By Kyle Wescott, Senior Writer for MyWSports.com
Special Contributor for the Women’s Football Alliance
Women’s tackle football is making great strides — and not just in the United States, but across the world. And over the next two weeks, while the WFA playoffs take a short break, rabid and casual fans alike will have their best chance to get a glimpse of the sport’s growth.
From June 24th to June 30th women’s tackle football will be showcased during the Women’s World Championship (WWC) in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. The six teams competing for the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) trophy are Australia, Canada, Finland, Great Britain, Mexico and the United States. The U.S. is looking to “3-peat” after winning in both 2010 and 2013 over Canada in the final games.
Australia, Great Britain, and Mexico are all be making their first appearance in the WWC.
While some athletes played in previous WWC events, this tournament is the only opportunity for many to play on the biggest stage afforded to women’s tackle football. Many players agree that the WWC represents the culmination of everything they have worked for over their entire lives.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Allyson Hamlin, Team USA quarterback and coach for the DC Divas of the Women’s Football Alliance. “As kid, I was the only girl on every team and I could never have imagined that one day I would represent the United States as an athlete, and — of all sports — football.”
That dream has come true for 45 Americans and 270 women worldwide.
The New Dream Team
The U.S dominated the 2013 WWC, sweeping through the 3-game schedule with a combined score of 255-7. And, with the 45 players assembled this year, there is little doubt that the U.S will once again play for the Gold Medal.
“This is the greatest team ever put on a football field,” said Team USA Running Back Odessa Jenkins, of the WFA’s Dallas Elite. However, she was also quick to point out that all the other international teams have gotten better since 2013, the last time she played in the World Championships.
Quarterback Hamlin said “This roster is a quarterback’s dream and an opponent’s nightmare.” Opposing defenses will have their work cut out for them against the talent that Team USA has put together. This year’s team has some amazing experience with 42 out of 45 of the US team members playing in the WFA.
At Quarterback, the “Red, White and Blue” will have the following players from the WFA: Sami Grisafe (Chicago Force), Allyson Hamlin (DC Divas), and Lisa Horton (Pittsburgh Passion). All three are talented quarterbacks with long histories of passing records, wins, and championships.
Additionally, the US has a deep list at Running Backs from the WFA: Hannah DeGraffinreed (Carolina Phoenix), Alexis Snyder (Central Cal War Angels), Odessa Jenkins (Dallas Elite), Erica Mois (Minnesota Machine), Heather Anderson (West Michigan Mayhem), and Toni Fuller from the Austin Yellow Jackets of the International Women’s Football League (IWFL.)
While Jenkins has been a great running back for the Dallas Elite for nine years, she named DeGraffinreed as the young, powerful running back player to watch.
“She has the future of football in her hands,” Jenkins said.
Great quarterbacks need great receivers to throw to, and that’s what the US will have in the following WFA players: Emily Weinberg TE (Boston Renegades), Jeanette Gray WR (Chicago Force), Jessica Javelet WR (Chicago Force), Ashley Whisonant WR (DC Divas), Brilynn Fields TE (New York Sharks), and Angela Baker WR (Pittsburgh Passion).
Many of these quarterback-to-receiver connections have been working together for years.
Defensively, there are too many great athletes to feature.
First, there is Vicky Eddy (LB, Boston Renegades,) who began the 2013 WWC with a pick-six. And the Dallas Elite haven’t given up a point in the WFA regular season due, in part, to the great Linebacker duo of Angellica Grayson and Liz Landry. Then, there’s the two-time defending WFA Champion DC Divas, who are sending both Callie Brownson (DB) and Tia Watkins (LB) to the WWC. Sa’toria Bell and Qiana Wright have combined to lead the Philadelphia Phantomz in tackles, sacks, interceptions, and pass deflections this year and will be great additions to the US team.
The timing of the WWC could potentially cause some problems for players who are lucky enough to still be competing in the WFA Regional Finals. Those players will have a playoff game June 17th, then head to training camp in Seattle, WA to prepare for the tournament, which starts a week later.
After the tournament ends on June 30th, players still in the playoffs will get one week off before the July 8th WFA Conference Championships.
“It would be like asking LeBron James to play in the Olympics between the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals,” said Jenkins.
However, Vicky Eddy of the Boston Renegades, loves the hectic schedule that the WWC brings.
“When you’re out there (at training camp), your whole day is football, you get to be a professional football player every minute of your life,” she said.
Team Australia is new to the tournament this year and their first opportunity to compete on the international stage.
However, they have been training for months for the WWC and will be led by former Team USA member, former Dallas Diamond, and former NFL linebacker coach, Dr. Jen Welter. The Australians are setting their sights high for the tournament.
“We want a medal,” said Aussie Linebacker Matilda Quist. “We don’t just want to be participants.”
The first game on the schedule for Team Australia will be two-time WWC silver medalist Team Canada.
“Canada is always expected to be a tough opponent,” Eddy, of Team USA, said.
Ten Canadian players play in the WFA and having such an intimate knowledge of their opponents can help them finally defeat team USA this year.
Quarterback Maude Lacasse and Running Back Laurence Thivierge of the WFA’s Montreal Blitz will bear a large load of the offense for the Canadians by keeping drives alive. And then there is the speed and strength from Cassey Brick, Running Back for the Chicago Force.
Even though this is the first WWC appearance for Team Great Britain, the team is coming into the tournament on a high, finishing second in the European Championships in 2015. A medal at their first WWC will help improve the Brits’ standing in international play.
“With this squad we have a good mix of experience and new enthusiasm,” said Head Coach Jim Messenger.
One member of the Great Britain team made NFL football headline news recently. Phoebe Schecter is playing Linebacker in the WWC, but after the tournament she will be heading to Buffalo, New York to be a Buffalo Bills training camp intern.
On the first day of the tournament, we will see a Great Britain take on Team Finland in a rematch of the 2015
European Championships. Finland won the Bronze medal in each of the first two World Championships, but the Fins have been working on a new style of offense ever since the end of the 2015 European Championships.
“The games will certainly be the toughest the Finnish women have ever encountered,” said Head Coach Mika Eloranta. “The level of Finnish female football has taken great strides forward over the last few years.”
Team Mexico is another new addition to the WWC field this year, but come in with history of internationally competitive flag football teams. Mexico has also made a strong push to grow American Football with six leagues throughout the country.
“I’m interested to see the Mexico team,” Team USA’s Eddy said, adding that she expects to see some outstanding athletes.
Training for the WWC
The path to the WWC has been different for all Team USA players.
Jenkins, the Dallas Elite player, kicked her training into high gear long before the tryouts in Orlando. Dating back to November, Jenkins connected with Halo Neuroscience. The company trained and sponsored her Orlando tryouts in January and Jenkins continues to use the technology to improve her speed and explosiveness out of the backfield.
The continuation of training for the WWC during the WFA regular season was a concern for Vicky Eddy.
“You’re dinged up every week from playing,” she said. “You play a game on Saturday and you’re just trying to get over the soreness so that you can practice again Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Then there are a couple of special cases who don’t have the soreness of actively playing, like Hamlin of the D.C. Divas, who is coming out of retirement to play for Team USA.
“Since the tryouts in Orlando I feel better prepared physically and mentally,” she said, adding that she is in better mental shape than she was at last summer’s WFA Championship, which the Divas won. “Physically my body feels better than it has in 15 years because haven’t had to endure the daily grind and pounding a football season will bring.”
Hamlin said that she’s kept her body active with daily cardio and kettlebell workouts and that maintaining her accuracy was her utmost concern but that flag football has kept her arm active throughout the spring.
Support Team USA
We are still a long way away from these athletes doing what they love as a full-time profession and the players heading to Langley are thrilled with all the support fans can give them.
“It is not a cheap endeavor — coupled with two weeks off from work — so a lot of us have been doing fundraising,” said Hamlin. “We appreciate any donation to an individual player or the entire team.”
Fans are encouraged to watch all the great action from all six teams competing from June 24th to June 30th. We will post information about how to watch the tournament as soon as it becomes available.