Written by: Jackie Finlan
After a competition-wide bye for Memorial Day weekend, the Women’s Premier League (WPL) returned to the pitch on Saturday, June 2 for Round 6 action. The higher-ranked teams won their respective matches, with the closest game occurring in Glendale, Colo.
Life West (1-4) traveled to the Colorado Gray Wolves (4-2) in the featured match of the weekend. The game was dedicated to rugby player, coach and administrator Alex Weisser, who passed away on May 25. Two Gray Wolves players were good friends with Weisser and flew to Pennsylvania for the memorial service on Friday before returning to Glendale for the Saturday match.
“Rugby was such a big part of her life that they knew she would have wanted them to be playing,” Gray Wolves assistant coach Jamie Burke said. “The game definitely had a little more gravitas.”
The team also held a raffle with a half of the proceeds benefiting a local mental health nonprofit, WellPower. Learn more: [Instagram link: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cs6_lrFxs89/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
The game itself started with some slick, rainy conditions, but that didn’t impede Life West No. 8 and capped Tonga international Siale Alatini from scoring two minutes into the match.
“They are a very big, physical team,” Burke said. “Early in the first half we were definitely trying to play with that and were just too high at the contact point. There were a number of tackles where we just bounced off them because we were too high. Once we adjusted and started tackling lower and looking for more double tackles, I think that really helped.”
Wing KB Broughton, center Kate Herren and prop Lara LaVigne scored for the Gray Wolves, and flyhalf McKenzie Hawkins added two conversions for a 19-5 lead after 35 minutes.
“There was a steady drizzle … and we tried to play as expansive as we wanted to, and definitely had way more knock-ons,” Burke said. “Once we tightened things down, that [retention] improved.”
The teams traded tries midway through the match. Flanker Rachel Ryan added the bonus-point try for Colorado. Life West then scored through Maxine Fonua and Kalisi Po’oi, the Kahuku alumna and Grand Canyon Univ. rising junior who will represent the Pacific Coast Grizzlies at U23 all-stars. Center Rachel Pau’u followed with a try at minute 53, and with flyhalf Aimee Ramos’ three conversions, the Gladiatrix led 26-24.
“The team worked really hard over the last few weeks connecting and fine-tuning shape and support – which is what went well for us for 65 minutes,” Life West assistant coach Finnley Parsons explained. “As the game wore on, we started losing connectivity and playing one-off rugby, and [Colorado] was able to stick to their game plan and take advantage of that.”
The weather started to dry up as well, and that allowed the Gray Wolves to play with more width.
“The team likes to keep me on my toes anyway,” Burke said of the team’s ability to rally. “I think there’s faith now because we’ve had a number of close games in the final throes of the game. Our very first game of the season against New York came down to the wire. … The team has played down, and knows how to play down and then return from that.”
When the line-breaks occurred, Burke credited diligent support play for turning those opportunities into points. In particular, two ballcarriers were tackled at the two meter, but the chasers were able to get over the ball, pick from the ruck and score.
Broughton, Carson Hann and Madison Williams scored tries, and Hawkins kicked two more conversions for the 43-26 win.
“KB had a really great game,” Burke said of standouts. “She played for Life West last season, so I think that they had a lot of respect for her and were very worried about her as a player. She scored two tries but also did a really nice job of creating space for other players to score by basically holding different lines. Their defense got so concerned about the ball getting to her that they left openings elsewhere.”
“We had a few players come off the bench and put their hands up as dominant ballcarriers, and we’re excited about that,” Parsons closed. “As a coaching staff, we’re very proud of the improvement, and as competitors, the whole squad is anxious to get back to training to continue to improve.”
Colorado is the first team to play the entire WPL field.
“There’s been some blowouts here and there, but in general, we’re seeing a greater number of matches that are highly contested, which is great,” Burke surveyed the field. “I think that’s a benefit of the entire league playing each other. It means position 1 is playing position 2, is playing position 3, is playing position 4. When we were split by seeding, position 1 was playing 3, 5 and 7. You didn’t actually see those games [between the top 4] until the very end of the season, so having the entire league play itself is helping us get higher-quality rugby.”
The Gray Wolves will restart the circuit with a trip to New York (2-2-1) this Saturday. Life West and Berkeley (4-1) will meet at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., on June 10 for a Battle of the Bay rematch.
The All Blues traveled to Chicago North Shore (1-4) last weekend and returned to NorCal with a 56-0 win. Flyhalf Olivia Bernadel-Huey led all point-scorers with 19 on two tries, three conversions and a penalty goal. Center Jade McGrath dotted down twice, while wing Elena Clark, center Evan Hoese, hooker Hope Cooper, prop Paris Hart and reserve forward Ros Okpara also scored tries.
North Shore has two away trips before the summer break: Beantown on June 10 and Life West on June 24.
Standings leader Beantown (5-0) traveled to the TC Amazons (0-5) and posted a 76-5 win on the road. Amity Beiner accounted for the host’s try. Beantown hooker Paige Stathopoulos, flanker Hallie Taufoou, No. 8 Yeja Dunn and reserve Erin Wholey scored two tries apiece. Wing Emma Santosuosso, fullback Lexi Nelson and flyhalf Amanda Schweitzer scored as well, and the 10 also kicked seven conversions. Flanker Erica Jarrell scored the penalty try in the second half.
WEEK 7 MATCHUPS
SATURDAY JUNE 10
Life West @ Berkeley
Chicago North Shore @ Beantown
Colorado Gray Wolves @ New York