The Western Washington University women’s rugby team will look to continue its undefeated season and inch closer to a national title when they host the Sweet 16 round of the Division II National Championship Tournament in Bellingham on April 8-9.
The Vikings, champions of the Cascade Conference, face Grand Canyon University, runner-ups of the Gold Coast Conference, at Harrington Field on April 8 in the second match of a double-header. Eastern Washington University, the Cascade Conference’s No. 2 seed, squares off against West Coast Champion Fresno State in the other contest.
Eastern Washington and Fresno State open the day at 9 a.m., while Western Washington and Grand Canyon will play at 11 a.m.
Winners will face each other the following day in the West Regional championship at 11 a.m. with the victor of that match moving on to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California on April 22-23 where it will be joined by the three other national semifinalists.
Grand Canyon, a first-year program, is ranked 15th nationally, while Fresno State comes in No. 5.
“Right now we are really focusing on our game plan and our strengths and weaknesses,” first-year WWU coach Mike Mauger said. “We know [Grand Canyon] is going to be a strong team to play against so we will stick to our plays and the best team will win.”
Led by captains Lauren Heller and Kayla Adderley, the Vikings bring an 11-0 record and a top 10 national ranking into the round of 16.
“Since I just started with the team in the fall, we were not sure what the outcome would be. But after getting to know the team better and seeing what they were able to achieve, I had high hopes to be able to go to the playoffs,” Mauger said. “The team was able to get that far thanks to their commitment and hard work. When you have good numbers, when people show up for practice three times a week and work hard and when they trust the game plan, you get good outcomes.”
The Vikings rolled through their regular season slate, posting one rout after another.
WWU opened the season with a 43-7 win over Eastern Washington. Wins over conference foes Reed College (51-12) and Southern Oregon (94-0) followed.
The squad’s lone close game on the scoreboard was a 34-17 home victory over Western Oregon on Dec. 3. The Vikings, however, hammered the Wolves, 85-10, in the rematch on the road.
Western Washington capped the regular season on March 4 by knocking off Eastern Washington, 65-0, in Cheney.
“Overall we are just very proud of the work we have done all year round. It paid off,” Mauger said. “[The match against Eastern] was also a very emotional moment for the older players on our team. Our season was cut short last year due to a loss against them on our home turf. The team wanted to go out and showcase our hard work and improvement. At the end we wanted that win more than they did and it was a sweet victory indeed.”
WWU, which began its women’s rugby program in 1977, finished third nationally in 2011 and 16th in 2014.
“Our expectations coming in was that we as a team decided to be more competitive,” Mauger said. “With that mind set, this helped motivate and drive the team towards our goals. The focus was also on rigorous fitness drills, gaining the essential equipment of tackle bags and pads and really giving it our all for 80 minutes of every game.”
According to Mauger, the team features 35 registered members with half the roster comprised of players who are new to the sport, providing WWU with a solid foundation for the future.
“This team is amazing and hard workers. It’s truly an honor to coach such young women with that dedication to a sport which doesn’t have as much recognition as other sports,” Mauger said. “The team has major potential for expansion and success in the upcoming years.”