Female sporting heroes earn the trading card treatment

While the annual Topps release known as Allen and Ginter is classified as a baseball card set, its issues featuring celebrities and athletes from other sports has made it a special collectible for many card collectors. The card designs try to recapture the magic of the original Allen and Ginter tobacco cards from the late 19th Century, which are considered some of the most esthetically beautiful cards ever made.

As 2014 marks the ninth year of the revival of the remarkable brand, one of its unique aspects is the fact that the set always features prominent female athletes in its set. While there are the obligatory cards, including cards printed on metal, pop-up booklet cards and cards that will be adorned with the actual skeletal remains of an animal (numbered 1/1), several female athletes will be featured on randomly inserted autograph cards along with memorabilia cards.

For the 2014 edition, the female athletes given the cardboard treatment cover a wide range of unique sports. Power lifter Laura Phelps is the first female in the set, found on card number 6. Diana Nyad, who captured the hearts and minds of admirers the world over by swimming from Cuba to Florida graces card number 62.

Of note, athletes are not the only women to be featured in this unique set. While card 100 features Queen Victoria, actress Felicia Day finds her way into the set as number 119 and card 243 includes Helen Keller, whose struggles with disability raised awareness several generations ago. A pair of beauty queens is also part of this year’s offering. Erin Brady, the reigning Miss USA graces number 112 while Miss Universe, Maria Gabriela Isler can be found on card number 254.

Jenny Dell (card number 164), a popular broadcaster who covers Major League Baseball, is also part of this year’s offering, following a popular trend, which included Fox Sports personality Erin Andrews in the 2013 edition of the set. Wrestler Jordan Oliver joins Dell and the rest of the female sporting figures in the set.

Two American heroes from the Summer Games cross paths again in Allen and Ginter. Sprinting superstar Allyson Felix and 2012 Summer Games gold medalist Carli Lloyd are sequentially numbered in the set, gaining card numbers 213 and 214. As a side note, this is not the first time that Lloyd has earned the cardboard treatment. She has also been featured on products from Panini and Upper Deck.

Race car driver Tanner Foust can be found on card number 224. She is not the first female racer to be featured in Allen and Ginter’s card set. Danica Patrick was featured in the set’s inaugural release back in 2006.

In the 300-card base set, the last two female athletes found in the set include a rising superstar in golf, Danielle Kang and fitness champion Samantha Briggs. Kang and Briggs can be found on card numbers 273 and 276.

While Upper Deck products such as World of Sports and Goodwin Champions have also made efforts to feature female athletes on their card products, it is encouraging to see Allen and Ginter continue to set the way. In every one of their nine card releases, female athletes (and celebrities) have earned the cardboard treatment. Every year, their inclusion of female athletes only grows, continuing to feature prominent athletes from the past and the present.

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Rookie Jenny Mac a one-of-a-kind for the ascending Atlanta Steam

In a season that has seen the Atlanta Steam rise to the upper echelon of indoor female football, an exciting rookie crop injected optimism into a franchise that entered a crossroads after several off-season changes. While Dakota Hughes stole the show as a rookie sensation at quarterback, one of the most charismatic players may have been fellow freshman Jenny Mac.

While there is no denying that the 24 year-old Mac has film star looks, it is the look that she brings to the gridiron that has established her as a competitor to take very seriously. Decorated in white makeup with black on her lips and eyes, she is hard to ignore. Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, her look is akin to former Buffalo Bills linebacker Ray Bentley, who used to wear black makeup as a tribute to one of his favorite rock stars, Alice Cooper.

Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, Mac makes an impression on the gridiron (Image obtained from facebook)

Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, Mac makes an impression on the gridiron (Image obtained from facebook)

It is an enthusiasm for the game that is quickly establishing her as a fan favorite. While teammate Holly Oakes was featured in a 2013-dated calendar featuring indoor women’s football players, Mac may certainly warrant strong consideration should a 2015 edition reach print.

A wide receiver and a defensive end, the 5’10” Mac was one of the tallest competitors on the team. Statistically, her biggest impact was on the defense, recording 6.5 total tackles. Of note, four were solo efforts while one was for a loss. Although her numbers were not good enough to crack the top five, a member of that group is someone for Mac to look up to.

Providing solid play on both ends of the ball, Coco Montgomery ranked second in receiving and third in total tackles, while leading the team in interceptions. Should Mac manage to emulate such performance in 2015, reaching her potential as an elite wide receiver, it may prove to be the difference between the franchise competing for a championship and winning one. There is no question that she may be the next great Steam player to achieve an All-League selection.

Mac raised eyebrows, being considered best dressed at the indoor football awards by several in social media

Mac raised eyebrows, being considered best dressed at the indoor football awards by several in social media

With great potential, Mac was part of a feel-good story for indoor female football. In a season that saw the Steam welcome many new faces and a new coach (who would go on to win Coach of the Year honors), they were one of only two franchises to start the year at 3-0. Ironically, the other club was the Chicago Bliss, whom the Steam would face in the championship game.

Although the title game did not bring the desired result for Mac and her Steam mates, it was certainly a coming-out party, establishing the Steam and its players among the elites of the gridiron. Not only did the Skull Kid persona reach a much larger audience, but her presence at the awards ceremony made an impression. Many female football fans in social media named her the best dressed at the event. Perhaps next year, she will enjoy an award nomination to complement her style. Certainly, fans are hoping that the next chapter of the Jenny Mac Story is one filled with future glories.

Ronda Rousey rocks the red carpet as her career expands into Hollywood

While mixed martial arts are accustomed to Ronda Rousey establishing herself as a pioneer in the female aspect of the sport, she is quickly emerging as a pop culture icon. Such a status will mean that non-sports fans will have to get used to seeing her on the red carpet.

After portraying the character “Luna” in the box-office disappointment “The Expendables 3”, Rousey made the rounds on the red carpet, helping to promote the film. While the “Rowdy” one has certainly established as an MMA fighter that people love to hate, there is no question that her red carpet presence and appreciation for fashion shows a softer side. While Rousey has appeared in ESPN’s Body Issue, showing an appeal that was not common with female MMA fighters, her foray into Hollywood may establish her as a possible future female action hero superstar.

Her next film roles include the seventh installment of The Fast and the Furious film franchise, along with Entourage, based on the popular HBO sitcom produced by Mark Wahlberg. Although Rousey does not have top billing in either film (similar to Expendables 3), there is no question that entertainment reporters will be keen to see how she rocks the red carpet.

Reviews on her performance in Expendables 3 ranged from really well to horrible. The 27 year-old certainly has the potential to be an icon in film, as very few women have pulled off the role of action hero. One exception would have to be Milla Jovovich with her strong performances in the Resident Evil franchise. As a side note, Expendables 3 star and producer Sylvester Stallone did consider Jovovich.

There is no question that Rousey is not afraid to be outspoken in Hollywood, having criticized the portrayals of female comic-book superheroes in the big screen adaptations. Feeling that the woman’s superpower is dumbed down (e.g. invisibility, telepathy), Rousey tried to make a bold statement in Expendables 3.

If any comic book role would be ideal for Rousey, it would have to be the Black Cat, a long-time character in the Spider-Man mythos. Part villain and part hero, the Black Cat is equal parts dangerous and sexy, akin to Rousey.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Photo credit: Getty Images

Some critics wrote her off as just the token female in the film, as she had significantly less screen time than male counterparts such as Stallone, Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Considering the level of star power involved, it was still a remarkable way to break into the movies.

While the first time she saw the film, she did so while covering her face with her hands as it proved to be a nerve wracking experience as she was self-conscious. Acknowledging that acting is her toughest challenge, critics recognized that she was underused in the film. Nerves aside, she did get one scene-stealing role in the film. Engaging in a fight scene in a night club, Rousey is in a slinky red dress with stiletto heels as she smashes an individual with a beer bottle.

While being made to look hot may be a stereotypical part of movies, one of Rousey’s upcoming projects may help shatter such stereotypes. The popular book “The Athena Project” is being adapted into a film for Rousey.

Although MMA fans would like to see her engage in some smashing in the octagon, balancing MMA, acting and the demands of being a celebrity shall be a way of life for the foreseeable future.

Lolo Jones experiences heartbreak after Dancing with the Stars elimination

In the last two years, no athlete has been as maligned as Lolo Jones. Her most recent experience on Dancing with the Stars only added to such woes. After Meryl Davis earned first place in the previous season of DWTS, Jones was hoping to carry in her momentum. Of note, Davis and Jones were both members of the United States contingent that participated in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Sadly, such momentum was not meant to be.

After suffering so much heartbreak in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games, the world-class hurdler was hoping that 2014 year would provide redemption. Qualifying for the US Bobsled Team, it had the potential for a remarkable comeback. Instead, she had to settle for an eleventh-place finish.

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Her motivation to appear on DWTS was the chance to prove how hard she worked while hoping a good performance would stop the haters from teasing her. With due deference to Jones, it almost seemed like a no-win situation.

While she has openly talked about not trying to appear sexy, the reality is that she is a beautiful and stunning woman. Considering the outfits that some of the competitors on DWTS wear, her appeal would certainly have emanated. In addition, she would have gained criticism from her haters the moment that she would have faced elimination. Even if she would have won, the haters would have said it was not as important as an Olympic gold medal.

Sadly, ever since Jones admitted to abstaining from intimate relations until marriage two years ago, it has become a topic of gossip that has made the devout Christian a target for unfair ridicule. Obviously, the strain of her choice to remain a virgin along with the frustrations of losing has created in a tragic sense of shame and embarrassment.

The humiliation of the DWTS loss was compounded by the fact that she was the first competitor to be eliminated. Considering that the other competitor up for elimination was 72 years old (and she had the lowest score), it certainly looks unfair for Jones.

With partner Keo Motsepe, the two danced a Cha Cha which resulted in a stiff performance that received very low marks. Of note, Jones called her own performance “awful.” She would also comment afterwards that she had flashbacks of the three Olympics, and in between dances, she was in tears. Although she did not look surprised that she was going home, she was gracious in defeat, signs of a great athlete.

Pouring her emotions in a message on social media, the theme was that she was sick of being a loser. Although she may have been hard on herself by stating that she felt broken, unlovable and embarrassed, she is such an accomplished, world-class athlete, that she is no way a loser. With hopes of returning to the track at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Jones certainly needs a boost to her confidence.

Whether that comes in the way of a relationship or a sports psychologist that can help her regain her mojo, it is unfair for any hater to define her life by a series of sporting events that are only a small fraction of the bigger picture. Despite being in a difficult place, Jones is an inspiration for others that are suffering from personal struggles. Although bad things do happen to good people, it is how quickly one can bounce back that defines them.

Kerrin Sperry leaves behind legacy as greatest goaltender for BU Terriers

In her freshman season, Kerrin Sperry would stand between the pipes for the Boston University Terriers in the NCAA Frozen Four title game of 2011. Despite losing to the Wisconsin Badgers and fellow rookie netminder Alex Rigsby, Sperry’s season was a sign of greater things to come. By her senior season, she would prove to be the best netminder the program ever had.

As a freshman, her .804 win percentage and 1.63 goals against average would prove to be the best of her career. She would come close to matching her career-high percentage as a junior, with a .797 posting. As a side note, her goals against average for her sophomore, junior and senior campaigns were 2.50, 2.20 and 2.49.

Photo credit: Michelle Jay, Daily Free Press

Photo credit: Michelle Jay, Daily Free Press

Her senior season culminated in the cementing of her legacy as one of the most influential players in the history of the BU program. Winning multiple awards as the Hockey East Goaltender of the Week, she helped the club capture its third straight Hockey East postseason tournament.

During championship weekend, she accumulated a combined 82 saves, including 40 against Boston College in the title game. For her efforts, she earned her second consecutive Hockey East Tournament MVP award, along with BU’s Student-Athlete of the Week honors. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that she finished her Terriers career with nine consecutive Hockey East tournament wins. In addition, she would register 316 saves in 10 playoff games, a league record.

In a memorable senior season, the month of November 2013 may have been her finest. With a sterling 1.50 goals-against average, complemented by a .944 save percentage and her 6-2-0 record, she would record two shutouts. Of note, one of those shutouts came in Vail, Colorado as she registered 28 saves against the St. Cloud State Huskies. Perhaps the most impressive aspect may have been going undefeated (5-0-0) in Hockey East play.

In the postseason, she would make at least 40 saves in contests against Boston College and a first-round NCAA Tournament match against Minnesota. She would graduate having set program records for wins (85), shutouts (13), goals-against average (2.14), save percentage (.920) and saves (2,313).

Statistically, her numbers are among some of the finest among Hockey East goaltenders. Her cumulative won-loss record was 85-34-8, (a .701 career winning percentage), having posted three 20-win seasons; 21 as a freshman, a career-high 24 as a junior and 21 in her senior campaign.

With a personal best 1016 saves as a senior, it raised her career total to 3329 saves. In addition, she faced a career-high 1097 shots as a senior, for a total of 3612 in her career. The only other season where she faced over 1000 shots was as a sophomore, with 1016. Through four sensational years, she would also log over 7600 minutes of ice time.

The Terriers finished the 2013-14 season with a 24-13-1 record while posting 20 wins for the fourth straight season. Sperry’s efforts between the pipes were crucial in helping the club qualify for its fifth NCAA tournament appearance.

While Sperry is returning to BU for a fifth year, she will not be eligible to take part in that historic run. Instead, Sperry is expanding her athletic scope by competing with the varsity Field Hockey team. Having spent 14 years on the rink, Sperry is heading into an exciting fifth year. Culminating in the month of May, her fifth year sees her wrapping up a masters program, the completion of a two-year ROTC program, getting a commission and getting married in a whirlwind period of three weeks.

Last winter, she had shown interest in field hockey, communicating with BU’s coach Sally Starr. Working out throughout the summer, her commitment paid off with a spot on the roster. Unlike her on-ice duties, Sperry shall no longer be in a goaltending position on the field. Competing at the forward position, it shall present a new experience.

With her experience as a nationally prominent student-athlete at BU, her maturity shall make her an invaluable addition to the field hockey team. Having always led by example with regards to hard work, she also understands the values of friendship and mentoring, key factors for instilling confidence. As an ambitious Terriers squad attempts to become the second program to win four straight Hockey East championships, Sperry will likely be not too far, helping to instill those same values for the Terriers new backstops.

Erin O’Neill, an Athena Award winner in high school, and Mia Becker, who stood between the pipes for Shattuck St. Mary’s are among the goaltenders who are hoping to continue in her proud legacy. While Sperry has left some big shoes to fill, she has set a standard of accomplishment, dedication and perseverance that will stand for seasons to come, and for that, BU fans are grateful that she was on their team.

Spooner and Mikkelson provide valiant effort in final leg of Amazing Race Canada

Heading into the final leg of the Amazing Race Canada, Natalie Spooner and Meaghan Mikkelson found themselves in the nation’s capital of Ottawa. Of note, the last time the two were in Ottawa, they were part of the Canadian hockey team that competed at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships. After a silver medal loss to the United States, the two were hoping that their return to Ottawa would provide them with winning redemption.

Beginning with kayaking on the Ottawa River, the final leg would prove to be a see-saw battle with the other teams. It was evident early on that the kayaking experience would take its toll on Mikkelson. Having gone through all eleven legs of Amazing Race Canada with a wrist that was still healing from an injury sustained at the Sochi Winter Games, Mikkelson looked to be in considerable pain as the team struggled to get the kayak in the water.

Spooner (left) and Mikkelson stoically holding back tears after an emotional finish to the race at Ottawa's Rideau Hall (Image obtained from ctv.ca)

Spooner (left) and Mikkelson stoically holding back tears after an emotional finish to the race at Ottawa’s Rideau Hall (Image obtained from ctv.ca)

Despite arriving at the dock for the entrance of the Rideau Canal in second place, Spooner and Mikkelson were still very much in contention. The next step involved visiting Parliament Hill, where teams opened an envelope containing an important date in the history of Parliament.

Finding the book that corresponded to the date in question, it had to present it to an employee at the Library of Parliament. Unfortunately, Spooner and Mikkelson did not see the envelope, heading straight to the Library.

Still trailing in second place after correcting their steps and finding the envelope and book, Spooner and Mikkelson headed west of Ottawa towards Carp, Ontario, where the Canadian Cold War Museum (known affectionately as the Diefenbunker) would provide the next challenge. Spooner would take part, a move that would haunt the team afterwards.

While one team had already arrived at the Diefenbunker, Spooner had the opportunity to overtake them. Searching for three of five different military themed toys in a challenge called “Military Search”, Spooner overlooked two of the locations. There were toys in an incubator at the medical room and in a locker where sleeping quarters were located.

By the time Spooner finished the challenge, the first place team were on their way back to Ottawa as there was a Roadblock at the Museum of Civilization. As Spooner had engaged in the search at the Diefenbunker, Mikkelson was now obligated to participate in the Roadblock at the Museum.

Unfortunately, it was a physically demanding challenge that would place considerable strain on Mikkelson. Placed into a harness, Mikkelson faced a 60 foot obstacle, as she had to ascend to the top of the atrium. Once at the top, Mikkelson had to grab an envelope and head towards a nearby balcony.

Taking into account that Mikkelson’s hand was severely swollen with pain after the kayaking challenge, she could not hide the expression of pain on her visage as she ascended to the atrium. Natalie cheered a very brave Mikkelson on, as she refused to give up. Spooner would remark that seeing Mikkelson’s struggle on the ropes reminded her of how close they have grown over the race. Seeing her suffer through pain just to make it to the end and have a chance to win the race truly impressed her.

As the excitement continued to build as the race was in its final legs, Spooner and Mikkelson reached the National Art Gallery of Canada on historic Sussex Drive. A series of paintings would challenge the memories of all competitors as they needed to arrange them in chronological order, based on the places they visited. At one point, all three remaining teams were in the room, sorting frantically.

Sadly, another team would finish the sorting first, as Spooner and Mikkelson fell back to second place. Undeterred, they continued valiantly, refusing to give up. Just a few minutes later, they would successfully complete the sorting as they now had to go down Sussex Drive towards Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada’s Governor General (as a side note, both met the Honorable Gov Gen in 2013).

By the time they arrived to Rideau Hall, the first team was already on their way towards the grounds, arriving at the Pit Stop first, as eliminated competitors were cheering them on. Arriving at the Pit Stop seconds, holding hands with heads held high, Spooner and Mikkelson tried hard to hold back tears.

Spooner would express it was upsetting not to win but stated that no one could away take the experiences from them. Mikkelson expressed pride at how many legs they won and how strong they were throughout competition, also stating how proud she was to represent Canada.

Of note, host Jon Montgomery recognized the accomplishments of Spooner and Mikkelson throughout the season, telling them that they “crushed” the second season. Of note, the race would entail more than 44,000 kilometres, 814 air fares and 2135 hotel rooms while a remarkable new number of fans admired the greatness that is Spooner and Mikkelson.

Haley Irwin westward bound as Calgary Inferno rebuilds their offense

Coming off a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Haley Irwin’s return to the CWHL shall find her with a new club. Acquired from the Montreal Stars for future considerations, Haley Irwin heads off to the Calgary Inferno, the CWHL’s most western-based franchise.

This marks the third marquee acquisition for the Inferno this off-season. The first involved Jocelyne Larocque being sent to Brampton in exchange for forward Bailey Bram. In addition, the club signed Rebecca Johnston (one of Irwin’s teammates in Sochi) as a free agent. As Irwin and Johnston played with Bram at the 2012 and 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships, the three are very familiar with Calgary, as it is also the national headquarters for the national women’s team.

Of note, the Calgary Inferno becomes the third CWHL team to obtain Irwin’s playing rights. Selected in the first round by the Brampton Thunder in the historic 2012 CWHL Draft, she would join the Montreal Stars in the preseason. During that rookie campaign of 2012-13, Irwin would accumulate 21 points in 20 games played.

Her best performances included a four point output on the road against Team Alberta (now known as the Inferno) on February 10, 2013, including two goals and two assists. Her first career CWHL hat trick would be scored on March 2, 2013, as part of a 6-2 home victory against the Toronto Furies. The season would finish with Irwin appearing in the Clarkson Cup finals.

For the Stars, it could not have been an easy decision to part ways with Irwin. Last season, the franchise lost Carolyne Prevost to free agency, and she would help lead the Toronto Furies to the Clarkson Cup. Should history repeat itself with Irwin, it would be a devastating outcome for a franchise eagerly attempting to capture its fourth title.

The one consolation may be the fact that the franchise has blueline sensation Lauriane Rougeau suiting up for the Stars. Having played with Irwin at Sochi, Rougeau will be expected to anchor the defense for years to come. Complemented by bright, young talent at the forward position such as Sophie Brault, Fannie Desforges, Kim Deschenes and Vanessa Gagnon, the Stars may have a gem to replace the offensive firepower that Irwin brought to the bleu, blanc et rouge. Of note, both teams shall face off against each other on October 24, 2014, the home opener for the Inferno.

As the Inferno look to build on the momentum of their first postseason appearance in 2014, the addition of Irwin only improves their chances of competing for the Clarkson Cup title. Should it happen, Irwin will become the newest member of the Triple Gold Club for Women, which recognizes players that have earned Olympic Gold, IIHF World Gold and the Clarkson Cup. In addition, she won the gold medal at the 2003 Canada Winter Games, playing alongside Meghan Agosta, who was also a teammate on the Stars.

Becoming the second high profile player from Canada’s national program to join the Inferno’s new-look offense, Irwin’s experience adds a feeling of confidence to the ambitious Inferno. A former captain at the NCAA level with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, she brings the maturity and leadership necessary to bring the Inferno’s offense to the next level. Her first test shall come on October 18, as the Inferno challenge the defending Clarkson Cup champion Toronto Furies.