MARIETTA, Ga. – On Saturday, the Wayne State women’s rugby team earned a trip to the finals with its offense.
On Sunday, the defense did the talking.
The Wildcats withstood countless attacks by the Colgate University front line and were able to do just enough offensively to ride out an 11-0 win and claim their sixth National Small College Rugby Organization national title Sunday afternoon at Life University.
The win was Wayne State’s third national championship in 15-on-15 play, matching their national titles from 2012 and 2013, and with their status as three-time defending national champions in 7-on-7 rugby, they now hold both national titles simultaneously.
And nobody could be prouder of his team’s effort than the Wildcats’ coach, Darin Barner.
“That was the best defensive performance in the 15 years of this program,” he said on the team’s bus ride home Sunday evening. “We hardly had the ball today and were on defense almost the entire time, and it was like a steel curtain today with our defense.”
Colgate’s size and wet, rainy conditions created troubles for the Wayne State offense, and the Wildcats spent much of the first half on defense. When Wayne State did have the ball, the slippery conditions made it difficult for their wings to get into open space and they dropped numerous passes that slowed the offense down.
“It was really cold and wet, and our offense is a run-and-gun type offense and that really hurt our game,” he said. “I think our backs would have torched them on the outside, but we couldn’t get anything going because it was wet and we had to fall back on our scrum to carry us through defensively, and we just completely overachieved with our defense.”
The game was scoreless until the final 13 minutes of the first half. Wayne State got inside the Colgate 22-yard line for the first time and the Raiders were hit with the first of two yellow cards, putting them a man down. Wayne State took immediate advantage of the opportunity to try a penalty kick, and Sam Warneke split the uprights on a 15-yard try to give Wayne State a 3-0 lead at the half.
Midway through the second half, Wayne State made just its second trip deep into Colgate territory and made it pay off, using another penalty kick by Warneke from 18 yards away to make it a 6-0 game.
Wayne State’s defense was stellar throughout the game, and late in the contest the Raiders were issued a second yellow card. It didn’t take long for the Wildcats to capitalize, and Kelsey Mills was able to work her way through a maul to put the ball down in the try zone with about nine minutes to go, effectively putting the game out of reach.
“That was just big,” Barner said. “We just mauled the ball over, and it took the three refs talking to one another to figure out if we’d crossed the line or not.”
When the final whistle blew, the team celebrated, and Barner said he breathed a big sigh of relief.
“This was completely the opposite of what we normally do,” he said. “It was like a knife fight in a phone booth.”
Faith Sorensen was named the tournament MVP and was one of six Wildcats on the all-tournament team, and she echoed the sentiments of her teammates in the emotions of winning a national title.
“It’s like the best feeling in the whole world,” she said. “That was some of the hardest competition we’ve had, and coming out and playing a different game showed what we could do.”
Sorensen said that the late try that gave Wayne State its margin of victory was big, but they knew they couldn’t rest on that late score.
“We knew they had the capability to come back and we knew we couldn’t let down,” she said. “We had to keep pushing.”
Joining Sorensen on the all-tournament team were Maryssa Schleis, Hannah Meyer, Jasmine Kovacs, Leanna Rosberg and Alyssa Fisher. Fisher also earned the Most Important Tackle award, and Alex Feeley was presented the Heart and Soul Award.
By winning the national title Sunday, Wayne State now holds both NSCRO national championships, matching the 7-on-7 national title they have held the last three years. Winning in both disciplines is a sign of how solid the Wayne State program has become over the years.
“Winning both titles is extremely impressive, because most programs cater to one type of game or the other,” Barner said. “This shows the overall talent that we’ve been blessed with and the broad spectrum and depth of our roster. To have 35 girls on the team who can compete in either sevens or 15-on-15 is fantastic.”
And, with the senior class having a hand in five of the program’s six national titles, Barner said there is no doubt what legacy the Class of 2017 will leave behind with the program.
“They certainly deserve the name ‘The Dream Team,’” he said.