By Kyle Wescott, Senior Writer for MyWSports.com
Special Contributor for the Women’s Football Alliance
(cover photo by Douglas Charland, WFA photographer)
The Women’s Football Alliance started this season in uncharted territory. The offseason saw the league add nearly 30 new teams and, although a few of those teams haven’t been able to keep a sustainable team on the field, the WFA currently boasts a 65-team league — the most in professional tackle football.
With the 2017 season’s halfway point having just passed, let’s take a look at some of the league’s more compelling story lines, including how difficult it will be for the D.C. Divas to 3-peat.
D.C. DIVAS AFFECTED BY LOSS OF DYNAMIC TRIO
The thrilling finale to the 2016 season saw the D.C. Divas claim their second straight WFA Championship over the Dallas Elite, 28-26.
With the loss of these key players, the biggest unknown for the reigning champions in 2017 was how to replace the offensive firepower.
— Would it be Amanda Congialdi, who has been converted from a wide receiver to quarterback this season?
— Kentrina Wilson, who returns as a veteran leader for the receiving corps?
— Or, Okiima Pickett, who has stepped up running the ball out of the backfield?
Even with the offseason changes, the Divas started the 2017 season the same way they ended it: Winning! D.C. defeated a physical Philadelphia Phantomz, 28-8, and followed that victory up by running up a 21-0 lead against the New York Sharks, but were forced to hold on to the 21-18 victory.
However, the tool that helped make the Divas stronger in the past could be their undoing in 2017: Their schedule this year is one of the toughest in the WFA.
Game three of this season saw the Divas host their archrivals, the Boston Renegades. The Renegades played toe-to-toe with the Divas last year but lost all three games, including a 35-32 loss in the final 17 seconds of the teams’ first regular season match-up as well as when the two teams faced-off during the National Conference Championship game.
The 2017 edition was another epic D.C./Boston game and fans were treated to a thrilling overtime battle between these two powerhouses. To the dismay of the Divas, Boston finally topped their foe 26-22 with an overtime 4th down stop on the six-yard line.
Next up for the Divas were the Chicago Force and its league-leading offense. The outcome was another hard-fought loss, 28-21. And, last weekend, the Divas headed north to take on the Renegades one final time and were shutout, 26-0. In Week 9, the Divas will face the Pittsburgh Passion — currently 5-0 at the midway mark.
The Divas have a long road ahead of them if they hope to turn their back-to-back titles into a three-peat. The East in the WFA has always been full of talent and this year is no different.
The road to the WFA Championship this year will likely be on the road for the Divas and may include a trip to Chicago and/or Boston. Chicago was competed in the 2016 Division I East semi-final but fell, in an upset of sorts, to the Renegades, who were without Quarterback Allison Cahill.
Division 1: CONTENDERS
This season could be the Renegades’ year. Boston has a healthy Cahill, a great running back duo in Whitney Zelee and Stacey Tiamfook and the return of Cahill’s favorite targets, Emily Beinecke and Adrienne Smith. Boston has been knocking on the doorstep of a championship for a couple years now and could get over the hump this year with the Divas depleted and struggling. The next few weeks will be very interesting in the East with the Renegades hosting the Passion, before heading to Chicago to take on the Force.
The Division 1 West has gotten stronger this year as well. In the previous two years the winner from the West has been the Dallas Elite. Dallas is currently 5-0 and have outscored opponents 255-0. The defense has been on point but the weakness for the Elite is their schedule, with only six regular season games and all against the same three teams, we have little evidence of their talent level in comparison to the top teams they’ll face in the playoffs. However, Dallas has proven themselves in the playoffs before and this year should be no different.
The Central Cal War Angels have gotten stronger each year and currently sit at 5-0 on the season. They have wins over strong west coast teams, including the Sin City Trojans, the Pacific Warriors, and recently against the San Diego Surge. Look for the Surge, who were the runners-up for the 2014 championship, to be in the mix in the West playoffs despite the loss to Central Cal. The Minnesota Vixen (5-1) joined the league this year after being finalists in last year’s Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) championship. After starting the season 4-0, the team’s 54-0 loss to Chicago last week was the Vixen’s toughest test yet.
Week seven may decide who the best team in the Northwest will be in 2017. In April, the Seattle Majestics squeaked by the Portland Shockwave, 24-21, the two teams will face off again in Portland with huge playoff implications on the line.
Division 2: RISING & FALLING
Division 2 will be very interesting this season, the addition of several new teams from the IWFL make it a very competitive division. Last season, the Tampa Bay Inferno lost, 38-7, to the St. Louis Slam in the Div 2 Championship. St. Louis has continued that hot streak into 2017. The Slam has started off at 4-0 and are looking to go back-to-back, but it won’t be easy.
This year, the Carolina Phoenix, Miami Fury, Montreal Blitz, and New York Sharks have all been added to the Div 2 ranks. Most of those teams have come into the WFA with a bang! Montreal was playing great, until they ran into the Boston Renegades in Week five. However, the team’s high-powered offense will make them hard to slow down. The Carolina Phoenix are currently 5-0 and hadn’t given up a single point on the season until last week’s 44-30 win over the Division 1 Atlanta Phoenix.
The New York Sharks were down 21-0 at the half to the D.C. Divas in Week two, but stormed back to a 21-18 final. If the game were 65 minutes long, the Sharks may have pulled off the upset. In the final week of the season, the Sharks will cross the Canadian border and get another shot at the Montreal Blitz, who defeated them 32-8 in Week three. After starting 1-2, New York looks to have found their offense, outscoring their opponents 108-47 in their last three games to improve to 4-2.
With all the new teams, it is easy to forget that Division 2 was already full of great talent before this season. The Philadelphia Phantomz are 3-3, but their three losses are against D.C., Boston, and Pittsburgh, all Division 1 teams and arguably the best three squads in the Northeast. Like 2016, watch for the Phantomz to make a big push in the Div 2 playoffs. Last season’s Division 2 championship runner-up, the Tampa Bay Inferno, are 5-0 and scoring in bunches this season. They will be looking for some redemption this year. And while the Inferno do not play nearly as tough of a schedule as Philadelphia, they know how to win and have proven it this season.
Division 3: WIDE OPEN IN 2017
Division 3 is also loaded with new teams and is a wide open field. In 2016, the Acadiana Zydeco won a thrilling Championship over the Richmond Black Widows, 20-18. Unfortunately, with an 0-5 start to 2017, it doesn’t look like Acadiana will be repeating.
One team that has started the season hot are the Orlando Anarchy, at 4-0 the team has continued their mission to play for their former coach Cory Connell, who was killed in the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting last June. #CoryStrong has taken over social media and the team has played with extra motivation, having allowed only eight points against them, all in last weekend’s matchup against the Jacksonville Dixie Blues.
The Toledo Reign (3-1) have a very difficult regular season schedule, which may pay off for them in the playoffs. The Reign play the Cleveland Fusion, the Chicago Force, and the Columbus Comets, which will prepare themselves for the smaller Div 3 teams. Two impressive new teams, the Cincinnati Sizzle (4-1) and the Arkansas Wildcats (3-2,) may be in the playoff mix if they can remain consistent. The Black Widows are in the perfect place to once again make a deep run in the playoffs. They are already 3-2 with their two losses coming to tough Division 2 opponents: the New York Sharks and the Carolina Phoenix.
With 65 teams in the WFA and still four weeks remaining there can be plenty of movement in the standings before playoff time. But there is one sure bet, no matter where fans live across the country, the WFA has a ton of talent and a ton of action this year. The best women tackle football players will play for the championship during the July 22-23 W Bowl weekend in Pittsburgh and it’s sure to be an amazing event, as it was during last year’s the inaugural W Bowl.