Thursday, 16 June 2016

Valkyries motivated by Riot victories

Rivals battle for a sixth straight year in WWCFL Prairie final

Valkyries DB Tori Giles (#3) collides with Riot receiver Amanda Hungle.
    Head coach Jeff Yausie believes his Saskatoon Valkyries found extra motivation in a defeat, but he wasn’t talking about his team’s playoff loss a year ago.
    Last year, the Valkyries saw their season and a drive to win five straight Western Women’s Canadian Football League titles come to an end due to a 31-29 setback to the Regina Riot in the WWCFL Prairie Conference final at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. The Riot moved on to thump the Edmonton Storm 53-6 in the WWCFL title game in Winnipeg.
    Before that playoff loss to the Riot, the Valkyries were humbled 49-9 by the Riot in a regular season encounter on May 30, 2016 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. That result still holds up as the most lopsided the loss the Valkyries suffered in their history.
    “Last year when they kicked our butts here in Saskatoon, we knew we needed to toughen up and practice harder and be able to match their physical intensity and toughness,” said Yausie. “We changed our practices.
Riot RB Celeste Schnell powers through the Valkyries.
    “We hit more. We practice harder. We practice longer. That has been our focus is to match their physicality this year.”
    On Sunday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, these two rivals will battle for a sixth straight year in the Prairie Conference final. Both Saskatoon and Regina were 3-1 in regular season play and split their two head-to-head meetings. The Valkyries took first place in the conference having outscored the Riot 73-48 in their two encounters.
    The rivalry between the Valkyries and Riot is the best one in the WWCFL and is developing into one of the top ones between teams from Saskatoon and Regina.
    Valkyries defensive lineman Jaime Lammerding, who has been with the team since its inception in 2011, said games with the Riot are definitely the hardest hitting ones.
    “The other teams have some big girls, but Regina just brings it like to a different level,” said Lammerding. “I think that is Saskatchewan football.
    “They come hard every play, and you have to come hard back at them.”
    Rookie receiver Alyssa Wiebe said she noticed the pace picked up when the Valkyries faced the Riot compared to other opponents. In the fourth quarter of a 27-26 Riot victory on May 28 in Regina, Wiebe was slammed hard to the turf on one play, which she described as getting “absolutely killed.”
    “You have to have your head up at all times and on a swivel,” said Wiebe, who was a former standout forward with the University of North Dakota women’s hockey team. “If the ball is coming your way, there is a good chance you’re getting popped.
Valkyries RB Kendal Matheson (#25) is high tackled by a Riot defender.
    “You look for the ball, hold on and try and make a play. They are aggressive, and they can hit.”
    For the Valkyries returning veterans, the sting of last season’s playoff loss to the Riot still lingers, which adds another dimension to Sunday’s contest.
    “Everybody who was around last year still has that like lost it and we want it back kind of feeling,” said Lammerding. “We lost it just so close by the skin of our teeth.
    “We want to go back and take if from them. It (the playoff loss) doesn’t get any better. I’ve tried a lot of different ways. It doesn’t get any better.”
    Both teams are loaded with game breakers offensively. The Valkyries have rotated rookie Alex Eyolfson and sophomore Reed Thorstad at quarterback, and Wiebe and fellow receivers Carly Dyck, Stacey Boldt and Marci Kiselyk have made key plays downfield. Running backs Julene Friesen and Samantha Matheson have anchored Saskatoon’s ground game.
Quarterback Aimee Kowalski (#22) unloads a pass for the Riot.
    Riot star quarterback Aimee Kowalski has a strong and accurate arm, and she will take off and run with the ball when the opportunity calls. Receivers Amanda Hungle, Claire Dore and Alex Kowalski can all make big plays at any time. Star running back Carmen Agar is the workhorse on the ground, but the Riot have also been received strong contributions from power runner Celeste Schnell.
    While Wiebe is going through the WWCFL playoffs for the first time, she is used to a single-elimination scenario due to her experience playing National Collegiate Athletic Association’s hockey post-season. She knows how important it is to peak in do-or-die playoff battles.
    “These are the most fun games,” said Wiebe. “Everything is on the line for both teams.
Valkyries RB Samantha Matheson (#22) has had big games versus the Riot.
    “You both want it bad. I’ve been in this situation with hockey before, and sometimes came out on top and sometimes on the bottom. I know what both feel like.
    “I am hoping to come out on top on Sunday.”
    The WWCFL’s Western Conference final is set for Saturday in Edmonton between the host Storm and the Lethbridge Steel.
    The conference final winners play in the WWCFL championship game on June 25 in Lethbridge.

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