Photos: Jackie Finlan
USA RUGBY – The 10th Women’s Premier League (WPL) title is down to Glendale and San Diego, both of which won their semifinals inside Life University’s Lupo Field in Marietta, Ga. All five placing matches will occur on Sunday, Oct. 28, and live-stream via FloRugby.
The first semifinal pit reigning champion New York and Blue Conference winner San Diego against each other. The last time these two sides met, New York took a 38-32 semifinal win to the title match. But as San Diego captain Liz Trujillo explained, there was reminiscing about 2017, just laser focus on playing one half at a time.
“Early on in the season we realized that we actually had to take it one half at a time. … If you look at our first couple games, we actually didn’t score at all in the second half,” San Diego captain Liz Trujillo said of focus. “So this game, we didn’t focus on last year or meeting New York in the semis. We more so focused on: Let’s play the first half, let’s get that done and over with.”
The Surfers went to work and built a 18-0 first-half lead off Megan Foster’s boot (two penalties and a conversion) and tries from wing Kimdinh Tran and flanker Sam Pankey, who along with Kate Zackary, did a great job breaking off of defensive scrums.
Both teams deployed good kicking games and took advantage of the opportunities that wet weather can sometimes provide. A great battle between San Diego’s Tia Blythe and Teigan MacDonald, and New York’s Sarah Levy and Shamira Robles evolved. Levy put her side on the board after a long campaign at the line, scoring her 18th try of the fall. But San Diego answered right back, with nice flat passes, and thumping hard hits from Laura Easterling to put flanker Talia Carrasquillo away, 23-5 with 30 minutes to go.
With 10 minutes to go, the game looked like it was San Diego’s, but New York was able to camp out in the Surfers’ end. Robles and then Kristen Siano, who also added a conversion, crossed for tries, and with minutes to go, the teams were only a converted try apart, 23-17.
San Diego, which was playing the final eight minutes down a player, marched down the field and Foster kicked a third penalty to seal the 26-17 win.
“Our discipline let us down a little bit and it was tough to fight with 14 players but the girls did a magnificent job pulling through right at the end there,” San Diego head coach Jarrod Faul said. “Credit to New York; they’re a strong side, came back and really tested us in the final moments there. But I’m really grateful that the girls managed to stick to the game plan and fight it out right to the end.”
Glendale won the other semifinal 30-5 over Twin Cities but the game was hardly lopsided, as the Amazons took over for the rain and made the Merlins’ possession messy, especially in the breakdowns.
“We came into the match confident but also pretty nervous about the Amazons and their strength,” Glendale head coach Luke Gross said. “We knew they were going to be a very physical team and they did bring that physicality. And the environment today, the weather today, really suited their game plan.”
Glendale is a physical team, too, and captain Sarah Chobot scored the opening and final tries of the half, one of which Hannah Stolba converted. In between, Twin Cities flyhalf Katana Howard set up a beauty of a try, as the Amazons attacked inside Glendale’s 22. Howard peeled away from a scrum, chipped over an on-rushing defense and gathered the ball for the fall-over try. Twin Cities only trailed 12-5 at the half, but the team also lost a dynamic player in Katie Johnson at No. 8.
Stolba kicked back-to-back penalties to give Glendale an 18-5 lead after 50 minutes, and then wing Denali Graham’s try (converted by Stolba) at the turn of the fourth quarter signaled a Merlins’ win in the making. Reserve wing Justine Wypych scored before game’s end for the 30-5 win and berth to the final.
Glendale has featured in five of the previous six national championships, while 2018 marks San Diego’s second trip. The two teams met in 2016, and the Surfers won that bout.
There was plenty of excitement in the 5th place bracket as well. There were three lead changes in the Berkeley vs. Atlanta match, but the All Blues pulled through with a 19-12 win. Akilah Guzman and Chi Chi Chukwueke scored for Atlanta, and Corinne Heavner added the extras; and Cathy Cai and Bulou Mataitoga scored for Berkeley. Serena Liu drew a penalty try, and Sam Miller added a conversion.
Berkeley contests 5th place against ORSU, which defeated the D.C. Furies 32-7 in the play-in round. Captain Te Awhina Ho Chee led the way on the pitch and scoreboard, dotting down three tries.
That 5th place berth comes down to point differential, but Chicago North Shore is pretty happy to play for 7th considering its win against Beantown. The team went winless through regular season and trailed Beantown until after the on-field clock expired. But then a third try from prop Charli Jacoby, who is the definition of “running on a tilt,” afforded the 15-14 win.
Thus, the D.C. Furies and Beantown will play each other for ninth, and the 10th place team will play Life West in the challenge match.
SUNDAY, OCT. 28
All times Eastern
10:00 a.m. 9th: D.C. Furies vs. Beantown
11:45 a.m. 7th: Atlanta vs. Chicago North Shore
1:45 p.m. 5th: Berkeley vs. ORSU
3:30 p.m. 3rd New York vs. Twin Cities
5:30 p.m. Championship: San Diego vs. Glendale