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Life West Connecting & Competing

  • 11 Feb 2019
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All photos: Jackie Finlan / TRB

Life West played its only 15s game of the spring last weekend, hosting Central Washington University at Cal Maritime Academy in Vallejo. It was the third time this season that the Gladiatrix faced a DI Elite collegiate squad, and there’s dual purpose in that trend.

“This is more about trying to get some of the local colleges out and show them what we’re doing,” Life West hooker Jess Lewis said in relation to simply winning a game. “Maybe some of the girls … if they’re interested in going to school more, interested in any health fields, we have the opportunity for that. And now that we’re in the [Women’s Premier League], that’s something we can offer – that competitive level of rugby, and they don’t have to worry about paying for it. And of course, we’re trying to change the type of environment for women’s rugby and have a good family culture.”

There are already some existing, strong ties between these two programs. When Central Washington first went varsity, Rugby NorCal provided a wealth of recruits and continues to do so. Current Wildcats Bianca Ortiz-Pallen (Bishop O’Dowd), Yana Manoa (Danville) and Maryjane Pasioles (Sacramento) are just a sampling of NorCal reps. Life West is also home to former high school stars like the Danville trio of Fina Toetu’u, Mata Hingano and Leti Hingano, who were all stellar working together in the back line Saturday.

“I know a lot of the girls on our team come from that USA All-American pathway in college,” Lewis said of additional connections. “Some of the [Life West] girls when they were [collegiate] All-Americans, some of these [Central Washington] girls were High School All-Americans. You’re all at the same venue, so there are a lot of familiar faces.”

Aside from the recruiting opportunities, the fact is that DI Elite provides very good competition for which Life West yearns.

“Of course when I played in college it was always hard [playing senior clubs] but now that there are so many scholarship opportunities and so many crossover athletes, the level has risen so much,” the Cal grad said. “I actually feel like our Lindenwood game and our CW game have been some of our toughest games, which is awesome, because they’re young, you know, and they have a fresh take on everything. … I feel like we have a very unique system with the widespread ball and quick ball, and I think a lot of colleges have a similar [playing style], so it’s nice to test against it. And of course we always have fun. They’re way younger so they don’t ever run out of energy.”

That’s precisely how the game began on Saturday. Central Washington took that opening kickoff and marched right down to Life West’s 22. The Wildcats really pressured their senior counterpart for the opening 10 minutes.

“The first 10 minutes is always tough,” Lewis said. “We didn’t have too much time together to prep, especially with the rain out here. No one would really let us on the field. To have that space, I think we had to get used to it again, instead of being crammed.

“Of course numbers wise, I’m sure both sides would like to have another scrum to push against. It’s always hard – lineouts as well – to not have a whole opposition,” the hooker continued. “It’s always a challenge for us, I believe, in our first 10 minutes to have that full force against us. But we always try to say, we’ll take it a little bit at a time, and no one get upset with anything, and we’ll just fix tiny little things and adjust to them.”

Right around that 10-minute mark, wing Sarah Buonopane, who ended the day with two tries, broke down the sideline and set into a motion a fast-moving attack. The ball landed in the hands of Mata Hingano, who scored the first of several tries. Hali Deters added the first of nine conversions.

As the game wore on, Central’s defense broke down, allowing for more continuous ball. In particular, Sara Parsons did a nice job of staying around the ball and keeping it in motion. But the Gladiatrix also worked hard to produce a lot of opportunities. The scrum dominated all day, frustrating the Wildcats’ attack as it tried to go forward after a retreat. The line did well to get into passing lanes and strip possession. Lewis accounted for at least two steals – one off the lineout, which led to a Hingano try, and a second in the tackle.

“I think I got a little lucky on the lineout one. She just hesitated a bit and I just kept running – can’t always slow down – and it was just right there,” Lewis said.

Lewis also scored a try, bouncing off a goal-line defender to dot down. Hingano, Buonopane, Deters, Jenn Sever, Elona Williams and Angelina Lomu also scored in the 83-3 win.

That scoreline is tough but really shouldn’t be a shock. Central Washington was also playing in its first game of the spring and brought 19 to NorCal. Flyhalf Leah Ingold explains (read more).

As for Life West, it will supply players to the CCIG 7s team heading to the Las Vegas Invitational, and then there’ll be a break until the summer 7s season warms up. And as mentioned, fall 2019 will see Life West enter the WPL.

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