WPL ROUND-UP WEEK 8
Week eight of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) saw three teams clinch semifinal berths to the national championship (Nov. 1-3, Glendale, Colo.). Life West and Glendale will represent the West Conference in the trophy bracket, while East Conference’s Atlanta will take its first trip to the final four since 2014. The second berth out of the East is still very much in contention.
Twin Cities traveled to Atlanta and stayed within a converted try of the home team through the first half. Scrumhalf Rachel Lentsch scored a brace of tries, while wing Danica Mooney-Jones added a conversion and penalty kick for 15 first-half points. The Harlequins then broke it open in the second stanza and held the Amazons scoreless in the 62-15 decision.
“Huge credit to the Amazons for coming out of the gate fast and putting us under a lot of pressure defensively with the speed of their play. We missed some defensive assignments and were missing tackles, which put us down in our end,” Atlanta head coach Ros Chou praised Twin Cities for converting those opportunities into points. “However, our team stays calm and continued to chip away and put points on the board. Our team has consistently been composed throughout 80 minutes and we have outscored our opponents in the second half in every game this season so far – including our loss to Beantown. So, we know that finishing a game is a strength of ours, and there’s no need to panic when it’s close or we’re behind at the half.”
Mo Compito, Cortney Kuehl, Kelli Smith and Lara Gartner scored two tries apiece, and Megan Rom added the ninth. Corinne Heavner kicked 17 points on seven conversions and a penalty. There’s a league-wide break coming this weekend as the USA 15s pool assembles in advance of the November tour, and then Atlanta enjoys its bye week for an extended recuperation period.
“We want to finish out the season really strong,” Chou looked toward the Oct. 26 match against Chicago North Shore. “[We] know North Shore will bring their physicality down to Atlanta and it’s our final challenge before nationals.”
North Shore hosted New York and stayed within striking distance the first 40 despite two yellow cards. The visitors pulled away in the second half and banked a 38-12 bonus-point win to remain in contention for that second East Conference seed to the national semifinals.
“We’ve been trying out different combinations to find our strongest squad and I think we pretty much have it now. The players have been patient and trusting our selections as we build toward finding our true strength as a team,” New York head coach Tiff Faaee explained. “The win against Chicago was much needed. We are still not quite where I know we can be, but we will use this week to build again and work on cohesion now that we have an idea of who can play where for our current set-up.”
Wing Sarah Levy finished five tries for New York, and prop Naomi Batzer added the sixth for the 24-year-old’s first WPL score. Gianna Solomon converted four. Jessica Ventrillo and Bridget Kapinus scored Chicago North Shore’s tries, and Nicole Fisch added the extras.
In San Francisco, Life West shut out San Diego for 75 minutes, until Hunter Griendling hit the third dropgoal of the WPL season (Heavner kicked two in week seven). The Surfers followed with a Nicole Burr try and Megan Foster conversion, but the game ended with a Sara Parsons try and Hali Deters conversion: 59-10 to Life West.
“We showed what we are capable of when we get things right,” Life West Director of Rugby Adriaan Ferris explained. “By our own standards we hadn’t been playing well over the last few weeks and we demanded a better effort from one another against San Diego. Refocusing on playing a simplified version of our game plan helped with clarity in attack, and we turned up with the right attitude on defense.
“We had a couple of position changes in the backline that created some energy and a different approach. This appeared to work,” Ferris noted the nine-try performance against the defending national champion. “Sara Parsons led the team expertly at flyhalf and earned the Player of the Match honor for her game management and individual performance.”
Parsons and outside center Leti Hingano scored two tries apiece, while Hope Rogers, Elona Williams, Amy Naber Bonte, Neariah Persinger and Nikki Kenyon added one apiece. Hingano kicked four conversions and Deters added three.
Glendale and Berkeley faced each other on the turf pitch outside Infinity Park, where the USA Women 7s team was busy winning the opening leg of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series. The Merlins held the All Blues to a try in each half (Ros Okpara, Matilda Kocaj) and won 57-12.
“We feel like we’re getting used to our attack and being able to put the pieces together,” said Farmer, who doubled as pitch-side security inside Infinity Park during the 7s tournament. “We’ve got all these young kids that have come in and – as the old person on the team – it’s sort of invigorating. … We’ve got Gabby [Cantorna] and Mack [Hawkins] in the middle now and directing traffic, and they’ve gotten comfortable, and we’ve gotten comfortable playing with them. When they’re firing it just opens everything up for us.”
With the semifinal berth confirmed, Glendale has the option to rest some bodies and play with less pressure. But Farmer placed value on the final two league games as opportunities to build confidence and continue to build toward nationals.
“Since the first game, it’s just been up for us, and so we’re pretty excited about that,” the No. 8 said. “We’re still going to push it. We think that we’ve got a lot more to give, and so we’re not going to settle for [Saturday]. It was a good win for us but we think there’s a lot of potential so we’re going to keep pushing for it.”