The Women’s Premier League (WPL) match of the weekend occurred in Glendale, Colo., as the Raptors overcame a 13-point, second-half deficit in the final minutes of the match. The season-opener also served as an introduction to the new-look teams and WPL debutantes. Of all the newcomers, Glendale wing Justine Wypych was particularly effective, scoring two tries against San Diego in her first WPL match, and earned Player of the Week.
The outing was a surreal experience for the 24-year-old, who had played much of her rugby in Wisconsin. She picked up the game at UW Eau Claire and played select side for the Wisconsin and Midwest U23s. After winning MVP at the 2015 DII Club National Championship with Wisconsin, the Stevens Point native started seeing more diverse competition on Stars tours.
After the 2016 DII club championship, Wypych was ready for a new challenge and decided to test herself in the WPL. A registered nurse by day, Wypych chose Glendale as her new home and was pleasantly surprised to find some familiarities.
“Glendale plays a lot of the same style of rugby as Wisconsin does, so it made the transition here a lot easier to fill the same role as being back home,” Wypych noted. “Moving across the country was nerve-wracking in general, but where there’s rugby, there is always family so I felt welcomed immediately.”
Wypych, who is one of the smallest players on the pitch, impressed with her speed and endurance, attributes that she has always tried to maximize given her size. A slight individual, she works hard to be diligent in support and find work around the pitch. Generally, Wypych has always been a positive influence on the field – always smiling, boosting morale – and that effect wasn’t lost on Glendale.
“She brings youthful energy, a fresh perspective and great speed to the back line,” Glendale backs captain Christen Suda praised. “Her eagerness to learn and adaptability has led us to try her at multiple positions in the back line during practices. She showed her determination and hard running lines during the game against San Diego at wing and helped us to achieve the win.”
Wypych’s introduction to the WPL began well. She scored the first try of the game, finishing a forward line-break with a sprint down the touchline.
By the second half, the momentum had shifted and San Diego held a 26-13 lead as the fourth quarter kicked off. Glendale rolled on some impact subs who did their job, and a try from Colleen Cribbs got the offense moving again. Wypych’s second try occurred with fewer than 10 minutes remaining and originated from a turnover. Joanna Kitlinski broke free and Wypych followed in support. She took the offload past three defenders and spun into the corner for the try. The score pulled Glendale to within three points, and Kitlinski’s 78th-minute try sealed the win.
“The level of play Saturday was the most competitive game I’ve played in,” Wypych confessed. “I’ve never been hit harder or had to push myself more, but we fought through as a team from minute one until the whistle blew. Without all 23 players, coaches and everyone else involved in the Raptor community, a win like this wouldn’t be possible.
“I knew coming in that the WPL would be a whole new level, but with great teamwork and them being able to trust me as a new player, it was an unbelievable debut and I couldn’t have imagined that it’d go so well,” she added. “This first game only affirmed to me that moving 1000 miles away from home to chase a dream was worth it.”