Sunday, 15 May 2016

Valkyries look good, can be even better

Julene Friesen (#14) tears down field for the Valkyries.
    The Saskatoon Valkyries look good, but they have the potential to be better.
    That might be a scary observation to make considering the local Western Women’s Canadian Football League team thumped the Winnipeg based Manitoba Fearless 61-1 on Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. With the win, the Valkyries improved to 2-0 in regular season play and 3-0 overall.
    With 27 first-year players on their roster, the Valkyries are expected to go through some growing pains. During their three solid wins, the growing pains are evident, but it has to be noted that improvement is also visible.
    Saskatoon needs that improvement to continue with two big head-to-head clashes looming with their biggest rivals in the defending league champion Regina Riot. The Riot also sport a 2-0 regular season record and a 3-0 overall mark. They have been dominant in their three outings, which included dumping the Winnipeg Wolfpack 47-0 on Sunday in Regina.
    With their respective 2-0 regular season starts, the Valkyries and Riot will host Prairie Conference semifinal playoff games on June 12. Their regular season ending home-and-home series will determine which side will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs in the Prairie Conference. The Valkyries host the Riot this coming Sunday at 7 p.m. at SMF Field, and the Riot host the Valkyries on May 28 at 7 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium.
Valkyries DL Jaime Lammerding forces a fumble.
    In the win over the Fearless, the Valkyries were impressive offensively, when it came to running the ball. Saskatoon piled up 330 yards on the ground using five different running backs. Each player had strong games running behind an always powerful Valkyries offensive line.
    Veteran Julene Friesen ran the ball for 89 yards on 10 carries, and she scored the game’s opening touchdown on a nine yard scamper. Fellow veteran Samantha Matheson ran for 79 yards on five carries and ran in her squad’s second major slashing through the middle of the Fearless defence on a 31-yard run.
    Rookie Kendal Matheson showed she can run like her older sister, Samantha, and piled up 68 yards on five carries. The younger Matheson ran in a major from 37 yards out in the fourth quarter.
    Fellow first-year runners Tyra Tkachuk and Ricki Obed both had their strong moments as well. Tkachuk had 52 yards on six carries, while Obed had 26 yards on three carries.
Stacey Boldt hauls in a TD grab for the Valkyries.
    Saskatoon’s passing game did look a bit disjointed due to the fact some players in that area have moved around. In hopes of getting more production out of the passing game over the long term, the Valkyries moved last year’s starting quarterback Stacey Boldt back to receiver.
    At quarterback, the Valkyries are using a tandem of two youngsters in rookie Alex Eyolfson and sophomore Reed Thorstad in fashion similar to the way the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders utilized John Hufnagel and Joe Barnes way back in 1981.
    Eyolfson played the first and fourth quarters completing four of five passes for 85 yards. She scrambled for a four-yard rushing major late in the first quarter.
    In the fourth quarter, Eyolfson hit rookie receiver and former University of North Dakota hockey standout Alyssa Wiebe for a 45-yard touchdown pass reception off an intermediate out route. Eyolfson later found Boldt on a shot eight-yard middle pass for a second throwing major.
    Thorstad called signals in the second and third quarters and completed one of seven passes. She was also intercepted by Fearless defensive back Marissa Milani deep on the Manitoba side of the field.
    The Valkyries passing game will smooth out with more repetitions in practice and games as the season moves on. Saskatoon’s passing game will receive another big boost, when veteran receiver Marci Kiselyk returns from injury.
    On defence, the Valkryies limited the Fearless to 68 net yards. In the second quarter, defensive back Shaylyn DeJong returned an interception 47 yards for a major score, while teammate Kelsey Dick had a pick-six of her own from 45 yards out late in that same frame.
Kendal Matheson (#25) runs in a touchdown for the Valyries.
    DeJong and sophomore linebacker Kathleen Kent topped the Valkyries with three tackles each.
    Carly Dyck kicked a 25-yard field goal and the Fearless conceded a safety to round out Saskatoon’s scoring. Fearless kicker Sara Milani accounted for her side’s only point on a 16-yard missed field goal.
    Going forward, the Valkryies will really see where they are at, when they face the Riot. Regina returns star quarterback Aimee Kowalski and star running back Carmen Agar along with sure-handed receivers Amanda Hungle, Claire Dore and Alex Kowalski. The Riot’s defence will be tough.
    Both teams have pushed each other to be better over the history of the WWCFL dating back to 2011. These two upcoming clashes should prove to be no different.

Samantha Matheson in the Express

Valkyries RB Samantha Matheson powers her way through Fearless tacklers.
    I recently caught up with Valkyries running back Samantha Matheson for a feature in the Saskatoon Express.
    In last year’s Prairie Conference final at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Matheson had a game for the ages running for 159 yards on 14 carries and scoring four touchdowns. She helped the Valkyries rally from a 28-7 deficit to the host Riot to take a late 29-28 fourth quarter lead. The Riot took the clash 31-29 on a last second field goal.
    Matheson was going to walk away from football after playing through the 2015 campaign with nagging injuries to her knees. Over the off-season, her knees healed up to the point she decided to return for her third season. Her story can be found right here.

Roller derby in the Express

Action at a recent Saskatoon Roller Derby League practice.
    I had a busy week with the Saskatoon Express.
    Besides the story on Matheson, I also wrote a feature on the Saskatoon Roller Derby League. Since forming in 2007, Roller Derby is moving from a social function into a more serious sport.
    The Saskatoon league hosted its first-ever tournament on Saturday and Sunday at the Legends Centre in Warman billed as the “Attack of the 8-Wheeled Woman.”
    Veteran skaters Mel "Forna Skate" Langeler and Laurel "Bella Von Bastard" Turner talk about their experiences with the local league and the sport. 
    The feature on the league can be found here.

Rush fever to hit new heights

A Rush display at the Saskatoon airport.
    If you thought people in Saskatoon and area were crazy over the Saskatchewan Rush before, you likely ain’t seen nothing yet.
    On Saturday in Calgary, the Rush claimed Game 1 of the National Lacrosse League’s West Division final 16-10 against the host Roughnecks. Game 2 is slated for this coming Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre. In necessary, a series deciding 10-minute mini game will be held right after Game 2.
    The Rush played in front of crowds of over 10,000 people in each of their last six home dates. They drew 15,027 spectators to their last home contest back on April 16, which was an 11-8 victory over the Colorado Mammoth. One has to wonder if the Rush will be able to sneak in a few extra bodies into the SaskTel Centre past the fire marshal this coming Saturday in order to eclipse the attendance mark from the Mammoth game.
    The atmosphere at all nine regular season home games for the Rush has been raucous to say the least. Their merchandise is being worn by fans all over “the Bridge City.”
    “Rush Fever” will likely reach new heights this Saturday. There might even be tailgating in the parking lot with the warm weather. Getting to the SaskTel Centre early definitely seems like a must.

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