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By Jackie Finlan

 In a certain regard, Life West is like many teams. The Gladiatrix dominated their local and – as last weekend showed – regional competition and have had to rely on each other and the staff to challenge themselves. But Life West is a new entity, playing in its first official NorCal season, so every step deeper into the DII national post-season is a first.

The program itself is young, but the roster’s experience isn’t. The ranks are filled with players who have competed in elite, high-pressure games, ranging from international tests with the USA 15s team, to the Women’s Premier League, to DI college and high school national championships.

“We have girls who have been in quite a few playoff games and high-level matches, and it’s great that they can provide leadership on the field,” Life West coach Alex Houser said. “They drive the standard and expectations of the squad. Across the board, everyone – even some of the lesser experienced girls – have set high goals for themselves.”

Loose forward/lock Megan Pinson and scrumhalf Nikki Kenyon are responsible for driving the on-field performance. They keep the squad focused during run-away games and attentive during training.

“Any time you’re in a situation with a team that is winning by large margins, players can sometimes close off their ears to messages from the coaches and things like that,” Houser said. “All in all, they’ve been pretty receptive to what we’ve been telling them, that we’re going to run into a team that is as good if not better than us. And we need to be prepared.”

The coaches attempt to keep tensions high by getting creative at practice.

“We just try to create stressful environments in training in terms of getting them fatigued and forcing them to execute at a high rate and tempo,” the coach explained. “At times, we’ve pulled over some of the men’s players to run against them for some opposition and create more pressure. The girls are really ambitious and want to improve and be successful. They’ve done a good job of keeping expectations high.”

With the exception of a couple of players nursing injuries, Life West took its top side to Seattle last Saturday for the Pacific North championship. The NorCal champ played Pacific Northwest champion Bend (read more on their path to the title bout) and ended the one-day roundtrip with a 112-0 win.

“The score didn’t reflect how good Bend was,” Houser said. “It was one of those special games where one through 15 and all of the reserves clicked. Everything was in sync for the full 80 minutes. The score isn’t a reflection of the quality of the opposition. They had opportunities to score but weren’t able to capitalize, and they fought until the end.”

Life West didn’t play much defense on Saturday and deployed the up-tempo, expansive game that contrasted with the opposition’s more direct, confrontational style. Houser singled out flanker Morgan Rovetti (whose sister, Stephanie, started playing and was named West Coast championship MVP), who joined during the summer 7s season and has continued strongly throughout the year. Glendale transfer Hali Deters has injected more athleticism into the back three, as well. The wing has paired with a number of different centers over the season and has always done well.

“I have a reasonable idea of where we’re at, but we haven’t been forced to come back from a halftime deficit or anything like that. I imagine that will change down in Tucson,” Houser looked toward the DII national quarterfinals. “The level of the teams there will bring more pressure, and just the fact that we have play Saturday/Sunday, that creates some unknowns.

“We’re in a good place,” the coach added. “We’re relatively healthy for being this deep in the season. The game plan is really starting to progress. The ladies are taking in the lessons that we as coaches are trying to get across. We’re certainly starting to gel and play as a squad.”

Life West will play SoCal champ Ventura in the national quarterfinals on Saturday, May 21. The Outlaws earned their return bid after defeating Tucson 28-18 with 13 players in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, either Red River runner-up Houston Athletic or Frontier champion Kansas City Jazz will serve as opposition. The team with two wins will face the eastern bracket champion on June 4 in Glendale, Colo.

“They’re excited,” Houser confirmed. “We had a few girls from last year’s team when they were ineligible for post-season play. They, in particular, are looking forward to the opportunity that we couldn’t have last season. Coming off a plane to Seattle, playing a game same-day and putting on a performance like that – they’re on a high.”