Berkeley returns to the Women’s Premier League final after a 46-28 victory of the Twin Cities Amazons during today’s semifinals. The score doesn’t do the contest justice – a brutal, tight game marked the majority of the match, but the All Blues wore down the Zons in the final quarter to run in three unanswered tries to end the game.
But the first eye-popper belonged to Twin Cities. Two minutes in and WPL lead scorer Lynelle Kugler broke through the line for a centered try that Rebecca Radtke converted.
“That was a wake-up call for us,” Berkeley captain Katie Chou said. “It was a long journey for us to get here, and that served as a kick in the butt for us. We needed it – that woke us up – and we responded.”
Immediately. Berkeley jump-started their game plan and took the next possession in for a Phoebe Boone try. Incredibly evasive wing Ardia Keller dotted down minutes later, and then Boone dotted down 10 minutes after her first try. With flyhalf Ruth Bryson’s conversion, Berkeley was suddenly out to 17-7 lead.
Berkeley’s offensive flurry paired with an ardent defense with a specific goal.
“We expected a physical match in the forwards, and we took care of that very well,” Chou said. “They weren’t able to get around the forwards. We wanted to shut them down there and not let them get it out to Lynelle. We put a couple of people on the ball, so it never got offloaded.”
That said, Kugler isn’t a force to be stifled. When Twin Cities needed a boost, Kugler could be found stopping a ballcarrier in her tracks or piercing the line at pace. She set up the Amazons’ second score, slicing through the line for a long break that inside center Katie Johnson supported nicely for the offload and try.
The pair teamed up for the next score as well, as Johnson intercepted a flat pass and made an amazing pass out of contact (which she did several times on the day) to Kugler at the line. Radtke’s conversion gave Twin Cities the 19-17 lead.
But that was the last lead that Twin Cities enjoyed. Berkeley scrumhalf Jossy Tseng quick-tapped through a series of penalties to gain ground into Amazons’ territory. No. 8 Liz Terry took advantage of some retreating defense, slipped through the line and came down around the 22. After a couple of attempts at the line, Chou finally dove over for the go-ahead try. Bryson’s conversion gave Berkeley a 24-19 into the break.
“We reassessed everything during halftime,” Chou said. “We came out of the half even and knew we needed to turn it on. The game continued to be even, but we just kept upping the pace and finished hard at the end. And that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”
About 10 minutes into the second stanza, Jill Whitfield straightened up Bryson’s slant and crashed intot the tryzone. Kugler and Johnson were not done, teamed up again after another beautiful offload and crash for a five-pointer that Radtke converted (29-26).
But then three tries from Keller, Whitfield and replacement wing Vix Folayan put the game out of reach.
“They had nothing to say,” Chou said of the coaches’ post-game debrief. “We’re going to the championships, which is what we came here to do. We’re ready we want to bring it back again.”
Berkeley will see Glendale in the final. The two have split games during the season, each team defeating the other while on the road. There’s no doubt that a fierce final awaits.
“We have to adjust our strategy once we know who we’ll play,” Chou said before the Glendale match. “In general, though, we need to take it up another notch. That has been our strategy all season – set a baseline and keep building every game.”
There’s only one more rung to climb: repeating as WPL champion.