As his team lined up against Navy on Sunday, Pete Steinberg wanted to see one thing -- how the Lady Ruggers would respond to a tough foe.
After a physical struggle, the coach had his answer: a 24-7 win and a Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union (MARFU) title.
"We really came out ready to play," Steinberg said. "With the team that we have, we're extremely talented, we're extremely athletic, but what we didn't know until today was if we could step up to big-time rugby when we play a big-time opponent. And we did, and we did it really well."
In the fall, the Lady Ruggers were thoroughly beaten 41-0, and early Sunday, it looked to continue. Navy scored early and scored the conversion kick to build a 7-0 lead, but this time Penn State responded.
Steinberg was standing behind the goalpost when Navy scored and said he heard fifth-year senior Annie Zeigler telling her teammates it was fine that Navy scored. Zeigler, the team's captain, said she told her teammates the early score was a possibility and they needed to step up their intensity if they wanted to win.
"We really had a big chip on our shoulder about Navy shutting us out in the fall," Zeigler said. "That's a big deal for us to get shut out by them. We're rivals on the East Coast, so we really needed to take it to them."
While the Lady Ruggers avoided rainfall Sunday, they did have to contend with a sloped pitch and wind, which they were able to capitalize on in the second half. Steinberg said flyhalf Sadie Anderson and fullback Lisa Henneman were able to pin Navy deep in its own zone with their kicking.
Zeigler said she won the coin toss to determine possession and opted to play uphill and into the wind during the first half.
Despite some initial struggles with the conditions, the move paid off in
the second frame when the Lady Ruggers were able to keep pressure on Navy.
The play of the team's forwards struck Steinberg as the key to the game. Despite having a large core of returning players, the forward pack relatively stayed the same and the coach felt the memory of the fall drove their performance.
"Our forwards just dominated," Steinberg said.
"We absolutely dominated. In the scrums we really had them going on the back foot."
Steinberg and Zeigler said the win is good for confidence as the team prepares for nationals. The captain said going toe-to-toe with a major rival was satisfying and matching Navy's intensity was a huge boost.
"It felt really good to be able to do that with Navy," Zeigler said. "Their forwards are always really strong and fit because that's what they do for their living, stay fit.
"It felt good to dominate them in the contact and make sure the ball was on our side of the breakdown every time."