WPL CHAMPIONSHIP RECAP: DAY 3

by | Nov 4, 2019

2019 Women’s Premier League Champions are crowned, as the Glendale Merlins steal the show

CHRIS TURNER  •  NOVEMBER 4, 2019 • Glendale, CO

In the final day of the Women’s Premier League Championship weekend, all teams in attendance were geared for their last push into the 2019 standings. The day started with consolation matches beginning at 10am, but ended with the Championship Final under the lights in front of an electric crowd. This lead to the stage being set for an epic final 80 minutes, encompassing an incredibly memorable weekend in the Mile High City.

CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL: GLENDALE VS LIFE WEST

Glendale were in full swing from the opening whistle as their first possession, a minute after kickoff, ended with a try by Joanna “Jo” Kitlinski. The local team continued with quick and cohesive ball movement, with a strong defensive front on the other side of the ball. A stifling effort drove the Gladiatrix backwards, earning a penalty in Life West half. Soon after, an unfortunate mis-pass, caused in the Glendale backline, was scooped up by Elona Williams, which she proceeded to scorch the unprepared Merlin players. The 50 meter try under the posts tied the game at 7 points a piece. Glendale regained composure after their blunder, surging into Life West territory. Earning a penalty just outside the 22 meter line, Glendale elected for a shot at the posts, with a difficult angle.  Kicking specialist, McKenzie Hawkins, drove the kick through the uprights to give the lead back to the Merlins.

Life West’s forward movement was dynamic in combination with their fierce backline play. The Gladiatrix quickly regained possession and retaliated with darting runs through the Glendale defense, scoring for the second time.  The game then turned to a battle between the 22 meters lines, with back-and-forth surges from either side, for the next 12 minutes of play. After on onslaught of nonstop action, Glendale elected for a penalty kick in lieu of a Gladiatrix infringement, earning them another 3 points from the boot of Hawkins. The tug-of-war battle continued with the team in possession, making lengthy strides into enemy territory. An untimely knock by Life West in their own half gave the determined Merlin side another crack at a score before the halftime whistle. An excellent effort by the Glendale flyhalf, breaking the Gladiatrix defense for a 25 meter run, was brought down short of the line when her teammate, Kaitlyn Broughton, was there to finish in the corner.

HALFTIME: Glendale 18 – Life West 12

Beginning the second half, the kicking game was on showcase as Gabby Cantorna and company strategically placed pressure on Life West. With 2nd ditch efforts, Glendale secured ball and kept the legs driving for extra meters, in every attempt to stop them. The tables quickly turned as the Gladiatrix countered with advancing movement of their own. The battle between the 22 meters lines consumed minutes 40 – 50, as the Glendale defense prevailed gaining a turnover at midfield. Joanna Kitlinksi once again taking full advantage of an opportunity to run her way toward the corner, was stopped just shy of the line. After the hooker’s run and some quality phase play, Merlin Az Nalbandian found her way into the tryzone, barreling over would-be defenders to make the score 25-12. As the momentum swung for the home side, the crowd began to sense a possibility of a championship looming. An already rowdy crowd started to turn electric as every crunching hit, meters gained, and points scored ensued.

Feeling the energy of the crowd, Life West began to make small mistakes down the stretch. Down 13 points, in a crucial penalty awarded to them at mid-field, they missed touch and kicked through the tryzone, letting Glendale escape a potential score. After another surge of the dynamic attacking pattern, the Merlins found themselves deep in Gladiatrix territory once again. An incredible team effort, provided by the pattern of the home side’s scheme, created a swan dive try finish by Kaitlyn Broughton after breaking the defense. 32-12, left Glendale leading with 20 minutes to go. The next 5 minutes of play displayed lovely rugby with quick back to back tries by both teams as they gained big meters, off individual efforts. In the first of the two, Amy Naber of Life West, struck back with a venomous run of her own around the left flank of the Glendale defense. In return, Az Nalbandian added one more for Glendale to make it 39-19 with less than a quarter of the game to go. The Merlins bench and crowd became louder, and more in unison, as the remaining minutes began to dwindle.

Life West were sure to empty their entire tank in the last moments of the season, as they began to find form with sharp offloading and massive fends which created gaps. The Gladiatrix gave it their all in dash for the tryline as often as they could, scoring twice continuing to throw the kitchen sink at the Colorado-side. Life West brought the score within 8 points through valiant effort in true form of a great team, but it was an effort stopped prematurely by time, as the final whistle blew in Glendale’s favor.

FULLTIME: Glendale 39 – Life West 31

3rd PLACE MATCH: NEW YORK VS ATLANTA

Atlanta were off to hot start within the opening minutes, earning a penalty at the New York 15 meter mark. Electing to kick for the posts, the Harlequins drew first blood with 3 points.  New York pressured their opponents with strategic kicking deep into their territory, keeping the Harlequins on their toes. The kicking game for New York helped control the momentum, along in setting up their first score of the match for the forwards to finish.  Alycia Washington continued her reign as field general helping gain tough meters in short balls off the rucks, and in support of her backline. Atlanta did not help themselves, consistently, with multiple penalties and knock-ons, keeping the East coast side hungry in their opportunities. 

Atlanta had then given up 14 unanswered points, attempting to find a foundation to finish the remainder of the half strong. The Harlequins would soon find their footing, due to strong open field play leading them back into NY territory.  They eventually worked themselves to earn a 10 meter lineout, which they mauled across the white line. Atlanta nailed the deep conversion to bring the game within 4 points, at the 20 minute mark. New York was later given a yellow card due to consecutive high tackles, in which Atlanta took advantage of by finding space. Their efforts were soon thwarted from a strong defensive stand.

Continuing to search for a big break, Atlanta decided their kicking was the more efficient way of moving the ball down the field, with the risk paying off, more often than not. NY began to give the Harlequins more chances by conceding consecutive penalties. After a tough battle in the mid field vying for position and possession, Atlanta stuck to their guns and allowed the backs to create space.  This strategy turned into their second try of the match, changing the lead for the 3rd time just before the halftime whistle.

A crucial turning point of the game was when Alycia Washington stole the Harlequin 5 meter lineout, and powered her way into the tryzone late in the game. This 4th lead change was a big momentum shifter, which gave New York a 19-15 lead. Atlanta continued to crash into their opponent’s defense hoping for a break, but New York was too strong in their ability to stop the Harlequin push. A last ditch effort by Atlanta with 3 minutes to go ended up as a turnover, which lead to their opponent run away for a 50 meter try to seal the victory, and 3rd place finish at the Championships.  But with a final surge leading into post-80 minutes, Atlanta showed their resolve by charging down the field and scoring a consolation try to cap off their season.

FULLTIME: 26 New York – Atlanta 20

SAN DIEGO VS BERKELEY

A cohesive All Blues attacking scheme gave themselves plenty of big meter gains, and quick ball into the San Diego half consistently, early on. Resulting eventually in two similar tries within the first quarter of the match.  The All Blues open play and quick ball consistently beat a vulnerable San Diego Defense to stake their dominance. The Surfers regathered themselves soon after, and overcame beginning game jitters by marching into All Blue territory, slowly yet surely. Both teams traded possession back and forth within the Berkley 22 meter line, ultimately giving way to an All Blue long arm penalty.  Berkeley’s defense continued to be their strength in the opening half.

San Diego fought their way through a vigilant defensive line to the Berkeley 5 meter line, earning a scrum. After a couple phases, the Surfers found the perfect break in their offensive wave, diving over the tryline for their first score of the game. San Diego regained the ball in lieu of the kickoff, finding their composure, kept possession through 10+ phases. This ultimately broke down the All Blue defense with a well-timed offload which lead under the posts. This score helped the San Diego side to hold the lead for the first time in the match, up 2 points, with 4 minutes before the break. Then the All Blues pressured the Surfers deep into their half, but an untimely penalty at the 5 meter mark caused the whistle to blow for halftime.

As the Surfers tried valiantly to regain the lead, forced errors took their toll on the West coast side.  Slowing down their play, and choosing crucial moments to strike. After the kickoff, a series of quick ball and offloading lead the Surfers to create a lovely display of rugby in a team effort to cross the line for 10 consecutive points. Berkeley, feeling the pressure, turned the ball over multiple times which gave the Surfers one too many opportunities leading to another score, now 17 unanswered points.

A dashing effort by the All Blues late in the game, lead to a 40 meter sideline scamper, offloading to a supporting teammate to dot it down in the corner. Down 9 points with 7 minutes to-go, the All Blues hurried their attempts to have any hopes of amounting a comeback. Unable to retain possession, San Diego gave away unforced errors to Berkeley allowing them to slowly work their way down the field. But it was too late for Berkeley to find themselves with a last match win, as San Diego leaves undefeated on the weekend.

FULLTIME: San Diego 31 – Berkeley 22

ORSU vs BEANTOWN

Beantown’s strength in the backline was on display in the kicking form of their flyalf, Tatjana Toeldte.  ORSU’s lovely open play and continuous offloading was spearheaded by #6 Rachel Johnson leading the charge. ORSU poised themselves as the stronger first half team by more meters gained, positive tackles, and possession, but penalties continued to haunt them.  Battle of grit and perseverance continued, with either side on the brink of drawing first blood. After an ORSU turnover deep in their half, all it took for Beantown was 4 phases to help them cross the line for the first points of the game, in the 26th minute.

Beantown took advantage of ORSU on their back foot multiple times, with their #13, Amanda Schweitzer, splitting the line for a decent gain, ultimately leading to a Beantown score in the corner.  For the remaining 13 minutes in the first half was a tug of war battle in between the 22 meter lines, trading penalties and unforced errors. A 39th minute midfield scrum lead Erika Farias, of ORSU, to dash up the field, putting Beantown against their own tryline. Rachel Johnson then took matters into her own hands, quick tapping after a penalty, and blowing over a defender for ORSU’s first try of the match. This crucial score gives the Oregon side momentum and confidence leading into the break.

After grinding within the midfield, the ORSU scrumahlf once again took a cheeky chance for her side, leading deep into enemy territory. But a quick turnover resulted in a long 70+ meter try for Beantown’s, Amanda Schweitzer once again, as she tip-toed down the sideline beating multiple defenders. ORSU continued making large territory gains, but consistently lost the ball when they needed it the most. Regaining their composure, the Oregon side drove the ball down the field with the winds at their backs, and did not let up for the remainder of the match, down 5-17.

It would be by the hands of Rachel Johnson to score three more times in the match, totaling 4 tries on the day (Golden Sombrero!), to help the Jesters display their offensive potential. ORSU battled back with ferocious and determined play from their forward pack, lead by their blindside flanker. With multiple lead changes in the second half of the match, it seemed to flow the way of the Jesters as they retained possession and strategically picked and jammed for close to 100 meters in the final 20 minutes. After a short ball to break the defense, ORSU scores for the fifth time in the match pulling away. With not enough time for Beantown to comeback, ultimately lead to a Jester’s 2nd win of the season, and the weekend.

FULLTIME: ORSU 33 – Beantown 22

CHICAGO VS TWIN CITIES

Chicago diligently worked their way against the wind and the Amazonian defense, for the entire first half. A back and forth game ensued with big gains and tough meters earned for both sides. Seldom turnovers by either squad lead to opportunistic advantages, with both teams countering their opponent’s scores.  The fate of the opening half would have Twin Cities taking advantage of their conversions, where North Shore had not. The boots of the Amazons seem to be the clear strength of their attacking scheme, pushing Chicago deep in their own territory. Tough running by Chicago forwards slowly, yet consistently, marched their team down the pitch. Although heir efforts were halted by a defensive front which shut them down consistently.

Chicago broke the line for big meters seldom in the match, but when they did it was a sight to behold with ‘Sonny-Bill Williams’ esque passing. An eventual 5 meter lineout for the Amazons, which was created from multiple penalties from CNS, ultimately resulted in a Twin Cities 3rd try. Chicago fought for crucial possession slowly for a total of 12 phases, with Sanford the #13, slicing her way through the tired TC defense, for a 25 meter try. Chicago conversion attempts continued to haunt them, going 0/4 in the first half, and only down 1 point at the break.

Chicago earned an yellow card in the first 2 minutes of the second half, and the Amazons were quick to pounce on the opportunity with a huge break by Sarah Rosche. They dug deep, picking, jamming, and using quick back ball for 13 phases, before Rosche ended what she started, for the score.  After an incredibly courageous tryline defense by Chicago for the next 10 minutes, it was not enough to hold the Amazons to cross the white line by #8, and Olympian, Kathryn Johnson. After going blow for blow in the middle of field, CNS created turnover ball, charging down the field earning yet another penalty 5 meters out. A surging effort across the line gave North Shore a much needed try in the corner, unable to convert once again, bringing the score within 8 points. In the chaos of the previous Chicago effort, Twin Cities was given a yellow card due to multiple high tackle infringements.  A battle between the 22 meter lines ensued for much of the final minutes, until the Amazons shot through the defense and earned consecutive advantage penalties within 10 meters of scoring. Before Twin Cities could reach over the white line again, time ran out but the deciding difference was Chicago unable to convert any of their tries, ultimately giving Twin Cities the 8 point victory. 

FULLTIME: Twin Cities 33 – Chicago North Shore 25