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The sixth rendition of the women’s CRC kicks off Friday, with 12 teams across four pools vying for the right to play on national television and claim the title. Pool play will be contested Friday at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pa., with the quarterfinals set for Saturday and the competition rounding out Sunday. The women’s final is scheduled to air at 2:33 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
This group is going to be dominated by Lindenwood. The Lions claimed USA Rugby’s 7s national championship a couple of weeks back, beating Life in the final. The previous three years they finished as runners-up, like they did in the CRC in 2016. But this time Lindenwood is the team to beat, with a roster stacked full of talent and a spring of valuable experience under its belt. The team even visited the Elite Athlete Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. for a series of scrimmages with the national team.
The Lions are led by Richelle Stephens, who deferred her arrival at Lindenwood to play with Team USA in Rio last summer. She is joined by several talented teammates, including seniors Hannah Gauthreaux and Natalie Kosko. The Lions weren’t just undefeated winners at USA Rugby’s event, they were dominant. Their closest game was a 17-0 shutout of Michigan.
The second-place team out of this pool could be anyone. Navy is a program looking to return to prominence. The Midshipmen finished fourth last year. Notre Dame, through its partnership with the Irish Rugby Football Union, had the head of international talent ID, Joe Lydon, help in preparations for the CRC. The Irish don’t look to have played a lot of 7s this spring, but they did meet and beat pool rival Northern Illinois in 15s earlier this year.
Life looms large here. The defending champions fell a game short at USA Rugby’s nationals recently. The Running Eagles have been affected by some turnover from last year, specifically the graduation of 2016 finals MVP Nicole Strasko. Still, they’re a contender and a tough draw for the rest of this group. Look out for Christina Swift, who is among the more talented players in the tournament, though Life's bench runs deep and is full of capable play makers.
Bloomsburg would appear to be the favorite to finish second. The Huskies finished second to Penn State in the Nittany Lions’ tournament in May, beating Navy in the semifinals. Clemson enjoyed some success in the South Independent conference tournament, finishing third. Indiana has played plenty of 7s this spring, but the Hoosiers haven’t enjoyed many wins, finishing fifth at Michigan’s tournament and sixth at Penn State.
Penn State is the true blue blood of collegiate rugby. In 15s, the Nittany Lions won their sixth-straight national championship this spring, beating Lindenwood in the final. In 7s, though, it’s been a couple of years since Penn State has hoisted the top trophy. The Nittany Lions won three-straight CRC titles from 2013-2015, but they were bested in the semis by Lindenwood last year. And a couple of weeks ago at USA Rugby’s competition, they finished sixth.
Still, PSU is the heavy favorite in this group. Kayla Canett is capped in both 7s and 15s, so she’ll be central to Penn State’s attack. Tess Feury has three caps for the 15s national team. And Gabby Cantorna is the consummate captain who leads from the front.
Kutztown will be in the mix for second place. The Golden Bears finished second at the Subaru 7s earlier this spring, and they reached the semifinals of the ACRA 7s championships, too. North Carolina is a wildcard with few results to point to. But if notable alumni is any indication, the Tar Heels might have a few budding stars up their sleeves as current 7s standout Naya Tapper and former 7s and 15s regular Kimber Rozier played college ball at UNC.
Dartmouth is the team to beat here. The Big Green were the ones to upset Penn State in the quarterfinals, but they ran out of steam in the next stage, falling to Life in the semifinals before eventually finishing fourth. They’re led by Kat Ramage, who is a very physical player, former Youth Olympian Becca Jane Rosko and Frankie Sands, who is part of the Northeast Olympic Development Academy setup.
The NSCRO Select Side is an intriguing side. The National Small College Rugby Organization is a group that includes hundreds of teams. For the CRC, the best of the best combine to form one team. Last eyar they finished fifth, and they look to improve on that this year. Look out for Shae Ferguson, who has speed to burn on the wing. Temple and Delaware both competed last year, the Owls going winless and the Blue Hens earning victories over the Owls and Rutgers.