(Photo: Hannah Stolba helped lead a new Glendale to their first WPL win. John Cameron photo)
Just entering the Women’s Premier League was a feat in itself for Glendale. After losing to Chicago North Shore in last year’s DI final, the Raptors jumped at the chance to challenge the Minnesota Valkyries for their spot in the elite league. Everything changed dramatically after they won that challenge match. The team transitioned from one that demolished their regular-season opponents, to one that must play the best squads in the nation. They gained and lost several key players, and also got a new coach.
Despite the myriad of changes, Glendale inaugurated its WPL career with a 27-22 victory over New York.
“On the one hand, we knew to expect an intense match against a solid team,” Glendale captain Nina Safane said. “It was going to be a higher level of play in general. On the other hand, we didn’t know what to expect until we faced it. But we worked together well, stayed positive, and I’m glad to say the outcome was in our favor.”
New York traveled with fewer than 20 players, but it was enough to pressure Glendale and maintain the lead at a couple of different stages in the game. Rebecca Brafman moved from inside center to prop, and had an excellent 80 minutes. Fullback Kath Ryan also played well and was able to exploit some gaps in the Glendale defense.
The Raptors had some issues executing their game plan, common of an early-game season but also symptomatic of a handful of players arriving in Glendale only weeks ago. Impact players Brittany Houston and Joanna Kitlinski arrived from the Midwest recently, as did Sarah Chobot, although she didn’t play due to injury.
Glendale’s forwards were on point, with big performances coming from No. 8 Taryn Brennan, flanker Kitt Wagner and tight-fiver Sarah Wilson. But New York did well to challenge the Raptors’ set pieces, and that will certainly be a focal point in the weeks to come.
“Mark has a lot of experience, both with men’s and women’s teams,” Safane said of the new coach. “Every coach has their own style, but he’s doing a good job figuring out which strategies work best with the players here.”
The backs were working a new lineup, trying out different combinations like Safane, a former forward, working in the line. Although the backline needed some time to shake off the early-game jitters, they adapted well to the modifications Bullock had made. Safane accounted for two tries, while flyhalf Hannah Stolba and Tanya Hansel contributed five-pointers.
Glendale led 17-10 at half. New York was able to add two more tries and a conversion through solid phase play. Neither side saw big linebreaks lead to scores, with the exception of Stolba’s intercept try. The Raptors dotted down a fourth try – earning the bonus point – and a Stolba conversion and penalty.
“Mark said that being in the WPL, no team is going to give up,” Safane said of the new coach. “That was clear the whole time on both sides. We couldn’t give up for a second, and it pushed us to figure things out and stay positive.”
All told, it was a good first outing for Glendale, but they enter into even tougher opposition next weekend, when they come up against San Diego. The Surfers dropped a closing-minutes match to reigning WPL champ Berkeley, 20-17, yesterday. Regardless, there’s no better way to usher in a new era for a team than a win on home turf.