Last year, Washington State had to forfeit its berth to nationals after some last-minute university funding fell through, and ever since, the squad has been determined to re-establish itself as one of the premier DII women’s colleges in the nation. After going undefeated in the Pacific Northwest, this weekend’s Pacific Coast Championship was the second step in realizing that goal.
WSU defeated Humboldt State 26-0 in the title match. Humboldt had eliminated Western Washington – a team that Washington State had beaten 17-12 early in the league season – with a 50-12 semifinal victory, while WSU dominated UC Santa Cruz 84-5 for the berth to the final.
“We weren’t surprised at all that the match was as competitive as it was,” Washington State president and scrumhalf Amber Sadoski said. “It was a fun game to play. Humboldt is a large team in both their forwards and backs, and we knew it was going to be tough since we’re generally small. We play a similar style of game in that we both like quick ball, but our speed definitely helped us today.”
WSU took a 7-0 lead into the half. In the second half, Washington State took advantage of Humboldt’s fatigue and was able to move the ball wide and get around the line. WSU added three tries in the second stanza, and outside center Anne Peterson accounted for 16 points on two tries and three conversions, while Maddie McCloy and Megan Bonny added five-pointers.
Washington State had an edge in the set pieces and dominated the scrums in particular. Loosehead prop Tiana Bennett was especially impressive, and her technically sound scrumming helped anchor an undersized front row. The defense also keyed in on No. 8 Aoibheann Cline, who was a scoring force for Humboldt on Saturday. Blindside flanker Savannah Bonny – younger sister to the flyhalf/inside center combo of Alexis and Megan – also had a breakout game at blindside flanker and was key to shutting down Cline’s eightman picks.
“We knew that Humboldt was going to challenge us defensively,” Humboldt coach Leah Hammon said. “We did a little prep work after watching their game on Saturday and targeted their strengths. Everyone stepped up and the team played one of their best defensive games of the year.”
Today’s final was one that Washington State needed in readying for nationals. Humboldt was one of the best teams the squad has seen all year, and their size and aggression in the breakdowns prepared WSU for the physicality awaiting the team on the national stage.
“Humboldt was very physical in the tackles and pressured us around the ball. We want to do a lot more work with our defensive line,” Hammon said of the weeks’ training ahead. “We’ve focused on our attack in recent weeks, and we’re fortunate to have seven or eight backs who are really comfortable working with one another. But it’s very important that we’re ready for the physical contact at the next level.”
That said, Hammon is confident in the group of athletes she has. While this year’s group has a different set of strengths and weaknesses compared to squads in the past, the senior-heavy team has a lot of nationals' experience and that will certainly come in handy when facing So Cal champion Cal State University – Northridge in the first round of the DII championship.
“It would be remiss to not take our opponents into consideration, but we know nothing of Northridge,” Hammon said. “We have to focus on our improvements and weaknesses.”
Hammon was incredibly happy with how the team responded to the weekend’s competition, especially considering the 14-hour bus trip to Arcadia, Calif., and back. The team is in the process of overcoming a bad rap it incurred from last year’s nationals, but is keen to set the record straight that it’s still a team to beat.