This weekend is a big one for women’s clubs. The DI Elite 8 goes down in Atlanta; multiple territories are hosting their DII club playoffs; and even the college sphere is whittling down its contenders for nationals. One team that is beyond the anxiety of qualifying for nationals is Ft. Miami, which won the South DII Championship earlier this month.
Ft. Miami has the ball out during the South championship.
(Joe Hayden photo)
All of the DII clubs in the South qualified for regional playoffs during the spring, but it wasn’t until mid-October that the national representative was decided. Ft. Miami advanced to the final after a 27-0 semifinal victory over last year’s national rep, Memphis. The following day, the Florida squad put in a similar performance, shutting down Knoxville 27-5 for the berth to nationals.
With the exception of last year, Ft. Miami has attended every DII championship since 2008, but they’ve yet to contend for the crown.
“I was not involved with the team then, but from what I was told, in the beginning it was not knowing what to expect coupled with a lack of fitness,” Ft. Miami coach Mike Hayden said of the team’s limiting factors in years past. “Unfortunately we don't get to play a lot of top women's teams.”
To confront the issue of quality, local competition, Hayden took his team on the road in 2012, and they tested themselves against DI powerhouse Atlanta three times this year. The veteran players drove the team's commitment to improved play, and set a good example for the teammates to follow.
“What's most exciting is to see the improvement of our core players in terms of fitness, technique and buying into the overall team strategy,” Hayden said. “For example, in the forwards, second-row Belinda Robertson went from being a good player to a rucking and tackling machine. She’s truly a force of nature!”
Integral to Ft. Miami's success are the team's four co-captains: prop KayJay McAuley, the anchor in the pack who has great field and game awareness; inside center Brie Cokos, a tremendous athlete with lots of experience; flyhalf Devin Huber, an up-and-coming star with good field vision and the physical tools to make it happen; and lock Michelle Horevitz, another physical up-and-comer.
That said, it never hurts to have some new blood shake up the lineup. The team that qualified for Souths in the spring is not the one that won the championship in the fall. Key playmakers in scrumhalf Andrea Johnson and prop Jane Bolin, the “heart and soul” who now coaches, opened up some vacancies, while newcomers Maureen Arcila and Virginia Perez, both loose forwards, outside center Dana Esposito and wing Tatum Walker have added some nice punch to the roster.
“Yes, we will be peaking at nationals,” Hayden affirmed. “Our women are pumped to win this year. And more importantly, they are putting in the hard work to make it happen, so I think our chances to win are good.”
Ft. Miami will kick off their fourth trip to nationals against Pacific Coast champion Portland, which defeated the Sacramento Amazons 50-15 in the title bout for the berth. The competition kicks off Friday, Nov. 9.