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2019 WPL: 11th Season Preview

  • 13 Aug 2019

The 11th season of the Women’s Premier League (WPL) kicks off this weekend, with eight of the 10 teams contesting their openers. Reigning national champion San Diego gets the bye – a welcome respite after winning the 7s national championship last weekend – as does the East’s top finisher from 2018, New York.

RELATED: WPL Names Referee Group

The WPL leadership explained that the overall competition and championship formats are the same as last year, and it’s excited to build on the professional referee model that was introduced last year.

“[D]efinitely looking forward to the officials we have selected for the League this year, including the new additions,” explained WPL commissioner Milla Sanes. “[W]e are also looking to try to stream live some of our games this year, so be on the lookout for that if we are able to make that happen.”

Sanes added that the promotion/relegation policy is in place for the foreseeable future, so Division I champions and runners-up will have the opportunity to challenge the WPL’s 10th-place team for a spot in the elite league. Still TBD on whether there will be a challenge match this year, as conversations continue with NOVA and Austin.

“I do want to put it out there that if DI teams are interested, we are always available for questions or to provide more information about what it takes to be a WPL team,” Sanes added.

Cain with 2018 championship MVP Sam Pankey / Photo: Jackie Finlan

In the “same but exciting” vein, the season was preceded by Women’s All-Star Week, where the WPL East and West met with the DI/DII Club All-Stars and Collegiate All-Americans. Additionally, USA Women 15s head coach Rob Cain, now in his second year with the Eagles, will relaunch his WPL tour, working with individual clubs and attending league games.

As far as change goes, the introduction of Life West is a big one. The Gladiatrix beat the D.C. Furies 88-0 in last fall’s challenge match and joins the West Conference. Meanwhile, Chicago North Shore has realigned with the East Conference to fill the vacancy left by the Furies, whose top side will compete in the DI East going forward.

WEST: Berkeley, Glendale, Life West, ORSU, San Diego

EAST: Atlanta, Beantown, Chicago North Shore, New York, Twin Cities

Thus, the West is tougher than it has ever been now that its last-place team from 2018 has been replaced by a squad that not only is anxious to play some 15s (Life West abstained from the DI club season once it secured its spot in the 2019 WPL) but is also an Eagle training ground. Four players were in Chula Vista for the international Super Series this summer, and the team is also gaining USA prop Hope Rogers for the season.

There will be no easing into the competition for Life West, which takes on Glendale – a finalist in the previous five national championships – in Colorado this Saturday. Last weekend, the Gladiatrix were in Kansas City for 7s nationals, where the team finished fourth overall, and so recovery is also a focus. Glendale contributed regular starters like Rachel Ehrecke, Juliann Tordonato, Alli Hale and Nichole Wanamaker to the Rocky Mountain Magic at nationals, too.

Neariah Persinger, 1 of 4 Gladiatrix who earned caps at the Super Series / Photo: Jackie Finlan

Aside from the lack of break between the 7s and 15s seasons, which also affects Berkeley and Atlanta, there is also a schedule conflict with the National Development Invitational Tournament (NDIT) in Little Rock this weekend. There is no CCIG team heading to Arkansas – many of its members would have hailed from Life West – and head coach Adriaan Ferris indicated that all focus is on the WPL. The NDIT is billed as a talent I.D. showcase and involves the USA 7s staff both as scouts and teachers. If you’re in the WPL and don’t have a bye week, then that’s a tough tournament to add to your schedule.

Glendale is once again led by head coach Luke Gross, and Jamie Burke and Mose Timoteo remain on staff. The Merlins did bid farewell to stalwarts like Sarah Chobot and Hannah Stolba, who’s playing in New Zealand, but don’t expect a dip from Glendale.

On the other side of the West Conference, ORSU travels to Berkeley for the teams’ opener on Saturday (TRB will be on site). The Jesters were in San Francisco in late July for the Pacific North Club 7s Championship but the fourth-place finish meant no trip to nationals. While that was a disappointment, it allowed returning head coach Anthony Kolanko more time to ready the full squad for 15s, and that could be influential early in the season.

ORSU’s back in the Bay this Saturday / Photo: Jackie Finlan

The All Blues did not have that luxury, but their reward was a second-place finish at 7s nationals last weekend. Berkeley finished fifth at last year’s WPL nationals so an improvement would mean finishing in the top two of the West to secure that semifinal berth. The Norcal side will attempt to do so with new head coach João Moura of Portugal and UC Davis’ Gary Gordon as forwards coach.

San Diego joins the fray on Aug. 24 and hosts Glendale. Jarrod Faul returns as head coach and will build off the Surfers’ 7s national championship for another title-defending season.

Onto the East …

New York has been the team to beat in the East, but last year ran into some coaching issues mid-season that could have derailed the squad’s performance. Returning captain Jenn Salomon was a stabilizing force, pulling double duty as assistant coach with varsity Sacred Heart University, and then Tiff Faaee stepped in for support. The former USA 15s captain and current Rugby New York assistant coach is now the full-time head coach for the New York women this season, and that will go a long way.

New York sent a 7s team to nationals last weekend, but with the WPL bye this first round, it was able to free up some players for the NDIT and Northeast Academy. Atlanta, too, was in Kansas City and finished a solid 6th to end its 7s season. The Harlequins are back on the road to Beantown for a Sunday match, and will have Ros Chou out front as head coach.

The Harlequins were arguably the most exciting squad last year in that the team consolidated a bunch of fresh talent and introduced them to the WPL. Those youngsters are better now, some of them capped, and anticipation is mounting to see what impact they’ll make on the East.

After a year under Mere Baker, Beantown has a completely new coaching staff that features Tadhg Leader as head coach and Conor Kindregan as assistant coach, and there’s potential for quality additions. Beantown was active during summer 7s but didn’t nab a berth to nationals, allowing for more time to sync in advance of its WPL home opener. The team did send four players to the WPL East All-Star team, and Claire Stingley and Amanda Schweitzer were particularly impressive, driving the work rate and easily flowing into the running attack.

East newcomer Chicago North Shore will host the Twin Cities Amazons, and both teams are likely happy to have two closer matches on their schedules. Parisa Asgharzadeh is back for a second year as head coach of the Chicago squad, and most recently led the WPL West All-Stars to two wins during the Women’s All-Star Week in Colorado. (Read more).

North Shore is in year three of its WPL career and had trouble gaining ground in the West, and it didn’t help that conflict with another club saw the player pool fracture. However, there may be more parity in the East, and provided those distractions have been nullified, it could be a good rebound year for North Shore.

Twin Cities bid farewell to Roger Bruggemeyer, who was the only person to serve as a WPL head coach for all 10 seasons. His career with the Amazons extended much further than a decade, and now Rebecca Radtke is tasked to continue a successful legacy as head coach. Radtke is a former Twin Cities player and head coach of DI Minnesota, and brings familiarity with the Amazons’ style of play and genuine interest in the team’s success.

Round one will provide the larger community a first look at who’s in the mix personnel wise, and TRB will use this weekend’s games as a springboard for rounder interviews with coaches and captains. The regular season begins Aug. 17 and ends Oct. 27. All teams advance to the national championship in Glendale, Colo., with round one games on Friday, Nov. 1 and finals on Sunday, Nov. 3. The same format for championships will also continue, and all games will be contested on the turf pitch outside of Infinity Park, which will be undergoing renovations at that time.

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