WPL 2015 Recap: Week One

Week 1 of the Women's Premier League (WPL) saw Glendale and ORSU win in the Blue Conference, while Twin Cities and New York remain undefeated in the Red Conference. The four victors won their respective matches by an average of 43 points.

BLUE CONFERENCE

Reigning WPL champion Glendale opened up the season with a 58-22 win against visiting San Diego. Both sides endured early-season bouts with composure, but the Raptors capitalized on turnovers in advantageous territory, spread the ball quickly, and won one-on-one matchups.

"We were pretty accurate in what we were trying to accomplish in attack today," Glendale coach Mark Bullock said. "We found space really well and were able to exploit that space."

Kandis Ruiz and Hannah Stolba split time at fly half and played beside each other in the second half. Behind a solid rucking game, the duo kept quick ball in motion, while forwards and backs alike stretched from sideline to sideline. Wing Kelly Mullen was a strong finisher with three tries, while forwards Joanna Kitlinski, Laura Miller, Sarah Chobot, and Jeanna Beard (who impressed in her debut at hooker) were equally adept at attacking gaps for scores. The forwards as a whole performed well.

"They've improved tremendously from our first scrimmage," Bullock said. "That was the most pleasing aspect for me. They were solid in the scrum and the lineout, and I was concerned about that coming into the game."

San Diego No. 8 Vivien Hanson did dot down when a scrum marched across the try line (Elisabeth Henry, Mollie Martin, and Manday Wagner also scored), and Bullock was concerned with the points-against. Defense will be a focal point this week.

"We got the better of them today, but they're going to be really good," Bullock said of his team's opponent. "They have a really talented group of backs, and if they can win more ball, they'll be in a fine place."

Much like Glendale, ORSU picked up its game in the second half against Berkeley. The teams entered the break 19-12 to ORSU, with San Juanita Moreno (2) and player-coach Beckett Royce scoring the home team's tries, and Molly Luft and Jess Shipley adding conversions. Allison Byrne and Frieda Fetu'u accounted for Berkeley's scores, and Ruth Bryson kicked the extras.

"There were a lot of miscues and handling errors, nothing too different from what I would have expected for the first 40 minutes of the season with a host of new players," Royce said. "For the most part, we cleaned things up in the second half and started hitting our rhythm. Our lineouts remained pretty abysmal throughout the match, though; definitely something we will be working on this week."

Some key halftime substitutions impacted ORSU's performance in the right way. Caroline Midkiff came on and added a lot of stability to the scrum, and Mo Miller's presence brought vitality and pace to scrumhalf. ORSU did a better job moving the ball to space, allowing centers Moreno and Anna Symonds to score two more tries apiece, and Miller added a five-pointer of her own. Luft added two more conversions for a 36-point win.

ORSU will host fellow undefeated Glendale this weekend, while San Diego travels to Berkeley.

RED CONFERENCE

The Sunday games produced two shutouts against teams rebuilding this season. In Minnesota, the Twin Cities welcomed 18-deep Atlanta for the teams' openers. The Amazons started scoring five minutes in and were relentless, finishing with 11 tries in the 65-0 win.

The Amazons played the well-rounded game for which they're known. With the exception of a yellow card to Anna Brown, the forwards dominated and provided a lot of possession for ample time on offense. Prop Jamie Zarembinski and lock Tiffany Gjestvang did the pack proud with a try each.

The backs saw Sylvia Braaten move from her traditional position at inside center to fly half. She teamed up well with scrum half Rachel Lentsch, and both were among the try-scorers. More importantly, they launched their dangerous back line into attack and saw outside center Lynelle Kugler, wing Kaelene Lundstrum, and full back Jacie Vonada score two tries apiece. Vonada led all point-scorers with 20, kicking five conversions, as well.

New York was the lone team to win on the road, traveling to the D.C. Furies for a 35-0 victory. New York captain Lacy Higgings credited the first-class coaching staff of Wil Snape, James English, Maura Wiese, and Koma Fischbein for the steady build toward this season. While imports like Lauren Rhode, who played fly half and moved Mary McMarthy to inside center, and San Francisco Golden Gate's Tiana Stroughter on the wing pumped up the performance.

"We've maintained an amazing, skilled core set of players who have set the standard for the new players this season," Higgins said. "Within the first 20 minutes, Mary McCarthy, who has been an integral part of that core, made a heartbreaking interception and run back for a try under the posts. Shortly after, newcomer Lauren Rhode made a similar play that resulted in a try, as well. These early contributions really allowed us to play downhill the rest of the game."

The forwards helped that momentum, especially in the set piece. Front rowers Ashley Nesby, Naomi Oberman-Breindel, and Cynthia Wright, fortified by locks Allison Lee and Lucia Oswald, helped New York win all of its scrums and steal several of D.C.'s put-ins. And more ball meant more opportunities to attack. Oswald, Stroughter, McCarthy (2), and Rhode all scored, and the fly half successfully kicked each of the extras.

The defense was also "on point."

"This season, our squad is less focused on outcome and more focused on quality of play," Wright said. "Going into this game, we had a focus on aggressive defense, and as a result exhibited consistent connection and assertive launch."

New York heads to Atlanta this weekend, while Twin Cities hosts D.C. Furies.

Week 1

Blue Conference

Glendale 58-22 San Diego

ORSU 48-12 Berkeley

Red Conference

Twin Cities 65-0 Atlanta

New York 35-0 D.C. Furies