Home Teams Prevail in WPL Openers
It was a home-team sweep for the opening weekend of the Women’s Premier League (WPL), and with three single-digit decisions, nearly the whole field banked at least one standings point. New York and Glendale enjoyed bye weeks and will join the competition in round two.
Both of the Red Conference games were two-point decisions, earning high marks for drama Sunday. The D.C. Furies hosted Twin Cities and came into the match with just two 15s training sessions. Fortunately, all of the players who competed at the club 7s national championship were named to the WPL season-opener roster, and that helped with some continuity concerns.
D.C. took the first lead through a Lauran Glover try and Sam Moorhead conversion before Twin Cities rallied with three-straight scores. Chasing down a 21-7 deficit, Moorhead converted both Arielle Reed’s and Glover’s tries, and then wing Gloria Cho’s score gave the home side a 26-21 lead.
Again Twin Cities surged with back-to-back tries, 31-26, and again D.C. tied it up through Katy Stewart. Moorhead added the extras and the Furies held on for the 33-31 win.
“It’s good to get the monkey off our backs,” D.C. co-coach Mike McMillon said. “It’s no secret that we haven’t been a winning team, but within the club, [this win] was not a surprise either. In 2017, we were much better in every area and in every metric we tracked, and we knew we were progressing in the right direction. Coming into this season and seeing the depth we hadn’t had in a while, we knew it would be a fun game. We were pretty confident coming into this game.”
McMillon praised the overall team effort and highlighted new player Chloe Jex, a lock from KC Jazz, for strong carries and piercing runs.
A similarly tense game evolved in Boston, as Beantown looked to build on its 2017 return to the WPL. Beantown finished 6-2 in last year’s regular season, which included two competitive victories over Atlanta. But it was the visiting Harlequins that set the standard early on, forcing Beantown to rally at home.
Atlanta scored three tries to Beantown’s two, but the boot of flyhalf Kimber Rozier was the difference on the scoreboard. The Harlequins took a 10-3 halftime lead, as wing Christina Swift and fullback Kandis Ruiz scored, and Rozier slotted a penalty. Beantown then tied it up with back-to-back tries, and Rozier’s conversions gave the home side the 17-10 edge. Swift then scored again, 17-15, and Atlanta was one pass away from taking the lead, but a knock-on in the try zone ended the match.
Both teams showcased several recent, high-profile collegiate graduates making the leap to the WPL. Beantown’s back row consisted of Amanda Schweitzer (UC Santa Barbara), Claire Collins (Harvard) and Kathryn Treder (Stanford), while the Harlequins saw DI Elite products Kaitlyn Broughton (Life), Darian Lovelace (Life) and Corinne Heavner (Penn State) travel to New England.
“Last fall, the WPL season taught us that adaptability, fitness and a cohesive culture are going to be our keys to success,” Beantown co-captain Claire Stingley reflected on the team’s return to the WPL. “It’s an intense 10 weeks and we’ve been seeing a lot of players really thinking about how to be prepared, mentally and physically, to perform over the season. In preparing for this year and thinking beyond, most of our thoughts are directed towards creating depth and making sure we’re building a sustainable culture not just for the next few months, but through the rest of the year and into years to come.”
In round two, Beantown travels to Twin Cities, and New York heads to Atlanta.
Both of the Blue Conference games occurred on Saturday, and San Diego made the trip to Treasure Island to face Berkeley. The teams split league games last year, with the home team prevailing, and that trend continued. After 30 minutes, All Blues wing Maggie Simpson scored the first of two tries for a 5-0 lead into the break.
San Diego lock Julia Buescher then scored the first of two tries early in the second half, 5-5, before a Surfers yellow card tipped the balance. During that 10-minute sin bin, Berkeley sent Simpson and fullback Emma Harbage into the try zone, with flyhalf Samantha Miller converting, 17-5. Buescher scored with 10 minutes left in regulation but the All Blues held on for the 17-12 win.
“We have some young players who have come to us from some outstanding programs,” second-year Berkeley coach Theo Bennett pointed toward influential newcomers. “Tonya Wessman [UC Davis / Sacramento] had an outstanding game in her first WPL match. And Tyra Norlander [SFGG] was very influential with her hitting the gain line on attack. … [A]lthough we have given these young ladies opportunities, they have had very solid development from their local coaches prior to coming to the All Blues, and I would like to acknowledge those outstanding people.”
Berkeley will extend its home stand this weekend against ORSU, which also celebrated a win in round one. Visiting Chicago North Shore kept it close in the first half, as Anna Cohen-Price and Jessica Ventrillo picked up five points apiece, but the Jesters really picked up momentum in the second quarter and didn’t let up.
ORSU took a 24-10 lead into the break and then added another four tries in the second half. Flanker Rachel Johnson and prop Adrienne Acosta scored two tries apiece, while center San Juanita Fetuuaho, hooker Paris Hart, No. 8 Te Awhina Ho Chee and lock Avery Johnson also dotted down. Flyhalf Emma Richie kicked two conversions for the 44-10 win.
In addition to the Berkeley vs. ORSU game in round two, watch for San Diego to host Glendale this Saturday.
WPL WEEK ONE
Berkeley 17-12 San Diego
ORSU 44-10 Chicago North Shore
D.C. Furies 33-31 Twin Cities
Beantown 17-15 Atlanta