Sara Gray a sensational star for competitive Capital Area Lady Gladiators

Among the star players on one of the MWFL’s signature franchises, Sara Gray combines heart, skill and leadership for a perpetually competitive Capital Area (Fredericton) Lady Gladiators squad. Having crafted a sensational run in five stellar seasons, Gray embodies what is great about Lady Glads football.

Gaining MWFL All-Star nods on frequent occasions, it is more than an affirmation of Gray’s star status. Bringing great versatility to the gridiron at both the linebacker and running positions, it signifies her transformation into a strong leader with great character, providing the team’s younger players with an admirable mentor.

Prior to gracing the gridiron, Gray certainly possessed a remarkable athletic pedigree. Akin to so many other women currently in football, Gray’s background involved rugby. Competing on the pitch for over a decade, another prominent Lady Glads player with a rugby background includes Olivia DeMarchant, who both played together for Team New Brunswick at the 2016 Canadian women’s nationals.

With other athletic endeavors that included basketball, soccer and softball, it was inevitable that Gray would eventually add football to such a sensational body of work. Considering that Kristen (Shot) Chatterton, a veteran of Canada’s national women’s football team, had grown up with Gray, their friendship would eventually serve as the catalyst for further glories.

“Kristen Chatterton and I have been friends and played many sports together since we were in school. When she played for the Vipers in Moncton she would beg me to come play and I always told her that if she moved to Fredericton that I would do the hour commute from Woodstock and come play with her for at least one season. I was always hesitant because I played rugby for so long and was not sure I would enjoy football but after my first season in 2013 I was hooked.”

Kris Chatterton (left) and Sara Gray hold the Judy Upward Trophy after winning the 2013 MWFL championship (Image obtained from Facebook)

Among the hallmarks in the earlier facets of Gray’s football career were highlighted by hoisting the Judy Upward Trophy, awarded to the MWFL champions, along with the chance to be part of a pioneering event. Having participated in the Women’s World Football Games (WWFG), conceived by former Montreal Blitz quarterback Samantha Rapoport, Gray was part of an empowering group of pioneering Canadian women looking to shape their destiny in the game.

Throughout the years, other Canadians that have participated at the WWFG included Lady Glads teammates Alex Black and Chatterton, along with WWCFL stars such as Carly Dyck, Lisa Gomes and Jaime Lammerding, among others. In reflecting on the WWFG experience, it was one of those turning points that helped transform Gray into a stronger performer, improving her attention to detail and ability to excel in high pressure situations.

“The Women’s World Football Games definitely helped improve my skill set as a linebacker and increased my love of the game. I wouldn’t necessarily say it made me more of a leader. Many of the teams I have played on over various sports, I have ended up in a leadership role although I don’t always feel I deserve to be. I just do what comes naturally and try to help my teammates any way I can.”

Bringing an assiduous approach to the game with a profound appreciation for the effort involved, Gray’s ascension to star status truly reached a new apex in 2016. Having earned a reputation as a hardworking and gracious individual, Gray was more than just one of the cornerstones for a sensational Team New Brunswick roster that competed at the 2016 Canadian women’s national championships.

Gray in action with Team New Brunswick at the 2016 Canadian women’s nationals. Tackling a member of Team Saskatchewan in preliminary round action (Credit: Living Light Photography)

Bestowed the honor of being named one of the team captains, it was testament to Gray’s work ethic and spectacular presence that motivated others to be better athletes. Although Gray is humble about such a milestone, recognizing that she was only in her fourth year of competitive football, qualities like character and leadership can never be hidden, regardless of one’s experiences.

“It felt pretty awesome being named a captain considering I had only been a part of the league for four seasons at the time.”

Throughout her seasons of MWFL football, the evolution of her career has also consisted of a philosophical approach. Observing the process of a season of MWFL football, from its initial germination in the preseason, to its growth during the regular season, achieving bloom in the playoffs, it is part of an all-encompassing experience that Gray absorbs with particular interest. Observing how the team progresses from those early days in preseason, gradually progressing with each games, she finds a tremendous sense of pride in the ability of the younger players develop into more effective players, watching their confidence improve. It is part of a process that envelops what Gray enjoys most about being part of the Lady Glads,

“I love watching the team progress as we move through preseason training into our actual season each year. It is not just about watching rookies develop the skills but watching second and even third year players come back more skilled than they were at the end of the previous year.”

Since her inaugural season with the Lady Glads, Gray has enjoyed the strong sense of family that has defined the team culture. With five seasons to her credit, Gray undoubtedly holds a veteran presence that embodies the team’s fighting spirit, while setting a positive example, testament to her strong sense of responsibility.

“The relationships that develop and grow each year between teammates, (plus) teammates and coaches is amazing. The Lady Glads are truly a family who care for each other. We do not always get along perfectly but we all stand by each other no matter what. Each player and coach is driven to succeed in more than a personal way. It’s about succeeding for each member of the team around you.”

While the prestige of the Judy Upward Trophy shall always represent a tremendous achievement for Gray, her finest hour was truly the 2017 MWFL playoffs. Standing out as the proudest moment of her famed MWFL career, it affirmed her status as a prime time player, while adding another exciting chapter to team lore.

As the opening round of the postseason was perceived as a possible transition in the league’s balance of power, one in which the continuous progression of the Halifax Xplosion saw the club start to come of age by defeating the Lady Glads in the regular season finale, Gray found her team in the unenviable role of descending into a downward spiral.

Compounding the club’s woes was the fact that legendary players Black and Chatterton were unavailable to play due to their commitments with Canada’s entry at the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vancouver. With an Amazonian-like team effort defining the postseason clash with the Xplosion, it was the kind of contest that helped cement Gray’s legacy in Lady Glads lore.

“Winning the title as a rookie in 2013 is easily one of my proudest moments. This past season as a whole tops that. The Lady Glads were an underdog going into playoffs against Halifax. We had just lost to them the week before and it was a huge blow to our confidence.

Add that to Alex Black and Kristen Chatterton leaving for Worlds the same day as playoffs and being unable to play and I do not feel many people thought we could win that game. We went in with minimum players against a team with a huge roster and so many of us were out on the field playing both ways.

We knew the game was going to be tough and Halifax’ very first offensive series of the game put them into scoring position, but our defense rallied and stopped it. So much of the game was spent trying to protect and add to our 7-0 lead that we achieved in the first half.”

Such momentum continued for the Lady Glads, as they advanced to the MWFL championship game (known affectionately as the SupHer Bowl) to challenge the dynastic Saint John Storm. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the powerhouse club, renewed with confidence from defeating Halifax in an underdog scenario, the Lady Glads nearly capped off a Cinderella postseason with the win.

As Saint John narrowly escaped with victory by the slimmest of margins, merely one point, the Lady Glads earned the respect of many in the Canadian football community. Displaying tremendous heart, ensuring that any victory by their rivals would be hard-earned, it was the kind of effort that made Gray proud to play.

“It was such an intense game to play in, it was the kind of game that will ether make or break you and as a team we refused to let it break us. Even though we ended up losing to Saint John in the finals by one point, this past season will always be one of the proudest of my career because I got to be a part of a team that refused to give up and fall apart when the odds were stacked against us.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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