Merlins Runners Up In Tenth Anniversary WPL Championship
Glendale Side Falls to San Diego In Shootout Match
In their second year playing under the Merlins moniker, Glendale’s Women’s Premier League (WPL) side once again found themselves in contention for a championship victory. In a game that had fans on the edges of their seats, the Merlins fell to the San Diego Surfers, earning a fourth second-place in the squad’s decade-long history. Though certainly not the result the team was after, the Merlins have no reason to doubt that they gave their all – Sunday’s championship was a shootout.
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The Surfers wasted little time in getting the championship bout underway on Sunday, dotting down just five minutes in and converting off the crossbar to take a 7-0 lead. A high tackle call against the San Diego side gave veteran Glendale fly-half Hannah Stolba a chance at points, and after nailing the penalty kick the Merlins came within 4 points. At 15 minutes in Stolba’s boot would again be true, bringing Glendale just one point shy of the Surfers’ lead.
The Merlins’ Charley Thompson then gave the Colorado side its first lead of the match three minutes later. Though the try zone was found, a failed conversion made the advantage short-lived. The Surfers dotted down twice in rapid succession, but lead changes continued throughout the exciting conclusion of the match. Glendale’s 8-man, Joanna Kitlinski, touched down at 34 and 40 minutes, adding to the list of Merlins putting points on the board. The conversion successful to close the first half, Glendale went into the break ahead 25-21 over San Diego.
The action only intensified during the second half of championship play in Atlanta. The Surfers dotted down and converted just two minutes in, taking the lead over the Merlins. A penalty on the California side saw Glendale with an opportunity to tie the match: bringing things even off of Stolba’s boot, the WPL title hung once again in the balance with just 25 minutes to play. The Surfers would capitalize on two Merlins penalties late in the match, splitting the uprights each time to take a 34-28 lead. Glendale’s offense was able to bring considerable pressure in the closing minutes, working hard to bring home the win, but despite finishing down a player, San Diego mounted an impressive defense and prevented the comeback. The Surfers walked off the pitch as 2018 Women’s Premier League Champions following a game that was easily the most exciting of the season.
Merlins Assistant Coach and incoming Glendale Youth Programs Coordinator Jamie Burke was understandably disappointed with the weekend’s final result, but she noted that the match was ultimately good for fans, and for the league: “We gave the fans an incredible show, and everything came down to the wire. We didn’t get the win that we wanted, but the team played good rugby.”