Third time's a charm? Winona State will have the chance to find out, as the two-time national finalist has secured its third-straight trip to the DII women's college semifinals. This year Winona is competing in ACRA and banked two playoff wins against Nebraska (46-15) and Colorado Mesa University (70-0) last weekend.
The weekend began with one of the Black Katts’ most difficult opponents this year, and Nebraska threatened to score during the opening 10 minutes of the teams’ Round of 16 match. But once Winona returned the pressure, the Black Katts drove in a lineout so Holly Vassar could dot down, 5-0.
Winona scored 29 points in the first half, as Lindsay Bucki (2), Holly Edelburg and Caitlin Courtney scored the tries, and Katie Dries and Holly Zimmer handled the extras. But the lasting impression was one of penalties. By game’s end, Winona committed 21 infractions, and that lack of discipline helped Nebraska close the points differential later in the game.
That said, Winona did well to create opportunities, wheeling scrums and punishing Nebraska for mistakes – like the errant clearing kick into the try zone, helping set up a long backline drive that ended with Bucki’s second try. Nebraska wasn’t as lucky but did run in one of their three tries in the first stanza, crashing through the middle for the five points.
Up 29-5 in the second half, Winona continued to hurt itself – not straight into the scrum, not releasing, offsides in the ruck, intentional knocking forward in the lineout. Finally, after a painful 12 minutes, Courtney broke the spell with a great individual try, which Zimmer converted, 36-5.
Nebraska then launched into its most inspiring play of the day, running in a try after a cascading series of Winona penalties and then negating a barreling run from Kourtney Kavajecz to take another penalty through the middle for the team’s third try, 36-15.
Three converted tries separated the opponents at this point, but Winona legged out the final minutes of the game and sent Emilee Burkhalter and Georgia Porter across for tries, 46-15.
As Winona looked ahead to the quarterfinals against Colorado Mesa, which had defeated Mankato State 38-27 in the Round of 16, the team was more concerned about bettering their performance than the strength of their opponent.
“The areas we did not perform well in yesterday were addressed, and the girls cleaned it up today,” Winona assistant coach Josh Krzewinski said after the 70-0 victory. “Tackling was a main focus, and we were able to stop Mesa’s pick-and-go game. Our forwards controlled the rucks very well, allowing for clean ball out to the backs.”
Sunday’s match saw Winona return to form, as the forwards devastated around the breakdown, and the backs capitalized on the space that was afforded. The pack did an excellent job of retaining their own kickoffs, and Courtney led the backs’ effort with four tries. The scoring moved around, however, as eight players (Kathryn Zahn, Tori Langhans, Bucki, Courtney, Nadia Nassif, Lanoria Duhart, Ashley Pomeroy and Edelburg) scored tries, and Zimmer tacked on 15 points with six conversions and a penalty.
Winona has a considerable advantage heading into the final four, having competed at this level during the previous two national championships. The Black Katts will face Kutztown University in their semifinal, while Vassar College and Notre Dame College duke it out on the other side of bracket. The championship will resume on Dec. 7-8 in Auburndale, Fla.
Check here for all of the DII ACRA playoff results.