European detour leads Jess Jones to first round of 2013 CWHL Draft

Having bypassed the 2012 CWHL Draft and opting for Europe, Jess Jones’ decision was a surprise to many fans. After graduating from the Mercyhurst Lakers, she competed for Pantera Minsk in Belarus during the 2012-13 campaign. After a historic performance with her new club, the window to play for the CWHL was still wide open at season’s end.

Playing against Wisconsin's Brianna Decker in her final NCAA Game (Photo credit: M.P. King, Wisconsin State Journal)

Playing against Wisconsin’s Brianna Decker in her final NCAA Game (Photo credit: M.P. King, Wisconsin State Journal)

Obtained by the Brampton Thunder in the first round (third overall) of the 2013 CWHL Draft, it was the most logocal option for new General Manager Lori Dupuis. Facing the loss of Jayna Hefford (the CWHL’s all-time leading scorer), third-generation star Gillian Apps, Vicki Bendus and Bailey Bram (another Mercyhurst alumnae) to Canada’s centralization camp, Brampton faced a decimated offense heading into the season.

Compounded by the retirement of Cherie Piper, Jones becomes a key piece to Brampton’s rebuilding puzzle. After four coaches in two seasons, penalty problems and a heartbreaking loss to the Toronto Furies in the Clarkson Cup playoffs, Jones is a breath of fresh air for the beleaguered franchise.
With the selection of Jess Jones third overall in the 2013 CWHL Draft, it marks the third consecutive year that a Mercyhurst Lakers player is selected in the first round. In 2011, Meghan Agosta (drafted first overall by Montreal), Vicki Bendus and Jesse Scanzano were first round picks. The following year, goaltender Hillary Pattenden followed in Agosta’s footsteps and was drafted first overall by the Alberta Hockey Club.

In 138 career games with the Mercyhurst Lakers, she would log 154 career points. Complemented by four College Hockey American regular season titles and four NCAA tournament appearances, Jones is a proven winner that can help restore the pride in Brampton.

Her scoring flair continued last season with Pantera Minsk. Having played in just 19 games, she recorded 28 goals and 25 assists for a sterling 53 point output. As the only Canadian on the team, she would emerge as the leading scorer for the European Women’s Hockey League club.

Participating in the 2013 EWHL Supercup, Jones contributed eight points as she helped Pantera Minsk grab their first-ever championship. In dramatic fashion, Jones would score twice in the title game, a 6-1 triumph over defending champion Sabres Vienna. Her sparkling performance was complemented by a nod to the Tournament All-Star team.

It is that type of performance that Brampton fans will hope Jones can provide in the near future as the beleaguered Thunder continue to chase that elusive Clarkson Cup championship.

With Brampton in a rebuilding year, Jones certainly stands a key building block for a brighter future ahead. The eventual return of former Mercyhurst teammates and current Thunder superstars Bailey Bram and Vicki Bendus from the Canadian centralization camp will create a remarkable scoring line, reuniting the Lakers legends of seasons past.

Next to Jessica Wong, Jones may be the only other first round pick that will be expected to carry the lion’s share of the offensive load. Although Jones’ leadership skills and offensive play making abilities make her a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, her inaugural season in the CWHL will certainly be a baptism of fire.

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Tale of the 2013 LFL Championship Tape: Christy Bell and Heather “Rockstar” Furr

Heading into the 2013 Legends Cup, two of the hardest working quarterbacks in the league shall get the opportunity to claim their first-ever title. Christy Bell of the Philadelphia Passion has played in the LFL title game in 2011 and 2012, coming up short both times at the hands of the Los Angeles Temptation. Heather “Rockstar” Furr is a multiple LFL All-Fantasy selection looking to bring the Chicago Bliss franchise a title.

FurrBell

In terms of numbers, Furr holds a key advantage as a rusher. She has accumulated 138 rushing yards with a sparkling 4.5 yards per carry. Bell is more of a pocket passer, having only logged 31 yards on only 16 rushing attempts.

Having led the Philadelphia Passion to their third consecutive conference championship, Christy Bell is an accurate passer with the ability to pick apart a defense. With a 55.3 passing percentage, she has thrown for 277 yards and eight touchdown passes, while only being intercepted twice. Her postseason experience gives her a key advantage against Furr.

Bell scrambling for yardage (Image obtained from Facebook)

Bell scrambling for yardage (Image obtained from Facebook)

In comparison, Furr has thrown for less yardage (219 yards) and fewer touchdowns (five) but has not been intercepted once. While her completion percentage is slightly higher than Bell’s, her advantage is the ability to excel in the running game.

While Bell has a stronger focus on offense (playing almost exclusively as quarterback), Furr is not afraid to pull double duty on the LFL gridiron. Also competing as a safety, it is very possible that she could intercept one of Bell’s passes. Should she manage to pick off her opposing quarterback, it could spell the difference between winning and losing.

Furr’s path to the championship game was one filled with drama and redemption. After an opening night loss against the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Temptation, the season could have easily collapsed. Instead, the Bliss finished unbeaten for the remainder of the regular season.

Victories against Nikki Johnson’s Las Vegas Sin (34-12 on May 10) and division rival Minnesota (25-12 on July 26) placed Chicago in the hunt for a playoff spot. With an emotional road game against Anne “Showtime” Erler and the Green Bay Chill (Furr and Erler were teammates in LFL Canada), Furr emerged victorious with a 27-18 win.

One of the most emotional images in LFL history. Christy Bell distraught after a 26-25 loss to the LA Temptation in 2011 (Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

One of the most emotional images in LFL history. Christy Bell distraught after a 26-25 loss to the LA Temptation in 2011 (Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The first postseason game saw Furr with the opportunity to redeem herself against the Los Angeles Temptation. With the match in Chicago once more, Furr was matched up against LA’s championship quarterback Ashley Salerno. Exacting revenge for the opening night loss with a 19-12 victory, Furr brought an end to the Temptation’s dynasty.

Bell warming up prior to the 2012 LFL Championship game (Photo: Ethan Miller Getty Images)

Bell warming up prior to the 2012 LFL Championship game (Photo: Ethan Miller Getty Images)

Ironically, Bell’s postseason also ran parallel to Furr’s. While Bell gave a strong performance with touchdown passes to Lindsay Nadonly and Lauren La Bella, Philadelphia’s first game of the season ended in a 20-19 loss to the Baltimore Charm.

Bell would get her rematch against Baltimore in the postseason as the two played for the right to be named Eastern Conference champions. Facing a 13-0 deficit at halftime, Bell engineered a comeback that resulted in scoring the game-tying touchdown in the game’s dying seconds. In another 20-19 final, Bell would lead Philadelphia to their third straight conference title.

During practice at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois (Image by Rich Hein, Chicago Sun Times)

During practice at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois (Image by Rich Hein, Chicago Sun Times)

Competing against the undefeated Seattle Mist in the conference championship game, Furr and her Bliss teammates also faced an underdog situation. Although the Mist were competing in their first-ever postseason match, expectations were high as Seattle boasted a powerful offense. While Laurel Creel matured into a fine quarterback for the Mist, her inexperience showed against the seasoned Furr as Chicago emerged with a 31-14 win.

While Philadelphia’s Marirose Roach employs a lateral style which adequately handles the running duties for the Passion (she has logged 450 rushing yards), Bell’s strength is the ability to find receivers in pressure situations. While Maegan Larsen (Philly’s receiving leader) has also lined up behind centre, she utilizes the position to take direct snap runs, another unique aspect of the Passion’s offense.

While the rushing and defensive strengths of Furr give her the advantage over Bell, the 2013 LFL postseason has been defined by upsets and unexpected outcomes. Regardless of the outcome on September 1, the unfolding history of LFL brings with it the opportunity for another elite quarterback to be named champion.

Embrace of Russian athletes defining sporting moment of summer

As a direct rebuttal towards the anti-gay sentiments from their Russian counterparts, athletes Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firov embraced each other on the medal stand at the 2013 IAAF track championships in Moscow. Part of the 4×400 meter relay team that claimed the gold medal, it was not only the defining moment of the event, but of the entire summer, possibly the entire year.

Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kiss during the 4x400m Relay medal ceremony (Image by Grigory Dukor, Reuters)

Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kiss during the 4x400m Relay medal ceremony (Image by Grigory Dukor, Reuters)

The moment evoked memories of the 1968 Olympics Black Power Salute in which gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos raised their fists on the podium. Wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights badges, it was a statement towards the racism they endured in the United States. One of the most iconic images in sports history, even silver medalist Peter Norman wore a badge as a sign of solidarity in their struggle for human rights.

Although Smith and Carlos were treated by boos and jeers by the fans in attendance, Ryzhova and Firov were greeted by cheers and applause. While sources from the Russian track team stated that it was just a congratulatory kiss, the image truly proves that a kiss is worth a thousand words. Regardless of its meaning, the message from the kiss was certainly interpreted differently by the rest of the sporting world.

Of note, other athletes at the games showed their support for equality in unique ways. Emma Green Tregaro and Moa Hjelmer decorated their nails in a rainbow pattern, while Nick Symmonds dedicated his win to gay friends in the United States.

Even if the kiss was meant to be just congratulatory, it has transformed into a statement that brings tremendous confidence and support to the LGBT athletic movement. While no other arena is as powerful or universal as sport in conveying a message, the momentum of this kiss has only set the stage for the next major athletic event in Russia, the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

While the struggles of LGBT individuals is one that endures in many parts of the world, the message that the embrace provides is certainly a powerful statement that all people deserve to be treated equally. In addition, it also reinforces the message that athletes must not boycott the 2014 Sochi Winter Games; proving that more can be accomplished through participation than by running away.

Sheila Gaff’s sad footnote in UFC history could be redeemed by a comeback

With the emergence of Ronda Rousey as a household name, the women’s division in UFC is quickly taking shape as one of the jewels of the Mixed Martial Arts crown. As the impact of women in MMA continues to grow and take shape, there too are its casualties.

German fighter Sheila Gaff has become the first woman to be released by the ultra-popular UFC promotion. Measuring in at 5’5” with a lifetime mark of 10-6-1, Gaff made her MMA debut on September 2, 2006 and had previously fought in Cage Warriors. After a first round TKO suffered at the hands of Brazilian fighter Amanda Nunes at UFC 163, her promising career was cut short.

While American MMA fans may not have had the opportunity to witness her potential as a fighter, the long road back begins for Gaff. Having fought as both a bantamweight and a flyweight, Gaff was part of the first groundbreaking group of women signed by UFC.

As a flyweight, Gaff was very successful. Winning her first three flyweight bouts on the independent circuit, her elevation to the UFC bantamweight ranks resulted in two successive losses. Prior to the loss to Nunes, she was soundly defeated at UFC 159 in April 2013. Gaff suffered a first round by Sara McMann, the first American woman to receive a silver medal in wrestling in the Summer Games (achieved at Athens 2004).

The news of this release is the bookend in a groundbreaking 2013 for women’s MMA as a viable and popular event. On February 24, 2013, Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche entered the octagon in the first-ever women’s match in UFC history.

As the women’s division in UFC only has 13 fighters (prior to Gaff’s release), it seemed a bit unfair to grant her a release. Should UFC hope to attract female fans or aspiring fighters, the release of Gaff sends a negative message.

While some fighters are simply not talented enough, there is something to be said for grooming talent or allowing for a three-strike rule; if a competitor lost their first three fights (or three consecutive fights later) in the promotion, they would face a release. With only one women’s weight class in UFC, it is only natural that some fighters may be better suited for an alternative weight class.

In this case, Gaff was more competitive as a flyweight. Should UFC’s popular with the female division lead to a grouping of weight classes, Gaff could be a contender in a potential flyweight division.

Known affectionately as the German Tank, Gaff is only 23 years old and has the potential to be one of Europe’s fienst fmeale fighters. For now, the most logical move would be to return to a flyweight class and help rebuild her confidence. With Invicta FC as a great proving ground, Gaff may be able to make history twice, by returning to the promotion after a release.

Anita Marks continues to make an impression after storied football career

From competing in the WPFL to reporting with the New York Giants of the NFL, football has remained a constant in Anita Marks’ life.

After competing for five seasons in the WPFL, Marks found new life in the realm of broadcast journalism. Articulate, knowledgeable, well-researched and likeable, Marks is one of the remarkable women making a mark in the traditionally male dominated field of sports coverage.

Growing up in Miami, she cultivated a love of football at an early age. As a child, she competed in Pop Warner football. In high school, she would try out for the Junior Varsity team.

Her postsecondary years with the University of South Florida in Tampa were the training ground for her eventual future on the gridiron. Armed with a rocket arm and great vision, she would emerge as one of the elite competitors in the Collegiate Flag Football circuit.

Marks proudly displays the sign for her weekend program on NBC Sports Radio (noon to 3 pm)

Marks proudly displays the sign for her weekend program on NBC Sports Radio (noon to 3 pm)

Having graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, she would put it to good use. Employed as a sports producer for CBS in Miami (WFOR-TV) in the mid 1990’s, she never lost her love of competition. When former Minnesota Vikings player J.T. Turner announced that the Women’s Professional Football League would expand to Miami, the growing sport of women’s tackle football would welcome Marks into the fold.

While current US-based leagues such as the WFA and IWFL have replaced the former WPFL, Marks was definitely a pioneer in the sport and a debt of gratitude is owed to her. Lining up behind center, she was the pivot for four seasons with the Miami Fury. Her final season would bring her to the Florida Stingrays organization, where she competed in the WPFL title game. Great athleticism and charisma were complemented by arm strength and accuracy.

With New York Giants legend Harry Carson on set for MSG's Giants Opening Drive Live (Obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/#/pages/Anita-Marks/254255777942192?ref=br_tf)

With New York Giants legend Harry Carson on set for MSG’s Giants Opening Drive Live (Obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/#/pages/Anita-Marks/254255777942192?ref=br_tf)

Marks’ tenacity and endurance proves that women’s football is hardly powder puff. She has the battle scars to prove it with tears to her ACL on three separate occasions, a reconstructed nose, a shattered sesmoid bone, a shoulder impingement and multiple knee surgeries.

It was also during her time with the WPFL that Marks became an on-air personality on the airwaves of Miami radio. Jim Kiick, a member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins heard Marks appear as a guest on a radio program.

Kiick would request to have her co-host his Monday Nigth Football pre-game show for Miami’s Fox Sports affiliate radio station. She would eventually land her own afternoon show on Miami airwaves (940 Fox Sports Radio WRFX-AM), breaking barriers as a female radio sports host in a male dominated landscape. A stint at 1400 The Fan (WFLL-AM) followed.

With Mike and Shaun O'Hara prior to the Giants Training Camp show. Obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnitaMarks

With Mike and Shaun O’Hara prior to the Giants Training Camp show. Obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnitaMarks

Eventually, she would become one of the most popular sports personalities in Baltimore, Maryland, even co-hosting an occasional program with legendary Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. As former Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas was one of her idols, it was a perfect fit for Marks. Ironically, she wore number 8 in football, the same number of Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken, Jr.

While she was in Baltimore, Marks continued tossing the football. Of note, she was the signal caller for an all-male flag football team in Hunt Valley, Maryland, along with being the only female in a male pick-up basketball league, based out of Towson, respectively. Known as the Ultimate Sports Chick on ESPN Radio 1300 in Baltimore, she actually coined the term Juice Monkey.

An afternoon drive show that Marks hosted on 105.7 The Fan (WJZ-FM) in Baltimore was also part of the Mid Atlantic Sports Network repertoire of syndicated programming (Direct TV – Channel 640). One of the highlights of her tenure with MASN was a Fantasy Football programs known as “Fantasy Blitz”.

Marks also brought her effervescent personality to the United Football League. With league contests aired on Versus, she gained a national platform, working as a sideline reporter during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Part of the UFL broadcast team with Marks included Dave Sims and football legends Doug Flutie and Kordell Stewart. Of note, when the UFL was looking for a female reporter for their broadcast, highly respected football sideline reporter Lesley Visser (of CBS) recommended Marks.

(Left to right) Dave Sims, Marks, Doug Flutie and Kordell Stewart as part of the UFL Broadcast Team. Image obtained from: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/sfl-flutph10,0,5139262.photo

(Left to right) Dave Sims, Marks, Doug Flutie and Kordell Stewart as part of the UFL Broadcast Team. Image obtained from: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sports/sfl-flutph10,0,5139262.photo

Although Marks brought a major league feel to women’s football, she is now in the big leagues of sports broadcasting. Relocating in 2010 to New York City, the largest television market in the United States, Marks would join WFAN 660, while also hosting shows on Sirius XM.

As a refreshing female voice in a male dominated sporting world, her wit and acumen would bring her to serving as part of the New York Giants broadcast team, along with a weekend gig on NBC Sports Radio, where she hosts the aptly-titled “Anita Marks Show”. Fans can also listen online to her program

Image obtained from: http://www.pressboxonline.com/

Image obtained from: http://www.pressboxonline.com/

Still active in sports, the 43 year-old is still as beautiful as ever and definitely looks like she is in game shape. Setting the foundation for future star quarterbacks such as Sami Grisafe and Jessica Springer, Marks crafted a remarkable sporting legacy that is still legendary today.

While there is no denying her beauty and winning smile, she is also helping to groom the next generation of hopefuls with a Sports Business class at New York University. Proving that there is life after athletic competition, Marks is still a game changer. Considered one of the greatest females to have played the game of football, her impact makes her a tremendous role for young women looking to grace the gridiron and the sports airwaves.

Montreal Stars make long-term investment in selection of Cornell legend Lauriane Rougeau

After suffering a heartbreaking loss at the 2013 Clarkson Cup finals, the Montreal Stars goal of becoming the first franchise to win three titles in a row was foiled by the ambitious Boston Blades. While looking to avenge that loss in the upcoming season with the acquisitions of stars such as Camille Dumais, Fannie Desforges and Casandra Dupuis, the Stars have also made a remarkable investment in their future.

Lauriane Rougeau, a star defender with the Cornell Big Red was selected fourth overall by the bleu, blanc et rouge. Before departing for Cornell and starring for Montreal’s famed Dawson College program (where she led the Blues to a league title in 2009), she was a teenaged phenom who had the opportunity to compete for the preceding Montreal Axion, part of the former National Women’s Hockey League.

Donning the commemorative Livestrong jerseys, Rougeau tries to score on Jessie Vetter (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

Donning the commemorative Livestrong jerseys, Rougeau tries to score on Jessie Vetter (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

Part of Team Canada’s centralization camp, Rougeau hopes to be named to the final roster that shall compete for gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. As part of the Canadian contingent that competed at the 2012 and 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds (where Rougeau earned a gold and silver medal), she should be a mainstay on the Stars blueline for at least a decade.

Once Rougeau joins the Stars, it shall signify her second tour of duty with pro hockey in Montreal. This is an even more mature and more polished player. While at Cornell, Rougeau also had stints with the Canadian Under-22/Development and Senior national teams, respectively.

Rougeau (left) and Laura Fortino, the most decorate pair of collegiate defenders in NCAA history (Image by Simon Wheeler)

Rougeau (left) and Laura Fortino, the most decorate pair of collegiate defenders in NCAA history (Image by Simon Wheeler)

In 133 career games at Cornell, Rougeau accumulated 116 points and a program-best career plus/minus rating of +150. Every year with the Big Red, she was a First-Team All-ECAC selection, a nominee for the Patty Kazmaier Award and a Second-Team All-American. She would also gain three consecutive ECAC Best Defensive Defender awards.

Playing with Laura Fortino at Cornell, the dynamic duo comprised the most distinguished pair of defenders in NCAA history. Overall, Rougeau would earn 22 major awards and honors while Fortino grabbed 20. Fortino has also joined Rougeau at Canada’s centralization.

Although Montreal has enough star power in players such as Ann-Sophie Bettez, Emmanuelle Blais, Cathy Chartrand and Vinny Davidson to weather the storm of losing nine players to Centralization Camps, Rougeau was such a talented prospect that she was worth waiting an extra season for.

Her eventual presence shall help to bolster a blueline that already features the likes of the aforementioned Chartrand, team founder Lisa-Marie
Breton-Lebreux, Alyssa Cecere, Carly Dupont-Hill and current national teammate Catherine Ward. Although the game has changed quite a bit since her tenure in the NWHL, the veteran presence of the Stars defense will allow her the needed time to adjust and elevate an already remarkable game.

Elite quarterback Heather Furr looking to win her first-ever LFL Championship

Having pulled off a remarkable upset against the undefeated Seattle Mist, Heather “Rockstar” Furr is looking to stake her claim as the greatest quarterback in the LFL. Playing in the 2013 LFL Championship Game versus the Philadelphia Passion, Furr is looking for her first-ever title.

Coming off a 2012 LFL Canada season where her club team, the Saskatoon Sirens was defeated by the BC Angels in the league’s inaugural title game, Furr has an insatiable hunger to claim the elusive championship.

Scrambling against the Minnesota Valkyrie (Image from: http://www.lflus.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/i-5rT8RJM-XL.jpg)

Scrambling against the Minnesota Valkyrie (Image from: http://www.lflus.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/i-5rT8RJM-XL.jpg)

The highlight of that 2012 campaign was the opportunity to play with rival quarterback Anne “Showtime” Erler of the Green Bay Chill. While Erler took most of the snaps behind center, Furr showed true team spirit by competing at the wide receiver position, emerging as one of the finest.

Ironically, Furr’s path to the 2013 LFL postseason would come in a contest against Erler’s Green Bay squad. With emotions running high, Furr emerged as the victor, leading the Bliss to a 27-18 road victory on August 10.

Getting ready to hand off the ball versus the Las Vegas Sin (Image from: http://www.lflus.com/games/las-vegas-sin-vs-chicago-bliss/attachment/directorleague-photographer-153)

Getting ready to hand off the ball versus the Las Vegas Sin (Image from: http://www.lflus.com/games/las-vegas-sin-vs-chicago-bliss/attachment/directorleague-photographer-153)

Furr’s season is one that has been defined by leadership and character. After a devastating home opener on April 19 at the Sears Centre Arena that saw the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Temptation prevail by a 31-18 tally, the Bliss have gone undefeated. Outscoring opponents by a combined 136-68 score during the unbeaten streak, Furr has shown the poise that makes her a serious candidate for league MVP honors.

Perhaps the most versatile quarterback in the LFL, Furr is also a remarkable weapon in the Bliss’ running game. Heading into the title game, Furr has rushed for 138 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per game. Complemented by four rushing touchdowns, she is capable of turning the tide in her team’s favor for any game.

In addition to her offensive versatility, she is also a force on defense. As a safety, she has logged 23.5 total tackles (18 were solo) along with four interceptions. The opportunity to intercept Philadelphia quarterback Christy Bell in the LFL championship game may be the factor that determines the winner.

Definitely the emotional favorite heading into the big game, her path towards the championship game runs parallel to Sami Grisafe, quarterback of the Chicago Force in the WFA. Both women’s football heroes in the Windy City, their 2012 seasons ended with championship game losses. Like Furr, Grisafe was a long-time elite quarterback working hard to make her championship dreams come true.

In 2013, Grisafe would finally earn a long awaited championship as she led the Force to an undefeated season and the WFA national title. Whether lightning will strike twice with Furr is yet to be determined but there is definitely some strong momentum as the women’s football fans of Chicago have been spoiled by two elite quarterbacks.