The Midwest DII women’s college playoffs are down to two after two very close semifinals Saturday. Pittsburgh defeated UW-La Crosse in overtime, while Minnesota’s Winona State edged Grand Valley State in an exciting match, 32-26.
Winona scored early in that match before GVSU replied to lead 7-5. Grand Valley scored again to lead 12-5, but neither team was going to break free from the other Saturday.
“GVSU has some very explosive backs, including a very strong #13,” said Winona Coach Rob Thoreson. “hey broke our defensive line quite a bit in the early stages but a handful of knock-ons held them back.”
Freshman Winona State flanker Tori Langhans’s try tied the game 12-12. The teams battled back and forth, but could score until just before halftime. Winona was on the Grand Valley line, got several penalties and finally the referee had had enough, and the penalty try made it 17-12 t halftime.
GVSU scored off of the opening kick off to start the second half with a few missed tackles by Winona to retake the lead 19-17, and then once more to go up 26-17. At the point Winona ran in some subs, with senior fullback Lily Wellenstein, freshman prop Sarah Lent and freshman lock Ashley Pomeroy all running on.
“Those fresh legs made a huge difference,” said Thoreson.
Lent touched down in the corner shortly after coming in, taking advantage of a turnover. Then with 15 minutes left Winona started to look the stronger team. They contested the breakdown well and a lineout and maul produced a try for hooker Emilee Burkhalter.
That gave Winona the lead 27-26, and moments later a series of pick-and-goes set up Lent for her second and a 32-26 win.
Thoreson praised co-captains, Hilary Pletta, No. 8, and Ashley Nelson, outside center, for playing “some of their best rugby today. When the going got tough, they dug deeper than I have seen dig all season. They stepped up and made crucial tackles, captured some great turnovers and overall kept our girls going.”
Meanwhile freshman scrumhalf Georgia Porter played with great confidence in the win against an outstanding GVSU #9, and lock Kourtney Kavajecz, flyhalf Sheree Heslemore and center Holly Edelburg also played well.
“Grand Valley played some incredible rugby, especially at scrumhalf and outside center – their scrumhalf has the best pass out to a flyhalf as I have seen in the Midwest,” said Thoreson.
“Every single player played her absolute heart out,” enthused Nelson. “We never once gave up or got down on each other. We knew it was going to be the hardest game we’ve ever played and stepping onto the field we knew we were ready. The last 15 minutes in the game everyone could feel the passion and we weren't ready to give up.”
“We spent the last 2 weeks focusing on our balanced and aggressive defense knowing that GVSU had a high-charged offense,” added Thoreson. “Our fitness and our extra work on defense proved to be key factors in today's match. The feeling from the players, coaches and fans was that this match was the single most satisfying win in their history. It was the best played game on rugby on both sides that I have seen in a long, long time.”
Winona will take on Pitt, which beat La Crosse 27-10, but don’t let the score fool you – they needed overtime.
“The overtime was a full team effort,” said Pitt’s forwards captain, Chelsey Mitchell.
Deadlocked 10-10, Pitt exploded in the extra periods, scoring twice in the first ten minutes thanks to Nicole Beswick and Chenell York, and then sealed it with a try from Jessie Young.
“In the pack it was a collective effort, making tackles, supporting in rucks, and going hard in the scrum,” said Mitchell. “The loose three inserted themselves with the backs and made hard hits. The backs did a great job running from depth all day and making the gain line. The wings and fullback did a good job in the second half when UW-Lax decided to go to a kicking game. The team has a whole played well to get the win and showed a lot of heart.”
Mitchell said she’d like to see her team show better body position in contact against Winona. Certainly both teams will be tired tonight as they ponder a tough final Sunday.