Women’s Premier League Kicks Off 2018 Fall Season
American women’s rugby returns at the highest level this autumn, the Glendale Merlins once again looking to make a top showing in the Women’s Premier League (WPL). Beginning at the end of August, Glendale’s elite women will take the pitch, participating in the top annual rugby union competition in the country. The USA Rugby Women’s Premier League includes the ten best clubs in the country, and is split into two five-team conferences. Competition consists of an eight-game regular season followed by tournament play. Post-season matches determine the two teams that will compete play for the USA Rugby WPL National Championship title. For the second year running, Glendale’s team will compete under the Merlins name, and, as has been characteristic of the squad since its inception, enter the season already a league favorite.
Head Coach Luke Gross
Under the direction of Glendale’s Director of Amateur Rugby and Head Coach Luke Gross, the team eagerly anticipates getting the competition underway. Gross is excited about his squad’s mix of experienced players and new talent, and says that he expects to be a force in the league: “This is the pinnacle of women’s rugby in the United States. We are playing to win every game.” Gross knows something about winning in rugby. A 13-year professional rugby veteran, he’s competed all over the world, previously worked for USA Rugby, and coached the 2014 US Women’s team in the Rugby World Cup. With long experience in the game, he’s ready for the WPL kickoff: “These athletes will bring everything they have, both on and off the field. After a tough loss in last year’s final, they’ve got something to prove, and I’m certain they’re stronger, wiser, and better coming into this season.”
The Women’s Premier League was originally formed to increase domestic competition among female rugby players – a move that the league’s founders thought would be a boon to the U.S. National Rugby Team, the Eagles. Completely player-run, and in partnership with USA Rugby, that vision has been realized, as the bulk of the Women’s USA Eagles squad consists of WPL players. Glendale has long attracted national rugby talent, and boasts an exceptionally impressive, winning record as a result. Glendale’s Women’s Premier League side won back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2014, and were runners up in 2017, 2016, and 2012. Additionally, the Sportswomen of Colorado named the 2015 WPL squad their Team of the Year.
Photo by Justin Purdy
Loosehead Prop Sarah Chobot has been playing rugby in Glendale since 2011. A USA Eagle and veteran of the sport, the Merlins WPL captain represents a significant voice of wisdom on this year’s team. Entering her third year in the leadership role, and as an anchor of the Merlins set piece, Chobot is looking forward to an exciting season at Infinity Park: “Who wouldn’t want to play here? This is the best rugby facility in the country,” she said. Asked about incoming Head Coach Luke Gross, she notes his considerable experience: “He’s a tremendous rugby mind. Our team is accustomed to new patterns, new philosophies. That pays off – we’ve seen so many ideas that it means we’re not stale, we’re not stagnant.” Chobot likens the upcoming WPL season to a favorite television program: “This is the Merlins Show, Season Two. We’ve lost some of our favorite characters, but we’ve got new characters coming on. They’re going to develop, find their niche, their roll.” With a mixture of experience and fresh talent, the Merlins season will no doubt draw plenty of viewers.
The Glendale Merlins WPL team will play their matches inside the stadium at Infinity Park during the 2018 season, opening for the Men’s professional Raptors side as that team competes in exhibition matches ahead of their preseason schedule. If you are interested in joining the Glendale Women’s Rugby program, whether at the WPL or Division 1 level, contact the recruitment chair at email@example.com, or come out to one of the practices to see the team in action. The WPL squad practices Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the Infinity Park turf field.