Suffice to say, the San Diego v Twin Cities match this weekend was the most highly anticipated of the Women’s Premier League season thus far. The two red conference teams were 2-0 entering the weekend, and both had surprised traditionally stronger teams New York and Minnesota Valkyries.
San Diego had the home advantage, but it did not seem the case at kickoff. Eagle lock Stacey Bridges tore downfield, and although Surfers No. 8 Emily Ogata tracked her down, the Amazons eventually converted the favorable field position into five points, thanks to Morgan Johnson.
Twin Cities attacked the fringe relentlessly and San Diego struggled to slow the visitor’s forward momentum. As the Zons worked downfield, Sylvia Braaten found her way into the try zone for the 10-0 lead.
“I felt like we had been socked in the face,” San Diego captain Jill Duggan said. “We just needed to find some rhythm on defense and maintain possession of the ball. In terms of defense, we really needed to play with much more aggression than we initially started with, and once we started moving forward we could work with our offense.”
As Rebecca Radtke lined up for her second conversion attempt, the Surfers convened for a quick pep talk, and then and there decided to pick up their intensity.
“Everybody was fired up and felt a sense of duty to do their part,” Duggan continued, “whether that be making tackles behind the gain line and/or making our presence known around the rucks.”
The uptick in aggression saw the Amazons commit some penalties, and soon enough, San Diego was in position to get on the board. After some sustained forward pressure, the ball swung wide to wing Casey Fields, who was able to round the corner for the try, 10-5.
Penalties continued to plague Twin Cities, and San Diego made the best of their attacking opportunities. On the try line once again, Kate Rohr rumbled over the line for the try, and Kirstin Hartos’ conversion gave the hosts their first lead of the game, 12-10.
Although the tide seemed to be shifting, the Amazons were far from fatigued. After San Diego stifled a crash into the try zone, the Zons retained possession and eventually saw Braaten into the try zone for her second on the day, 17-12.
The lead was short-lived, however, as fullback Mandy Wilson inserted into the line for the tying try. With the last quarter ticking away, flyhalf and captain Marea Blue took a lineout ball through a narrow gap for the 22-17 lead that stood until the whistle.
“It was an uphill battle that was just as much an emotional/mental battle as it was physical,” Duggan said. "We knew coming into the weekend that we had a very tough match ahead of us, and going down early to the Zons was not familiar territory.
“We made some mistakes overall, but we never got down on each and remained positive throughout the game,” Duggan continued. “And then once we stepped up our defense and aggression, that really paid off both physically and emotionally. In a game so close, it is easy to give in to the pressure, and we really held our own and played more as a team than ever. We earned every meter as a team and that is a direct result of our positivity.”
This weekend, San Diego will attempt to replicate the effort on foreign soil, but the Zons now have even more reason to give their hometown fans a reason to cheer: revenge.
“This felt like more than a league match and I am looking forward to a hell of a match this coming weekend,” Duggan concluded, “even though my body would prefer more of a rest.”
Tries: Johnson, Braaten 2
Tries: Fields, Rohr, Wilson, Blue