For the first time since November 2019, the Women’s Premier League (WPL) is holding its National Championship.
The 10-team field is funneling to Lemont, Ill., for opening-round games on Friday, June 24 and finals on Sunday, June 26. The USA U23 All-Star 15s Championship will also play out on the Chicago Blaze Rugby Complex (Saturday and Sunday). All WPL and U23 matches will be live-streamed on FloRugby.
Women’s U23 All Stars will also compete in the action-packed weekend, with four squads vying for a championship spot on grand final Sunday. See schedule below and catch up on the qualifier with The Rugby Breakdown.
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The championship bracket needed an 11th week to be decided, as Beantown traveled to Atlanta to make up a COVID cancellation. The Boston-based team rallied its support network to afford the last-minute travel but there were still logistical snares – including a flight cancellation for Beantown head coach Chris Mutty.
“The message I sent to the team when I couldn’t get on the plane was, ‘We’ve gone above and beyond to get to this point,’” Mutty said before a semifinal berth had been secured. “All those close matches have all added up. We just needed to find a way to win those close games, and we did against Berkeley [on June 4]. From then on, it’s been a little bit easier, but we’re building toward playing that caliber team and knowing that we can pull it out in a close match.”
Assistant coach Mel Denham was on the ground in Atlanta and oversaw the team as it built a 31-5 lead into the second half. Yeja Dunn, Erin Wright, Brittany Dykes and Genevieve Quirion were among the try-scorers, and Amanda Schweitzer kicked three conversions and a penalty later in the game. Atlanta scored through prop Lisa Jackson and ended the match with Brandalyn Watts across the whitewash. Corinne Heavner’s conversion ended the game: 34-12 to Beantown.
That bonus-point win moved Beantown past Life West in the Blue Conference standings and into the championship semifinal bracket.
“That was our goal at the beginning of the year, that we wanted to be in a position to compete for the championship,” Mutty said. “And that’s where we are today.”
Beantown will play Red Conference leader New York in Friday’s semifinals at 3:30 p.m. CDT. It’s a classic rivalry (“They know what Boston vs. New York is all about,” Mutty said of the younger players), and it’s one that was mirrored in last weekend’s Major League Rugby semifinals.
New York had a different ending to its regular season, losing a 41-point game to the Colorado Gray Wolves on the road.
“We kind of expected that – maybe not in the result and the manner – but we knew it was going to be a tough game and they were going to come out flying,” New York head coach Ryszard Chadwick said. “Just from the psychological point of view, they needed to make sure that we knew that they were a good team. They needed a win before nationals.”
Chadwick noted the Gray Wolves’ ball movement and constant pressure, and praised an opponent operating at peak performance. But the coach also saw the positives of the road trip.
“It’s nice getting rid of that ‘undefeated’ kind of pressure,” Chadwick said of the 7-1 regular season. “We lost a game which technically didn’t mean anything in terms of standings or position. If we were going to lose one game this season, that was the game to lose, and now we’ll see how the team responds at nationals.”
The Colorado Gray Wolves finished second in the Red Conference, and that Week 10 win was the boost the team needed heading into nationals.
“The Wolves are hungry and excited to play out this WPL championship,” Colorado captain and scrumhalf Kelsie O’Brien enthused. “Our regular-season finale win over New York was the result of our team putting together some top-tier-level rugby, and handedly beating them after our first loss shows how much we have grown over the course of the last several weeks, and lights a fire for us as the top performers of this conference. We have a ton of talent on this squad and I am stoked to see our team get tested in these championship matches.”
Berkeley is the first test, and the Gray Wolves will face the Blue Conference champion at 5:30 p.m. CDT Friday. Also, both clubs sent teams to the USA Club Rugby 15s National Championship weekend in May, with the All Blues advancing to the DII semifinals, and Gray Wolves going through to the DI final.
The Blue Conference was pretty wild this spring, not only for the many single-digit decisions between the top-three teams, but also for the postponements and rescheduling that tested resources. Berkeley was able to play all of its games and get lots of players field time.
“We have had a few tough games, tight games, and more than anything it has taught us a lot about our capabilities,” Berkeley head coach Hannah Stolba reflected on the season thus far. “We have been challenged and our connections have been tested. And we have come out stronger.”
Of the four semifinalists, New York and Colorado (in its previous forms) have won three national championships apiece, and Berkeley has won two in the league’s 11 seasons. San Diego (2016 & 2018) and Twin Cities (2013) account for the other titles.
The six other teams are playing for 5th place. Life West and San Diego finished third in their respective conferences, and the Californian squads play each other in a proper 5th place semifinal at 1:30 p.m. CDT. The winner will play in Sunday’s 5th place match and the loser will play in the 7th place match. Their opponents will be determined with the first two games on Friday.
ORSU and Chicago North Shore play at 9:30 a.m. CDT, and then Atlanta and Twin Cities follow at 11:30 a.m. The two teams that lose will play for 9th place on Sunday. Of the two winners, the team with the larger point differential will advance to the 5th place match, while the other routes to the 7th place match.
Be sure to tune into FloRugby as the WPL celebrates its return to championship rugby.
WPL NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE
FRIDAY, JUNE 24 (Times CDT)
9:30 AM | ORSU v Chicago North Shore
11:30 AM | Twin Cities v Atlanta
1:30 PM | San Diego v Life West
3:30 PM | New York v Beantown
5:30 PM | Colorado Gray Wolves v Berkeley
SATURDAY, JUNE 25 (Times CDT)
9:30 AM | U23 All Stars | South Selects vs SCRFU Griffins
11:30 AM | U23 All Stars | California Grizzlies vs Midwest Thunderbirds
SUNDAY, JUNE 26 (Times CDT)
9:00 AM | 9th Place Final
11:00 AM | 7th Place Final
11:00 AM | U23 3rd Place Final
1:00 PM | 5th Place Final
1:00 PM | 3rd Place Final
3:30 PM | U23 All Star Championship
5:30 PM | WPL National Championship