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Women’s Rugby: ND earns semifinals berth

Matt DeFranks | Friday, April 29, 2011

Entering its debut year as a club sport at Notre Dame, the women’s rugby team was searching for an identity. One viewing of “Remember the Titans” later, the squad found it.

Prior to each game, the players relive a scene from the movie, referring to themselves as “mobile, agile, hostile” and to pain as “french bread.” This unification of sorts has helped guide the Irish all the way to the Final Four this weekend in Pittsburgh,

“We’re really excited, this is an amazing opportunity,” junior Margot DeBot said. “We feel very prepared and we are just grateful to play this weekend.”

In the round of 16, Notre Dame defeated Mesa State, the No. 1 seed from the West region, 27-20. The Irish started sluggishly, falling behind 20-7 at halftime, but rebounded to hold the Mavericks scoreless in the second half.

Sophomore Ashley Okonta, senior Theresa Yerkes, senior Kayla Bishop, sophomore Megan Scheitlin and DeBot all scored for the Irish in the win.

“We know we are capable of playing at a high level,” Bishop said. “All the practicing paid off and we played with a lot of heart.”

Two days later, Notre Dame took down Shippensburg, the top seed from the Mid-Atlantic region, 23-15 to earn a berth in the Final Four. In the win over the Raiders, junior Christina Konkey scored twice while Okonta added a tally of her own.

“We started down in both of those games, so we had to work a little bit harder to win,” sophomore Veronica Ryan said.

Notre Dame’s next opponent, Stonehill, topped Winona State 35-7 before dispatching UNC-Charlotte 37-7 to reach the Final Four.

“They’re a strong team and they play quickly,” DeBot said. “We need to be strong on defense and attack really hard.”

What makes Notre Dame’s Final Four run all the more impressive is that it comes in the team’s first season in existence, a season that began with a struggle to even have enough players.

“I was worried we wouldn’t have enough people to field a team,” Bishop said. “Coach [Kate Daley] has done a great job. As the season went on, my expectations slowly rose.”

Other members of the team echoed Bishop’s sentiment.

“We have an amazing coach. We would not be anywhere without her,” Ryan said. “We have a great group of girls.”

The Irish take on Stonehill Saturday in Pittsburgh at 11:45 a.m.