For the first time in Western Women’s Canadian Football League history, the same teams shall meet again in the WWCFL championship game. The Lethbridge Steel will be looking to grab the title away from the Saskatoon Valkyries, the only franchise to have ever won the coveted championship.
Marking the second consecutive year that the franchises play each other, the stakes are high for both. Lethbridge is looking to become the first team from Alberta to claim the title, while Saskatoon is aiming to become the first to win the title three consecutive times.
Being contested at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, the venue shows that the budding league is certainly worthy of major league status. For members of the Valkyries, such as two-time WWCFL champion Carisa Polischuk, the fact that the game is being contested in her home province provides a special meaning,
“The WWCFL championship is being held at Mosaic Stadium in Regina which is home to the beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders’ CFL team. Despite the fact that it is not at our home field in Saskatoon, it still feels like a home game in our home province. We know we will have lots of family and friends making the trip to see the game which makes the game day experience that much more special.”
Of note, Regina shall be familiar territory for Saskatoon as they defeated their rivals, the Regina Riot, on the road. Saskatoon would prevail by a convincing 55-27 score. Their first touchdown was scored on just three offensive plays as Julene Friesen ran to daylight on a 25-yard play.
In what was the highest scoring game in the history of the WWCFL, the win provided the Valkyries with redemption. Earlier in the season, the Riot had made their own history by handing the green and white their first loss in franchise history.
“We lost our first game in franchise history versus the Regina Riot and faced our first ever playoff game on the road versus the same team. It was unchartered territory for us to be the second place team heading into playoffs. Yet, I think it was good for us because it made us practice that much harder and dig that much deeper to bring everything we had to the playoff game,” said Polischuk.
In a similar position, Lethbridge is looking for their own redemption. In the 2012 final, they were defeated by a 64-21 tally. Of note, it was the first time that the two franchises had ever met. Becky Heninger scored two touchdowns for Lethbridge. Julie David of the Valkyries had accumulated 277 yards of offense and six touchdowns.
As a member of the 2013 Canadian National Women’s Team, David will be the focus of the Valkyries offense once more. In the 2013 Prairie Conference championship game, she scampered for a 95 yard touchdown run versus Regina. She will need to be the focus of the Steel's defense.
Valkyries quarterback Candace Bloomquist is on the verge of WWCFL history. Should she lead her club to the title, she will be the first quarterback in league history to have won three consecutive championships. The challenge is one that she is eager to transform into a reality.
“I am looking forward to the game on Saturday. As our coaches have told us from the beginning, it takes focus, execution, fun, and a team effort each and every play.”
Carly Dyck, who kicked the longest field in Lethbridge Steel franchise history, acknowledges that an error-free game is essential to victory. Although she recognizes the Valkyries preparation, she is well aware that her team is one that possesses great talent and the ability to make things happen.
"Saskatoon is a very talented and well coached team. It will take a lot of focus and passion for us to execute perfectly and come away from the game with a championship title. A win for me would reinforce in my mind how talented my football team is and would reflect our hard work paying off in a big way."
With a sense of familiarity, Lethbridge now has an understanding of what to expect from the Valkyries. Heading into the 2013 final, Lethbridge is the only undefeated time left in the league. During the regular season, the team scored 195 points, while allowing six points (for a league-best plus-189 differential). In order to remain undefeated and become champions, Lethbridge head coach Jamie Fisher stated succinctly yet effectively what his team will need, “More points than them.”
For Kirstin Nakatani, a player and executive with the Steel, the opportunity to win the championship is one of great importance. As the mother of a young toddler, tackling the role of motherhood on a more full-time level could signify the end of her playing career. When asked what a championship would mean to her, she replied,
“Everything! I may not return next season and I would love to be able to say that I was part of the 2013 WWCFL Championship team. Considering where this team has come from; winning only one game in our first two seasons, it would be a huge accomplishment for the team and me personally. We have all made tremendous sacrifices to get to this point, from family life to work, and to have our sacrifices pay off in the end would be awesome.”
Elsie Friesen, who pulls double duty as an offensive and defensive tackle, is one of the more senior players on the Steel. Having been with the franchise since its inaugural season, she has witnessed firsthand its growth and improvement. While the ghosts of last year’s painful loss have weighed heavily, Friesen is determined to not let history repeat itself,
“As a fourth year player on the Lethbridge Steel I am grateful and excited to be going to the WWCFL championships. We made a good show last year but this year our team is faster and stronger. We have more talent and a stronger drive to win! The Steel is determined to come home as champions this weekend!”
Jeff Yausie, the head coach and executive director of Saskatoon is quick to acknowledge the character of his team. After their first ever loss in franchise history earlier in the season (at the hands of rival Regina), the franchise has bounced back. With the loss serving as a wake-up call, the team has embarked on a remarkable run of momentum that they hope culminates with another title.
“The coaches and players of the Saskatoon Valkyries are looking forward to another battle against a strong team from Lethbridge. Our team has faced adversity this season with a great 'we' rather than 'me' attitude. We lost our first game early in the season and came from behind to defeat a tough and talented Regina team later on in the year. We are excited about the opportunity to practice for one more week and play in the biggest game of the Year for the WWCFL Championship."
With the level of competition improving annually, Polischuk is excited to be returning to the championship stage.
“I think being back in the championship game this year is more rewarding because it is getting harder and harder just to get to this game. We had more adversity this year in our regular season than we have had to deal with in previous years.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
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