Women's Premier League 2016 Season Preview

The Women's Premier League (WPL), the top U.S. competition for senior women's clubs, celebrates its eighth year in 2016, as the six-week regular season kicks off Saturday, Sept. 10. Since 2014, the same eight teams have competed in the geographically-based Blue and Red Conferences before crossing over at the National Championships, which will be held Nov. 11-13 in Marietta, Ga., this year.

Also since 2014, Glendale has been the team to beat. The Raptors have won the previous two championships and want to become the first club to three consecutive titles. The Colorado side is rooted in veteran talent like captains Sarah Chobot and Christen Suda, and key decision-makers like Jeanna Beard, Taryn Brennan, 2015 WPL Championship MVP Joanna Kitlinski, and Jenny Lui. Head Coach Kitt Ruiz is familiar with Glendale's winning tradition, having helped the Raptors to titles as a player and then assistant coach. Ruiz settled into the head coaching role this spring with the developmental side and indicated that there will be fluidity between the player pools - the second side runs a separate, concurrent game schedule - as players prove themselves.

View 2016 Schedule

Glendale begins its season with a home match against San Diego, which continues to adjust to ebb and flow of elite athletes in and around the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center. In seasons past, it was Eagles Sevens internationals and hopefuls that aligned with the local club, but now the WPL side is inheriting Eagle forwards that have relocated to San Diego to train toward Women's Rugby World Cup 2017. Jordan Gray, Molly Kinsella, Sam Pankey, Jamila Reinhardt, and Hope Rogers will reinforce the San Diego pack and balance the always-potent back line that showed well at the 2016 USA Rugby Emirates Airline Club 7s National Championships in mid-August. Transfer Hunter Griendling will work with Eagle pool players like Deven Owsiany and Liz Trujillo, as well as Club 7s standout Tia Blythe, for a wide-open attack.

San Diego has found itself in a fifth-place rut at the National Championship and is looking to get into the Cup bracket this year. But Berkeley and Oregon Rugby Sports Union (ORSU) are certainly going to make those goals difficult to attain. The All Blues have won two national titles and competed in the Cup bracket every year. ORSU is a grind-it-out type of team that gets its wins, and the pair will size each other up in Portland, Ore., Saturday.

Berkeley has welcomed back Katrina Logan, an All Blue alumna, for her second year coaching the WPL side. Under her guidance, the Bay Area team finished second to Glendale last year. The CIPP roster is, at the time of print, a little light at 21 players, but it includes familiar names like Phoebe Boone, Alison Byrne, Katie Chou, and Elena Edwards, as well as transfer Lauren Rhode. Contrast that with ORSU, which has twice as many players registered. The Oregon side runs two competitive teams in the fall - WPL and Division II - so those numbers are being spread across two teams, but it bodes well for practice competition. ORSU has many returners ready to play - including long-time player-coaches San Juanita Moreno and Beckett Royce, who are augmented by tight-five specialist coach Jamie Lange this season. ORSU was also the only true club to advance to the Club 7s Cup Semifinals, and sent Rachel Johnson to the Club 7s Dream Team.

The Red Conference has a different feel. While there has been dramatic competition between New York, Atlanta, and D.C. Furies, Twin Cities Amazons have continually set the standard after which the pool chases.

The Amazons are still the favorite in this conference, and they are set up for continued success. The Minnesota club has, at present, close to 60 players registered for its WPL and competitive DII teams, and they are united by long-time coach Roger Bruggemeyer. The leadership does not get any better than Eagle center Sylvia Braaten, who fills the boots of 2015 captain Stacey Bridges (now the assistant coach at Dartmouth College). A host of veterans like Anna Brown, Katana Howard, Amanda Kingzett, Rachel Lentsch, Kaelene Lundstrum, and Jacie Vonada - to name a few - populate the roster and will provide the foundation for up-and-comers to debut successfully.

Twin Cities opens up its season at home against Atlanta Sunday. The Harlequins have welcomed two-time Rugby World Cup hooker Phil Thiel as head coach, and he is using his international experience - both with the Eagles and Aviva Premiership's Saracens - to introduce a different approach to the game. In his month with the team, he has been impressed with the players' work ethic and enthusiasm, two non-coachable attributes that Thiel is pleased to witness. Long-time club players like Ros Chou, Carly Harrington, and Patty Jervey have made the transition easier, but Thiel asserted that everyone has had the opportunity to step up and lead thus far. Among the many young players pressuring the senior ranks, watch for Life University graduate Nicole Strasko, who earned her first 15s caps at flanker during the Women's Rugby Super Series earlier this summer.

On the other side of the pool, geographic rivals New York and D.C. Furies battle in the Big Apple Saturday. New York, the third team to win two WPL titles, has brought on a whole new coaching staff since Wil Snape relocated to Seattle. James English is behind the clipboard, and he will be leaning on team captain Tiffany Faaee, an Eagle prop from New Zealand that shares a similar outlook on how the game should be played. Bolstering the pack are incoming players like Kate Daley, Evi Ashenbrucker (who arrived in the spring), and Alycia Washington, and English indicated much of the offense is built around the capabilities of half backs Shelby Lin and Mary McCarthy. For New York, it had been a long, steady rebuilding process under Snape, and the team's return to last year's Cup bracket was a nice payoff. English wants to perpetuate that growth while also placing his personal stamp on the game New York puts on the pitch.

As the summer sevens season wound to an end, D.C. Furies had close to 100 players registered. Returning WPL head coach Joanna Bader emphasized the transient nature of the city, but once the CIPP refreshed for 2016-17, the list was back to approximately 60. So D.C. has numbers, but Bader confessed that the chemistry was not necessarily where it needed to be last year, and that showed on the scoreboard. Sharifa Love-Schnur is captain and will drive those finishing opportunities into the try zone. She will lean on veterans like Maggie Olney, Jocelyn Richards and Tiffany Smith to set the tone, and look forward to young players like Jessica Crockett and Kristen Maxey blossoming in the WPL. Bader is also hopeful that those players that debuted in the WPL last year will use that experience to elevate the club this year, and New York will serve as a good test.

At the end of the six-week regular season, the top two teams in each conference will advance to the Cup bracket, while the bottom two in each pool will play for fifth place.

For more information on the WPL, visit www.usarugby.org/womens-premier-league.