Sunday, 23 June 2019

Funk discovered Valkyries by chance, off to another WWCFL final with team

Valkyries LT Alyssa Funk (#56) blocks a Steel rush end.
    Thanks to Google, Alyssa Funk received confirmation that women can play tackle football in Saskatchewan, and it started her career in the sport.
    Having grown up in Hague, Sask., Funk was visiting Saskatoon to watch her younger brother Jaxon play football a little over five years ago. Following Jaxon’s game, Alyssa noticed the field crew was setting up the field for the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League.
    She used the Google online search engine to learn what the Valkyries were all about. Once she realized they were a competitive women’s tackle football team, Funk got excited about playing the sport and decided to join the squad.
    “I was a little scared when I first came, because I didn’t know anyone,” said Funk. “They were really welcoming right from the start.
    “I came to a fall camp my first year, and they were great. I knew I wanted to play O-line. They loved me there.
Alyssa Funk (#56) clears a passing lane for QB Alex Eyolfson.
    “The coaching was great. It was awesome.”
    Funk is now in her fifth season with the Valkyries and anchors the team’s offensive line at left tackle.
    The 23-year-old helped the Valkyries roll past the Lethbridge Steel 53-0 on Sunday at Saskatoon Minor Football Field in a WWCFL semifinal contest. The Steel’s campaign came to an end with the loss as their overall record was finalized at 3-3.
    With the win, the Valkyries, who improved to 7-0 overall, advance to the WWCFL championship game to be held this coming Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
    Saskatoon will face the two-time defending WWCFL champion and host Regina Riot in the title clash. The Riot, who have a 3-3 overall record this season, downed the Valkyries 14-10 in last year’s final.
Alyssa Funk (#56) clears a path for RB Sarah Wright.
    Regina took the other WWCFL semifinal contest 30-8 in Edmonton on Saturday against the host Storm.
    In Sunday’s win over the Steel, the Valkyries piled up 609 yards of total offence with 238 yards coming on the ground and 371 yards through the air.
    The Steel was limited to 136 yards of offence.
    Funk said the chemistry on the Valkyries offensive line has been strong this season. Along with Funk, the club’s starting offensive line includes right tackle Betsy Mawdsley, right guard Lauren Ferguson, centre Eden Rakochy and left guard Ashley Viklund.
Alyssa Funk (#56) sets up to protect the passing pocket.
    Besides the fact the starters have played well, Funk said the Valkyries have received strong contributions from the backups as well.
    “We’ve been playing together really, really well,” said Funk. “It doesn’t matter which of the seven of us are on.
    “We communicate well. We talk to each other. We finish our blocks, and we are putting up points. That is all you can do.”
    Funk joined the Valkyries in 2015 and quickly vaulted to star status. She helped the Valkyries win their fifth WWCFL title in June of 2016.
    The Valkyries thumped the Edmonton Storm 81-6 in the WWCFL final held in Lethbridge, Alta. Funk remembers current Valkyries head coach Pat Barry, who the team’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at the time, asking at halftime how many people had won a championship with the team before.
Alyssa Funk (#56) opens a hole on a running play.
    “Only about half the hands went up,” said Funk. “He (Barry) said lets win it for the people whose hands aren’t up.
    “We went out there, and we crushed them. It was a great time.”
    In late July of that same year, Funk suited up for Team Saskatchewan at Football Canada’s inaugural Senior Women’s National Championship tournament.  Funk and Saskatchewan won gold at that event held in Regina.
    During the 2017 campaign, Funk had the opportunity to suit up for Canada’s national women’s football team. She helped Canada win silver at the International Federation of American Football Women’s World Championship tournament held in Langley, B.C.
    Funk never envisioned she would have those experiences under her belt in her second and third seasons.
Alyssa Funk (#56) and Eden Rakochy (#57) team up on a block.
    “It was actually surreal,” said Funk. “I didn’t have high expectations for myself.
    “I didn’t want to get my hopes up. It was the greatest thing I have ever been a part of. It was amazing.
    “I worked really hard for it, and I hoped that I could get myself there. It seemed unrealistic, but I am glad it wasn’t.”
    Barry said Funk has been an important part of the Valkyries since joining the team.
    “She (Funk) is an excellent football player,” said Barry. “She cares about the sport.
    “She is an excellent blocker. We’re very pleased to have her. She is just strong.
Emmarae Dale (#45) make a tackle for the Valkyries.
    “She is a student of the game. She is someone who cares deeply about the Valkyries and about her teammates.”
    Funk is looking forward to the fact the Valkyries will return to the WWCFL title game.
    The Valkyries had dedicated the season to late defensive position coach Justin Filteau, who passed away in a plane crash on June 1. On top of that fact, Funk wants to help her teammates that have never won a WWCFL title gain that experience for the first time.
    “I think it is really exciting that everybody gets to play for a championship now,” said Funk. “We all get that chance again for redemption.
    “A lot of our girls have lost championships, but haven’t won them. That inner drive is there for us. We’re motivated. We’re ready.”
Haley Girolami had three TD catches for the Valkyries on Sunday.
    In the win over the Steel, the Valkyries led 15-0 after the first quarter and expanded their edge to 43-0 at halftime. They cruised to the 53-0 final result from there.
    Rookie receiver Haley Girolami hauled in three passes for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns. She had the Valkyries first major score on a 28-yard reception and went on to add a 66-yard scoring catch and a six-yard touchdown grab.
    Star running back Sam Matheson ran the ball seven times for 92 yards and scored two touchdowns. She hauled in two passes for 45 yards as well and kicked an 11-yard field goal.
    Third-year running back Sarah Wright ran the ball 11 times for 95 yards and scored two touchdowns. She caught two passes for 46 yards in the win.
    Alex Eyolfson started the game at quarterback for the Valkyries, and she completed 11-of-13 passes for 255 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Sam Matheson had two rushing TDs for the Valkyries on Sunday.
    Safety Rienna Rueve scored a single point on a 20 yard missed field goal.
    Defensively, middle linebacker Emmarae Dale piled up 11.5 tackles for the Valkyries.
    Barry was pleased with his team’s performance.
    “We were excited to be able to get a lot of people on the field,” said Barry. “You don’t always get to do that in playoffs.
    “We’re happy about that. People who don’t always get to play as many reps they got to play a lot of reps today, so that was good.”
    NOTES – Filteau’s parents, Ron and Nancy, joined the Valkyries for the game’s opening coin toss. Nancy handled the duties of flipping the coin.
    The Valkyries coaches and a number of team staffers were wearing “Filteau’s the Worst” T-shirts.
The Valkyries celebrate advancing to the WWCFL final.
    It was a favourite shirt the late Justin Filteau liked to wear, and it was given to him by the Valkyries players in 2017 as a humourous gift.

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