(Photo: Glendale's commitment to a tighter game helped produce the upset win over San Diego. JD Black photo).
A cracker of a match occurred between Glendale and San Diego during the second round of the Women’s Premier League. After trailing 13-6 into the second half, the WPL newcomers surged ahead in the last 10 minutes to win 21-20 victory.
Glendale played in San Diego’s end for a good portion of the first half but let a couple of scoring opportunities go unrealized with turnovers. But two solid penalty kicks from flyhalf Hannah Stolba established a 6-0 lead for the visitors.
San Diego got on the board after a quick-tap penalty, eating up 40 meters before Liz Strohecker dotted down for the try. Kirstin Hartos slotted a penalty to end the second half, and the home team took an 8-6 lead into the break.
Glendale coach Mark Bullock wasn’t phased by the lead change, and kept his players’ spirits high during the halftime talk.
“My main focus was our defensive line speed,” Bullock said. “I rate San Diego pretty high and their speed in back play concerned us. In this point of our development, they are superior to us in that area of the game. We made some minor adjustments in the second half, but I was pleased overall with our ability to shut them down.”
More than anything, Bullock did not want to get into a track meet with San Diego, so Glendale played the ball in tighter. Flanker Kitt Wagner was key to that strategy and was a great go-forward force. Stolba did well to manage the team’s game plan, and young centers Becca Wezensky and Gedda Rodriguez-Howard followed through on defense.
“They were really solid considering they’re not far out of college,” Bullock said of the center pairing. “They tackled when they needed to tackle, ran hard, and did all the little, important things. They didn’t do anything flashy, but played solidly with few errors.”
That said, San Diego is too strong a force to completely shut down. Ten minutes into the second half, a missed tackle allowed wing Val Griffeth score in the corner for the 13-6 lead. Glendale kept faith in their game plan, however, and were rewarded with three tries.
The first came from wing Andrea Prusinski, who ended the day with a brace of tries. Glendale tapped through a penalty, built some nice phases, then sent the wing into try zone for the unconverted try in the corner (13-11 San Diego).
With less than 10 minutes left in the match, fullback Kandis Ruiz finished off some more forward phase play for a try, and then Pruzinski dotted down after a kick-and-chase. But the game was far from over, and San Diego scored on the subsequent kickoff, when Glendale tried to run the ball out of their half. But it was the hometeam’s final points of the day, and the Raptors’ returned to Colorado with their second WPL win, 21-20.
“The game could have gone either way,” Bullock said. “We were pretty even in the set pieces, in the scrum in particular, but they were superior in back play overall. San Diego played the style they wanted to play, relying on their backs’ abilities to catch, pass and run. We played within our capabilities.”
Ideally, Bullock would like to play the wide-open style that San Diego plays, but the team isn’t there yet in terms of development. After six years coaching Glendale's men's team, Bullock is still familiarizing himself with the women's squad and teams in the league.
“As a coach, you’re always looking at what you have to do be successful,” Bullock said. “You might have a certain playing philosophy, but you must look at the personnel you have and the stage of development you’re in. We’re still finding our feet in the WPL competition, so this was a big win for us and I’m really pleased with the outcome.”
Glendale now leads the Red Conference, while San Diego has slipped into fourth. The Surfers have lost both of their matches by one point. In other Red Conference news, New York upset Berkeley 25-5 and now sits in second place.