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What to Expect: WPL Semifinal Saturday

  • 05 Oct 2023
CO Gray Wolves rugby

This Women’s Premier League (WPL) season has been a special one. Seven rugby teams committed to a new, challenging schedule, all in the name of driving the U.S. game forward. There were no cancelations, no forfeited games – which is no small feat for a 14-week, nationwide competition. And more than that, fans have spoiled with competitive games (there were 12 single-digit decisions this year) almost every weekend. Now the time to peak is here, as semifinals await this Saturday, Oct. 7.

Saturday, Oct. 7

#4 Beantown @ #1 Berkeley
Pat Vincent Field, Moraga, Calif.
KO @ 12 p.m. PT • No livestream

#3 New York @ #2 CO Gray Wolves
Infinity Park, Glendale, Colo.
KO 2 p.m. MT • Livestream: Patreon

Beantown v berkeley rugby

Photo: Jackie Finlan / TRB

Beantown vs. Berkeley will have an hour head start on New York vs. Colorado, and it’s going to be a steamy one in Moraga. Saturday’s high is in the low 90s. [For spectators, there are trees along the perimeter of the field that provide some shade.] It’ll be tough playing conditions, but of course, the heat will impact the two teams evenly.

What to expect … Berkeley has moved lots of players through its weekly rosters, and there are several options at every position. The starting pack is all familiar players, though Tyra Norlander is a notable omission. And the reserves see the return of front rows Paris Hart and Hope Cooper, who were both away on international duties. Jade McGrath is back in the backs and will pair with Olivia Bernadel-Huey in the centers. Joana Marrese gets the start at scrumhalf with Shelby Lin on the bench, and flyhalf Kristen Siano’s kicking game will unleash a fun back three.


Beantown v berkeley rugby

Beantown was in NorCal fewer than two weeks ago and blooded some solid, young talent who have also made this Saturday’s travel roster – Laurel Myers, Emily Howell and Nickky Nguyen are among the standouts. In the tight five, there’s just one change from the teams’ last meeting, and it’s a big one: Eagle Megan Neyen is back from OCS. Loose forwards Gen Quirion and Claire Stingley also return after resting last round. This pack is solid, no doubt, but it must be noted that four starting forwards are currently on WXV2 tour with the Eagles, and their absence will be felt.

Ellie Fromstein gets the start at scrumhalf and connect with a back line that has a lot of reps together. Flyhalf Amanda Schweitzer is the leader and drives a nice kicking game, especially with Emma Santosuosso. Centers Emily Becker and Jenni LaFerriere have been beside each other all season, and Rachael Harkavy is expertise in the backfield.

So, yes, the All Blues are undefeated, but it’s been a hard-fought 13-0-1 record. The team has learned how to win – a skill that involves overcoming deficits, staying calm, and sometimes winning on the final play of the game – because the opposition has exerted unrelenting pressure. Beantown is close, and as the adage goes: It’s tough to beat a team three times in a season.


NY rugby

Cruz offloads to Castillo / Photo: Jackie Finlan

As for the second semifinal, it’s a match that we needed to see again. The teams played each other in their first league match on April 15, and Colorado won 17-15 at home. Their rematch was actually scheduled at the tail end of the spring block on June 10, but it was canceled due to the Canada wild fires and unhealthy air conditions. So these teams haven’t seen each other in six months, and when they did, a conversion decided the outcome.

So much has changed since then! And it’s exciting to think about how the teams will have to recalibrate on the fly. The Gray Wolves are missing Rachel Ehrecke and Carly Waters to the Eagles, but the loose forwards are solid with Gianna Solomon, captain Carson Hann and No. 8 Joanna Kitlinski, who is back from the Barbarians tour. Kelsie O’Brien is a capped Eagle scrumhalf, so the home side is covered. Flyhalf Justine Perl launches the back line and works beside veteran centers Dee Nash and Juliann Tordonato. The back three has plenty of moves, Emily Colesworthy steps into fullback now that O’Brien’s at 9.


CO Gray Wolves rugby

Colorado center Dee Nash / Photo: Jackie Finlan

New York will miss the influence of Tiara A’au in the front row and as a powerful ballcarrier. The prop is currently on tour with the Eagles. The tight five is solid though, and hooker Caiomhe O’Sullivan is particularly fun to track across the pitch. Several players have rotated through the loose forwards this season, although Adriana Castillo has been No. 8 consistently. Gio Cruz and Daisy Titus get the flanker nod and will set the work rate this Saturday. The backs will miss center Dana Alimena, who has signed with Cocodrillas in Seville, Spain, and she’s a spark plug in the middle of the pitch. Sophie Frick bumps to complete the center pairing with Sham Robles. Captain Nikki Richardson and fullback Jetta Owens drive the kicking game and release fun flyers like captain Tee Granby.


NY rugby

Sham Robles / Photo: Jackie Finlan

This one’s tough to call, and we like it that way. That’s how playoff rugby should be anyhow. There’s no real means of comparison. Colorado of course has home-field advantage and is acclimated to the altitude. New York did have a recent experience where it lost an important game on the last play, and perhaps that sting has galvanized the squad. We’ll see. Colorado has a paid livestream through its Patreon, so tune in!

The national championship is the following Saturday, Oct. 14 at Infinity Park.

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