[Photo: Navy balances 7s and 15s this fall. Steve Mitchell photo]
The Mason-Dixon conference inaugurated its women’s division with two matches this weekend, and favorites Navy and West Chester prevailed victorious.
The Midshipmen warmed up against the DC Furies in early September, but played 7s. And Saturday marked everyone’s first 15s game and ome of that rust showed during their 36-12 victory over Pittsburgh.
“We have a lot of room to improve,” Navy coach Sue Parker said. “We only had two seniors on the field and were dominated by primarily juniors and sophomores. I have extremely high hopes for this team though; we’re better balanced than last year and have a really strong freshmen class. It bodes well for us as move through the fall and into spring.”
Navy is doing without former USA U20 Eagle Jen Sandifer in the forwards and Women 7s Eagle Jane Paar in the backs. They were such strong leaders that much of this season will be spent determining who will be their replacements.
But Parker is confident in the strength of the newcomers, and that optimism was best represented by rookie wing Sierra Snapp. Parker was particularly impressed with her ability to take the field in her first 15s game for a DI powerhouse and score two tries.
Pittsburgh should be commended for their solid performance against the perennial national championship contender. The former Midwest team will experience quite the upgrade in competition this year, moving from the Allegheny union where triple-digit wins weren’t out of the question.
“Pittsburgh played unbelievably well,” Parker added. “They are showing all kinds of signs that they can not only make the jump from DI to DII, but that they’ve also improved from last year. They have most of their players back and were well organized. They have a powerful pack, and a nice balance between their forwards and backs. I was very impressed.”
The most lasting impression for Parker was her side’s ability to settle down in the second half. Once the backs were able to get clean ball, they were able to run, pass and support each other well – and that’s when the score started to diverge.
Some of that continuity could be challenged over the course of the fall, as Parker originally wanted to focus on 7s during to prepare for the collegiate 7s championship in late November. But once the conference schedule worked out, it became evident that Navy was going to have to play at least three league games before the end of the year.
“We’re finding it challenging to play 7s and 15s in the same season,” Parker explained. “The conference itself is not that different than what we normally play – Maryland, West Chester, UVA, James Madison – but the challenge becomes how to juggle 15s. I don’t think other teams were focusing like us. [Varsity] West Chester, for instance, can’t play 7s because of the NCAA bylaws. Maryland wanted a 7s focus in the fall but are doing 15s, too. Each team is slightly different in their approach based on their priorities for their team – some want no 7s at all; others want a vibrant 7s program.”
One can understand why Parker wants her team to embrace 7s, seeing as she’s the former USA Women 7s team coach. The team also has success stories like Paar, who has played with the national 7s team.
“It was a mutual thing,” Parker said of the team and coach’s decision to play 7s. “I have a passion for 7s and wanted them to fall in love. Once they played it a bit and scrimmaged the DC Furies, they fell in love, too. They were concerned at first that the season would be too long, but we’re managing that so it doesn’t lead to burnout.”
As mentioned, West Chester won’t have that issue of balancing the two versions of rugby, and celebrated their first league game with a 34-3 win over James Madison.
The first half was a tight affair, as Devon Petaccio lit up the scoreboard 12 minutes in with a West Chester try. Four minutes later, Cheryl Johnson scored the first of her two tries. James Madison answered with a penalty kick for the 10-3 scoreline into the break, but that was all JMU could manage for the rest of the match.
Four more tries came in the second half, with Johnson,
It took the Rams 12 minutes to score their first try, thanks to Devon Petaccio, but then a balanced attack allowed the score to methodically increase.
Jackie Sacco went 25 meters for a five-pointer, which Katie Watson converted. Then Johnson took her second score into the tryzone from 22 meters out. The bonus-point try came with five minutes to go, as Nicole Benedetti dotted down and Samantha Tretter converted.