Saturday, August 23, 2014

OSU Women Look to Cause International Incident Over Labor Day Weekend

Ahead of the 2014 competitive season, the Ohio State University Women’s Rugby Team looks to cause an international incident as they host York University out of Canada over the long Labor Day weekend.
Two years ago Buckeyes’ Head Coach, Philip Payne, took his girls up north to play York University; and, after experiencing their level of play as well as their hospitality, he was excited to return the favor and have the Canadian girls come onto American soil for a few more matches.

Though many will be solely focused on the matches that will be taking place over the three-day stretch, Payne’s focus stretches well past that Sunday. Payne and his girls are using this match as preparation for their Big10 season, especially eyeing their match against Penn State University. Joe Costello, the York head coach, views his match as a kick start to their upcoming Ontario University Athletic schedule.

“I am always looking to play teams better than us, or ones that offer great challenges,” Payne said. “Canadian teams, especially ones that compete at the highest level offer unique challenges. Their skill level from 1-15 tend to be higher than the US University teams, and they play a smart style of rugby.”

According to Payne, Canadian teams get around staunch defenses with brains rather than brawn and are more able to kick strategically. The most important skill Canadian teams have that most US teams at the university level don’t is their ability to exploit defensive lapses.

“Playing a Canadian team prepares you for the top two per cent of the US teams,” Payne said. “I am not at all ashamed to lose, but we need to insure we learn from any situation. What's nice is we play them Friday night; and my goal, regardless of the outcome, is to improve in the identified areas by Sunday.”

During the three-day endeavor, the Buckeyes and Lions will play two games, one on Friday and a second on Sunday. In between those two sessions there will be a joint practice session, where the two teams hope to learn from one another.

“It will be an amazing weekend, something that rarely happens in the US,” Payne said. “I wanted to pattern this off of the Cal Berkeley vs UBC World Championship on the men's side. I am a huge admirer of what Jack Clark was able to build with this tradition.”

Payne knows that the experience might not immediately be positive; knowing that in the beginning of their international endeavor Cal took its lumps but, over time, closed the gap. He is also looking at a long term learning curve. Payne knows Joe Costello, the York University Head Coach, is one of the top up-and-coming coaches in Canada.

When the learning and pleasantries are finished, though, it comes down to winning; and both coaches intend to do just that.

Due to his team’s youth and the fact that they only recently got started up practicing, Payne knows that the match is going to be a tough one. Conditioning will likely be a huge factor, especially in the dying minutes of the second half. Payne is confident that his team will be able to measure up to the challenge, and he’ll be looking to a few key girls, especially, to help get his team over that 60-minute hump - Shelly Diewald, Brie Rahrig, Cyndi Campbell, Lindsay White, Ali DeCrane, and Lexi Getz.

“These are the players the team will lean on when the game gets tight,” Payne said. “I have some that are on the cusp of being stand-outs. This test under fire will, hopefully, bring it out of them.”

Though Costello is bringing 36 girls to the weekend’s slate of activities, six of which are on scholarship to the team, he knows better than to under estimate Payne and his team.

“I am interested to see how it plays out,” Costello said. “I have spent enough time with Phil to know he's a great coach and rugby mind so he will get every ounce he can out of this athletes. I think it will be a physically challenging match. However, I think my players benefit from playing all summer in a more established club league; so I think as the game goes on we may begin to pull away.”

Costello has a lot of younger players on his team as well, and with so many young players on the pitch it’s always a toss up as to who will flourish and who will flounder.

Payne’s plan is to have all 15 girls be mobile and lethal. According to him, the modern game demands that every player, from tighthead to fullback, be able to read the defense and then be able to understand and react to the opportunities they present. Payne expects all of his players to be dangerous ball carriers, opportunistic defenders and all around smart players.

“Even though we are young we have a strong backline, with an emphasis on mobile forwards,” Payne said.

Costello’s tactics are ripped from the same book as Payne’s. He expects his girls to tighten the defensive noose on their opponents and force the opposition to make mistakes. From there, he expects them to capitalize quickly. Costello implements a read-and-react defense with an offense that requires everyone to be able to handle the ball effectively. Costello also has some sharp rugby minds on his team that help direct traffic on the field.

“I am lucky to have very good decision makers in key spots to direct the troops,” Costello said. “I suspect our veterans, Fedelia Omoghan, Dorrian Khouri, Zoe Smith, Sarah Campbell, Coutney Thomas and Sarah Galati will be our stand-outs.”

Costello is resting his star back, who recently played in the FISU 7s and CANAM series to avoid burning her out in a preseason set of friendlies.

There are high hopes on both sides of the ball. Both teams are excited for the opportunity to compete against one another again, and both are eager to see who will come out on top.

“We have a number of girls with international experience, a bunch of girls with provincial team experience and most with high-level club team experience,” Costello said. “When both teams are tired and have moved to auto pilot for the last 20 minutes of a game experience matters.”

“We make no illusions here - we are the underdogs,” Payne said. “Our only edge is that we might catch them with a few things that they don't typically see in their league. However, we fully expect that they will quickly learn and adapt to any challenges we pose. Our goal is to do the same - can my young team learn and adapt as well?”

Payne, Costello and the rest of the OSUWRFC faithful will find out Labor Day weekend. The Friday match is set to start at 8:30pm, with the Sunday match starting at 1:00pm. Both will be played at the OSU rugby fields.

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