WPL Player of the Week: ORSU’S San Juanita Moreno

The opening weekend for the Women's Premier League (WPL) is always charged with anticipation. The top-8 teams in the country return to the pitch, and a collective eye scans the competition for insight into this year's title contenders. Meanwhile, teams test their new lineups and strategies against the pace and skill that only the WPL can provide, and aim to set that winning tone for the season to come.

All of those game-day elements played out in the Berkeley vs. ORSU match, and the pair entered Sunday's bout with an additional motivator: history.

Last year, ORSU's seven-point loss to Berkeley in the season-ender cost ORSU a trip to the semifinals, and afforded the All Blues a sixth-straight final four appearance. Sunday was especially important for the Oregon side, as it marched a mixed-experience squad onto the pitch. Ultimately, it was a core of veterans who escorted the team through a trying first half (19-12 lead at the break) before surging in the second stanza for a 48-12 win. No one was more important than San Juanita Moreno, the Women's Premier League Player of the Week and longtime emblem of ORSU.

Like fellow emblem Beckett Royce in the forwards, Moreno is a player-coach who leads the backs from outside center. The capped Eagle has spent nine of her 11 years of rugby with ORSU, and defenses still struggle to completely silence the densely powerful finisher, as evidenced by Moreno's four tries on Sunday.

"Continuity and persistence put ORSU in the try zone this past weekend," Moreno explained. "We made our fair share of mistakes defensively, but Berkley struggled with the finish."

But it wasn't just the number of tries that distinguished Moreno; it was their timing. The backs coach scored seven minutes in to put her team on top, where they stayed until the second quarter. Berkeley rallied with two quick scores to take the lead, before Royce answered in the 35th minute to tie it up. With the half waning, Moreno scored again, giving ORSU momentum into the break and a lead it would never relinquish.

The home team expressed itself more confidently in the second half, as the scoreboard reflected. Moreno pushed through the final minutes of the match, scoring the game's final two tries.

"The ORSU backline is loaded with a combination of talented veterans and eager young athletes," Moreno explained. "It makes my job as coach easy. I just ask my players what they want to do, and we stay composed until given the opportunity. Defensively our center combination [with Anna Symonds] is tough to beat, and now that we have extraordinary utility player Molly Luft at fullback, I think teams are going to find it a difficult battle no matter where they attack."

Moreno's hard work helped ORSU break into the new season with a redemptive, encouraging win, and she's sure to be an influential player as the team looks for a semifinal berth this year.