After completing the best season in the program’s seven-year history, the UCSB women’s rugby team is headed to Pennsylvania as the #10 seed in the opening round of the NCAA Division I rugby playoffs to face seventh-seeded Ohio State in the Sweet 16. The Gauchos dominated their regular season, going 6-0 and beating league opponents UCLA, Arizona State and UCSD two times each by a combined score of 181-34.

“I think our chances are really good to beat Ohio State,” senior Phoebe Boone said. “They’re really big girls, and we’re a smaller team, but we have a lot of speed and agility, so we should be able to outrun them on the field. As long as we stay consistent on defense, our chances are good.”

The Gauchos’ offense has been stellar this season, averaging just over 30 points per game. Led by senior captain Blair Groefsema, senior lock Kara Mathews, senior scrumhalf Shelby Silva and junior flyhalf Rosie Krauter, as well as a fast and aggressive backline, the Gauchos have had no problem getting the ball into the end zone. However, the Gauchos have also shined on defense, holding opponents to under six points per game with a combination of speed and athleticism.

“We have some really amazing runners – girls who, once they get going, can just blow by people, and that will help us a lot against Ohio State,” Boone said. “But we’ve also been working all year on defense, and we’ve gotten really good at it. Our goal-line defense was really good all year, better than I’ve seen it since I’ve been here.”

The Gauchos are considered the underdog against Ohio State, if only because of the region they play in. The Southern California region has long been considered the least competitive region in collegiate women’s rugby, but the Gauchos believe this could cause their opponents to overlook them, giving them an extra advantage in the playoffs.

“Southern California has been the weakest region for awhile, but that could be good for us, because our opponents won’t expect us to be as good as we are,” Boone said. “We’ll be able to come out and catch people by surprise.”

If the Gauchos prevail against Ohio State on April 22, they will face the winner of Virginia and Radcliffe in the Elite Eight, which will be held the following day. The winner of that game will travel to Stanford the following weekend to play in the Final Four.