Breanne Ward part of marvelous group of gridiron talent from Manitoba

In discussing the WWCFL’s Prairie Conference, one of the first aspects that comes to mind is the shared dynasty between Regina and Saskatoon. Working towards adding a new element to this perception are an admirable group of prominent players from Prairie neighbor Manitoba.

With the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championships representing a watershed moment in the Canadian female sporting ethos, it was also an opportunity to gain a newfound appreciation for the epic talents of Manitoba’s gridiron goddesses.

Determined to help forge a new gridiron mythology, subsequently creating new heroes was a collection of star talent who call the Winnipeg Wolf Pack their club team. Among such a compelling group of distinguished competitors is Breanne Ward, a veteran of six WWCFL seasons, earning the rare distinction of having played for both of Manitoba’s teams.

Ward (#71) running out onto the field with her fellow Canadian competitors in Vancouver (Credit: Diz Ruptive Photography)

Having first been exposed to female football when she encountered a volunteer from the Manitoba Fearless at a Winnipeg Blue Bombers match back in 2011, it was an encounter that was destined to change Ward’s sporting future. Suiting up for the Fearless at the nose tackle position, it would not take long for Ward to make an impression. Earning a spot on Team Manitoba’s roster at the inaugural Canadian national women’s championships in 2012, it was testament to how quickly her career had evolved.

One of 92 players named as finalists for a possible spot on Canada’s roster for the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, Ward was also one of an impressive 19 Manitobans selected to this group. Although Ward would not qualify for the possible roster, it was the springboard towards pursuing her gridiron dreams further.

Currently employed in the health care profession, while juggling a highly disciplined workout regimen that was a key source of motivation over the course of four years, it was somewhat fitting that the vindicating revelation that she was named to Team Canada 2017 took place during one of her work days,

“I was actually at work when I found out. Mubo had sent a message in our group chat saying that she had an email, but was too nervous to open it. The entire time previous to this moment I was able to stay calm just waiting for an answer, but my nerves definitely kicked in at that moment. I checked my email and I had received an email too.

My coworkers were with a patient and I remember opening the email in the back and only reading ‘congratulations’. There was a series of “oh my god, no. omg. OMG! No!” and one of my coworkers actually thought that something bad had happened to one of my family members. I remember asking her to read my email and asking her if it said that I had made Team Canada because I honestly couldn’t believe it.

After she read it and confirmed that I wasn’t just seeing things I literally exploded…like total ugly crying, makeup all over my face. I have never cried tears of joy but I couldn’t stop crying I was so happy. I instantly called my Mom and Dad who I think were more excited than I was, I would bet money that my dad cried when he hung up the phone, and I was on a high for the rest of the day. It was hands down one of the best days of my life.”

Ward with fellow Wolfpack teammates Mubo Ilelaboye, Christine O’Donnell and Allyssa Buckland (Image supplied by Ward)

Of note, she was part of four fantastic members from the Winnpieg Wolfpack gaining the chance to wear Canada’s colours. All competing on defense, Ward was joined by the captivating Christine O’Donnell, who joined Alex Black and Trina Graves as the only women to make three appearances with Canada’s national team.

Alyssa Buckland and Mubo Ilelaboye, a former varsity basketball player with the University of Manitoba Bisons rounded out this foursome, all contributing to a fascinating new chapter in Wolfpack lore. In addition, Alexa Matwyczuk from the cross-twon rival Manitoab Feraless was named to Canada’s roster for the second time in her career. Also competing on defense, Matwyczuk bolstered the proud Manitoba presence. Considering that Ward was making her debut for Canada, the fact that Buckland and Ilelaboye were in the same situation provided a soothing element of ease.

“It definitely made me more comfortable knowing that I have three of my teammates with me going into the tournament.

Ward (#71) in action vs Australia in Canada’s opening match of the 2017 IFAF Women’s Worlds (Credit: Diz Ruptive Photography)

We all come from different levels of football – Having OD (Christine), a vet to Team Canada who was at the games for her third time definitely prepared me for what to expect at training camp and throughout the tournament; Mubo who was a previous CIS athlete, had only one year of football behind her, and Allyssa who I have been playing football with since I started 6 years ago, including trying out for Team Canada for the 2013 games and unfortunately not making the team.

I think it speaks to the program that the Wolfpack has, having five defensive players selected to Team Canada to be on the defence (unfortunately Jill Fast couldn’t participate in the games due to an injury sustained prior to the games).”

Savoring every moment in Vancouver, the chance to wear Canada’s colors provided Ward with a much more profound appreciation of the game. Taking into account that the tournament was held just a few days before Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations, there was a strong feeling of patriotism among players, coaches and fans alike.

Once Ward wore the Canadian jersey for the first time, stepping out onto the vast expanse of the gridiron, truly absorbing the meaning of home field advantage while relishing in the joyous feeling of celebration and achievement, it was all part of an enthralling and captivating experience that shall be treasured for the duration of her career.

Ward (#71) marching out to the field as player introductions begin (Credit: Diz Ruptive Photography)

“Up until this point, I don’t think it had fully sunk in that I was actually on Team Canada competing at worlds. There was four years of hard work put into this, including a new playbook and training camp with all new teammates, coaches, and the moment that we had our jerseys on, and stepped out on the field it gave me the biggest sense of accomplishment and pride.

With it being Canada 150, that just added to the sense of pride that I felt, to be given the opportunity to represent Canada on home soil with the best female football players in the country was a privilege that only we had the opportunity to experience.”

Euphoric over the chance to help shape an exciting future for women in football, it was one of those defining moments in Ward’s career. Wearing the number 71 with Canada’s contingent, her tireless work ethic embodied the dutiful effort that encompassed the team, one in which excelling on home soil was defined by more than the drive for gold, but the chance to help shape the nation’s sporting zeitgeist.

Euphoric over the chance to help shape an exciting future for women in football, it was one of those defining moments in Ward’s career. Wearing the number 71 with Canada’s contingent, her tireless work ethic embodied the dutiful effort that encompassed the team, one in which excelling on home soil was defined by more than the drive for gold, but the chance to help shape the nation’s sporting zeitgeist

Enjoying the prestige of a podium finish as an unforgettable way to commemorate Ward’s international debut, the prologue towards such a destination was one filled with wonder and fascination. Providing the elements for a cherished high spot in Vancouver, she reflects on the magnitude with a proud feeling of attainment.

Considering that Ward’s father made the trek from Manitoba to witness this key moment in her gridiron odyssey, he was part of a phalanx of fans that crowded the stands with national pride, the Maple Leaf prevalent throughout. As the emotion of the national anthem connotes a sense of devotion in many fascinating facets, it provided a sense of renewal for Ward; evoking proud memories of her time as a fan at Blue Bombers game, hearing the riveting lyrics fill the expanse of the sky above the gridiron.

With the pride of playing for her country serving to enhance this powerful moment, one that has supplied tremendous fulfillment in the happy pursuit of gridiron glory, there was a sense that things had truly come full circle for a delighted Ward.

“My favourite moment would have to be stepping on the field right before the gold medal game. We were all grouped together, waiting to be announced on to the field, everyone was around and above us in the stands cheering us on.

I remember looking over and seeing my dad who had made the trip to BC to come and watch the tournament and emotions were definitely running high.

Standing on the field while the national anthem was playing, it just felt different, and now every time that I hear it being played at a Bison or Bomber game it really takes me back to that moment.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Follow Breanne Ward on Instagram (@breezydubbz) or the Twitter (@breanneward)!

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