By Jackie Finlan
The University of Connecticut has been the top dog in the Women's DI Northeast collegiate scene for some time now, but that tradition doesn’t bother Northeastern – especially this year.
The Maddogs have made some changes, and the team is eager to face fellow 3-0 UConn this weekend.
Northeastern is carrying a larger roster this fall, one that affords regular B side games, promotes competition, and allows for the development of depth. Aiding these numbers is Deanna Nash, a Northeast Academy captain, who has joined as assistant coach.
“She’s a huge asset,” Northeastern coach Keith Cattanach said. “She’s refreshed our practice style and how we’ve done things. She brings great perspective that compliments what we already had.
“We also got a pre-season for the first time and will start implementing that every year,” the coach explained additional factors in Northeastern’s good start. “I wanted more get-your-hands-on-the-ball practices first, so that when new recruits came in, the starting team was already ready for the first game, and we could focus on their basics and getting them up to speed.”
There is a promising incoming class, one that includes several with high school experience (Tori Merchantz, Maya Raghavan, Grace Arevalo, Caroline Swenson). Cattanach was pleasantly surprised to have six players e-mailing him over the summer – a first for the program. But it’s the upperclassmen, the senior class in particular, driving the team’s success. Their leadership was crucial as the coaching staff entered new ground.
“We’ve implemented a new attack style – 1-3-3-1 – that really plays to our athletes, who are quick and fast,” Cattananch said. “Our game style has changed a lot since last year, and that was one of our goals going into this season.”
The mobile pods put agile forwards like captain Hannah Bogich, who has “been on fire,” and fellow lock Caroline Mills into more dynamic attacking positions away from the 1 channel. Senior halfbacks Jamie Kotcher and flyhalf Tessa Harlow are instrumental in connecting diverse centers and wings, like Isabel Haber, who leads the league with 13 tries.
Haber, along with Bogich, have been named to the Northeast Academy’s Tier 2 training squad, following in the footsteps of spring 2018 graduate Sarah Levy, who was just named to the USA Women’s National Team touring squad. Cattanach often references Levy as inspiration, indicating that the pathway to the Eagles is not that far away if players seek out ways to better themselves and play up.
Northeastern has played three league games and outscored Boston College, UMASS and most recently against Rhode Island by 228 points.
“The first two weeks we were working out the kinks, but this past weekend everything really clicked and ran smoothly,” Cattanach said. “We ran our pods quite well, we read the defense, we made adjustments on the run. They’re getting more comfortable and making good decisions. … They’re pleased with the results.”
UConn has posted similar numbers thus far, outscoring opponents by 223 points.
“We’re looking forward to UConn. We think it’ll be close,” said Cattanach, who took in the Huskies’ game against Boston College and has been working on a game plan ever since.
“The team set big goals for [the fall championship] but we’re taking it one game at a time,” the coach continued. “Right now, it’s just: UConn, what can we do, how do we attack them? Then we have to get through [Boston University] and head into the playoffs as the #1 or #2 seed. Then we go from there.”
Cattanach promotes a lot of self analysis, and the players are accustomed to chalk talks and game review. Regardless of how the game turns out against UConn, Northeastern will emerge a better team for it.
The DI college fall playoffs begin at the quarterfinal round, and those Nov. 18-19 games will occur in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Columbia, Mo. The two finalists advance to the USA Rugby Fall College Championships on Dec. 1-2 in Charlotte, NC, and FloRugby will live-stream all the action.