Even though the DI and DII women’s clubs are now playing split seasons, with their championships moved from the fall to spring, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s lots of room for extra matches. For the reigning DII champion, Pittsburgh, the team still contested five of their eight league matches, crushing opponents 406-33, a points differential that includes a 20-0 forfeit.
The Angels needed a good, competitive match before heading into the winter, and so they looked to a familiar foe: Raleigh, a team that Pittsburgh has played in three of the last four DII finals. The Venom are also undefeated in the Capital’s South division, going 4-0 and outscoring opponents 244-29. Despite being on the road and traveling light, Pittsburgh posted a solid 48-19 victory over the Venom, feeling good heading into the season break.
“Our team knew that this would be a tougher game than we had played all season,” Pittsburgh coach Anthony Chappie said. “After we scored early in the game, we botched the kickoff, and Raleigh turned around and scored right away. Raleigh showed that they are a class team and will score off of our mistakes. They continued to play tough defense, and made several breaks late in the game -- although they were down several tries -- when most teams that we played would have quit.”
It's important to note that Raleigh has lost a few key players in the last couple of years, including Eagle prop Jamie Burke (Glendale), Eagle wing Amanda Street (D.C. Furies) and standout flanker Laketa Sutton (Atlanta). Their absence hasn't crippled the Venom, but they do leave a void.
Pittsburgh buckled down to score three more tries before the half while Raleigh added try number two (26-12). The visitors bettered their scoring ratio in the second stanza, outdoing Raleigh three tries to one. The Venom’s No. 8, scrumhalf and inside center challenged the Angels’ defense and disrupted continuous, smooth ball, but it wasn’t enough to derail the Pittsburgh forwards’ command.
“Our forwards played a very solid game and won several balls against the head,”Chappie said. “Late in the game, they were able to drive several lineouts, which led to tries. They also were very aggressive at the breakdown, leading to several turnovers. Offensively our forwards produced good ball, both in the loose play and the set, and were able to break the gainline with ball in hand. When you score 48 points against a quality team like Raleigh, then your whole forward pack has done a great job and should be commended.”
The forwards laid the groundwork for some impressive back work, which was mostly orchestrated by flyhalf Mel Slater.
“Her decision-making of when to run and when to kick into open space was critical to our success,” Chappie praised.
Well known fullback Donita Thomas mimicked Slater’s field vision, counter-attacking when the holes were there and kicking to space when the situation necessitated. New wing Kathryn Waligura was also impressive, taking a couple of long runs in for tries and putting in some breakaway-saving tackles. Waligura was voted player of the match.
“Overall I am pleased with the way we played and felt that this was an important game to gauge where we are after winning the national championship last year,” Chappie said. “We have several new players to the team, as well as most of the veterans from last year’s team. We did travel light, and didn't have a few of our starters due to injury and prior commitments, so we were able to get some new players a quality game.”
Pittsburgh and the rest of the Midwest region will return to league play in early April and begin division playoffs on April 26.