Spring 2014 Recap: Wisconsin Finishes 2nd in Midwest, Top 16 in Nation

Wisconsin Women Finish 2nd in the Midwest and Top 16 in the Nation after an undefeated league season.

The 2013-2014 competitive season will go down in the team record books as one of the best for the Wisconsin Women. The Division 2 senior club team completed a perfect 8-0 undefeated regular season, followed by their third-straight appearance in the Midwest Championships.

A Victory Against Division I
After racking up six victories last fall, Wisconsin opened up the spring competition Saturday, March 29, with a friendly match against the Division 1 Chicago Women on the road. Wisconsin’s First XV defeated Chicago 28-5 and the Second XV earned a 5-0 victory for a sweep of the higher-division opponent.

Going For Perfect In League Play
Wisconsin then turned to completing its final two Midwest D2 West League matches on the road against the Palmer Women and the Twin Cities Amazons.

The women in red traveled south to Davenport on Saturday, April 5 for a match against the Palmer Women, a graduate scholarship team that is part of the Palmer Chiropractic College. Wisconsin opened up scoring just two minutes into the game with a try by Forwards Captain Kelly Clerkin, never looking back as the team earned its seventh victory of the season 70-5 against the Palmer Dragons. Clerkin earned a hat trick of tries on the day and was joined by lock Grace Hovde with her own hat trick. Wisconsin teammates Melissa Polheber, Emi Frerichs, Katie Odens, Mary Hanks, Backs Captain Nicole Helmer, and Kris Peterson all added one try a piece. Hooker Elisa Becker successfully converted five of the 12 tries. Palmer’s lone try was scored by wing Jessica Enderby. The victory ensured Wisconsin of home-field advantage in Midwest D2 playoffs.

Wisconsin hit the road again the next weekend to Minnesota to face the always-tough Twin Cities Amazons, a D2 team with a Premier League sister team who won the USA Rugby WPL National Championship last fall. The game was held Saturday, April 12, inside the University of Minnesota dome on field turf, providing a fast running surface for both teams.

The indoor match opened well for Wisconsin, as rookie scoring sensation Grace Hovde notched a try just five minutes in. Wisconsin would take a 21-0 lead at 15 minutes after additional tries by flanker Kris Peterson and prop Melissa “Helga” Polheber, with three successful conversions by Elisa Becker.

However, the game would provide a continuing challenge for the visitors to overcome thanks to a penalty-happy Sir. In a first for the Wisconsin Women, the team collected four separate yellow cards in the match’s ensuing minutes for multiple repeated infractions. [Editor’s Note: The team had only earned one red card and a small handful of yellows in the previous 10 years of competitive matches.]

The major penalties helped the less-penalized Amazons rally back in to the match, but Wisconsin eventually held on to a 36-22 victory on the day with additional tries by Kelly Mullen, Katie Odens, and Nicole Helmer. The Amazons earned tries from Ashley Kastendick (2), Maria Bowker and Stephanie Grant, with a conversion from Angela Ahrendt. The Zons four tries scored against Wisconsin also ensured them of a second-place overall finish in league play and qualification into the Midwest playoffs, knocking the Milwaukee Scylla out of contention.

The Wisconsin victory provided the team with an 8-0 regular season record and a perfect league slate, easing the burn of so many yellow cards in the match (of which the team is still perplexed by to this day.)

wwrfc_midwest_2013-2014_standingsA Tie Against Eventual D1 National Finalists
Knowing that the hardest matches of the year were still ahead of them, Wisconsin welcomed Division 1 Chicago North Shore to the Sports Complex on Saturday, April 19 for a friendly series. Wisconsin and North Shore were both missing starting players, but battled back and forth for a 5-5 tie between the teams’ First XVs. North Shore earned a 27-0 victory in the ensuing Second XV match.

Chicago North Shore later qualified to the USA Rugby National Championships (hosted here in Madison, Wis.!), finishing 2nd overall in the country after a loss to the ORSU Women.

Home-Field Advantage For Playoffs
Finishing first in Midwest league play ensured Wisconsin of home-field advantage for the Midwest playoffs round and the team welcomed the Chicago Sirens up to the Wisconsin Rugby Sports Complex on Saturday, April 26. The Sirens had finished second overall in their Midwest league, but were ultimately not a match for Wisconsin’s offensive firepower. Wisconsin earned its third-straight qualification to the Midwest Championships with a 67-5 victory against the Sirens in front of a large home crowd.

Wisconsin also hosted the Minneapolis Menagerie for a Second XV match, earning a 12-7 victory for the day.

2014 Midwest Championships
Wisconsin earned a small break with the Midwest Championships being hosted by the Will County Morrigans only a few hours south of Madison, saving the team both time and money.

The Championships saw the East Divisions represented by the defending National Champion/Midwest Champion Pittsburgh Angels and the Cincinnati Kelts Women. The West Division was represented by Wisconsin and the Amazons. Strangely, the Midwest administrators opted to have the regional teams play their other regional counterpart to qualify to the final (versus a seeded bracket as in past years).

Despite the well-known opponent in the Zons, Wisconsin was pleased to play the Minnesota team without the previous official in charge of the match. As usual between the two teams, the match proved to be physical and a hard-charging battle amongst the forward packs. Wisconsin earned a 34-19 victory on the day and looked forward to the final against the Pittsburgh Women (who had beaten them in the last two Midwest Championships by only 10 points and 3 points, respectively).

Pittsburgh defeated a scrappy Cincinnati Kelts team 34-24 in the East Division semifinal match.

National Round of 16s and Midwest Finalists
The Midwest final match also counted as a the first round of the USA Rugby national round of 16s playoffs, with the winner moving on to the USA Rugby regional playoffs held in Pittsburgh, PA.

From the first minute, the match between Pittsburgh and Wisconsin would prove to be a physical war of two strong women’s programs. Suffering a slower start than their opponents, Wisconsin fell behind early after a Pittsburgh try at the 5 minute mark. Wisconsin gritted it out however, continuing to fight, and the halftime score saw Pittsburgh up just 10-5. Heading into the second half, Wisconsin pressed their advantage by continuing to pound Pittsbugh with our forwards, capitalizing on penalties, and never giving up in the match. With 15 minutes left on the clock, Wisconsin scored to bring us within five points and a 20-15 scoreline. Pittsburgh used their kick-and-chase game to pin Wisconsin away from the try zone though and time ran out on Wisconsin’s momentum. It was truly a heartbreaker for your favorite Madison women’s rugby team.

Pittsburgh would go on to win the USA Rugby D2 National Championship, never allowing another team to a closer scoreline than Wisconsin’s.

wwrfc_usarugby_national_playoffsOverall, the 2013-2014 season was one for the Wisconsin record books. Additionally, it was also a special year for all of the players and our coach Wee Bob. The team was extremely proud of all of its hard work. Now, the team will turn to a new year and build on the continuing foundation of effort and success that is Wisconsin Women’s Rugby.