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.

DC Divas enjoy perfect 2015 regular season with convincing win against Boston

Although the Boston Renegades are different from the now-defunct Boston Militia team that captured the 2014 WFA national championship, a strong statement about who would compete for the 2015 edition of the championship was made. Enduring a 56-28 loss to the DC Divas, the game may have been a symbolic passing of the torch.

In a meaningful win for the undefeated Divas (8-0), who faced competition over the last few seasons from the Militia, this season has resulted in dominance against the Renegades. In its prior incarnation, the Militia never faced two losses in the same season to an opponent. This season as the Renegades, they suffered two losses at the hands of the top-ranked Divas.

On the first possession, the Divas set the tone with a 71-yard touchdown drive, culminating in Kenyetta Grigsby’s five-yard run. Subsequently, Cherre Marshall intercepted long-time Boston quarterback Allison Cahill. Capitalizing on the turnover, Divas signal caller Allyson Hamlin and wide receiver Ashley Whisonant connected on a 79-yard touchdown pass, extending the lead.

With Boston suffering their second consecutive turnover, Helen Deer recovered the fumble allowing the Divas the chance to add to an already commanding lead. Once again, Hamlin was the factor as she scored on a quarterback sneak. Before the first quarter would expire, Militia alum Stacey Tiamfook would score on a third and goal, attempting to breathe life back into the Renegades, trailing 20-7.

Following Tiamfook’s touchdown, Hamlin would make history on a 58-yard drive that resulted in the 200th touchdown pass of her Divas career, more than any other football quarterback in the history of Washington sports. The 36-yard touchdown pass was fittingly caught by long-time teammate Whisonant, who helped increase the lead to a 27-7 mark.

Turning Team USA alum Adrienne Smith to get back in the game, Boston quarterback Allison Cahill found a way to build momentum. Catching a pair of long passes as part of an impressive 57 yard drive, her 37-yard scoring reception came on a crucial third and 11.

Coming back with their fifth touchdown in five possessions, Whisonant would make her mark in the historic game, catching her third touchdown pass of the game. In the first half alone, she had accumulated a remarkable 183 receiving yards on just five receptions.

Although the Renegades combination of Tiamfook (who ran for 54 yards in the drive) and Cahill would culminate in another touchdown, the defense could not contain a high octane Divas offense. Requiring just 61 seconds to cover an astonishing 61 yards, Grigsby bookended the first half by scoring the final touchdown of said half.

Making some halftime adjustments, the third quarter saw the Renegades defense allow only three points, providing the offense the opportunity to get back into the game. Tiamfook showed why she is one of the WFA’s most dominant running backs with a three-yard touchdown run which reduced the Divas lead to only 15 points, 43-28.

Scoring on their seventh straight possession, the Divas managed to regroup on offense as Kentrina Wilson was the recipient of a 13-yard pass from Hamlin. With 8:17 left, Hamlin orchestrated a superlative drive that consumed seven minutes and 26 seconds, frustrating the Renegades overwhelmed defense. Completing her fifth touchdown pass (finding Lillian Cherry with 51 seconds remaining), she had accumulating a sparkling 331 passing yards.

Clinching home field advantage in the National Conference playoffs, the Divas enjoyed their sixth undefeated regular season in franchise history. Considering that it is also their 15th Anniversary season, it is testament tot heir impact as one of the premier teams in female football.

References: Neal Rozendaal

All-star free agent class brings determined expertise to Omaha Heart

At the beginning of the 2015 Omaha Heart season, there was an ominous feeling as only three members from the 2014 roster had returned. The result was a disastrous first half of the season, suffering the worst loss in Legends Football League history, a 79-0 whitewash at the hands of the Atlanta Steam.

Despite such heartbreak and disappointment, there was a feeling of encouragement when some familiar faces were welcomed back into the fold; running-back SarahJane Thompson and center Sarah Robinson. Adding to this momentum was the announcement that three former league All-Stars were joining the Heart as free agent acquisitions.

Among them were two-way player Heather Hudson, whose contributions helped transform the Baltimore Charm into an Eastern Conference contender. Joining her were quarterback Anonka Dixon, whose last team was the Orlando Fantasy, and former Minnesota Valkyrie competitor Leekplay Paye.

While Robinson and Paye helped anchor a defensive line that never truly recovered from the loss of Jacqueline “Wolverine” Smyth (among the league’s top five tacklers in the last two seasons), Hudson was found in the defensive backfield with the likes of Amanda Hogan and Jenna Holt. In their debut together, which resulted in a 40-0 loss against the Chicago Bliss, the unit managed the highlight of the game as they were able to stop Heather Furr five yards short on a fourth down possession.

It certainly resulted in a roar of approval from the loyal fans at the Ralston Arena. Despite some other signs of improvement on defense, it was the offense that struggled.

Considering that there was little time to learn the offense, Anonka Dixon struggled miserably. Compounded by the fact that the league’s defenses have evolved into a much tougher and faster unit, raising the level of brutal efficiency, Dixon’s three-year absence showed. With due deference to the Heart, the acquisition of a second quarterback such as Angela Rypien or Arika Lynne, who both played in starting roles last season may have alleviated the woes.

Unfortunately, the Bliss defense stymied Dixon, who only managed to complete one of six passes on the night. Turnovers continued to be the story on offense as Dixon was intercepted by Alli Alberts on their second possession. As a side note, Alberts would also intercept her in the second half. Hudson provided some heroics on offense, providing a valiant performance on both sides of the ball. Following the interception, she managed a fourth and goal rushing attempt that placed the Heart just two yards short of the end zone, which would have been their first touchdown all season. Hudson also accounted for Dixon’s only successful completion in the game, an eight-yard passing play.

On the opposite end of the field, the Bliss used the opportunity to experiment with their passing game, a direct rebuttal to the critics who claimed the Bliss were too dependent on the running game. Going to the air 71 percent of the time, quarterback Heather Furr completed 15 of 25 passes, while successfully connecting on four touchdown passes. In a superlative second half, she tossed touchdown passes to Chabria Survillion, Alli Alberts, and rookie Stephanie Murry.

Another benefit of the Bliss opting for the passing game was the discovery of rising star Alli Alberts showing versatility with a strong receiving performance. Logging six receptions for 60 yards, she has established herself as a reliable receiver should the Bliss require such an option in the postseason as their victory clinched the Eastern Conference title.

In the aftermath of a fourth consecutive loss, the one positive to be gained is the fact that the Heart attempted to salvage their season with the acquisition of star talent. Not only did it display a commitment to improve their roster, but it was a show of gratitude towards a fan base that is loyal to the core. With close to a month to prepare for the next match, there is a sense of optimism that better performances are ahead. Although the postseason is officially out of reach, the Heart may be at their most dangerous. Possibly employing a “nothing left to lose” mentality, it shall provide the opportunity for younger players to obtain more experience while obtaining valuable insight from the acquired all-stars. Of note, the Heart’s next match shall take place on July 10th against the Atlanta Steam, while a rematch with the Bliss takes place on August 8th.

DC Divas celebrate 15 years of elite female football in the nation’s capital

As one of the most important and accomplished teams in the modern history of female football, 2015 represents the landmark 15th anniversary of the DC Divas. Only the Minnesota Vixen and the New York Sharks have been in existence longer among female football teams in the United States. In their first 14 seasons, the Divas have assembled a remarkable win-loss record of 98-35.

Founded in 2000, they were one of ten charter franchises that composed the National Women’s Football Association. Enjoying their first undefeated season in 2004, they would follow it up with a charity game against a men’s team, setting a record (since broken) for the highest attendance at a female football game. The jubilation of their first national championship would occur in 2006 with a 28-7 triumph against the Oklahoma City Lightning, resulting in Rachelle Pecovsky earning MVP honors and a write-up in Sports Illustrated. In addition, Pecovsky would add to her Divas legacy by shattering the team record for most touchdowns in one game, by running for daylight five times on just nine carriers, part of a 76-0 whitewash of the Harrisburg Angels.

Over the seasons, another competitor that has played a role of prominence in the history of the franchise is Donna Wilkinson. A charter member, her gridiron legacy has only solidified her standing as one of the finest female athletes to have competed in the nation’s capital. Having spoken at Georgetown University about the role of women in sport, Wilkinson has also met the real-life female softball players that inspired the 1992 film. “A League of Their Own.” Also a television personality, she was a sports analyst for the WUSA-TV9 live sports show – GAME ON!

In late December 2014, an announcement concerning another charter member of the Divas helped build strong momentum heading into the anniversary season. The return of Alison Fischer as head coach represented another proud link to its earliest years. Of note, she has been involved with the Divas for 14 seasons (four as a coach, 10 as a player).

Fischer competed at the defensive back position for 10 seasons, while earning the honor of team captain for three of those seasons. After one season in retirement, she returned to the club as head coach, making a strong statement about the growing role of women in coaching. During her first three seasons, she led the club to a division crown in each, complemented by finishing in the top five national rankings each season.

The impact of the Anniversary season continued as Missy Bedwell, Cailie Brownson and Donna Wilkinson (all alums with Team USA) were invited to serve as instructors/mentors at the second annual Women’s World Football Games in Tampa, Florida. This honor was testament to their impact as legendary figures and ambassadors for the growing female game.

Prior to the season’s first kick-off, another monumental event occurred, destined to add to the mythology of the Divas. An announcement that the club would form a DC Divas Hall of Fame was an ideal opportunity to recognize the remarkable individuals who contributed to a great chapter in Washington sporting history.

With plans to induct four members on an annual basis, selection would be made through a two-tiered voting process involving Divas fans and alumnae. One member would be selected in an online fan vote, while the other three would gain entry on a vote from the alumni, including players, coaches and staff.

Of note, the 2015 Hall of Fame class was introduced at the Divas’ 2015 Homecoming contest on June 6, which was also Donna Wilkinson’s birthday. Hosting the fifth-ranked Cleveland Fusion, the Divas emerged victorious, improving their record to 7-0 for the first time since 2009. The halftime ceremony honored the D.C. Divas Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Tessa Nelson, Gayle Dilla, Vickie Lucas, and Coach Ezra Cooper.

Recently, team captains (and two-sport stars) Allyson Hamlin and Trigger McNair were the subject of an interview in Washington Life, another point of pride during the anniversary season. Such recognition only adds to the relevance of the Divas in the nation’s capital as they look to end said season with the second national championship in franchise history.

Although winning a national championship is akin to the pressure that comes with attempting to capture a title in men’s college football, the reality is that the Divas legacy in the city of Washington and in the rapidly growing sport of female football carries a significance that is certain to last over time. While a title is what everyone works towards, with due deference, it is a snapshot in time, a chapter in a bigger story. That bigger story consists of the impact of this amazing franchise, which has not only helped to signify the importance of female sport in America, but it has provided remarkable role models for young girls, while capturing the hearts and minds of both male and female sports fans.

Dazzling Deena Fagiano a fan favorite with the Chicago Bliss

On a Chicago Bliss team possessing a remarkable amount of talent on both offense and defense, Deena Fagiano is a tireless contributor in search of a third consecutive Legends Cup title. An All-Fantasy selection at the Tight End position, Fagiano is an extra weapon on a high-octane offense that features a superlative running game with Chris’Dell Harris.

In terms of veteran leadership and seniority with the team, Fagiano has much in common with Heather Furr. After the league did not feature any regular season games in 2012, there was a remarkable amount of league-wide turnover among player rosters. Both Fagiano and Furr held the distinction of being members of the Bliss in the pre- and post-2012 eras. From playing alongside the likes of Danielle Moinet (who is known today as WWE Diva Summer Rae) and Nadia Larysa (who would appear in Playboy) in the early years, to the championship era with the likes of Alli Alberts and Kim Perez, Fagiano has seen the franchise experience significant growth.

Postgame jubilation at the Thomas and Mack Center after a road win against the Las Vegas Sin (July 2, 2014 - Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

Postgame jubilation at the Thomas and Mack Center after a road win against the Las Vegas Sin (July 2, 2014 – Source: Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

When TMZ Sports, in conjunction with the LFL, released a list of the 50 Hottest Athletes of All-Time, Fagiano was ranked at number 34, testament to her popularity. Although she may certainly rank number one in the hearts of her fans. As a side note, eight current and former Bliss players were ranked among the Top 50, one of the highest numbers among the league’s numerous franchises.

Like so many of her teammates on the Bliss, Fagiano is an articulate, college-educated individual whose intelligence matches her beauty and athletic ability. When not on the gridiron, her career consists of being a Sales Consultant, working in the medical field.

Custom made Topps football card of Deena Fagiano by Johngy (Image obtained from: http://www.johngysbeat.com/2014/04/celebrity-jersey-cards-168-heather-furr.html)

Custom made Topps football card of Deena Fagiano by Johngy (Image obtained from: http://www.johngysbeat.com/2014/04/celebrity-jersey-cards-168-heather-furr.html)

An alumnus from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Fagiano earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 2011. The collegiate experience would positively shape Fagiano’s strong leadership skills, which have molded her into an integral member of the Bliss roster and a charismatic fan favorite.

Of note, Fagiano’s experience as a member of a Sorority, helped instill the values of teamwork, while her status as a member of the National Communication Honor Society reflected motivation and perseverance. The ability to find the opportunity to donate her time for fund raising activities which benefitted the Children’s Miracle Network spoke volumes about her dedication to the community.

Having captured the imagination of fans, friends and teammates alike, Fagiano’s team-first approach makes the opportunity for others to call her teammate a very special part of the football experience. Although her pair of league championships represent the defining moments in her storied career, the admiration shown towards her as a strong leader and valued friend are just as relevant in her gridiron legacy.

Leanne Hardin the field general of Atlanta Steam’s dominant defense

While the field general is a term usually reserved in football for the quarterback, Leanne Hardin’s military service makes her every bit a field general on the defensive side of the ball. Proudly serving in the United States Air Force, Hardin holds the rank of Staff Sergeant E-5.

Ranking below Technical Sergeant E-6, staff sergeants in the Air Force function as first-line supervisors and fulfill the leadership skills criteria needed to execute such requirements. Fulfilling duties as a Special operations logistics manager in the Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, the values of teamwork were instilled in Hardin long before she enlisted with the Atlanta Steam.

One of the most admirable aspects of her military service occurred in 2013. Of note, she was recognized among 40 empowering women as a nominee for the 4th annual Military Woman of the Year award.

Leanne Hardin does pushups dressed in a bomb suit during an open house at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lakisha A. Croley/Released)

Leanne Hardin does pushups dressed in a bomb suit during an open house at an air base in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lakisha A. Croley/Released)

Having grown up in Western New York, there is no question that the Buffalo Bills played a prominent role in her love of the gridiron game. A gifted athlete who also excelled in softball, her path would eventually lead her to southern regions such as Georgia and South Carolina (where she has been stationed during her military career). For Hardin, there was one pleasant fact heading into the 2015 Atlanta Steam season as wide receiver Heather Urbank, who also grew up in Western New York, suited up for the squad.

As a charter member of the Steam, Hardin has seen the club develop into a powerhouse. Considering that in its earliest incarnation, many cynics thought the expansion club competing for a championship was an impossible mountain to climb. With superior talents such as Hardin, it suddenly became a goal within reach as the squad reached the league championship game in its sophomore season.

Photo credit by: Luna Francesca Stefanelli

Photo credit by: Luna Francesca Stefanelli

Showing the skill and talent that made her an Eastern Conference All-Star selection in 2014, Hardin provides a performance on the field that is resonant. Adorning her visage in makeup, paying homage to the wrestling superstars of the 1980s and 1990s, it serves as an essential element that transforms the momentum of the locker room into one composed of pure adrenaline. As a side note, teammate Jenny Mac, who also engages in the same pregame ritual, is known affectionately as the Skull Kid. Such creative aspects fuses the feelings of intimidation and admiration, a unique amalgam likely felt by fans and foes alike, synchronously capturing their imaginations.

Having anchored the Steam defensive unit in a milestone victory a few weeks ago, it is part of a team milestone that shall remain preserved in the memories of their devoted fans. Setting a Legends Football League record for the largest margin of victory (a 79-0 whitewash against the Omaha Heart), she returned an interception for a touchdown. She would also record a game-high 8.5 tackles and gain recognition as the Steam’s Defensive Player of the Game.

In practice with Steam rookie Jessie G. Locklear (Image obtained from Facebook)

In practice with Steam rookie Jessie G. Locklear (Image obtained from Facebook)

Equally admirable is her strong sense of friendship and compassion. When Steam teammate Tiana Lopez suffered a horrible accident, nearly costing her life, it was Hardin who went to social media showing her support and providing information to other concerned parties. Along with teammates Dakota Hughes (the recipient of the league’s 2014 Rookie of the Year Award) and Coco Montgomery, this titanic trio participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, showing an inspiring side as sporting humanitarians.

While the reality of the sport, with its obligatory aches and pains, is far different from the perception of glamour and sex appeal in female sport, it only adds to the value of the heroic dreams. For Hardin, such dreams consist of a league championship, which would certainly add punctuation to the pregame streaks of sweat, dirt and smeared makeup that result in the game’s epilogue.

A quiet superstar, whose accomplished glories are those shared with her Steam sisters, her sense of life is truly based in success. Juggling family, military and athletic obligations, her efforts in sporting equality are destined to elevate the Steam to a loftier place in league lore.

In the spirit of Memorial Day, Hardin is a true American hero. While her contributions to the Air Force do not have the same emotional impact as her gridiron game, the hard work, discipline and team first approach runs simultaneous in both aspects of her remarkable life.

Kelly Campbell back for a fifth fantastic season of football

A charter member of the Baltimore Charm, Kelly Campbell contributed three solid seasons with the club before relocating to Las Vegas. While the Sin football club are in a rebuilding mode, Campbell has provided a veteran presence which translated into a patient and dignified leadership.

Raised in Maryland, Campbell would graduate from Penn State University with a degree in Anthropology. Pulling double duty as a marketing manager for the Las Vegas Sin, she brings a strong business acumen to the franchise. Many of the Sin’s promotional appearances and efforts with non-profit organizations have been among Campbell’s efforts to reach out to the community.

Of note, she once served as the Director of Marketing the Legends Football League, helping expand the brand into regions such as Canada and Australia. She is among a group of empowering women proving that athletic women can have careers after the roar of the crowd.

Collage of Kelly Campbell through the years of her football career (Image obtained from Instagram)

Collage of Kelly Campbell through the years of her football career (Image obtained from Instagram)

Throughout her gridiron career, Campbell has enjoyed the luxury of playing alongside a pair of very popular and charismatic quarterbacks. From second-generation signal caller Angela Rypien in Baltimore to Sindy Cummings in Las Vegas, she has been surrounded by elite talent. Such talent has motivated her into becoming the leader she is today. From serving as a team captain with the Charm to gaining the league’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award in 2013, it constitutes an impressive body of work.

On statistics alone, Campbell may not appear on the leader board, but the reality is that such criteria cannot measure a player’s dedication or enthusiasm. Taking into account that Campbell is among a rare group of athletic women that have logged five seasons in the Legends Football League, her value to any team goes far beyond the numbers.

Having worked tirelessly to raise the profile of the sport from novelty to national obsession, the last five seasons have represented a labor of love for Campbell. Sharing her views on how the game has positively transformed her life on social media,

“What an incredible journey it has been, and still is. 5 years of memories: From the first tryout ever in 2010 for Baltimore, to Mexico, Canada and Australia, and of course LasVegas. Five years of wins and losses, amazing women and teammates, incredible coaches, fans and friends. So many people that will be in my life forever all because of the LFL.

Not to mention it brought me to my future. But football is so much more to me than I can express. It has helped me grow in numerous ways on and off the field. It has presented opportunities and when I look back on where I started, I am in disbelief of all that has happened for me personally, and as a league.

Seeing so many women come and go from the sport, not knowing the thousands of hours of practice, personal training, film study, painting bandanas (haha), promotional appearances, and on and on. You HAVE to be passionate to play. And to play at this level is a dream and I hope to continue to help pave the way for women in football.

Maybe one day my daughter will have options that are just wishes for me right now. Football has changed me for the better and I am grateful for the last 5 years.”

Atlanta Steam heartbreakers in record setting 79-0 win over Omaha

Considering that the defending two-time champion Chicago Bliss have moved into the same conference as the Atlanta Steam, a significant statement was made by the club in a convincing win. Going on the road against the Omaha Heart, the Steam not only dominated, but they managed to make history.

In a league record 79-0 win, a very talented Steam lineup dismantled a Heart franchise still looking for their first win of the 2015 indoor women’s football season. As a side note, the original score was 85-0, but a touchdown was revoked by the league office two days later.

Taking into account that the Heart have only three returning players from their 2014 season (which saw them qualify for the postseason), a winless season appears ominously possible. The vast majority of their offensive plays resulted in negative yardage.

Leanne Hardin, one of the team captains, anchored the Steam defensive unit, returning an interception for a touchdown. She would also record a game-high 8.5 tackles and gain recognition as the Steam’s Defensive Player of the Game. Of note, the defense would also record a safety, contributing eight points. In addition, a fumble was recovered a fumble on a night filled with forgettable turnovers for the Heart.

On offense, the Steam benefitted greatly from prized free agent acquisition Dina Wojowski. Equally proficient at the linebacker position, she is the crown jewel for the Steam’s offensive line, enabling sophomore Dakota Hughes to build on the momentum of her impressive 2014 season, which saw her gain 2014 Rookie of the Year honors.

Head coach Dane Robinson recognized Wojowski as the Steam’s Relentless Player of the Game. The other game honor went to Lauran Ziegler, who earned the nod as the Offensive Player of the Game. She would accumulate 59 combined yards from scrimmage (16 yards rushing, 43 yards receiving) while scoring four touchdowns (1 rushing, 3 receiving).

Running back Nas Johnson pounded the Heart defense with a 51-yard effort, including a game-high four rushing touchdowns. Rookie Jessie Locklear would contribute 19 points on the night, via a pair of touchdown returns and successfully converting on seven extra-point attempts.

While the Chicago Bliss currently sit at first overall in the conference (they would beat Omaha by a 49-0 score one week after Atlanta’s record breaking win), the Steam have shown that they are not a team to be taken lightly. As both clubs look towards a championship run, a postseason collision between the two will likely result.

References: Mike Del Rio