2013 a landmark year for female football hero Dr. Jen Welter

As women’s football continues to work its way into the sporting conversation, there are a number of remarkable women helping to shatter barriers and challenge convention. At 5’3”, no one understands that role better than Dr. Jen Welter. Despite being undersized, she would craft a superb legacy in the sport as she was part of the US contingent that captured consecutive gold medals at the IFAF Women’s World Football Championships.

Having honed her athletic skills as a tennis player in her home state of Florida, she would eventually shine as a rugby star with the Boston College Eagles. It would serve as a springboard for a storied career on the gridiron that has consisted of four championships and eight All-Pro selections.

The opportunity to compete with the US at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships has brought Welter a lifetime of new memories to treasure in a year to remember. She would finish as the third leading tackler for the US, her finest performance coming in the opening game versus Sweden. Part of the starting lineup for the game, she would also register two tackles for a loss. Only one of five women for the US contingent to record a sack, it would come against Sweden.

Image by Rashard D. Photography

Image by Rashard D. Photography

During the 2013 Dallas Diamonds season, Welter not only celebrated her tenth season with the club but continued to establish herself as a mainstay on the defense. Competing at the linebacker position (she has also played safety in the past), her 26 tackles tied for third on team with Alex Harvey.

Among those tackles, seven would be for a loss, tying her for fourth with Hanna Saari. Of note, Welter would also register one sack and one touchdown on the season. With one of the finest rosters in the Women’s Football Alliance, it came as no surprise that the Diamonds would qualify for the 2013 WFA National Title Game in San Diego against the Chicago Force. While the outcome did not present Welter with her fifth championship, the event helped to celebrate the women’s game. Considering so many members of the US team were with the Force, the entire contest had a feeling of friendship and admiration.

Her popularity has even reached into other exciting aspects of popular culture. Having helped film the teaser for the new reality show SWAT School, she would even assist with the Emergency Location Scout two days prior to the shoot. That is part of what makes Welter such a remarkable person; always willing to go the extra mile for the greater good.

While Dr. Welter’s future still consists of playing football, there is no question that she is more than able to tackle the world of men’s football. Whether it is at the collegiate or professional level, Welter is a tremendous hero who challenged the odds and overcame obstacles to be one of the finest at her position. The thought of Welter employed as a team counselor or even bringing her acumen to a front office position is one that would complement her intelligence, enthusiasm and love of the game.

Canadian ex-pat Lara Guscott an intriguing player from 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds

Having grown up in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Lara Guscott’s road to the Canadian national women’s football team went through Kansas City, Missouri. Serving as Canada’s field goal kicker in a silver medal effort at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland, Guscott made her way through the back door.

Donning the Team Canada uniform (Image obtained from Facebook)

Donning the Team Canada uniform (Image obtained from Facebook)

Her initital interest in football piqued as a teenager. With a strong background as a soccer player in high school, she was denied the opportunity to compete on the boys’ football team with the Grande Prairie Composite high school Warriors. Despite the snub, she preserved on the soccer pitch. In autumn 2003, she would earn a soccer scholarship to Graceland University in Iowa.

After graduating from Graceland, she would earn a law degree from Kansas University. Starting her legal career in Kansas City, Missouri, it would serve as the backdrop to the starting point in her football career. After the Tribe captured the 2009 Independent Women’s Football League title, she would try out for the team in 2010 and earn a roster spot.

During the 2012 season, Guscott helped the Tribe to an 8-2 mark, which also helped the club clinch a divisional title. Contributing to an offense that scored a staggering 497 points (while the defense allowed only 161), she would finish second overall in the WFA with 829 receiving yards.

This was complemented by her 42 receptions (third in the WFA) and 17 touchdown receptions. Tribe teammate Liz Sowers, one of her opponents on the US team in 2013, led the Kansas City offense with 18 touchdowns. Perhaps more impressive was that Guscott accumulated 1005 all-purpose yards. She would register 123 yards on six kickoff returns, while averaging 18 yards on three punt returns.

Her efforts would also lead her to the 2012 WFA All-Star Game, held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on August 4, 2012. Fellow Tribe teammates Keke Blackmon, Jenny Schmidt, Liz Sowers and Mindy White also played with Guscott.It was a historic event in women’s football as it marked the first time that an NFL stadium hosted the WFA National Title Game and All-Star Game, respectively. Such a strong resume would benefit Guscott as she missed the first stage of tryouts for Canada’s national team.

Image from Jennifer House, Kansas City Tribe

Image from Jennifer House, Kansas City Tribe

Football Canada hosted the first Canadian national women’s football championship, named the 2012 Challenge Cup. The all-female football tournament was held in Laval, Quebec. With 175 players from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and a regional club from the Maritimes known as Team Atlantic, it was meant to be the first means of evaluating prospective talent for the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds.

Having missed the event in Montreal, it would have appeared that Guscott was a long shot to qualify for the Canadian roster. One distinct factor was that she had paid her dues in the Women’s Football Alliance as a Wide Receiver with the Kansas City Tribe of the Women’s Football Alliance. Guscott would be recognized as the 2012 WFA Offensive Player of the Year in the American Conference.

With an interest in competing for Canada, Guscott sent video footage to some Football Canada coaches. The result was that she received an invitation to a final tryout camp for Western Canadian female talent in Moose Jaw, Saskatcewhan. From the outset, there was a lot to prove.

Out of ten receivers at the camp, Guscott was at a disadvantage. Having never played in Canada, coaches were not familiar with her, nor were the quarterback hopefuls throwing to her. Standing only at five-foot-two and 125 pounds, the spitfire had to demonstrate that she was worthy of her WFA status, while competing against taller candidates.

While she was not as physically strong as the other receivers, her blazing speed and experience yielded positive results. Said camp would finish with Guscott becoming the only WFA player named to the roster.

As the IFAF Women’s Worlds were contested using American rules football, it made Guscott a much more reliable choice. Ironically, some of her Kansas City teammates would now become her rivals. The Sowers sisters were both named to the US roster. Guscott would contribute to the Canadian contingent as a field goal kicker, where she would register 12 points (tied for third on the team) during the IFAF Worlds, going a perfect 10 for 10 in point after attempts. She would also manage one reception for eight yards.

In the aftermath of the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, Guscott wants to continue competing on the gridiron. Only 28 years old, the potential for Guscott to play for the rest of the decade is highly possible. As some women in the IWFL and WFA are past the age of 40, fans in Kansas City may have many more seasons of watching Guscott run for daylight.

United States defeats Canada to earn second consecutive gold at IFAF Women’s Worlds

While Canada was looking for golden redemption against the United States at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, the US had other plans. Armed with a strong running game and a precise passing game, the US overwhelmed an ambitious Canadian contingent.

Having played each other in the gold medal game of the inaugural IFAF Women’s Worlds (held in Sweden in 2010), Canada was hoping to humble an aggressive US squad. Despite their best efforts, Canada struggled against the US passing attack, which logged 367 yards.
With Danielle Golay of the US sacking Canadian signal caller Saadia Ashraf, it was a harbinger of things to come. After Canada’s Aimee Kowalski punted, the US gained control of the ball. Although Emma Hicks (the only woman to have competed in both the MWFL and WWCFL) replied with a sack of Chicago Force quarterback Sami Grisafe, it would not change the momentum in Canada’s favor.

A 47-yard run by Cassey Brick quickly put the US in the driver’s seat. Along with a balanced running attack that featured Odessa Jenkins and Mia Brickhouse (who scored the first touchdown of the game), the Canadian defense struggled. Before the first quarter would end, the US pounded out the ball on the ground. Jenkins punished the Canadian defense with a 42-yard run. Brickhouse would scamper into the end zone as the US jumped out to a 16-0 advantage.

Quite possibly the world’s finest women’s quarterback, Sami Grisafe was looking to add a second IFAF gold medal to her repertoire. As she announced her retirement after the 2013 Women’s Football Alliance, she was hoping to maintain the momentum for her team. On the first scoring play of the second quarter, she would find Chicago Force teammate Jeanette Gray in the end zone.

Canadian quarterback Saadia Ashraf was struggling to bring any consistency to the offensive attack. With a possession that resulted in negative yardage, a comeback was not looming. Backup quarterback Aimee Kowalski punted the ball.

After Odessa Jenkins added to the US lead with a touchdown of her own, Grisafe and Adrienne Smith put the game out of a reach courtesy of a 73-yard touchdown pass. Facing a 36 point deficit to being the third quarter, Canada was not able to match the offensive abilities of their US opponents.

The US would begin the quarter with another touchdown. Grisafe contributed with 59 passing yards as a beleaguered Canadian defense was simply not able to stop the US juggernaut. Elizabeth Sowers (whose sister Katherine also plays for the US) caught a 12-yard touchdown pass.
When Canada regained possession, Ashraf was still at quarterback. With due deference to the Canadian squad, a change at quarterback may have been an effective move. As Ashraf struggled throughout the first half, Kowalski or Amy Mohr (who is a quarterback in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League) may have put some spark into a flat lined Canadian offense.

After another possession of negative yardage, Canada was forced to punt again. Once the US regained the ball, they would have a quarterback change. New York Sharks field general Karen Mulligan came into the contest and she showed no signs of rust. Four consecutive pass completions by Mulligan led to a third Brickhouse rushing touchdown.

With the US enjoying a 50-0 lead, running back Julie David of the Saskatoon Valkyries (one of the tournament leaders in kickoff return yardage) managed 13 rushing yards. With two incomplete passes, including on fourth down, Canada had to give the ball back to an opponent that seemed to score at will.

Brickhouse would add to the US lead on their first possession of the fourth quarter with a rushing touchdown. On Canada’s next possession, they did not fare much better. Ashraf was picked off by Rachel Gore. DC Divas running back Donna Wilkinson made Canada pay for the turnover with a touchdown run for the final score of the game.

Statistically, the US accumulated an astounding 630 yards of total offense while recording 28 first downs. Canada was forced to punt seven times while the US never punted once. Sami Grisafe would log 267 passing yards in less than three quarters of play. Odessa Jenkins shredded the Canadian defense with 84 rushing yards, while Adrienne Smith logged 117 receiving yards.

The only Canadian players who had any significant statistical advantage over their American counterparts were Julie David and Julie Paetsch. Having both won the 2013 WWCFL title with Saskatchewan, the two established themselves as world class athletes. David had 134 all-purpose yards, while Paetsch had 11.5 tackles.

Canada prevails in semis of IFAF Worlds versus strong Finnish opponent

A very tough and improved Finnish opponent was on the gridiron for its semi-final against Canada. With a surprising 12-6 advantage at halftime, Canada was not going to overwhelm them as they did in their shutout win over Spain. Facing the opportunity to challenge the United States in the gold medal game of the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships, the stakes were high for both Canada and Finland.

Finland would score on their first drive of the game as Canada faced a 6-0 deficit early in the game. Quarterback Tiina Salo would have an impact throughout the game as national pride was on the line. Her 25-yard pass to Kirsti Nirhamo put the Finns in the red zone. Running back Elina Seppala would bang it in from three yards out for the score.

Montreal Blitz quarterback Saadia Ashraf earned the start for Canada. Having struggled with some incomplete passes in the win against Spain, she would complete three passes in Canada’s first scoring drive of the game. On the strength of three completed passes, she found Saskatoon Valkyries receiver Marci Kiselyk for the touchdown.

With a 6-6 tie after one quarter of play, the second quarter saw the defenses of both countries try to make things happen. Finland’s Laura Tennberg would sack Ashraf, the first sack allowed by Canada at the 2013 Women’s Worlds.

Running back Jenni Linden would find some strong opposition from the Canadian defense. Linebacker Emilie P. Belanger (also of the Montreal Blitz) forced a fumble on Linden, giving Canada possession of the ball.

As Canada’s offense could not capitalize on the turnover, the Finnish team gained more confidence. As time faded from the clock, Salo would organize a strong drive that helped the host country regain the lead.

Her 33-yard run was the key play in the drive as Canada’s defense struggled to contain her. Pauline Olynik eventually pushed her out of bounds. Employing a strong running attack, Finland continued to consume time on the clock, while Canada’s defense was struggling. Three consecutive first downs (including a 16-yard pass to Sari Kuosmanen) helped bring Finland back into Canada’s red zone. With 63 seconds left in the half, Kirsti Nirhamo scampered into the end zone for the lead.

The third quarter resulted in a change at the quarterback position for Canada. Aimee Kowalski, an elite field general in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League would assume the role of signal caller on Canada’s offense. Having also contributed to the Canadian team as a punter, she would help bolster the Canadian offense.

Ironically, Kowalski got Canada on the scoreboard with running and not passing. Employing the quarterback sneak, Kowalski cruised into the end zone for six points. Lara Guscott (the only Canadian competing in the Women’s Football Alliance) would earn the one-point conversion as Canada had its first lead of the game.

Once Finland gained back possession, Salo would also employ the running game. She tested Canada’s defense with a 23 yard rush. An 11-yard run by Linden would follow for another first down. Afterwards, Belanger would spoil Finland’s efforts.

Tackling Salo for a seven-yard loss, the Finns were on fourth down. Emma Hicks (the only woman to have played in both the MWFL and the WWCFL) would stop Seppala on a fourth down rush as Canada felt the momentum change.

Riding Kowalski’s rifle arm (she would connect with Alia Palmer on a 55-yard pass which not only gave Canada the first down); the Canadians were back in the red zone. On a five-yard run, Lya Jolicoeur earned her first touchdown. Canada’s drive consisted of seven plays, lasting three minutes and 20 seconds.

With the 20-12 lead, Canada did not look back. A pair of runs by Jolicoeur contributed to her second score of the game for another six points. As the minutes on the fourth quarter were fading, there was a sense of panic for Finland.

Gaining the ball back, Finland’s morale sunk as a turnover occurred on the first play. Salo was intercepted by WWCFL veteran Amy Mohr. Having competed as a quarterback in the WWCFL, Mohr returned the pick 13 yards.

With 4:34 remaining on the clock, David had a one-yard run for the touchdown for a 34-12 lead. Despite the setback, Salo was determined to bring Finland back. She had the offense running efficiently as she made a 15-yard run. She would follow with a 19-yard completion to Linden. Her efforts would be nullified on the next play as Julie Paetsch picked off the pass and returned it 31 yards.

Although Canada gained the advantage in first downs by a 19 to 15 margin, Finland managed to win some other statistical battles. Finland would gain 240 rushing yards on the ground, compared to only 117 on the ground. This was compounded by Finland’s 336 total yards, while Canada only logged 315.

The keys to victory were evident in Canada’s ability to excel in other statistical areas. On the powerful arm of Aimee Kowalski, the Canadian contingent had 198 passing yards, while special teams contributed with a sparkling 268 return yards on kickoffs, respectively.

In terms of individual stats,  Canada’s Alia Palmer led all players with 68 receiving yards. Julie David (Canada’s MVP in the victory over Spain) contributed again with an astounding 108 all-purpose yards performance.

Defensively, Canada’s leading tacklers were Elizabeth Thomson and Julie Paetsch (both teammates with the Saskatchewan Valkyries) as both logged 4.5 stops. Tea Tormanen was the leading tackler in the game for Finland.

Canada’s recipient for the Most Valuable Player Award of the game went to Lya Jolicoeur, whose touchdowns changed the momentum of the game for Canada. Quarterback Tiina Salo’s strong rushing performance earned the award for her team. Establishing herself as an elite competitor, Salo will look to helping the Finns defeat Germany in the bronze medal game.

A rematch three years in the making, Canada looks for golden redemption in the final match at the 2013 women’s worlds. As the United States pummeled Germany with a 107-7 score in the semis, Canada will need to play the game of their lives. Error-free football and strong special teams shall emerge as key factors for an ambitious Canadian team looking to stake their claim as the world’s finest.