What a season. Fourteen rounds and 42 regular-season games later, and the Women’s Premier League (WPL) now has its semifinal match-ups for Oct. 7.
It’s been an incredible year with competitive matches every single weekend, and the successes belong to the dedicated teams, staff, administrators and referees who made the league so compelling in 2023.
The Berkeley vs. Beantown match was essentially going to determine who played where in the semifinals. The Boston side was missing five of its forwards to the USA Women’s National Team tour to Ireland and Wales, and so a side rich in WPL debutants (4) and younger talent traveled to California. Game-day head coaches Sarah Harkness and Jack Phelan oversaw the group.
“There’s always an adjustment when people are called up [to the national team], but we are really lucky that we do have a large squad with a lot of people who have been showing up consistently,” Harkness said of consistency. “So, yes, when you lose five Eagles, it’s going to have an impact, but we were really excited about the talent we brought up and to see where it could lead in the future.”
Harkness called out captains Amanda Schweitzer and Q Okine for keeping the team moving in the same direction.
“In the back line, Jenni [LaFerriere] was screaming her head off the whole time, which was great,” Pehlan said of on-field forces. “Brit [Dykes], even before she got in, she’s just the number-one hype man from the bench. And that’s what was really awesome, too. It wasn’t just on-field leadership. It came from everywhere today.”
Berkeley lock Alli Byrne contributed the All Blues’ two tries in the first half, and flyhalf Kristen Siano hit the first two of five conversions on the day. Schweitzer drove a stellar kicking game as per usual, especially with Emma Santosuosso forever on the hunt. One such punt relocated the game to Bekreley’s end, and the All Blues defended admirably. But then a blocked kick in traffic and a big break from flanker Mia Wild set up No. 8 Laurel Myers for the final pass and try.
Santosuosso scored before halftime, initiating the drive with a sideline break and then taking a skip pass into the try zone after lots of forward work at the line. Schweitzer added the extras, and Berkeley led 14-12 into the break.
“We talked a lot about how we adjust our defensive spacing,” All Blues scrumhalf Shelby Lin said of the halftime chat. “Beantown did well to find space on the edges, with the kick as well through the hands. … And apparently we love playing defense on the five meter line. We camped out there. But it’s good for us to build the confidence that we can do that.”
Berkeley scored three tries in seven minutes. Off a scrum, Siano got past the first defender and hit Evan Hoese back inside for the swerving try. A deep kick from Lin and overthrown lineout from Beantown set up Michelle Hong for a try. And then Berkeley cleaned up loose ball at midfield and hit Hong inserting through the line at pace. Just before contact, the fullback connected with Lin in support and the scrumhalf finished in the try zone. Siano kicked all three conversions for the 35-12 lead.
“It was good that we came out of half really together and here to do business,” Lin said. “Once we got the flow, it felt really good for that 10-15 minutes.”
Beantown nearly picked off a pass for what would have been a pull-away try, but it was called back for a penalty and Siano added three, 38-12. Beantown rolled on its subs and players like Nickky Nguyen, Ravy Thok, Tess Downes and Makayla Dillingham rejuvenated the pack. Lock Emily Howell was also non-stop. After a sustained series in Berkeley’s 22, Thok finally breached the try line for a first WPL try, 38-17 the final.
“Rest and recovery are first,” Harkness looked toward the next two weeks. “Then it’s going to be working out details and making sure everyone’s confident in their roles and responsibilities, and that we can go forward together as a squad.”
The result meant that the Colorado Gray Wolves secured the No. 2 seed overall and would host its Oct. 7 semifinal. When New York beat the TC Amazons 41-0 on Saturday, the match-ups were confirmed: New York at Colorado, Beantown back at Berkeley.
But even though the Amazons were out of playoff contention, the Minnesota team certainly didn’t phone in Saturday’s match. It was the club’s homecoming and the sidelines filled with supporters as well as the Amazons’ DII team, which followed the WPL match with a 70-10 win against Oconomowoc.
The WPL Zons played in New York’s half for a significant amount of time but just weren’t able to finish. And New York’s defense was ready for the stand. Tries from Kristin Aliberto, Shamira Robles, Mahdia Parker and Denisse Zambon Regalado, plus two Jetta Owens conversions, gave the visitors a 24-0 halftime lead. Robles and Grace Murphy added second-half tries, and a third Owens conversion sealed the 41-0 win.
In Chicago, North Shore and Life West wrapped up their seasons against each other. The Gladiatrix sealed 2023 with a 55-10 win and saw leading scorer Miri Marawa dot down three tries from scrumhalf. Gabrielle Meyer (2), Brayona Travis and Lolohea Toki were also among the try scorers. North Shore got its points from an Emily Krahn try and Emma Farnan conversion and penalty.
The semifinalists have an extra week to ready for the playoffs, and then the victors of the Oct. 7 matches will advance to the stand-alone national championship on Oct. 14 in Glendale, Colo.