Tuaua scores game-winning try with 10 minutes left as Lopes pull out 19-12 victory
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
In what could be a preview of the Gold Coast Conference Intercollegiate Rugby DI Women’s Finals in two weeks, the Grand Canyon University Women’s Rugby team grinded out an important 19-12 victory over the Gauchos of University of California-Santa Barbara in a rain-soaked contest Saturday afternoon in Santa Barbara, California. The win completes a perfect 6-0 regular season for the Lopes, and sets them up as the favorites to advance out of the GCCIR Women’s Playoffs, which will be held March 24 and 25 at the GCU campus.
For a team that came into Saturday’s clash having thoroughly thrashed their other opponents by an average score of 71-6 (that doesn’t include a 28-0 forfeit win for the Lopes over Arizona State University back in January), coming out of their most competitive match of 2018 with a victory may have been sweeter than the other victories combined. Adding to the intensity was a steady rain that began ten minutes into the match, and never relented.
“Throughout the season, we were looking at UCSB, and realized how well they were doing,” said Lopes’ Co-Head Coach Alison Price. “We saw this game as our biggest competition. We knew it was going to be a battle.”
Not only hadn’t the Lopes come close to dropping a match this year, Saturday was the first time they’ve even trailed in a contest, which didn’t take long to happen after UCSB’s Lauren Thunen marched in the end zone midway through the 1st quarter to give the Gauchos a 7-0 lead. The Lopes would spend the rest of the first half digging out of the hole. Lopes’ senior center Daeanera Tuaua got the Lopes on the board soon after the UCSB try with one of her own, but a missed conversion kept the Gauchos ahead, 7-5. The Lopes would finally find the familiar territory of taking the lead right before the end of the first half when GCU junior fullback Sara Lawson took it in, and Nastasha Opoku’s conversion gave the Lopes a 12-7 edge.
The Gauchos responded to begin the second half, tying the match in the 53rd minute, thanks to Naomi Carrillo’s try, but failed to take the lead back after a missed conversion. The battle of undefeateds would go down to the wire tied at 12-12 before Tuaua found daylight once again, finding the end zone with just over ten minutes left in the match. Opoku’s second conversion of the afternoon gave the Lopes the seven-point margin of victory, which their defense would protect in the rain until the final horn.
“They were a great opponent, but as a whole, the team played really well in some tough conditions, and we were really proud of their performance,” Price said. “We’re definitely happy to go into the conference playoffs as the top seed, and want to maintain the top seed coming out of it. UCSB is a really solid team, and we could face them again.”
The win ensured that the Lopes would own the best record of the four teams that will converge on the GCU campus next weekend for the playoffs. UCSB (5-1) and Cal-State University, Northridge (4-2) have both qualified for the four-team tournament, and now tournament organizers await the outcome of this coming weekend’s Arizona State-Arizona match to determine which one of those teams will receive the at-large bid. All matches will be held at the GCU Practice Soccer Field on the west side of the GCU campus.
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