Although George Washington is nursing fresh wounds that are only cut in last-play, whistle-blowing loss, the team is placated by the fact that it’ll be returning to the Women’s DII College National Championship as MARFU’s third seed.
GW’s postseason got off to a good start when the squad defeated Eastern Penn #3 Delaware 34-17 during the quarterfinals. That set up Saturday’s semifinal against another EPRU team, Temple. Temple coach Owen Jones described the match as a conflict of styles, with GW relying more on its size and physicality, and Temple attempting to strike from out wide.
“Our game against Temple was an extremely physical match, and the game was close from beginning to end,” George Washington coach Winnie Chao said. “Temple is a patient, disciplined team and plays good defense. Although the girls broke their line and into the tryzone a few times, each attempt was held up. They waited until our urgency forced mistakes and took advantage of those opportunities.”
The fatal error occurred while GW was attacking inside Temple’s 22. The Owls were able to turn the ball over, kick for touch twice and retain possession into GW’s end. GW committed a penalty within Temple flyhalf Rachel Bandura’s kicking range, and the rest was history as Temple took the 22-19 win on the last play of the game.
“It's always heartbreaking to lose a close match, especially on the last play of the game,” Chao reflected, “but the girls knew what they needed to change for Sunday.”
Shippensburg defeated Mary Washington in the other semifinal, which set up a third-place match between two teams that had competed in last year’s nationals. For game two of the weekend, George Washington better embraced their prescribed game strategy instilled by coach Chao over the last year and relied more on their speed unlike their performance against Temple. The team was much more cohesive and set the tone of the game from the kickoff.
“We have been working on support lines all season and, combined with our team speed, no one went into contact or a breakaway alone,” Chao said. “This helped us retain possession of the ball, and we were able to move it quickly into open space after each breakdown.”
Hooker Leni Dworkis had a breakout game against Mary Washington. She's a small player, but hit every ruck like someone three times her size. Katy Stewart was an integral part of the backline and played outstanding defense. Her lines of running and consistent tackling prevented Mary Washington from blazing down the sideline and scoring. And Michelle Perna found herself playing in both the backline and the pack, but her athleticism and experience made the transition seamless and she was an impact player at both positions.
The 27-13 win wasn’t a total domination by George Washington, as Mary Washington’s speedy back three were dangerous on the counterattack, and the team’s fitness level was one of the best Chao’s ever seen.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Bill [Lucas] and Kris [Kabza],” Chao said of Mary Washington’s coaches. “This is a position they've been in before, and I knew they would be well prepared, well coached, and just as hungry for a win.”
“We had some chances to maybe steal a win, but I think we were in fact the fourth best team in the D2 tournament,” Lucas said.
While MW was disappointed in the loss, they were happy to have progressed as deep in to the competition with half of last year’s starters missing.
“But we think we'll be back next year,” Lucas added. “We had only had two seniors who played during the tournament, but we had six rookies starting in both matches, and four who subbed in. By the end of the consolation match, we had eight rookies in the match and our level of play did not drop off. So while we're a little disappointed that we didn't qualify for nationals, we're definitely excited for next year.”
George Washington isn’t thinking about next year just yet and our focusing on their first-round opponent at nationals – Midwest champion Winona. A tough road lies ahead but it’s GW has been down before.