The St. Albert Valkyries have embraced the historic challenge of winning the first championship in the Capital District Minor Football Association’s female midget spring league.
Today’s final between the Valkyries and West Edmonton Raiders starts at 1 p.m. at Larry Olexiuk Field and gate admission is $5.
“It’s really exciting with it being the first championship game right here where we’re actually from. Our home crowd is going to be big and they’re going to be very supportive of us,” said Julia Baniak, one of 14 gung-ho Valkyries playing in the six-on-six full contact league for Grade 9, 10 and 11 student athletes.
The Valkyries also have a score to settle after the 44-6 loss to the Raiders in St. Albert in the last game before the final.
“We lost because we got so used to blowouts, like 43-0 (against Leduc Wildcats) and 42-0 (against Wetaskiwin Warriors). We got cocky so we’re going to try and level our heads after that last game,” said quarterback Emily Maki.
Baniak echoed those same sentiments.
“With our other wins, we won them so easily and then we went into it like this is going to be an easy match and we were blown out. We were like, whoa! We were so surprised by that,” said the noted tackler. “This time, if we just go in level-headed and we know our plays and we know our fundamentals, we’ll be fine.”
Both teams enter the big game with 3-1 records that include the April 5 exhibition marking the official unveiling of the four-team league. The Valkyries led 13-0 at halftime and late in the game after the Raiders pulled even, Charley Tourond uncorked a lengthy touchdown run and Maki connected with Olivia Colbourne for the one-point conversion play.
The Raiders answered on the next drive but were unable to convert the TD as the Valkyries stayed strong to secure the 20-19 victory at Clarke Stadium.
“We were pretty close with them in our exhibition game and then our defence was just kind of falling apart in that game we recently played because we were just missing tackles,” said Althea Savoie, who typically lines up on defence. “It was hard to keep control and we were all just losing it because it was difficult trying to play such a close team to us in strength compared to the teams that we had played before because we had beat them by so much so it was hard to keep up with them.”
At this week’s practise sessions, extra emphasis was focused on the defence “to make that stronger,” Savoie said. “We have to find some way of closing off, I think it's 34, so she doesn’t get around us anymore and minimize the amount of touchdowns that they get on us and just play as hard as we possibly can.”
After four games, the Raiders are plus 64 in points for/against, compared to plus 48 for the Valkyries, minus 23 for Wetaskiwin (1-2-1) and minus 89 for Leduc (0-3-1).
“They’re really well put together. Their coaching is good. They’ve obviously put a lot of heart into their practicing and that’s why their games are going so well,” Maki said of the Raiders. “They’re not getting cocky, they’re just being confident.”
The midget spring league’s six-on-six format is a quick game with 30-minute halfs of running time.
The field is divided in two to accommodate two games at once – Wetaskiwin and Leduc are playing for third place at the same time as today’s final – and every offensive drive starts at the 45-yard line.
“It’s super fun.” Maki said. “I would like to see more than from the 45 up but that would be a lot of running for six on six.”
The Grade 11 Bellerose Composite High School student has tackled the quarterbacking role with enthusiasm.
“It's super fun. Of course, it is a lot of responsibility. You have to know every play and you have to execute it properly,” Maki said. “There is a little bit of pressure, but I can handle it.”
The concept of an all-female football team was a dream come true for Maki, 16.
“I already play rugby (with the junior Bellerose Bulldogs) and I kind of wanted to play football when I was younger, but I’ve always got intimidated by the boys. I thought I would get judged and stuff like that, so I guess this is kind of like a test.”
Regardless of today’s outcome, the Valkryies have exceeded expectations.
“As a first go-around, this season has been great for us,” Maki said. “It’s like a family here. I have a family at home and then I come to practice and it’s the same. We’re all just so close now.”
Savoie added: “It’s new and it’s been a really good experience. It’s fun to be out with the girls all the time.”
The final isn’t the end of the season for Savoie and Baniak as they have registered to play for the St. Albert High Skyhawks in the metro Edmonton high school league.
They are joined by Grace Forbes, a rugby player and the sister of Gabriel and Aaron Forbes, a pair of former Skyhawks.
Head coach Sam Johnson believes the trio are the first females with the St. Albert Catholic High School football program since the 2000 and 2001 junior team.
“I thought it was a good idea since my brother (Ethan, 16 a Grade 11 defensive back) plays on the team and it would be fun just to practice with the guys and get better,” said Savoie, a Grade 9 Ecole Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville student.
“I really need more of a challenge because I want to get better for every single day for the next season and if all the girls do it then our tackling will be better and our endurance too because then we wouldn’t have to spend all that time doing that every practice,” said Baniak, a Grade 10 St. Albert High student and a hooker in high school rugby with the Paul Kane Blues.
Spring camp is underway for the Skyhawks and Savoie and Baniak have relished the opportunity to huddle up with the last year’s division two Miles conference finalists and the runners up for the fourth consecutive year in the Tier III provincial north final.
“Spring camp is pretty fun, honestly. It's good practice to be on the team with a bunch of guys and learn new things," said Savoie, 14.
“It’s very different. The challenging part is probably just having to face up to guys who are bigger than you, but you get used to it. The guys are really nice and supportive too,” said Baniak, 16.