One team. One mission.
Get used to hearing that as the U.S. Women’s National Football team prepares for its quest to repeat as champions of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Women’s World Championship this summer in Vantaa, Finland.
The team, led by Chicago Force head coach John Konecki of Schererville, Ind., conducted its three-day, full-contact National Team Trials this past weekend in Austin, Texas, as part of the International Bowl festivities.
The sun broke out Saturday afternoon for the second practice after misty conditions in the morning. Not that these athletes needed any extra encouragement as they chase their dream.
More than 175 players from across the country traveled to Austin in hopes of making the team.
Throughout practices, “one team, one mission” echoed throughout the stadium as coaches stressed the importance of team unity.
USA Women’s Football is the team. Winning the gold medal is the mission.
Playing as a team is the key if the U.S. wants to go back-to-back, Konecki said.
“When you put the USA emblem on, you’re representing America,” Konecki said. “As defending champs, we have to bring more to the table than in 2010. Everyone else is going to be targeting us.”
Konecki’s experience as a coach will serve him well as the team gets ready for the summer games. Along with leading the Chicago Force, he was the head coach when the U.S. won gold in 2010.
He has coached some of these players before, including some who played in 2010 and others who are representing the Force.
This weekend served as more than just a tryout. As the only time Konecki and his staff will meet with the players before training camp, he needs to be sure they know what to do.
Sami Grisafe of Evanston, Ill., and quarterback for the Force, knows Konecki as well as anyone. She intended to make the most out of her time with the team.
“It is wonderful being here and an honor to be playing with great women,” Grisafe said.
Grisafe has spent the last six years playing for Konecki with the Force and hopes to play for him in Finland.
“I’m excited for Coach to be out there coaching this team. He is a really good coach and deserves to be here,” she said.
The U.S. Women’s roster will be announced in February.
IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE USA Football Events Manager Frank Priami complemented the women as they huddled for the final time Sunday, thanking them for their time, their effort and their passion for the sport.
“This is one of the greatest events I’ve ever been a part of,” Priami said. “These women not only can play the game fantastically well, they are impressive as individuals. I told them that they remind me of 9- and 10-year-old kids in terms of how much they obviously love to play the game, but they bring the maturity of adults. They all impressed me.”
GETTING THE HANG OF IT Outside linebacker Anna Sanford of Vista, Calif., is relatively new to football, having only played the sport for the past two years. She got into football after talking to a friend at the gym.
“A girl came up to me at the gym and asked me if I wanted to give it a try, and I said why not,” Sanford said. “If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it big.”
Sanford said getting off blocks and defending passes are two areas where she can improve on most.
INJURY BUG The padded, full-contact camp led to a few bumps and bruises for the athletes as competition for roster spots was heavy. One woman suffered a back injury that needed ice.
A key component of keeping healthy was staying hydrated, which was encouraged by the camp staff through frequent water breaks. One player compared putting water in her body to “money in the bank.”
NO VACATION Coaches weren’t shy about letting the women know where they needed to get better. Bad snaps are often the result of mental lapses, and following a string of errant snaps during a running back drill, one coach brought the players back into focus.
“As the center, your only job is to hike the ball,” he said.
Execution quickly improved from there.
Photo by Mario Cantu