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50 Greatest Games: 2011 D1 National Collegiate Championships - Army v. Penn State

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Kaitlyn Kelly, the flyhalf for Army at the time and the current Assistant Coach at West Point, shares her recollections of the match.

We beat Brigham Young (BYU) in the semi finals and tried to recuperate before playing Penn State (PSU). Both BYU and PSU were much bigger in the forwards so weeks before the tournament Bill Leclerc (who was the forwards coach for the men’s team at the time) worked diligently with our scrum on technique. So we felt confident that we could hold our own against bigger scrums and that our fitness would see us through 2 tough matches.

Beyond containing Penn State's forwards, our main concern was keeping Sadie Anderson from explosive plays. She was, at the time, a capped US player and the best collegiate player in the country. As her opposite, I knew I had to play the game of my life and shut her down. We decided to play a defense that called for me to shoot up, and the rest of the back line had to be ready to cover down. It meant I could not miss a tackle. It was some pressure, but we all believed that we were fit and fast enough to pull this off. The majority of our practices prior to the tournament were spent on defense and offensive set pieces, which was exactly how that game went for us.

Penn State came out and scored almost immediately with a great series from their forwards. They followed that up a few minutes later when Penn State center Hanna Gregor scored from 20 meters out. One of our captains, Sylvia Thomas, called us together and reminded us to rely on one another and focus on what we could control. It worked - we settled down and began to control the match, which meant getting the ball out wide to the back triangle. Our wing, Annie Lee, was on a whole other level that game. She scored four tries and three conversions in the first half leading to what is arguably the greatest performance by a player in a championship match. The first score was a 25-meter break, next a 50-meter dash. The next score came when Jessica Sexauer intercepted a pass and offloaded to Annie who ran 75-meters for the score. Penn State picked off a pass from the kick-off and wing, with Lauren Barber running it in for a score. But a few minutes later, Army was back on the offensive, with Annie getting around the corner and flying 60 meters for the score.

In the second half, Penn State changed up their defense to contain Annie and fought back, 33-29. They had the lions share of the possession in that half. We spent ¾ of the second half in our own 50 - much of it in our own 22. We mounted so many goal line stands. It was exhausting. Penn State flanker, Christiane Pheil, scored to narrow the gap and with 4 minutes left in the match, Penn State wing Lauren Barber made a break to narrow the score to 33-29 and Penn State had possession. But I could see that we were in injury time. They had the ball inside our 50 and Sadie Anderson kicked it directly out. It was our lineout. Penn State won our lineout but we were able to turn the ball over and drive it out of bounds Three whistles and the match ended.

I was stunned and ended up at the bottom of the dog pile which was both very painful and the happiest I had ever been in my life.

Once we had gone through the handshakes, we all made a bee line to the stands where our family and friends were waiting. I saw my mom on the fence line holding up an American flag, her arms outstretched. That was the best hug I've ever had in my life. I lost my mom this winter to breast cancer and that memory is something that sustains me.

We capped that win off 3 weeks later by winning the first CRC Championships. We faced Penn State in the finals and won 19-7. Later that night we drove back to West Point and I immediately went into the field for two weeks.

Annie Lee graduated 2013 as a Field Artillery Officer, and never really played rugby again. She’s out of active duty, married to a naval officer, and runs her own farm.

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