WPL Player of the Week: Kate Zachary

The fifth round of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) officially ended on Saturday, when San Diego traveled to Oregon Rugby Sports Union (ORSU) while the rest of the league enjoyed a bye. The Surfers triumphed 45-0 and that concentration of attention also highlighted the Player of the Week, Kate Zachary.

San Diego took a 19-0 halftime lead, sending hooker Sam Pankey, lock Melissa Quiroz and No. 8 Matelina Maluia over for tries. Fullback Tia Blythe kicked two of her five conversions in the first 40.

“ORSU is always tough opposition, particularly at home, but we just came out ready from the starting whistle,” San Diego coach Jarrod Faul said. “We played with a lot of intensity the first half. We did a good job of keeping the ball alive, and the ball movement was good as well. On defense, we put good pressure on them. We probably had one of our best 40 minutes all season.”

Scrumhalf Elizabeth Trujillo opened up the second-half scoring three minutes in, and then prop Hope Rogers dotted down back-to-back tries. Forward reserve Kara Mathews scored the final try in the waning minutes. Although the team recorded more points in the second half, coach Faul was less happy with the team’s execution.

“We blew some try-scoring opportunities,” the coach explained. “We had good go-forward and didn’t finish because of passes going astray. We just didn’t take our chances when they were given to us.”

Even though San Diego’s offense wasn’t as consistent in the second half, the defense was sound.

“That was the most pleasing aspect – keeping them out of the try zone,” Faul said. “That was a goal of ours, to hold them.”

San Diego is now 4-1 and guaranteed a championship semifinal berth. Reflecting on the season thus far and Saturday in particular, Faul nominated flanker Kate Zachary as MVP.

“She’s been outstanding for us all season, especially since she came in with no [senior-level] 15s experience,” Faul said of the USA 7s Eagle. “She’s been consistently one of our strongest performers. Every week she does a superb job of giving us go-forward – she always gets past the gain line. It’s really impressive.”

Even though Zachary is competing in her first WPL season, she’s a familiar face. The 27-year-old earned her first 7s caps in Atlanta during the 2014-15 Women’s Sevens Series, and the 7s prop injected a lot of power onto the pitch. The Kansas native joined the 15s pool as well, and when she aligned with San Diego, USA Women’s 15s coach Pete Steinberg requested to see her developed at flanker. Zachary’s been there ever since, bringing an attractive blend of 7s field vision and loose forward aggression.

“She’s got a good awareness,” Faul said of the 7s Eagle. “She’s good at identifying the holes and hitting them. She’s got a turn of pace, too, and is tough to take down. She fights for every inch.

“And she’s equally impressive on defense. She brings a lot of physicality,” the coach added. “Right now, she’s one of the best number 7s in the nation. She’s dedicated, has a great attitude and just adds a tremendous value to the Surfers.”

San Diego will test itself this weekend, as the rematch with Glendale looms. The Surfers dropped the opener in Colorado after building a big lead, but now the Raptors are traveling to California, and there’s some redemption at stake.

“There are always areas you can improve, but I’m certainly happy with where we are right now,” Faul concluded. “Glendale has always been in the back of our mind but we’ve been taking it one game at a time. Girls are definitely ready for the rematch. We just have to stick to our systems, stay patient on attack, build pressure and nail those opportunities when they come up. From a defensive perspective, we have to shut down their space and limit their opportunities. Glendale is very good at taking your mistakes and converting them into points. We really have to be on top of our game.”

Both San Diego and Glendale will represent the Blue Conference in the championship semifinals. ORSU, which travels to Berkeley Saturday, will join the All Blues in the fifth place semifinals. In the Red Conference, New York and Twin Cities will compete in the championship semifinals, while Atlanta and the D.C. Furies play for fifth place. The Harlequins host the Amazons in Sunday’s Round 6 match-up, while the Furies head north to New York. The WPL championship will occur Nov. 11 and Nov. 13 in Marietta, Ga.