By WRCRA Staff
Women’s rugby in the United States has been built by the community it exists to serve. Players, coaches, referees, administrators, and journalists work interchangeably and seamlessly to support and grow the game, sometimes with single individuals holding multiple roles with multiple teams all at the same time. This structure creates an ownership and level of commitment not often seen in other sports, with those engaged looking to further the sport overall as much as their own skills.
Milla Sanes, current Women’s Premier League (WPL) Commissioner, is a prime example of how members of the women’s rugby community can make an impact beyond the pitch. Having played most recently for the DC Furies, Milla began her more administrative engagement by asking the simple question, “your plate looks full - what can I take?” This lead to positions on the DC Furies Executive Board and eventually election as Commissioner of the WPL.
The WPL, like so many other structures within women’s rugby is entirely player-run, working in partnership with USA Rugby to execute an eight game season and national championship. Now in its 11th season, the WPL was the brainchild of WRCRA members and supporters Kathy Flores and Alex Williams to raise the level of domestic competition for the ultimate benefit of strengthening the national teams. Teams within the WPL have B or developmental sides, focused on increasing player pathways and making rugby accessible to all who want to play. Milla credits the longevity and stability of the league to the teams themselves and their commitment to keeping the WPL responsive to the ever-changing and evolving game.
Milla, starting the final year of her four-year term, describes herself as a pragmatic paperwork person, leaving a legacy for the league focused on infrastructure, including long-term contracts and financials. Like all good administrators, Milla believes that a solid foundation is key to enabling other leaders to dream big and implement new things. Because of this infrastructure, she’s leaving the WPL having accomplished two major goals - to expand the league from eight to ten teams without taking numbers away from D1, and to bring back promotion and relegation, or challenge matches, to keep both the WPL and D1 competitive. With that, the first challenge match in six years was held last season.
Looking ahead, Milla is thinking about how to get high school and college players to know about the WPL. The league is always looking for more players and wants to address the big drop-off that typically takes place after high school and college. To start the player pathways earlier, the WPL allows certain college players to join a WPL team for a specified number of games during a season. It also asks for commitments from teams to build youth programs. Milla hopes that initiatives such as these will challenge the perception that there’s a lack of transparency at higher levels of play. She encourages anyone who has questions about the WPL to email her at email@example.com.
Finally, for those players who for one reason or another don’t want to or can’t play anymore, Milla is a great role model for how to step into the administrative side of the game. The downside of a player-run sport is that there are always more goals to accomplish than bandwidth to accomplish them. However, the upside is that this presents fantastic opportunities for former players to stay involved, continuing to impact their teams and the game even though they no longer attend practices. Not sure where to start? You can follow Milla’s lead by asking, “your plate looks full - what can I take?”
For more information about the WPL, please visit their website. USWRF-WRCRA is also building out a WPL section where we'll feature the high-performance pathways of WPL players, referees, coaches, and administrators.