If you were looking for a brutal Women’s Premier League final, then you got it out of the Berkeley v Twin Cities championship match. Hits galore and scrappy play typified play, but the All Blues created more opportunities for the 17-8 win.
“I anticipated that it was going to be very close no matter what the predictions were saying,” Berkeley coach Kathy Flores said. “I figured it was going to go either way and it was going to be by a try.”
“Their experience won out today,” Amazons coach Roger Bruggemeyer said. “They have a phenomenal backline that made a couple of breaks that really burned us. But our team didn’t fold. If you count the line breaks, I bet we had more, but we just don’t know how to finish. Our team played hard, but their team played a little bit harder.”
The Amazons started with a lot of possession. Nice hard breaks from championship MVP Amanda Kingzett and Eagle lock Stacey Bridges, coupled with linebreaks from centers Sylvia Braaten and Lynelle Kugler put the team on the front foot.
The Amazon centers were the crux of the backline attack, and they were able to break through several times. But the Berkeley staff knew they might have an advantage on the wings, and it’s also why Ruth Bryson and her expert foot started at flyhalf and Ashley English, with her stellar defense, moved back to fullback.
The first score was a debilitating one for Twin Cities. The Zons were deep in Berkeley’s end, but a knock-on in the tackle awarded a scrum to the All Blues. Instead of kicking for territory, the ball moved to inside center Lucy Croy, who did well to find seams between defenders, charged upfield and just as she was reigned in, passed to wing Vix Folayan. The Eagle burned down the sideline, fending her opposite and out-pacing fullback Ashley Mulford for a long try. Ruth Bryson hit the conversion for the 7-0 lead.
Many of Berkeley’s opportunities came from turnovers, and the All Blues were able to turn those into quick breaks.
“We never really got anything clean,” Flores said. “We’d turn something over and make something out of it quickly. Griffin broke through a couple of times and sometimes we got support there for the breakaway. We never got anything from a set piece – not that I thought we ever could.”
Mulford had her revenge for the next score. After a couple of penalties that allowed the Zons to advance into Berkeley’s end and some nice offloads in contact to keep the ball alive, flyhalf Rebecca Radtke took the ball weakside off a quick ruck. Mulford got the pass then dragged Bryson about 10 meters laterally before diving over the tryline in the corner, 7-5. There the half ended.
“We talked at half and they were tired,” Flores said of her players. “The Amazons are big girls and kept coming at them. We’re small girls and we started laying back and got tired a little bit. The Amazons came on hard.”
Some key subs in prop Margaret Sharp and inside center Jill Whitfield helped with the workrate around the field.
Flores instructed her team that they weren’t following the game plan. The team had talked about running more vertically even if that meant running under lines, but the players will still running sideways. First- and second-phase defense, especially after the Amazons’ centers broke through, were not up to par either.
“Nothing went absolutely right for us today, but we were still able to pull something out,” Flores said. “We played good catch-up defense, and we were able to reorganize and catch them in the back field. Not the best position to be in most of the time, but then they were alone and that’s often how we were able to get the ball back. If we had a better front line defense and run those lines, then it would have been a sure win for us.”
Berkeley got their next score from a fortuitous knockon on an Amazon break out wide. From the scrum, scrumhalf Jossy Tseng rushed a well-staffed defense, then made an amazing offload to outside center Kelly Griffin coming on at pace. She fended wing Dez Markovich and Mulford for the try. Bryson made the conversion, 14-5.
With 15 minutes left, the Amazons made good on a series of penalties in Berkeley’s end, and Markovich pulled her side to within six points, 14-8.
The Amazons responded with some nice forward phases, lots of picks-and-goes and forward punches. They’d inch their way into the 22 meter only to have a Bryson boot or Folayan kick ahead push them back to the 50 meter.
The nail in the coffin came with about 10 minutes remaining, when Bryson slotted a dropgoal from about 20 meters out, 17-8.
“We wanted to play expansive rugby, but if your team isn’t playing expansive rugby, then you take whatever you can get,” Flores said.
Flores commended the work of scrumhalf Tseng for organizing what was happening on the field and front row Kate Augustyn for doing all of the dirty work in the breakdowns and slowing down Amazon quick ball.
For Bruggemeyer and his team, he’s nothing but happy for their accomplishments this season.
“They got better every game,” Bruggemeyer said. “We set goals and standards before season, and all I asked is that they get better and stronger every game all the way to the end and they did that.
“They’re disappointed but they played hard and didn’t get blown out it,” Bruggemeyer continued. “It was the highest finish the team’s ever had. This is the kind of loss where they want to go right back at it. If they had done one or two things different in their heads, they could have won the game. That kind of loss doesn’t eat at you; it makes you want to work harder.”
A great finale to another memorable season, and the All Blues have a year to enjoy their first WPL title.