Written by: Jackie Finlan
Picture Credit: Sean Hale
The Women’s Premier League (WPL) has been delivering, and Week 4 was another fantastic showing from the six teams in action. Berkeley and Beantown are still undefeated, and the league saw its first tie of the season.
Berkeley (2-0-1) and New York (1-2-1) kicked off Saturday in picturesque Gaelic Park in the Bronx. The home side applied the pressure early and went up 5-0 through Adriana Castillo, the flanker’s fourth try of the season.
“We know that New York often likes to play quick-ball, especially off of penalties, so we focused on our transitions from attack to defense throughout the week,” Berkeley lock Kedra Davis, who celebrated 50 WPL games in an All Blues jersey on Saturday, explained objectives. “We also had an aim to use our line speed to challenge their ability to play their shape.”
Berkeley started to shift the momentum and then put outside center Jade McGrath and fullback Michelle Hong away for first-half tries. A conversion from flyhalf Olivia Bernadel-Huey gave the visitors a 12-5 lead into the break.
“Berkeley was really quick over some of our line-breaks in the rucks and was really able to stop our forward momentum,” New York co-captain Nikki Richardson said of halftime assessments. “We needed to retain ball by getting more support there earlier. … And then in the pivot roles, our coach was encouraging us to apply a bit more pressure, be more of a threat to hold Berkeley closer to the ruck to maintain space on the outside for us.”
Meanwhile, Berkeley created opportunities for itself. Scrumhalf Shelby Lin’s box kick found wing Elena Clark for a try, and fellow wing Laura Thacker also scored. Bernadel-Huey added a second conversion, and alongside McGrath, “ran great lines, had hard tackles, and made important tactical choices,” per Davis. The pack was looking stronger in the scrums and got a nice boost from reserve Paris Hart.
New York’s Sophie Frick split the All Blues’ scores with a five-pointer that Jetta Owens converted, and Berkeley led 24-12 with 25 minutes to play.
“New York picked up their hungry, go-forward mentality through the last 20 minutes of the game while we got stuck in a protective mindset rather than an attacking mindset,” Davis noted. “Our lack of grit in the last 20 minutes combined with a few mistakes and game management ultimately cost us the win.”
New York flanker Gio Cruz scored, making it 24-17 with 15 minutes to play.
“In those moments, I think teams can get a little frazzled and go it alone or really connect and go together,” Richardson said as New York worked from a deficit. “I’m really thankful that we came together. [The vibe] was urgent but calm.”
As the clock work down, New York got across the try line but Berkeley prevented the grounding.
“We’re trying to work on our ‘next job’ mentality of not dwelling on mistakes and instead just looking for solutions,” Richardson relived the final moments. “So as soon as we saw that [try] held up, we knew we had another shot with the goal-line dropout. We just had to put a few more phases together and retain ball. We were able to work it sideline to sideline enough that a great break from Jetta [Owens] and support running through allowed us to get a great score.”
Castillo did the honors with a game-ending try. It wasn’t an easy conversion, but Owens nailed it for the 24-24 final.
“It’s a weird one to celebrate,” Richardson said. “You’re always hoping for the win, but to play the defending champions and tie, it felt pretty good, or more solidified the idea that we are … looking very competitive and should be fighting for those top spots in the league, even though our record isn’t where we want it to be. It showed us our potential for the rest of the season.”
“I think it’s safe to say the All Blues collectively are unhappy with the end result of the bonus-point tie,” Davis closed. “We know that we could have and should have come out on top with a win, but hopefully we will learn from our mistakes in this game to help us come up on top in future games. We haven’t come anywhere close to playing at our full potential yet this season so I am very excited to see us rise to a higher level as the season progresses.”
The Colorado Gray Wolves (3-1) traveled to Eagan, Minn., as the TC Amazons (0-3) enjoyed their first home game of the season. It was anyone’s game after the first half, as only Gray Wolves flanker Carson Hann crossed the whitewash: 5-0 to Colorado.
The teams exchanged tries on the wing – KB Broughton for the Gray Wolves, Mariah Lundstrum for the Amazons – but then the visitors pulled away in the final stretch. Hannah Tennant converted Sheila Decker’s try, and then a penalty try and second score from Broughton capped a 29-5 victory.
The Gray Wolves got an important bonus point in the victory and hold the second spot in the standings. The Amazons continue to bank valuable experience for its young team and will add to that foundation with a challenging weekend ahead. The Minnesota squad readies for its second trip to California in three weeks to play Berkeley, while Colorado will be back on the road as well to face Beantown, now 3-0 and atop the league standings.
Beantown made the first of two trips to the west coast and met Life West (1-3) on Treasure Island Saturday. The Gladiatrix wasted no time getting on the board, as the hosts used a knock-on on the kickoff to set up a favorably positioned scrum and weak-side attack. Lock Mele Taumoefolau forced her way over the try line for the opening points, 5-0.
“We have a few key players who bring really great energy,” Life West captain Jett Hayward said. “I want to shout out Mele for always keeping us super hype. We saw there that when we play simple and just trust ourselves, it’s easy. … Just trying to do more of that.”
Despite the opening error, Beantown drove much of the first half. Amanda Schweitzer played a good territory game, which was amplified by a speedy, attentive chase. The defense was eager and disruptive, and the lineout was quality – with Paige Stathopoulos throwing in and front jumper Hallie Taufouu all over the ball.
Not long after the restart, Beantown turned over the ruck, used a penalty to kick to touch, and then mauled to the line. Stathopoulos did actually dot down but it was ruled a penalty try (thus no conversion attempt needed) for an offsides infringement.
Stolen lineouts kept the game on Life West’s front porch and then Beantown intercepted a flat pass fewer than 10 meters off the try line. The ball moved wide to fullback Lexi Nelson for the try, 12-5.
Life West was back to full strength at 20 minutes, and a minute later, fullback Leti Hingano scored for the first of her two tries. The Trix intercepted a pass, flyhalf Rachel Paau thumped through the defense and then looped the pass to Hingano, who swerved from the chasing defense for the try, 12-10.
Life West had some success in its offload game but Beantown worked hard to be in a good position to disrupt. Prop Sarah Romano picked off a pass and tore downfield, and the pack built some phases to the line. At the right moment, the ball moved into space to Jenni Laferriere for the center’s first-ever WPL try, 17-10.
Just before the break, Schweitzer kicked to space, and Santosuosso’s chase pressured a turnover. The pack went to work – forwards MVP Yeja Dunn was particularly strong to the line – before moving the ball wide to Santosuosso for the try, 22-10 into the break.
“We really wanted to keep the pressure on,” Beantown’s Dunn said. “Life West really brings it at the point of contact so our goal was really to meet them with that fury – double tackles, look at getting low, and just keeping that pressure on.
“Ric [Jarrell] had some really good tackles when we needed that energy,” the flanker said of impressive outings. “And Emma really fighting for that try in the corner. Those people always bring energy for me.”
“Part of how they got us in the first half is that we let them take their game to us and I think we performed best when we were playing our game, which is more free-flowing,” Hayward said of halftime reflections. “We focused on how we were beating ourselves honestly more than anything, and just cleaning up things because we just gave them the ball more than we needed to. And I think it continued in the second half, unfortunately, but we had some really great moments and we’re just working on getting more connected.”
One of those great moments came at the 60-minute mark. Life West had gained the advantage in the scrum and used an advantageous penalty to build phases and put center Summer Latu into the try zone, 22-15. But there were several more opportunities to score that went unrealized. Beantown’s defense was very good in its red zone, but also two of Life West’s finishing passes were knocked on.
As the clock wore down, another Life West try felt imminent. Beantown incurred a yellow card with fewer than 10 minutes remaining, and the Trix drove over a score that was held up. The goal-line dropkick went out of bounds, and Life West worked the subsequent lineout to Hingano, who got around the coverage for the try. Crucially, the chase prevented the opportunity for a centered try and thus the conversion attempt was a difficult angle. Beantown held on for the 22-20 win.
“These are the moments where grit really happens, where you really find yourself, in my opinion, on the field,” Dunn said of winning close games. “To really play through that, I think that changes you as a person and a player.”
“Losing still sucks,” Hayward considered pros and cons of the near-comeback. “We beat ourselves, but it’s a testament to how far we’ve come that we’re staying that close to the team that’s ranked number one. So we’ve just got to keep chugging and keep bringing it to the second half of the season.”