Win over Grand Valley paced season

The women’s rugby team capped off another memorable season with its third undefeated season in the last four years. This year’s team did not resemble the Panther teams of the past, but it overcame multiple obstacles on its way to perfection.

The Panthers season was full of excitement from the get-go as they welcomed the Grand Valley State Golden Rams to Lakeside Field for a chance at vengeance. Grand Valley State did what few other teams have done over the past four year’s as they were able to record a win against Eastern. The Panthers were heavily anticipating the season opener and they were able to start the year on a good note with a 46-7 win over Grand Valley State.

“This sets the tone for everything we are doing this year,” junior wing Kayla Heal said following the win on Sept. 3. “Everyone just brought it today and we played like it was our job.”

The Panthers continued to impress leading up to the marquee game on their schedule. With Eastern leading the way for the sport of women’s rugby, they had the honors of hosting the Quinnipiac Bobcats in what was the first NCAA Division I women’s rugby game. The Panthers played up to expectations and were able to record a history-making 24-0 win over the Bobcats.

“It’s certainly great for Eastern Illinois University and the sport of rugby,” Eastern head coach Frank Graziano said following the Sept. 18 match-up with Quinnipiac. “It took 13 years to get to this point and with the connection we have with Quinnipiac; it probably starts a new era.”

Eastern continued to steam roll through their schedule as they were set to travel to Hamden, Conn., to take on the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the second of three meetings on the season. With Eastern sitting at a perfect 5-0, the team boarded a plane for the first time since the 2007 season and headed east to New England. The Panthers were able to overcome adversity and they recorded their first signature road win of the season.

“The three Quinnipiac games from a game prospective were very crucial for the sport of rugby in general,” Graziano said. “We had a great experience when we went to Quinnipiac to play, and certainly those three games were the highlight of the season.”

The Panthers beat up on the Bobcats by a score of 33-5.

Following the dramatic road victory, the Panthers returned to Lakeside Field to host the Northern Iowa Panthers in what was the most physical game of the season. Graziano had feared that the clashing styles of play would make it difficult for his small and speedy squad to stop the much larger and physical Northern Iowa squad on the defensive side of the ball.

“We just don’t physically match up very well with them. It’s difficult for our 150-pound girls to tackle their 210-pound girls,” Graziano said. “To some extent I think we had a great chance to shut them out that game, but to only give up five points was a great win for us.”

The Panthers improved to 7-0 on the season with a 24-5 win over Northern Iowa.

Coming off of two signature wins against Quinnipiac and Northern Iowa, the Panthers used that momentum to get their offensive attack back on pace. The Panthers have always been seen as a run-and-gun team that routinely puts up big numbers on the scoreboard, but leading up to the final three games of the season, the 2011 version of Panther rugby was not blowing out their opponents.

The Panthers were involved in low scoring affairs throughout the season, but the light bulb finally went off and the Panthers offensive attack exploded for 222 points over their final three games. The Panthers dominated the Iowa State Cyclones, the Quinnipiac Bobcats and the Purdue Boilermakers to record their third perfect season in the last four years.

Over those three games, the Panthers outscored their opponents by a total of 222-25. The offensive explosion was led by junior wing Lauren Doyle who tallied 11 trys over the final three games of the season.

Although the Panthers were “perfect” in 2011, Graziano said he still sees his 2005 team as his most talented bunch. The 2005 squad did not go undefeated but is regarded as the most complete and skilled squad to come through Eastern during Graziano’s 13-year


“I still hold the ’05 team at the top, but this squad is within the top five of all-time over the last 13 years. I think this team needed to have a little more tenacity and toughness on the goal line, and I’ve had some teams that were definitely better than us defensively,” Graziano said. “From a scoring prospective we were as athletic and fast as we have ever been. It was a good season for us and the girls improved throughout the entire year.”

Jordan Pottorff can be reached at 581-7942 or [email protected].