Penn State played the game we’ve come to expect from the DI college champion, defeating Navy 47-0 in the semifinals today, but did it with an uncharacteristic team. Having graduated 19 seniors from last year’s squad, the lineup differed greatly from the 2012 championship team.
“When we came in, [Penn State head coach] Pete [Steinberg] said this was a rebuilding year, and we took a lot of offense to that,” PSU captain Kelsey Harris said. “It was like saying the people who are here right now weren’t good enough to get us back to where we were last year, and every person took that to heart. We didn’t want to be the team that didn’t make it back, so we worked really hard.”
In addition to losing a bunch of veteran leadership, Penn State lost the leader: Sadie Anderson. The senior flyhalf signed a professional 7s contract in January.
“When we lost Sadie to 7s, we were all really scared,” Harris said. “She’s such a presence on the field, and we didn’t know if we could ever replace that. It brought us together and made us see things differently. We couldn’t depend on one person to win; we really had to pull it together to play as a team.”
Penn State is familiar with Navy, although the two didn’t play each other last fall for the first time in years.
“We knew they’d be fit, physical, the forwards were going to play hard and contest the breakdowns,” Harris said. “When practicing, we were honing in on those aspects of our game, to clean them up and make sure we had the advantage there and not them. They’re an extremely great team, they’re well coached and disciplined, and it showed today but we came out with upper hand.”
Penn State pulled it together today, methodically breaking down Navy for 28 points in the first half and 19 in the second. Navy didn’t spend much time on offense. Open-field breakaways were foiled by numerous unforced errors, and an oppressive Penn State defense kept Navy retreating and panicking. Penn State weren't errorless either, susceptible to try eyes and multiple goal-line dives when a backline overload went unused.
“We knew we weren’t going to be perfect today, but if we had some really great moments, we knew we’d be able to win,” Harris said. “Our locks – Katie Benson and Taylah Pipkin – had amazing games. And Meya Bizer’s hits were incredible. There’s no getting past her in the backfield; it’s such a security having somebody who’s such a dominate player back there.”
Penn State will face Norwich, which defeated Stanford 33-31 (read more) in their semi, in tomorrow’s championship. PSU is looking for their second-ever, back-to-back championship, while Norwich is attempting to follow last year’s DII title with a DI trophy.
See photos from Penn State vs. Navy, and follows tomorrow’s games via https://twitter.com/Rugby_Magazine.