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It's about the old and the new as four women's DI rugby teams converge on Palo Alto, Calif. for the national championship weekend.

On the old side sits hosts Stanford and their cross-continent rivals, Penn State.

Since 1995, Penn State has appeared in 17 of the 19 finals, winning eight, including four of the last five. Stanford has appeared in eight finals over that time, facing Penn State seven of those times (Penn State leads that series 4-3).

Obviously these are two programs that expect to be playing in May.

On the new side are West Chester and American International. The schools themselves aren't new - West Chester was founded in 1871 and AIC in 1885 - but they don't have the same women's rugby history that Penn State and Stanford boast.

Both are relatively new varsity programs that haven't played in the final before. Both, of course, have to get through two very strong, deep, and athletic programs with a lot of history.

Penn State
The Nittany Lions have hit their stride, as evidence by their dominant performances in the early rounds of the playoffs, beating East Carolina 75-10, and then Army 122-5 in a score that shocked pretty much everyone.

Head Coach Pete Steinberg rotated a lot of players through those games, and not all of them will make the trip to Stanford this weekend.

"We have a very deep team," said Steinberg. "And we got some players back from injury. So we have some players who are really very good who didn't make the travel squad."

Steinberg acknowledges that there's always the worry that his team might have peaked too early. But on the converse several players for Penn State are back from injury and motivated to make a contribution. Prop Hope Rogers bolsters an already solid front row. Scrumhalf Elena Cantorna rejoins BrieAnna Barto as a duo of outstanding scrumhalves.

Penn State is a combination of experienced upperclassmen, young players with high school rugby experience, and exciting crossover athletes.

"We have been able to get some athletic players from other sports, but what really helps them is that we have so many smart rugby players to help them develop," said Steinberg. Among them are fullback Diana Dalal, who has already had a look with the USA 7s team, and prop/lock Beth Rose, who is a former hurdler and an exciting impact sub.

Lauren Shissler mothers this group along from flyhalf. And what they do mirrors what Steinberg hopes to accomplish with the USA team.

"We have worked on being really physical in defense for some time," said Steinberg. "Now what we want to see is more physicality on attack. At Penn State it's sort of a laboratory for the national team, and we are hoping to bring that to the game for Penn State."


West Chester
Penn State plays West Chester, a nearby opponent with which they are very familiar. For West Chester, Tony Deremer has done well to give his squad touch out-of-conference games to go with a conference schedule that the Rams swept.

"We set this as a goal in the fall," said Deremer. "We wanted to win the conference and make the final four. It's huge for us to be here. We know we're up against a tough opponent, but I am really proud of what they've done to get here."

West Chester ran in 63 against Georgia Tech in the Round of 16 and 48 against New Mexico in the quarters, so they can score points. Nicole Benedetti scored four tries in the Georgia Tech game and Erin Gallagher scored three against the Lobos a day later.

"The scoring has been spread around the team, which shows how we've been playing more as a unit rather than relying on one or two players," said Deremer, whose Rams have struggled in other years to be athletic throughout the squad. "For us, our early trip to Ireland did a lot to bring us together as a real team. And I think if we keep doing that, we'll put in a good performance."


Stanford
Hosting the women's final four, Stanford University has something of an advantage, but they have hosted this torunament before and not come away victors.

This year the Cardinal blazed through their conference playoffs, beating Washington and Chico State by a combined score of 158-0, and followed that up with a 78-5 dismissal of Texas A&M. Only then did it become tough, as Stanford had to get by the always tough BYU (Women's Cougar Rugby) team, which they did 26-17.

"BYU was very good," said Stanford Head Coach Matt Sherman. "They are athletic, well-coached, and as tough a challenge as we've had. That was what we needed."

Sherman said better rugby is ahead of his team, and "team" is the operative word.

"As cliched as it might sound, we have been playing as a team more, and that's our strength," said Sherman. "The players' commitment to the system. We had some players graduate and what happened was several stepped up and stepped in when we needed them."


AIC
A relatively new varsity program, AIC's big unveiling is this weekend.

Me Denham's team has sone well to recruit talented high school players like Kent, Wash. product Cassidy Meyers and Fallbrook, Calif. product Megan Pinson. Pinson scored three tries in AIC's 70-36 quarterfinal victory over North Carolina, as did No. 8 Jess Davis.

They are young, tough in contact, and like scoring tries.