WPL Player of the Week: Maria Bowker

Things changed after Twin Cities dropped its first Red Conference match in three Women’s Premier League (WPL) seasons. Head coach Roger Bruggemeyer was already contemplating some positional moves when the Amazons hosted New York during round three, but a 27-point loss confirmed that adjustments were needed. After the bye week, the Minnesota side sent a retooled lineup to D.C. for its first road game of the season, and Player of the Week Maria Bowker caught special praise in the 75-7 win.

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“We changed our entire back line pretty much. It was intentional,” said Twin Cities assistant coach Kim O’Brien, who noted that only one player played the same position in the previous three matches. “There were certain things that we didn’t think were working against New York – some of the offense we wanted to generate – so Roger made the decision to make some changes.”

Captain Sylvia Braaten and Jacie Vonada moved into the centers, migrating from flyhalf and fullback, respectively. Katana Howard slid from inside center to flyhalf, while Kaelene Lundstrum dropped from wing to fullback. Bowker had been playing outside center and bumped out to wing, where she scored four tries against D.C.

“Maria was able to take the ball outside – she’s a strong runner, so she’s not afraid to take on some contact in the process,” O’Brien said. “She took advantage of her opportunities and ran them in for tries. … The good news obviously is if the ball’s getting to the wing, then everyone else is doing their jobs. Everyone played well – capitalized on opportunities – but at the same time, everyone missed tackles. So there are things to work on.”

Getting those new combinations working well together is a focus this week during training. There is some history in the Howard-Braaten 10-12 combo, which ran during the 2014 WPL season, and O’Brien is eager to see Braaten free up and employ her effective strike running from inside center. The assistant coach asserted that the backline has to be able to play off whatever happens after that line-break, and with try-scorers Lundstrum and Vonada (who scored two tries and five conversions Sunday), and support like Bowker working around the pitch, the backs can build toward their ideal offense.

“She is one of our strongest runners, and it showed on Sunday with her ability to finish when she got the ball in her hands,” the captain reflected on Bowker’s performance. “We are still working out some kinks but had some great line-breaks and finishing tries, which helps to build confidence with players in new positions moving forward.”

While the backs work on their cohesion, the forwards are providing stability.

“Overall, I think the forwards are playing well together. We’ve had a few new people step up and get more playing time on the WPL side and manage that well,” O’Brien said. “I’d still like us to better in contact – we gave up too much ball in contact this weekend – and there were plenty of missed tackles out there that we need to fix.”

The pack was well represented on the scoreboard against D.C., as loose forwards Becca Brown and Stacey Bridges scored two tries apiece, and Ali Gillberg and Tupou Paea also dotted down. Twin Cities was happy for the big win against D.C., and it was a good way to ease into some necessary changes.

“It’s a little early to say that we got everything the way we want it,” O’Brien said. “Things went relatively well but the true test comes this weekend.”

Twin Cities heads to New York this weekend for the rematch.