Round 12 produced the Women’s Premier League (WPL) semifinalists. Reigning national champion Berkeley has secured the No. 1 seed, and Beantown, Colorado Gray Wolves and New York have booked post-season passage as well. Seeds 2-4 will not be determined until the final round of the regular season (Sept. 23), and then teams will mobilize for the Oct. 7 semifinals.
On Saturday, Beantown escaped the stormy weather on the east coast to face the Colorado Gray Wolves in Glendale. When the teams faced each other in May, Beantown triumphed 20-12, and the rematch drew the main spotlight for Round 12.
The Gray Wolves got on the board quickly, as vice captain Kate Herren scored the first of two tries from the wing. Beantown answered 10 minutes later, when flyhalf Amanda Schweitzer attacked off the lineout and fed Jenni Laferriere back inside for the score. Schweitzer converted for the 7-5 lead.
Minutes later, Gray Wolves lock Amy Spafford pierced the defense, building momentum to the try line. Flanker Rachel Ryan took the final pass, cut back across the defense and scored the game’s third try. Flyhalf Hannah Tennant added the extras for the 12-7 edge.
Nearly 20 minutes elapsed before the scoreboard ticked over again, and it was Carson Hann doing the try-scoring honors. The opportunity developed after Laferriere chipped over the defense and Carly Waters gathered the ball cleanly. The scrumhalf dished to Ryan, who did a great job returning the kick with defense rushing on. The ball bounced into touch near Beantown’s 35, seemingly untouched, but the lineout was awarded to the Gray Wolves.
From that set piece, the Gray Wolves sent phases to the try line, and Herren nearly scored in the corner if it weren’t for a forward pass. From the subsequent scrum, Waters got a hand on the attempted outlet pass, and Hann was so fast on the loose ball as it dribbled on the try line. The flanker dotted down the ball for the five points: 17-7.
There was enough time for the restart, and Beantown wing Emma Santosuosso was on the chase as the Gray Wolves knocked on the receipt. The ball bounced perfectly into the wing’s hands for one more shot at some points. The Gray Wolves did well to draw a penalty but the attempts to run out of their 22 ended in a not-releasing penalty in front of the posts. Schweitzer kicked the three-pointer and the whistle sounded: 17-10 to the home side.
The Gray Wolves were in prime position to increase their lead, but then Paige Stathopoulos intercepted an offload in traffic to quickly steal the opportunity. A penalty and quick tap followed, and Beantown moved the ball wide. Rachael Harkavy might have had the corner around the sliding defense, but the fullback put boot to ball instead. Perfectly weighted, the ball bounced into the on-rushing Santosuosso’s arms and after a hard cutback across the final defender, the try was centered. Schweitzer converted, making it 17-all and with approximately 30 minutes to play.
“I’m really proud of the pressure we were able to exert in the back field with our attacking kicks,” Schweitzer later noted. “Emma Santosuosso really stepped up on the wing to apply a ton of pressure to Colorado’s backfield through some stellar kick chases and big hits.”
As the fourth quarter neared, the Gray Wolves scored two key tries, back to back. Tennant’s put the ball to touch in Beantown’s end, and when the subsequent lineout throw went long, No. 8 Jojo Kitlinski was all over it. Jumper Rachel Ehrecke recycled around, took the wider pass off the ruck and bullied through the line for the centered try. Justine Perl converted for the 24-17 lead.
A couple phases after the restart, Julie Tordonato hit an angled line that froze the defense and kicked off a sprint to midfield. Teammates flooded in support and kept the attack moving fluidly to the try line, where Dee Nash took the final pass for the try. With Perl’s conversion, Colorado led 31-17.
There were still 20 minutes to play, but there the scoreline held until the final minute of play. An attacking lineout, solid forward carries, and then wide ball moved to Herren for the score: 36-17 the final.
“The win was through and through a team effort,” Gray Wolves captain Hann lauded the performance. “We’ve been able to make a lot of the pieces of our game come together, and it’s been really exciting to see my teammates excelling on the field. I have to give credit where credit is due though. Beantown really challenged us as they are a very dominant team, but we were able to gut it out and rise above that challenge as a team. I’m super proud of the effort every single one of my teammates put in and it was a great team win.”
“First, I need to extend a huge props to Colorado for the continuity they displayed on Saturday,” Schweitzer added. “They were able to string phases together and put us under pressure. On our side of the field, it’s important to highlight the defensive pressure that Claire Stingley showed in response to Colorado’s attack. Her work rate and launch on defense was unmatched.”
The Gray Wolves wrap up their regular season this Saturday against the TC Amazons, whereas Beantown still has two more games and will be looking to max out standings points.
“Moving into the next few weeks, Beantown is going to be losing a few teammates to the USA tour, so we are excited to allow some new faces to put their hand up and to build our depth,” Schweitzer closed. “As we saw this time last season, Beantown thrives under pressure, so we look forward to coming out strong in the next few weeks.”
A different type of tension filled the New York vs. Chicago North Shore game. Torrential rains and lightning threatened to cancel the match (New York’s DII game was postponed), and if that happened, there would be no space to reschedule the game. New York already had a game canceled in June, when the Canada fires produced unplayable air conditions.
“There was definitely a bit of anxiety with lightning delays,” New York co-captain Nikki Richardson confessed. “Considering the tight race for playoffs, we really wanted the opportunity to compete for league points. Because, at many times, we were unsure of whether or not the game could happen, when the weather finally cleared, there was a strong mix of joy, gratefulness to get to play, and a sense of urgency to execute our goals quickly.”
Jane Carino, Kristin Aliberto, Shamira Robles, Adriana Castillo, Jessica Ruiz, Allysa O’Neill and Cari Pick scored tries in New York’s 41-7 win, and O’Neill kicked the three conversions.
“The whole team was able to lock in right away, even in slightly wet conditions on the field and newer faces in the mix,” Richardson added. “As for highlights, our front row helped create important go-forward, ran some excellent lines leading to tries, and disrupted defensive rucks to create turnovers.”
New York, like Beantown, has 36 standings points and two more regular-season games. This Saturday, the team travels to Berkeley.
The All Blues spent last weekend in Minnesota, and the Amazons were ready for them. Berkeley held the lead throughout Saturday’s match and put down six tries in the 34-23 decision, but the Zons did well to keep putting points on the board. Mariah Lundstrum ended with a brace of tries while center Kelsey Coley added five as well. Natayah Bauer kicked eight points on two penalties and a conversion.
“This past week at practice we had two big sessions working through a few things with our defense that let us down when we traveled to Beantown,” Amazons’ Ali Gillberg explained. “The group was also definitely bolstered by a great performance from our D2 side that set a great tone for the Zons that the WPL side followed up by executing our plan and really feeling the momentum together. It was a really fun, tough match to battle out, and I’m excited to see what we can do in our last two matches this season.”
The bonus-point win sealed Berkeley’s place atop the standings. It means the All Blues will be playing at home Oct. 7.
“We’re happy to have done that,” Berkeley head coach Hannah Stolba said of locking up the No. 1 spot. “But this last weekend shows we still have quite a bit we want to work on. Everyone’s eager to dig in and work really hard through the end of the season, so that we put out our best product. We were trying some new things, trying to connect and play a little bit differently. It was a good challenge to manage the game that way.”