The Women’s Premier League (WPL) has closed on 10 weeks of play, but there’s still one more match – a COVID postponement that has been rescheduled for June 18 – that must take place before the regular season ends.
The Atlanta Harlequins played their first full, official 15s game in Week 9, and followed with a NorCal double-header in Week 10. The team was without a few key players, but Atlanta got support from DI and DII standouts who were sampling the WPL for the first time as well as reserves from the NorCal community. But ultimately, the home teams won, as trips to the national championship semifinals are on the line.
Berkeley outside center Naomi Carrillo and wing Laura Thacker opened Saturday’s game with tries, and flyhalf Alyssa Collins’ conversion established a 12-0 lead. Atlanta scored its first-half try through Amanda Watkins, the long-time Charlotte fullback (12-5), and then it took close to 15 minutes before the scoreboard ticked over again. Berkeley’s Jade McGrath did the honors and the iinside center ended the day with four tries. Fullback Serena Liu, wing Elena Clark and Thacker all dotted down before the break. Collins and Clark (2) kicked the extras for a 38-5 halftime lead.
McGrath and Tahlia Brody scored before Sierra Watkins, a well known DII Chattanooga and ARPTC player, scored the Harlequins’ final try, 48-10 at 52 minutes. Berkeley proceeded to send McGrath (2), Brody, flanker Madison Taylor and reserve lock Becca Graff into the try zone, and another Collins conversion ended the 75-10 game. The bonus-point win gives Berkeley 32 standings points, thus securing the team’s place in the WPL national championship bracket. The second seed comes down to Life West and Beantown.
On Sunday, the Harlequins lined up against Life West, which has several USA Women’s National Team players in New Zealand for the Pacific Four tournament. The Sunday game allowed the Gladiatrix to showcase its depth, and an 81-0 win followed. Props Angelina Lomu and Molly Shamieh, locks Bailey Johnson and Heidi Tressler (2), No. 8 Siale Alatini (3), flyhalf Aimee Ramos and wings Kayla Lawson and Miri Marawa (3) scored tries. Ramos also kicked eight conversions in the shutout. The Gladiatrix finish the regular season with 28 standings points and a +178 point differential.
Meanwhile, Beantown traveled to Chicago North Shore for a 53-8 win. Hannah Mackay scored three tries and was named back of the match, and Claire Collins put in a big shift for Forward of the Match. Sarah Romano, Gen Quirion and Yeja Dunn were also among the try-scorers.
The Beantown vs. Atlanta game that was supposed to occur in late May was postponed due to COVID. Teams have the option to make up those games, but that is not an easy proposition. Beantown has a chance to qualify for the championship bracket, but only if it can play its full eight league games. So Beantown rallied for an away trip in Atlanta and a June 18 make-up game.
“We want more than anything to have our shot,” Beantown captain Claire Phelan explained the decision for the make-up game. “We’ve been building towards the goal of competing for a WPL national championship since we rejoined the WPL in 2017, and this family has come together in so many ways to make that dream possible. It speaks to the passion, drive, and commitment of not only our active players, but the whole of the Beantown family giving everything they can so we can all share in our success. If there is something that needs to be done, this team rolls up their sleeves and does what they have to get it done well. That’s what it means to be Beantown, and we are beyond grateful for all the heart this team and family has going into this weekend and throughout this whole season. We would like to specially thank our Beantown alumni for their tireless efforts; without you, this weekend would not be possible and we wear the red and blue proudly to honor your legacy.”
After nine games, Beantown has 24 standings points and a +122 point differential. In order to qualify for the National Championship semifinals, Beantown needs a bonus-point win against Atlanta.
The Red Conference also saved some drama for the final week of play. New York and the Colorado Gray Wolves finished their regular seasons against each other, the rematch occurring in Colorado. When they played each other a month ago in New York City, it was a rainy, rough day that ended 15-0 in the home team’s favor. Weather was not an issue during the rematch, and Colorado won 58-17.
New York took an early lead through a Kristin Aliberto try and Allysa O’Neill conversion, but then back-to-back tries from Dee Nash and Madison Slaught, plus two Hannah Tennant conversions, gave Colorado a 14-5 lead after 25 minutes. A yellow card advantage provided a little more room with which to play, and the Gray Wolves sent flyhalf Tennant, wing Nichole Wanamaker, and captain and scrumhalf Kelsie O’Brien into the try zone. Tennant’s conversions provided a 31-7 lead into the break.
The second half was a little closer – 27-10 in the Gray Wolves’ favor – but still belonged to the home team. Wanamaker, outside center Kate Herren, wing Jess Dombrowski and reserve Charlotte Thompson scored, Nash hit a drop goal, and Tennant kicked two more conversions to finish the day with 15 points. Flanker Gio Cruz and wing Matjilda Kocaj scored for New York: 58-17 the final.
New York had one more bonus point in the standings and thus secured the top spot in the Red Conference. The Colorado Gray Wolves advance to the championship bracket as the No. 2 seed.
On the other side of the conference, San Diego and Twin Cities closed out league in Minnesota, but again COVID intervened. Fourteen Surfers had arrived in Minneapolis when word arrived that teammates had to stay in SoCal after testing positive for COVID and preventing travel.
“We had a solid group of 14, all eager to still have a run-around after spending the money to come. We didn’t want to just waste the opportunity to play,” San Diego vice captain Julia Buescher explained. “The decision-makers with the Amazons also still wanted a game. We agreed they could have rolling subs and we would play a man down with four quarters.
“This allowed our squad to play as if we had a red or yellow card, which has happened to us at nationals in the past,” the lock continued. “There were a few key elements missing, especially in our set piece, but we were still able to come together, play for one another and make each other right.”
San Diego won the friendly 47-0 but the game goes down as a COVID tie, with both teams receiving two standings points and no forfeit demerits.
“This season has been hard for us, like many other teams in the league, with COVID protocols, numbers, extended and expensive travel, etc.,” Buescher closed. “However, we play for each other when we step on the field, even when the outcome is decided or the odds are stacked against us. This past weekend proved that and I’m excited to see what we can do at nationals in Chicago by having that same mentality and work ethic.”