WPL Week 5 Recap: Standings Solidified at Halfway Mark

The Women’s Premier League is now at its halfway point, with all teams having played four games. Both conferences saw their standings adjust once again, building more anticipation for the second half of the season and run-up to nationals (Oct. 26-28, Atlanta).

Beantown (3-0-1) is now four standings points ahead of Atlanta (2-2) and New York (2-2) in the Red Conference, and got that cushion after a 33-30 win Sunday against the reigning national champion. The highly anticipated showdown occurred in New York, and USA Women’s 15s head coach Rob Cain was also in attendance. He praised a game that featured “end-to-end drama, great spectacle … with some really well executed, exciting tries scored.”

There were three lead changes in the first half, as New York dotted down three tries and Beantown two. Flyhalf Miranda Wakimoto and inside center Kimber Rozier finished out Beantown’s first-half tries, and Rozier added both conversions – 15-14 to New York at halftime. The final lead change occurred when lock Stacey Bridges finished out the next two Beantown scoring opportunities, and Rozier added both conversions, 28-15.

New York continued on, however, closing in with another two unconverted tries (28-25), before Beantown restored the winning margin with a Kelli Smith try, who scored from fullback. New York got one more try before the final whistle, 33-30 the final.

On the other side of the Red Conference, Atlanta (2-2) flew to D.C. (1-3) for a 51-12 win, and with it, surpassed New York in the standings. The win took some time to evolve, however, but the result was a reaffirming one.

The D.C. Furies jumped out to a 12-0 lead, as flyhalf Sam Moorhead and outside center Nate Serevi dotted down and scrumhalf Maggie Myles added the conversion.

“We have yet to master our intensity in warm-up and focus in the beginning of the game. And it was a great atmosphere for D.C., with 100-plus alumni on the sidelines,” Atlanta assistant coach Ros Chou said. “Twice we took the ball down the field to their five meter and coughed it up, so it was about getting in the groove and taking care of the ball.”

It started to come together near the 30-minute mark, and wing Christina Swift and outside center Cortney Kuehl finished offensive drives in the try zone. Flyhalf Corinne Heavner’s conversion tied it up and then a penalty in the 38th minute gave the Harlequins the lead for good, 15-12.

“We were missing quite a few starting forwards, but we know we have depth this year. Two backs played in the back row this game: Mo Compito, who is now the team backs captain, started at six, and Kandis Ruiz got time at seven. We have been learning to be very flexible,” Chou said. “We asked a lot of Mo, and she was pretty tired at the end of the game, but she has a new-found appreciation for what happens in the forwards.”

Compito scored back-to-back tries to kick off the second half, followed by Pat Neder, two from wing Cynthia Campbell, and a final from fullback Lara Gartner. Heavner ended the day with 11 points on four conversions and a penalty.

“In the past two games, and even against Life West, we were letting in tries in the last 15 minutes of the game, and it’s something we focused on in the week leading up to this one,” Chou said of improvements. “After shutting them out for the last 15 minutes, D.C. was threatening again, but we were able to withstand that pressure. That’s a positive for us as we try to play a complete game.”

There are three teams at 3-1 in the Blue Conference, and 2017 runner-up Glendale sits atop the standings after week five. The Merlins traveled to Chicago North Shore (0-4) on Saturday and posted the league’s first shutout, 45-0.

“In regards to our team defense I think we just found a level of determination that we hadn’t had in our other games. It definitely allowed us to play more on attack as well,” Glendale flyhalf Hannah Stolba reviewed. “Kudos to North Shore for their resilience all day. Our forwards stepped up big defensively and it allowed our backs to play in some space.”

All of the tries were finished through the backs, as Stolba (who also kicked five conversions), outside center Christen Suda and reserve Hannah Tennant all dotted down. And wing Nichole Wanamaker put in a big effort, scoring four of Glendale’s seven tries.

“Wanamaker finished a couple of great team tries but she did it with some really aggressive lines of run and finishing pace,” Stolba praised. “Her mentality got her through the line a few times and she really impressed with her angles and pace. She had fun, too, and just played great all around.”

ORSU (1-3) hosted San Diego on the other side of the conference, and the visitors opened up the scoring quickly. Fullback Tia Blythe and inside center Megan Foster combined for the first try and conversion, and there the scoreboard sat for the next 20-plus minutes. Captain and flanker Sam Pankey then dotted down back-to-back tries in a manner of minutes, and Foster’s conversion gave the Surfers a 19-0 lead after 32 minutes.

The Jesters surged as halftime neared, pulling to within five as flanker Rachel Johnson and wing Kimberly Law scored, and flyhalf Emma Richie converted. Right after the break, Johnson scored her second, and the teams were tied at 19.

San Diego was yellow-carded as well, and it was a make-or-break moment for the Californians. The Surfers not only rallied around the player disadvantage but sent Pankey in for the flanker’s third try of the day, 24-19. No. 8 Kate Zackary added a little more breathing room at the 60-minute mark with a try, 29-19. ORSU worked its bench, bringing on the last of its reserves in the final 10 minutes, but it was Johnson, again, who scored at the 80th. The flanker is second on the list of tries scored with seven this season, behind New York wing Sarah Levy. Richie converted for the 29-26 final.

The Jesters did not leave empty-handed, banking two bonus points for tries scored and a loss by fewer than seven points. New York also logged two bonus points in its high-scoring loss.

Week Five Results: 

Home Score Score Away
D.C. Furies 12 51 Atlanta Harlequins
ORSU 26 29 San Diego Surfers
Chicago North Shore 0 45 Glendale Merlins
New York Rugby 30 33 Beantown Rugby

Week Six Match-ups:

Home Away
Atlanta Harlequins Beantown Rugby
Twin Cities Amazons D.C Furies
Chicago North Shore ORSU
San Diego Surfers Berkeley All Blues