Alex Ho photo / hoiho.net
The Women’s Premier League (WPL) convenes for its 10th national championship, and with it comes the return of the promotion-relegation process. Two-time DI national champion Life West has committed to a challenge match against the WPL’s last-place team for its spot in the elite competition in 2019.
“It’s not about trying to win everything; it’s about challenging players,” Life West head coach Adriaan Ferris said.
The WPL had suspended its promotion/relegation process after USA Rugby moved the club national championship from the fall to a split season with championships in the spring. With a challenge match on the books for December, Life West has been preparing with games against Atlanta, Life University, Lindenwood and San Diego, and will also play Berkeley on Nov. 17 (the Seattle Saracens match is TBD).*
*UPDATE: After the WPL national championships, it was decided to hold the Challenge Match on Nov. 17 in Marietta, Ga.
It’s been a delicate balance, since many of the Life West members are post-graduate student-athletes.
“The ladies have active since October of last year, when we started pre-season for the spring 2018 season,” Ferris said. “That’s a long 12 months – not ideal for player welfare or academic work load. We’ve had to make some compromises.”
But the fall has been anything but staid, as a few fresh faces are shaking up the squad. Women’s Rugby World Cup Eagle Sara Parsons has joined Life West as a student and is focusing on the first quarter of school.
“Literally a world-class player,” Ferris praised. “Working with her the last few weeks has been enjoyable; she’s such a student of the game and lapping up all the info she can. Hopefully we’ll see her back in the USA jersey soon.”
USA 7s Eagle Sarah Buonopane will begin classes in January 2019 and has been with the team all fall. Mata Hingano’s older sister, Leti, just returned from her LDS mission and is back on the pitch, and UC Irvine standout Elona Williams is playing her first 15s with the team.
Life West is without a Nikki Kenyon, who was picked up as a USA 7s resident for this new season. Ferris indicated that she’ll come back for as many games as possible, depending on what USA 7s coach Chris Brown requires of her.
The Gladiatrix are deep, but Kenyon’s absence was felt in a 38-24 loss to Lindenwood University in mid-September.
“They certainly underestimated that Lindenwood side,” Ferris said. “We didn’t have Nikki, who is so good delivering the ball to the back line. That makes a huge difference and changed how we played. Our ladies dropped out of our system – tried to do things themselves instead of for the team, and it cost us.”
Ferris spoke of lessons learned and motivation after that match, and the result was felt in the win against the Surfers in San Diego. Life West’s WPL opponents also fielded differently weighted teams being in season.
The coach indicated that the team is eager to travel to Lindenwood next year, as the university team gave the Gladiatrix one of the most competitive games to date. By then, the team hopes to travel to St. Charles, Mo., as a WPL member and further promote its brand through the Eagles developing in Hayward.
“We develop relationships with everyone,” Ferris said. “There are opportunities for players from the likes of Lindenwood or Central Washington – we’re playing them in the spring – to carry on with education at the post-graduate level if they want to study chiropractic.”
Life West will be eagerly watching the WPL championships this weekend and awaiting the logistical information for the December challenge match.