After driving through a tornado and competing in temperatures 50+ degrees hotter than home, the Wyoming women returned to Laramie with a West DII College Championship. On Saturday, Wyoming defeated Truman State 57-0 in the semifinals, and then topped reigning West champ Mesa State 18-0 in the final.
But it wasn’t just a crazy weekend for Wyoming; the whole season has been unpredictable. Representing the typically strong Eastern Rockies region, the league season was marked by opponents' forfeitures, and the team only played two official league matches against Mesa State and Colorado College. Wyoming was fortunate to have access to the university’s varsity facilities and spent two months practicing indoors to compensate for motley competition. The 28-deep roster was further helped by alumni, who joined the squad for internal scrimmages.
But the players put their heads down, worked hard, and logged two convincing wins at Wests.
“This is definitely the best team I’ve seen,” Wyoming coach Cody Anderson said. “These women are a bunch of go-getters. They’re open to being coached in any direction and just soak up information.”
Anderson has been coaching the women’s side on his own for about four years. During previous trips to Wests and Sweet 16s, Anderson realized that if his team was to compete on the national level, it had to evolve from the traditional ground-and-pound style for which it was known. The last two years have been spent transitioning from a heavy rucking and punch-oriented team into one that utilized its backs more effectively and responded better to the wide-open attacking strategies of higher-level teams.
“The big turning point for us occurred during a players’ clinic in Glendale,” Anderson said of the winter assembly. “I was recovering from surgery, and so a couple of Glendale coaches introduced the slide defense and what to do when the ruck is lost.”
Game one against Truman State was an easy win, 57-0. Anderson indicated that both the former and Nebraska-Lincoln, although worthy opponents for the eventual finalists, did not match up skill wise. Wyoming watched as Mesa State worked over Nebraska-Lincoln in its semifinal, and hoped its newly learned defensive strategies would help contain USA U20 player Mackenzie Lewis.
“Mackenzie is a very good fullback, inserts into the line a lot, and gets people in the right position,” Anderson said. “The first time we played them this year, we had a hard time defending it. Mesa also had a new No. 8, who was more competitive at that position than during our league game this season. And, they had all the time in the world to scheme against what we were doing. Nebraska was big and strong, but Mesa’s skilled players took the game over. There was some concern going into the final.”
But the slide defense came through, and Rachel Ryan was huge to its success. The captain is arguably the best player on the team, and her teammates often look to her for high-pressure results, and she was flawless when it counted. Captain Megan Degenfelder had her best kicking game of the season, putting the team up 6-0 with two penalties and converting one of Ryan’s two tries.
Anderson also praised flyhalf Haile Voycheske, who did an unbelievable job on defense and leading her backs, and power forwards Christina Ott, Rebecca Letts and Ana Rolfs stepped up and handled the dirty work in the breakdowns.
As Wyoming prepares for DII nationals against the Pacific Coast #2 seed (determined this weekend at PCRFU playoffs), Anderson will continue drilling the team’s slide defense, decision-making around the breakdown, dynamism in the backline and lineout maneuvers.
“All season we’ve been preaching about a no-excuses and good-attitude mentality,” Anderson said of the team’s preparation for nationals. “These girls are always ready to go, always pumped. They want to make history – go as far as the team’s ever gone – and they’re happy to playing on the national stage.”