The first round of Women’s All-Star Week pit the two Women’s Premier League (WPL) teams against DI/II Club All-Stars and Women’s Collegiate All-Americans (WCAAs). The WPL West kicked off the day with a 51-17 victory over the collegians, while the WPL East took down senior club selects 32-17.
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The WPL East vs. Club All-Star match was live-streamed and began with an injury to Eagle wing Sarah Levy (New York), who had to leave the pitch.
“I think it rattled the team,” WPL East coach Ros Chou reflected. “You saw it in the way we played in the first 10 minutes, letting two tries in and getting behind really quickly. We lost Chi Chi Chukwueke [Atlanta] early on as well, so it wasn’t the start we anticipated.”
The Club All-Stars were putting the phases together but the East defense held. A pair of dropped passes, however, saw the Club All-Stars react quickly, and effectively. Inside Nikki Snyder (Harrisburg) scooped up a bobbled ball on the run and took a nice angle across the defense for the first try. Shortly afterward, the team recovered a mishandled ball and moved it quickly to outside center Shawn Gatewood (Raleigh), who showed a great turn of pace into the try zone, 10-0. Gatewood was also influential on defense, flying up off the line and forcing rushed passes.
Club All-Stars / Photo: Jason Schiessl
Then the East started coming together. Reserves Amanda Schweitzer (Beantown) and Cyndi Campbell (Atlanta) had come on at flanker and center, respectively, and both really showed well. Schweitzer’s work rate was notable and Campbell pierced the line on multiple occasions. To boot, there were a couple of players in different positions and they started to sync with great results.
“I had been toying with the idea of moving Cortney Kuehl [from center to No. 8] for a bit and when Tahlia Brody talked with me about her experience playing down in New Zealand in the centers, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the swap a go,” Chou explained. “I think both of them did an outstanding job today. Cortney only had two trainings with the forwards and picked things up immediately. She got really involved in the game and looked for a lot of work. Tahlia did really well putting pace on the ball and made some really good decisions on the edges.”
The East got on the board after some good pressure put flyhalf Corinne Heavner (Atlanta) in range for three points, 10-3. The team’s first try followed and showcased the attacking flow of the elite players. Wing Kelli Smith worked a nice offload out of contact to Brody, who then timed the pass to fellow New Yorker Shamira Robles for a break into space. The Club All-Stars later had possession in their 22 and Smith’s fast-up defense forced a turnover that moved wide to lock Claire Stingley (Beantown) for the try, 10-8 to the club team.
East put two more tries away before the half. A line break from Campbell put East in scoring position and a solid lineout saw the forwards dot down a driving maul. Heavner nailed the sideline conversion in the lead-changing series, 15-10. The lineout again was influential in the team’s third try, setting the platform for the backs to send well timed, leading passes out wide to Smith for the score, 20-10 into the break.
The Club All-Stars regrouped during halftime and looked renewed in the second half. The team dominated possession the first 10 minutes and did a better job of moving the ball away from contact. The team also found great confidence in its scrum, which had the edge on the WPL-ers across the day.
That possession eventually saw Gatewood bust into the try zone and team captain and scrumhalf Bri Kim (NOVA) added the extras: 20-17.
“I was pleased with our rapid growth in a short amount of time, and very happy with all aspects of our play,” Club All-Star coach Koma Gandy Fischbein surveyed. “Our scrummaging was fantastic and our forwards created a lot of go-forward ball. Our backs stepped up to the challenge, and found opportunities to break the gain line and create scoring opportunities. There are a few things we need to fine-tune regarding consistency in our defensive alignment and decision-making in the contact area, but I am confident that we will make those adjustments and build on today’s performance.”
East responded at the right time to stamp out a further rally from the Club All-Stars. Before the 60-minute water break, Atlanta teammates Kaitlyn Broughton and Megan Rom made solid north-south gains that opened space for an attack out wide. Smith skirted down the sideline and worked the 2-on-1 against fullback Tess Feury (Morris), sending the ball back inside to the supporting Brody for the try. Heavner again hit the sideline conversion: 27-17.
A good scrum from the opposite end of the pitch set a good platform for Campbell to tear into space. Quick, hard phases at the line piled on the pressure, until there were overloads on either side of the breakdown. The ball moved wide for the easy try, 32-17.
The Club All-Stars played with lots of possession in the final quarter but the finishing wasn’t quite there. Nevertheless, the team put in a solid performance that represented the club sphere well.
“[T]he team played selfless rugby for all 80 minutes – it’s a feat to be proud of, to come from 15 different teams, and grow together to play and execute as one cohesive unit. I couldn’t be more proud to coach these outstanding athletes,” Gandy Fischbein enthused.
“We demonstrated that there is great talent across the American rugby spectrum,” the coach continued. “The women at this assembly are representing the best that D1 and D2 rugby have to offer and are ambassadors of their programs. We answered any questions about D1, D2 rugby with our performance on the pitch.”
Chou appreciated the level and physicality of the competition as well, and knows it will only increase on Saturday when the two WPL teams face each other.
“We’re so excited to play the West All-Stars and this is the result we had hoped for with the Women’s Premier League teams standing out,” Chou looked toward the final. “We knew our match today was going to be difficult, but there was never any doubt in my mind that the East squad would make the necessary adjustments to shift the momentum of the game in our favor. Now we have to recover, look at the tape, and prepare for what’s going to be an epic battle on Saturday.”
The WPL East and West teams will face each other at 11:30 a.m. MT and the live feed should be available via the WPL’s Facebook page. The Club All-Stars and WCAA will play at 9:30 a.m. MT.