WPL kicks off Week 1 with collection of bonus points

Labor Day Weekend matches see five of six clubs walk away with bonus point

Week 1 of the Women's Premier League (WPL) saw three games take place during Labor Day Weekend. Glendale, Beantown and Twin Cities were all victorious, and five of six competitors earned at least one bonus point.

The first win of the WPL season went to Beantown (1-0), which celebrated its return to competition with a 39-22 win over visiting Atlanta (0-1). The Boston-based team took a 15-point lead after 30 minutes, as flankers Yeja Dunn and Tara Roberts and flyhalf Tatjana Toeldte scored tries. But then Atlanta did well to take advantage of a Claire Stingley yellow card and sent scrumhalf Pat Neder and Ros Chou in for tries, 15-10 after the break.

Beantown lock Jess Davis and Atlanta wing Monique Compito exchanged tries (20-15 to Beantown) before the home club started to pull away. Three tries in seven minutes - two from Dunn, forward of the match, and another from Davis - and two conversions from former Harlequin Amanda Carrington put Beantown ahead 39-15 with 10 minutes to go. Atlanta pushed to the final whistle, eager for that bonus point, and earned the standings boost after prop Maggie Craig scored. Compito ended the scoring with a conversion, 39-22.

Atlanta traveled with 16 players, which takes a toll late in the game. Playing at home, Beantown obviously had more reserves, but head coach Kelly Seary indicated that approximately 50 players are expected this fall. Unlike Beantown's previous season in the WPL, there is no DII team playing a concurrent schedule, and so keeping the voluminous roster engaged will be a challenge, one that an expanded coaching staff will aid.

"Our strength going into this fall really has more to do with the depth of our team and less with any 'big name' players," Seary explained. "It'll be tough to name our game roster each week - that's a good problem to have as a coach."

The game of the weekend occurred between Glendale (1-0) and Berkeley (0-1) in San Jose's 107 degree heat. After nearly 60 minutes of play, the Merlins held a 27-point lead over the All Blues, and the visitors scored their points from a mixture of means. Flyhalf Hannah Stolba quick-tapped from a midfield penalty and hit wing Justine Wypych for a weaving run to the try zone. No. 8 Amandine Chatelier peeled off the weak side of a scrum and gave a pop pass to scrumhalf Leann Lam for the second score. A stolen lineout led to a pretty series of breaks through the middle before the ball moved wide to wing Andrea Prusinski for the corner try. And a quick shift in direction put new life into a forward campaign at the try line, which captain Sarah Chobot eventually finished.

Stolba kicked two conversions and a penalty kick, which ended up being the deciding points in the match.

"Last year, we were a little predictable in both our attack and defense, and so myself and the rest of the coaching staff are really hoping to help the players read what's in front of them - even more than we did last season," said Glendale coach Kitt Wagner Ruiz, who is working with the majority of last year's top 23 players. "We're giving them the tools - multiple attacks, multiple defenses - to be able to just express themselves." Glendale appeared firmly in control of the match, but then Berkeley began its comeback in the fourth quarter. Lock Katie Chou took the final pass from Elena Edwards, who galloped through the defense, for the All Blues' first try. Wing Sam Miller kicked the first of three conversions.

Players like Edwards, flanker Christina Ramos and lock Kedra Davis "ran a strike line right through the defense, hit the line at pace, caught it, kept their feet the whole time, and I think that really energized the team to get going," Berkeley assistant coach Evan Hoese said of turning points in the match. "Also, that first try was a huge game shift, because we'd been scored on, scored on, scored on - and then finally: Yes, we can do this as long as we put together the phases."

Wings Maggie Simpson and Ardia Kelker (2) scored tries, which were set up by Bulou Mataitoga, who moved from flyhalf to fullback in the second half. The USA 7s Eagle was able to insert into the line at different angles and get offloads to on-rushing support for solid gains.

The final try was dotted down in the corner and just out of Miller's range, and so Glendale entered the final four minutes of the match with a one-point lead, 27-26. Chobot managed the game well, calling for scrums at any opportunity and running down the clock for the win.

The third and final game of the weekend occurred in Minnesota, where the Twin Cities Amazons (1-0) defeated the D.C. Furies (0-1) 48-19.

"It's always nice to get a victory ... but we would've liked to have been crisper and cleaner on certain things. It's what you expect with a first outing," Twin Cities assistant coach Kim O'Brien said. "D.C. came out pretty strong, and it took us the first 10-15 minutes to find our footing and really get things rolling," the coach added. "There were also four yellow cards, so that obviously made the game interesting."

Twin Cities kicked a penalty 16 minutes in, and then D.C. put outside center Lauran Glover into the try zone a minute later. Amazons wing Kaelene Lundstrum scored at the 20-minute mark, and Megan Wolff's first of four conversions put Twin Cities ahead 10-5. The home side led from there on out, but wasn't without issue, as the half ended with 13 players on the pitch. Twin Cities was, however, able to minimize the damage, leading 24-12 into the break.

The Amazons held D.C. to one more try from flanker Patricia Smith in minute 74, and tacked on 24 more points. Lundstrum and Katie Johnson scored two tries each, while Maria Bowker and Amy Cross added one apiece. Wolff kicked four conversions and a penalty. Both teams had a penalty try, and D.C. flyhalf Maggie Olney kicked her side's conversion.

O'Brien explained that this season is a bit of a transition year in terms of player experience. The backs find leadership in Women's Rugby World Cup Eagle Sylvia Braaten and wing Kate Stephens, both of whom were unavailable Sunday. Flyhalf Katana Howard led the attack, which featured vets Lundstrum and Bowker. Newcomers included Winona State grad Wolff, who performed well from fullback, and Ariana Koras and Jasmine Koras from the DII squad.

Prop Ali Gillberg is the leading voice in the forwards, which sees new talent in players like All-Americans Lanoira Duhart and Bailey Johnson at hooker and No. 8, respectively. Olympics 7s Eagle Katie Johnson has returned to the Amazons' jersey and ramped up the defensive aggression from flanker.

Twin Cities will continue its home stand next Sunday against Atlanta, while Beantown hosts New York in the Red Conference. Berkeley hosts ORSU, and Chicago North Shore travels to Glendale next weekend in the Blue Conference.