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Teams from the Atlantic North, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and South assembled at the Fortress Obetz in Obetz, Ohio for the Eastern National Quarterfinals and Semifinals this past weekend. In the semifinals on Sunday, each game came down to the wire with three being decided by two points or less and one going to overtime. By the final whistle, five teams emerged victorious to represent the East in National Championships at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo. on June 2-3.
Men’s Division I
In Men’s Division I, Mystic River awoke from its slumber to defeat the New York Athletic Club, 26-25, in the National Semifinal. To get to Sunday, Mystic dispatched Norfolk, 36-22, while NYAC cracked the Chicago Lions, 50-34, in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinal, Mystic River’s Owen Hundt scored first but NYAC dominated to a 22-5 halftime lead behind tries from David Haight and Greg Voight (2) and a pair of penalties and conversions from Harry Bennett. NYAC was yellow carded at the end of the half giving Mystic the man advantage after the break.
“When we went into halftime down three scores, we came out of the shed knowing we’d feel pretty confident getting one score with the card,” Mystic head coach Josh Smith said. “Sam Sirell busted out a huge 50-meter run right off an exit kick and that really turned the tide. We were on from there and really buzzing around. For the next 20 minutes, we did a real good job pushing the pace of the match and wearing NYAC’s legs out a little bit.”
After Sirell’s try, NYAC responded with another Bennett penalty and the Mystic defense clamped down. Matias de Paolis scored in the corner to close the gap to six points and after a NYAC yellow card, Chris Frazier beat a three on one to sneak in for a five-pointer in the 58th minute. Santiago Bertranou’s conversion bounced off the post and in to take the 26-25 lead with 20 minutes left.
The defense stepped up in the final quarter of the match and withstood a brutal goal line stand where NYAC picked and jammed inside five meters for a solid five minutes. Mystic eventually cleared and exercised the demons of the regular season to hold on and beat NYAC.
Moving onto the National Championship against Belmont Shore, it will be the first ever meeting between the two clubs. “Belmont has a rich tradition as a great 7s and 15s club and Ray Egan is a quality coach,” Smith stated. “We’re expecting another match like playing NYAC or Old Blue. I haven’t seen the film yet, but obviously, with the PRP schedule, they’ve been challenged. They’ve played the best teams on the west coast so they are going to be ready for us.”
Women’s Division I
After enduring a difficult start to the season, the Raleigh Venom righted the ship and has won eleven straight games to return to the DI National Championship. Raleigh played each of its quarterfinal and semifinal opponents already this year and used that experience to power to the final.
On Saturday, the Venom beat Philadelphia, 24-15, and Boston smacked Detroit, 37-5, to set up a rematch from November where Raleigh beat Boston, 10-0. Like the earlier test, the final was tight and competitive and got really interesting towards the end.
Tries from Sarah Rosche, Jazamine Gray, and Chelsea Garber gave Raleigh the early lead, but Maureen McInerney got Boston on the board in the 25th minute. The Venom’s Jamie Tolen extended the tally to 24-7 at the half.
Ten minutes into the second half, Rosche increased the lead to 29-7 and it wasn’t until the last ten minutes that Boston started its come back. Beginning in the 70th minute, Boston’s Kristi Kirshe, Kendra Lenz, and Deanna Nash used the wave of momentum to score and push Raleigh to the brink. Unfortunately, Boston ran out of time and Raleigh advanced with the 29-28 win.
Raleigh head coach Mike Streicker attributed the win to the strategic kicking of captain Chelsea Garber and second row T Fletcher. “They put us in a position to run our lineout effectively and pin the forwards wide which was key for us. Several times when they knocking on our door, we were able to get a poach or a turnover and they were able to get it out of there for us. The tactical kicking on offense really helped. We had a couple of tries from just getting the right bounce on our kicks.”
“Our #8 Shawn Gatewood always is a beast offensively and defensively and our #13 Sarah Rosche did the same,” Streicker said of his playmakers. “The offense really powers through Sarah on the outside and she made some great individual plays to help us out this weekend. As always, we had Chelsea and T leading from the front and the back.”
The championship in Glendale will be a rematch of last year’s final against Life West. “It’s going to be hard-nosed rugby,” Streicker said. “Both of us run a wide-open style and want to run the ball hard up the center then go on the sides too with some speed. It’s going to be a matter of who want to buckle down and make those tackles and make those runs."
“It was a tight game for most of the match last year and we got a yellow card that changed it for us,” Streicker added. “This year, we have the discipline to not get those penalties to give them extra meters and free shots at the goal. We are a lot better team this year than we were last year and if we just do what we do, we’ll be in it. We expect this to be an 80-minute dogfight and hopefully, we’ll win at the end.”
Men’s Division II
For Men’s Division II, the Detroit Tradesmen and Atlanta Renegades advanced to the semifinal on Sunday. The lead changed hands four times in the first half before Detroit took charge following a yellow card in the 27th minute. The Tradesmen capitalized to lead 20-12 at the half and scored again after the break. A Detroit yellow in the 60th minute opened the door for Atlanta and it scored twice in the next ten minutes to cut the advantage to a point with less than five minutes remaining. Detroit reasserted itself and dropped the hammer in the final moments as Emosi Mulevoro drove in the last nail for the 32-26 win.
Women’s Division II
In the team’s closest match of the season, Charlotte came from behind in the final minute to beat Providence, 19-18, to advance to the DII National Championship in two weeks. In a game where defense was paramount, Charlotte scored the only points of the first half and led 14-0 by the 54th minute. Providence went on a run beginning in the 57th minute as Dana Ayoub and Michelle Un scored. Ashley Hanson’s try in the 71st minute gave Providence its first lead of the day and Anne Venner added a penalty to make it 18-14 with little time left. With the clock ticking, Charlotte drove the length of the field and Amanda Watkins was the hero scoring the game-winner to book her team’s ticket to Colorado.
Men’s Division III
Eighty minutes wasn’t enough for Palm Beach and Long Island as the DIII semifinal went into overtime to determine the victor. Long Island held a 5-0 halftime lead before the Panthers grabbed the advantage a little over ten minutes into the second. The New Yorkers scored a converted try a few minutes later and maintained the tally until the final minute when Palm Beach tied it up in the 79th minute. The overtime period was all Long Island as it scored twice for the 22-12 win and advancement to the finals.