West Coast Women bring big numbers to LA

USAFL Foundation

It was an overcast 74 degree day on July 20 when the GGAFL men and women stepped onto the ground of Westchester Park in LA. There may have been plenty of pot holes to dodge – and many sleepy heads from long road trips the night before – but everyone was up and about and roaring to get onto the ground for the West Coast Tournament.

Especially the San Francisco Iron Maidens who were fronting a strong 16-(wo)man team for the first time ever. Combining with the Arizona Hawks to make 21, the temporary ‘Maiden-Hawks’ took on the Denver Bulldogs / San Diego / Orange County / New York Magpies to play a full 18-a-side game. Let’s call them the ‘SoCal Bulldogs’.

It was the first tackle game for only a couple of players, but for most it was their first time playing with a full squad. It was a real luxury to be able to use a full size footy field and it’s exciting to see how far women’s footy has developed over the last few years; especially in the Bay Area, a place that was only just starting to form a small team this time last year. Christian ‘Chyna’ Chynoweth, coach of the Iron Maidens, said: “It was a tremendous day for women’s footy on the west coast and a valuable experience for all who played.”

The first game kicked off and the Maiden-Hawks were fast out of the starting blocks, benefiting from a strong south westerly wind. Kari Johnson in the ruck, with the likes of Milli Bruce and Jess Estrada (co-captains) crumming, were winning the clearances in the mid and getting it quickly into the forward line. Mary Cuthbert was the obvious target at full forward and clean hands and some straight set shots at goal saw her convert the first two of the game. She was having an impact further up around the 50m arc as well, kicking it long into Amy Morken in the goal square who then booted the Sherrin into the second level (if there were one) to take the Maiden-Hawks into the break with a strong lead.

The SoCal Bulldogs started to take charge in the middle in the second half and stream forward, primarily through Kim Hemenway, a fast swooping Magpie from New York. She managed to score a goal from their repeated attacks, but the Maiden-Hawks defensive line stood tall and Tara Salmon and Taylor Davidson combined well to consistently rebound out of defence. A couple of rushed behinds and errant kicks later, and the SoCal Bulldogs were at 1 goal 5 behinds.

As the Maidens-Hawks re-took control of the second half, Lindsey Hestand – who kept putting herself in the right position all game – snapped a goal to seal the win.

Best on ground was Milli Bruce, whose gut-running efforts and ‘don’t argues’ through the middle was key to the Maidens-Hawks attack. Other votes went to Lindsey Hestend (Maiden-Hawks) and Karen Whitley (SoCal Bulldogs).

Full time
Maiden-Hawks: 4.4.28  def SoCal Bulldogs: 1.5.11

Maiden-Hawks: Cuthbert (2), Morken, Hestand
SoCal Bulldogs: Hemenway

After a short break and a chance for the SoCal Bulldogs to recoup and adjust their game plan, the SoCal Bulldogs came out much stronger in the second game. With a new ruck winning the taps in the middle, Hemenway was again their go-to player as a running half-forward flanker. But the Maidens-Hawks quickly recognized this and moved Tishe Williams onto her to play a tagging role and try to limit her impact. It was a good move and a great contest to watch, one where there wasn’t a clear winner (or, you could say both were winners!).

Erin Welsh of the SoCal Bulldogs played a key role in their comeback and led the team into the break with a one-goal lead. Carrie Eckstein and Kelli Hahn also played pivotal roles in the turnaround. The Maidens-Hawks hadn’t yet managed to impact the scoreboard in a low-scoring, hard-tackling half of footy.

After the break, the Maidens-Hawks grinded hard and repeatedly penetrated the forward line. Kari Johnson barreled through five players in her debut game, something you’d usually expect only from seasoned players. Julie Marks played a great defensive midfield role to help lock the ball in their forward half, and it was eventually through a torpedo style, bouncing kick from Jillian Stine that eventually got them a hard-earned goal to tie things up.

The players knew the siren was due to go off at any moment. The Maidens-Hawks moved players up field, and the likes of Diana Paasch found themselves acting as a wall that the Bulldogs just couldn’t penetrate, especially with the wind working against them.

The siren sounded and both teams – who dug deep all game – were feeling deflated with the thought of a draw. So the captains and ref agreed to play on in ‘golden point’ fashion (i.e. next point wins) in overtime.

It only took a couple of minutes before the SoCal Bulldogs found a way forward and a long penetrating kick from Hemenway over the defense trickled through the behind post, almost in slow motion. That was all that was needed to give the SoCal Bulldogs a hard-fought win in overtime.

The Maiden-Hawks may have lost, but they will take a lot out of it according to coach Chyna: “My number one highlight was the team coming from behind and tying it up in the 2nd game. We were put under a ton of pressure and we responded with flying colors. That type of experience/pressure can only be taught on the field during a close game.”

Best on ground was Erin Welsh of the SoCal Bulldogs, with votes to Julie Marks and Jessica Estrada, both from the Maiden-Hawks.

Full time
SoCal Bulldogs 1.4.10 def Maiden-Hawks 1.3.9

Maiden-Hawks: Sine
SoCal Bulldogs: Hemenway

Next for the players is the 49th Parallel Cup where players representing the USA Freedom and Liberty (development) squads take on Canada the first weekend of August. The teams are also looking ahead to upcoming tournaments across the country in the lead up to the national tournament in Austin, Texas, mid October.

The San Francisco Maidens are especially excited about fronting a full team for the first time this year. Coach Chyna thinks that their performance in both games at the West Coast Tournament proves that they’re a team not to be taken lightly and that they can compete with the best of them in the country. He said to the team: “Let’s win the national title in 2013!”

Only time will tell. But what we do know right now is that women’s Australian Rules football is getting BIG on the west coast of the USA.

Source: GGAFL.com

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