Written by: Jackie Finlan
Now that Week 10 has elapsed, all seven Women’s Premier League (WPL) teams have officially kicked off the fall portion of their seasons. Beantown was the last to activate and played a thriller in New York – the highlight of the weekend. Colorado Gray Wolves and Life West assuaged the disappointment of single-digit losses in Week 9 with massive wins on the road last Saturday.
After a three-point loss to New York in Week 9, Life West (3-6) took flight for Minnesota and a rematch against the TC Amazons (1-7). The home side did score first through Kathryn Johnson – a penalty goal in the ninth minute – and then the Gladiatrix regrouped for four-straight scores. Center Rachel Pau’u, lock Roxelle Thomas, scrumhalf Sophie Pyrz and winger-turned-flanker Leila Opeti dotted down, while Pyrz kicked two of her six conversions on the day.
Amazons scrumhalf Lynn Kleyer put down the Amazons’ first try of the game in minute 35, and then Trix wing Miri Marawa ended the half with the first of three tries: 29-8 at the break. Life West outscored the Amazons 33-10 in the second 40. Marawa (2), center Liz Tafuna and reserve Mikayla Roberts scored for the NorCal side, and Pyrz handled kicking duties. Center Crystal Jehly and No. 8 Abbey Jacobs scored for the Amazons in the 62-18 decision.
The Amazons travel to Beantown (6-2) in Week 11, while the Gladiatrix host the Colorado Gray Wolves (5-3-1) this Saturday. Like Life West, the Gray Wolves lost a heart-breaker in Week 9 (35-33 to Berkeley) and responded with a massive road win against Chicago North Shore (1-8). Nine different players scored in the 69-0 victory: prop Caitlin Weigel, hooker Gianna Solomon, flanker Rachel Ryan (2), centers Dee Nash and Julie Tordonato, wing Nichole Wanamaker, fullback Emily Colesworthy, and reserves Colleen Cribbs, Mary Oglesby and Justine Perl. Flyhalf Hannah Tennant (6) and Perl kicked the conversions.
Fourth-place Colorado has a six-point lead on Life West in the standings, so this Saturday’s game is crucial.
The game of the weekend occurred at Gaelic Park in the Bronx. Beantown (6-2), competing in its first game of the fall, traveled south to see New York (5-2-2). Beantown won the May 6 match 36-24, but New York was eager to set the tone for the rematch.
Much of the opening 15 minutes were spent in Beantown’s end, but handling issues on both sides kept the scoring threats at a minimum. That said, New York spent a lot of time on attack and those extra touches saw the team sync and link phases together faster.
Eighteen minutes in, New York had the attacking scrum and launched a nice set piece move. Inside center Shamira Robles received the outlet pass as flyhalf Nikki Richardson trailed from the weak side. Dana Alimena ran an under line to pin the inside defense, while Robles sent a flat pass behind the outside center’s back to Richardson running on. Just before contact, the flyhalf got the pass off to Jetta Owens inserting at pace, and the fullback took off, fending multiple defenders en route to the try, 5-0. It was pretty.
Beantown was very fast off the line – Jenny Kronish in particular was a menace – but at times there was an uneven launch in the backs, and the New York centers took advantage. Alimena went through one such gap and took the game to Beantown’s 10 meter. A couple of phases later, Corina Kaiser took a short pass from Owens and bust through the defense, which seemed to look around for a forward-pass call. Kaiser didn’t wait for a verdict and dotted down across the try line, 12-0 with Owens’ conversion.
New York was well on its way to a third try from the restart. The short pass from Richardson to Caoimhe O’Sullivan Roche saw the hooker burst through two defenders. Robles dummied past the outside defense and flanker Daisy Titus continued the go-forward. In tight, the front row of Tiara A’au, O’Sullivan Roche and Kaiser were all excellent options, and both Richardson and Owens were great distributors and kept the ball moving. Once inside the 22, the phases were moving really quickly and it felt like a try was imminent.
And then Amanda Schweitzer stepped into the passing lane. The outside center picked off a wide pass from Richardson and raced the length of the field for the try. Tiana Granby did well to chase and keep Schweitzer from centering the score: 12-5 after approximately 30 minutes.
Not long afterward, Beantown lock Hallie Taufoou nearly picked off another pass but was deemed offsides. The game reset with a New York scrum, and after a couple of smothering tackles from Claire Phelan and Kronish, a nice A’au carry got New York moving forward again. Cari Pick moved the ball to O’Sullivan Roche, and the prop burst through some soft defense for the try, which Owens converted, 19-5.
There were still five minutes to play in the half, and to Beantown’s credit, the team can engineer points quickly when the pressure is on. A Schweitzer grubber through the line put the game in the right end of the field, and then Kronish pressure off the line forced a knock-on and turnover. Yeja Dunn – who was the picture of hustle and hard hits – went on a tackle-breaking run and incurred a yellow card advantage. Beantown went to work, hurling multiple phases into the try line defense. Finally, an overload on the weak side and quick hands from Emily Becker and Rachael Harkavy put wing Jenni Laferriere into the corner. Schweitzer made the sideline conversion, 19-12, and halftime sounded.
A nice Schweitzer kick off the scrum got the New York defense scrambling, and an ill-placed clearance saw Harkavy run onto the receipt. The flyhalf chipped the ball to the corner and was taken out in the process with a not-wrapping tackle. Taufoou flew into the try zone and seemed to celebrate with teammates for the grounding, but the ball was called back to the point of the Harkavy contact. It was another opportunity to attack, but New York stole the scrum.
After a nice kicking exchange, Beantown reset near midfield, but struggled to connect deeper into the phases. Hooker Paige Stathopoulos did well to move the ball away from traffic, sending a long, crisp pass to Taufoou out wide. The lock tore away for one of the more thrilling breaks of the game. Owens made the tackle, but the stage was set for the final try of the game.
New York had the scrum near its 22 and was trying to run the ball out of danger. But a dropped pass saw Beantown pounce and New York was penalized in the ruck. Schweitzer seemed to line up for the kick to touch, but tapped and went to Dunn for the hit-up. The recycle went to Stathopoulos, who took a nice line into the try zone, 19-17.
There were approximately 20 minutes to play and both teams played with the urgency that a close, important game brings. New York got a nice boost from reserves like Gio Cruz, who was immediately influential in defense. Beantown never quite found its attack rhythm in the backs, and the game ended with a conversion being the difference.
Beantown earned a bonus point in the loss and remains in 2nd place in the standings. New York, meanwhile, leap-frogged Colorado Gray Wolves into 3rd and is tied with Beantown on standings points (31). New York has played an extra game, though. “I think we are proud of the effort,” New York co-captain Richardson reflected. “We tried a few new things, but we know we missed a few opportunities and have so much room to grow. I hope this win gives us confidence but makes us even hungrier to keep improving.”