Monday, 1 July 2019

Valkyries resolve remarkable

The Valkyries won their sixth WWCFL title in memory of Justin Filteau.
    The Saskatoon Valkyries had a season that could have come off the rails, but they were able to rally around an unexpected tragedy.
    The Valkyries came in with a team in 2019 capable of winning the Western Women’s Canadian Football League title for the first time since 2016.
    On May 11, the Valkyries downed the Regina Riot 38-13 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field ending a four game head-to-head skid against their provincial rivals. The Riot won the WWCFL title in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018.
    The Valkyries rolled to a 4-0 start that included winning a pre-season game in Las Vegas and had first place in the Prairie Conference locked up going into their final regular season game on June 2 against the Riot in Regina.
The late Justin Filteau, left, during a Valkyries win on May 11.
    At that moment, the unthinkable happened on the night of June 1 involving the team’s beloved defensive line coach Justin Filteau.
    Filteau was in Medicine Hat, Alta., and boarded a small American Aviation AA-5B plane with Moose Jaw, Sask., residents Jim Wilk and Kerry DePape. All three visited Medicine Hat for a bachelor party for Wilk’s son, who was marrying DePape’s daughter.
    Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed east of Medicine Hat, and all three men perished in the crash.
    Filteau, who was just 26 years of age, was supposed to fly into Moose Jaw and drive out to Regina on Sunday to coach with the Valkyries in their final regular season game against the Riot.
    The Valkyries found out about the tragedy before they hit the field that day.
    Filteau had deep ties to the football community in Saskatchewan, especially in Saskatoon where he played for the CJFL’s Hilltops (2010-14) and the Huskies (2015-17) in the U Sports ranks. He joined the Valkyries originally as a linebackers coach in 2017.
Alex Eyolfson’s leadership ability continue to grow with the Valkyries.
    He had deep ties to the provincial judo community as well and was honoured with a posthumous presentation of his black belt at is celebration of life on June 14.
    For the Valkyries, they had to deal with the fact one of the coaches held so closely in the hearts of everyone involved with the team was suddenly no longer there, when a season was in progress.
    On that June 2nd day, it would have been understandable if the Valkyries lost that game or their season came to a crashing end. Instead, the Valkyries took the Mosaic Stadium turf that day holding hands vowing to play the rest of the season to honour their late coach.
    At that moment, the hashtag term “#ForFilteau” was born.
Sam Matheson (#22) was in prime form returning after a year off.
    The Valkyries came away with a 22-7 victory that day.
    Into the playoffs the team went. Players wore “JF” stickers on their helmets and often inscribed the “#45” Filteau wore with the Hilltops and Huskies on their uniforms.
    The team’s coaches and support staff made up “Filteau’s the Worst” T-shirts, which they wore during games. They also inscribed the initials “JF” and “#45” on various spots of their clothes.
    The Valkyries players gave Filteau that exact T-shirt as a joke gift during the team’s wrap up banquet in 2017, and he loved it.
    Saskatoon opened the post-season blanking the Winnipeg Wolfpack 66-0 on June 9 at SMF Field.
Danaye Holynski (#55) impressed in her rookie season with the Valkyries.
    The Valkyries dumped the Lethbridge Steel 53-0 in a semifinal match on June 23 at SMF Field.
    Last Saturday, the Valkyries won their sixth WWCFL title with a 25-3 victory over the host Riot in Regina. Saskatoon received a pre-game message from Nancy Filteau, who is Justin’s mother, to go out and have fun.
    Following the game, the Valkyries brought Ron Filteau, who is Justin’s father, on the field for the celebrations. There was a group hug with the team, and a team picture with the trophy.
    The team also present Ron with a game ball that was signed by every member of the club from the win on June 2.
    The Valkyries had so many great storylines to help build their 8-0 overall record.
Valkyries staffers and coaches wore “Filteau’s the Worst” T-shirts.
    Quarterback Alex Eyolfson at age21 has become a leader in the image of former San Francisco 49ers great Steve Young. If one of her receivers had a drop or someone on her offensive unit had a bad play, she is there immediately talking to them to pick them up.
    In those moments, the players Eyolfson talked with got uplifted right away. It was fitting that she was named MVP of the WWCFL title game for her team.
    Star running back Sam Matheson returned after a year off to allow her body to heal. She ran in prime form and was named the Valkyries season MVP.
    Rookie Haley Girolami turned in some strong performances in the post-season as a receiver.
    The starting offensive line of right tackle Betsy Mawdsley, right guard Lauren Ferguson, centre Eden Rakochy, left guard Ashley Viklund and left tackle Alyssa Funk were dominant in the trenches.
Members of the Valkyries offensive line push Riot players into the end zone.
    The defence was anchored by playmaking middle linebacker Emmarae Dale, while rookie defensive end Danaye Holynski emerged as a dominant force on the field.
    Long time Veterans Jaime Lammerding, Beth Lalonde and Ehjae Chan provided a steady hand on the defensive side of the ball.
    Rookie defensive back Kori Herner showed she could win at football too like she did with hockey and softball.
    Head coach Pat Barry and his staff did a marvelous job navigating the team through tough waters you don’t expect.
    Offensive coordinator Jordan Walls and defensive coordinator Wyatt Carleton shined as play callers.
Ron Filteau, left, walks to the field with Jordan Walls.
    Of course, the 2019 campaign will always be remembered as the season the Valkyries rallied to honour the memory of Justin Filteau.
    This WWCFL title win was unlike the five others the team had.
    Even now, everyone involved with the team is still dealing with Filteau’s loss in their own way, and they are at different points in the process of healing and moving forward.
    They have one more game to play. This coming Saturday at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the Valkyries will host the Montreal Blitz in an exhibition game.
    It will be a curtain call opportunity for the Valkyries and their fans to salute all that the team accomplished in 2019.
The WWCFL champion Valkyries pose for a team picture with Ron Filteau.
    They have to know that somewhere Filteau is smiling with pride of what the Valkyries were able to do.

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