Atlanta Steam’s Lauran Ziegler making a strong case for League MVP

Emerging as the best free agent acquisition of the offseason, Lauran Ziegler has displayed remarkable versatility, establishing herself as a dominant two-way threat in the same capacity as division rival Chicago’s Alli Alberts and Heather Furr. In the aftermath of the Jacksonville Breeze contracting, Ziegler, who was also a 2014 Eastern Conference All-Fantasy Selection, was part of a remarkable amount of talent became that became available via free agency.

While the Seattle Mist acquired quarterback KK Matheny and leader Bryn Renda, (both Flag Football Hall of Famers who played together in college), the remainder of the free agent class was quickly acquired by the Atlanta Steam. Strengthening an already impressive roster, the club signed the likes of Ziegler, Dina Wojowski and Adrian Purnell.

During Steam training camp, despite not having yet played one game for the Steam, Ziegler was named a co-captain on offense alongside 2014 Rookie of the Year winner Dakota Hughes. Such an honor is testament to Ziegler’s remarkable leadership abilities. Taking into account that she also serves as an assistant softball coach at Brevard Community College (where she once played as an All-American); it allows the Steam to have someone whose knowledge makes her a mentor on the gridiron for the younger players.

Defensively, Ziegler and Purnell have paid remarkable dividends for the Steam, rekindling the magic that made them All-Fantasy selections with the Breeze. On a defensive unit led by Leanne Hardin, whose 25.5 tackles are tops in the league, the former Breeze standouts have complemented her well. Also sitting among the top five tacklers in league play, Purnell (who has also competed in Australia) has registered 20.5 tackles, while Ziegler’s 18 rank fifth overall.

Along with Nas Johnson, the two comprise a balanced running game in which either can be employed as a weapon of choice. Despite only 68 rushing yards, Ziegler ranks fifth in the league, with Johnson in fourth spot with 119 yards. The ability to produce such strong offensive numbers certainly places Ziegler in a class of her own, while allowing the Steam the opportunity to execute creativity on offense, which may prove to be a crucial strategy against the rival Chicago Bliss in the Eastern Conference championship game.

Like Alberts and Furr, Ziegler’s remarkable productivity through the first four games of the season is also reflected in three different categories on the Legends Football League’s statistical leader board. Of note, Ziegler is the receiving leader with 17 catches and 6 touchdown receptions. Trailing behind her in both categories is Alberts.

Part of her resounding success may come from the training phenomenon known globally as CrossFit. Taking into account its impact among both male and female athletes, CrossFit has produced remarkable results, as evidenced by Ziegler’s ability to excel in late game situations. In a past interview with Shape Magazine, Ziegler was among a group of Legends Football League superstars that shared some of their favorite workout tips. Citing CrossFit, Ziegler mentioned how building up your stamina was the secret to efficiency in properly finishing assigned workouts in a limited time. Although she disclosed that her favorite move is the squat clean, she also gains enjoyment out of just plain weight lifting.

A statistical marvel, Ziegler warrants serious consideration for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. She possesses more than just remarkable athletic gifts and strong leadership ability but a profound maturity. Considering the visceral rivalry that once existed between Jacksonville and Atlanta, it would have been easy for the free agent acquisitions to not blend in and contribute to infighting. Instead, Ziegler and the rest of her former sisters from the Breeze have contributed to a culture of confidence, strengthening the bonds of teammates and friendship, while allowing the Steam the opportunity to prevail in every contest.


Allyson Hamlin becomes first quarterback in Washington football history to reach 200 TD passes

As the DC Divas celebrate their 15th Anniversary season, another remarkable milestone has made this a season to remember. Competing in her 13th season with the club, quarterback Allyson Hamlin threw for the 200th touchdown pass in her career. Adding to the relevance of this achievement is the fact that no other quarterback in the history of Washington football has reached the magical number. The closest is Redskins Hall of Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh with 187.

Going by the nickname of Smooth, the 38-year old signal caller already holds over 75 wins, a franchise record for most wins by a quarterback. Taking into account that her favorite quarterback is former Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre, Hamlin is similar in the fact that she also brings remarkable durability, consistent production and a love of the game to the gridiron.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Hamlin is also a homicide detective for Prince George’s County. Having grown up idolizing the likes of Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr, Hamlin can also stake her own claim as a sporting hero in the Capital. Testament to her growing popularity is the fact that she was a subject in the May 2015 edition of the Washingtonian magazine.

She was among six individuals that were included in the Guest List feature. Part of a monthly roundup in the Capital Comment section, she was among a group of six individuals in the feature which the magazine’s editors would love to have over for food, drinks and conversation.

In a June 13 triumph, one that saw the Divas prevail by a 56-28 margin against the Boston Renegades, Hamlin provided a sparkling performance, including completed five touchdown passes. Among Hamlin’s five touchdown passes in the contest, a 36-yard touchdown pass to Ashley Whisonant (which wrapped up a 52-yard drive), proved to be the 200th of her Divas career.

Among the most prolific quarterback/wide receiver combos in WFA history, it was only fitting that Whisonant caught Hamlin’s landmark touchdown pass. As a side note, Whisonant caught a 79-yard touchdown pass from Hamlin earler in the game, which provided the Divas with a 14-0 advantage.

For a team on a remarkable run of momentum in its 15th Anniversary season, Hamlin’s milestone also ensures that the Divas enjoy home field advantage during the National Conference playoffs. In addition, the Divas completed their season with an 8-0 mark, its first undefeated season since the 2009 campaign.

Regardless of the outcome in the postseason, there is no question that the magic created this season reflect Hamlin’s legacy with the Divas; both are destined to shine over time.

References: Neal Rozendaal

CCWFL deserves an A for Effort

As spring and summer signals the beginning of women’s football throughout North America, one notable omission is the highly promising Central Canadian Women’s Football League (CCWFL). After so much effort and the support of Canadian Football League mainstays such as Hamilton and Toronto, the lack of registered players created an unfortunate setback. Not only was the league forced to cancel its inaugural season, but several pages on social media disappeared.

On the surface, some may see the outcome of the CCWFL’s plans for 2015 as a failure. In reality, there were numerous successes. Perhaps the most important was the fact that it helped start the conversation of women’s football. After the Toronto Triumph, an indoor female football team was shrouded in controversy (despite the best efforts of their players), the CCWFL tried to project a more positive and empowering image.

Founded by Aaron Ellis, the league was a way of paying tribute to the efforts of his daughter Tianna, who competed for her local high school team. Having also played with community-based teams, it was not uncommon that Tianna was the only female on the team, struggling with limited playing team. Feeling isolated and not part of team camaraderie, the gridiron experience did not live up to expectations. As such, the CCWFL was a way for her Tianna and other frustrated females the chance to experience the gridiron glories once reserved only for many male athletes.

Although the still-growing sport of female football may be viewed as a novelty, the awareness raised signified that there was potential for developing it into an obsession. The number of soft commitments were enough to stock the four-team league. Unfortunately, it was a case of “kicking the tires”. Whether it was the possible worry of injuries or a lack of time, it was not yet meant to be.

Due to the remarkable level of high school-level female athletes from the GTA that are earning NCAA scholarships in sports such as hockey, soccer and basketball, it is only natural that tackle football does not come to mind as an initial sport to participate in. If the expertise of the CCWFL’s leadership were to regroup and develop an elite flag football league, helping to establish a stronger network, that may be a very strong first step.

Considering that the growth of female flag football (and touch) has made significant inroads at the university level throughout Ontario, there is chance to build on such momentum. There is no question that future talent for the tackle version of the game shall come from these universities (which was how many teams in the United States initially recruited talent).

One of the most important moments for the league was the acquisition of Cheryl O’Leary to its leadership ranks. Highly qualified and accomplished, her experience with the Maritime Women’s Football League (the longest running female sports league in Canada) as a player, coach and league executive was exactly what the budding league required.

Her presence brought instant credibility to the league. Having also worked as a mentor coach with the Canadian national women’s team, O’Leary is able to evaluate talent. Considering the untapped talent pool that exists in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), it could greatly improve Canada’s chances in international play. An astute football individual like O’Leary could certainly be an ideal mentor for such promising players.

Perhaps in 2016, O’Leary can build on what has transpired and form a traveling team, rather than a league. A team could play exhibition games against the IWFL’s Division III clubs or participate in one of the MWFL’s annual jamborees. A team would not be as ambitious as a league, but it would be a meaningful first step, also ensuring that the intention of the CCWFL was meaningful.

Another aspect that the CCWFL had also shown commitment to included skills camps for aspiring female players. Going forward, those still committed to the concept of the league could remain involved in the game by getting involved in said camps. Over time, there is no question that it would help to develop confidence.

In the short-term, this may prove to be the most useful way to develop talent and grow interest. It would also benefit from knowledgeable people like O’Leary to give seminars, and share her experiences, while possibly addressing the issue of injuries.

The beauty of the sport is that there is room for everyone. In the United States, there was one instance where a grandmother actually played the game. Despite its growth, the success stories about the sport helping many women believe in themselves, overcoming body image issues and creating lifelong friendships forms a significant legacy.

Seattle Mist defeat LA Temptation in emotional road game at Memorial Coliseum

The historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum served as the venue where the hometown Temptation and Seattle Mist renewed rivalries. In the Mist’s season opener, the Temptation narrowly escaped the ShoWare Center with a hard fought 14-13 win.

One positive for the Mist in that loss was the ability to stifle the Temptation’s bruising running game featuring Carmen Bourseau, allowing only 89 offensive yards in the process. Heading into the rematch, another plotline developed which saw the Temptation lose franchise quarterback Ashley Salerno to injury. Out for a period of 1-2 months, the Temptation handed the reins to Michelle Angel. While some social media chat involved the possibility that Angel could be part of a Tom Brady scenario, ushering in a new era, the Mist defense had other plans.

Deanna Schaper-Kotter stands on the historic field at Memorial Coliseum postgame (Obtained from Facebook, Photo credit: Ivets Yzerb)
Deanna Schaper-Kotter stands on the historic field at Memorial Coliseum postgame (Obtained from Facebook, Photo credit: Ivets Yzerb)

From the Mist’s perspective, their biggest storyline heading into the game was the readjustment of their defensive unit. After Megan Hanson struggled at the cornerback position in the loss to the Temptation, she was relegated to spot duty on defensive end, occasionally filling in for two-way player Stevi Schnoor (one half of the Smash Sisters), while resuming her full-time duties as one of the league’s most talented centres. Stepping into the cornerback role was Lashaunda Fowler, adding more speed to the defensive backfiel.

Early in the game, Angel showed confidence and ingenuity by finding centre Laura Barba for a centre release that resulted in a twelve-yard play, moving the ball down to Seattle’s 12-yard line. Employing the passing game again, Angel connected with Monika Jaramillo. Afterwards, Bourseau would be stopped by a bruising Mist defense on the one-yard line. Lining up in the shotgun formation, Angel scampered into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.

On the next possession, Seattle was challenged early. With a 4th and 6, free agent All-Fantasy quarterback KK Matheny (previously with the Jacksonville Breeze) took advantage of the Mist’s superb running game, allowing Stevi Schnoor to carry the ball. Establishing herself as one of the league’s elite running backs, Schnoor enjoyed a 16-yard run, bringing the Mist into the red zone at the 15-yard line.

Despite Schnoor’s efforts, the Mist struggled to capitalize. With another fourth-down situation (this time on the Temptation’s 16-yard line), Matheny opted for the pass, successfully finding Mist legend Jessica Hopkins in the end zone. With Schnoor successfully converting the extra point, the Mist enjoyed a one-point advantage.

Hopkins was not finished providing heroics for the Mist. Intercepting Angel on the Temptation’s next possession, it placed the momentum squarely in the Mist’s favor. Strategically consuming time on the clock, Matheny connected with Fowler on a five-yard touchdown. Fowler would contribute on the one-point conversion as well, extending the Mist lead to eight points.

Although the Temptation faced an eight point deficit, a very determined Angel showed that she was capable of competing at the quarterback position. Assembling a scoring drive on just four plays, Angel found Danielle Harvey with a crisp fourteen-yard pass. With her confidence rising, Angel would follow up with a two-point conversion pass to Awagh.

Before the first half would expire, Angel would have the chance to break the deadlock. With just six seconds remaining on the clock, Angel had targeted Jarmillo with her next pass. Unfortunately, it was a little underthrown, allowing veteran defensive back Danika Brace to pounce on the ball, resulting in another interception for Angel. It would be the first of two plays that would come back and haunt the Temptation.

Schnoor would add another touchdown in the third quarter, complementing a 39-yard drive consisting of five plays. With the successful extra-point attempt, the Mist regained the lead. Angel would show poise, replying to the Mist score with one of their own. Managing to employ a drive that consumed 6:18, Angel put the Temptation back in the game with another touchdown. Failing to convert on the extra-point, Seattle’s lead was reduced to just one point.

Despite 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Mist took full advantage of the time. Matheny and Bryn Renda teamed up for some scoring magic, reminiscent of their days as teammates at the University of Western Florida and the Jacksonville Breeze. The great chemistry between the two resulted in Renda catching one of Matheny’s tosses for a 12-yard score, extending their lead to a 27-20 mark.

Going scoreless in the fourth quarter, the Mist relied on their defense to preserve the lead. With 6:08 left, Angel stayed calm during third down, connecting with Jaramillo for a 32-yard touchdown pass, it was her finest pass of the game.

Afterwards, the Temptation took a gamble and opted tfor a two-point conversion. Showing great ambition in wanting to regain the lead, it would not yield the desired result. Despite the setback, the fact that there was 2:41 remaining allowed the Temptation to proceed with an onside kick. Recovered by the Mist, it was up to the defense to stifle their offense. With a 3rd and 2 situation facing the Mist, the outcome of the game was very much in the balance.

Providing the heroics, Schnoor obtained the crucial first down, resulting in Seattle running out the clock. It was part of a game that saw Schnoor log a game-high 101 yards on 20 rushing attempts with one touchdown. Despite only throwing for 54 yards, Matheny delivered when it mattered, throwing for three touchdown passes.

Statistically, key battles were won on turnovers (2 for Seattle) and time of possession (Seattle gained the advantage with 22:25). Those were the advantages that provided Seattle with a 27-26 victory as once again, the victorious ream prevailed by the narrowest of margins in a hard-fought win.

In all likelihood, the postseason tussle for the Western Conference shall take place between these two titans. Based on the intensity of these gridiron confrontations, the team that commits the least amount of errors shall prevail in a contest where precision shall prove essential.

Signal caller Beth Andrasik leads high-octane offense for the Cleveland Fusion

Consistently one of the top teams in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), the 2015 edition of the Cleveland Fusion have experienced an offensive renaissance. Heading into her fourth season as the starting quarterback for the club, Beth Andrasik has established herself as a potential All-America selection.

A two-sport star at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), where she excelled in basketball and softball, Andrasik is also highly educated, earning a BSc in mechanical and aerospace engineering in 2011. Currently employed in Industrial Engineering, she also balances her career obligations with time spent as a coach for the CWRU women’s softball team .

Of note, Andrasik is not the only CWRU alum on the Fusion’s roster. Head coach Erik Keister was a linebacker for the CWRU Spartans, and served in a coaching capacity from 2002-2003, respectively. Wide receivers Christy Conlin and Katie Green graduated in 2009 and 2011. As a side note, Conlin had aspirations to play rugby for the Cleveland Iron Maidens. Offensive lineman Marie Vibbert is employed at CWRU.

Having joined the Fusion in April 2012, Andrasik is not the only CWRU alum on the Fusion’s roster. Head coach Erik Keister was a linebacker for the CWRU Spartans, and served in a coaching capacity from 2002-2003, respectively.

Through the first six weeks of the season, Andrasik (who is sponsored by Tupperware) contributed to a Fusion squad that enjoyed a 5-1 start, while ranking fifth nationally. In addition, she also threw for 14 touchdown passes, compared to just a pair of interceptions. For the last three seasons, she has shown statistical improvement. In 2013, she was intercepted 13 times, despite 19 touchdown passes. Last season, she managed to reduce her interception totals to seven, while increasing her touchdown passes to 20. A key ingredient in her success involves third-year Fusion wideout Maria Jackson.

After Week 6, Jackson (sponsored by First Service Commercial Loans) was leading the WFA with 14 touchdown receptions, already surpassing her previous career high. As a side note, it marks the third straight season that she enjoys double digits in receiving touchdowns. Kansas City’s Liz Sowers is the only receiver this season to have more receptions and receiving yardage than Jackson, maintaining her status as one of the league’s elite receivers.

Such a strong passing game has benefitted nicely from the emergence of an impressive running game, anchored by first-year player Mercedes Ephraim. Like Andrasik and Jackson, Ephraim established herself as one of the league’s finest at her position. Leading the WFA in rushing after six weeks, she is only 79 yards away from 1,000 on the season. Complemented by a solid defensive unit that ranks second in the nation, Andrasik’s presence ensures that a deep playoff run for the Fusion is very possible.

Halifax Xplosion defeat Moncton Vipers to climb to 500-level in MWFL play

The recurring theme for the Halifax Xplosion in the 2015 Maritime Women’s Football League (MWFL) season is change. From a new coaching staff to a new group of recruits, the only MWFL squad in Nova Scotia is hoping that change leads to an appearance in the league’s championship game.

As the improving Xplosion look to improve .500 on the season, their obstacle was the Moncton Vipers. Having not played for the 2014 season, the Vipers have endured their struggles in their return to MWFL play in 2015. In the first quarter, Angela Hoffman tried to turn the tide for the winless Vipers, scoring a touchdown for the early lead. Missing the conversion, it would add to the Vipers woes this season.

Bouncing back as the Xplosion’s Michelle McLeod logged a rushing touchdown to tie the game at 6-each. Jocelyn Masyerman successfully converted the one-point attempt, giving the squad their first lead of the game. On the following kickoff, the Xplosion showed some bravura by attempting an onside kick. Recovered by Natasha Stewart, it would add to the squad’s growing confidence.

Gaining her second touchdown of the first quarter, Michelle McLeod would set the tone for the remainder of the game. Despite the Vipers attempting to assemble an offensive attack, the squad suffered to reduce the Xplosion’s lead. Compounded by injuries to starting quarterback Jenny Miller, the Vipers were unable to score for the remainder of the first half. Defensively, the Vipers continued to struggle, allowing a third rushing touchdown by McLeod, as the halftime lead was 21-6 in favor of the Xplosion.

In the third quarter, the Vipers managed to prevent the Xplosion from scoring. Building momentum with a touchdown pass to Marie Beaudy, the Vipers were successful on a two-point conversion. Heading into the fourth quarter trailing by only a touchdown, the Vipers attempted to tie the game.

Despite their best efforts, the defense struggled to contain the Xplosion’s revived running game. Cody Spence would extend the Xplosion’s lead by a 28-14 margin. The Vipers confidence would return as Cody Spence ran in for a touchdown, reducing the Xplosion’s lead to 8 points. Subsequently, a two-point attempt was successfully converted after a run into the end zone.

Once again, the Xplosion utilized McLeod to extend their lead. Rushing for her fourth touchdown of the game, she turned in one of the greatest performances of the season, let alone her career.

Behind by 13 points, the Vipers attempted to salvage things. Joselyn MacLellan forced a fumble, making things interesting. Recovered by Vipers teammate Christina Bernard, a win was not yet guaranteed for the Xplosion. A combination of pressure, fatigue and inexperience took its toll, and the Vipers could not add points to the scoreboard.

In the second half of the game, Moncton outscored Halifax, but it was not enough to earn a victory. Struggling to contain Michelle McLeod, they allowed two rushing touchdowns as the final score was 35-22 in favor of the Xplosion.

DC Divas deliver with homecoming win against Fusion on Donna Wilkinson’s birthday

With June 6 representing the birthday of living legend Donna Wilkinson, there was an extra element of motivation for an undefeated DC Divas club. Hosting the Cleveland Fusion in their 2015 homecoming contest, it was a battle featuring two of the top-ranked female football teams in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA).

Of note, the Divas enjoy the top-ranked spot for the first time since 2011. Prior to facing the fifth-ranked Fusion, the Divas enjoyed a 54-0 whitewashing of the Atlanta Phoenix. The Fusion would not be taken lightly as the Divas suffered three fumbles in the first half against Atlanta. Taking into account that the Fusion defense ranked second in WFA play, the only other defense more dominant was the Divas.

Despite a Fusion offense led by elite signal caller Beth Andrasik, the Divas punishing defense was a point of concern. Forcing seven turnovers against Atlanta, the Divas have also held five of six opponents to less than seven points. Surprisingly, the only other time that the Fusion played the Divas was on April 16, 2005, an 18-0 loss.

In order to remain in the race for the Mid-Atlantic Division title, which they have won in 11 of the last 12 years, a win against Cleveland was crucial for the Divas. Equally important was the need for the club to remain in the race for home field advantage throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs.

By halftime, the Divas enjoyed a 27-0 lead. In the second half, the Fusion actually outscored the Divas by a 7-0 score, but it was not enough to overcome the halftime deficit. The Fusion replaced Beth Andrasik (6 of 18, 92 yards and 2 interceptions) in the third quarter with Keri Palma, who managed one touchdown pass but was intercepted twice in a performance that also included 141 passing yards.

Prevailing by a 27-7 tally, the Divas defense also stymied the Fusion running game. Despite the win, the Divas offense endured four quarterback sacks, which cannot continue should they aspire towards a deep playoff run. Of note, Veronica Rucker registered a pair of sacks for the Fusion, while Elizabeth Dillow and Stephanie Russo logged one sack each, respectively.

Playing at home yielded positive results for the Divas as they improved their record to 7-0 for the first time since 2009. In addition, the Divas held a halftime ceremony to honor the D.C. Divas Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Tessa Nelson, Gayle Dilla, Vickie Lucas, and Coach Ezra Cooper, only adding to the feelings of jubilation that defined a winning weekend.