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Mary Washington staved off a late comeback bid by Cal State Northridge to
win the DII Women's National Championship Sunday at Steuber Rugby Stadium
in Palo Alto, Calif.
Cal State Northridge struck first with just two minutes gone. Mary
Washington committed a penalty well in its own end, the Matadors went
quick, and loosehead prop Ciarra Waters-Mullen bowled over the try line a
phase later. The conversion was missed, leaving the score at 5-0.
Mary Washington responded just a couple of minutes after off of a driving scrum against the head. UMW went on the front foot with an impressive series of open rugby, knocking on just before the try line. But they stole the next scrum and marched right into pay dirt over the larger CSUN pack. The conversion was missed, and the score remained tied at 5-5.
Mary Washington broke the stalemate when fullback Kristina Rader sliced through the Matador defensive line off of a give-and-go move on first phase near midfield. Rader made one cut and sped directly under the posts, setting up an easy conversion and a 12-5 lead.
Northridge cut the deficit to two just seconds later, when a mishandle in the UMW backline saw the ball fall into the hands of Matador winger Evelyn Avila, who ran to the corner for a try. The difficult kick was missed, and Mary Washington clung to the 12-10 lead with about 15 minutes to play.
Mary Washington's Elyssa McClain extended the lead when she was set free by a dummie from Ashley Buxton off of a point-blank set piece. She ran in untouched to put UMW up 17-10 with seven minutes left in the half. As McClain rounded the corner in the try zone and went down for the grounding she was clocked by a charging Matador, but no penalty was called and McClain bounced up off the turf unharmed.
Northridge and Mary Washington traded spoiled opportunities and turnovers the rest of the first half, and five minutes into the second half Rader scored her second try of the day. This one came in counterattack off of a Northridge kick. The fullback hit her stride on the touch line and cut back in front of two defenders for a try. Unconverted, the score saw MWU up 22-10.
Seven minutes later it looked like Mary Washington was going to blow the game open with a try from Maddy Ernesto. Northridge had a mishandle in the backline deep in their own end and tried to clear on the fly with a boot. Ernesto gathered the loose ball and ran it in, but after the try was awarded, the referee conferred with the assistant referee and called a Mary Washington forward for a late tackle, nullifying the try.
UMW never lost field position, though, and eventually extended the lead with a No. 8 pick from the base of a five-meter scrum. The conversion was made, putting Mary Washington up 29-10 with under 20 minutes to play.
Northridge's No. 8 Gabrielle Schmaeling answered right back with a big play, rumbling over 20 meters and deep into the attacking end. Mary Washington was pinged for a penalty at the tackle, and the Matadors went quick, resulting in Waters-Mullen's second try of the game. The conversion was missed, leaving Mary Washington up 29-15.
Northridge carried the momentum in for another score minutes later, pulling Mary Washington to within a converted try. A multi-phase possession deep in UMW's end turned into a try when a one-handed offload drifted into Sarah McGee's hands and she dove over. Northridge hadn't made a single conversion all day, but this important one was slotted by Gillian Chance via a drop goal.
With just under 10 minutes to play, Northridge trailed Mary Washington 29-22. But with just about five minutes to play, Rader added her third try of the day, putting Mary Washington up 36-22 after the conversion. She gathered a Northridge kick, accelerated past a couple of defenders and raced around several more before centering the ball.
Northridge, down two possessions, couldn't muster another scoring threat, giving Mary Washington the DII National Championship. Rader was awarded the MVP trophy for her hat-trick performance.