September 7, 2023

Women’s 2023 XVs Season Preview

September 7 - With more than 70 new schools added to this season’s competition, 270 clubs now make up three women’s divisions: Division I, Division II and Small College. The playoffs begin November 10, and national champions will be crowned on December 2-3 at AVEVA Stadium in Houston. 

For the second-straight year, NCR is bringing back Friday Night Rugby, live streaming a game of the week in September and October. The season kicks off September 8, features three women’s matches in total and showcases teams from all three divisions. Tune in to watch Kent State take on Pitt on September 29, St. Bonaventure vs. Niagara October 13 and Purdue vs. Notre Dame October 27.  

Women’s Division I

The defending champion Michigan Wolverines enter the season ranked No. 1 led by All-American Ember Larson, but they’ll be chased hard by old and new challengers alike. In Big Ten play, the third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes are Michigan’s biggest rival. Nationally, perennial powerhouse Virginia poses a new threat in its first year in the competition and debuts in the rankings at No. 2. 

Another new team expected to make a playoff run is sixth-ranked Virginia Tech, who join the South Atlantic Rugby Conference alongside Virginia. The Hokies showed well in 7s last season, going 3-1 in the Premier Cup bracket at the Collegiate Rugby Championship, logging wins over Southern Nazarene and Northern Iowa, two 15s playoff teams last fall. The Hokies and Cavaliers joining the SARC make defending champion and 10th-ranked Clemson underdogs all of a sudden, but don’t expect the Tigers to lie down.

Notre Dame College sat atop the rankings almost the entire season last fall, before falling to Michigan in the national championship game. The Falcons may have a new coach in Vanessa Marsh, but with USA U23 prop Alivia Leatherman back for her junior campaign, the fourth-ranked Falcons are far from rebuilding.

Northern Iowa still reigns supreme in the Midwest Conference, with a steady flow of experienced, in-state high school talent fueling their reign. Rival Iowa State has a big roster and is hungrily chasing the Panthers, but will be doing so under a new coach this season.  

In its sophomore campaign as a varsity program, Southern Nazarene will rely on their returning core players to improve this season. The Crimson Storm marched out to an 8-0 start last year before falling to Northern Iowa in the national quarterfinals. Sophomore All-American center Telesi Uhatafe will be one year better, having spent the summer playing with The Team in Premier Rugby 7s.  

Women’s Division II

Defending champion Wisconsin-Eau Claire retains the top billing coming into the fall. The Bluegolds outscored opponents 392-0 through the conference and national playoffs last year, earning the first national title in program history. They’re early favorites to win their second in succession. 

Returning runners-up Marquette comes into the season ranked fourth, largely because of an influx of talented clubs joining the competition. Challenging the incumbents will be a trio of new top-10 teams. Second-ranked Vassar out of the Tri-State Conference is an immediate contender for a national title, as is third-ranked Coast Guard from the New England Wide, both of whom have rich, recent histories of playoff success. 

Colorado School of Mines also makes its debut in the top 10 thanks largely to a runner-up finish at the CRC last spring, where the Orediggers fell to Roger Williams in the final. While last 15s season ended in heartbreak for the Hawks, they collected a second-straight 7s national title in the spring. CRC MVP Natalie Comiskey is back for her sophomore campaign and expected to pile on the tries. 

Returning quarterfinalists Bowling Green and Cincinnati are expected to contend for supremacy in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley conferences, respectively. 2014 National Champion Temple looks to ride experience to the top of the MARC, while Coastal Carolina is hungry to prove itself in the expanded SARC. 

Women’s Small College 

Top-ranked Endicott enters the new season on the heels of an undefeated national championship run. The Gulls were a perfect 10-0 in 2022, but that streak will be tested early with an interdivisional tilt on September 30 against Roger Williams, ranked fifth in Division II. 

Though Endicott swept the table last year, pretty much all their playoff games were competitive, with the average margin of victory of less than two converted tries. Ranked right behind the Gulls in the top five are all of the teams they beat last season. Second-ranked Northern Michigan fell to Endicott by 12 in the semifinals. No. 3 Lee lost by the same margin in the national championship game, but are debuting a new coach this season. Fourth-ranked Cortland played the Gulls the closest, losing by four in the quarterfinals. And fifth-ranked Colby lost in the opening round by 13. 

All look poised to take another crack at the national champs, but there are worthy contenders looking to jump the line. In Upstate New York, closing in on Cortland is No. 8 St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies are led by All-American No. 8 Makenna Ramsey, who returns for a grad year, and returning team MVP Kaylee Middaugh. 

New to the competition this year are a pair of contenders in Siena and Eastern Connecticut State. The Saints are the favorite to emerge from the Tri-State, while the Warriors are the only Small College team in the New England Wide. 

Returning after a successful season in Division II is 13-time Small College national champion Wayne State (NE), but the Wildcats do so without founder and head coach Darrin Barner, who stepped down in the offseason. The second-ever skipper in program history will be Bryn Chivers, the former head coach of the USA U20s, Laos 7s and most recently, the University of South Dakota. The Wildcats could contend immediately upon return.


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