WPL 2015 Recap: Week Two

An uptick in drama pervaded the Women's Premier League (WPL) Week 2 matchups, as three games were decided in the final minutes of the match or contained multiple lead changes.

The most thrilling contest occurred in Portland, Ore., between the Blue Conference's ORSU (1-1) and Glendale (2-0). Both clubs had won their season-openers handily, and proved worthy opponents as Saturday's game went 17 minutes without a score. The Raptors enjoyed some continuity and sent Denali Graham and, five minutes later, Hannah Stolba for tries. ORSU would answer with the next three tries (Anna Symonds, Beckett Royce, Brett Zimmerman), and two Molly Luft conversions to give the hosts a 19-12 lead that held until the fourth quarter.

As Glendale refocused on its defensive integrity, Raptors coach Mark Bullock switched out scrumhalves - Raquel Serra came on for Jenny Lui.

"Raquel immediately ignited the attack with a long run and offload in the tackle that put in a try," Bullock said of Chinyere Isaac-Heslop's try in minute 62. "That got us on track. Unfortunately, she broke her collar bone in the tackle, having played about 60 seconds."

With the third-string scrumhalf on the pitch, Glendale could have waivered, but Joanna Kitlinski came through with an important score and lead change, 22-19.

ORSU surged in minute 70 when Rachel Johnson scored (24-22) and stiffened its defense as the clock ticked away. But in the 79th minute, Glendale outside center Christen Suda found the try zone for the go-ahead points and win, 27-24.

"I was happy with the composure we showed during the last 10 minutes," Bullock said. "They continued to play with persistence and perseverance - and that's really important. When you're down, you rush, and make errors, but we didn't panic. We attempted to play the way we wanted to play."

On the other side of the Blue Conference, Berkeley (1-1) hosted San Diego (0-2) as both teams looked for their first wins of the season. The All Blues established an early lead, but the point differential was manageable in the first half.

Two tries from wing Ardia Kelker began and ended the first 40, and flyhalf Ruth Bryson added seven points for Berkeley. Surfers prop Jenny Chow touched down the first of her two tries, one in each half, and fullback Tia Blythe's conversion saw Berkeley lead 17-7 at the break.

Berkeley No. 8 Cassandra Tong opened up the second-half scoring, and from there, the game bent to the All Blues' will. Allie Byrne (2), Jessica Turner, Maxine Fonua, and Tong all scored before the final buzzer, affording a 49-12 win.

The Red Conference saw the undefeated teams stay that way, as Twin Cities and New York won their games to improve to 2-0.

"Everybody looks strong at home," Twin Cities coach Roger Bruggemeyer said of his team's 56-5 win over the D.C. Furies. The Amazons have outscored opponents 121-5 after two weeks.
Wing Kaelene Lundstrum and outside center Lynelle Kugler combined for five tries, and the Eagle duo lead the team with five tries apiece this season. Fullback Jacie Vonada added another 11 points off the boot to lead the Amazons with 31 points this season. Maria Bowker, Mel Krug, Tiffany Gjestvang, and Stacey Bridges also scored tries.

"We didn't play as much back defense against D.C. as we did against Atlanta," Bruggemeyer compared opponents. "They love to move the ball, but Lundy at the wing is playing phenomenally.

"One of our most overlooked players is our scrumhalf, Rachel Lentsch," Bruggemeyer considered the offensive output. "She's outstanding, she controls the game, but she doesn't get much recognition."

Lentsch has teamed up well with flyhalf Sylvia Braaten, who ceded her longtime spot at inside center to Maria Bowker. And with captain Bridges at No. 8, there's always a lot of experience around the ball.

"I am a coach; I never have a good feeling," Bruggemeyer half-joked about the season outlook. "It's just hard to say in the first couple of weeks. Everyone's coming off of 7s, rustier than hell, and we're finding out what we need to work on. But I'm pleased with what we've done so far and am cautiously optimistic."

After the bye week, Twin Cities travels to New York, which defeated Atlanta 21-10 on Sunday.

The lead changed hands a couple of times, and that 11-point cushion didn't evolve until the final five minutes. Atlanta got up first with a Laoise O'Driscoll penalty, before New York flyhalf Lauren Rhode crossed for her side's first points. Mary McCarthy's conversion gave New York a 7-3 lead that held until injury time.

New York drew a yellow card 35 minutes in, and the hosts took advantage. Outside center Liz Snodgrass converted her own try to give Atlanta the 10-7 lead into the break.

It took New York approximately 30 minutes to regain the lead, and replacement Tiffany Faaee handled the honors with a try. Angela Yue capped off the win with a minute 74 score, and McCarthy's two conversions produced the 21-10 victory.

"We could have played better," New York coach Wil Snape said. "We were drawn in a little bit, a little nervous and more conservative than needed. We left some points out there today. We were expecting more scoring, but Atlanta is a strong side, and they put us under pressure defensively. That said, this is a game we would have lost this time last year."

Snape credited a leadership group that includes injured captain Lacy Higgins, Rebecca Brafman, McCarthy, Leah Wylie, and Kaitlin Ruggiero for the resilient comeback.

"Mental strength can be obtained and drilled," Snape said. "We restructured the team, installed a leadership group - there are a lot of processes put in the background that have contributed [to the team turnaround."

The league enters a bye week and will return to action on Saturday, Oct. 3. Visit the WPL homepage for more information.