Photos: Jackie Finlan
When considering the fluctuations of the American rugby landscape and the demands of the Women’s Premier League, it’s pretty impressive that the elite competition has not only sustained itself but also expanded over 10 years. Players can take up to five roundtrip flights during the short season, and there’s no major sponsor easing those financial demands. And yet, there’s an incredible amount of buy-in from its members, and every team has a voice and vote when the WPL’s making major decisions. Talk to anyone, especially those board members and leaders from the league’s early days, and the subject of love and devotion to the league is reiterated.
“Looking back on the past 10 seasons of the WPL, I am most impressed by the increase in competition and high quality of the games,” WPL commissioner Milla Sanes explained. “In 2018, we had the highest-scoring season since we started and a record number of ‘upsets.’ And in the past three years, our championship has been decided by 10 points or less. As the years have passed, we have had more ties and closer games, and just overall the level of play has been elevated. That was the purpose of this league, and I think we are achieving it!”
The 2018 final fell right in line with the dramatic title matches to which viewers are accustomed. San Diego, on the back of its club 7s national championship in August, and Glendale advanced to the title match.
“We feel like the last time we played Glendale – it ended in a tie, and we didn’t finish that game,” Championship MVP Sam Pankey said in advance of the final. “So we’re here to pick up the momentum that we left on the field there, and we want to finish this one, and we want to finish it on a high note. It’s going to be a really good one.”
Truer words could not have been spoken, and the Surfers put down a 34-28 win.
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The 10th season also saw the league introduce a professional referee model (read more), which was used in Major League Rugby. And the promotion/relegation system returned at the teams’ request, and after November’s challenge match, Life West will be replacing founding member D.C. Furies in 2019.
Finally, new USA 15s head coach Rob Cain placed a renewed emphasis on the WPL, that it’s the main breeding ground for Eagles, and kicked off his role with a tour of the country. From the championship, a good portion of players flew straight to Chicago to ready for the Eagles’ test against New Zealand. And others – so many others – returned home to settle back into their other rugby roles. For one example, read about New York co-captain Jenn Salomon’s sentiments regarding the WPL and its future players: Double Duty in the WPL.
“Looking forward to the next 10 years, I am excited to continue to grow the game and continue to improve the on-field competition,” Sanes concluded. “We hope to increase our professionalism as individual clubs and a league as a whole. And of course, in the shorter term, I look forward to seeing USA win gold in New Zealand with a team stacked with WPL players!”