WPL 2015 Recap: Week Four

With two-thirds of the Women's Premier League season gone, the competition is only getting tighter. In the Blue Conference, two standings points separate the first- and third-place teams. Twin Cities has clinched the Red Conference, but the battle for second will come down to the final round.

In the eastern portion of the league, Twin Cities (4-0) secured its semifinal berth with a 38-0 win over the D.C. Furies. The Amazons sit atop the Red Conference standings with 20 points, while 2-2 teams Atlanta and New York have nine points each. With two rounds remaining and an 11-point differential over the closest opponent, there is no catching Twin Cities.

The Amazons were on the road for the second consecutive week, and when the Minnesota side arrived in D.C., the team was only 16 players strong. But where the team was short on numbers, it was dense in talent, especially in the forwards. Captain Stacey Bridges led from No. 8 and had veterans like Jamie Zarembinski, Ali Gillberg, and Tiffany Gjestvang leading the pack. Coordinating play was a new halfback duo: Rachel Lentsch moved from scrumhalf to flyhalf - bumping Sylvia Braaten out to outside center - and Debbie Stenoien stepped in at nine. Kaelene Lundstrum resumed her spot at fullback, taking over for Jacie Vonada for the second week in a row.

"Debbie Stenoien really stepped up for us at scrumhalf, and really controlled the game," Bridges praised. "We were able to stick to our game plan even with the position changes. Rachel Lentsch was able to distribute the ball well to our backs, especially Sylvia Braaten, who had nice lines through the centers and had a great defensive game. Our forwards were able to control possession and put in several tries from lineout mauls."

Lentsch, Bridges (2), Lundstrum, and hooker Ashley Kastendick scored tries, while wing Chelsey Permenter converted all five scores and added a penalty kick in minute 76 to lead all point-scorers.

On the other side of the bracket, Atlanta evened up with New York with a 26-10 win on Randall's Island. The Harlequins won its first game against D.C. the previous weekend, and that energy bled into Sunday's game, especially during the closing quarter.

On a very windy day, Atlanta got on the board first when Life University alumna Deshel Ferguson scored from the wing. It was the former track star's first of two tries on the day. The hosts cut the lead to two, when Tiffany Faaee scored, and then New York took the lead when wing Tiana Stroughter - who is proving to be one of the best finishers on the team - scored her team's second try, 10-7 New York.

With about seven minutes left in the first half, the second and final lead change of the match occurred, as Atlanta flanker Liz Snodgrass scored to put her side up 12-10 into the break.

"We've been improving every week," Atlanta inside center Ros Chou explained. "We are putting a lot of effort into corrective work at trainings and making appropriate adjustments during the match.

"The second half was extremely tight with a lot of back and forth possession," Chou added. "We scored two more tries in the last 10 minutes, so it was close until the final minute."

Snodgrass made it a two-score game when she dotted down near the 70-minute mark (19-10), and then Atlanta earned the all-important bonus try when Ferguson scored in the 79th minute, 26-10.

Glendale (3-1) picked up a very important game at home, defeating ORSU (2-2) 31-26 to stay atop the Blue Conference standings.

The Raptors did a better job of finishing its scoring opportunities, and started ticking the scoreboard over about a minute into play. Wing Kelly Mullen, flyhalf Kandis Ruiz, and centers Kayla Soliday and Christen Suda scored during the first 30 minutes. With Ruiz's three conversions, the Raptors were feeling pretty good about their 26-point lead with most of the first half gone.

But then in a sign of things to come, ORSU snapped the shutout with a Rachel Johnson try in the 34th minute. Flyhalf Jess Shipley added the extras, and the visitors shook off some frustration.

ORSU was energized when it returned from the break, and by minute 45, power center Anna Symonds and player-coach Beckett Royce had scored. Shipley's conversion made it 26-19 to Glendale.

The teams traded scores shortly afterward - Suda got her second at minute 47, as did Symonds in minute 56 - and Shipley's third conversion made it 31-26. The remainder of the game was a test of wills, and Glendale's defense came through, holding off a rapacious ORSU for the final 24 minutes.

"ORSU needed this match to stay at the top of the standings while we needed this match to take that top spot back," Glendale hooker/flanker Jeanna Beard reflected. "They came out with a vengeance! Our defense and fitness were lacking, leading to those back-to-back tries. We lost composure, failed to consistently follow our game plan, and we were tired. We didn't show up in the second half until the latter part."

ORSU may be disappointed in the loss, but the team is doing a great job with bonus points. ORSU has scored four or more tries in all four games, and lost its two games by seven points or fewer. ORSU's six bonus points is keeping it in the race.

Berkeley has a one-point lead over ORSU in the standings, thanks to a big 55-24 win over San Diego in southern California. The All Blues got their bonus-point try in the 19th minute, when former USA 7s resident Amelia Villines, in her WPL debut, dotted down the team's fourth try. She was paired alongside former Stanford teammate Frances Wehrwein, and the duo elicited memories of those tense Penn State vs. Stanford championships years ago.

Wings Ardia Kelker and Jessica Turner did their jobs, rewarding all of the hard work that happens in-field with two tries apiece. Kelker has six tries this season, while Turner has four. Flyhalf Ruth Bryson accounted for 13 points on a try and four conversions.

Frieda Fetu'u, who had been getting time in the centers, replaced Katie Chou as an injury sub in minute 23. The All American was on fire in the second half, scoring three tries to lead her team.

Although San Diego's defense was lacking, the Surfers got some nice scores through the forwards. Jenny Chow (2) and Vivian Hansen dotted down pack tries, while wing Danielle Miano scored from the wing.

The league enters its second bye week this weekend and resumes with round five on Oct. 24.