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

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.

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5K Challenge a positive team building experience for proud Atlanta Steam participants

The 5K Jailbreak Challenge hosted by the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department resulted in a great opportunity for the Steam to participate in community outreach, while increasing awareness of these empowering women as proud gridiron humanitarians. Known as “The Toughest Obstacle Course Run the Law Allows”, it is part of a fundraising event where monies raised benefit the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office Charities Fund while helping to finance the operations of its Teen Mentoring Programs.

Competing in the 10:30am wave, which featured the Team Competition, were Steam competitors Keyon Harrison, Leanne Hardin (one of the club’s defensive captains) and Jodie Nettles, who were joined by Michael Price, a male competitor.

(Left to right) Steam trio of players Keyon Harrison, Leanne Hardin, Jodie Nettles joined by Michael Price in second place finish. (Image obtained from Facebook, Photo credit: John Hendricks)

(Left to right) Steam trio of players Keyon Harrison, Leanne Hardin, Jodie Nettles joined by Michael Price in second place finish. (Image obtained from Facebook, Photo credit: John Hendricks)

Criteria for the team competition were that each member of the team needed to complete all the obstacles, and then finish together. Although everyone who crossed the finish line earned a Finisher’s Medal, the top three entries in all team categories (male, female, and co-ed) were presented with an award.

The 2015 Jail Break Challenge Course was not for the meek as it began with a mixed terrain run which was followed by a Sandbag Carry consisting of 50 yards. Afterwards, a length trail included the first of many obstacles, such as narrow trail sections, creek jumps, fences and numerous kinds of surface terrains.

Approaching the halfway point was a one mile hard-surface run that culminated at the jail’s Perimeter Road. Strategically, this was considered the most ideal time to recover strength and recuperate from the grueling first half of the course. Rapid elevation changes would proceed over a stretch of five kilometers, in which competitors would come across military-style Obstacle Courses, testing the mettle of many. Taking into account that Hardin is among the brave and proud members of the United States Armed Forces, she helped set the tone for her teammates.

Elements such as 45-degree rope climb over a 2-story tall structure, an attic jump, tube crawls and agility challenges, plus a cargo net climb, there was also a rope climb. Once competitors reached the top of the 16’ rope, they had to ring a bell. Mercifully, the course reaches its end with agility Bars, a military rope crossing, and a vertical 8’ wall.

Of note, the co-ed group composed of three Steam players successfully completed. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that said group finished in second place, testament to the remarkable athleticism of the empowering women of the Atlanta Steam.

Numerous members of the Steam graciously volunteered their time, including head coach Dane Robinson. Players such as Brooke Barnhill, quarterback Dakota Hughes (the winner of the 2014 Rookie of the Year Award), Jessie Locklear, Heather Urbank and
Carolyn Wright were on-hand for moral support. Afterwards, all Steam players in attendance remained for autographs and photographs with fans, enriching the experience. In addition, John Hendricks also donated his time, taking some remarkable photographs of the Steam’s gridiron heroes in action.

Photo credit: John Hendricks

#atlanta-steam, #brooke-barnhill, #carolyn-wright, #dakota-hughes, #heather-urbank, #jessie-locklear, #jodie-nettles, #keyon-harrison, #leanne-hardin