After five weeks of the Women’s Premier League, eight of 10 teams have played all of their conference opponents. This past weekend, the Blue Conference contested its games on Saturday, while the Red Conference followed on Sunday.
Berkeley was coming off a road loss to Chicago North Shore, but as head coach Theo Bennett explained, the team was grateful for the loss in preparation for 2016 league champion San Diego last Saturday.
“We were definitely working on our tackling area, adapting to the new laws and not getting caught up in the rucks,” Bennett said of lessons learned. “The referees are adapting to the new rules and then the players are adapting to it, too. In that gray area, we can get exposed a lot. It’s about being very clear about those situations and how do we reduce the amount of 50/50 that can create and doubt it can create.”
Berkeley went to work and scored 29 first-half points before San Diego got on the board. Although the visitors won the scoring contest in the second half, the home side prevailed 34-15.
San Diego struggled in its one-on-one tackles, putting a lot of pressure on fullback Tia Blythe to clean up breakaways. That said, the Surfers gave away possession, whether in the lineout or breakdowns, and saw a handful of ripe scoring opportunities swap ends of the pitch quickly.
Berkeley was pumped up from the opening whistle, but really worked to control that energy, especially after each score. The defense worked really well and everyone was effective on offense. Forward try-scorers included Kedra Davis, whose quick hands helped set up the first try, which was dotted down by wing Maggie Simpson; Elena Edwards, who put in a monstrous fend that electrified the team; and Katie Chou, who is difficult to stop on the pick-and-go at the line. She scored twice.
Wing Courtney Hendrickson dotted down during a frenetic six minutes in which three tries were scored. The back line centered around a fun duo in flyhalf Bulou Mataitoga and inside center Freida Fetu’u, who play off each other really well and stall the defense long enough to open up space out wide.
Scrumhalf Elizabeth Trujillo scored San Diego’s try before halftime. Hunter Griendling then added a line-drive penalty that nearly didn’t happen due to some miscommunication and a ticking clock. As the fourth quarter got on, wing Josie Ziluca tore down the sideline and was just pulled down by Simpson in pursuit. A penalty followed, and Griendling took the quick tap over and Blythe converted. Berkeley had the final say, however, as hooker Bridget DeSantis set up Edwards for the game’s last try, 34-15.
Later that evening, Glendale took on ORSU at Infinity Park. Seventeen minutes elapsed before the scoreboard ticked over, but it was Merlins wing Justine Wypych that eventually broke the silence with a try that she also converted. ORSU flyhalf Emma Richie kicked a penalty at 24 minutes, and then Glendale answered with a try from lock Joanna McElroy and a Wypych penalty, 15-3.
ORSU took some momentum into the break, as inside center Anna Symonds scored the first of her two tries (15-10 halftime), and then earned a yellow-card advantage when Charlotte Thompson was sent to the bin at minute 45. “ORSU really tested our ability to maintain possession, particularly at the breakdown,” Glendale Player of the Match Kristen Shalosky reflected. “They’re excellent poachers and they capitalized on some messy carries and ground work on our side in the first half, which kept us playing a ton of defense. They’ve got terrific, strong runners, and they did well to continue a straight up, hard attack. At half, it felt like it could’ve been anyone’s game.”
Glendale did not give up any points when playing with 14 and was rewarded with an advantage (Beckett Royce yellow card) when back to full strength. The Merlins sent No. 8 Carmen Farmer and inside center Christen Suda in for tries in that time, and scrumhalf Jenny Lui dotted down with five minutes to play. Wypych converted.
“In the second half, we really refocused on maintaining our possession by increasing our work rate on the ground and in rucks,” the MVP added. “Once we were able to get more clean ball, we started playing within our attacking structure and opened the match up.”
ORSU ended the match with Symonds’ second try, which Richie converted, 32-17 to Glendale.
On Sunday, Twin Cities played its first road game of the season and traveled to Beantown. The game started well for the Amazons, as inside center Maria Bowker scored her fourth try of the season and fullback Megan Wolff added her 11th conversion. The game nearly ended well for the visitors, too, seeing as the Amazons held the lead until the 70th minute. In that time, flanker Emilee Jalosuo and wing Kaelene Lundstrum also scored tries for 17 points.
Beantown slowly but surely chipped away at the deficit, and sent No. 8 Yeja Dunn (twice) and halftime sub Tara Roberts into the try zone. Scrumhalf Amanda Carrington put Beantown ahead for good with a try in the 70th minute, and Beantown forward of the match Jess Davis added a fifth score in injury time, 25-17, depriving Twin Cities of the bonus-point loss.
“The big focus this week and in our game plan was our defensive structure and pressure,” noted Davis, who was joined by flyhalf Tatjana Toeldte as MVPs on the day. “One of the biggest strengths in our game today was our continued pressure while on defense. We launched to hit and did not waiver from minute 1 to minute 79. I really think our defensive pressure had a big hand in our win [Sunday].”
Beantown sits in second place in the standings behind New York, which kept its undefeated record intact with a 68-point shutout over the D.C. Furies. The team was without flyhalf Kristen Siano, who continues to lead the league in points scored, and worked its depth in the 10 spot. Additionally, scrumhalf Shelby Lin and No. 8 Tahlia Brody split the kicking duties.
New York established a 7-0 lead after six minutes when lock Misha Green scored the first of her two tries, and Lin added the first of her seven conversions. D.C. was up to the task, however, and the scoreline held for the subsequent 20 minutes.
Wing Emily Magee restarted the scoring, crossing for the first of her two tries on the day, and then Brody scored New York’s third converted try just before the break, 21-0. Wing Juliette Conte and Green scored in the third quarter (35-0), and then New York dotted down five tries in the final 20 minutes. Reserves Jacqueline Johnson, Kerry Conlin and Alycia Washington as well as fullback Shamira Robles and Magee accounted for the scores. Brody kicked two conversions as well.