Week four of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) has seen the top teams in each conference strengthen their chances for the championship semifinals. Glendale (4-0) and San Diego (3-1) hosted their respective Blue Conference games and won in front of hometown crowds, while Red Conference leaders New York (4-0) and Twin Cities (3-1) were victorious on the road.
The Raptors saw some new, but familiar, faces make the game-day roster against ORSU Saturday. Olympian Carmen Farmer, Eagle Hannah Stolba and Kristen Shalosky got their first WPL minutes of the season, and contributed to a 46-17 victory over the Oregon team.
“I think that those players as well as others made a significant impact on the game,” commented Glendale co-captain Christen Suda, who accounted for 14 points on a try, penalty and three conversions. “Playing with players of such a high level just takes everyone’s game up a notch. This year we haves a lot of depth and the top 23 are changing each week. It is a great problem to have and the competition for the top 23 at Glendale continues to get stronger. I’m sure selections for the coaches have been very tough.”
Glendale put down the first 22 points on the match, and Suda herself took care of the first 10. Wing Andrea Prusinski scored her third try of the season, and then 7s and 15s Eagle Farmer notched her first-ever WPL try. Prop Adrienne Acosta scored for ORSU, and Molly Luft’s conversion made it 22-7 to Glendale at the break.
The Raptors began to work the bench, and the second half saw seven substitutions keep the pace of play at a premium.
“The beauty about it is that we have been able to challenge ourselves as rugby players to find what works best for the team,” Suda added. “The depth of the team has allowed us to try out new players, try old players at new positions and really to test out which combinations work effectively. … The game of rugby is really picking up momentum in the US. And our club is just one testament on how the quality of players continues to get better as the competition gets stronger.”
Notre Dame College alumna and WPL first-year Patsy Ford opened up the second-half scoring before ORSU stalwart Beckett Royce dotted down the first of her two tries. League-leading try-scorer Justine Wypych tallied her eighth try of the season, and the scoreline sat at 34-17 after the third quarter. Glendale’s defense remained valiant, and the home side was rewarded with Jeanna Beard and Colleen Cribbs tries in the waning minutes. Stolba’s conversion afforded the 29-point victory.
San Diego got good work from its bench as well and scored a league high 86 points to Berkeley’s seven Saturday. Flanker Kate Zachary scored three first-half tries, as the Surfers ran out to a 54-7 halftime lead. Outside center Courtney Hendrickson, who distinguished herself during the club 7s championship, accounted for the All Blues’ try, which flyhalf Lauren Rhode converted.
Eagles Hope Rogers and Dana Meschisi, and wing Danielle Miano scored two tries apiece. Hannah Lockwood and reserves Vivian Renshaw, Skye Howard and Matelina Maluia also scored tries, while fullback Tia Blythe added eight conversions.
“The WPL has been fun so far,” noted Rogers, who is competing in her first WPL season. “I love being a part of the Surfers team. We are truly growing as a team on and off the field. I think the coaches are doing a great job of developing us. We have dynamic players from 1-23 and even some who aren’t on the first 23 roster.”
San Diego and ORSU will delay their fifth round game against each other to Oct. 22, while the rest of the league contests games Oct. 15-16.
The Red Conference put its top two teams on the road for Sunday games, and they returned home with solid wins. Undefeated New York took on Atlanta at Life University’s stellar facilities and recorded a 31-5 victory over the Harlequins. In the teams’ first meeting, New York triumphed 24-16 on Randall’s Island.
Eagle flanker Phaidra Knight led with two tries, while USA-capped lock Alycia Washington scored her fourth try of the WPL season. Wing Jess Berry dotted her third try of the fall, while Atlanta alumna Kassidi Wynter, who is typically seen in the front row, also scored from wing. Also new to the lineup, inside Ayden Bain contributed the conversions. The New Zealand native grew up with the game and has played in Canada and Australia, and like travel mate Brooke Saunders is angling for selection to the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup squad for Australia.
New York has clinched its return to the championship semifinals, and Twin Cities is in the best shape to take the Red Conference’s second berth to the final four on Friday, Nov. 11. The Amazons played their first game outside of Minnesota this season, and the 75-7 win over the D.C. Furies marked the first of five-straight games (including finals) on the road.
Twin Cities traveled with three reserves, and there were a couple of different combinations in play. The forwards were missing players like Anna Brown and Rachel Maas, but Marina McCuskey did well at lock during her first start of the WPL season, and Mikayla Miller returned to the starting #1 spot. Eagle Stacey Bridges traveled from New Hampshire, where she is assistant coach to Katie Dowty at Dartmouth, for her second game at No. 8.
Captain Sylvia Braaten traded her #10 jersey with regular inside center Katana Howard. Braaten plays in the centers for the Eagles and reiterated why from #12 Sunday. Howard connected well with scrumhalf Rachel Lentsch to keep play moving fluidly. Typical fullback and conversion kicker Jacie Vonada moved up to outside center, while Kaelene Lundstrum shifted from wing to #15.
Despite the movement, the Amazons had little trouble finding the try zone, going up 34-7 in the first half. Wing Maria Bowker did an excellent job finishing on the wing, accounting for three tries in the first 40. Prop Ali Gillberg and young, standout flanker Rebecca Brown also scored in the first half, while Vonada added the extras.
Twin Cities more than doubled its output in the second half for the bonus-point win. A big game awaits on Sunday, Oct. 16, as the Amazons travel to New York and gauge the improvement made since the 42-15 loss on Sept. 25.