Ring ceremony brings Seattle Mist’s championship journey full circle

As the arrival of 2016 brings with it open tryouts for all clubs in Legends Football League, one events allowed for an opportunity to revisit 2015 one last glorious time. The privilege of that event was bestowed upon the remarkable women of the Seattle Mist, who delivered the first championship in franchise history, and the first major championship in the city of Seattle since the Washington Huskies captured the 1991 college football national title.

Rewarded for their historic season with championship rings, it has assured all of them a special place in club lore. A silver-colored ring, that harkens memories of the Raiders Super Bowl rings (the first to abandon the traditional gold colored ring and adopt a silver color instead), the Mist logo is prominent in the mounting, surrounded by gems and emblazoned by the wording “national champions”.

Seattle Mist championship ring (Image obtained from Facebook)
Seattle Mist championship ring (Image obtained from Facebook)

All members of the Mist, including coaching staff were given rings. Beaming with pride, head coach Chris Michaelson, one of the longest serving coaches in league history, displayed his ring on social media, a long overdue achievement in his accomplished career.

Such an amazing and accomplished team was a blend of established talent and free agent acquisitions, resulting in an ideal amalgam that delivered on all accounts. Among the free agent talent available due to the realignment of the league, a remarkable trinity of acquisitions helps set the tone.

Arriving from the now defunct Jacksonville Breeze, quarterback KK Matheny and wide receiver Bryn Renda were nothing short of
dominant, complementing RB Stevi Schnoor, who was the heartbeat of the Mist offense in 2014. Having also played at the flag football level in college, the rapport not only led into offensive synergy, it provided Matheny with a prime receiving target, one that saw Renda frequently deliver in the clutch.

Seattle Mist championship ring ceremony (Image obtained from Facebook)
Seattle Mist championship ring ceremony (Image obtained from Facebook)

Danika Brace enjoyed a heroic welcome to Seattle, capturing the hearts and minds of its loyal fans with one of the greatest defensive performances in league history. It was the prodigal daughter returning home after seasons of exile in Las Vegas, contemplating retirement in the aftermath of a winless 2014 season. Throughout 2015, she worked tirelessly in the defensive trenches helping to inspire confidence.

Avenging their heartbreaking 2014 playoff loss to their eternal rivals LA Temptation, the Mist defeated the two-time champion Chicago Bliss in front of a jubilant hometown crowd at ShoWare Centre. It capped off a remarkable season that also saw the Mist capture the regular season Western Conference crown. Adding to such elation was the fact that Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll congratulated them in the aftermath of their championship.

With due deference, the Mist could be seen as an underdog champion, having never played for a title before in franchise history. Despite the obstacles presented, no one could deny them their greatness. Refusing to believe the doubters, instead the Mist believed in themselves. These sensational Seattle Mist competitors definitely earned so much respect among their peers in the league following their championship win; it was enhanced by the selection of seven competitors named as competitors in the
All-Fantasy Game in Guatemala City.

Of all the players who now have their fingers adorned with a stylish ring, the feel-good story belongs to Jessica Hopkins. A charter member of the franchise, its fan base saw Hopkins evolve into more than a leader, but a living legend. Her friendship, graciousness and stoic dedication are all a remarkable source of admiration, gaining new fans every season. Along with Stevi Schnoor, one of the most durable and consistently dependable running backs in the league, they became the first women in LFL history to have won championships in both Canada and the US, having captured a title in 2012 with the BC Angels.

Although some players were not available for the ring ceremony, there is no denying that they held a special place in the hearts of those who attended. The ring signifies the arrival into a gratifying immortality, where a long journey consisted of sweat and sacrifice overcame any struggles, emerging in a victorious vindication, an important symbol of respect.

Photo credit: Richard Deflin Photography

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Danika Brace delivers on all accounts in dream season for Seattle Mist

After contemplating retirement following the 2014 season with the Las Vegas Sin, the return of Danika Brace to the gridiron was warmly welcomed by the Seattle Mist. During her time with the Sin, Brace developed into one of the league’s elite performers on defense, becoming an emotional leader, sticking up for her teammates in the face of adversity. Such bravura was exactly what the Mist needed, as the club entered 2015 looking for its first-ever championship.

Part of a sensational free-agent class that included quarterback KK Matheny and wide receiver Bryn Renda (both of the dissolved Jacksonville Breeze), Brace developed quick chemistry with her new teammates, bringing an enthusiasm and determination that set the example on the defensive side of the ball.

In the aftermath of a regular season that saw the Mist grab the Western Conference regular season crown with a 5-1 mark, Brace built on such success with a memorable postseason performance. Grabbing the game-winning touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Temptation in the Western Conference championship game, she would also log 3.5 tackles. In the Legend Cup final against the two-time defending champion Chicago Bliss, not only did Brace rank third among all players in rushing yardage and second in receptions, she would show great versatility by ranking second among all players in tackles, while leading all Mist players, respectively.

A jubilant Brace all smiles after a landmark Legends Cup victory over Chicago (Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/SeattleMist?fref=photo)
A jubilant Brace all smiles after a landmark Legends Cup victory over Chicago (Image obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/SeattleMist?fref=photo)

Brace proved to be a remarkable force on both sides of the ball. Akin to Stevi Schnoor, a very talented athlete who has provided solid performances offensively and defensively, their collaborative efforts added a whole new dimension to the Mist’s confidence.

Statistically, both were among the Mist’s top four producers on offense and defense. While Schnoor was the catalyst for the Mist’s running game, earning the league’s rushing title. Brace tied with fellow free agent acquisition with 14 receptions. Of note, Brace’s 112 receiving yards would finish second to Renda and Schnoor managed 13 receptions, providing the Mist with a very potent passing game as all three finished among the league’s top five leading receivers.

Defensively, Brace was the gold standard. While she tied Mist charter member Jessica Hopkins with 19 assisted tackles, she punctuated her impact with an astounding 26 solo tackles, registering 35.5 overall, respectively. Only Chicago’s Alli Alberts managed more tackles (36.5). In addition, Brace and Hopkins tied for second overall in league play with a pair of interceptions each.

Brace’s efforts were a key factor in the Mist allowing only 77.4 rushing yards per game, second only to the Chicago Bliss. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Brace accounted for 21% of the Mist’s tackles, she managed 6.5 tackles for loss. It was also among the many reasons that Brace was recognized as the 2015 LFL Defensive Player of the Year. Having also had the honor bestowed upon her in 2014, she becomes the first woman in league history to claim the award back-to-back with two different teams, testament to her dominant play.

Complementing such a historical achievement was the fact that she captured the 2015 league MVP Award, the first player in Seattle Mist history to do so. Taking into account that Brace started her career in 2011 with the Mist, the MVP honor helped bring her fabled career full circle. Following it up the next day with an emotional victory against the Chicago Bliss on home soil, capturing the first Legends Cup in team history, it was a storybook ending to a dream season.

In the aftermath of an unprecedented Legends Cup championship, Brace has proudly served as one of the Mist’s ambassadors. Joined by several teammates along the way, she has brought the fabled Cup on a fabled tour of Seattle.

KK Matheny (left) and Brace bringing the Legends Cup to the Seattle Sounders (Image obatined from: https://twitter.com/danikabrace)
KK Matheny (left) and Brace bringing the Legends Cup to the Seattle Sounders (Image obatined from: https://twitter.com/danikabrace)

Complemented by the presence of her proud, winning smile, Brace and the Cup have gone to the top of the world famous Space Needle, while showing up at the stadiums of other famous Seattle sports teams, such as baseball’s Mariners and soccer’s Sounders.

Among all the accolades being recognized by Seahawks head coach, the legendary Pete Carroll on social media may have been the most remarkable honor. Taking into account that Carroll led the Seahawks to victory in Super Bowl XLVIII, his recognition only adds a proud big league feeling to the hard work and sacrifices of empowering women such as Danika Brace, whose 2015 season was one of the finest in modern female football history.

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.