The Mason-Dixon Conference named its first DI women’s college champion, an honor that now belongs to Navy. After outlasting Virginia Women’s Rugby 21-20 in the semifinals, Navy downed West Chester 17-10 in yesterday’s final for the automatic bid to the national Round of 16 in Annapolis, Md.
“It was an absolutely classic UVA-Navy match,” Navy coach Sue Parker said of the semifinal. “We knew that UVA had a bunch of players back from injury and fully expected the onslaught they brought to the field. Their personality is aggressive, and I was really proud of how the young Navy team responded to the pressure.”
The forward packs were relatively even, but Navy enjoyed a slight edge in the backs, as the Midshipmen had more experience playing with each other. The Midshipmen built a 14-5 lead at half and then pushed it out to 21-5 during the third quarter. Erika Pedersen and Kacey Liscomb had phenomenal games for Navy, as did Katie Smith, whom Parker described as “a catalyst all over the field.”
But then a sin bin threw a wrench into Navy’s well oiled machine, and UVA pounced on the one-man advantage. UVA No. 8 Anita Obasi – who was stunning for the home side – picked off a lineout and dove in the corner for the try.
“It was a momentum changer for them,” Parker said, as two more UVA tries followed. “Despite being young, we have two outstanding seniors – Brooke Amoroso and Courtney Thomerson – whose leadership held the team together. They said, ‘You made a mistake, let it go, and let’s move forward.’ That allowed them to get back on the field, and they had to fight through the remaining 20 minutes. I was really impressed with their composure.”
UVA won the try count (four to three), but fortunately for Navy, none of UVA’s tries were converted, resulting in the 21-20 victory to the Midshipmen. West Chester defeated James Madison 29-22 on day one, and both sides were tending their wounds for what would be another battle in the final.
“UVA was extremely physical, and both teams took a beating, but we were expecting that,” Parker reflected on Saturday. “We focused on the recovery period, did that well, and came back to face a well prepared West Chester.”
The Golden Rams entered Sunday’s games without their star inside center, who broke her hand against JMU.
“That took away one of their best players, and that was a huge difference for them,” Parker said. “It gave our backs a clear advantage over theirs, and our forwards’ phenomenal rucking provided lots of clean ball.”
Navy built a 17-3 lead into the half, but then a change in weather produced conditions that favored West Chester. A forwards game evolved, and an onslaught of repeated infringements from Navy finally resulted in a penalty try to WCU. Katie Walston split the posts for the second time that day, 17-10.
"It took us 30 minutes to get our focus, and by then, we were down by 17," West Chester coach Tony DeRemer said. "But I am really proud of the way our team fought back from 17 points down against a team of Navy's quality. It was a great match that came right down to the end."
West Chester is patiently awaiting USA Rugby’s decision on their at-large bid. However, it would be an outrage if the Mason Dixon Conference didn’t receive a second seed to nationals, considering the collective strength of the teams involved.
As for Navy, the team would have liked a little more time to play teams like Penn State, Army and Norwich before the conference championships kicked off, but Parker is making the best of the condensed schedule and relying on the vets - seven of whom played in last year's quarterfinals - to buoy the team.