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2022-2023 Women's Preview

By National Collegiate Rugby, 09/07/22, 6:00PM EDT

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7 September - With the top layer of competition splitting between Division I and Division II this fall, National Collegiate Rugby will crown three women’s national champions for the first time ever. Teams from eight conferences will compete for the Division I title, while representatives from 12 different leagues make up the Division II race, and 13 conferences feed into the Small College playoffs.  

 

Women’s Division I
The big news in Division I is the addition of the Big 10 and Lonestar conferences. Together, they help make NCR the largest Division I women’s competition in college rugby. Their migration also brings some of the most recognizable brands in intercollegiate athletics to the home of college rugby; Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas and Texas A&M.  

Four Big 10 teams debuted in the Preseason Power 10, with last year’s conference runners-up, Michigan, coming in at No. 2. The Wolverines are led by the reigning conference coach of the year, Jamie Frech, and returning all-conference performer Gianna Torres. Nipping at their heels will be No. 4 Iowa and fifth-ranked Indiana, while No. 9 Notre Dame is also an expected contender for the conference crown.

In Texas, the Aggies enter the season ranked two slots higher than the Longhorns. Texas coach Kris Karsten skippered the Lonestar Conference to the Division I All-Star Championship in January, and his Longhorns finished third in the CRC’s Division I Club bracket in May, but they haven’t played a full-on 15s season since before COVID.  

There are plenty of contenders in the field of incumbents, too. Despite falling to Northern Iowa in the semifinal last year, 35-29, Notre Dame College enters the season atop the Power 10, while the Panthers clock in at No. 3. Fans won’t have to wait long for a rematch, as the Panthers and Falcons meet in the season opener Sep. 10.

NDC emerged from the pandemic with a depleted roster, boasting just 13 players at the start of last season. First-year head coach Jack Nece and his coaches committed to recruiting on campus and were rewarded with a final four run. Since, he’s been busy recruiting outside South Euclid, signing 12 new players, including five from the Ohio state champion Brunswick Valkyries.   

Despite losing a trio of All-Americans to graduation and standout Tatyana Reed to a torn ACL, Northern Iowa looks capable of another deep run. Filling the leadership void is captain and Canadian U23 international Aubrey Buresh, who led the Panthers in tackles last season. Head coach Meghan Flanigan hauled in a talented recruiting class as well, including a pair of trialists for the High School All Americans. 

Colgate defeated Kent State 39-7 in the opening round of the playoffs last fall, before falling to NDC in the quarterfinals. Determined to lead the Raiders to another Upstate New York title and playoff berth are No. 8 Ellie Humphreys, wing Sarah Traenkle and scrumhalf Sophie Shaffer, all of whom stood out at the All Star National Cup last January. If someone else is to emerge from Upstate NY, look for it to be Syracuse or Cornell. 

 

Women’s Division II

After winning five-straight Small College National Championships, the dynastic Wayne State College program from Northeast Nebraska is among the top contenders for the Division II crown. 7s and 15s combined, the Wildcats have claimed an astonishing 13 national championships since 2014.

While they’ve graduated a pair of All-Americans in flyhalf Lauren Nelson and prop Izzy Robinson, head coach Darrin Barner’s cupboards are never bare. Back for their senior campaign is another pair of All-Americans, scrumhalf Selma Taylor and lock Taylor Ference.

Wayne State is far from the only current DII club with postseason experience in another division. Six of the Division II Preseason Power Ten teams represented their conferences in the Division I playoffs last fall. 

2014 Small College National Champs Roger Williams (3), No. 6 Bowling Green and 10th-ranked Cincinnati all fell in the first round. And the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire (4) bounced Bowling Green in the round of 16 before falling to Northern Iowa in the quarterfinals. 

Of all Division II, Marquette made the deepest run in last year’s Division I postseason, beating Iowa State and Grand Valley State before falling in the semifinals to eventual champion Life. Returning for the Golden Eagles is All-American lock Riley Rand. 

Grand Valley State isn’t resting on its laurels as defending champions of the Great Lakes. With Bowling Green, Saginaw Valley State and Western Michigan all applying pressure, the Lakers have built a schedule full of tough opponents to keep them sharp, including an early home tilt against Division I contender Notre Dame College. 

 

Women’s Small College

With Wayne State moving up, the path is clear for a new champion. Last year’s runner-up SUNY Cortland will be back in the mix for the Upstate New York title and a deep playoff run, though the graduation of both of their All-Americans won’t help. Threatening to unseat the Red Dragons for the conference crown is Ithaca, which returns prop Sofia Bogart and No. 8 Ainsley Shelby. St. Bonaventure, Rochester and Niagara are likely challengers from the conference’s West Division.

Coming into 2022 with the top billing in the Preseason Power 10 is Northern Michigan out of the Great Waters. Coached by former Eagle Tina Nesburg, the Northstars ran into the Wayne State buzzsaw in the semifinals last season, but bounced back with a win over Lee to finish third in the country. Despite graduating a pair of All Americans, Northern Michigan remains a contender.

In the Rugby Northeast Conference, legendary Middlebury head coach K.O. Onfury is back for her 23rd season leading the Panthers. They sneak into the Power 10 at No. 9 as the favorites to win another conference title.  

Wayne State’s old rival, third-ranked South Dakota, is another team to keep an eye on as the favorite to emerge from the Prairie States. Long-time captain and graduated All-American Eden Liebenthal has stepped into a coaching role, assisting one of the top skippers in the country in Bryn Chivers. Two All-Americans return between the lines for the Yotes in senior fullback Trixie Joe Schlechter,  and junior hooker Grace Vanderzee.