Written by: Jackie Finlan
Five of seven teams have completed the first half of their 2023 Women’s Premier League (WPL) seasons, and after this Saturday’s match between Chicago North Shore and Life West, the competition will break for the summer. Action will resume mid-August and culminate with national semifinals (Oct. 7) and championship (Oct. 14).
New York (3-2-2) hosted Twin Cities (0-6) for its first game since May 21. Its previous match against the Colorado Gray Wolves (4-2-1) – another highly anticipated rematch – was canceled due to poor air quality and will not be rescheduled. Both teams recorded a 28-28 tie in the standings. Suffice to say, New York was ready to close out the spring block with a solid outing at home.
“One focus NYRC had for the game was to come out focused and play our style of rugby right from the start,” New York assistant coach Lara Vivolo noted. “We feel we did that, putting 50 points on the board in the first half. Our finishers brought intensity and pace to the match and kept the quality of play high.”
Wing Grace Murphy had a big day, scoring 27 points on five tries and a conversion. No. 8 Adriana Castillo (2), flanker Mia Lancelotti, hooker Jessie Ruiz, outside center Dana Alimena and reserve Shamarica Scott all dotted down as well. Fullback Allysa O’Neill (5) and flyhalf Nikki Richardson added the conversions. Zons captain Brooke Doerscher scored the visitors’ try.
“Overall, it was a solid last run before the break,” New York co-captain Richardson lauded the effort. “We had a few newer faces in the mix, and everyone brought great energy and intensity.
“Offensively, we were able to use the full width of the field, and through great connection, had some great scores from the edges,” the flyhalf added. “Defensively, our forward pack was very disruptive at set piece, limiting the attacking platform for the Zons. … We hope we can carry this momentum into the fall for a great second half of the season.”
In a rematch of the 2022 national championship, Berkeley (6-0-1) traveled to Beantown (6-1) for a rainy Saturday match. With the end of the Allianz Premier 15s season (for all but the finalists), both sides rostered internationals who had returned home. Harlequins lock Jenny Kronish stepped into the Beantown second row, and Loughborough’s Bulou Mataitoga subbed into the back line.
An early penalty try gave Berkeley a 7-0 lead, and then Beantown worked a try through No. 8 Yeja Dunn in the 24th minute. Flyhalf Amanda Schweitzer’s conversion evened it up at 7-7, which held until halftime.
In the opening 15 minutes of the second half, the All Blues put away back-to-back tries through Mataitoga and Sierra Watkins, who did work at flanker this match. Wing Elena Clark then scored the bonus-point try in minute 70 and flyhalf Kristen Siano’s conversion put the visitors up 24-7. In the waning minutes, Beantown rallied for a final try, with reserve Oliver Wright scoring and Schweitzer converting: 24-14 the final.
“This game was a good example of the strength of the WPL,” Berkeley head coach Hannah Stolba reflected. “We were super proud of our forwards putting in a ton of work and connecting despite the weather conditions. … It was good for us to finish the spring portion of the season by putting in a full 80-minute performance.”
Berkeley tops the standings at 6-0-1 and banked a bonus point for tries scored in all seven matches. Life West (1-5) actually leads in most bonus points – a combination of close losses and tries scored.
“We definitely learned a lot from this match and I do think – even though losing after such a successful season doesn’t feel great – it truly gives us an opportunity to build and grow from what we saw and did,” Beantown co-head coach Kittery Wagner Ruiz thought on the game’s impact into the summer. “We learned that we need to work our attack under more pressure and get our defense to realign more quickly.
“Ollie [Engelhart] and I have asked a lot of the team,” the coach continued. “We have asked them to execute all new systems and structures – and they have! Personally, I am so proud of everything that this team has accomplished this season. I can’t wait to come back in the fall and continue building and growing! As Ollie would say, “Good vibes only!”
On Saturday, June 24, Chicago North Shore (1-5) will report to Treasure Island in San Francisco to face Life West.