Superstars from WWCFL’s Western Conference clubs shine in Vancouver

As the decade has represented the formative years for the game in Canada, a remarkable contribution for such an unforgettable era involves the empowering women from Alberta. Over the course of the last year, a tremendous triptych of women such as Tanya Henderson, Wendy Iwaasa and Alicia Wilson have helped shape Alberta’s presence on the national female football landscape, part of a fascinating tapestry of world-class talent.

(L-R) Iwaasa, Wilson and Henderson donning Canada’s colors. (Wilson image obtained from Facebook, Other images by Diz Ruptive Photography)

Among the three franchises in the WWCFL’s Western Conference, the Calgary Rage, Edmonton Storm and Lethbridge Steel, were all proudly represented on Canada’s entry at the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vancouver, BC. With the exception of Prairie neighbour Saskatchewan, no region in Canada may be as embedded to the female game as the province of Alberta.

Enjoying a historic podium finish at the 2016 Canadian championships, defeating New Brunswick in the bronze medal game, the result was many of the players from Alberta’s roster graduated to the national team roster. Gaining the historic privilege of competing on home soil, it only built to the momentum of such a landmark moment for the program’s proud gridiron lore.

Tanya Henderson being interviewed as a member of the Edmonton Storm (Photo credit: Kay Sims)

Destined to be a fixture on Team Canada’s roster in the years to follow, Tanya Henderson has assembled a captivating body of work. Told as a teenager that she could not play tackle football with the boys, it was only motivation to pursue her gridiron dreams further.

Remaining active in sports, Henderson’s persistence would pay off, helping change cultural convention while inspiring many young women to not give up on their own sporting aspirations. Establishing herself as the Edmonton Storm’s premier defensive stalwart, her gridiron resume has been highlighted by numerous honors as the team’s Defensive Player of the Year. Adding luster to such an amazing run on the gridiron was the fact that she made her mark at the 2016 Canadian women’s nationals, garnering a spot on the Tournament All-Star team.

Employing precision and focus, while systematically destroying opposing offenses, Henderson is working tirelessly towards transforming the Storm into an elite club prepared to capture an elusive championship. Since first gracing the gridiron, an admiration for Henderson’s ambition has involved her dream of donning Team Canada’s colors.

In action for Team Alberta at the 2016 Canadian Nationals (Photo credit: Living Light Fine Art Photography)

Having devoted so many seasons with a combination of acumen and alacrity, the chance to reach such a vaunted peak is testament to Henderson’s dedication. In getting the opportunity to compete as a member of the offensive line for the Canadian contingent, making her gridiron dreams come true, her reflections on that emotionally captivating first day in Vancouver, with the number 67 adorning her jersey, supplied her with a lifetime of fond memories,

“It felt pretty surreal. Wearing that jersey was what I had set out to do the day I found out about women’s football. It was always my goal. So it was a huge sense of accomplishment.

Stepping out on the field was magical. Knowing you are part of something bigger and that you have the opportunity to be such a role model to younger players is a feeling that is irreplaceable.”

Part of a sensational season with the Calgary Rage, the eternal rivals of the Edmonton Storm, 2017 has truly encompassed the meaning of a “dream season” for wide receiver Alicia Wilson. Among the Rage’s multi-sport stars, a former varsity basketball player for the University of Calgary Dinos, she is also an active competitor in rodeo. Wilson was essential in contributing towards the red and black attack capturing their first-ever Western Conference championship.

After the jubilation of a bronze medal in 2016, Wilson’s efforts during the 2017 WWCFL season were part of a much richer narrative, one where the Rage’s ascension to championship contender marked a monumental milestone in the city’s growing history of elite female sport. Considering that Wilson was once an All-Star Quarterback as a teenager in the CYFFL, the opportunity to compete on the game’s biggest stage represents an amazing gridiron evolution that is destined to be part of her sporting legend.

In warm-ups with the Calgary Rage (Photo credit: Candice Ward)

Currently a member of the Calgary Police Service (as a side note, Team Canada member Brigitte O’Driscoll is a firefigther in Montreal), Wilson also made her mark on the hardcourt. During her university years, Wilson competed in varsity basketball with Calgary’s Mount Royal College, before transferring to the University of Saskatchewan.

Spending her final two seasons of Canadian Interuniversity Sport basketball with the Huskies, Wilson’s brilliance was evident. Joining the program in 2008-09, she proved to be an impact player with the Huskies, amassing 364 points and 211 rebounds in conference play. Rising to the occasion in her final season of 2009-10, Wilson was a key contributor to the Huskies capturing the bronze medal. Coincidentally, Rage teammate (and fellow Team Canada member) Becky Heninger was a hardcourt rival during those formative years, competing with the Lethbridge Pronghorns.

Alicia Wilson in the Team Alberta colors (Photo credit: Candice Ward)

Building on such historic momentum with the Rage and Team Alberta, Wilson enjoyed the opportunity to be part of Canada’s roster, wearing number 85 on her Canadian jersey, amassing a pair of honored achievements in the same season. Joined by Rage teammates including quarterback Becky Heninger, it allowed Wilson a shared milestone, one that affirmed her status as one the game’s elites, simultaneously validating years of sweat and sacrifice. An added bonus was the fact that Wilson gained the honor of representing Canada in world class competition during its 150th anniversary year.

“Playing for Team Canada was one of the best sports experiences I have ever had. Being selected to represent our country was truly a humbling moment. This was a huge accomplishment for my teammates, coaches and myself and I will forever have a feeling of pride. I am blessed and feel so proud to be Canadian!

Getting to share my experience with my team and coaches at home has also been nothing short of amazing! They have been my biggest supporters and I wouldn’t have made it there without them! Go Rage”

Despite being the lone member of the Lethbridge Steel that graced the gridiron for Canada, Wendy Celine Iwaasa, a defensive lineman and receiver for the club, felt a strong sense of local pride. Although such privilege may have been a burden at times, the reality is that Iwaasa, penciled in at Defensive End for Canada, made her team and her community proud, making her mark in team lore while adding to the Steel’s sensational legacy of great football and the greater women who have helped pioneer this exciting time. Statistically, she would log 1.5 tackles for Canada in the 35-0 blanking of Great Britain that assured the team its third straight spot in the gold medal game.

“Being the only representation from the Lethbridge Steel was intimidating. It was not just the Steel I was representing, it was the amazing city of Lethbridge as well. I just hope that I made my coaches and teammates proud. It was very important to me to bring more awareness to women’s football in our community. To keep our club active. It would be fabulous in 4 years to have more representation on TC.”

In reality, Iwaasa was not the only member of the Steel on Canada’s roster. Of note, Heninger was a former quarterback with the silver and purple, bestowed the honor of Team MVP during her treasured time there. In addition, Carly Dyck, Canada’s placekicker is another Steel alumnae, having kicked the longest field goal in club history. Currently calling the Saskatoon Valkyries her club team, Dyck participated in the WWCFL championship with the Steel when she donned their colors.

Iwaasa carrying the ball for the Steel against the Calgary Rage (Photo credit: Candice Ward)

For all of these strong women, past and present Steel members, to share in this milestone together represented a significant element of team lore. Part of the chance to make history, part of Canada’s first-ever roster that competed on home soil in the IFAF Women’s Worlds, it was an opportunity for friendship and mutual respect to complement the strong sense of national pride. Surrounded by loving family, plus numerous WWCFL teammates who made the admirable trek to Vancouver, the sense of encouragement and national pride added new meaning to the essence of teamwork,

“It was extremely special to debut on Canadian soil. For being my first time, it was wonderful to have family and friends able to travel and watch me play. I believe that being able to share this honour with them was truly amazing.”

In action with Team Alberta at the 2016 Canadian women’s nationals (Credit: Living Light Photography)

Reflecting on her favorite moment in Vancouver, Henderson noted many significant elements. Absorbing all aspects of being part of this historic team, from the earliest days of training camp, to the opening kickoff, it was part of an empowering tapestry that added a new chapter to sporting Canadiana.

Perhaps the most endearing element of this fascinating football experience was the chance to be part of one of the most historic moments in the history of the IFAF Worlds. As Henderson recalls, kicker Carly Dyck (who opposed each other as the Storm and Valkyries competed in the 2017 WWCFL consolation final), kicked the first points of the gold medal game, signifying the first time that the US were behind in a gold medal game,

“There was plenty of highlights. I loved every part of the training camp and event. I would definitely say the highlight was being the first to score in the gold medal game. Something no other team as done.

Even though we walked away with silver, that game truly showed that the gap in play is starting to close. Team Canada is developing into a true powerhouse and I am so happy to be a part of that.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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