Lessons learned from Team Alberta to shape and strengthen Calgary Rage

As the Calgary Rage prepare for the 2017 Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) season, there is a stronger sense of unity among these wondrous gridiron goddesses. It shall also comprise one of the club’s core values, as it looks to advance to its first-ever championship game.

Should such unprecedented heights be attained, the starting point may very well be attributed to the efforts made at the 2016 Canadian women’s national championships.

Team Alberta competitors from Calgary Rage (Candice Ward Photography)

With no shortage of subplots at Nationals, the bonds of friendship between the nine members of the Calgary Rage that suited up for Team Alberta emerged as one of the event’s true feel-good stories. Each bringing their own unique approach to the game, the Nationals was an extension of their empowering enthusiasm for the gridiron.

Having donned the Team Alberta jersey in 2012, Erin Walton was the most experienced member of the nine women from the Rage competing at the event, supplying a remarkable amount of inspiration. Returning once again for Rage football in 2017, Walton’s career has been one recently built on redemption. Having sat out the 2014 season in order to recover from injuries, it allowed for a refreshed perspective in order to pursue her dream of donning Team Canada’s colors once again.

While Walton has made her mark as a running back, named to Team Canada 2017 as an alternate, there are others on the Rage that have emulated Walton’s success. For them, the 2017 season is one where they shall look to build on her legacy while establishing their own. Among them are Lisa Gomes, who shall be making her debut with Team Canada at the 2017 IFAF Women’s Worlds, and Esther Hong, a running back with high energy and a strong sense of team spirit.

Eager for opening kickoff, Hong approaches the team as her second family. Proud of what was accomplished at Nationals, emerging with a bronze medal; the culture of unity developed among the participating Rage players is one that she hopes will translate to unprecedented success this season for all who don the team’s colors.

“The Rage teammates that came with me to nationals I feel we reached a new elevation in our bond. It was an unforgettable and life changing experience! I wish I could have shared it with all my Rage teammates.

(There were) too many moments to name but the big one was how four teams came together fused as one and we all bonded fairly quickly. We were definitely the misfit of the tournament but that’s what I loved most about us. We had a silly hat day practice, we sang songs and danced during our warm ups or cool downs.

We shared our excitement and love for football in a fun and inviting way! It felt as if going into the tournament Team AB was already written off but we made our mark and it’s now known that there is great football in Alberta! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!”

Adding to the magic of this monumental milestone was the involvement of ultra-talented photographer Candice Ward. Having actually worked on one of her photo shoots, Hong has also been among her Rage subjects in front of the lens.

A long-time supporter of the Rage, whose iconic photos are as artistic as they are an amazing marketing tool, her presence has only served to add a major league feeling to such an amazing group of ground breaking women.

Meghan Sweeney (left) and Alyssa Quinney (Photo credit: Candice Ward)

That artistic feeling is one that is also shared among a member of the Rage, whose ascent as one of the team’s cornerstones continues to exemplify the values of hard work and determination. While artwork is her passion when the pads are off, the graceful and humble veteran Alyssa Quinney has utilized the gridiron as an exciting canvas to compose a portrait of prominence. Certainly that work was most evident as she enjoyed the milestone of competing at Nationals.

The seasons spent with the Rage held a positive component for Quinney, shaping her confidence and empowering her to pursue the chance to compete for Team Alberta. Balancing her love of the gridiron with an artistic proficiency, Quinney embodies the values of friendship and encouragement,

“I don’t think I would have even considered trying Team Alberta if it wasn’t for my Rage teammates. Their support, along with the support from my coaches really made me feel like they had my back and this was something I could do. I think the experience brought us closer not just because we spent an entire weekend together but because it was a whole other level of competitive football that many of us hadn’t experienced before. I was so happy they were there.

Many of them have been there since my first year on the Rage and many of them inspire me every year to be better at this sport so for me words can’t express how awesome it was to be with them on Team Alberta.”

Akin to Quinney, there were others from the Rage that donned Team Alberta’s colors for the times, representing a new step in their careers. Making their debut at this event included Tamara Delong. Along with Robyn Tarrant, both had experienced personal losses heading into this event. Their ability to dig deeper was a great sign of character, testament to what truly makes them strong women.

Tamara Delong (Photo credit: Candice Ward)

Being able to bounce back from such sorrow and make significant contributions to their teams was more than just heartwarming. A highly dedicated athlete whose self-discipline and work ethic is energetically infectious, her work exemplifies leadership, a positive example for the Rage in 2017. Undoubtedly, one key word defined what it meant for Delong to wear the Alberta jersey,

“Pride. Alberta Pride. What an amazing experience to be a part of and on such a monumental occasion. I had Pride, being able to represent my province and pride for the women standing alongside me, giving everything thing they have, for a sport we love!

The experience alone was phenomenal. Spending ‘athletic’ time with like-minded and skilled women, putting it all together to compete, was an experience none of us will forget.

From being rivals all season and then coming together as a provincial team…what an experience. Friendships were formed and team Alberta spirit was built…don’t get me wrong next regular season…. Alberta team mates will again be on ‘rival’ teams.”

Sharing a similar sentiment with Delong is Venessa Stuppard. An offensive lineman whose tireless efforts create opportunities for heroic performances on offense, she is truly one of the unsung heroes on the Rage.

Reflecting on the positives of the Team Alberta experience, it mirrors the experience of being a player in the WWCFL, where any season can bring with a collection of new faces eager to experience the thrill of the gridiron. Regardless of the final outcome, the real victory is in the respect gained. It was those same values which shaped Stuppard’s approach to Team Alberta, looking at rivals from Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Lethbridge as distinguished competitors who would share in their odyssey at Nationals,

“It was really special to play with my Rage teammates on Team Alberta. I’ve played with most of them for a long time. They’re like sisters to me and I couldn’t think of anyone that I would want to share the Team Alberta experience with. If they weren’t there, I would not have gone. That would have been a shame.

There is a lot of individual talent on the Calgary Rage and it was awesome to see us come together with the girls in Edmonton, Grande Prairie, and Lethbridge. Team Alberta came into the tournament under the radar and I think we caught a lot of people off guard with how well we played. If anyone doubted the talent in Alberta, I don’t think they do now.”

Having experienced WWCFL football from both sides of its configuration, the Prairie and Western conferences, the chance to elevate her game was a point of pride for Robyn Tarrant. While Alberta is her second home, having grown up in Manitoba, the feeling of respect for her Rage teammates places Alberta first in her heart.

Robyn Tarrant (Candice Ward Photography)

Considering that Team Alberta was assembled rather quickly, the ability for the team to develop quick chemistry was a reflection of how the camaraderie is at the core of football. The presence of camaraderie quickly translated into fun for Tarrant, an element that may define the inaugural season for several Rage rookies in 2017,

“Playing on Team Alberta was an incredible experience and one of the highlights of my life thus far. To be able to play alongside players I respect and admire was amazing, especially the way we were able to come together in such a short time. I liken the experience to summer camp, and I think the friends we made that weekend will last a long time.

Since starting tackle football in Winnipeg five years ago and watching some players play on Team Manitoba and Team Canada, which had always been a goal of mine. Seeing the level of talent Canada has to offer was humbling, but also really great to see.”

Of note, Tarrant was not the only transplanted Albertan on this roster. Stuppard shares her own experience. Originally from British Columbia, it was the gridiron game that made the transition from the Pacific to the Prairies such an enjoyable one.

Venessa Stuppard (Candice Ward Photography)

“It was the first time that I’ve ever identified as an Albertan. I was born and raised in British Columbia and moved to Alberta in 2008 like so many others. Football has bonded me to Alberta. That’s why the opportunity to come together and play with women from across the province was such a special thing. We only had two practices together before the tournament, but we quickly came together as a team.

The coaches set a great tone with solid structure and effective playbooks and the players did whatever was asked of them. It was probably the best team that I have ever played for and I only wish that we had a little more time together. It was heartbreaking to say good bye to everyone when our bus arrived back in Calgary knowing that we would only ever play two games together. In the end, it was my teammates and coaches that incredibly proud to wear the Team Alberta jersey.”

Emerging from the event with a bronze medal, it was a remarkable example of how anything in the game is possible, definitely a strong learning point for the club’s new faces. Of course, every player has their own perspective on the bronze although the one common thread may stem from the fact that it is a prized milestone in each of their careers.

Each perspective also brings with it an example of why the game continues to experience tremendous momentum throughout Alberta and the rest of Prairie Canada, positive lessons for new players to learn from and absorb. Able to experience a podium finish in her debut at Nationals, Delong was beaming,

“If smiles could talk! I am so proud of team Alberta for winning Bronze in the tournament. It is a first ever placing for Team Alberta’s women in football. We are showing that women in Alberta are football ready and willing.

Determination is driving our province of amazing women into showing what we have and using our talents to build an amazing team together, to move forward and win metals. We want the momentum to continue, and help drive our team to be National Champions.”

Quinney’s discussion of the bronze medal brings with it personal connotations, symbolizing her growth as an athlete, a person and as a leader. The bronze definitely adds an amazing luster to her gridiron odyssey, one that is certainly well-deserved. One of the team’s true success stories, Quinney’s experience is one that will certainly provide the rookies on this year’s edition of the Rage with inspiring confidence,

“Personally, it’s not just about the bronze medal; it’s about everything that has happened up to that point. Honestly, if you told me five years ago that I would have played women’s tackle football on Team Alberta in the Nationals; I would have laughed REALLY hard.

For me, this bronze medal tells me how much personal growth I’ve gone through the past five years. It reminds me what happens when you keep pushing yourself and going through with things despite crippling fear and anxiety. Football was a huge leap out of my comfort zone and is filled with endless challenges and I’m so thankful I’ve stuck with it.”

As Tarrant reflects on this treasured milestone, the essence of teamwork quickly rose to the surface. Taking into account that the WWCFL championship was captured by a Prairie Conference team in 2016, it meant that each Western Conference team endured a loss to end their season. Being able to finish the season with a medal at Nationals not only provided Team Alberta with the label “Redeem Team”, it provided the most important message that the efforts of these women brings with it great optimism for the future of both Rage football and football in Alberta,

“The bronze medal game was one of those once in a lifetime experiences – playing under the lights at Mosaic Stadium, our team really came together. As a defense, the scheme really came together and our offense moved the ball well.

On a personal level, I felt like I had one of my best games, so I was happy with my performance. As our head coach reminded us – we all lost the last game of the season on our respected teams, so it was a fantastic feeling to end each of our 2016 football seasons on a great win, and a huge step forward for football in Alberta. I’m excited to see what the future holds.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credits: Candice Ward Photography

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