January 26, 2016 |By Jackie Finlan (The Rugby Breakdown)
The country is still relatively quiet in terms of rugby action, especially among women’s senior clubs. But there is some noise in Northern California, and it’s bellowing from Hayward.
Life West is currently 2-0 in DII NorCal, having defeated San Jose 81-0 and Berkeley 48-0 during the first two weeks of league play. Spring 2016 marks the first true competitive season for the Gladiatrix, as last year’s inaugural team was hampered by eligibility issues (WPL crossovers). The Hayward team did play summer 7s and provided some insight into its powerful ranks during the club 7s national championship.
Since then, Life West Director of Rugby Adriaan Ferris has been able to build out the roster. Running 32 players deep, half of the player pool is comprised of students, eight of which are on scholarship. The CIPP roster is intimidating and could easily be mistaken for a WPL team’s.
Penn State graduate and Eagle prop Catie Benson leads from the front. Benson is a student and injects a lot of high-level experience into the squad. Back row Megan Pinson is also a new addition. The former All American is coming from DI varsity Central Washington, but hasn’t enrolled at Life West.
“She’s a player of the future – she’s tall, has some size on her,” Ferris commended the loose forward. “There is a sharp edge to the way she plays.”
In the backs, center Jenn Sever attracts the most attention. The Cal grad earned her first 15s cap alongside Benson during last summer’s Super Series, and has played with WPL teams Berkeley and San Diego. More recent Cal grad Cameo Motley (pictured) earned another “player of the future” tag from Ferris. Motley is a Hayward native and makes her impact from fullback.
Sheer talent aside, Life West is blessed with resources. Ferris has orchestrated a unique coaching system, where all six staffers apply their specialties to the three Life West teams (men’s DI and DII club, and the women’s DII). For example, Paul Keeler is the set piece expert. The head coach for the new San Francisco PRO team instructs both men’s teams and the women’s side on scrum and lineout skills, technique and strategy. Ferris is in charge of the attack, and he cultivates a distinct New Zealand-style offense with all three teams.
Thus far, the results have been convincing.
“We know there are higher levels,” Ferris considered his team’s place in Division II, the only option in NorCal (outside of the WPL). “Our intention is to go to nationals, but we have to get through the local competition. A couple of teams are standing in our way, and it won’t be easy.”
This weekend, Life West squares up against San Francisco Golden Gate, which tied Berkeley 15-15 in week one. The big game will be against NorCal reigning champ Sacramento. The Gladiatrix and Amazons played in a pre-season match that Life West won 65-0.
“We know that won’t be the case in the regular season,” Ferris said. “They have powerful ballcarriers, and we need to minimize the effect they could have with time and space.”
Northern California will host a final four on April 23-24, and the victor will play the Pacific Northwest champion for a berth to the Western Championship (May 21-22). The national championships (June 4-5) will pit the Western and Eastern champions against each other.