WPL Week 8 Recap: Teams Continue to Push for Semifinal Berths

The stage is set for an enthralling finish to the WPL regular season, after this weekend provided more questions than answers.

There are just two more weeks in the Women's Premier League (WPL) regular season, and no team has locked up a semifinal berth. Three teams are statistically eliminated, but the other seven have viable shots for a national title.

Three teams have 24 standings points teams in the Blue Conference, although Berkeley (5-2) has played one more game than both Glendale (4-1-1) and San Diego (4-1-1). The All Blues need to win this weekend's home game against the Merlins in order to have a shot at the semifinals, and then hope Chicago North Shore beats Glendale in Colorado. If Glendale beats Berkeley this weekend, then it will guarantee its semifinal berth, and San Diego will only need to win one of its final two home games against ORSU (2-5) and North Shore (0-6) for final-four placement.

"We're starting to connect with each other and see where the holes, see where the gaps are, and trust each other defensively," Berkeley flyhalf Evan Hoese said after a 60-12 win over Chicago North Shore Saturday. "It's been a long season of learning how to play with each other, because we have a lot of new people, but I think we're starting to get some cohesion, which is nice to see."

While North Shore did enjoy bouts of good possession, and both sides swam against the penalty current, Berkeley was more efficient in producing fast fall, spreading the width and finishing out scoring opportunities. The All Blues were able to poach possession and transition to attack quickly, as well. Berkeley's first three tries from fullback Bulou Mataitoga, wing Ardia Kelker and hooker Katy Augustyn evolved after the team marched down the pitch, and the finisher scored from close range. The fourth was an individual effort from Hoese, who, from the All Blues' end, chipped-and-chased over the defense and pulled away for a long-range score. The flyhalf repeated the effort in the second half, this time in North Shore's 22, gathering the kick and feeding Sam Miller for the try. Exciting stuff.

North Shore scored approximately five minutes before and after halftime. The first five points came after a beauty of a lineout on Berkeley's 10 meter that mauled to the line. Lock Linda Guiney dotted down the try and then later finished off an intercept try as Berkeley tried to spin and run the ball out of its 22. But the All Blues sent flanker Tonya Wessman, Kelker (penalty try), reserve wing Maggie Simpson and reserve prop Abby Vogel across for tries, while Miller and Mataitoga added conversions for the 50-point win.

On the other side of the bracket, Glendale beat ORSU 62-19, holding the Jesters scoreless into the second half. Co-captain and prop Sarah Chobot and inside center Gabby Cantorna were named MVPs for Glendale, while flanker Rachel Johnson and wing Claire Lundy stood out for ORSU. Both Cantorna and Johnson were recently named to the Women's National Team touring squad for the November test series and have the potential to earn their first caps for the USA.

Flankers Amandine Chatelier and Rachel Ehrecke, wings Adekemi Adewunmi (2) and Justine Wypych, fullback Madison Slaught (2) and Cantorna (2) scored tries, while flyhalf Hannah Stolba kicked five conversions. Glendale also banked a penalty try. ORSU got its points through prop Adrienne Acosta, flanker Johnson and fullback Kimberly Law. Center Emma Richie kicked the extras.

The Red Conference is even more heated standings wise, with four teams still eligible for the national semifinals. Twin Cities (4-2-1) tops the standings and will play its final game - New York (4-2) in New York - this weekend. The Amazons have some momentum behind them, winning on the road against Beantown and then rallying for a 25-24 victory over Atlanta (3-4) on Sunday.

"It was cold, wet, and muddy and Atlanta is a strong team with some dangerous players, so we knew going into the game that it was going to be a battle," Twin Cities leader Sylvia Braaten recounted.

Atlanta coach Kitt Ruiz paid similar tribute to Twin Cities, "We knew this would be a hard-hitting match and the Amazons did not disappoint."

The home side built a 10-0 lead after scrumhalf Rachel Lentsch and No. 8 Katie Johnson scored. Atlanta flanker Chi Chi Chukwueke scored the first of two tries near the 30-minute mark, and flyhalf Corinne Heavner added the extras, 10-7. Twin Cities wing Kaelene Lundstrum ended the first half with a try, affording a 15-7 edge into the break.

"We put in some fresh legs at half to up the pace a bit. This helped us to turn the momentum," Ruiz recounted the third quarter, as Chukwueke, outside center Cortney Kuehl and fullback Kaitlyn Broughton scored tries, and Alice Plant's conversion produced a 24-15 shift. "Once we got ahead, some of our basics let us down. We stopped applying pressure on both attack and defense."

"When momentum shifted and Atlanta took the lead, we regrouped and talked about the need to be resilient, maintain focus, and maintain possession," Braaten explained a fourth-quarter turn-around. "It was great to see how we as a team stepped up to the challenge and respond to the adversity."

Another two tries through wing Lundstrum put Twin Cities ahead 25-24, and then the Amazons finished out the final 10 minutes for the win. Again, Atlanta banked two bonus points in the loss, and those will be crucial come season's end.

"All in all we're still growing and figuring out how we play our pattern and work together," Ruiz concluded.

New York took the bonus-point win over the D.C. Furies, 20-12. After seven minutes, the visitors put wing Sarah Levy, who leads the WPL with 17 tries scored, into the try zone twice for a 10-0 lead. And that's where the scoreboard sat until the fourth quarter. Levy and No. 8 Tahlia Brody scored in close proximity of each other, and then in the dying minutes, a penalty try and Gloria Cho try put the Furies on the board.

New York hosts Twin Cities this weekend and then travels to Beantown (3-2-1) to end the season. D.C. hosts Beantown this weekend and then does back-to-back trips to Atlanta, when including the national championships on Oct. 26-28. 

The WPL Championship Weekend will be broadcast through FloRugby.

HomeScoreAway
Berkeley All Blues60-12Chicago North Shore
Glendale Merlins62-19ORSU
Twin Cities Amazons25-24Atlanta Harlequins
D.C Furies12-20New York Rugby