As get closer to the College 15s playoffs, we are finding ourselves entering into the time of the year where the college conferences start to play their championship tournaments.
On March 18th and 19th, the South Independent Women’s Rugby Conference Championships will be hosted by Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, GA. Competing for conference supremacy will be the current conference incumbent, Tulane University, University of Alabama, Clemson University, and Kennesaw State University.
Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw State has been an impact team in the South Independent Rugby Conference for the last two years. This year they took the league by storm. Getting a #1 seed in the SIRC women’s championship tournament, Kennesaw State achieved this by going undefeated this regular season with an 8-0 record.
Akilah “Goose” Guzman, President and captain for the team, credits the success of the season to the efforts made during the off-season to increase recruitment.
“At our first practice, we had close to 30 girls come out, and most of them have stuck around,” Guzman exclaimed.
With an increase in the numbers of players available at practice, Kennesaw State has been able to be more proficient in their skills.
“Recently, our team defense and offense has been great this season.”
Kennesaw State hopes to take advantage of this as they hope to move forward into the USA Rugby Playoffs on April 22-23rd.
University of Alabama
University of Alabama might have the youngest team in the competition. Most of the players are rookies and underclassman. Last year, Alabama missed the playoffs and they have been playing with that chip on their shoulders this season.
Marissa Meyers, 8-man and Forwards captain for Alabama, has been impressed with the hunger that this young Alabama team has shown through the season.
“What makes us successful is that we have a drive to improve our rugby. We are always learning something new and learning new tactics. The majority of the team is rookies, and the team is hungry to play good rugby,” said Meyers.
Even though Alabama has been working on development, there are still problems that come with young players.
“Our last game against UT-Chattanooga, there were issues with making tackles. We came back to practice to work on tackling. We worked on rucking as well. But our scrums have been great, and the Backs production has been great.”
This opening match with Kennesaw State, sets up a nice line of standard for Alabama. Additionally, the two teams have been building a rivalry over the years. The mixture of “chip on the shoulder” attitude based on their missing the playoffs last year, and a need to one up their own rival in Kennesaw State. Alabama looks to leave their mark on the championship.
Tulane University started this season coming out of a remarkable Cinderella season that lead them to a USA Rugby Spring Championship win. Tulane is currently hoping to get back to the USA Rugby playoffs on April 22. Tulane did not have as strong a Fall season as they had wanted, but came with a strong vengeance in the Spring.
Hayley Alexander, vice president for Tulane Rugby, attributes the resurgence of the teams efforts in the spring on several factors. Top of them being the work on their fitness.
“We have been placing a strong focus on fitness the past few weeks! We have been fortunate enough to have one of our teammates, Simone Savoie, who is in the Marine ROTC program at Tulane help with our fitness workouts.”
During the Fall, Tulane found themselves lacking many of their veteran talent.
“This season is different than previously because we had many girls, including myself, abroad in the fall. While abroad, the girls got experience to study and play rugby internationally. This provided our team at home with some challenges with number of players and position openings,” Alexander explained.
The result of that was the team being able to give their rookies more opportunities to play and gain needed experience. The opportunity has given Tulane the benefit of having a very deep bench of players to be able to have available for substitutions.
Expect Tulane to be able to use their talent and experience, at this level, to provide them momentum going into the SIRC Championships.
Clemson University has to be the most surprising team in the conference this year. The last two years in the SIRC, they have been on the tail end of the winning column. This year, Clemson has been very dominate. Working with an offense that scores an average of 51.7 points per game, and defense that has allowed a stifling, 14 points per game, Clemson found its way to a 7-0 regular season.
Clemson Rugby senior, Brianna Mcewen, has all the confidence in Clemson’s ability to compete in the Championship tournament this year. Looking forward to the weekend,
“We’re feeling hopeful and confident about this weekend. We have beat Tulane before at the New Orleans tournament in the fall, which gives us confidence. But we also realize they have worked very hard all year and had top players who weren’t present during that match. This is a new level of competition for us,” Mcewen says.
Similarly to Kennesaw State, much of the reason for Clemson’s newly found success has been due to the increased number of players they have been able to have this season.
“We retained more rookies from fall to spring than players we started with at the beginning of the fall. It’s been essential to have talented players on the bench who can fill in for injuries and sickness,” claims Mcewen.
Clemson will hope to use their new found success to propel them to their first SIRC Championship.
*Update: The article improperly addressed Tulane University as the reigning South Independent Women’s Rugby Conference Champions from 2016. Tulane entered into the 2016 USA Rugby playoffs as a Wild Card. University of Georgia Women won the 2016 SIRC Women’s Championships.