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Northeast U23 Win No Fluke

Tuesday Jun 16, 2009 in Women All-Stars

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(Ashley Snyder on her way to a try, and an MVP award)

Pittsburgh, Pa.  - The Northeast had never won the Tier A of the U23 National All Star Championship until they did so on Sunday, but after racking up 85 points and only allowing 17 over two days, their performance is anything but a fluke.

The NRU squad came off the line with gusto, downing two-time defending champs Mid-Atlantic 42-12 on Friday and following with a 43-5 victory over the Midwest for the championship.

“We’re not just trying to piece together a good team every year,” said NRU coach Richard Ashfield, who marks his third year at the helm. “We’re trying to build a program.”

The Northeast boasted players from every NERFU collegiate division, IV-I, non-traditional rugby schools, as well as women’s club players.

“We were coming from Tier B, so we knew the competition was going to be tougher,” Ashfield added. “We designed a simple game plan around a more physical approach, and it paid off.”

The NRU squad benefited from some local support, participating in a regional LAU tournament and then challenging Beantown to three 30-minute sessions.

“There was a lot of tweaking after that match,” Ashfield chuckled in reminiscence. “When you’re playing against the likes of [Eagles] Jamie Burke and Amy Daniels, it doesn’t get much tougher than that.”

But the competition allowed the staff to put its defensive structures together and reiterate being aggressive at the breakdown – an important asset against big teams like the Midwest .

The women bought into the strategy, and their physicality at the point of contact was unmatched by its competitors. The work of the forwards set up an attacking platform for the NRU to capitalize, especially MVP Ashley Snyder.

“Tony Brown did a great job of leading the forwards and they were dedicated to winning possession,” Ashfield commended. “We have a great flyhalf [Snyder] with a bit of a boot, so we were able to continually gain territory.”

Snyder, who plays for Beantown, logged as many points off the boot as she did in the try zone. Brown’s Frankie Male and Cornell’s Kelly Oury, which Ashfield deemed “rocks in the middle,” also impressed the coach. Up front Providence College’s Rachel Gurab and 2nd row Liz Kelly (Rutgers) stood out on the weekend.

“But it’s hard to single people out,” Ashfield assured. “It was a real all-around effort.”

The NRU squad is done for the year, but Ashfield encourages a developmental squad to enter the Saranac tournament. There’s more opportunity for those fringe players to advance now that the All Americans compete in the Senior Women’s All Star Championship, which took place in mid-May.

“There were a few Brown players who were on our radar but went to Little Rock with the All Americans,” Ashfield commented on the conflict, “but it wasn’t detrimental to our performance.”

Evidently not. The Northeast is investing in the long-term, scouring the region for talented athletes at every level, and taking advantage of its proximity to each other to play together more often. With that formula, look for the NRU to stay in Tier A for years to come.

- Jackie Finlan

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