November 5, 2023

Women’s National Playoff Teams Announced

November 5 - Forty teams vie for postseason glory across three divisions this weekend, as the women’s playoffs kickoff in Elkhart, IN., Henniker, NH., Culpepper, VA. and St. Louis, MO. Those left standing Sunday punch their ticket to Houston, Texas for Nationals Dec. 2-3 at AVEVA Stadium.

With the quarterfinals and semifinals playing out across the country Saturday and Sunday, eight teams still cling to national championship hopes in Division I, but only two will advance to the final. In both Division II and Small College, 16 teams enter the playoffs with hopes of winning a national title. Eight live on to Sunday, and the final four in each division will book flights to Texas for the semifinals.   

Women’s Division I

At the Moose Rugby Grounds in Elkhart, second-ranked Notre Dame College faces No. 7 Iowa State, and third-ranked Virginia takes on No. 5 Indiana. At Forest Park in St. Louis, top-ranked Michigan draws No. 8 Southern Nazarene, and fourth-ranked Northern Iowa faces No. 6 Virginia Tech.   

The Hokies and Cavaliers are set for their first-ever NCR playoff run, having joined the competition this fall. Virginia bested Tech, 29-14, to win the South Atlantic title last month, led by two tries from Taylor Wreath. The Hokies fended off Clemson, 46-22, to finish second in the conference and earn an at-large bid. 

Defending champion Michigan is a perfect 8-0 this season and a favorite to repeat, led by All-American fullback Ember Larson, but they’ll have to get through a tougher field to do so. It starts Saturday with juggernaut Southern Nazarene, who, led by sophomore center Telesi Uhatafe, has won six games this fall by an average of more than 50 points en route to a second Lone Star title in as many years as a program. 

Notre Dame College spent all last fall ranked No. 1 before being felled by Michigan in the national championship game. The vengeance tour has been successful thus far, as the Falcons enter the postseason undefeated. However, their Allegheny final with Kent State was 47 points closer this fall than last, and they’ve played just four matches total. The return of All-American prop Alivian Leatherman should bolster NDC, as she spent the last few weeks making her debut with the United States national team.

Women’s Division II

Can anyone stop the undefeated defending champion Eau Claire? The Blugolds haven’t lost a 15s match since the 2021 Division I playoffs, and they’ve racked up huge wins over ranked opponents this fall, besting No. 13 Illinois, 43-5, No. 17 Loyola, 45-10, and No. 20 Marquette, 127-0. Eau Claire is led by a trio of All Americans in senior lock Calla Dexheimer, junior fullback Cerys Ridd and senior wing Izzy Currie.

Nearly half the DII field, however, is new to the competition. Seven of 16 teams are from conferences making their National Collegiate Rugby playoff debuts – the Mid-Atlantic (Temple), Tri-State (Columbia, Vassar and Fairfield), High Peaks (Colorado School of Mines) and New England Wide (New Hampshire) are all relative unknowns. 

Drawn against the Blugolds in the opening round is unranked Fairfield. Also paired in the Midwest is Ohio Valley champion and 11th-ranked Cincinnati, who has No. 2 and Great Lakes champion Grand Valley State in the opening round. If chalk holds, No. 1 will play No. 2 Sunday in Elkhart.  

In the West, No. 13 Illinois meets No. 15 Bowling Green, and eighth-ranked LSU squares off with No. 9 Colorado School of Mines. The Illini finished second to Eau Claire in the Great Waters, the Falcons are an at-large selection, and the Tigers are Lone Star champions. The Orediggers won the High Peaks, while also challenging themselves against DI competition, beating Utah and falling to Colorado State.  

The East pits champions from two of the new conferences against one another – third-ranked Coast Guard and No. 5 Columbia. Also doing battle in New Hampshire are fourth-ranked Roger Williams, Rugby Northeast champions, against No. 14 New Hampshire, an at-large selection. 

Clashing in Virginia are No. 10 Coastal Carolina, South Atlantic champions, and seventh-ranked Vassar. Also, 12th-ranked Syracuse squares off against No. 6 Temple, who dominated the MARC’s South division with a point differential of 247-10. 

Women’s Small College

Defending national champion Endicott enters the playoffs unbeaten, having held onto the top ranking all season. Led by All-American try-scoring machine Tess Merrill, the Gulls have enjoyed a dominant fall, outsourcing all comers 280-44 en route to a fourth-straight Colonial Coast title.The blistering fullback led the CCRC with 81 points this fall, averaging three tries a game.  

Endicott is the top seed in the East, facing off against 17th-ranked Keene State in the opening round in New Hampshire Saturday. Awaiting the winner Sunday will be the victors between third-ranked Colby, Rugby Northeast champions, and No. 11 Siena, winners of the Tri-State. Colby’s lone loss this season was by eight points to Roger Williams, ranked fourth in Division II, signaling a potential rematch of Colby 27-14 loss to Roger Williams in the 2022 playoffs.

In the West, Prairie States champion and ninth-ranked Wayne State draws No. 14 Minnesota State Moorhead, champion of the Northern Lights, and No. 8 Wisconsin Platteville takes on unranked Pitt State from Mid-America. Wayne State has won seven Small College 15s national titles since 2012, the last coming in 2021 before spending a season in Division II. The Wildcats are back in the Small College hunt under new head coach Bryn Chivers with just one collegiate loss on the season to Division I contender Southern Nazarene. 

In the South, sixth-ranked Lee faces No. 20  Hofstra, while second-ranked St. Bonaventure plays 10th-ranked East Stroudsburg. The Bonnies are a perfect 7-0 and champions of Upstate New York, with Makenna Ramsey scoring five tries in the conference championship win over Cortland, surpassing 250 career points. 

They were bounced by Lee in the opening round of the playoffs last fall and are hungry to advance further. Hofstra represents the Tri-State conference, which is new to National Collegiate Rugby, so the Pride enter their first postseason a relative unknown.

In the Midwest, it’s No. 4 Northern Michigan against 16th-ranked Gannon, and No. 5 Cortland versus unranked Calvin. The North Stars enter battle hardened, with a restructured Great Waters regular season giving them tough losses against DII champion UWEC and UW Platteville. This gave them the grit they needed to come from behind and win 28-27 over UWP in the final moments of the conference championship match. Cortland’s only loss this fall was to St. Bonaventure, 32-22, in the conference final.

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