Friday, 29 May 2015

Valkyries' Friesen finds new appreciation for football

Julene Friesen (#14) charges to the end zone after catching a pass.
    When Julene Friesen stopped trying to prove herself, she gained a lot more joy out of playing tackle football.
    After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan Huskies track and field team in 2013, Friesen wanted to try something completely new and joined the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League. Having experienced a lot of success as a middle distance sprinter for the Huskies, Friesen was driven to prove she belonged with the Valkyries.
    As rookie running back on a team that had won the first two WWCFL titles, Friesen was frustrated at times with the growing pains she endured.
    “It was something completely new, and I wasn’t feeling much success at the start,” said Friesen, who stands 5-foot-5. “I was so used to individual sports and having all the pressure on me that it took me awhile to realize that I can have teammates block for me.
    “When I screwed up, a lot of times it is so many other things that went wrong too. It is never just one player. I learned to love it.”
    By the end of the 2013 campaign, Friesen had helped the Valkyries win a third straight WWCFL title. She took 2014 off from playing tackle football, because she wanted to try her hand at beach volleyball and running 30-kilometre races. At the U of S, the distances Friesen ran were a lot shorter being commonly between 400 and 800 metres.
    While the former track star stepped away from football, Friesen’s confidence did grow as her first campaign progressed with the Valkyries. She rejoined the team this season with a new appreciation for the sport.
Julene Friesen (#14) celebrates a TD with Marci Kiselyk.
    “I knew what I was getting into this time around,” said Friesen. “It has been a good transition back into football. I have really enjoyed it.”
    In high school, Friesen played touch and flag football. Her biggest influence in helping her improve her skills then was physical education teacher Darla Lee-Walde. Friesen and Lee-Walde were Valkyries teammates in 2013.
    Growing up, Friesen saw the contact version of the sport from the stands on a frequent basis, because her older brother Mitch played. Mitch would go on to suit up with the Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League and the Huskies football team.
    Julene’s interest in tackle football also grew due to the fact her boyfriend is Kit Hillis, who played for the Hilltops and is the Huskies all-time leader in career receptions. Hillis exhausted his eligibility with the Huskies last season.
    As a member of the Huskies track and field team, Julene wasn’t allowed to play tackle football, because her U of S track coaches were concerned about her getting injured. Friesen joined the Valkyries about a month after she graduated from the Huskies track program, and she also learned playing tackle football wasn’t like the touch and flag versions of the sport.
    “It is just a totally different game,” she said. “I love how complex it is. It is just a total team sport.”
    Friesen’s confidence showed in the Valkyrie first two games this season. In a 75-0 romp over the Winnipeg Wolfpack on May 10 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, Friesen scored touchdowns on runs of 46, 62 and 17 yards and hauled in another major on a 55-yard pass play.
    On May 17 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Friesen had a big performance against the host Riot. Down 16-8, the Valkyries rallied for a 28-19 victory, and Friesen accounted for the last two Saskatoon touchdowns coming off a 13-yard outlet pass and a tough eight-yard run.
    “She is a very explosive player and is extremely fast,” said Valkyries head coach Jeff Yausie. “She plays with an attitude and a bit of a temper, which is a good thing as long as you can control it. She is a special player in how she runs.”
Julene Friesen charges through the line for the Valkyries.
    Friesen was pleased with how her team performed and how she played in a very physical contest against the rival Riot.
    “The whole game just felt like a battle, and it was so fun to be in a game rather than feeling so far ahead that it didn’t even really feel like a competition,” said Friesen, who works as a teacher in Langham. “I had a lot of fun, but it was definitely challenging.
    “By the end in the third and fourth quarters, I felt so beat up I was running on fumes. It was honestly the help of my teammates just pulling me through and encouraging me and the coaches being so encouraging.
    The Valkyries have won all four WWCFL titles that have been handed out dating back to 2011, but the Riot have always provided a good test. Saskatoon’s only loss in franchise history came on May 12, 2013 against the Riot in Regina by a 15-7 score.
    The Valkyries (2-0) and the Riot (1-1) face each other again on Saturday (7 p.m., SMF Field).
    Friesen expects to keep playing for the Valkyries in future seasons, but in the present, she gets pumped up for games against teams like the Riot and is looking forward to Saturday’s clash.
    “It is going to be unreal,” said Friesen. “I can’t wait to play them at home with our crowd behind us.
    “I hope everybody is healthy. I know we got pretty banged up last game. I think come game time we will be ready to go, and we will have so much adrenaline that we will be fine.”

Boldt shines as Valkyries signal caller

Stacey Boldt gets set to unload a throw for the Valkyries.
    Besides talking to Friesen, I also caught up with new Valkyries starting quarterback Stacey Boldt.
    A third-year member of the team, Boldt had big shoes to fill as the starting signal caller, because she followed in the steps of Candace Bloomquist, who led Saskatoon to its four straight league titles as the starting quarterback.
    My story on Boldt appears in this week’s edition of the Saskatoon Express, which can be found by clicking right here.
    I appreciate the fact that editor Cam Hutchinson contacts me to write for the Express on a fairly regular basis. The staff there is outstanding to work with, and I recommend that readers check out the rest of the stories and columns in the weekly Express publication as well.

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