Defensive queen

Hicks a defensive stalwart for proud Canadian contingent 

While Emma Hicks is a highly talented football player that can excel on offense and defense, her role at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships was as a linebacker. Donning number 39, the 25 year-old emerged as an impact player, making big plays in all of Canada’s games.

As the first woman from the Canadian national team program to have played in the Maritime Women’s Football League and the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, Hicks was in a unique position.

Having seen the rivalries and the methods in which the game is played on both sides of the nation – with the Capital Area Lady Gladiators in the MWFL and the Regina Riot in the WWCFL – a lot of friends were made along the way. With the Canadian contingent featuring players from both leagues, Hicks may have known the names and faces on the roster better than any other player involved.

“I think that is definitely something unique that I got to experience. The western girls were some of the first to arrive in London, where we all gathered to make our last leg of the journey to Helsinki together. Sitting in that airport I was anxious and excited for the maritime girls to arrive.

Two worlds collided for me. The WWCFL and MWFL players had crossed paths at Nationals last year in Montreal so some may have been familiar with each other, but not to the same extent. I have had the privilege of being involved in both leagues and having the opportunity to get to know some of these fantastic people that play in each.

It was fun to see my friends and teammates coming together, getting to know one another both on and off the field, and all of us playing for Canada.”

As the first game of the Women’s Worlds came against a highly inexperienced Spanish team (who were making their inaugural appearance at the Worlds), there was a great feeling of anticipation and excitement. For many players, such as Hicks, the contest marked their international debuts.

“The atmosphere in the locker room was excitement even before the game started; with some nerves in there too I am sure. Everyone getting geared up, wearing our colours, repping Canada on the front of our jersey; it is a great moment putting that jersey on.”

During the warm-ups against Spain, it provided Hicks with an opportunity to reflect on the road towards getting to the international level. “While getting ready for warm-up for our first game, one of my coaches came up and reminded me of some previous thoughts about not being able to compete at this level and how I was a little off-base with some of that.

Recognizing where I had come from, being thankful for all of those who played a part in that process, and the reality of where I was now, and representing my country in a great sport.”

While the first game versus Spain was a convincing 50-0 whitewashing, the opportunity to get that crucial first game under their belts eased the nerves and keenness that may have been underlying.

“The win against Spain got us off to a great start. This was a time for us to stretch our legs and finally get to play against someone other than our own. As a defense, we did not show all of our plays in this game but it was still encouraging to see us step up and make stops when they needed to be made.

The excitement definitely continued into the post-game locker room. There was not a lot of turn around time between games and we knew the challenges we had yet to face as well.”

The comeback win against Finland was a defining moment for Hicks and her teammates. As the host country boasted a 12-6 lead at halftime, the possibility of an upset was quite real.

In that game, Hicks would rank fourth on Canada in tackles, while registering a forced fumble in the first quarter. After Aimee Kowalski scored to give Canada the 13-12 lead, Hicks made a key play on Finland’s next possession. On a fourth and eight, she made a tackle to give Canada the ball back. The result would increase Canada’s confidence as Lydia Jolicoeur scored a rushing touchdown on the next possession. She reflects on the team effort involved to turn things around and emerge victorious,

“Finland was a step up from our first game and I think we were taken off guard a bit in the first half. We knew how we could be playing and just took some time to get there.

Believing in ourselves, the work we had put in, and the coaching we had received, we were ready to step up and execute things more effectively to take on the second half.

We saw our offence bring things together, had some fantastic plays with our special teams, and our defense found its stride. Being a part of the defense, it was great to see us come together, trusting each other to do their jobs, and step things up.”

Photo credit to Manon Migner

Photo credit to Manon Migner

Although the gold medal game did not yield the desired results for Hicks and her Canadian teammates, the opportunity to compete on the world’s biggest stage for women’s football brought with it a highlight. After Canada punted the ball on their first possession, Hicks made a strong impression that showed Canada was determined to play.

“If I had to choose one particular play it would be the sack on our opening defensive play against the USA. Their O-line cut blocked, Becky Wallis got by with great pressure, their QB (Sami Grisafe) stepped back to avoid Becky, and I came from the backside. It was a great way to start that game.”

Statistically, Hicks was one of the best performers for Canada. Her kick return average of 15.0 yards ranked eighth overall among all competitors at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds. Defensively, she would tie for first overall in forced fumbles, second in sacks, and would tie for thirteenth overall in total tackles, respectively.

“It was a fantastic experience to come together with players and coaches from across the country, having the opportunity to play with past and present teammates, rivals, and complete strangers and to become one team.

Having emerged as a strong leader for Canada at the IFAF Women’s Worlds, Hicks is a tremendous asset for the game that represents the great future that women’s football has throughout the world. The feeling of new friendships, a willingness to learn and the desire to win comprised an experience that she will treasure.

Currently working as a personal trainer, Hicks is also studying in the National Coaching Certification Program. Having also worked as a physical education teacher, Hicks has the acumen necessary to contribute in later years as a coach. In reflecting on her national team experience, the opportunity has made Hicks thankful for the individuals that helped bring the team together and made it a reality.

“There are always some struggles bringing a team together from different backgrounds and as everyone finds their place on a new team, but it was a great group to be a part of and learn from. I really appreciated the time and effort that our coaches put in and the expectations that they held us to, for me working particularly with our defensive and special teams coaches.

It is about more than just what happens on the field. I am humbled and blessed to have had this experience and I am excited about the growth of the sport.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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