(Photo: Berkeley comes from behind to defeat San Diego in closing minutes. Cynthia Wright photo)
The last time San Diego and Berkeley met, the Surfers defeated the then-reigning Club 7s champions in a brilliant overtime victory before claiming the national title. About a month later, the two sides were back at it, only this time it was for the opening win of the Women's Premier League season. A similar game evolved, but this time, it was Berkeley who delivered the upset, earning the come-from-behind 20-17 win in the closing minutes.
The match was easily the toughest game the All Blues have played in recent memory, and Berkeley was lucky to pull ahead during the final two minutes of the match.
“Personally, I look at it as a loss,” Berkeley coach Kathy Flores said. “Yes, it was the first game of the season, we had some different people in there, but you can’t blame it on that. We were taught some valuable lessons, and while we were able to win, we were lucky to do so.”
San Diego played the type of game that Flores wished her side had emulated. They did an excellent job moving the ball wide and spreading the defense, while Berkeley struggled to slow the ball down in the rucks. The forwards were just as potent on offense, able ball handlers who were also keen on counter-rucking.
Berkeley had some opportunity to open up the scoring, but had difficulty converting long bouts of possession inside the Surfers’ 22 meter into points.
“We made some poor decisions on when to kick for points, and then we’d turn the ball over,” Flores said. “I was not happy with our defense, either. There was no discipline – we had some, we were able to win, but it’s not what we’d like. And we’d like to clean up our running lines. In my opinion, San Diego dominated.”
But it wasn’t all sour notes for Berkeley. Flores was pleased with how captain Katie Chou and fellow lock Sarah Walsh performed. And the coach also enjoyed watching Vix Folayan try her hand at outside center from wing.
“Katie Chou had a cracker of a game,” Flores commended. “She was everywhere making tackles and turning ball over. Both locks were dominate forces.
“Vix is an explosive runner, so it’s nice to see what opportunities could be there,” Flores added. “She’s young to the position, so we need to work on timing and all that.”
Flores had told the squad that she was playing all 23 players regardless of the score, and impact players like flanker Cynthia Wright and wing Ardia Keller came through in a big way. San Diego had a two-point lead heading into the final minutes of the match, but were down to 14 on the pitch after a concussion sidelined a player and all the subs had been exhausted. Walsh blocked a 22-meter kick that fell into Berkeley’s hands for the go-ahead try.
But with 30 seconds left in the match, the Surfers got around Berkeley’s defense and outran the defense. Fortunately for the All Blues, the ballcarrier knocked on at the five meter, and there the game ended.
“It’s always a good match between us, and it’ll go one way or the other,” Flores said. “We have a good relationship with San Diego in general, as many of the players know each other from playing together on different teams. We enjoy their style of rugby, and they enjoy ours. We’re happy to be in the same league together.”
It’s evident that there is a lot of respect between these two teams, and Flores and her players are excited to be even more challenged in the league this year. They’re joined by Glendale, which fought its way into the WPL after defeating the Minnesota Valkyries in a challenge match last year. San Diego battled their way into the WPL as well, and both newcomers are prime examples of teams striving to play at this level of competition, rather than simply existing in it.
New York and Glendale are currently playing their first match of the day in Colorado. Stay tuned for results as they occur.