Navy, like Stanford, had home-field advantage as one of four hosts for the women’s DI college Round of 16. And like the Cardinal, the Midshipmen won their region's bid to the Final Four (May 3-4, Palo Alto, Calif.) after two solid wins over well established programs.
Navy entered the playoffs as the Mason-Dixon titleholder, but that conference championship that occurred two weeks ago wasn’t the confidence-booster the Midshipmen needed heading into nationals.
“Our focus was on our potential, playing our game plan, firing on all cylinders, improving all aspects of our game,” said Navy coach Sue Parker when describing the team’s mindset coming into last weekend. “We were a little disappointed in our own level of play during our conference championships, so we wanted to come into this tournament focused on us. These games were about the next steps in our development.”
Navy’s first opportunity to prove themselves came against Brown on Saturday. Parker was eager to see how the team responded to the previous two weeks of training, and the coach was pleasantly surprised with the result.
“Navy was on its front foot pretty much the whole time,” Parker said after the 27-12 win. “We scored our first try in the first five minutes, and we dominated most of the possession and territory. At the contact point, we were a little quicker, a little cleaner. It gave us more chances, the opportunity for more continuity, and when you’re in favorable territory, you can put some points on the board.
“Brown was a ferocious team, a phenomenal competitor,” Parker added. “They fought all 80 minutes and capitalized on some of our mistakes, but Navy controlled the game for the most part.”
Meanwhile, Virginia won their Round of 16 game 46-7 over Central Florida. A rematch of the Mason-Dixon semifinal shaped up for Sunday.
“Our game against Virginia two weeks ago was extremely close,” Parker said of the 21-20 semifinal victory. “We knew that Virginia would be fired up from that game. We, on the other hand, wanted to avenge our own performance in that game. We were prepared for another battle, especially with a trip to the Final Four on the line.”
Sunday’s Elite 8 game did not look like the Mason-Dixon semifinal. Virginia played with the same tenacity for which they’re known; however, Navy’s team play was superb, and the Midshipmen’s composure under pressure allowed the team to run and execute their game plan. Standout performances from No. 8 Erika Pedersen and flanker Karissa Kleinschmidt helped solidify a 32-5 victory.
“We understood each other better; our communication was better; our timing was better,” Parker said. “Having a couple of close games at conference championships was a huge motivator for us. We realized our potential was much greater than what we were showing at the time. So it [the improved performance] was a combination of time, having those really close games, and the team just really enjoying playing together and being motivated.”
Navy hasn’t played at the Final Four since 2009, so none of the current players have competed in the final stage of nationals. Winning their way to Stanford has been an important goal for this Navy team, but they’ve been careful not to look too far ahead while building toward the semis.
“I think we had a lot of confidence going into this weekend,” Parker said. “We didn’t talk about the final four; we literally talked about what we needed to do against Brown, and then what we needed to do against Virginia. After that, we talked about our three weeks of practice together and began planning our trip to Stanford.”
Navy will play Penn State on May 3. The reigning DI champs defeated West Chester 58-5 in the Round of 16 and Women’s Cougar Rugby 22-10 on Sunday (read more).
“We’ll rest more,” Parker compared the previous two weeks of training to the upcoming weeks. “We’ll take a few days off and then it’s cleaning things up, speeding things up, and ironing out a few wrinkles to our game plan. We’ll make sure that we’re prepared for the strength of teams that we’re going to play out there.”
For a complete look at the DI and DII championships, click here.