CAMBRIDGE, MASS. - It was a cold and close battle as the West Chester Golden Rams women's rugby team came from behind to defeat Brown University 15-14 and claim the National Intercollegiate Rugby Association Tier II National Championship title for the first time in program history.
West Chester was ranked fifth in the NIRA Coaches' Poll in the preseason, but the Golden Rams did not let that stop them as they went undefeated throughout the regular season and into the playoffs, finishing 11-0.
The Golden Rams found themselves down 14-0 at halftime on Sunday. They could have packed it in there, wishing for a better game. Instead, they worked for it, coming out swinging in the second half.
The Golden Rams fell behind early as Brown's Zyana Thomas powered through the defense to earn a try for the Bears in the 12th minute. Following the successful conversion, Brown owned a 7-0 lead.
Penalties were a problem early on for the Golden Rams and continued into the 22nd minute. The Bears were on the charge when officials awarded them a penalty try. The penalty try led to seven points, giving Brown a 14-0 lead.
"Brown played incredible defense the first half and totally stifled our offense that is usually pretty potent," West Chester head coach Tony Deremer said. "At halftime we talked about never being out of the game. We were down several times this year."
After the team regrouped during halftime, the Golden Rams came out with fire to start the second half. Six minutes in, Lauren Madalian (Randolph, N.J. / Randolph High School) found an opening to run downfield and then pitched the rock to Corinne Gallagher (Coatesville, Pa. / Coatesville) who marched in to score the first try of the day for the Golden Rams, cutting Brown's lead to 14-5.
The Golden Rams' offense continued to chip into Brown's lead in the 62nd minute when senior co-captain Haley Spangler (Gettysburg, Pa. / Gettysburg) scored the team's second try of the day. The score stood at 14-10 Brown.
"After our second try you could feel the confidence grow in the team," DeRemer said, "and we started making big hits on defense and started getting better ball possession."
The Bears were unable to hold the lead for much longer as the Golden Rams turned to their 2019 leader in tries, sophomore Autumn Czaplicki (Pillow, Pa / Line Mountain High School). Czaplicki found an opening to breakaway for the eventual game-winning try in the 66th minute. The try was her 13th of the season, placing her in the Top 10 in program history with 25 tries in only two seasons.
Following the try, the Golden Rams played a defensive game into the final 10 minutes of play. While the Bears mounted strong offense, West Chester stood unflappable, preventing the Bears from reaching the try line.
"When we scored our third try," DeRemer said, "we knew we could hold on to win. The girls really held off a strong and athletic Brown team."
Following the match, Madalian was named Most Valuable Player for her speed and ability to break loose in open field. Her breakaway leading to the try by Gallagher shifted momentum in favor of the Golden Rams.
West Chester now owns an overall postseason record of 18-10 with three EPRU titles, a pair of Mason-Dixon titles and now, an NIRA Tier II title to its credit. The program's success in its 13-year history is due in no small part to head coach Tony DeRemer who has been the program's head coach since it was elevated to varsity status. DeRemer now stands at an overall record of 132-71-3 during his tenure with West Chester.
The Golden Rams will look to continue their success this spring as they compete in rugby 7's for the fourth consecutive season.