Alex Black beaming with national pride in historic third stint with Team Canada

Donning Canada’s colors for the third time in her accomplished career, the captivating Alex Black reached an apex that only two other women, Trina Graves and Christine O’Donnell of the WWCFL’s Winnipeg Wolf Pack can lay claim to. Although Black is not even 30 years young, her amazing gridiron legacy has ascended her to truly legendary status.

Having established herself as a multi-sport athlete throughout her teens and her university years, Black is definitely one of the Maritime region’s most celebrated female athletes. With her inaugural gridiron journey took place in childhood, playing against boys, Black’s blossoming into a cornerstone of both Maritime female football and one of the most prominent stars on the national women’s team is testament to the growing impact of the game, and its profound cultural meaning.

“I am very honoured to have been given the opportunity to represent Canada for a third time. I know I have grown as an athlete and so has women’s football since 2010. It is always a mentally and physically draining two weeks, but I look forward to it every four years; knowing that I will be surrounded by elite athletes and coaches who share their love for football just like me.

Thinking back on when I started with the boys, I never would have thought there would be an all girls team, better yet, a national women’s team, but here we are making history and I am so blessed to be a part of it.”

Alex Black leaping for the ball (Credit: Diz Ruptive Photography)

With Trina Graves, a fellow superstar in MWFL play, there was a profound sense of shared history between the two. Black is one of the cornerstones for the Capital Area (Fredericton) Lady Gladiators, while Graves is one of the most versatile players in the history of the Saint John Storm, having played on the offensive and defensive line, while having led the club to the SupHer Bowl title as its starting quarterback, claiming the Judy Upward Trophy.

In spite of the Lady Glads and the Storm opposing each other in the 2017 MWFL championship game, any potential MWFL rivalries quickly evaporated when it came to the collaborative goal of gaining a podium finish for Canada. Undoubtedly, the mutual respect between the two was not only one of the most admirable aspects of Canada’s entry at the IFAF Worlds, but it was the essence of leadership that have defined both of their sterling careers.

“It is always a great experience to play with her and not against her. I respect Trina she pushes herself and others around her. She is very humble and passionate and I admire those characteristics.”

Having both been part of Canada’s roster at the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, the return of Black and Graves to the game’s biggest stage once again has only served to entrench their unforgettable impact on sporting Canadiana. As 2017 was also Canada’s sesquicentennial, a significant aspect of the year-long celebrations also involved hosting the Women’s Worlds, the first time that the event was hosted outside of Europe.

Black (wearing #82) consulting with other members of Canada’s special teams unit (Credit: Diz Ruptive Photography)

“I am not sure I have words that could describe the feeling I got playing in your own country. I was very proud and during our national anthem maybe a little overwhelmed with excitement, pride and confidence.

You are always playing for yourself and others; the people who helped you get to where you are today, your team back home, your family, your friends, for those who cannot and your country. I felt so much pride when I raised my helmet to our flag, because I felt like Canada was behind us and we had something to prove especially during the gold medal game.”

The fans in Vancouver were certainly treated to Black’s brilliance. From the outset, Black and her Canadian counterparts were part of an historic opening match, hosting Australia, who were making their debut in the IFAF Worlds.

With fellow special teams kicker Carly Dyck, one of 30 players making their debut for Canada, emerging as the game’s leading scorer, Black was equally effective in the game, just as essential on special teams. Recording 124 punting yards in the opening game, a convincing 31-6 victory against Australia, while also handling double duty as a wide receiver, Black’s effectiveness in the punting game frustrating opponents while setting the tone for a series of solid special teams performances by the Canadian contingent.

Serving as a consistent performer for Canada throughout the event, Black was also one of the tournament’s statistical leaders in total punting yardage. Against Great Britain, who were also making their IFAF debut, Black logged five punts for 164 yards, the longest ranging 36 yards, as a 35-0 victory assured Canada a place in the gold medal game, guaranteeing a third straight podium finish.

Emerging from Vancouver with the silver medal, part of a hard-fought loss against the defending gold medal champion United States, there were many positives from the match (including taking the first lead of the game) that have shown the competitive gap is closing.

Although Australia went winless at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, there were still many positives for the debuting nation to draw upon. Perhaps the biggest was the presence of Dr. Jen Welter as head coach, the first former player to take on this role. In addition, Great Britain and Mexico were making their debuts in the event. Coincidentally, both would play each other for the bronze medal.

Great Britain’s Phoebe Schechter would build on her experience in Vancouver with a groundbreaking announcement. Of note, she is slated to join the Buffalo Bills as a coaching intern in the 2017 NFL preseason.

The addition of so many competing nations in the IFAF not only signifies an exciting time for the growth of female football on a global scale, it also validates the hard work and efforts of amazing women such as Black, whose contributions certainly helped establish the foundation for this growth. The chance to see such sensational growth, and get the opportunity to play against other nations has added an element of luster in Black’s unforgettable experience in Vancouver,

“It is very exciting to have more countries join IFAF. They have great athletes and I hope they continue to grow their football programs.”

The event was more than just a paradigm shift for female football in Canada, it was an opportunity for prominent players like Black to celebrate, attaining the elusive dream of being able to compete against the world’s best on home soil. In reflecting on such an eventful tournament, Black felt a tremendous sense of achievement, with home field advantage truly taking on an enhanced sense of meaning, definitely representing one of the most treasured moments in her career.

“Running on to the field with my teammates. All of the practices, sacrifices, and work on and off the field lead up to the big show. I was very honoured to play with such strong and accomplished women.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Diz Ruptive Photography

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