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WPL Week 2: Home Teams Prevail

  • 25 Apr 2023
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WPL Rugby / Chicago North Shore

WPLRUGBY.ORG – All of the home teams banked bonus-point wins in Week 2 of the Women’s Premier League (WPL), but all three games were good, competitive rugby matches. Berkeley and Colorado Gray Wolves exchanged leads before the All Blues prevailed. Chicago North Shore put 12 points between itself and TC Amazons for its first win of the season. And New York got recompense for its two-point loss in round one with an MLR curtain-raiser win against Life West. [Lead photo c/o @chicagonorthshorerugby]

RELATED: WPL Point Scorers (Week 2)

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The game of the weekend, dubbed “Midwest Madness,” saw the TC Amazons travel to Chicago North Shore for its season opener. The game itself occurred on the turf fields outside of SeatGeek Stadium, where the Chicago Hounds played its MLR game against NOLA.

North Shore had hosted Beantown in Week 1, and that match marked the WPL debuts for 10 players as well as new head coach Matt Hall. He’s assisted by North Shore veterans Lauren Trout and Noby Takaki, and together they noted defensive organization and aggression on offense as work-ons from the Beantown match.

“I was really proud of the work we put in this week,” said Hall, who joined the team in February 2023. “It was directly reflected in the game against the Amazons.”

The Amazons also have a new head coach, Chris Miskec, who is assisted by Xane Gerasimo and Riaan Scholtz. The team is led by veterans like Kaelene Bavery-Lundstrum and Kathryn (KJ) Johnson, both of whom scored tries in the first half Sunday.

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“They’ve got some really outstanding talent on that team,” Hall said of the Amazons. “They did a good job of executing on some of the space and letting that talent shine.

“KJ at 10 was a lot to handle,” he added. “If we had any gaps in the organization, KJ definitely exposed them for us.”

Brooke Doerscher converted both scores for 14 first-half points, but North Shore kept pace. Pack leader Kadie Sanford, center Nicole Fisch and scrumhalf Alecia Eschenbrenner scored tries, and two Emma Farnan conversions put the home side up 19-14 into the break.

Farnan scored two tries and a conversion in the third quarter, and the Amazons center Maggie Burns split North Shore’s points with her first WPL try. Hall felt a momentum shift in the final 10 minutes of the game and praised the hard work of the pack for stepping up in general. Chicago North Shore closed out the match and banked a 31-19 bonus-point win.

“We were all pretty pleased with the realization of the work we’ve been putting in,” Hall said of the foundation that’s being laid. “But our season only gets tougher from here. The level of the league, every team is going to get stronger week over week.”

Berkeley and the Colorado Gray Wolves faced fierce opposition in Week 1 and won their respective matches by a conversion. That intensity flowed into the teams’ Week 2 meeting in NorCal.

Colorado established the first lead when prop Caitlin Weigel scored and flyhalf Hannah Tennant hit the first of two conversions. Berkeley went back-to-back with Mariko Moore and Laura Thacker tries, and Olivia Bernadel-Huey’s conversion put the lead in the All Blues’ hands, 12-7. A pair of tries from Gray Wolves captain Kate Herren and No. 8 Hannah Long, plus a conversion, saw the second lead change: 19-12 Colorado.

The third quarter nearly evolved without a point scored, but then Sierra Watkins busted through for five, followed by Jade McGrath and the go-ahead points. Flyhalf Bernadel-Huey hit the extras for the 24-19 lead. The 10 kicked a crucial penalty in the final five minutes, 27-19, making it a two-score game, and the All Blues needed that cushion. Shortly after the kick, Colorado fullback KB Broughton scored to make it 27-24. But then All Blues reserve Ros Okpara put the win to bed, ending the game with a long-range try, 32-24, and thus robbing Colorado of a second bonus point.

“It was a really good game of rugby all around,” Berkeley head coach and former Glendale-based player Hannah Stolba reflected. “The Wolves are always super tough to play against. They fight and fight, and their set piece looked strong.”

Stolba called out the All Blues midfield and backrow players for stellar outings, and praised Thacker’s blinder of a try on the wing.

“We had an awesome showing from our game finishers,” the coach continued. “Roseline Okpara had a massive tackle and turnover and then scored on the last play from 90 meters. She’s a phenomenal athlete and everyone was super proud of her.”

Berkeley is the first to two wins this WPL season, but New York closed some ground with a bonus-point win at home Sunday. The squad had dropped a two-point game to Colorado in Week 1 and banked those lessons in preparation for Life West in Week 2.

“It was tough. A loss is always tough, especially to lose that closely,” New York co-captain Tiana Granby said of the Colorado match. “But we were like, ‘Nah, this is good for us. This is just a statement of where we can go and what we can do as long as we keep playing and growing from where we started.’”

 

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Sunday’s game against Life West occurred as the curtain-raiser for the MLR New York Ironworkers, and it marked the second-ever meeting between these two WPL teams. It’s not so much of a surprise since the Gladiatrix joined the WPL in 2019, covid ate the two subsequent seasons, and regular-season conferences were geographically based until 2022. That said, New York head coach Karameli Fa’ae’e was the Life West head coach last season, and Granby herself knew most of the opposition personally.

“They challenged us a lot around the breakdown,” Granby said. “They were definitely a bigger team so when they attacked those hinges, we had to make sure to be ready to make those hits right there on the post. Our defense, which we held together for most of the game, was our biggest focus. Making sure we launched up together, and even if it wasn’t a hard launch just making sure we were together and making those hits.”

Granby scored the game’s first try, and then WPL newcomer and wing Sophie Frick, and flanker Gio Cruz added first-half tries. Center Allysa O’Neill kicked a conversion for 17 first-half points. ‘Trix scrumhalf Miriama Marawa and center Monalisa Tupou accounted for Life West tries, making it 17-10 at half.

“The biggest thing for us is staying engaged with each other and making sure each person is tuned in and O.K. mentally and physically out there,” Granby checked in. “Culture is a big thing, because we already have our structure, we trust our skill, so it’s just making sure everyone’s good.”

Caoimhe O’Sullivan Roche scored shortly after the break (22-10) and Life West reserve Megan Hippeli responded with the first of two tries, 22-15. Adriana Castillo re-established the point differential with a try, 27-15, and then New York focused on possession and pace the final 12 minutes of the game.

“Our scrumhalf, Sarah Minahan,” Granby said of standouts. “She really handled the pressure at the breakdown, and game management was on-point for her. That was something against Colorado that we didn’t do so well, and I know that was one of her goals [for Sunday].”

Hippeli still crossed for one more try in the waning minutes and Leti Hingano’s conversion (27-22) made a comeback possible. But then O’Neill kicked a penalty near full-time for the 30-22 win, and just like the Berkeley-Colorado match, the game-ending score put a second bonus point out of reach for Life West.

UP NEXT: It’s a league-wide bye this weekend and the competition will resume on Saturday, May 6:

New York (1-1) @ Beantown (1-0)
Chicago North Shore (1-1) @ CO Gray Wolves (1-1)
TC Amazons (0-1) @ Life West (0-2)

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