Jenny Mac more than just another football player

As the 2016 female football season progresses, the theme of transition continues to be its definition. Despite the addition of several expansion teams in Legends Football League play, there is also the sullen subtraction of several superstars. With the New England Liberty part of the expansion class, their season held tremendous promise as it was spiced by the presence of a stunning, yet dedicated, protagonist.

Having recently made the visceral decision to hang up her helmet, Jenny Mac was poised to be one of the Liberty’s franchise players, whose leadership presence would have shouldered the burden of expectation to qualify for the postseason. With opening kickoff, Mac’s absence was significant for the Liberty. In their inaugural game, the squad suffered a 26-6 thumping on the road against a reinvented Omaha Heart franchise.

Considering that the New England Liberty continues to endure the expansion blues, Mac’s absence reminds fans what might have been. Of note, the Liberty are not the only team this season that has suffered from the impact of her loss. Having first established herself as a superstar with the Atlanta Steam, arguably the most successful expansion team in LFL history, the perennial contender experienced their own offseason filled with change.

Although the Steam has managed to retain a significant part of their leadership core, highlighted by Dakota Hughes, Leanne Hardin and Dina Wojowski, the first winner of the In the Trenches Award, the loss of Jodie Nettles to retirement and Jenny Mac to free agency altered the team’s composition. One of the great qualities about the Steam was the sense of family that existed within the team. Such sense was a key factor in the Steam qualifying for the 2014 Legends Cup final.

Undoubtedly, the loss of Nettles and Mac adds a feeling of loss for this great family. Both statuesque and competitive, Nettles was easily identified by her trademark tye-dye headbands, while Mac would begin an exceptional trend that added an exciting new dimension to the league and its personalities.

Known affectionately as the Skull Kid, Mac was truly one of the league’s originals. Gracing the gridiron with remarkable face painting motifs, it quickly propelled her into the rarified air of both trend setter and superstar. Capturing the imagination of both fans and teammates alike, it triggered a league-wide phenomenon that saw others emulate her unique style.

Steammate Leanne Hardin would adorn her stunning visage with red and black make-up akin to pro wrestling’s legendary Road Warriors. Seattle Mist superstar and 2015 league MVP Danika Brace would adopt a face paint style similar to former wrestling champion Ultimate Warrior. Eventually, it was not uncommon for at least one player on every team to adopt face-painting as a means of both intimidation and motivation.

As captivating as Mac became with her innovative use of face painting, she was far from being just a one-dimensional athlete. There was also a gridiron intensity that constantly provided her team with a chance to win, sending a powerful message.

Perhaps no such message was more evident throughout league circles than the brawl that defined one of the most electrifying postseason contests in league history. In what would prove to be the final contest in Jacksonville Breeze history, the 2014 Eastern Conference final brought out the feline bestiality on both sides.

One of the most iconic images of that scuffle between the Steam and the Breeze was Mac putting out her hand to signify stop towards one of the Breeze players. Amidst such chaos, the hand gesture would signify that Mac meant business, bringing a gradual cease to an otherwise volatile situation. As a side note, three members of the Breeze (Adrian Purnell, Dina Wojowski and Lauran Ziegler) would become Steammates in 2015. Coincidentally, the first match in Liberty history also resulted in a bench clearing brawl with the Omaha Heart, likely rekindling memories among hardcore fans, reminiscent of Mac’s presence.

While the 2016 season should have been the extension of Mac’s gridiron legacy, unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Earlier in the year, Mac was among the Eastern Conference stars that competed in the All-Fantasy Game in Guatemala. Considering that Mac proudly contributed to an Eastern Conference victory, no one could have foreseen that it would be her swan song.

Despite the reality of sport being one where no one is irreplaceable, there is something to be said about personalities and their impact on the field of play. Mac was a model teammate, dedicated to making her team better, while embodying the spirit of friendship exemplified by always having one’s back. Like so many other wondrous women whose hard work and sweat helped build the LFL, Mac made the game so much more enjoyable and the fans who saw her play will always be grateful.

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Chicago Bliss quarterback Heather Furr truly one of a kind

As the Chicago Bliss approach their 2016 season opener, with ambitions towards a fourth consecutive appearance in the Legends Cup finals, such effort may truly be an Amazonian task. Among their loyal fans, there is a tremendous sense of emptiness, sullen feelings, due to the absence of quarterback Heather Furr, whose offseason retirement shall certainly alter the balance of power.

While the LFL stands for Legends Football League, there is no question that Furr embodied the meaning of the word legend.
Definitely the greatest player to have donned the Bliss colors, Furr combined a breathtaking beauty and athletic ability that translated into pulse pounding results, while showing strong leadership and an unwavering loyalty to her team. While many of her contemporaries only played the quarterback position, Furr also excelled as a defensive back. Throughout her career, she would constantly make her presence felt on the league’s leader board in both offensive and defensive categories, enhancing her status as a franchise player.

One of the first superstars in franchise history, she not only helped elevate the quality of football throughout the league, she helped usher in a golden era for female football in Chicago. Along with Samantha Grisafe, a quarterback for the WFA’s Chicago Force, the two field generals consistently kept their club in contention for a championship. The pinnacle of their careers simultaneously took place in 2013, when both achieved the status of champion, as Chicago became the first city to win a WFA and LFL title in the same season.

The jubilation of 2013 would continue with the accomplishment of another title in 2014 for the Bliss. Led by Furr once again, the Bliss would become only the second team in league history to claim consecutive league championships. During this momentous time, Furr’s friendship and loyalty shone through.

Despite an injury nearly ending her career, Alli Alberts would make an amazing comeback, joining Furr in the rarified air of superstardom. Such a rise was not only admirable for her courage to come back after a crushing hit by Ashley Salerno, it was a turning point in franchise history. Alberts would prove to be the final piece in the championship puzzle for the Bliss. Like Furr, Alberts had the ability to excel on both sides of the field.

Such skill placed the Bliss in a position to dethrone the Los Angeles Temptation, and emerge as the league’s finest. Perhaps more importantly, it proved to be the beginning of a strong mutual respect between Alberts and Furr. Of note, Furr became more than just a mentor to Alberts, but a big sister as well. Alberts represented the future of the franchise and the potential to emerge as an ambassador for the league. There is no question that the presence of Furr enabled to both to excel without feeling burdened by the demands of leadership, complementing each other’s skills, yielding winning results.

Quite possibly the greatest quarterback in the history of the LFL, Furr was also a nominee for the league’s Hall of Fame, an honor that must be destined in her future. Part of her legacy in the game was the fact that she also brought instant credibility to LFL Canada. Playing alongside rival Anne Erler (of the Green Bay Chill), the two represented the meaning of dream team as they led the Saskatoon Sirens to the regular season title. Although they only played together in Saskatoon for one season, they certainly made an impression in the football-mad city.

Such an impression was also evident in Chicago as Furr was the only signal caller the franchise ever knew. Although Furr would enhance her status as a pop culture icon as the Bliss were featured on the docu-drama Pretty Strong, there was an ominous foreshadowing. Not only was Furr’s desire to start a family among the themes in the program, a revelation had been made that she briefly retired but returned due to the love of the game. While the program would prove to be her swan song, her legacy with the club shall always remain intact.

Suddenly, the new reality is that the club must move on without Furr, an heiress to her quarterbacking crown not yet definite. During the off-season, the club had acquired “Super” Sindy Cummings, classified as a free agent after the contraction of the Las Vegas Sin. If any quarterback had the potential to ease the transition, it would have been Cummings. After talented signal caller Nikki Johnson (who also played one season in LFL Canada with the Regina Rage) opted for the WFA, Cummings took the reins as a rookie and showed exceptional poise. With great charisma and a fan friendly demeanor, she provided a steady presence on offense for the Sin. The Bliss should have been the extension of her career, helping the Bliss transition into a new era, while allowing her a chance to win a title. Sadly, her “retirement” complicated the quarterbacking picture.

If there is one guarantee for the Bliss this season, it shall be that the organization shall deeply miss her. Although fans can only hope that one day Furr shall return to the game either as a coach or on-air personality, they will always be in gratitude to the exceptional skills that she displayed on the gridiron. Surprisingly, a member of the Bliss was assigned the number 15 this season; Sara Finn. One could argue that only one person in Bliss history deserves to wear the number 15 and that like Furr; the number should also join her in retirement.

Austin Acoustic provide valiant effort in debut game

For any expansion team, the combined feeling of eagerness and nervous energy culminates with its first-ever game. Said game proves to be the litmus test, the opportunity to truly evaluate talent and determine the success of a team. While the Austin Acoustic, one of two new Texas-based expansion teams in the Legends Football League, gained the privilege of participating in the first game of the 2016 season, one could state that it was a baptism of fire.

Kicking off against the defending Legends Cup champion Seattle Mist, it was definitely a “Welcome to the LFL” moment for many of the Acoustic’s first-year players. Taking into account that the match also took place on the road, where the Mist’s fans who regularly pack ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington are the loudest in the league, the Acoustic quickly learned how home field advantage can be crucial towards a team’s success.

Despite the final score displaying a 44-8 victory in favor of the defending champions, there were still many positives for the Acoustic to build on. Statistically, the Acoustic showed strong proficiency on the gridiron. Of note, the Acoustic gained more first downs on offense (7-4), while their passing game was much stronger than the Mist.

Signal caller Teshay Winfrey passed for 78 yards, completing 35% of her passes, while logging a touchdown pass. In addition, she would gain three first downs on passing, compared to just 1 by KK Matheny, a 2015 LFL All-Fantasy selection. Matheny, who donated 100% of proceeds from fan jersey sales to Sienna Strong Against Cancer, only completed 25% of her passes but managed a pair of touchdown passes to Jessica Hopkins, as the strong team chemistry showed.

While Hopkins led all Mist receivers with 39 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, the Acoustic’s Brenda Lynn proved to be the game’s leading receiver. Averaging 14.3 yards per reception, she managed a solid game-high 43 receiving yards. Stephanie Wickett would make her mark, scoring the first touchdown in franchise history with an 18-yard pass from Winfrey. As a side note, Wickett would also contribute 2.5 total tackles.

The key factor that contributed to the Mist victory came down to the rushing game. While the Acoustic’s Jess Powers had a game-high nine rushes, she was continuously pounded by a Mist defense that featured Lashaunda Fowler and 2015 league MVP Danika Brace. Meanwhile, Stevi Schnoor continued to prove why she is the best running back in the LFL. With a superlative 6.1 yards per carry, she anchored the Mist’s running game, shredding through the Acoustic defense for three touchdowns. She would also add to her growing legend by completing a pass for a touchdown.

Although the loss could be classified as a blowout, there was a great personal victory for the Acoustic. On social media, many of the Mist players and coaches showed a touch of class, recognizing the effort exerted by the club in a difficult debut. While the Acoustic may be in the same conference as the Mist, one element that shall never be in dispute is the level of sportsmanship. Mist head coach Chris Michaelson was gracious, showing his recognition of the Acoustic’s effort as part of a social media message recognizing the players and fans,

“I want to give a shout out to Austin Acoustic Head Coach Jericho Harris and his Players for their tenacity and Effort in their first game ever in the LFL — they never quit and continued to compete throughout the game and that will carry this team a long ways … I am confident that he will continue to grow this team and they will be a force to be reckoned with in this league … for all his players I encourage you to see it thru and maintain that desire you had in that game to continue to grow as a team and become better individually as you watch yourselves in film — very proud to see new teams show the heart and determination to compete thru it all … “

Despite such an austere start, there is optimism for the Acoustic and their fans. In the Legends Football League, some expansion teams have managed success early on, such as the Atlanta Steam. Considering that the Steam started out against powerhouses such as the Chicago Bliss and Jacksonville Breeze, it was a climb to contention that consisted of hard work and determination. With such a strong effort on offense, pieces are in place for an ambitious Acoustic team keen to emulate the Steam’s success and establish themselves as a contending club.

Forgiveness needed for footballer turned beauty queen

As jubilation has turned to desolation for Stormy Keffeler, the saddest element may be that she has become tabloid fodder. In having to make the visceral decision to relinquish her crown as Miss Washington USA, showed great courage and integrity, the result has been an onslaught of criticism and objectification, unfairly transforming her into a pop culture target.

While beauty pageants have been a lifelong passion for Keffeler, another source of enjoyment involved athletics. Among her sporting achievements, she was most famous for being part of the Seattle Mist’s roster in Legends Football League play. Participating with the club in the 2014 regular season, she contributed towards a return to the postseason, while fans quickly admired her for the ability to balance beauty pageantry and athleticism in an empowering and confident package.

StormyMist

Having experienced unprecedented heights as Miss Washington USA, the chance to be a role model and an exemplary citizen came with the expectation of being held to a higher standard. Sadly, this shattered expectation by some was attributed to the fact that Keffeler had been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) last April.

Considering that this occurred months before her crowning as Miss Washington USA, a public apology and a commitment to undertake community service should have been satisfactory compromises, allowing her to keep her crown. In a field where beauty pageant competitors are accustomed to being judged in a rather merciless and sometimes ruthless field of play, it is hard to say if judges at future pageants would have been forgiving.

Stormy

The reality is that many beauty pageant winners are thrust into the same role as actors, musicians and other celebrities, becoming the subject of scorn and ridicule should some former skeletons in the closet be removed and revealed for all. Sadly, those pointing the finger of ridicule have forgotten what it is to be human.

Through it all, the most redeeming aspect may be the outpouring of love and support from friends, family and teammates. Many current and former Mist players, having enjoyed the chance to call Keffler a teammate have heartwarmingly stood by her, truly embodying the spirit of teamwork, proving that such bonds do not dissolve once a player hangs up her helmet.

Considering that the emotional suffering endured from just relinquishing the crown is more than anyone should have to endure, the focus must now be about healing. Keffeler is facing a fourth down situation, one that can only be her finest hour with the roar of the crowd behind her.

KK Matheny’s competitive edge a key factor in Seattle Mist’s championship success

While the contraction of the Jacksonville Breeze truly marked the end of an era for indoor women’s football in America, several players found new homes, bringing their work ethic and love of the game. Among the former Breeze members that joined the Mist, KK Matheny and Bryn Renda comprised a superlative free agent class that also included Danica Brace, formerly of the Las Vegas Sin.

The result was an amazing gridiron trinity that brought the Mist and its proud fan base an elusive Legends Cup championship. Such chemistry blended with the likes of leaders such as Jessica Hopkins and Stevi Schnoor to help cultivate a championship instinct that transformed the Mist into the champions that they wanted to become.

From the very beginning, Matheny established herself as the field general of the Mist, bringing a newfound confidence for a highly talented team looking to reach the next level. A star basketball player at Chiefland High School, Matheny has never lost her competitive edge, and that was highly evident during the Mist season.

Image obtained from Facebook

Image obtained from Facebook

Joined on the Mist by former Breeze teammate Bryn Renda, the result was a remarkable offensive synergy. Several times throughout this season, Matheny relied on Renda for key plays, usually resulting in first downs or touchdown scores, and their familiarity shone through. Both members of the American Collegiate Intramural Sports and Fitness Hall of Fame, the two were also teammates at the University of West Florida (based in Pensacola, FL). In addition, the two appeared in the national finals three years in a row, having won championships in 2006 and 2008.

Despite losing their first game of the season, the Mist never looked back with Matheny showing the way. She proudly followed in the footsteps of former Mist quarterbacks such as Laurel Creel, second-generation player Angela Rypien and LFL Canada champion Mary-Anne Hansen, jubilantly displaying the Mist colors, while establishing her own superlative legacy.

Winning on the road against the Los Angeles Temptation, at the world-renowned Memorial Coliseum, truly signified the turning point for the Mist. After suffering a disappointing playoff loss to the Temptation in 2014, along with a visceral loss to open the season, the Mist needed to beat them in order to establish its championship confidence.

Although the Legends Cup championship would represent the pinnacle of Matheny’s career, her finest moment may have come in the Western Conference championship game. Facing the Temptation once again, Matheny displayed the poise that would set a positive tone for the team throughout the tumultuous contest. The chance to win a conference crown in 2015 represented a liberating importance to Matheny.

Unforeseen at the time, Matheny’s final game with the Breeze took place in a hotly contested 2014 Eastern Conference championship game against the Atlanta Steam. Resulting in a hard-fought loss, it was compounded by pushing and shoving in its emotional aftermath. The one parallel between the Breeze and the Mist throughout the season was that they were both highly competitive but had never reached the opportunity to compete in the Legends Cup title game.

To beat the Temptation made a very powerful statement. Considering that the archrival Temptation were hungry for a fourth league title, it represented redemption for Matheny, proving that she deserved to be looked upon as an elite quarterback able to take her team to the next level, while providing a feeling of redemption for the entire Mist organization.

No longer were such talented competitors looked upon as merely contenders. Earning the opportunity for the biggest prize in their sport, Matheny and the Mist did not disappoint. With the Legends Cup championship game taking place on home soil in Kent, Washington, the Mist jumped out to a quick 20-0 lead against the two-time defending champion Chicago Bliss.

Just like the playoff victory against the Temptation, the chance to beat the Bliss only validated the Mist’s championship effort, proving that they were truly worth of being looked upon as the very best.

As the honor of champion has been bestowed upon Matheny, she becomes Seattle’s sweetheart, emulating Russell Wilson’s great success in bringing a football championship to a highly loyal fan base. Although her passing numbers may not have been among the league’s highest, her heart, determination and team-first approach were metrics that could simply not be measured. Continuously displaying remarkable composure in high pressure situations, complemented by self-confidence, they were exceptional factors that defined Matheny’s unforgettable season.

Arizona Cardinals make history with empowering appointment of Dr. Jen Welter to coaching staff

In what has proven to be a banner year for women and coaching, the appointment of Dr. Jen Welter to the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff represents a tremendous milestone. While the NFL has seen women such as Amy Trask (Raiders) occupy a top executive position and Georgia Frontierre (Rams) and Serena Williams (Dolphins) take ownership roles, Welter is part of a new and exciting chapter.

Hired to serve in a coaching capacity during the Cardinals training camp and preseason, Welter, who earned her doctorate in sports psychology, shall work with inside linebackers. This follows a breakthrough season in which Welter was a member of the coaching staff for the Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution.

During said season, the Revolution qualified for the league championship game. As a side note, Welter played for the Revolution in 2014, becoming the first female to play professional men’s football in a non-kicking role.

DrJenWelter-arizona-cardinals-coach

Making history as the first woman in NFL annals to have the title of coach bestowed upon her, it builds on the momentum of some great coaching milestones for women. Former quarterback Kessie Stefanyk became the first female head coach in the history of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League.

Complementing Welter’s remarkable contributions in the Lone Star State was former WNBA superstar and Summer Games participant Becky Hammon. As a member of the San Antonio Spurs’ coaching staff, she became the first female coach in the history of the NBA. Like Hammon, Welter is also an accomplished athlete, having played for the WFA’s Dallas Diamonds, the IWFL’s Houston Dynamo and a two-time IFAF World champion with Team USA.

During the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League (in July 2015), she led the Spurs entry to a championship. As a side note, Nancy Lieberman (who once coached an NBA D-League men’s team in Texas) was part of the Sacramento Kings coaching staff during Summer League play.

Hired by Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, his courage and foresight certainly deserve to be applauded. Not only was he one of the first to discuss the concept in the media(during the Owners Meetings in March 2015), but it is part of what promises to be an empowering year for the NFL, as the league hired Sarah Thomas to be the first female official in league play.

Covered by a diverse range of media outlets, including world-famous Cosmopolitan’s website, Welter has received an outpouring of love and support on social media as well, including the NFL’s Twitter account. Among the individuals that have congratulated Welter, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was gracious enough to mention her on Twitter, welcoming her to the state, testament to her growing impact.

Former track star Dominique Maloy a rookie sensation for the Las Vegas Sin

As the Las Vegas Sin look to climb into the championship picture, a key part of the club’s rebuilding effort involves a significant improvement in the running game. Having established herself as a track and field champion with Arizona State University, rookie running back Dominique Maloy is a welcome presence for the red and gold. To observe the muscular development of her powerful legs, one can tell that Maloy, the co-founder of a training firm called wONdnEss, is built for speed.

Having grown up in Pahrump, Nevada, she not only was the captain of the track team, but she excelled on the hardcourt, serving as the captain of the basketball team in both her junior and senior years. Such athletic versatility was also complemented by a stint on the soccer team.

As a 15-time state champion in high school, she set state records in the 100m, 200m and 400m events, earning a nod as the 3A Nevada Track & Field Athlete of the Year. Taking into account how the NFL has seen track stars such as Willie Gault, James Jett and Renaldo Nehemiah make the transition to pro football; it was only a question of time before the same would happen in the female game.

In her first three seasons of participating in track with Arizona State, she was a six-time All-American, while accumulating some of the fastest times in the school’s history. Having run both indoors and outdoors, some of her personal best times at the outdoor level included 11.39 seconds in the 100m, 23.28 seconds in the 200m and a time of 52.69 in the 400m.

Not only has she competed in the 100m and 200m dashes at the NCAA Championships, she has earned bronze and silver medals at the 4x400m relay run; she also earned an Academic All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection. With ambitions for the 2016 US Olympic Trials, Maloy has also participated in boxing while considering other athletic challenges including Cross Fit and Mixed Martial Arts.

Despite a loss in her Sin debut, Maloy made a strong impression. Competing against the Los Angeles Temptation at the world renowned Memorial Coliseum, she racked up 67 yards on just 10 carries, while scoring one touchdown. Although a shoulder injury sidelined her for the second half, she sent a powerful message that opposing defenses will need to learn to prepare much better in order to contain her.

During that debut game, Maloy’s performance was complemented by another promising rookie. Lining up at wide receiver, Charlotte Abrahamsen provided a jolt on offense with 42 receiving yards on five receptions. One of the league’s taller players, Abrahamsen’s season was abruptly shortened when she suffered a tear in her ACL and MCL during the game.

Although there was a tinge of irony that she also suffered an injury in her debut, one area of consolation is that other young stars in the league have suffered injuries during their inaugural seasons. Of note, Alli Alberts suffered a horrible concussion (also against Los Angeles) but she managed to become a two-time league champion. Like Maloy, her efforts provide hope for a determined Sin franchise.

Of note, the Sin’s home opener at the Citizens Business Bank Arena demonstrated Maloy’s potential for greatness. Although the Seattle Mist held on to win the game, Maloy was the offensive catalyst that nearly orchestrated a comeback. Not only did she log the first 100-yard performance of her career, she also broke through a punishing Mist defense with three touchdowns.

The chance to suit up for the Sin not only represents a special athletic homecoming for Maloy, it is also a great opportunity for Nevada sports fans to once again appreciate her greatness. Her presence energizes a Sin franchise that has been fortunate to have a rookie sensation on their roster for the second consecutive season. Last season, the club found a new signal caller in Sindy Cummings, who quickly emerged as a fan favorite. Should Maloy manage to build on her sterling performances, the honor of Rookie of the Year could be bestowed upon her by season’s end.