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North Shore Aiming to Contend

  • 28 Aug 2018

Photo: WPL Rugby Facebook (see more)

Only four teams – New York, DC Furies, Twin Cities, Berkeley – have participated in all 10 seasons of the Women’s Premier League (WPL), and that’s because it’s a tough place to live. One founding member completely disbanded; others have had to take a break to regroup before rejoining. The learning process can be brutal, and it’s something that Chicago North Shore is currently navigating. But now that the team has a year in the WPL behind it, those surprises should be fewer and farther in between.

“Last year was a big awakening for us,” Chicago North Shore leader Lauren Trout said. “In previous years [in Division I] we always dominated the local union, and then we went into a league where every game was tough. It required commitment from all players and everyone had to be on the same page. This year’s goal is to improve on it since there’s no longer sticker shock of being in the WPL. We’re looking to own the space and hone our style in the WPL.”

Year one helped set expectations, but remaining in the WPL is so much more than being game-ready. There is much off-field coordination, from knowing how to focus time outside of the WPL season, to making sure the right personnel is guiding a long-term vision. Chicago North Shore fielded a dedicated club 7s team, which finished third in the Midwest overall, and also sent players to nationals with the Chicago Lions. In between, North Shore saw four players compete in the 2nd Annual WPL All-Star Game in Denver.

“We just decided to grow our brand and remain an area where players want to come,” Trout said. “So we thought it best to offer both 7s and 15s.”

The leadership also adjusted. Parisa Asgharzadeh, the former Seattle Saracens player, has been in the Chicago area for approximately a year, and when the head coaching position opened up, Trout reached out.

“She has a ton of experience, but also a ton of experience with the women’s game in the USA,” Trout explained. “Other coaches we’ve brought in, they might not have had a good pulse on elite women’s rugby in the U.S., but she understands it, has a background in it and knows some of the players.”

Trout explained that the team has quite a few returners with four-plus years playing together, and that good base of knowledge will aid the new talent coming through. Spring captains Charli Jacoby and Trout were the leading voices early in the WPL season, but Trout did not seek re-election in the fall.

“I’ve been coaching and captaining for the last five years. We have lots of talent and smart athletes, and the team is ready for a new voice,” said Trout, who along with Christiane Pheil, served as player-coaches during the stressful transition from DI to WPL.

Flyhalf Kathleen Stanley (and that golden boot) is now the backs captain, and Trout slotted in the second row during North Shore’s WPL opener against ORSU. Seventeen players made the trip to Portland, and the Jesters won 44-10 (read Chicago North Shore’s match report). Heading into the game, Trout was eager to see newcomer Jessica Ventrillo live. The Amoskeag (Mass.) transfer looked good at fullback and displayed nice speed, athleticism and a superb tackle. Ventrillo scored the team’s second try against ORSU. Nicole Fisch made a triumphant return to Chicago as well and made a positive impact from inside center.

Although the trip to ORSU was a tough ask – early season start, game one on the road, new coach, players fresh off 7s nationals – the game provided plenty of work-ons and a place from which to build. The teams is eager to put the previous two weeks of work onto the pitch this weekend, when North Shore hosts Berkeley in Chicago.

“Last year there were a couple of close games that didn’t go our way, but we definitely proved that we belong and are good enough for the WPL,” Trout said. “We have resolve to come out with a bang and not just play but be a contender.”

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