Friday Night Rugby continues this week with the two top women’s teams in Small College vying for a conference title, as No. 1 St. Bonaventure hosts No. 2 Cortland. Both the Bonnies and Peace Frogs enter the contest undefeated, St. Bonaventure emerging from Upstate New York’s West Division unscathed and Cortland coming from the East.
These teams haven’t met since the Peace Frogs bested the Bonnies in the conference semifinals last fall. St. Bonaventure, determined not to be turned away in the semis again this season, dismantled Hamilton 94-5 to advance to Friday’s final. Cortland also won big in the semifinals, shutting out Niagara 60-0.
While conference hardware is on the line Friday, both teams have already punched their tickets to the postseason. The Upstate New York champion after Friday’s decider will head to the East Region in Beverly, Massachusetts, and the runner-up to the South Region in Culpepper, Virginia for the opening round of the playoffs.
Cortland’s roster features just a single player with rugby experience prior to arriving on campus, hooker Alexis Gomez, who played high school ball in Manhattan.
Everyone else knows about as much rugby as Cortland head coach Natalie Demeglio has taught them.
One skill the whole team has taken well to is offloading, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by watching No. 8 Yasmin Valerio carry the ball. Defenses often have so much trouble bringing her down, she doesn’t have to pass.
“When people have to follow her and be in support in case she gets tackled, it’s like we have to maneuver around a bunch of people,” said Cortland team president and inside center Sarah Kelleher. “She just runs and people can’t tackle her. It’s kind of funny, because you’re jumping over people to get to her.”
On the edge, outside center Jillian Underhill does much of the damage for the Peace Frogs. Her pace has resulted in a pile of tries this fall.
St. Bonaventure is led by senior co-captains Makenna Ramsey and Kaylee Vincent. Ramsey has been playing since high school and is a force around the paddock. So is Vincent, known for her prowess in contact despite being the smallest player on the team.
Head coach Meredith Pyke started the season with just 21 players on the roster, including 10 rookies, seven of whom came from St. Bonventure’s club fair.