Raptors beat All Blues, repeat as WPL Champions

GLENDALE, Colo. - The Glendale Raptors won their second Women's Premier League title in as many years Sunday in a 26-17 defeat of Berkeley All Blues at Infinity Park.

Hannah Stolba won her side a penalty try and accounted for 10 points from the boot in the victory, and Joanna Kitlinksi earned Most Valuable Player honors as the Raptors not only protected the status of reigning champions, but also home turf. Infinity Park played host to a perfect weekend of championship rugby, featuring eight competitive matches capped by Glendale's win.

"The players have really developed over the course of the season," Glendale coach Jamie Burke said. "I've been able to watch them grow from the very first practice to this game, and to see them put together all of the things we've worked on - I'm really proud of them."

Frances Wehrwein put Berkeley in Glendale's half in the open minute of the Final, and Amelia Villines provided support to break the 10 before she received a crunching tackle from the Raptors. The All Blues would have the last laugh, however, as Villines was able to continue and Lisa Dombrowski dotted down for the opening lead.

Wehrwein put her side in trouble in the 28th minute, though, when referee Leah Berard pulled the yellow card from her pocket. Stolba, who put Glendale on the scoreboard with a penalty goal minutes earlier, had broken free of the main defensive line and sent a chip over the center. Wehrwein tackled the Glendale fly half, causing Berard to send the All Blue to the bin in conjunction with the penalty try. Stolba was able to convert the try, as well, to give the Raptors a 10-5 lead.

Ardia Kelker proved a handful on both sides of the ball against Twin Cities Friday, and nearly cut into Glendale's lead in the 32nd minute. The wing spun out of a tackle inside her team's 10, but an attempted chip found touch before a blue jersey. Capped Eagle Sarah Chobot found herself with space inside Berkeley's half in the 36th minute and waited for the offload, and Rachel Marie Ryan brought the attack in front of the posts. Christen Suda found the ball out wide to dive over the try line and give the Raptors a 15-5 lead at the break.

Kelker breathed some life into her side with a lengthy run and try in the 45th minute, but Glendale turned on the heat as the sun went down, scoring 13 points in 10 minutes for a 26-10 lead. Sarah Walsh added a try five minutes from time to bring the final score to 26-17.

All told, Glendale scored 70 points in defeats of New York and Berkeley over the weekend, and avenged the lone regular season loss to the All Blues in the most important match of the year.

"Even though there are 23 people on the roster and 28 on the nationals roster," Burke said, "this team wouldn't be where it is without the 45 players that are at practice night after night, week after week, giving the starting side the competition to really get better."

Twin Cities Amazons fell one spot lower than their 2014 runners-up position, but were able to end their 2015 season with a 24-12 win rather than a loss. Rachel Maas opened the scoring in the third minute and USA Rugby AIG Women's Collegiate All-American Jacie Vonada converted before Ashley Nesby leveled the score in the 11th minute.

New York went down again via an Ashley Kastendick try midway through the first half, but refused to let the Twin Cities lead grow. Juliette Conte burst through the gain line in the 29th minute and got within five meters of the try line before the tackle was made. Twin Cities was penalized a phase later, and a quick tap afforded Cynthia Wright the space to dot down in the corner for a 14-12 score line.

The Amazons opted for points just ahead of the halftime whistle when the match official awarded a penalty along the 22-meter line, but Vonada's kick missed its target. One last opportunity also went begging, as the 'Zons lost the ball forward on the try line.

Vonada added a three-pointer in the 50th minute on the back of a few penalties against New York, and the referee had no choice but to award a yellow card to Wright minutes later. Twin Cities had the ball for the majority of the player-advantage, though it took seven minutes before the possession could be turned into points. Ashley Kastendick found herself over the line after a lineout to increase the lead to 19-12, and a line break from Vonada on the other side of the restart led to a 40-meter run and try from Sylvia Braaten.

The sinning cost New York 10 points on the scoreboard and third place, though Wil Snape's squad did not do itself any favors with a yellow card to fly half Lauren Rhode in the 67th minute. New York could not get the comeback bid going after Kastendick was shown a yellow card in the final 10 minutes, and improves upon 2014's last-place campaign to finish fourth.