Braaten, left, on Sunday / Photo: Twin Cities Amazons Facebook
The Women’s Premier League (WPL) is 10 years old and there are few who can reflect on that decade as an active player. Sylvia Braaten has been representing Twin Cities (and the USA 15s and 7s teams) since 2009 and took stock of the league and the Amazons over that time, all while contemplating the next steps in a stellar career.
“In that first year, jumping from DI to the WPL, the biggest difference playing wise was the high speed of play. Now in year 10, that is still the same, it’s what separates the leagues – DI, DII – overall,” Braaten said. “The competition has increased, although not necessarily across the years. There have been top-dog teams and you have a good idea of the outcome [during the regular season], and then nationals would be a totally different story. So it’s been a fun journey seeing how teams change and adapt and manage their own structure to remain competitive.”
Like the league, Twin Cities has also had its ups and downs, and has benefitted from invested players like Braaten and Roger Bruggemeyer – the only head coach celebrating 10 years in the WPL – and their perspective. The Rugby World Cup Eagle recalled a rough entry into the league, losing all games except those against ORSU and getting crushed by teams like Berkeley. The Amazons started making adjustments, improving each year until winning the national championship in 2013.
“Since then we’ve been close [to winning nationals], but it’s the same thing, we’ve got to adjust,” Braaten said. “It’s a different story when you’re up by 20 points and can coast through games [during the season] versus neck-and-neck games and score changes throughout the game. It’s a different mentality and we want more of that.”
Braaten lauded the addition of Beantown and Chicago North Shore to the league last year, and that uptick in competition is a continuation of the WPL’s goal for more quality games that ready players for the international stage. It was so competitive that Twin Cities didn’t advance to the Cup semifinals in 2017, the first time in several years.
“We’ve had such a focus on growth over the last couple of years, because we were a younger team as players like [Eagles Stacey] Bridges and [Lynelle] Kugler didn’t play,” Braaten spoke toward season goals. “I hope we can step up to the challenge this season and move away from that growth-always priority and focus more on competing, stepping on the field and knowing now everything is going to be a battle. I want my team knowing that and bringing that.”
Braaten acknowledged that the growth objectives are always there and churning, and this year’s squad includes several new influencers, recent college graduates, new moves and energy. Braaten, who played inside center for Twin Cities in D.C. last weekend (33-31 loss), is also important to this shift in team mentality.
“The role I’m hoping to take on this fall is to pass the torch and have other players really step up and into leadership positions and really own it,” Braaten said.
2018 marks Braaten’s final season with Twin Cities, and Sunday will be this Amazon’s last WPL home-opener (against Beantown). That said, Braaten intends to stay active in rugby so expect to see the strength-and-conditioning professional working in the USA Rugby high performance pathway, among other outlets.
For more information on the WPL, visit www.wplrugby.org.
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