FanShot

Women's Rugby will 8th National Championship

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It would have been a magnificent story if Norwich won back-to-back titles - DII in 2012, DI today. But Penn State is still the standard in women's collegiate rugby, and the Nittany Lions' 63-10 win cemented that fact. Playing in the DI final has become tradition for Penn State; however, 2013 marks only the second time the team's won back-to-back titles. "I'm very proud of this team," Penn State head coach Pete Steinberg said. "We're a team still in development. There's still a lot to work on, but I think losing 19 seniors and then Sadie [Anderson] in the spring made the players pull it together, and they refused to let that prevent us from developing. Kelsey Harris, our captain, has done a remarkable job along with other leaders. This team is an example - it reminds me of our 2000 team - that doesn't actually have any single stars to rely on, but it's a full-team effort." Steinberg and staff had done their homework on Norwich, and they tweaked their game plan to account for Vermont team's strengths. "We felt that Norwich's counter-rucking was really good," Steinberg said. "They would come in late. So what we wanted to do was move quickly from the base. When we did that, we played at a high tempo and they weren't able to set. If the ball didn't move, then that's when they were able to come in, contest and make it difficult for us." But Norwich wasn't completely subdued. Although overwhelmed at times, the Cadets showcased some of that vigor that got them to the final, running in two tries during the first 40 minutes. "After the first half, we weren't very happy," Steinberg said. "We only conceded four tries during the entire championship series, but in that first half, they scored through us, and that's not how our defense works. At halftime, we said we had to play better. We never really look at the score; we look at our performance. And in the second half, that's when we really began to play to our ability." Penn State ramped up their pressure in the second stanza, while Norwich attempted to stay cool as the point differential grew. But the Cadets couldn't handle the onslaught, and the errors started to mount: Emily Oor's scrumhalf passes were off, causing flyhalf Emily Baugus to knock on or check her gait; the backline's patented loop misfired; and the unrelenting assault in and around the breakdown saw Norwich give up territory around the rucks. "Our defense puts a lot of pressure on teams," Steinberg said. "Norwich plays a very nice, open game, but they need time and space to do it. Our goal was to take away their time and space, and that maybe prevented them from to play with as much width as the past." The exception of course was inside center Ally Day. She'd disappear around the weakside and pop out the other end still trucking. But frustration showed on the freshman as well, as she was prone to forcing a pass and turning over possession, too. Penn State looked great all over the field - whether it was Meya Bizer's long punts or weakside breaks; Elizabeth Cairns' thumping tackles; or the forward mauls that marched downfield. But there was one scenario that almost always resulted in a try: Once the ball was placed within the five meters, the Penn State forwards were so good at retaining possession during multiple pick-and-goes at the line. Even when there was an obvious overload out wide, PSU stuck with their goal-line assault, and were almost always rewarded with five points. Prop Hope Rogers accounted for 15 of those points and was named MVP. "True," Steinberg addressed the rarity of a front row being recognized as MVP, "but it's also not typical to have the tight head prop score three tries. She's a force. She's a player who's only just fulfilling her potential. I think we had a good team performance, and when you look at it, there are many people who could have been an MVP, but I think Hope was deserving." Rogers didn't just dive over the tryline; she was the epitome of the stand-them-up defense, meeting determined Norwich punchers at the gainline and driving them backward. She can also move in the open field, like, most memorably, when she took a flat pass off a ruck, split a surprised fringe defense and nearly scored a fourth try. Rogers looked shocked and humbled to win MVP, and that speaks to the no-star team to which Steinberg eluded. Congrats to Penn State - and Norwich - for a wonderfully entertaining season.

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