Indiana is heading to the DI college playoffs and looking good in the ramp-up. The Hoosiers made their annual trip to Charlottesville, Va., for the Virginia Women’s Invitational Tournament (VWIT) and returned to the frigid Midwest with the trophy.
Indiana found its edge in the set pieces, as prop Karen Strunk led the tight five in a dominating scrum capable of stealing lots of possession. It paid off in the opening game against James Madison, which took an 8-0 lead early on.
“JMU had their best player at 10, and then moved her to fullback in our second game, and she scored two of their tries,” Indiana coach Vaughn Mitchell said of All American Stephanie Goetz. “But our forwards took it to them after the half. We started by pushing a 10-meter lineout in, and then controlled all of the scrums, even theirs, so that helped a lot.”
Indiana rallied to a 27-8 victory, and that come-from-behind win came in handy, experience wise, for game two against UVA. The host took the early lead, and then Indiana breakaways Victoria Duffin, Celena Handojo and Allison Hale exerted themselves and kept UVA on the back foot. Halfbacks Tiffany Nguyen and Carolina Walters kept the ball moving, and most of the scoring came through the backs in the 38-7 win.
On Sunday, Indiana faced JMU again, this time winning 35-10 in the semis. Navy earned its berth to the final with a 15-12 victory over UVA.
“We’ve never come close to beating Navy before,” Mitchell said. Indiana had also never beaten UVA in 15s before Saturday’s victory. “They were really physical, especially at the contact area. They were good at getting two players on the ballcarrier every time and driving back. The girls adjusted well – they braced themselves in the hit, but didn’t try to fight through it. It was more important to secure possession and clean ball.”
Indiana countered that defensive strategy with its more technical scrum, and was able to win more possession through its forwards, which was the theme of the weekend. The backs got creative as well, relying less on their outside speed and experimenting with kicks to the wing. Indiana didn’t have its regular back three in play this weekend, or for the rest of the semester, as standout fullback Maddy Pound is in England this spring.
After a 14-7 lead at the break, Indiana finished the game with a 28-12 victory and first-ever VWIT trophy.
“We’ve been coming here for six or seven years, and we have not done well in the past,” Mitchell said. “These games used to be our first of the season, but it helped playing Michigan and Davenport beforehand. Comparatively, we’re looking pretty strong, and doing well at this tournament for the first time is going to help heading into the rest of the season.”
Indiana has already confirmed that it’s heading to the DI playoffs, but bleak weather hampers any edge that advance knowledge might provide. So the Hoosiers are heading south later this month, lining up games against the Atlanta Harlequins, Florida and Florida State during spring break. By April, Indiana will be able to play some more Midwest games.