Written by: Jackie Finlan
In Week 11 of the Women’s Premier League (WPL), home teams Berkeley and Beantown won their respective matches in bonus-point fashion, while the Colorado Gray Wolves bagged an important victory against Life West on Treasure Island. The Week 11 victors occupy the top-three spots in the standings, and have 2-3 games remaining in the regular season.
Berkeley (8-1) hosted Chicago North Shore (1-9) in Moraga, Calif., and put a 49-7 win into the books. Wing Laura Thacker finished with a team-leading three tries, while Jade McGrath, Elena Clark, Sierra Watkins and Tonya Wessman also dotted down. Flyhalf Kristen Siano’s boot and vision paired nicely with wing Mariko Moore’s speed and handling, and the duo put two crossfield kick-and-chases into the try zone. Siano also added two conversions. Chicago North Shore center Mackenzie Wood accounted for the visitors’ try and Nicole Fisch added the extras: 49-7.
“We had a couple of injuries that popped up this last week and we had some folks really step up into those roster spots and put their hands up for the future,” Berkeley head coach Hannah Stolba reflected on the effort. “North Shore came in off of a really strong 7s season and you could see in the way they attacked that they were looking to use those skills. I’m proud of our group for stepping up and being able to adapt quickly to the injuries this week and the attacking style that North Shore brought.”
Beantown (7-2) put in a convincing performance against visiting TC Amazons (1-8), scoring 49 unanswered points in Boston Saturday. Back of the Match Emma Santosuosso (prop Salma Bezzat was named Forward of the Match) and No. 8 Yeja Dunn scored two tries apiece. Hannah Mackay, Rachael Harkavy, Hallie Taufoou, Amanda Schweitzer and Jenni Laferriere also dotted down, and captain Schweitzer kicked two conversions.
The game of the weekend occurred on Treasure Island. The Colorado Gray Wolves (6-3-1) and Life West (3-7) were ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, heading into this match, so this game was always going to be heated.
“We had a good outing in Chicago last weekend, but so did Life West [against the TC Amazons], so we knew it was going to be tough this week,” Colorado head coach Mose Timoteo said of the team’s vibe heading into Week 11. “We knew from the first [Life West] game, they always come out firing, so we had to play our game and control what we can control, and just put pressure on them and really come away with a net positive. Do our things right before we do anything else and adjust to what they were doing.”
The Gray Wolves dominated the set pieces and took advantage of both forced and unforced errors. When No. 8 Rachel Ehrecke’s first dive over the try line was called back for a penalty, Life West booted to the ball to touch but lost the lineout. The visitors went back to work in good territory.
“That’s one thing we pride ourselves on – the set pieces, especially the scrum,” Timoteo said. “We had to make sure we won our set pieces and that would give us the edge and put pressure on them. Felt good in those areas.”
That particular Gray Wolves possession ended in a knock-on on the try line, and Life West wing Miri Marawa made a brave, fruitful run out of the Gladiatrix 22. The kicking game was on all day, as Life West’s Leti Hingano and Kristin Bitter traded punts with the Gray Wolves’ Carly Waters, Kelsie O’Brien and Hannah Tennant. After a series of kicks, a penalty allowed Ehrecke to go fast from the mark and dive over after 15 minutes. Tennant kicked the first of three conversions, 7-0
“They fit in very well. They’re professionals,” Timoteo said of Eagles Waters, Ehrecke and Jojo Kitlinski, who returned from overseas. “Rachel came in and kind of grabbed everyone together and made this group work together as a team. Carly at nine gave us that leadership between the backs and the forwards. And Jojo, I think she’s still the best hooker I’ve seen in women’s rugby here in the U.S. Adding those three gave us a little bit of edge with their leadership and play as well. Proud of them coming in and molding this team to where we’re at right now.”
Life West lost an attacking lineout in the air and a Waters box kick got the Trix scrambling. It looked like an opportunity lost, but then the ball found Marawa, who made a dazzling run through contact. The wing probably had the gas to outrun the pursuit, but captain Jett Hayward had hustled into a support and took the finishing pass to the try line. Bitter converted: 7-7 after 20 minutes.
After a stolen ruck and penalty, Colorado reset with a scrum near midfield. Ehrecke broke off the back and powered through high tackles for a solid gain. Flanker Rachel Ryan finished off the series with a nice deke in close then dive-over try. From a tough angle, Tennant’s conversion skittered across the crossbar to bounce in: 14-7.
As the first half neared its close, Life West incurred a high-tackle yellow card, and Tennant lined up the penalty kick. The attempt was no good, but ball stayed in play, only to be turned over to the Gray Wolves’ benefit. Building from a 22-meter scrum, the team got some nice forward carries from players like Caitlin Weigel, and then Ehrecke attacked quickly from the base of a ruck to score a second try, 21-7 with Tennant’s conversion.
“We thought they would defend a little bit closer and we were going to try to go outside,” Timoteo said of game-time adjustments. “But they spread out from the beginning so we tightened up our structure a little bit. … The girls reacted well in the game.”
Ehrecke, Weigel and Dee Nash were particularly visible when it came to big gains, but they were well complemented around the pitch.
“Jojo is huge,” Timoteo added. “She made some meters, and last week as well. She might have had more meters than anyone else. A good addition, and staying consistent throughout. That’s what we want from everyone – to stay consistent – leading into this last bit of the second round.
“From the people who love to defend, Carson [Hann] is phenomenal,” the coach said of regular standouts. “Being the captain, she leads from the front, and her defense is just phenomenal. I like to have someone just go in there and be mongrel, just be mean, and have everyone follow. That’s her.”
Life West built some momentum early in the second half and was attacking inside the 10 meter, but again, the set piece really hurt the team. Midway through the half, the teams were trading kicks. Waters hustled in the chase and was well positioned during a counter-attack, and picked off a Life West pass. The scrumhalf quickly moved the ball to Weigel, who scored before the defense had time to really react: 26-7, and the bonus point.
The Gray Wolves kept the pace at a premium, getting big bench energy from players like Jeanna Beard. In the waning minutes, Kitlinski capped off a series of forward phases with a final try, 31-7 to Colorado.
“Life West is a tough team to play with. They are very physical,” Timoteo closed. “I’m really proud of the way the girls carried themselves and matched up on physicality.”
The WPL now heads into a league-wide break and will resume with Week 12 on Sept. 9. When the teams retake the pitch, Berkeley will travel to the TC Amazons, Beantown will fly to the Gray Wolves, and Chicago North Shore will host New York (5-2-2).