Week 6 of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) was unique in that San Diego and Chicago North Shore contested a double-header weekend to minimize travel in the Blue Conference. The Surfers came away with two contrasting wins to better their position in the standings and keep championship hopes alive.
San Diego traveled well and reintroduced some players who had missed the Berkeley road game the weekend prior. It was a dominating performance for the Surfers on Saturday, as inside center Megan Foster, flanker Kate Zackary (in the Eagle’s first WPL game of the season), hooker Talia Carrasquillo and wing Madison Arenchild scored tries in the first half. Eagle prop Jamila Reinhardt added five points at minute 55, and Foster went 5-for-5 on conversions for the 35-0 bonus-point win.
“Game one versus San Diego was definitely tough,” Chicago North Shore co-captain Lauren Trout reflected. “They identified some weaknesses in our defense early on and took advantage straight away. We played defense for probably 80% of the game, and struggled to get our footing offensively.”
North Shore focused on adjustments for the Sunday rematch and was propelled by a desire to prove itself. The home side’s defense was more effective, especially in the backs, and the physicality in the tackle and around the breakdown improved.
San Diego took a 12-0 first-half lead, thanks to Reinhardt’s and Zackary’s second tries of the weekend, and a Foster conversion. Chicago North Shore scored its first points of the weekend when wing Gabby Whittinghill kicked a penalty and then field captain Christiane Pheil, in her first WPL game since the Women’s Rugby World Cup, scored in minute 54.
San Diego led 12-8 with the fourth quarter still to come, and then went down to 14 players when No. 8 Matelina Maluia was red-carded. Although North Shore was able to spend more time in the Surfers’ end, the visitors were resilient to hold on for the win.
“The disparity in the games was all about mindset for us,” Pheil contrasted the performances. “We are still adjusting to the level of the WPL and fact that the difference in WPL teams comes down to opportunities given and opportunities taken. You just can’t afford to be flat footed even for a few minutes in this league, and we are still getting used to that. The Surfers are tremendous when it comes to opportunities – on Saturday, they were able to capitalize on us and score three tries in a matter of 5-10 minutes. On Sunday, we came out with a better mindset – we had something to prove. That was the difference for us and a lesson that we will definitely be taking into games down the road.”
On the other side of the conference, Glendale (5-0) rallied from a deficit to defeat Berkeley (2-3) in Colorado. Fifty minutes into the match, both sides had scored two tries. Glendale wing Denali Graham accounted for the home team’s scores, while outside center Cathy Cai and flanker Christina Ramos dotted down Berkeley’s tries. Two conversions from All Blues flyhalf Bulou Mataitoga gave the visitors a 14-10 lead.
Berkeley incurred two yellow cards for two separate 10-minute periods in the second half, and Glendale ran in three tries during that time. No. 8 Carmen Farmer scored twice, and substitute Justine Wypych scored a try and kicked two conversions for the 29-14 win.
“Berkeley is playing great,” Glendale flyhalf Hannah Stolba commended the opposition. “They have a fun and aggressive attack and really put us on the back foot with their defense in the first half. We made some improvements and adjusted in the second half that let us put some points on the board, but they are definitely a tough team to play. I’m sore.”
In the Red Conference, Beantown (4-1) and Atlanta (1-4) battled Tropical Storm Nate, which brought unrelenting rain to the teams’ rematch. As one might expect, handling and continuity were issues in those conditions, but Beantown managed better on the day for the 15-8 win.
Atlanta welcomed back flyhalf Alice Plant and leaned on her kicking prowess to get the Harlequins in good attacking territory. Fourteen minutes into the match, Harlequins reserve Chenell York scored the first half’s lone try, 5-0 into the break.
“It was a good battle amongst the forwards today, but both back lines got a considerable amount of ball given the conditions,” Beantown flanker Tara Roberts countered. “We started tight but those channels were defended well, so we began to spread the ball wide, which is what helped us turn things around in the second half.”
Lock Olivia Benzan-Daniel scored Beantown’s first try four minutes after the break, and prop Jess Davis gave her team its first lead with a try in minute 55. With 10 minutes remaining, Plant closed the point differential with a penalty (10-8 to Beantown), but a second try from Davis afforded the 15-8 win. Atlanta receives a bonus point in the loss.
“We saw marked improvement in our overall defense,” Atlanta inside center Ros Chou reviewed her team’s performance. “Last time they scored seven tries on us, so this was an area we improved, comparatively. We didn’t do enough to take care of the ball and struggled to put points on the board.”
“Focus [Sunday] was on playing 80 minutes, as we have been outscored the last 20 minutes against New York and Beantown,” Twin Cities assistant coach Kim O’Brien explained. “We also talked a lot about communicating on defense.”
The Amazons put 26 points on the board in the opening 30 minutes, as scrumhalf Sylvia Braaten scored three times and flanker Emilee Jalosuo also dotted down. Fullback Megan Wolff kicked three conversions.
D.C. then answered with a Maggie Olney try, which the flyhalf converted herself, for the 26-7 scoreline at half. Twin Cities tacked on two more tries from wing Jasmine Davis and outside center Katie Johnson in the second half. The Amazons remain on the road and will travel to Atlanta this weekend.
For more information on current standings and the remaining league schedule, visit wplrugby.org.