A Texan team representing the South at nationals? That’s the case at the Women’s DI College National Championships, as first-year DI team Texas overwhelmed opponents this weekend at the South Championship. Texas eliminated Georgia Tech 52-33 yesterday during the semifinals, then upset reigning South champion North Carolina 36-3 in the title match.
Surprised? Texas certainly wasn’t.
“We were confident coming into this weekend,” Texas assistant coach Jen Moreno said. “Even though others might be surprised, we knew we were right where we should be.”
Texas had never played any of the South teams before, but when the Longhorns won the South play-ins last weekend, they proved that they adapt well to the unknown.
“I wouldn’t say there’s apprehension,” Moreno said of playing new teams. “We have to spend a lot of time planning for different variables, and then spend the first 10-15 minutes of the game figuring out which of those we have to deal with.”
Saturday started slowly for Texas, as Georgia Tech scored early and penalties hampered Texas’ fluidity. The turning point came after Georgia Tech’s second score. The team regrouped in the try zone, shook off the jitters, and settled into its fast-paced, mobile game.
By game’s end, fullback Kiara Harris had four tries to her credit, while Calista Moses added a brace of tries, and Sierra Jenkins and Wendy Sun added one apiece. Julia Fortkort tacked on 12 points with six conversions.
North Carolina is a better known entity than Georgia Tech, but Texas didn’t deviate from its game plan when preparing for the final.
“Our approach was the same against Georgia Tech, which was the same as last weekend,” Moreno said. “We know what we’re good at it; we just need to execute and not wait for other teams to impose their game plan. We did a much better job from the opening kickoff against UNC. We were able to score early and set the tone, and we also cleaned up our tackling from yesterday.”
Fitness enables Texas’ style of play. They’re not the largest team to take the pitch, but everyone is agile and strong. UNC had a size advantage in the scrum, but it didn’t translate into lost possession.
“We’re fit and quick, both in the backs and forwards, and we use that in every phase of the game,” Moreno summarized. “We moved the ball wide, rucked hard, and organized the defense well. When North Carolina adjusted to our ball movement, we used our strong centers inside.”
Center Joy Adeku was key to keeping the UNC defense honest and was rewarded with a try, and Harris added to her weekend total of six with another two five-pointers. Sun and Rachel Madison also scored, while standout Fortkort split the posts four times.
“It was a great all-around effort,” Moreno said of the final. “North Carolina wasn’t able to capitalize on any of our weak areas. We just need to finetune the little things, shoring up decision-making and execution.”
Both South finalists will head back to Mobile, Ala., for the first round of national championships. Texas will play MARFU #3 Virginia, and UNC will see Brown. The national round of 16 trip will be Texas’ third weekend in Alabama within a month. But nationals is where Texas wanted to be all along, so they’re prepared financially, and from the looks of this weekend, they’re prepared on the pitch as well.