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By Jackie Finlan

Photo: City View Photography (Aubrey Huey)

Thus far, Life West has made the most of its first official season, advancing to the DII club national championship after back-to-back wins last weekend. The Gladiatrix traveled to sunny Tucson, Ariz., and bettered Ventura and Houston Athletic by a combined 159-37.

But it wasn’t all bright skies for the Hayward, Calif., side. In its quarterfinal against Ventura, Life West lost two influential contributors: flanker Morgan Rovetti to a broken leg and center Jenn Sever to a strained calf. The forwards shuffled around, as hooker Aubrey Huey moved to flanker, and Sarah MacArthur came off the bench to slot into the front row. Hali Deters bumped in from the wing.

Nevertheless, Life West played the fast, wily game for which it’s known and defeated the Outlaws 62-29 (read more on the quarterfinals). Ventura surged in the second half and logged the most points-against the Gladiatrix all season.
“They did put us under some pressure – more so than we’ve had in the back half of the season,” Life West coach Alex Houser said. “They put a good number of points on us.

“It was a combination of making a couple [personnel] changes and maybe a little mental drop-off,” the coach spoke to the fourth-quarter scoring. “The Ventura girls kept fighting and running hard. They didn’t hang their heads at all, despite being down quite a bit at half.”

Houser welcomed the day-one pressure, as Ventura illuminated some areas on defense that needed refinement. The coach reviewed the need for better scanning and wider spacing, and the team did well to internalize those lessons for Sunday.

Houston Athletic advanced to the DII semifinals after defeating the Kansas City Jazz 46-26 on Saturday. The Texans, however, did not enjoy similar success against Life West and fell 97-8 on Sunday. Ventura, which brought 16 players to Tucson, defeated KC Jazz 57-22 in the consolation match.

“They were actually a pretty physical side and had some good size, especially in the forwards,” Houser said. “They pushed us around in the scrum, and we had a hard time getting clean ball. So we had to adapt in terms of getting our ball from the back foot of the scrum. They had some good, big ball-runners – like Ventura – and we had to take them down low, which we did well.”

Fullback Cameo Motley stood out on the weekend. Fast and precise, she inserted into the backline and carved through the open field to lead her team in tries scored.

“A lot of that was set up by the forwards,” Houser said of the opportunity. “Huey had a solid weekend. [Lock] Rosie Russell did well, took care of a lot of the dirty work and setting the platform. And our 9/10 – Nikki Kenyon and Megan Foster – they did a good job of getting the ball out and wide.”

Houser was particularly pleased with how seamlessly the squad functioned without its injured players on day two. The semifinal saw a more unified team come together and solve problems as a group, an attribute that will come in handy come championship time.

“Everyone’s happy that we got two wins; that was the goal coming in,” Houser said. “The girls are really excited and looking forward to heading to Denver. They have their work cut out for them against the defending champs, but we’ll have a look at what they do and what we need to adjust tactically for them. We’ll rest up and recover, and refine our systems.”