On Sunday, March 24 the USA Rugby Women’s D1 Elite SEmifinals will be held at John S. Roberts Rugby Pitch at Furman University. The first semifinal features last year’s champions, the Lindenwood Lions, against Central Washington University. The second semifinal features last year’s runner-up, Life University against Penn State. The winners from this weekend will advance to the D1 Elite National Championship on Sunday, April 7 at Stanford University’s Steuber Rugby Stadium.
Kickoff times for the two semifinals are 11 am and 1 pm ET, with streaming details to be announced by USA Rugby later this week.
Semifinal 1: Lindenwood University Lions vs. Central Washington University Wildcats
Central Washington University moved this year to the D1 Elite Division after spending time in the NIRA competition. They face a challenging task of meeting last year’s champions, Lindenwood in the semifinals.
Lindenwood is poised for the match and will draw on last year’s accomplishments when facing Central Washington. Lindenwood’s Head Coach Billy Nicholas said “I think our first few years we were going in with an underdog mentality at this time of the year. That hasn’t really left us. The team establishes a sense of urgency and focus at each training session and we are truly just taking things day by day.”
Central Washington Head Coach Trevor Richards said “I’d say that D1 Elite is a tougher competition since every team is strong. D1 Elite schools seem more invested in the competition. In order to adjust to the strength of the competition they are facing, the Wildcats created a tough slate of games, including matches against some of the premier club teams in the country. While the results have not always gone their way, the team is battle-hardened and will be ready for stiff post-season tests.”
The teams have faced each other two previous times with Lindenwood winning 60-0 and 39-5. The third match will be a physical one. Central Washington will emphasize critical thinking to gain an advantage during the match. Richards also elaborated saying that the team will focus on “Disrupting their flow, pressuring them defensively and slowing their ball down. We have to play the most intelligent rugby we’ve played all season and then be absolutely ruthless in all facets of the game.”
Lindenwood has had success derived from acting cohesively as a unit. Nicholls noted that “Much of the success can be attributed to a strong group of juniors and seniors finding their voice and leading in different ways. Combine that with our younger group coming in and meshing really quickly with the culture of the program has been really rewarding and productive.”
Semifinal 2: Life University Running Eagles vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
The match features last year’s runners-up, Life University, against the 2017 national champions, Penn State. Last year these teams also met in the semifinals. In an earlier match this season, Life prevailed again in a narrow win.
Penn State’s head coach, Kate Daley said “In the collegiate game I would say teams are quite different from year to year and we did have a very large graduating class in 2018. If we took anything away from that match it was simply just the experience of a high-pressure game. [The loss to Life in the Fall] was the beginning of both Penn State’s and Life’s fall season and I am sure both our teams are significantly different now. The biggest thing we took away from that game is Life is fast but we also already knew that.”
Life’s Head Coach Rosalind Chou added that “Every match is different and we cannot be complacent with a team as talented as Penn State. That match was very early on in the season for the both of us and I know Coach Daley has masterfully coached up her team since that time. We can take the lessons from our first meeting and have to be prepared for a stronger, fitter, and more skilled Penn State squad.”
Both teams seek to play against the strongest competition that is available. Penn State just completed a tour of Europe this Spring, while Life has faced some Women’s Premier League teams.
Life plays a fast-paced game and has the finishers to test their opponents defense. Penn State likes to dictate the tempo of the match and works well as a unit. For Penn State it is about teamwork, “For our team to be successful against life we will need to do and respond to everything as a single unit.” For Life it is similarly about playing within themselves and not being forced into an unnatural style of play, “To be successful in this match, we will have to control the controllable, take care of the ball, play at our pace, bring a lot of defensive pressure, and be able to execute skills with defenders in our face. We have to win the physical battle, as Penn State is notorious for their physicality.”