(Photo: Berkeley v San Diego should highlight this weekend's games. Cynthia Wright photo.)
The Women’s Premier League gets rolling this weekend and welcomes first-timers Glendale to the fold. The Raptors will have a tough inauguration, competing in a division that includes current champion Berkeley, San Diego and New York, but are a welcome addition.
Glendale finished second to Chicago North Shore at last year’s DI club championship, then challenged the Minnesota Valkyries for their spot in the league. Since then, the club has undergone a lot of change. Head coach Lisa Rosen has moved on, as has DI championship MVP Jill Potter, who is a USA 7s resident now. Glendale’s current CIPP roster reflects fewer than half of last year’s total, but that’s not to say the team’s short on talent.
The big names are still there – Hannah Stolba, Kitt Wagner, Andrea Prusinski, Sarah Wilson – and the Colorado side has some exciting additions to boot. Sarah Chobot has relocated from the Minnesota Valkyries; standout scrumhalf for the Midwest, Brittany Houston, has graduated from UW Milwaukee and moved south; and fellow Collegiate All American Joanna Kitlinski has found a home with the Raptors.
Glendale is fortunate to ring in their WPL experience against New York at home. The two-time champions finished fifth in the WPL’s third year, and if they finished 5th again this year, then it would be an achievement.
New York is not the team it used to be, and it’s safe to say that Beantown has retained rights to East Coast Powerhouse. The roster indicates that only 25 players are currently CIPPed for play, meaning depth is going to be a limiting factor for New York this season. A lot of pressure will be heaped upon the shoulders of leaders like Rebecca Brafman, Rosie Meisner and Kath Ryan; while players like Katie Brethel and Erika Granger help comprise a solid supporting cast.
Fact is, a team can’t have a successful WPL season with only 25 players. It’s too difficult to properly prepare the next generation when half of the games are a flight away and the numbers don’t support a B side match.
On the other side of the spectrum, San Diego and Berkeley are running healthy, well staffed clubs. These two teams face off on Saturday and should vie for the most exciting game of the weekend. The two have developed a nice West Coast rivalry, which played out over the summer as the sides traded 7s victories. San Diego ended on top, banking a semifinal overtime win against Berkeley before nabbing the club 7s championship.
But now it’s time to reintegrate the forwards’ game, and that’s where Berkeley should regain their footing. Phoebe Boone, Emily Van Gulik, Katie Chou and Kate Augustyn are just a few players who epitomize the All Blues’ hard-nosed, yet mobile forward game. And as expected, an all-star cast of backs will be returning, led by Jossy Tseng, Vix Folayan and the Gardner sisters.
But San Diego proved over the summer that they could contain Berkeley’s speed, and showcased some nifty open-field style of their own. Newcomer Hannah Lopez was electric on the wing, while club 7s MVP Emilie Bydwell, Ryan Carlyle and Katie Lorenz played excellently on either side of the ball. The 15s season welcomes back heavy-hitters like flanker Shaina Turley, flyhalf Marea Blue and playmaker extraordinaire Emily Ogata. And Lauren Daly, who debuted for the Eagles last year, has relocated to San Diego to bolster the pack.
In the other division, we’re expecting an equally exciting match between Twin Cities Amazons and Beantown. The two met during the WPL semifinals last year, and it all came down to the final moments, when the Zons pulled away with a 29-25 win. It was a heart-breaking loss for Beantown, which is why they’re approaching this league opener with vigor.
Beantown will be on the road, but with 48 players CIPPed and ready to play, one can presume they’re bringing a quality squad. Mari Wallace, Sharyn Wacht, Mel Denham, Amy Daniels and Ashley Clancy are the well-knowns; and exciting youngsters like Liz Fierman, Evan Hoese (Radcliffe), Jackie Cairns (Penn State), Emily Hsieh (Brown) and Alyssa Green (Chicago North Shore) are all welcome additions.
Beantown also runs a DII team, so it has yet to be seen which of the younger players will be working with the WPL side, but all have the potential. Additionally, a handful of players who also have national team commitments pick and choose the away games they attend, limiting their financial burden.
But playing at home, the Zons will have their full team at their disposal. We should see Stacey Bridges, Lynelle Kugler, Sylvia Braaten, Rebecca Radtke, Amanda Kingzett and Jamie Zarembinski. The team also welcomes former USA U20 captain Katie Johnson, whose loose forward skills translated nicely into the open field during the club 7s championship.
The Zons have the advantage in this matchup, but the rest of their season will be stressful. Much like New York, all three division opponents are a flight away. Beantown, Keystone and DC Furies are driving distance.
Rivals Keystone and DC Furies round out play in this division, but this year marks the first in which DC is favored.
The Furies ended their season on a high note, earning a clutch win for 7th place and avoiding relegation. In 2012, the squad has a league-leading 54 players CIPPed (although, again, they also run a DII team), whereas Keystone has a league-trailing 22 players listed.
The Furies have found success without their superstars, and that philosophy will continue into this season. That’s not to say that DC doesn’t have their standouts – Laura Miller, Julie Hogan, Jess Shipley, Jeanna Beard in particular – but they’ve all worked together for a long time and rely on that familiarity.
Keystone is struggling with only 22 players rostered. Kim Magrini, Stacy Baker, Devin Keller, Alison Worman, Frances Male and Rachel Sachs are the players to watch, and the players on which to lean if they’re to beat a better fortified DC side. The teams face off in DC’s territory, and we’re picking the hometown team to upset the historically stronger Pennsylvania side.
Stay tuned for all the results as they occur.
Saturday, Sept. 8
San Diego @ Berkeley
Keystone @ DC
Beantown @ Twin Cities
Sunday, Sept. 9
New York @ Glendale