Sunday, 30 June 2019

Herner experienced season like no other with Valkyries

Kori Herner (#27) secures an interception for the Valkyries.
    REGINA, Sask. - Kori Herner’s rookie campaign with the Saskatoon Valkyries was a season that was unique to any she had encountered in team sports.
    Herner is associated the most with the sports of hockey and softball. In hockey, she played for the Saskatoon Stars female midget AAA team for two seasons from 2011 to 2013 and was the club’s captain in her final campaign.
    Following her time with the Stars, Herner played five seasons with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s hockey team from 2013 to 2018, and she helped them win a Canada West Conference title and a bronze at U Sports nationals as a rookie in 2013-14.
    The Kindersley, Sask., product has been coaching in both hockey and softball since her Huskies playing days wrapped up.
    With the competitive juices still flowing to be a player, Herner was persuaded to join the Valkyries, who are a powerhouse team in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, by the squad’s head coach, Pat Barry, and veteran safety, Rienna Rueve.
    Herner, who recently turned 24-years-old, never played competitive tackle football before. She became a starting defensive halfback for the Valkyries and aided them in capturing the WWCFL title with a 25-3 victory over the host Regina Riot on Saturday at Mosaic Stadium.
    Besides learning a new sport and the ins and outs of the nine-year-old WWCFL, Herner dealt for the first time ever of the sudden passing of one of her team’s coaches as the season was in progress.
Kori Herner tries to rip away from a Riot tackler.
    On June 1, Valkyries defensive position coach Justin Filteau passed away in a plane crash. Filteau joined the Valkyries coaching staff in 2017 as a linebackers coach and was a defensive line coach this season.
    “We went through a really hard time, but I think overall it brought us closer together,” said Herner. “We did it for (Justin) Filteau.
    “We wanted to win this championship for Filteau. Everything we did and every play we did, everything was for him. I think that is what drove us to win this game.”
    In Saturday’s WWCFL title game, Herner had one of the key turning point plays that ultimately turned the contest in favour of the Valkyries.
    With Saskatoon holding a slim 1-0 lead over Regina in the second quarter, Herner intercepted Riot star quarterback Aimee Kowalski setting up the Valkyries in Regina’s half of the field.
    On the ensuing offensive series, the Valkyries manufactured a scoring drive that was capped by a four-yard rushing touchdown by star running back Sam Matheson.
    “It was pretty sick,” said Herner, whose team has an 8-0 overall record. “We talked before, and I said I wanted to get another one against Regina.
    “I did when we played them at home. I just saw it coming, and it was just right there. It was a good feeling. It was great.”
Kori Herner (#27) is all focus after a pick by Ehjae Chan, middle.
    Herner, who stands 5-foot-5, had an interception off Kowalski back on May 11, when the Valkyries downed the Riot 38-13 in a regular season encounter at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.
    Going into those games against the Riot, Herner was oblivious to the fact Kowalski was a career member of the Riot, who has played on Saskatchewan’s provincial and Canada’s national women’s tackle football teams.
    Herner said not knowing the reputations players had in the WWCFL might have slightly helped her, but she doesn’t overly concern herself on that front.
    “I just came to play,” said Herner. “Not really knowing a lot about her (Kowalski), it doesn’t really matter either way, if I did or didn’t.
    “I just went and did my job.”
    Barry was happy Herner elected to join the Valkyries this season. The sideline boss was proud to see Herner step up in a big moment.
    “It was a big factor for sure,” said Barry. “It did switch the momentum.
    “They were starting to make some plays. It was a big play. She is a first year player, and it was pretty exciting to have her make that play.”
Kori Herner (#27) enjoys a WWCFL title win with her teammates.
    Herner worked with both Barry and Rueve as a teaching intern at Walter Murray Collegiate. Barry and Rueve are both teachers at that Saskatoon high school.
    Herner and Rueve also played flag football together during the winter.
    Barry and Rueve kept selling Herner on the Valkyries and telling her the squad had a road trip to Las Vegas for an exhibition game. That turned out to be one of the selling points that helped bring Herner to the club.
    In that March 23 pre-season game, Herner played linebacker helping the Valkyries post a 34-6 victory over the Sin City Trojans.
    “Off the hop, I was pretty nervous,” said Herner, who earned her kinesiology and education degrees from the U of S. “I didn’t know a lot about football.
    “I didn’t know what to expect. They (the coaches) related everything to hockey. It just started making sense to me.
    “I really enjoyed it.”
    Herner found that she was good fit at defensive back. She said Valkyries defensive backs coach James Vause was really good at teaching the ins and outs of the position.
    Vause played safety for the Saskatoon Hilltops on four straight Canadian Junior Football League championship teams from 2014 to 2017, and he is currently a safety with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds football team in the U Sports ranks.
Kori Herner and the Valkyries are all smiles after their WWCFL title win.
    Herner was pumped to be part of a Valkyries league championship winner in her first campaign with the team.
    “F*&^$&# awesome,” said Herner. “It was nice.
    “Before, I was talking to my grandpa and how he always bugs me. He is like, ‘You’ve won so many championships.’ I’ve never won a football one before, so that would be nice to add to the shelves.”
    The Valkyries will hit the field for one more game before their 2019 campaign comes to an end.
    This coming Saturday, they host the Montreal Blitz at 1 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field in an exhibition contest. The Blitz play out of a women’s league in the United States.
    When that contest concludes, the question posed to Herner was would she return to the Valkyries in 2020 for a sophomore season?
    She is teaching at Bedford Road Collegiate as well as continuing to coach hockey and softball.
    Herner is an assistant coach for Saskatchewan’s under-16 female team provincial hockey team, and she is taking on an assistant coach role with the Stars.
    With all that going on, Herner expects she will return to the Valkyries next season.
Kori Herner (#27) enjoys a fun moment with the Valkyries DBs.
    “I am pretty busy with playing ball and coaching hockey,” said Herner. “I want to come back.
“I will make time.”

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