Tuesday, April 29, 2014

MARFU Championship Recap; Schuylkill River, NOVA Take Titles

 By Tim Bintrim

The trees are out in bud all over the Mid-Atlantic region. That must mean it’s play-off time again. At the MAC Championships in Wilmington, DE, the Schuylkill River Exiles proved over the weekend that they are not just a dominant 7s side but are also contenders for the full 15s crown. On Saturday the Exiles scored after time had expired in the D1 Semi-Final and converted the extra points to win by two over southern division champs the Norfolk Blues. In the Final on Sunday, they held off a late push by the Potomac Athletic Club (PAC) to win 22-14.

Men's Finals

In the D1 Men’s club final, penalties kept the Potomac Athletic Club (PAC) out of the game early on. After using the rolling maul as a method of attack they finally got the first points 20 minutes in. Schuykill River opted to not contend a line-out inside the 5 meter mark. The defensive tactic back-fired when PAC #9 Conner Mannix peeled out of the back of a ruck to score. Outside center Greg Suellentrop nailed the conversion from the sideline and we were off. At 30 minutes, an attacking kick by PAC rolled over the back line and out of the resulting scrum Exiles scrumhalf and Captain Pat Boyle unloaded to wing Aaron Wynder who unleashed a long cross field run and touched down in the opposite corner. A missed conversion made the score 5-7. PAC missed a penalty kick just before the half ended and that’s where the scoring stood.

Take the jump to read more.

Shortly after the second half kick off, an off-sides penalty against PAC offered Schuylkill River a kick from directly in front of the posts and flyhalf Owen Jones made good. That put the Exiles up by 1. Stuck deep in their own half of the pitch, PAC tried without success to use their big #8, Hannibal Vaivao. Several times he tried to pick the ball out of the back of the scrum but the Schuylkill boys would have none of it. At 55 minutes, Exile flanker Stephen Cragg picked off an errant PAC pass and raced 50 meters for the try. Jones conversion was good making it 15-7. In the second half the advantage of a deep bench began to pay off for Schuylkill as the continued to substitute fresh players. The lack of available players on the PAC side-line was painfully obvious. Shortly after the Cragg run, Shuylkill wing John Wynder broke off of a ruck and scampered 20 meters for a try. Jones converted and the score was 22-7 in the Exiles favor.

Another score for PAC came at the 63 minute mark when Schuylkill River was penalized for not releasing the ball. The Exiles defenders were caught with their backs turned and PAC outside center Greg Suellentrop danced through several defenders on his way to score off the quick tap. Suellentrop then converted his own try and made the score 22 to 14. Aided by the referee’s whistle, PAC was driving toward another score as time ran out and a knock on killed their opportunity.

Schylkill River Captain and scrumhalf Pat Boyle said of the match, “We had to play dogged defense both days. It’s hard to beat a team who plays good defense. On offense we just stayed patient. Both days we went in down at the half. In the second halfs we just kept possession of the ball and stayed calm. But it was our defense that kept us in it.” Contributing to that strong defense was Exile stalwart 8 man Randy Hellsman. Hellsman is a veteran player who knows how to be wherever the ball is. His hard tackles and strong running added to the championship performance by “The River”.

By coincidence the Men’s D3 and D4 Final matches simultaneously had penalty kick opportunities missed. The 2 matches were held side by side on fields 2 and 3 at Alapocas Run Park. In the D3 Final the DC Renegades won a convincing victory over Pennsylvania’s Old Gaelic 34-21 while the Blue Ridge Rugby Club of Virginia dominated Northeastern Philadelphia 53-12.

Multi-phase play by Blue Ridge kept NE Philly on their heels and pinned down for most of the match. The match was marked by several dust-ups probably instigated by high spirits on the Blue Ridge side and frustration on the Northeastern side. Blue Ridge used a 2 sided attack on offense by getting an outside edge with speed and pounding the middle. Speedy wings Justin Hackett and Ryan Burroughs seemed to be continuously sprinting up and down the sidelines while short-yardage specialist #8 P.J. Walters was dragging NE Philly defenders over the try line with him. Trys were scored for Northeastern Philadelphia by Eric French and Giorgi Martiashvili.

Sophisticated ball handling and nimble running were the hallmarks of the Renegades style of play against Old Gaelic in the D3 Final. Old Gaelic’s kicks refused to find touch most of the day which hindered them on offense. On the other hand, the Renegades made full use of the kicking game including fullback Heller Olson nailing a drop kick from directly in front of the posts in the first half. Renegades Coach Roland Pratt put it succinctly when he said “It’s always nice to see a drop kick well executed.” Coach Pratt conceded that “It was a clash of styles. We were up against a really big forward pack. We knew if we could just hold them our faster team oriented game and our quality back line would pay dividends. We had success at the breakdown, got it out to our backs and they did the rest.” He credited props Bill Hoff, Mike Cohen and Dave Joseph for doing the “yeoman’s work up front.” He also praised the teams emphasis on fitness saying, “I believe we were the fittest team at the tournament and it’s really beginning to pay forward now.” The DC Exiles set a goal for themselves at the beginning of the season to win their league for the very first time. They expanded that goal to winning the MAC championship. “Now it has to be a national title.” declared Coach Pratt. “We are just 3 games away so we are putting all our eggs in that basket.”

Women's Finals

The Women’s Club Finals were held Saturday alongside consolation matches and men’s semi-final play on 3 fields at Alapocas Run State Park. D1 Northern Virginia (NOVA) prevailed in a hard fought match against the ladies of the Philadelphia Club 27 to 23. But first the self-named Honey Badgers from Severn River, MD took the D2 title in a convincing 36-13 victory over the Mermaids from Norfolk, VA.

Strong performances from team Captain Merideth McAlister and USA Eagle Carmen Farmer powered the Severn River offense. Farmer, who has played in the back 5 for the Eagle women, was utilized to great effect this week-end at Outside Center. Her combination of a powerful running attack and stalwart defense aided Severn in their first try as she off-loaded to McAlister for a score within 5 minutes of kick off. Severn River was heavily penalized throughout the game and particularly in the first half. A kick attempt early by Norfolk flyhalf Samantha Sink after a penalty for high tackle went wide. After repeated warnings by Referee Lance Orndorf about dangerous play, a yellow card was issued to Severn and they went short handed for the final 10 minutes of the half. Forward play resulted in a score for Severn River at the 15 minute mark as hooker Jill Gordon came off the scrum and touched down in the corner. It was answered twice in quick succession by Norfolk forward Nic Diaz bowling over a few defenders for a score and an outstanding run by outside center Kendall Vaughn. Vaughn is a recent addition from Florida State that is making her mark in the MAC. At 22 minutes Merideth McAlister replayed a kindness shown earlier by Carmen Farmer as she ended a long run by handing off the try. A missed conversion made the score 15-10.

Despite an overwhelming size difference in the forward packs, Severn River won most of the break-downs. The lone exception was Norfolk’s success in utilizing the rolling maul. Just before the half ended, Severn withstood 3 scoring attempts from within 5 meters. Twice Norfolk attacked with their big forwards and then tried a feint inside before swinging it wide. Severn successfully held up the ball inside the try zone each time. Early in the 2nd half Norfolk came within 2 points when forward Holly Gaff powered in for a score making it 13-15. At 50 minutes, set up by another long jaunt by Severn outside center Carmen Farmer, #8 Candace Coston took her turn at a try. It was converted by flyhalf Charlee Bryan, her first of the day making it 22-13. Finally finding their stride, the women of Severn then turned a Norfolk scrum with Farmer setting down a second time and Bryan converting. Fullback Katie Marshal added 5 to the final score and Bryan’s kick hitting the upright before dropping in. Norfolk’s defense held off another drive by Severn River just before time was out. The final score was Severn 36, Norfolk 13.

Severn River Captain Merideth McAlister attributed the win to “pure heart”. “We played defense the first 20 minutes of the second half and only gave up 5 points. Our forwards were working hard. Norfolk actually have much bigger forwards but we have girls who are really strong and work together really well.” McAlister gave credit to hooker Jill Gordon’s skill for winning scrums and to 17 year old high school student Hope Wasserman who put in a strong performance at wing. These girls admire the Honey Badger because “It takes what it wants.” What they want is a national championship.

The Women’s D1 Final on Saturday started with NOVA’s star flyhalf Lauren Hoeck darting past several ineffective tacklers for an unassisted try 4 minutes into the match. It was converted by flanker Rachel Primo making it 7-0. Primo is a tough player who played strong on both offense and defense. At 15 minutes in, a penalty kick by Philadelphia outside center Emily Tunney put them on the board. Shortly after NOVA fullback Amber Benlian side-stepped several would-be tacklers on a 50 meter jaunt that added another 5. At 28 minutes Philadelphia struck back off of a line-out. After gaining possession, they worked the ball cross field to flyhalf Kate Hallinan who dotted it down in the opposite corner. That made the score 12-8 still in favor of NOVA. Less than 5 minutes later, Philly was caught diving over in a ruck and Rachel Primo nailed another kick for 3 points. That score was followed up shortly with a long sprint to the goal by NOVA fullback Amber Benlian. But the women from Philadelphia refused to give up. Just before the half ended flanker “Frankie” Snyder and the forward pack pushed in another try aided by a high tackle penalty at the 5. The half time score stood at 22-13 NOVA.

At about 7 minutes into the second half of play, a line out gone awry led to a scrum fed by Philly. NOVA turned the scrum and fed it all the way out their back line and wing Megan Hansen who grounded it in the opposite corner. The try went unconverted leaving the tally at 25-13. Strong play by their forwards then got Philadelphia back in the game. A late stand led by #7 Becca Fagan and #8 Christin Alberto resulted in 2 unanswered trys with scores by prop Lauren Poole and flyhalf Anna McGlade. The pack from both sides basically punched it out in the middle of the pitch in the last part of the match with NOVA surviving 27-23.

NOVA scrumhalf and captain Meganne Atkins commented, “We knew Philly was going to be a tough team who worked hard in the off-season. The winter break gives teams a lot of time to work on fitness and cohesion. Certainly Philly was taking advantage of that so we saw a really good team.” Despite this loss, the Philadelphia women still have an opportunity to continue in the play-offs. A lack of a D1 contender from the south will result in a play in to take place in Pittsburgh next week end. Atkins fully expects to see Philly again on the road to nationals.

Coach Bob Weir of Philadelphia lamented, “I think we could have shown a little more confidence in our tackle contest. That’s something that’s going to be a priority for us this week. We need to put that back on the shelf with the rest of our defense.” He admitted that the game came down to “unforced errors. A knock on here, an undisciplined ruck there. Little things that are easily fixable for us. They made a difference.” He praised the “spirit and passion” of his team and said of their late comeback, “If the second half was just 10 minutes longer……”

Day One Scores (April 26)


D3 Semi-finals
Old Gaelic, PA 38 – Philadelphia/Whitemarsh 29

D2 Semi-finals
Rocky Gorge, MD 48 – Doylestown, PA 29
Wilmington, DE 57 – Media, PA 12

D1 Semi-finals
Shuylkill River 17 – Norfolk Blues 15
Potomac Athletic Club 23 – Baltimore/Chesapeake 22


D1 Consolation
Keystone, PA 25 – James River, VA 20

D2 Final
Severn River, MD 36 – Norfolk,VA – 13

D1 Final 
NOVA 27 – Philadelphia – 23

Day Two Scores (April 27)

D2 Consolation
Media 43 – Doylestown, PA 29

D3 Consolation
Philadelphia/Whitemarsh 73 –Happy Valley (State College, PA) 31

D4 Final
Blue Ridge, VA 53 – Northeastern Philadelphia 12

D1 Consolation
Norfolk Blues 31 – Baltimore/Chesapeake 17

D2 Final
Rocky Gorge 34 – Wilmington, DE 24

D1 Final
Schuylkill River, PA 22 – PAC 14

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