November 13, 2023

Women’s Semifinalists, Finalists Set for Houston

November 13 - The stage is set for the Lone Star State, as two teams remain in the hunt for a national championship in Division I, and four each in Division II and Small College. Saturday December 2 at AVEVA Stadium in Houston, Michigan will try to defend its Division I title against Notre Dame College, preceded by the Division II and Small College semifinals, whose finals will be contested on Sunday, December 3. 

Division I

While the national final is a rematch of last year’s between two undefeated teams, top-ranked reigning champion Michigan and No. 2 Notre Dame College, the road back to Texas hasn’t been smooth for either. Michigan won the Big Ten with relative ease, but ran into a stiffer test against Southern Nazarene in the quarterfinals, sneaking past the second-year Crimson Storm 30-20. 

Midwest champion Northern Iowa poured on the points in a 53-24 quarterfinal win over Virginia Tech, setting up a rematch of last fall’s semifinal with Michigan. Michigan emerged victorious again, but this time by just a single score, 22-15, signaling significant improvement by the Panthers. 

Notre Dame College underwent a coaching change in the offseason, with Vanessa Marsh taking over for the departed Jack Nece. While the Falcons were impressive and undefeated through the regular season, it consisted of only four games, leaving some questions. They were answered with a 44-20 win over Iowa State in Friday’s quarterfinals led by physical forward sister pair Alivia and Lucy Leatherman. 

Big Ten runner-up Indiana welcomed South Atlantic champion Virginia to National Collegiate Rugby’s Division I playoffs with a 31-15 first-round exit Friday, before falling to NDC Sunday, 27-13, in the semifinals. 

Division II

Of the seven teams to NCR’s Division II, three won in the Round of 16, Coast Guard, Vassar, and Temple. Just the Brewers and Bears remain, as Vassar eliminated the Owls in Sunday’s quarterfinals, 38-10, in the South Region in Culpepper, VA. Vassar’s opening round win over Coastal Carolina, 17-15, was one of three DII playoff games on the weekend decided by a conversion or less. 

Lone Star champion LSU also won by a kick in the opening round, besting High Peaks champion Colorado School of Mines, 12-10, in the West Region in St. Louis, MO. From just a couple of hours up the road in Champagne, IL, the Illini beat Bowling Green by just two scores, 25-17, in the opening round. 13th-ranked Illinois found separation from No. 8 LSU in the quarterfinals, winning 40-5.

In the Midwest Region in Elkhart, IN, defending champion Eau Claire had its two-year unbeaten streak put to the test twice. The Blugolds beat Fairfield, 29-14, in the opening round, their toughest test of the season by some margin. Until Sunday’s quarterfinal, when they beat Cincinnati by just a conversion, 12-10. The Bearcats downed Great Lakes champion Grand Valley State, 39-12, in the Round of 16. 

Offense reigned in the East Region in Henniker, NH, with more points scored than any other site. In the opening round, Rugby Northeast champion Roger Williams beat New Hampshire 59-22, and Coast Guard defeated Columbia 48-17. The Bears doubled down on their offensive output in Sunday’s quarterfinal, downing the Hawks 43-25. 

In Houston, No. 1 Eau Claire will face No. 13 Illinois in one semifinal, and No. 2 Coast Guard squares off against No. 7 Vassar in the other. 

Small College

Paced by six tries from All-American fullback Tess Merrill on the weekend, Endicott’s undefeated title defense is still well intact. The Gulls bested Keene State 99-12 in Friday’s opening round, scoring 18 tries, before downing third-ranked Colby, 27-12, in the quarterfinals. The Mules raced past Siena 66-12 in the opening round. 

Second-ranked St. Bonaventure eclipsed the half-century mark on its way through the South Region in Culpepper, VA. The Bonnies downed East Stroudsburg, 55-12, in Friday’s Round of 16 and Lee, 53-3, in Sunday’s quarterfinal led by All American Makenna Ramsey. The Flames advanced to Sunday with a 50-22 win over Hofstra on Friday. 

In the Midwest Region in Elkhart, IN, fifth-ranked Cortland scored a minor upset in Sunday’s quarterfinal with dynamic backline play over fourth-ranked Northern Michigan, 36-22, to advance to Houston. The Northstars blew past Gannon in the opening round, 71-17, and the Peace Frogs blanked Calvin, 58-0. 

Eighth-ranked Wisconsin-Platteville dominated the West Region in St. Louis, beating Mid-American champion Pittsburg State (KS), 84-7, in the opening round and Wayne State (NE), 44-10, in the quarterfinals, ending the Wildcats’ campaign for an eighth 15s national title. Wayne State defeated Minnesota State Moorhead, 49-17, Friday. 

In Houston, No. 1 Endicott faces No. 2 St. Bonaventure in one semifinal, and No. 5 Cortland takes on No. 8 Platteville in the other. For everyone but Endicott, a national championship would be a first in program history. 

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