Welcome back Leanne Hardin to the Atlanta Steam

Undoubtedly, the greatest defensive player in the history of the Atlanta Steam, the return of Leanne Hardin to the fold is one of the most pleasant surprises as the season opener approaches. During the offseason, Hardin, a charter member of the franchise, had contemplated retirement, with dreams of possibly starting a family. She was part of a group of key player losses for the Steam, which included Jodie Nettles, another charter member, to retirement and Jenny Mac, known affectionately as the Skull Kid, to free agency.

Even in the offseason and during training camp, the Steam still held a cherished place in Hardin’s heart. Considering the close friendships made, Hardin was always proud to help show her support via social media, whether it was a word of encouragement for a player or when the club had a special event, such as a meet and greet, in the community.

Although the Steam have done an admirable job of tapping into free agency to fill several holes in its roster, there is no question that chemistry is an essential component to team success. Taking into account the loss of both Mac and Nettles, Hardin’s return was a much-needed boon. While the club still features elite signal caller Dakota Hughes, the reliable Dina Wojowski, winner of the inaugural In the Trenches Award, and MVP candidate Lauran Ziegler, Hardin’s return means that the club will have an anchor on defense.

Retaining her familiar number 20, Hardin shall definitely be a key figure in the Steam’s leadership core, as she has been during every season. A tireless worker who unselfishly works towards the greater goal of victory, she will definitely help set the example for the rookies and newly acquired free agents. While hardcore fans of the Steam were surprised that Hardin was not included among the league’s list of the Top 20 Hottest Players last season, there is no question that when it comes to determination, heart and loyalty to her teammates, she is in a class of her own.

Among multiple competitors gracing the gridiron this season that are also brave and honorable members of the US military, it is testament to Hardin’s status as a leader. In addition to Hardin, Katie Whelan, a nominee for NCO of the Year dons the Seattle Mist colors, while the expansion Austin Acoustic feature Tiffany Merritt. These three exceptional women are all worthy of the role model moniker, each embodying the values of respect, achievement and hard work.

Considering that the Steam are the most successful expansion team in the history of Legends Football League, the one accomplishment that has eluded the club is a championship, the ultimate pinnacle in any team sport. With a wave of expansion that has brought change throughout the league, and an arch rival in Chicago whose quarterback picture is still a work in progress, there is no question that this may be the Steam’s greatest chance to hoist the Legends Cup. As the arrival of Hardin only strengthens the team’s composition, further solidifying its strong team culture, there is no question that her return may prove to be the final piece to the ambitious championship puzzle, while bringing her exceptional career full circle.

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#atlanta-steam, #leanne-hardin

Seven sensational seasons for Mist superstar Jessica Hopkins

As the Seattle Mist raised their championship banner in their 2016 home opener, it was an opportunity to celebrate more than just a proud milestone in franchise history. Subsequently, the opener allowed fans to witness one of the greatest athletes to don the Mist colors. In gracing the gridiron, Jessica Hopkins became the first (and only) woman in league history to play seven seasons with the Mist. With her family in attendance, the banner raising ceremony not only helped bring her career full circle, it was a shared victory for all the people whose lives she positively impacted.

A nominee for the 2015 Legends Football League Hall of Fame, Hopkins has proven to be among the league’s most popular players ever. Her hard work and dedication are only exceeded by her remarkable performances on the field. Such impact was evident during the home opener, which was also the first game in the history of the Austin Acoustic.

Quite possibly the most productive two-way player in Mist history, she would contribute 2.5 tackles while pacing all members of the Mist with 39 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. While one touchdown pass would come from All-Fantasy signal caller KK Matheny, who donated 100% of proceeds from fan jersey sales to Sienna Strong Against Cancer, the other touchdown reception was eminently appropriate.

Running back Stevi Schnoor, whose three rushing touchdowns were a game best, displayed some razzle-dazzle, connecting with Hopkins on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Known affectionately as Stevi Wonder, she has enjoyed the privilege of calling Schnoor a teammate on both sides of the border.

Having both played for the BC Angels in 2012, Hopkins and Schnoor would prove to be key contributors in a season that culminated with a Canadian Legends Cup win over Heather Furr and the Saskatoon Sirens. Fast forward three years, and all three were back on the same stage playing for the Legends Cup in Kent, Washington.

Furr, who had won a pair of Legends Cup titles in 2013 and 2014 with the Chicago Bliss was looking for a third straight win. Despite her best efforts, she was denied in her ambitions as Hopkins and Schnoor became the first women to win Legends Cup titles in both Canada and the United States.

After such an emotional win, Hopkins was pondering whether her gridiron journey would reach its pinnacle. After so many seasons of sweat and sacrifice, no one would have questioned such a decision. Luckily for fans and teammates alike, she has returned for another season, allowing her an opportunity to add to her growing legend.

While her superlative performance against the Acoustic proved that she still has plenty left to provide, a great start to what hopes to be a lucky seventh season, the chance to appreciate her greatness once again is a victory in itself. Complemented by the presence of former Mist players such as Shea Norton, Mele Rich and Christine Moore (who also played with the Angels) are all back home with the roster this season, it only adds to the jubilation of Hopkins and the dream of another title, which would make for a Sweet 2016.

#jessica-hopkins, #seattle-mist, #stevi-schnoor