Penn State is always impressive, and last weekend’s display at the Women’s DI College National Championship was no exception. Yes, the Nittany Lions went 2-0 against Princeton (22-5) and Navy (36-0), but it’s not the scores that intimidate opponents. Penn State put 33 different players on the pitch and sport unrivaled depth.
“I have never had a team this deep, and it may be the last time,” Penn State coach Pete Steinberg said. “We have a large group of seniors who have helped provide the depth this year.”
Steinberg didn’t roster a number of his well documented players – Sadie Anderson, Christiane Pheil, Lauren Poole – for the Round of 16 match against Princeton, but started a solid lineup with players like Kyle Armstrong, Alyssa Boff and Kasey Ferlic. One was still tempted to call the day-one team Penn State’s B side, but Steinberg staunchly opposed the branding.
“We have the ability to select based on the opponent and how we want to play,” Steinberg said. “We do not really have A side and B side players, just a lot of A side.”
Princeton played well and led Penn State 5-0 into the break. The PSU backline struggled to find their footing and weren’t able to finish, but a more consecutive second half saw four consecutive tries cross the line.
“Our backs are not as experienced as our forwards, so for many of them this was their first taste of playoff rugby” Steinberg said. “We are much faster and athletic than last year, but we are still learning and improving.”
Penn State watched as Navy upended Army 25-20 to advance to the quarterfinals and knew they’d have their work cut out for them on Sunday. Steinberg started 13 different players against the Midshipmen.
Navy was incredibly physical but they didn’t have the fresh legs that Penn State boasted. The Nittany Lions ruled the field, but it was the dominating scrum that left a lasting impression. The set piece put the ball in Penn State’s hands often, and Anderson, Pheil, Poole, Elena Cantorna, Laura Lucas and Jackie Giordano all dotted down tries. Anderson handled the extras.
“I think that it highlighted some of our strengths, but also some of the challenges we face,” Steinberg reflected on the Navy game. “We have an experienced pack, and they really did a good job of starving Navy of possession. Our backs did a good job of shutting down [inside center and 7s Eagle] Jane Paar, Navy's major threat.”
Penn State will now face Women’s Cougar Rugby (WCR) in the semifinals. The Cougars won their playoff matches easily (54-0 v Ohio State, 44-0 v Northern Iowa), and did so with only 20 players rostered.
“Selections will be based on the style of play we want to incorporate against WCR,” Steinberg said of his player pool. “We will not be able to take as many players to Stanford as we had in Princeton, so we will need more players to play on both days.”
Steinberg won’t have the luxury on putting two nearly different squads on the field in Palo Alto, but if travel wasn’t an issue, his squad would be in the best shape for the back-to-back games in the Final Four. One can rest assured, however, that when substitutions are made against WCR and whoever the Nittany Lions face on Sunday, very little will be lost in terms of performance.