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Despite losing some key seniors from last season, Winona State had some reason to believe they might, finally, win the Midwest women’s DII college championship.

For co-captain and No. 8, that realization that they might have something special came early, during the All Minnesota tournament.

“Watching how our forwards hit the rucks and how our backline came together, and seeing how they came together as a team was inspiring,” Pletta told RUGBYMag.com.

“We knew we would have to rely on some rookies this year,” added co-captain Ashley Nelson. “But some of them had played in high school, and while they had big shoes to fill they did a great job.”

After beating Grand Valley State in a tough match, Winona State had to rebound to play on Sunday.

“We looked tired in warm-ups,” said Pletta. “But when the whistle went to start the game we didn’t feel anything. We just played our game.”

Winona ended up defeating Pittsburgh – fresh off their overtime win over UW La Crosse – 31-10 to take the Midwest title.

Two early tries put Winona up 12-0 before Pitt scored to make it 12-5. At that point, Pittsburgh threatened to get back in the game. But two tries from the Minnesota team before halftime blew the game away 24-5.

“That was a big thing for us,” said Nelson, who plays center. “I was really impressed with our forwards. They counter-rucked incredibly well today.”

Nelson and Pletta were strong all weekend, but so was New Zealand-born flyhalf Sheree Haslemore and all three second rows – Megan Wingert, Ashley Pomeroy and lineout specialist Kourtney Kavajecz.

Now Winona looks ahead to a lot of work over the winter break.

“We will be running as a group three days a week,” said Nelson. “Then we’ll start training after Spring Break.”

“Key for us,” added Pletta, “will be to schedule tough competition. We play the [WPL club] Amazons and we host our tournament, Fools Fest, where we get as many DI teams as we can. We want that competition to get us ready.”