Women’s rugby defeats St. Cloud State, first seed in national playoffs


The Black Katts fight for possession against St. Cloud State Oct. 26 in Winona. BARTHOLOME RONDET
The Black Katts fight for possession against St. Cloud State Oct. 26 in Winona.

Allison Mueller/Winonan

Last week the Winona State University women’s rugby team shut out St. Cloud 110-0 and automatically took first seed in Minnesota’s Northern Lights Conference.

Sydney Norman said since the game against St. Cloud was the last league game for the Black Katts, they were looking to go in and come out strong.

“We want to show those teams we are going to play in the national tournament what they’re up against,” Norman said.

The Black Katts did just that. With coach Roger Riley and coach Josh Krzewinski pushing and preparing the team in practice, the Black Katts were able to crush their opponent.

To prepare for St. Cloud, there was more “live” contact in practice, using real players not just bags and pads.

“The players feel they need this to toughen themselves up for playoffs,” Riley said.

Each player on the team has been pushing herself in practice for both the St. Cloud game and future games.

Amanda Custode said, “I feel pretty confident going into the game because we’ve been working our butts off at practice lately to prepare for nationals.”

Also, individual skills and individual player positions were focused on in practice.

In order to win, Krzewinski said it would take 15 players staying focused on their individual roles, but also playing as a team.

“We need to play for each other and step up another level to fine tune our patterns of play for the playoffs,” Krzewinski said.

With fans cheering the Black Katts on at their home field on Oct. 26, both coaches said that the energy was very high at the start of the game and the team was mentally prepared.

Within minutes a try from Nikki Linberg put the Black Katts on the board. By the end of the first half Winona State had stolen four of St. Cloud State’s scrums and had also turned over four of their rucks.

Going into the second half, the Black Katts were up 55-0 and with impressive runs being made from players including Kourtney Kavajecz, Caitlin Courtney, Georgia Porter and Hillary Zimmer, there were no signs of the Black Katts letting up.

Throughout the game, Courtney scored four tries and Andrea White scored two. Kavajecz, Elle Hoffman, Kristen Semrow, Hillary Zimmer, Nadia Nassif, Nikki Linberg, Tori Langhans, Lindsey Bucki, Sydney Norman and Katie Dries all scored one try.

“The forwards’ loose play was fairly good and we saw more forwards score in this game than in any other game during the season,” Riley said.

Also, five conversions were made by Dries and four by Zimmer, making the end score 110-0.

Winning this game against St. Cloud State automatically gave Winona State a qualifying position into the national playoff in a round of 32.

The Black Katts ended their league games by scoring a whopping total of 536 points and allowing only 14 points scored against them overall.

In order to dominate all of their opponents and preform like they have throughout the season, the Black Katts have put in tons of energy to achieve their success.

Rugby club president Heather Kohl and coaches Riley and Krzewinski came to the conclusion that the team could experience “practice burnout” from the long season.

“We have been practicing and competing since the end of August, so a much needed break for players and coaches will help heal some injuries and reduce the burn-out of a long season,” Krzewinski said.

As a solution, this week for the Black Katts is “catch up on schoolwork” week, giving the team a rest before they prepare for their first playoff game.

“This break is well-timed because there are a lot of tests and papers due this week. We will keep up our fitness by running but take a break from evening practices,” Riley said. “I am sure the ladies will take advantage of the extra time and will also come back revitalized for next week practices.”

Holly Vassar, Kavajecz, and Nassif all said that they will definitely be taking advantage of their spare time this week.

“I am always swarmed with school work, so this extra time is a lifesaver,” Nassif said.

Vassar also said, “Because of nationals and traveling, it is very easy to fall behind on homework.”

Riley and Krzewinski both said that they understand that it is difficult for some players to balance school and rugby; but above all, academics come first.

“To us academics must always come first. However, we do stress that the players must be very well organized in their study schedules,” Riley said.

Krzewinski said, “By not having three nights of two-hour practices and a match on the weekend, the girls can get ahead on their studies and pick up some extra time on their jobs.”

Vassar said that she, personally, is a full time student, works and spends roughly six hours a week at practice.

“The coaches do an excellent job of stressing the importance of attending all practices, while being understanding that some players have night classes, work and other obligations,” Vassar said.

Kavajecz said that every player on the Black Katts works hard on and off the field and that this shows in the statistics.

“In the 2012-2013 season, we had four Academic All-Americans on the Winona State women’s rugby club team,” Kavajecz said. “The only other school with four Academic All-Americans was Harvard University and Winona State was the only team with two players with perfect 4.0 GPA’s.”

After this catch up week, the next step is preparing for the first playoff game away against second-seeded UW Lacrosse on Nov. 9.

“We can do well if we are mentally focused and individually prepared for our roles on the field,” Riley said.

In regards to expectations for the playoffs, Kzewinski and Riley said that they do not want to jinx the team.

“If you start looking ahead of yourself, you will not fare well,” Krzewinski said. “We will concentrate on the task at hand. That’s beating UW Lacrosse.”

Contact Allison at [email protected]