The Brewers Advance to National Championship

By Steven Merritt

MATTHEWS, NC – Led by junior Asia Baker’s five tries, the Vassar College Women’s Rugby team advanced to the CRAA Division II Women’s Rugby National Championship after defeating Temple 51-17 at the Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in Matthews, NC.

Vassar College Women 51 v 17 Temple University Women
Tries: Asia Baker (5), Julie Geller (1), Isabel Rodriguez (2), Katie Canavan (1).
Cons: Zoe Lynch (3).

In an exciting and close first half of action Temple scored first despite Vassar monopolizing territory and possession and led 7-0. The Vassar Brewers virtually set up camp in the Temple 22-meter area but did not convert the field position into points.

A penalty here and there combined with turnovers and Temple was able to hold Vassar at bay. In fact, the Owls went way better than that, as a loose ball tapped from a lineout bounced into the hands of the Temple fullback just inside the 22. For a moment it looked like the ball would be knocked on but she regathered and then sprinted down the left touchline evading tacklers to give the Owls the lead.

Vassar responded well, marching right down and over the Temple goal line only to have the ball held up and from the ensuing goal line drop out Sophia Bailey scampered to within a few yards of the goal line. The Vassar forwards drove over the ball only for Andie Authers to put a foot in touch as she grounded the ball. The lineout was won by Temple and the fullback opted to kick but did not find touch. Vassar’s fullback Danny White collected the ball and darted down the middle as Vassar immediately made the good field position pay dividends and Asia Baker went over for her first try, picking at a ruck, driving forward and it was a 7-5 scoreline.

Temple then had their best passage of attacking play in the first half for the next 5 minutes. Vassar neglected to build a defensive line at a couple of breakdowns and some determined running by the Owls led to a penalty in the Vassar 22 as Temple took a 12-5 lead after converting a try.

Vassar went back to work and put together multiple phases with the forwards getting over the gain line and after good gains it was loosehead prop Julie Geller who took no prisoners and powered over as was her want. It was just reward for the team and although Temple still had the lead Vassar had regained the momentum at 10-12.

Grace Skakel and Lauren Showalter along with all the forwards now were hitting their stride running off the fringes. The backs too were getting over the gain line.

From the restart, after Geller’s try, Vassar went through 17 phases in 2 minutes 27 seconds with 9 different ball carriers and then Sophia Bailey dived in for a score. Alas, the officials judged that as Bailey grounded the ball it was knocked forward! But the Vassar team had made an emphatic statement that control was theirs and they could move the ball forward.

Some Vassar attacks were thwarted with the ball lost at the breakdown and Temple would clear their lines with kicks. But in not making touch Vassar would regain the ball and control. Just before the half Asia Baker again barreled her way over and with that score Vassar had the lead 15-12.

The second forty minutes was essentially another half of territory and possession dominance but the difference was Vassar cut down on the mistakes. Temple continued to tackle strongly and battle hard but with less turnovers the Brewers were able to add another six tries! Baker added three to her tally while Isabel Rodriguez most deservedly got a couple. Rodriguez has toiled all year getting over the gain line regularly, so to twice make the whitewash was very satisfying.

The first try of the second half was another emphatic statement by the Brewers as they moved the ball from a scrum at center field to the right touchline then went down the middle with a sublime line break by Caeli Porette that was well supported by Claire Zickl. The ball was secured and then the forwards took it to the left before it came back to the middle and Rodriguez smashed over. Zoe Lynch slotted the conversion and it was now 22-12.

In this opening stanza of the second half two plays in particular stood out and were exceptional in terms of work rate and psychology. First Sophia Bailey sprinted almost 60 meters and was hauled down inside the Temple 22. After a quick pick the ball was stolen by Temple and shifted to the right sideline. In hot pursuit was Bailey and she tackled the Temple speedster. Moments later Temple fielded a kick to touch that went into the in-goal and the Temple fullback elected to run it out. The most dangerous Temple open field runner was now attacking but Vassar’s Caeli Porette was not having any of it and they chased her down making a crunching tackle.

Asia Baker plunged over after Kasey Drake had made good yards inside the 22 and it was 29-12. Katie Canavan had a good day with some runs and tackles also collecting a try in the process.

Vassar advances to the Championship game where the opponent will be the U.S. Coast Guard Academy after the Bears defeated Colorado School of Mines 32-17. Kick-off is 12:00 noon and the contest will be live streamed via the Rugby Network.

Team: 15 Danny White 14 Zoe Lynch 13 Caeli Porette 12 Isabel Rodriguez 11 Elise Johnson 10 Kasey Drake 9 Sophia Bailey 1 Julie Geller 2 Katie Canavan 3 Andie Authers 4 Julia Wolff 5 Grace Skakel 6 Louise Ambler 7 Asia Baker 8 Lauren Showalter. Subs: Claire Zickl for Danny White, Yasmeen Kassem-Scott for Andi Authers, Jamie Marinez for Elise Johnson, Sam Tang for Julie Geller.

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