Amber Bowman continues to amaze with astounding achievements

Originally published on Women Talk Sports: http://womentalksports.com/amber-bowman-continues-to-amaze-with-astounding-achievements/

For an individual as accomplished as Amber Bowman, the calendar year of 2017 was one where she found new and inspiring ways to make her mark in the world of sport. While Bowman has worn many hats in her sporting odyssey, from trainer to women’s ice hockey competitor, entrepreneur to world champion firefighter, the most relevant may be the one of role model.

Continuing to add to a superlative legacy in competitive firefighting, which was established six years earlier when Bowman, a member of Central York Fire Services, became the first rookie to win a world championship, the achievements to follow were just as breathtaking.

Garnering a 22nd world championship in Louisville, Kentucky, the hometown of Muhammad Ali, it was a fitting backdrop for a competitor like Bowman, who like Ali, is truly the greatest of her sport. With a body of work that also mirrors the incredible legacy of Michael Phelps, who has 20+ medals in Summer Games competition, Bowman has firmly entrenched herself as an iconic figure integral to the early mythos of competitive firefighting.

Bowman (center) enjoying a 22nd World Championship at Louisville, Kentucky. Credit: Bronko Habjan

Breaking the two-minute mark in the women’s individual race, part of Bowman’s legacy has also involved shining in team play, another facet of competitive firefighting that she has dominated. Combining forces with the compelling Carla King Penman and Jalene Kara Cartwright in years past, they have represented the benchmark in women’s team competition, establishing standards with every victory that current teams aspire to emulate.

“Yes, it was exciting to win this past 2017. I not only broke my personal record; I broke the 2:00 mark at Worlds which has only been achieved by one other female. Every victory is different, and each one since the first means that much more to me as I never know when my last race will be.
The females are getting stronger and faster which is amazing for the fire service and women overall. I love how this sport brings out the best version of each person as they try and achieve their own goals.”

Undoubtedly, the road towards such glories represented the character that makes Bowman such a venerated figure in women’s sport. Suffering a tremendous setback, attributed to a hose pack malfunction at Bowman’s first FireFit Competition of the season, defending her title would require going the extra mile, as she needed to win to qualify for the Canadian Championships.

As the path towards the Canadian nationals championships took place in her home province of Ontario, involving stops east of Toronto in Oshawa, along with Canada’s capital, Ottawa for the Canadian National FireFit Championships, she not only maintained tremendous composure under such pressure, she excelled under it, displaying the qualities that make her a world champion. Considering that one of Bowman’s maxims is ‘We do not have to perfect physically or nutritionally, we just have to be better than we were yesterday’, her triumph in Ottawa was the embodiment of such a profound philosophy.

In between her qualifying race weekends, Bowman sandwiched in a visit to Yukon Territory, accepting an invitation to Camp Ember. Such an event was testament to Bowman’s dedication in helping provide the confidence for women to achieve their goals. Camp Ember served as an educational opportunity to allow women the opportunity to acquire valuable skills towards become a firefighter.

The chance to be able to win another world championship in 2017, simultaneously representing the pinnacle of achievement while adding to a proud legacy that is truly once-in-a-lifetime, it is only part of what makes Bowman one of the most tremendous female athletes of her generation. That sense of pride is accentuated by the fact that Bowman has also paid it forward, serving as a sponsor for nine women, enabling them to engage in competition or pursue their studies.

Having laid a winning foundation for the sport, while contributing towards the exciting possibilities of an empowering future ahead, it is a privilege that Bowman has never taken for granted. Absorbing every momentous instant, appreciating the opportunity that her peak performances allow a dual role built on inspiration, there were even greater moments in the unfolding narrative of Bowman’s most memorable year.

Complementing such a remarkable run in Louisville was a highly notable achievement that would launch Bowman into unprecedented territory. For those who had been unfamiliar with her splendid body of work, Bowman gained new acclaim with her appearance on the highly popular Dr. Oz show in December.
Among more than 1,000 hopeful applicants, Bowman emerged as one of four successful candidates, vying for a chance to win the prestigious prize of being one of two victorious trainers.

The origins for this newest odyssey in Bowman’s incredible sporting endeavors also took place south of the border. Appearing at a convention which took place in Salt Lake City, Utah during the summer of 2017, which was sponsored by USANA, it served as the spark. For Bowman, the products distributed by USANA have become an essential component to her daily routine. Worth nothing, the company has not only earned a reputation for providing the highest quality micronutrients, there is even a toothpaste which features vitamins.

Bowman, one of four finalists for the Dr. Oz Trainer Competition. Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/FitbyFire/

First learning about the opportunity for the Dr. Oz competition at said convention, submitting a video, along with the completion of an online form, Bowman’s charisma and empowering persona definitely shone. As a side note, this is not the first time that Bowman applied for an opportunity to appear on the small screen. Along with former Toronto Furies teammate Erika Vanderveer, the two applied for the chance to be participants in the inaugural season of Amazing Race Canada.

By early November, Bowman had been the recipient of life-changing news. Advised that she was among four finalists, including Julie Briggs, Cookie Miller and Sergio Rojas, it had launched this tremendously fantastic firefighter into unprecedented popularity, becoming a household name.

Although Bowman, who majored in Exercise Science at Ohio State University (where she played Division I hockey for head coach Jackie Barto) had always been dedicated to peak physical condition, the launch of her Fit by Fire enterprise in 2013 was born out of necessity. Conceived as a personal training service which would help finance the cost of competition, Bowman definitely held a solid series of credentials.

From occupation in Florida where she trained Major League Baseball athletes, along with employment in former NFL wide receiver Cris Carters FAST program, Bowman had even worked as an elite trainer for Canadian Forces Base Borden. Serendipitously, CFB Borden would serve as Bowman’s first exposure to firefighting, as she trained numerous members of this brave and noble profession. Encouraged to complete annual fitness test, it marked an exciting new chapter for Bowman.

Running parallel to her career as a firefighter was the chance to rekindle her love of hockey. Competing in the budding Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Bowman initially skating for the Brampton Thunder, where Bowman called Winter Games gold medalist Cheryl Pounder her defense partner. Moving on to a pair of other clubs in the Greater Toronto Area; the now defunct Burlington Barracudas and the Toronto Furies, Bowman would also appear in the Clarkson Cup playoffs. Among her teammates with the Furies, Amanda Shaw would also follow the route of firefighter after hanging up her skates.

Bowman in her Fit by Fire paraphernalia. Image obtained from: https://fitbyfire.usana.com/pwp/#/site/239287490

Although Bowman is no longer in the professional women’s ice hockey ranks, she remains active in the game. From stints as an official to competing at the Senior A level, capturing an OWHA championship, Bowman has also incorporated facets of her training philosophy in Fit By Fire, to blend into effective workout strategies for hockey players.

As a side note, Bowman has also worked as an instructor for the Aurora Panthers junior team, with an emphasis on skills development. Part of a team consisting of 22 female coaches, providing instruction to over 600 young players, it represents Bowman’s passion to empower and encourage young females to follow their dreams, incorporating confidence on the ice and cultivating positive life-skills off-the-ice.

“I enjoy connecting and empowering these teams and clients. Everyone has their own goals and dreams. I am just a little piece of their journey to help them show up as the best version of themselves.”

Bowman’s best version of herself was definitely evident as she was one of Dr. Oz’s Trainers of the Year, the other victorious trainer being Cookie Miller. Announced on January 10, 2018, it is the type of achievement that is destined to make this year even more memorable for such an accomplished individual. The chance to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with an incredibly remarkable person such as Dr. Oz is one that is reciprocal, as Bowman has found great motivation.

Collage of images obtained from: https://twitter.com/VaughanFire

In an era when women are starting to make significant inroads in all facets of society, helping to shape their own destiny while their positive attitude and indomitable spirit can spur the pursuit of others ambitions, Bowman is truly a real-life Wonder Woman. While the rich narrative of her athletic career holds the potential for so many more great moments ahead, the achievements of 2017 have served as her finest hour, demonstrating what makes Bowman a world-class athlete and person.

“The entire process of the show and contest has been very humbling! I have been supported by people from my early childhood years to people I see daily. The love and support has been overwhelming at times but I could not have won without everyone helping.

Dr. Oz is an amazing individual who truly cares about his viewers, staff and individuals on his show. Hes funny and lives a healthy lifestyle which is admirable. I cannot wait for the journey ahead and hope to educate and empower each one of you to achieve your health goals and dreams for 2018!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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ESPN Body Issue commemorates meaningful year for superstars of American women’s hockey

Although Julie Chu (2011) and Hilary Knight (2014) were the first women’s ice hockey players to grace the pages of ESPN’s Body Issue, the 2017 edition brought with it an unprecedented number of players, and an even wider scope of interest via social media. With six players taking to the ice wearing only their skates, the only element that may have outshone their beauty was their confidence.

Considering that six players grace the ice for a hockey team, there is an element of irony yet coincidence. Ironic as six players compose a hockey team, and each of the six players represented a position. Goaltender Alex Rigsby was joined by blueliners Kacey Bellamy and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, while the forwards were composed of Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson. Yet, there is coincidence based on the notion that the team’s culture is built on unity.

While Brent Burns and Joe Thornton of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks also appeared in the Body Issue, compared to their competitors from the fairer sex, they were certainly not the main draw. While that may represent an anomaly in the world of hockey, the men of the game forced to be complicit, the reality is that the appearance of these wondrous women also represented a cultural crossover.

Heading into the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championships, the innocence of the game was tarnished by the complexities of real life. With players facing severe economic strain, compounded by salary reductions in America’s only professional league for women, the members of the national team made the courageous statement that they wanted a living wage, needing sufficient stability to see the game grow.

As Duggan reveals in an interview with ESPN, she received a text from tennis legend Billie Jean King showing her support for the cause. The impact of such an incredible figure in female sport only validated the brave and justified fight for pay equity.

In spite of USA Hockey threatening to bring replacement players, the support in the media from substantial groups, such as the NFL Players Association, helped right the path, bringing the women a long overdue compensatory plan. Symbolically, the presence of six women from the national team is definitely an extension of such a strong unified front, embodying what makes this team so special.

Undoubtedly, the most confident photo among the portfolio visible online is one where all six players display their posteriors. While there is no question that such a photo reveals an empowering beauty, it is open to interpretation if there is a dual meaning. Perhaps unintentional, but the photo may be perceived as a symbolic protest of the fight endured for pay equity, a type of “Kiss my ***” message projected in a truly captivating photo.

Captured behind the lens of photographer Joe Pugliese, his portfolio certainly affirms that these wondrous women are breathtaking. While their strength equally reveals an amazing inner beauty, a raw confidence emanates from these timeless photos. Considering that the ages of the players featured are between ages 24 and 30, these photos have immortalized their physiques, preserving their peak, while presenting them as pillars of strength for their sport.

Photo credit: Joe Pugliese (No copyright infringement intended)

Calling the Minnesota Whitecaps her club team, Alex Rigsby was the youngest player among the six who were photographed, only 24 years old. She makes history as the first goaltender to grace the pages of the Body Issue. Whitecaps teammates Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux share in Rigsby’s sense of history, becoming the first twins to pose in the Body Issue.

Of note, the Body Issue holds a connection to the game beyond players appearing in its pages. Harrison Browne, who was Duggan’s teammate during the Buffalo Beauts inaugural season, found the courage to reveal a transgender status after seeing Chris Mosier appear in its pages.

Meghan Duggan, the captain of the US national team experienced a pair of unique milestones in 2017. With the IIHF Women’s Worlds contested in Plymouth, Michigan, the coordinates were a source of seemingly endless motivation, culminating with the first gold medal won by the US on home soil. Coincidentally, fellow Body Issue model Hilary Knight scored the gold medal clinching goal in overtime.

From a professional standpoint, 2017 also saw another significant milestone in Duggan’s playing career. Along with Corinne Buie, they became the first (and only) women to appear in the first two Isobel Cup finals with different teams.

Photo credit: Joe Pugliese (No copyright infringement intended)

While Duggan was also featured on Cosompolitan’s website, her courageous battle in overcoming concussion was one of the most heartwarming stories of Sochi. She would also make national news in 2014 with a polite display of levity, mimicking Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda in her second trip to the dugout at hallowed Fenway Park.

Such humor also defined part of the interview that the six players took part in with ESPN. With Duggan known for her strong commitment to a healthy diet, reference was made to the fact that a teammate had jokingly seen her eat one Cheeto in five years. The interview also revealed that Duggan had once made the friendly wager that if her team could capture both the Frozen Four and the World Championships in 2011, she would eat a burger from McDonald’s.

Rigsby joked that they videotaped Duggan not only consuming said burger, but removing it from the McDonald’s bag and unwrapping it. Of note, Rigsby and Decker were Duggan’s teammates on the Wisconsin Frozen Four champion of 2011, the same year that saw Duggan bestowed the honor of the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award.

A teammate of Duggan’s at four different levels (NCAA, IIHF, CWHL, NWHL), Brianna Decker is also part of the sorority of players that have won the Patty Kazmaier Award. Recognized as the Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 IIHF Worlds, such a distinction was part of a much bigger reward.

Heading into the fight for pay equity, there were several rookies on Team USA who were afraid that there chance at competing for the national team would be dissolved. Decker stood guard over them, a sentinel with a reassuring presence, offering the promise of better days. Not only did those better days come, but the gold medal celebration saw Duggan admirably talk to the concerned rookies, testament to her amazing leadership.

The sixth player from this group is another of Team USA’s most admired leaders. An All-Star at both the CWHL and NWHL levels, Kacey Bellamy is one of the alternate captains for the national team. Gracious and amicable, Bellamy is truly the women’s hockey superstar reimagined. Although she may be the oldest player in this group, having turned 30 earlier this year, Bellamy brings a wisdom that symbolizes her remarkable strength, signifying an amazing perfection as an athlete and as a woman, providing an ideal yet captivating appeal.

Although the fascinating reality of the Body Issue would indicate that these photos fantasize an amazing magic which takes place outside of the game’s lines, mythologizing these amazing warriors of the rink, while cultivating a female epiphany, Bellamy experienced another magical element, one that truly signifies the feeling of collaboration for the national team.

With 10 members of the gold medal winning national team raised in New England, the Boston Red Sox showed a touch of class by inviting them to participate in a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park. Although Duggan was given the honor of taking the first pitch (something she had already done in 2014), she affably gave the ball to Bellamy. Launching the magical orb across home plate, it signified more than just a unique birthday gift for Bellamy, it was the embodiment of the amazing gift of friendship between her and Duggan.

Whether the attention that emanates from the Body Issue shall actually increase the interest in women’s ice hockey at numerous levels, especially as the professional game continues to try and find its footing, is difficult to anticipate. As anticipated, these players have been serenaded online with effusive praise for their appearance in the Body Issue, many fans falling head-over-heels over a group of women whose brave efforts for equality is destined to make them icons with the next generation, bringing about a brighter future.

As a side note, some athletes have reached new popularity following their Body Issue appearance. Among them is archer Khatuna Lorig, who appeared in the 2015 edition. The following year, she would be featured on a trading card in Upper Deck’s annual “Goodwin Champions” release. In addition, she would gain a commercial endorsement.

Undoubtedly, one could imagine that Duggan should expect some kind of increase in
popularity. Based on her brave battle with concussions, and her discipline regarding diet, she would be an ideal athlete to have a book deal, and she certainly stands as one of the most notable ambassadors for the national team.

Of note, the Body Issue pictorial holds the potential for another unique coincidence, resulting in a strong link between the women of soccer and hockey. Just weeks prior to the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Brandi Chastain appeared in a complete state of undress in Gear Magazine. With a photo that made international news, gaining equal parts acclaim and criticism, it was a cascading event that helped launch women’s soccer into popular culture.

It was a very unique coincidence that Chastain would score the Cup-clinching goal in the shootout against China, generating cultural currency. Although her goal is remembered more than her photo in Gear, seemingly faded with the passage of time, there is no question that her goal placed her in the pantheon of sporting immortals.

Undoubtedly, this year’s edition of the ESPN Body Issue has established more common ground between the stars of women’s soccer and women’s hockey. Not only have players such as Rigsby and the Lamoureux twins excelled in soccer during their high school years, they stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of the US national soccer team.

Of note, there are two other aspects. Both US national teams have shown great courage in the fight for pay equity. Four years before the glory of the 2015 FIFA World Cup, the US experienced a heartbreaking loss in the 2011 Finals. Considering the tragic outcome of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the women of hockey are hoping to duplicate the efforts of their soccer sisters, gaining an elusive gold medal four years later, working towards redemption in Pyeongchang.

Such ambition mirrors the heartbreak of the US soccer team. While the program boasted of dominance in the Summer Games, frequently holding a vice-like grip on the gold medal, it experienced numerous frustrations in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which is considered the crown jewel of the sport.

After suffering an emotional loss in the 2011 FIFA World Cup final to Japan, a sentimental favorite after its nation was decimated by flooding, the road back to glory was a long one. Rewarded for their patience with the chance to emerge victorious in 2015, the victory also brought with it a paradigm shift, raising the case for pay equity in sport, foreshadowing the admirable fight of the women of hockey.

Even though these photos will likely be the subject of attention leading into Pyeongchang, imagine if a similar winning scenario took place with the women featured in the Body Issue. What if an offensive superstar such as Decker, or perhaps one of the Lamoureux sisters scored the gold-medal clinching goal? Maybe Rigsby shall be the starting goaltender in such a game, triumphant in the biggest game of her career. While these six astounding women simply hope to emulate their soccer sisters with a Winter Games gold medal after a four year heartbreak, if one of them played the key role in this dramatic finish, it would only make the Body Issue photo shoot more culturally relevant.

While such a victorious achievement would place Bellamy, Duggan, Decker and Monique Lamoureux (along with former Body Issue model Knight) into the Triple Gold Club for Women, immortalizing their legacies, it would place them in a heroic place worthy of their presence as both world-class athletes and world-class people.

NWHL proudly represented at NYC Pride Parade

Originally published on Women Talk Sports

In a remarkable show of solidarity, eight competitors from the NWHL, along with Commissioner Dani Rylan, supported league partner You Can Play (YCP), by taking part in the New York City Pride March. For Rylan, it was an eventful weekend as she was also part of a panel including Gabrielle Reece that spoke at #Blogher17, an event sponsored by She Knows Media.

Along with the NWHL, the sporting community saw the likes of competitors from the WNBA Players’ Association and Major League Soccer also took part. Beginning at 36th Street and 5th Avenue, culminating at Christopher and Greenwich Streets, the Parade was an opportunity for the league to support the positive message of YCP, which sees one player from each of its teams serve as an YCP ambassador.

Dedicated towards ensuring that sports venues are free from homophobia, with athletes judged on talent and not sexual orientation and/or gender identity, the core mission of YCP is one that brings great meaning to the NWHL. Prior to the launch of their second season in the autumn of 2016, Buffalo Beauts competitor Harrison Browne publicly announced a transgender status, becoming the first athlete in modern professional sport to do so.

Having started in 1970, the New York City Pride Parade saw over 350 unique groups participate in the March in 2016. This year, proudly garbed members of the NWHL wore white T-shirts with the league’s logo in all colors of the rainbow. The smiling players were waving flags with the You Can Play logo, while giving out stickers to the onlookers.

As the NWHL proudly stood behind Browne, while also showing the courage of its conviction by working on a policy for transgender athletes, the opportunity to march in the Pride Parade was an extension of its welcoming culture.

Among the players from the NWHL’s clubs that participated, the most prominent included Anya Battaglino, who is the head of the NWHL Players Association. While her presence certainly represents the beginning of a strong working relationship between the league and its PA, there was also an emotional component.

A charter member of the Connecticut Whale, Battaglino had come out while she was still a competitor at the NCAA level with the Boston University Terriers. Such a defining moment in her life is one that has gained luster through the support friends and teammates alike.

Through participation in the Pride Parade, it was an opportunity for Battaglino to give back. Her efforts may save lives, inspiring others that are enduring their own personal struggles with orientation, while giving a voice through example that fosters the sense of encouragement that comprises the essence of this event. Many hockey fans also expressed their support for her on social media, admiring and appreciating such courageous leadership. Of note, one fan expressed her gratitude by creating a hashtag in her honor: #IStandWithAnya

Two other teammates from the Connecticut Whale joined Battaglino in the March. Kelly Babstock, the first Canadian-born player to score a goal in the history of the NWHL, along with Elena Orlando also represented the franchise. As a side note, both played at the NCAA level with the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

The New York Riveters, who played their inaugural season in nearby Brooklyn, also made their presence felt on this day. Among the Riveters members gracing the streets of New York on this day included Sarah Bryant, Courtney Burke, a first round pick in the inaugural NWHL Draft, Harvard alum Miye D’Oench, Alexa Gruschow and Rebecca Russo, a competitor in the 2017 NWHL All-Star Game.

While these wondrous women deserve to be admired for their heroics on the ice, their amazing efforts off it have only enhanced their status as role models, setting a positive tone for the third season to come.

NWHL to return to Pittsburgh in upcoming season

Among the highlights of the second NWHL season was a highly successful All-Star weekend hosted in Pittsburgh. With Amanda Kessel scoring the first hat trick in NWHL All-Star Game history, it capped an amazing weekend which saw the first professional women’s ice hockey game contested in the state of Pennsylvania.

With the NWHL planning to host a series of neutral site games for the 2017-18 season, Pittsburgh has been confirmed as one of said sites. Considering the success of last season’s All-Star Game, a sold out venue which saw Brianne McLaughlin (who competed collegiately at nearby Robert Morris University) return to a standing ovation, it was one of the highlights of the 2016-17 season.

In collaboration with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the budding league shall host both a regular season game, and a hockey clinic, on January 14, 2018. The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, which was also the home of the 2017 NWHL All-Star Game and Skills Competition, shall be the site for the January event.

During the weekend, the Penguins shall serve as the host for the “NHL Girls Youth Cup.” Undoubtedly, the NWHL’s presence shall add luster to this event, providing the competing youngsters with an opportunity to meet their role models. With an on-ice clinic also taking place, it will allow the league’s players an opportunity to inspire and encourage the participants to pursue their hockey dreams, while providing them with instruction from some of the game’s finest.

Although the two teams that shall grace the ice will only be confirmed upon the release of the NWHL’s schedule, the defending Isobel Cup champion Buffalo Beauts are the franchise in the closest geographic proximity to the Iron City. As a side note, the league has confirmed that the third NWHL All-Star Game shall be contested in 2018 at a neutral site event. This will mark the second consecutive season that an All-Star Game is hosted at a neutral site, extending the reach of the game and its brand to other markets.

Gary Gait brings golden touch to UWLX as interim commissioner

As anticipation builds towards the second season of UWLX, the newest chapter in this exciting sporting odyssey consists of an individual whose impact in lacrosse is manifold. Appointed to the position of interim commissioner, Gary Gait not only brings great awareness to the budding league, but helps increase its prominence.

Refusing to be sustained by legend alone, Gait has only added to his lacrosse legacy since retirement, with an enthralling legacy as coach that runs parallel to his playing career. Inheriting the position from Michele “DJ” DeJulius, who helped navigate UWLX during its successful inaugural season, Gait is poised to build on her contributions, while supplying strong leadership, running parallel to the aspirations of the sport in general.

Considering that the second UWLX season shall see the league engage in a collaborative effort for this year’s NCAA lacrosse championships with Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots, Gait’s presence only adds to the major league feeling surrounding the league’s aura. Although this newest role sees Gait in his first at the executive level, his solid work ethic and dedication over multiple decades has prepared him for such an exciting opportunity.

Raised in Victoria, British Columbia, where his twin brother Paul also played alongside him, Gait’s position as UWLX interim commissioner adds another unique Canadian connection to the league. In 2016, Guelph, Ontario native Dana Dobbie became the first Canadian-born player to be drafted into the league, suiting up with the Baltimore Ride.

In regular season play, Dobbie would lead all players in scoring. Both Gait and Dobbie have played for the Canadian national team. As a side note, other Canadians to have competed in the inaugural UWLX season included Bowmanville, Ontario’s Kaylin Morrissette with Philadelphia. Raised in Suffern, New York, Crysti Foote, whose father is in Ontario’s lacrosse Hall of Fame, was born in Toronto and competed with the Baltimore Ride, playing alongside Dobbie.

During the 1990s, Gait’s superstar status in lacrosse not only made it comprehensible for the sporting novice, but he made it matter. Akin to Wayne Gretzky in hockey or Michael Jordan in basketball, Gait’s countless lists of achievements were secondary to the spectacle, culminating as a member of the charter class to the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame.

Surprisingly, the latter half of the 1990s saw Gait balance his playing career while experiencing his first foray with women’s lacrosse. Serving as an assistant coach with the University of Maryland Terrapins, his presence resulted in four undefeated seasons and seven straight national championships.

Having also coached at the men’s level with the Baltimore Bayhawks, which has seen the city also host one of the UWLX founding clubs, along with the Colorado Mammoth, Gait’s efforts as a women’s coach were clearly evident during the inaugural UWLX season. Only the second head coach in the history of the Syracuse Orange women’s lacrosse team, several of his star players were among the first round of the inaugural UWLX draft class, including the likes of Liz Hogan (Boston Storm) and Michelle Tumolo (Philly Force). Other Syracuse alum that would compete in UWLX play included Becca Block, Kailah Kempney, Alyssa Murray, Katie Rowan and Kayla Treanor.

Gait’s acumen and encyclopedic knowledge of the game did more than just raise the quality of play at Syracuse. His tutelage transformed players such as Hogan and Tumolo into All-American players and IWLCA Award winners, while emerging as franchise players for their respective UWLX clubs.

Among the prodigious talents that Gait had the opportunity to coach at Syracuse, perhaps none shone brighter than Kayla Treanor. The first four-time All-America selection in Syracuse women’s lacrosse history, Treanor emerged as the Boston Storm’s catalyst on offense in 2016, leading them to the UWLX Finals. Her no-look pass in late June play during the Storm’s inaugural season would not only gain recognition as one of ESPN’s Plays of the Week, it would serve as a seminal moment in UWLX lore, bringing the league into the national spotlight.

With a golden touch that has resulted in championships as a player and coach at the collegiate, professional and international levels, Gait’s body of work, of which many subsets exist, speaks for itself. Such a distinct presence is poised to make ideas flourish, while working towards making professional women’s lacrosse more than viable, but a necessary component of the sporting landscape, which may serve as his greatest contribution.

Brush with history establishing Danika Ranger as the real deal

As Canada looks to avenge its overtime loss to the United States in the gold medal match of the 2016 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, a key component can be found between the pipes. Having already made history as the first player to have gained the distinction of Top Goaltender honors at the Esso Cup and the National Women’s Under-18 Championship, Danika Ranger is ready to stake her claim at the 2017 edition of the U18 worlds.

Currently starring with the PWHL’s Durham West Lightning, where she led the league in goals-against average (0.99) and save percentage (.955) during the 2015-16 campaign, the native of North Bay, Ontario was also recognized as the league’s Goaltender of the Year, respectively. Ranger would win the Esso Cup in 2015 with the Sudbury Lady Wolves while starring for the powerhouse Team Ontario Red squad at a victorious outcome at U18 nationals in November 2016, the tenth gold medal in team history.

As a side note, she is only the second player ever to have won gold medal at the Esso Cup and U18 nationals. The other is current Toronto Furies rookie Michela Cava. A former star at the NCAA level with the Connecticut Huskies and UMD Bulldogs, Cava accomplished the feat with the Thunder Bay Queens in 2010 and the prominent Ontario Red in 2011.

At the 2016 National Under-18 women’s championships, Ranger and Team Ontario Red faced off against six-time silver medalist Team Quebec for the gold medal. A scoreless first period saw Ranger make 11 saves, helping to set a tone filled with composure and poise. In a game where the first two periods saw a seemingly countless number of penalties, a 4-1 final still resulted in a hard-fought contest. After Sarah Fillier scored the first goal of the game at the 6:07 mark of the second, Ontario Red would be called for six straight penalties.

With Quebec’s Alexie Guay called or a double minor at 18:31, it opened the offensive floodgates as Avery Mitchell, Ranger’s future teammate with Team Canada added to Ontario Red’s lead. Merely 23 seconds after Mitchell’s marker, Stouffville’s Camryn Tait provided a three-goal cushion.

In the third period, Alexa Vasko, whose grandfather Elmer once played for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, scored the fourth goal for Ontario Red, while Joannie Garand spoiled Ranger’s bid for a shutout. Making 31 saves, Ranger emerged as a key factor in the 4-1 triumph, going undefeated in the tournament with a 3-0 mark, while sporting an exceptional 1.00 goals against average.

The chance to stand between the pipes at the 2017 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships has served as Ranger’s coming out party. Her confidence would quickly rise to the surface, surrendering one goal in Canada’s victory over a boys team from the Czech Republic, who are the host country for this year’s edition of the U18 Worlds.

Coincidentally, her fellow goaltender on Canada’s roster is Edith D’Astous-Moreau, who was the goaltender for Team Quebec when Ranger captured the national U18 crown with Team Ontario Red. Adding to the sense of national pride and tradition is the fact that her goaltender coach is Amanda Mazzotta, who competed with Canada at the inaugural U18 Women’s Worlds in 2008.

While it seems difficult to fathom that Ranger is the only member of Canada’s roster that was not part of the team’s summer camp, her heroics with Team Ontario Red definitely raised her stock, establishing her as a prime time player. Among Ranger’s highlights at the 2017 U18 Worlds was the fact that she registered an overtime shutout victory against the United States. With team captain Ashton Bell scoring at 1:57 of OT, it provided the Canadian contingent with a highly emotional 1-0 triumph. Ranger would register 23 saves while American backstop Alex Gulstene faced 30 shots in the loss. As a side note, a gold medal at the U18 Worlds would make her the first Canadian female goaltender (and player) to have won the Esso Cup, the U18 Nats and IIHF U18 Worlds.

Although she was on the wish list of every NCAA recruiter, Ranger is returning to her roots, opting to compete in the Ontario University Athletics’ conference with North Bay’s Nipissing Lakers, led by head coach (and former NHL All-Star) Darren Turcotte. For a program that competed in the OUA semifinals in 2016, the Lakers are inching ever closer to a chance to play for a national title. With a prodigious talent such as Ranger, that elusive opportunity may prove to be a victorious reality.

Whirlwind week for soccer star Kadeisha Buchanan

In becoming only the second Canadian-born competitor to capture the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy, which recognizes the most outstanding performer in NCAA women’s soccer, it has placed Kadeisha Buchanan on the map as one of the brightest stars on the pitch. Having starred with the West Virginia University Mountaineers, the Brampton, Ontario native joins Christine Sinclair in this accomplished group.

Of note, Buchanan becomes the first player in the history of the Mountaineers program to have the Hermann Trophy honor bestowed upon her. Prior to this win, she was a two-time finalist in 2015 (the year that she captured both the Soccer News Net Women’s College Boot award and the FIFA Women’s World Cup Best Young Player) and in 2016. In addition, she is also the first defender since Cat Reddick of North Carolina (2003) to capture the honor.

Leading up to the Hermann Trophy win, Buchanan also captured several other prestigious prizes, testament to her talent and her defensive prodigy. In December 2016, Buchanan was recognized by both espnW and by TopDrawerSoccer.com as their National Player of the Year winner. The year would culminate with recognition as the Honda Sport Award winner for soccer.

Buchanan’s list of soccer achievements at West Virginia establishes her as one of the greatest student-athletes, male or female, to don their colors. In addition to four straight All-America honors, the only player in program history to do so, she has gained recognition as a four-time All-Big 12 honoree, complemented by three Big 12 Tournament Defensive MVP honors. Equally impressive is the fact that the assiduous Buchanan was also recognized during her sterling career with four Academic All-Big 12 awards, displaying similar proficiency in the classroom.

During her career with the Mountaineers, Buchanan appeared in 90 of 91 games, missing one game due to her participation with the Canadian national team in a bronze medal effort at the 2016 Rio Summer Games. As a defensive stalwart, Buchanan was a key factor in the Mountaineers logging an NCAA-record 18 shutouts this past season, 55 overall since she first joined the program. During the 2016 season, the program did not allow one goal during Big 12 Conference play, the first time in Big 12 women’s soccer that any team ever pitched a season shutout.

Having helped the program reach the finals of the NCAA College Cup, the first in its history, Buchanan’s legacy also included recognition as the NCAA Tournament’s Defensive MVP. The fellow nominees included a pair of players from California-based teams, including Morgan Andrews of the Southern California Trojans, the team that defeated the Mountaineers in the College Cup finals, plus Stanford Cardinal competitor Andi Sullivan.

Among her teammates at West Virginia included fellow Canadian national teammate, midfielder Ashley Lawrence, who was a semifinalist for the Hermann Award. Having also graduated this year, the two, who have been teammates since they were nine years old in Brampton, Ontario, will see their careers to run parallel.

With 109 combined caps for Canada, both continue their careers at the professional level in France, although this new chapter sees the long-time friends become rivals. Lawrence has signed with Paris Saint-Germain while the reigning UEFA Women’s Champion League champions Olympique Lyonnais acquired Buchanan less than one week after the Hermann Trophy win.

Among Buchanan’s new teammates with Lyonnais shall be American superstar, striker Alex Morgan along with German defender Josephine Henning (who signed a six month contract to expire on June 30), who were both introduced to the press on January 7 by team President Jean-Michel Aulas. Of note, Lyonnais is the most successful team in France’s Ligue 1 Feminine with 14 league titles.

Adding to the intensity of this newly minted rivalry is the fact that both Paris Saint-Germain and Lyonnais are among the Ligue 1’s elites in French Cup play. Currently, PSG stands atop the standings with an undefeated mark of 10-0-0. Lyonnais sits at second at 9-1-0, with its only loss coming to Paris Saint-Germain in a 1-0 final on Dec. 17. The first match between Lawrence and Buchanan is scheduled to take place on May 14, 2017.

Lawrence gained the opportunity to don the PSG colors in a January 8 match against Bourges, one of the lower-division clubs in French Cup play. Prevailing in a 19-0 whitewash, Brazil’s Cristiane led PSG with a sensational seven goals.