When the Women’s Premier League formed five years ago, one objective was clear: to provide consistent, high-level games concentrated in a competitive season. The teams themselves had to figure out how to sustain their finances, personnel and morale in this new, demanding environment – some failed, some succeeded. But triumph isn’t necessarily a trophy come mid-November; progress – the idea that the plan is working – is just as important.
We followed the Washington, D.C., Furies closely this year, especially when the team defeated New York (twice) and Beantown for the first time in the WPL, ending with their most successful league record to date. The team had acquired a few all-star players (namely backs Amanda Street, Katie O’Malley and Lauren Rhode) but the Furies aren’t a destination team like Berkeley, Glendale or Twin Cities – so this turn of fortune wasn’t the result on an influx of Eagles.
“The Furies, from the beginning, bought into the idea of the WPL,” D.C. coach Dre Khoury said. “We created a WPL manager position on our executive board; hired additional coaches; created a division 2 side to provide competitive games for our younger, less experienced players; set fitness standards; and set goals each year for our success in the WPL. Although the Furies have struggled in the first few years, never breaking into the top five teams, we have never wavered in our original commitment to play at the highest level of women's rugby possible.”
It’s been a group effort, grueling at times, but there were certain individuals who helped D.C. realize some tangible success this year. RUGBYMag’s Women’s Club 15s Player of the Year is an emblem of the longstanding work that is required to experience success: veteran lock Joanna Bader.
A Fury since 1995, Bader has held every position from club president, to WPL representative, to captain, “and garners the respect of every player and every coach,” Khoury said. She is one player who never wanted to back down from the demands of the WPL, and she raises the play of those around her.
“She's consistent, smart and skillful. She works hard and doesn't expect a lot of gratitude for the sacrifices that she has made,” Khoury said. “She rarely makes the big plays, but is one of the smartest players I’ve ever played with, and the team seriously suffers when she’s not on the field. … Her hard work and dedication is inspiring, and she usually wins our Most Valuable Forward award each year.”
When editing game photos, Bader is rarely seen on a rumbling breakaway; she’s in support of that linebreak, ready to ruck over and secure possession. Her name isn’t announced over the PA system for a try or penalty kick; she’s doing the dirty work, both on and off the field.
“Every Fury has a tremendous amount of respect for her and defers to her leadership and decision-making,” Khoury said. “The Furies would not be where we are today without Joanna and everything she brings to the Fury family.”