The Midwest Division 2 women’s spring playoffs are looming and the Wisconsin Women opted to gauge themselves against a higher-division opponent April 9 to test their mettle.
Wisconsin traveled to the Division 1 Minnesota Valkyries, an opponent who holds several wins against the team throughout competitive history. In a sign of the ever-changing nature of rugby parity though, it was Wisconsin who knocked out a dominating 62-37 victory on the road against the Valks.
The win marked Wisconsin’s first against the Valks in at least 13 years, if not more, according to one WWRFC alum. Both teams previously competed regularly against each other in Division 1 before league realignments saw the Valks move up to the Women’s Premier League and later back down to D1, as Wisconsin moved down to D2 and a more natural fit for the smaller city of Madison.
The friendly match saw both teams mix up their rosters with starters and developmental players. But Wisconsin’s outside speed and forward continuity proved too much for the rebuilding Valkyries.
Speedy Wisconsin wing Felicia Carlson notched points on the scoreboard first with a try. The ensuing restart saw outside center Bree Valenza slip past the Minnesota defense to set up wing Justine Wypych for Wisconsin’s next try in the early minutes of the match. Conversions were unsuccessful and Wisconsin held an early 10-0 lead.
The Valks rallied back with a try of their own by former UW-Whitewater and Wisconsin Women’s alum Kristen “Ham” Zdanczewicz, a longtime USA Eagle, leading the valks at inside center. The visiting team continued to build the lead however. Wisconsin’s Grace Hovde cleared a successful penalty kick to make it 13-5 before Valenza scored her second try, followed by a Hovde run setting up Carlson for her second try to make it 27-5.
The Valks didn’t fold as their #8 capitalized on a penalty play from 10 meters our to make it a 27-10 scoreline. Wisconsin’s outside speed couldn’t be matched though as fans saw Wypych earn her second try and improve the scoreboard to 34-10 for Wisconsin.
Scoring notes got a bit fuzzy as the cold set in for sideline statisticians, but further back and forth scoring saw Wisconsin maintain the lead at 42-20 around the 50-minute mark.
Wisconsin vet Kris Peterson, playing at scrumhalf, earned points for the team after shiftily breaking though the defense. A few cheap shots from the home team saw them earn a yellow card after a later hit on Wypych after she scored another try. Wisconsin tighthead Melissa “Helga” Pohleber punished the opposition with a big break to set up fullback Ashley Shaw to make it 57-20. Scoring continued as Peterson set up Carlson with an easy try to make it 67-20.
The Valkyries were not done though as Wisconsin penalties and some subbing gave the Valks three late tries heading into the closing minutes. Wisconsin’s lead was too much though. Final score 62-37.
Wisconsin returns home for a hard week of practice in preparation for the final Midwest Division 2 league match of the season. The team travels to Milwaukee to play longtime state rivals, the Milwaukee Scylla on Saturday, April 16 at the Gun Club field on the Lake Michigan shoreline. A win against the Scylla will give Wisconsin an undefeated 8-0 league record and improve them to 14-1 overall in matches and tournament play.