WPL Week 9 Recap: Semifinal Spots Secured
San Diego and Glendale won their matches last weekend and thus clinched their spots in the Women’s Premier League (WPL) National Championship semifinals. The Red Conference has named on representative to the top-tier of playoffs, and this weekend’s New York vs. Beantown match will determine the second rep.
Glendale (5-1-1) vs. Berkeley (5-3) highlighted Blue Conference action this past weekend. The Merlins had won the first game handily, but the rematch featured a solidified All Blues squad playing on home turf.
“This was the most physical match we have played all season,” Glendale flyhalf Hannah Stolba asserted. “We had a really hard defensive game and really pushed each other and grew as a team.”
The first half looked as if it was going to end without a score, but then wing Kemi Adewunmi found try zone green, and inside center Gabby Cantorna’s conversion gave Glendale the 7-0 lead into the break.
The Merlins were presented with another opportunity to build upon that lead when Berkeley’s Katie Chou was yellow-carded, but it was the All Blues that rallied instead. Prop Bridget DeSantis and flyhalf Evan Hoese scored during the subsequent 10 minutes, and Sam Miller’s two conversions put the home team ahead 14-7.
“There was a lot of back and forth in the second half and we were just patient with our attack long enough to get some points on the board,” Stolba recounted.
Berkeley held the lead for another 10 minutes, when Stolba scored and Cantorna converted, 14-all. Minutes later, wing Nichole Wanamaker scored her eighth try of the season, and another Cantorna conversion afforded a seven-point lead with 10 minutes to go. The death knell sounded in the 76th minute, when Stolba kicked the first dropgoal of the WPL season, 24-14, necessitating two scores instead of one, and that’s where the game ended.
On the other side of the conference, wing Teigan MacDonald scored three tries to lead San Diego (5-1-1) in a 64-10 win over Chicago North Shore (0-7). Megan Foster led all point-scorers with 19 on a try and seven conversions, while flanker Laura Easterling, outside center Kanausha Thompson, fullback Tia Blythe, flanker Sam Pankey, No. 8 Kate Zackary and wing Kimdinh Tran also dotted down. North Shore got its two tries through fullback Jessica Ventrillo and flanker Brittany Simunac.
“Sliding defense got better, but still needs work and will be our focus this week at practice. Our one-on-one tackles is what we felt like we improved on the most this week,” San Diego captain Liz Trujillo addressed the progress made from the previous round’s performance. “We felt really good about being able to execute our game plan this week, but there are things we would still like to polish before our big game against ORSU.”
In the Blue Conference, all the pressure was on Twin Cities (5-2-1) to beat New York in New York (4-3), and the Amazons came through.
“We definitely didn’t play our best on Sunday. It was a messy, physical battle and New York didn’t disappoint when it came to bringing the intensity,” Twin Cities leader Sylvia Braaten countered. “But, I’m proud of the resilience we showed in coming back from a two-point deficit at half and holding them scoreless in the second.”
No. 8 Katie Johnson put Twin Cities on the board approximately five minutes into the match, and fullback Megan Wolff kicked the extras for a 7-0 lead. New York claimed the lead minutes later, when flyhalf Kirsten Siano and outside center Shamira Robles scored and the halfback added two conversions, 14-17. Nearly 20 minutes elapsed before Amazons prop Lanoira Duhart’s try narrowed the gap, and Twin Cities trailed 14-12 into the break.
New York lost its top scorer Sarah Levy for 10 minutes, and Twin Cities used its momentum to send flyhalf Katana Howard in for five. Wolff’s conversion gave the visitors a 19-14 cushion. Johnson’s second try was also the crucial bonus-point try, and the 26-14 scoreline held for the remaining 14 minutes of the match.
“One of our goals was to come away with points every time we entered their 22 meter,” Braaten explained. “We had several missed opportunities and we’ll be focusing on sharpening up our handling, retention, and overall execution over the next couple of weeks as we prepare for nationals.”
On the other side of the Red Conference, Beantown (4-2-1) kept its semifinal hopes alive with a 29-10 win over D.C. (1-6).
“We had a bye last weekend and took the time to really challenge ourselves at practice regarding work rate, attack in contact, and decision-making around the breakdown,” Beantown co-captain Claire Stingley prefaced the match. “Because of that intensity, we focused on our launch, and we’re also excited about the progress we made in terms of continuity and support on offense.”
No. 8 Yeja Dunn scored eight minutes after kickoff, and then D.C. made good use of a yellow card advantage to put flanker Arielle Reid in for five.
“D.C. has strong and powerful runners and they take advantage of the offload when it’s available,” the flanker continued. “Their aggression on attack forced us to stay linked and reorganize on defense. They were also very quick in their offensive support at the breakdown; there were no easy turnovers this game.”
The tie lasted approximately five minutes, until Beantown scrumhalf Tina Aprahamian scored for the third time this season. Fullback Kelli Smith ended the half with a try for the 15-5 lead into the break.
Smith’s second try secured the bonus point for Beantown, and Aprahamian dotted down again as well. Inside center Kimber Rozier added the extras. D.C. had the final say on the scoreboard as reserve Jaime McFarlin scored at the turn of the fourth quarter, 29-10 the final.
“[Saturday] was a tremendous opportunity for us to build momentum and confidence moving into nationals,” Stingley concluded. “I’m so proud of how the team executed the principles and key points we’ve been working on.”
So, what’s at stake in the final week of the regular season? Three of the four national semifinals spots are accounted for, and the fourth will most likely go to the winner of New York vs. Beantown. The loser of Beantown New York will be eliminated from the playoff race. However, Atlanta can still make it in. If there is a draw between Beantown and New York with neither team securing a bonus point and Atlanta wins against the Furies, the Harlequins will make it. The Harlequins could also make it if Beantown wins without securing a bonus point and Atlanta bags a bonus point win.