By Jackie Finlan
With Texas Tech playing in DI, there's room for a new DII big dog in Texas' women's colleges. Indications point to the University of Texas, which has gone undefeated in league thus far. But Texas State, also undefeated, eagerly awaits this weekend, when the two teams face off for what will decide who takes the lone seed to West playoffs.
It has been easy going for the two teams in the sense that three of the teams participating in competitive play have had trouble fielding full sides. Rice lost to UT 54-0 in the fall but has had trouble getting more than 13/14 players on the field since then. Texas Christian University and Angelo State are DII newcomers and have awarded forfeit wins to the league leaders, although the games did proceed with the help of women's clubs Dallas Diablos and Austin Valkyries, which supplied players.
Sam Houston is the only other team in the region that provides regulation matches for the teams, and has some talented players, especially captain K.C. Curl. The Huntsville-based team lost to Texas State in a close 23-14 match, but fell 34-0 to UT last weekend.
One of the league leader's undefeated season will come to end on Saturday during a highly anticipated grudge match between the two Texas heavyweights.
It's a little more complicated in Southern California, a union that has five teams total competing in league competition. There are no territorial playoffs, and that lone seed to nationals is being hotly contested.
Defending champion Claremont is being pushed by Arizona and CSU Fullerton. The season began with a surprising 7-5 victory to Fullerton over Claremont. President Lily Wiggins remembered the rainy, messy game, which came down to a missed conversion. Claremont found itself in a similar situation against Arizona weekends later, but was the two-point victor in the 14-12 match.
"In terms of how we played, Fullerton was a little tougher for us," Wiggins said. "It was more of a forwards game against Fullerton and we had a hard time in the scrum. Against Arizona, even though they have been our toughest competitors in the past years, we were able to break through their backs and kick more. We known as the 'track meet' team. We like to kick and chase, because we have a lot of fast people, including our forwards. We don't have the size that many teams have, but our forwards hold their own."
Claremont relies on inside center Carlen "Danger" Don, scrumhalf Kristin Raphel and flyhalf Julia Diaz to launch the backline attack. The team is also eager to welcome back six-foot No. 8 Emily Van Gulik, who plays for Claremont's basketball team in the fall but will rejoin the rugby squad going forward.
While Fullerton provided Claremont with an unexpected loss - unexpected because the team has been undefeated the last two years en route to nationals - the Wildcats have had better luck against them. Having already played its two league matches against CSUF, the teams drew 14-all in the first meeting, and then Arizona beat the dark horse 18-5 on its own turf.
Arizona leads the division on points, but shares a 3-1 record with Claremont. Fullerton has played one less game and is currently 2-1. All three teams will bolster their winning records with remaining games against USF and Occidental, but there is still many lead-shifting games to be played among the top three. Claremont has the slightest of edges considering it play its second matches against Arizona and Fullerton at home, but considering the teams' competitive histories in the last couple of years, home-field advantage isn't a huge one.