In their first year in the Pacific Desert Rugby Conference, the Grand Canyon University Women’s Rugby team brought home second place after splitting their two matches this weekend in Santa Barbara, California. The Lopes took down the UCLA Bruins in a hard-fought defensive battle, 19-7, in the semifinal round Saturday, but ultimately lost to the Gauchos of the University of California-Santa Barbara, 43-14, in Sunday’s title match.
Semifinals: #2 GCU 19, #3 UCLA 7
After nearly a month off between the end of their regular season and the playoffs, the Lopes’ players had to ward off speculation of any possible field rust in the week going into the match. Despite scoring just 19 points in the UCLA win ¬- compared to the 36 points the Lopes posted in winning the regular season matchup between the two teams back in January – senior forward and co-captain Jasmine Fifer was unwavering in downplaying that notion.
“It was clear that both teams improved since the first match,” said Fifer. “There wasn’t any ring rust. We just both played really well defensively, and that made for a tough game. Sure, there were nerves because we knew how important this was, but we still had a sense of going in to handle business.”
The match went 27 minutes without a score from either team until GCU broke through with a try from Fifer. The Lopes’ offense began to open things up from there, wearing down a fatigued Bruins’ defense late in the match. GCU pushed to a 19-0 lead before UCLA answered with a try of their own at the 52-minute mark.
Championship Match: #1 UC-Santa Barbara 43, #2 GCU 14
Sunday’s final featured a rematch of last year’s championship match when both GCU and UCSB were members of the Gold Coast Conference of Intercollegiate Rugby, and the top-seeded Lopes down #2 UCSB to win their first-ever conference crown. Sunday was also an opportunity for GCU to avenge their first regular season loss in three years when they lost, 32-29, to the Gauchos at GCU Stadium back in February. However, UCSB proved their talent to be true as they took control of the match straight from the opening whistle.
“I feel like we mentally psyched ourselves out,” said Fifer. “We knew they were a strong team, and with the way they played, they deserved to win. I’m still proud of our performance and where we finished in the season.”
The Lopes will now focus on off-season training sessions in the hope of capturing the elusive national title next year. However, they will have to do so without six members of the team who started the program three years ago, and will graduate from GCU at the end of this month.
What’s the legacy those program organizers will leave?
“That we are a humble and resilient team,” said Fifer. “We never let any negative energy get to us, and I know they will keep fighting for a championship next year.”