Women’s club rugby drops title game 41-5

Ben Goessling

For nearly 80 minutes, she watched her team fight valiantly with a superior opponent, only to see the score get more lopsided with each trip down the field.

When Minnesota’s women’s club rugby team scored its first and only try with two minutes left in Saturday’s NCAA Division II Championship game – a 41-5 loss to Northern Iowa – head coach Martha Daines was left clinging to moral victories.

“Northern Iowa hadn’t been scored on all spring, so it was nice for us to be able to take that away,” she said. “We played them pretty even the whole second half, and I was just happy for (the team) when we scored.”

After Saturday’s game, Daines didn’t have much else to be happy about. The Gophers played one of their best games of the season and controlled most of the second half, but found themselves matched at every turn by a Northern Iowa team with too many weapons.

Coming into Saturday’s title game, Northern Iowa had outscored its two previous tournament opponents by a combined margin of 123-0.

“We were expecting it to be a knock-down drag-out game. We played them in the Midwest Finals and they were ahead of us for 28 minutes,” said Northern Iowa head coach Steve Murra. “We wanted to open the game up because we have so much speed.”

The Panthers scored twice in the first five minutes of the game when Libby Caplan and Carrie VanSickel raced for breakaway scores.

Caplan sliced through the center of the Minnesota defense after a timely pass from Autumn O’Conner with three minutes left in the first half and Northern Iowa took a 34-0 lead into intermission.

After receiving the second half kickoff, the Gophers quickly drove into the Panthers’ try zone and seemed on the verge of scoring when VanSickel, named the game’s most valuable player, scooped up a loose ball and dashed 90 yards for a back-breaking score.

“There’s a point where you change your goals from winning the game to just wanting the team to play well and to improve,” Daines said. “It was awfully tough to recover from that (score).”

Senior captain Jenny Hughes said she was proud of the way her team played, and added the game was closer than it looked.

“I don’t think they’re much better than we are,” she said. “We dominated the second half, so it was pretty (even) talent-wise. They just had too much speed.”

Daines said in spite of the loss, Saturday’s game was good for the Gophers, as it showed them what is needed to close the gap between themselves and Northern Iowa.

“Hopefully (the team) will see that they need to do some training on their own to get to that level,” she said. “It sets the standard for them.”

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]