend' matchups:
Buffalo @ Scioto Valley
Dayton @ Pittsburgh
Wisconsin @ Twin Cities B
Menagerie @ Scylla