|The Rage defensive line gets set.|
In 2017, the Calgary Rage have gone to places they have never gone before, and they don’t want to stop just yet.
The Rage had by far their most successful campaign in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League posting their first undefeated 4-0 regular season record. With three teams active in the circuit’s Western Conference this season, the first place finish gave the Rage their first conference title and first berth in the WWCFL championship game.
Calgary travels to Saskatoon on Saturday to face the Prairie Conference champion Regina Riot, who are 5-1 overall, at 8:30 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field for the league championship. The championship game follows a consolation final between the Saskatoon Valkyries, who are 4-2 overall, and the Edmonton Storm, who are 2-3 overall, which is set for 5:15 p.m. at SMF Field.
For veteran running back Erin Walton, the 2017 campaign has been the fulfillment of a dream so far. She joined the Rage for their first season in 2009, which was two years before the formation of the WWCFL.
Walton played for Canada’s silver medal winning team at the 2013 International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship in Vantaa, Finland, and while the individual success was great, she desperately wanted to be part of a special season with the Rage.
When the Rage downed the Storm in Edmonton 34-29 on May 27 to finish the regular season at 4-0 and clinch a berth in the WWCFL title game, Walton said her team made sure to enjoy the moment, but they don’t want to stop there.
“We really took a couple of days to celebrate that,” said Walton over the phone from Calgary. “We had a lot of fun as a team celebrating that win, and we really enjoyed ourselves.
“The message has been it is not over. It feels great to achieve something we have never done in our club’s history. We’re really going to take the time to celebrate that and enjoy it in the off-season.
“Until the season is over, we are not done. We’re looking to make even more history. We just have to believe we can do it and work hard for it.”
|QB Becky Heninger has been a big addition to the Rage roster.|
The Rage entered the season with a new look coaching staff with Carlo Iannuzzi installed as the head coach and offensive coordinator. He was the club’s defensive coordinator last season and an offensive assistant in 2015. Iannuzzi oversees a six-person staff.
The bench boss knows his side is fighting history in the WWCFL championship game as the circuit’s first six title contests have been won either by the Valkyries or the Riot. The Valkyries won it all from 2011 to 2014 and 2016. The Riot claimed the WWCFL title in 2015.
Iannuzzi said the Rage want to be the first team to bring the WWCFL title to Alberta, and he knows how big of a challenge it will be.
“It is going to be monumental,” said Iannuzzi over the phone from Calgary. “We understand the task at hand too, but that is why this is a championship game.
“They’ve earned the right to be there, because they are a good football team. We understand that. We’re not looking at this as an impossible challenge.
“As far as I’m concerned as soon as the ball kicks off it is anybody’s game. We just have to keep our emotions in check.”
The Rage’s fortunes received a boost when veteran star quarterback Becky Heninger joined the team. Heninger played for the Lethbridge Steel from 2012 to 2014 and the Steel made the WWCFL final in each of those campaigns falling to the Valkyries each time out. She played quarterback the first two seasons and all over the field for her third season before other life commitments took her away from the game.
“It all starts with Becks at quarterback,” said Iannuzzi. “She has a great arm.
“She connects really deep downfield with our receiver Alicia Wilson. It is really awesome to see how those two have jelled together,”
Heninger and Wilson will play for Canada at the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship, which runs June 24 to 30 in Langley, B.C.
Running back Tolu Fasuba and receiver Diane Nesbitt, who played for the Riot’s 2015 WWCFL championship team, are also a couple of big offensive threats for the Rage.
|Erin Walton (#21) catches a pass for the Rage.|
Iannuzzi said the team’s front five really make the offence motor.
“We’re able to do things on the offence, because we a dedicated offensive line,” said Iannuzzi. “They are so studious at the game, and they are always working hard to get better.
“They never quit on anybody too. The play really starts and ends with the offensive line.
“As an offensive coach, I have complete faith in the five that we have up there too. They protect Becks incredibly well, and they will open up some awesome running lanes too.”
On defence, the Rage have a linebacker that will turn heads quickly playing the role of a terminator.
“On the defensive side of the ball, it all starts and ends with Courtney Dawson,” said Iannuzzi. “You can’t miss her. She just has a nose for the ball.
“She is ruthless. She is relentless. She is everything that a coach wants out of a linebacker.”
Robyn Tarrant anchors the defensive line at defensive tackle. She stood out at Football Canada’s inaugural Senior National Women’s Championship tournament held last year in Regina. Tarrant played a key role helping Alberta post a 30-12 bronze medal game victory over New Brunswick.
“I think her performance in the bronze medal game against New Brunswick was one of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Iannuzzi. “She is a good foundation for us to have on the D-line.”
Alyssa Quinney supplies a good rush from her defensive end spot, and safety Tatrina Medvescek-Valentine and defensive back Jennifer Mclean are the backbone of a tough secondary.
While the players have delivered a stellar season for the Rage, Walton said Iannuzzi and his coaching staff have been outstanding in bringing everything together.
“He (Iannuzzi) likes to have fun when we play football, and I think that is an important aspect of football,” said Walton. “Sometimes, that takes a little time to build.
“There is a fine line between fun and not being productive and fun and being productive. He has been a really good addition to our club, and he has brought that kind of next step coaching that we have always been looking for.
“I think one of the biggest things for us was that we just committed to just trying bring the vision of what our coaches wanted us to do to life.”
|The Rage raise the Western Conference championship trophy.|
Now the only thing left for the Rage to do is add the finishing touch to their dream season, which would be capturing the WWCFL title. Having once lived in Regina, Walton knows her side is in for a battle against the Riot.
“It is going to the hardest game of the season for a reason,” said Walton. “You don’t get to the championship game and not expect to be playing the best other team.
“They are the best team that came out of their conference. We are the best team that came out of our conference. I’ve known a lot of players on that team for a lot of years, and I’ve got some great friends on that team.
“The only thing going through my mind is man I just want to beat them, because I know if we can beat them we’ve beaten the best and that makes us the best.”
If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. All the photos in this post are courtesy of Candice Ward Photography in Calgary. Stanks’ Sermon passes on a huge thanks to Candice Ward Photography for the photos of the Rage.