Women's Premier League 2016: Week 5 Recap
The Women’s Premier League (WPL) saw six of eight teams in action during round five, and the results have determined whether teams will be competing toward the championship title or fifth place. As is typically the case, the bonus points were influential in the standings.
The game of the weekend occurred in the Red Conference, as New York (5-0) and Twin Cities Amazons (3-2) lined up for their rematch on Randall’s Island. Akin to the round-three showdown, the Amazons exerted themselves early in the match, putting down the first two tries to lead, 10-0.
“We sometimes have a tendency to start slow and that was definitely the case today,” said New York’s Phaidra Knight, who played her first game at hooker Sunday. “The Amazons brought it to us from the start of the game – same as when we played in Minnesota and for a similar period of time. But we remained composed throughout … even when they surged toward the end of the game. We got our wheels turning and played the way we needed to play.”
Prop Ashley Nesby got the home team on the board with a try, and then Knight followed with the first of her two first-half tries. The Eagle pointed to Nesby’s score as the catalyst that shifted momentum into New York’s favor.
“After the Amazons scored their second try, we made some adjustments,” Knight explained. “We needed to settle defensively, but, on offense, we needed to do a better job maintaining the ball when we went to ground – getting there quicker. Some basics, too – like looking before you pass – were part of the progression, and once we started doing those things we retained more possession and started to sync.”
New York led, 12-10, with Ayden Bain’s conversion, until Twin Cities outside center Jacie Vonada scored her side’s third try (17-12). Knight was particularly complimentary of the Twin Cities center duo between Vonada and captain Sylvia Braaten at No. 12, and also noted fly half Katana Howard’s rumbling runs.
The final lead change occurred when flyhalf Mary McCarthy converted wing Nicole Humphrey’s try. Knight and Humphrey scored again before the break, and with another Bain conversion, New York led, 31-17, after 40 minutes.
New York came out firing in the second half, sending wing Kassidi Wynter in for the first score of the period. Full back Emily Magee and lock Alycia Washington added two tries apiece, and Bain and McCarthy continued to share time on the tee. Twin Cities scored a fourth try for the bonus point, and New York won, 62-24.
“We can always be critical, but I think people are happy,” Knight said of the team’s current status. “Everyone recognizes that we’re not peaking yet. We have moments of brilliance in the game, and then moments of, ‘Geez, we’re not executing the basics.’ We have so much potential for growth. We’re taking each game one at a time and treating it like it’s the most important one of the season.”
New York has guaranteed its berth to the championship semifinals, as has Twin Cities. Even though the Red Conference’s Amazons and Atlanta Harlequins could end the season with 3-3 records, the Minnesota team has a seven-point, insurmountable lead in the standings.
Atlanta (2-3) traveled to the D.C. Furies (0-5) for its fifth-round match and returned to Georgia with a 19-0 win. All of the Harlequins’ points were scored in the first half. The back three did well to finish off opportunities, as wings Robbyn Keating and Alison Price and full back Meredith Whitten dotted down the tries. Laoise O’Driscoll, who shifted from fly half to inside center and paired nicely with regular full back Lara Gartner at No. 13, knocked over the conversions. Atlanta will play its next three games at home – the final league match against Twin Cities, and then its two championship games at Life University Nov. 11-13.
The Blue Conference contested one match, as San Diego Surfers (3-1) and Oregon Rugby Sports Union (ORSU) (1-3) scheduled their fifth-round match during the bye week (Oct. 22). It was a fortuitous shift, as all matches at The Farm, ORSU’s home pitch, were cancelled due to rain this weekend. Even though the Surfers and ORSU could end the season with identical records, like Twin Cities and Atlanta, the bonus points have already determined the teams’ post-season paths. San Diego has a 12-point lead over ORSU in the standings and will advance to the championship semifinals alongside the Blue Conference’s Glendale Raptors.
The Raptors (5-0) played their final home match on Saturday and celebrated with a 77-5 win over Berkeley All Blues (0-5). Glendale scored from everywhere, and saw five forwards and five backs account for the tries. Full back Colleen Cribbs, prop Melissa Polheber, and outside center and co-captain Christen Suda scored two tries apiece. The pack put No. 8 Taryn Brennan, prop and co-captain Sarah Chobot, flanker Carmen Farmer, and lock Kristen Shalosky into the try zone. Fly half Hannah Stolba led all point-scorers with 17 on a try and six conversions, while wing Denali Graham and reserve wing Justine Wypych added tries for the backs.
Berkeley prevented the shutout in minute 24, when wing Serena Liu dotted down to bring the score line to 22-5.
When the entire league resumes Oct. 29-30, the big game will occur between Glendale and San Diego in California. The result will, potentially, only affect the seeding heading into the championship semifinals, but will be an excellent gauge of how the Blue Conference’s two best teams have transformed during the fall.