(left-right) Nikki Kenyon, Megan Pinson and Angelina Lomu were big contributors to Life West’s success.
There’s always some sensitivity when a team like Life West wins by vast margins deep in the playoffs. But our Breakout Club of the Year, in its first official season, needed to understand where it fit into the national landscape, and NorCal only offers a DII league. Life West can now confirm that it is suited for higher-level play, and wherever it ends up, the rugby community should be excited to add another top-notch program into rotation.
Even though Life West is a new team, it’s also familiar. Its roster features young players who are pushing for Eagle selection, but were also competing in their first senior club competition. College-age Megan Pinson, Catie Benson, Megan Foster – they didn’t know what club rugby looked like, and so the season began without expectation.
“We had a pre-season team meeting where we asked each other what we wanted to get out of this season. We all looked at each other and said: We want to win it,” DII club championship MVP Foster (inset) said. “It’s been in our sight since the very beginning, but we were never like, ‘Oh, we got this.’ We just got more and more confident after each game.”
Life West established high expectations for itself, and when point differentials soared, the team focused on discipline and the refinement of its pattern. And newcomers received plenty of field time to prove they could play in the system. But there was always an eye toward the rest of the country.
“That was definitely a big question: Is what we’re doing enough,” Foster posed. “We saw other teams posting big wins in other leagues, and then Bend beat Emerald City [in the Pacific Northwest final]. That was a shock for us because Emerald City had been undefeated until then, so we didn’t know what to expect. Every game we told each other: This could be our last game. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done up until today, only what we do today.”
The Pacific North championship pit NorCal champ Life West against Pacific Northwest champ Bend in a one-off game in Seattle. The Gladiatrix made a same-day roundtrip and brought a healthy respect for its opponent.
“For me, it was probably the Bend game. That’s when it all flowed,” Foster reflected on a turning point in the season. “Everyone just did their job, trusted each other and stayed positive. It was so easy to play off each other and the chemistry was on-point.”
Life West won 112-0 to earn a berth to the national Round of 8 in Tucson. The Hayward, Calif., side was broadcast into viewers’ homes, and the nation got its first glimpse of a skillful, fast and adventurous team. Life West defeated Ventura – which Foster named as the team’s toughest opponent – 62-26 in the quarterfinals and Houston Athletic 97-8 in the semifinals.
The team hopped on its third flight in less than a month to face then-reigning champion Wisconsin in the DII national title match. Even though Life West had beaten all of its opponents handily, a national championship was a totally new experience for the team. The players found comfort in the program’s chiropractic, nutritional and recovery support during the build-up, but it was the coaching staff that gave the team the final boost.
“Another special thing that happened this past weekend, our coaches did a haka for us before the game,” Foster recalled. “That was really special what they did for us, and you could just tell that everyone was ready to go all-out and play together as a team.”
Flanker Mele Taumoefolau returned the opening kickoff with a brutal run, and that set the tone for a 66-20 victory.
“It was really exciting, and a little bit surprising,” Foster said of the MVP recognition. “I thought Catie Benson had an outstanding game and thought it would go to her. But it was really awesome.
“It’s been a lot of rugby and a long year,” the flyhalf continued. “We’ve been training together for nine months, whether pre-season on in-season, and we’ve definitely had our frustrations and ups. It really helped having other experienced players to set the standard and help us anticipate certain things. For other college players who have been in a competitive atmosphere, it’s super helpful having experience in general. “
Life West’s future is unknown. If the team wants to play DI club rugby, then it will have to go independent, as the closest DI league – as it stands now – is in SoCal. The other option is the Women’s Premier League, but joining that fall competition isn’t as easy as simply signing up. Some creativity will be needed in placing Life West where it belongs, but in the meantime, the Gladiatrix can enjoy their view from atop the podium.
SPRING AND SEASON-END AWARDS
For the next two weeks, we’ll be announcing our spring and year-end awards. Since rugby seasons straddle the New Year, the term “year” encapsulates the fall 2015 and spring 2016 seasons. There are two exceptions: colleges and national teams. First, there are distinct fall- and spring-based college competitions that culminate in their respective seasons and warrant their own awards. Second, with the exception of one 7s series event, national team performances can be assessed during the calendar year, so those awards will feature in December. In short, the awards named during the next two weeks include:
High School: Year-end awards (fall 2015 – spring 2016)
College: Spring awards (spring 2016)
Club: Year-end 15s awards (fall 2015 – spring 2016)
In December 2016, the following awards will be named:
College: Fall awards (fall 2016)
National Teams: 2016
Additionally, an August edition will cover summer 7s activity.