To a T: Licata Named USA Freedom Head Coach

Women’s football, both in Australia and around the world, has taken some giant leaps in the last couple of years.  It is not just a niche, but rather an astronomical pillar in the galaxy of Aussie Rules.

With the naming of their new head coach, another frontier has been crossed.

The USAFL Women’s Association is pleased to confirm that Christina Licata has been named the new head coach of the USA Freedom women’s national team.  Licata becomes the fourth head coach in USA Freedom history and the first woman to hold the position. 

The Pittsburgh native will lead the team through a 2019 schedule kicking off with training camp in March and onward to the 2020 AFL International Cup in Melbourne.  There, she will attempt to improve upon last year’s fourth place finish and beyond, with hopes of possibly playing in the Grand Final at Marvel Stadium.

That, however, is just a blip on the radar in terms of what she wants to accomplish at the helm of the Freedom.

Licata, alongside with Portland Sockeyes coach Martin Coventry, was named an assistant coach of the Freedom in February.  “For me, it's all about the process; not looking to 2020, but living and working hard in the here and now,” Licata told at the time.

“I think that the National program has great room for growth as women's footy continues to grow in Australia and the United States.  As the sport grows here, we are gaining access to young players who are new to the game, athletic, and eager to learn. This with the solid base of experienced players we've had come through the program gives us a great foundation to build on in the lead up to 2020.”

In August, Licata and Coventry took on the task of running the first national team camp of the IC2020 cycle, as more than fifty players turned out in Denver to be put through their paces.

Licata was one of the 33 women to take part in the inaugural USAFL National Championships’ Women’s Division in 2005.  After playing for the Arizona Lady Hawks for three seasons, Licata moved cross country and co-founded the New York Magpies women’s team alongside friend and fellow USAFL “original” Drea Casillas. 

Known as a defensive-minded center with a booming voice, booming kick, and her trademark bandana, “T” was named to the Freedom side in 2009 and took part in the first tour of Australia by any women’s football team.  She was injured prior to the tour, but still took part  and recovered in time for the 49th Parallel Cup the following year.

The experience as a Freedom player, good, bad, and otherwise, not only shaped her as a footy player, but also as a person:

“Being on the Freedom team gave me a whole different perspective about the sport. Traveling to Australia for the 2009 Freedom tour was inspiring and has influenced my vision for building teams in the United States. The community around football there is something that I believe US teams can learn from and aspire to. The level of competition in Australia created a drive in me to be the hardest at the football, to commit to 2nd and 3rd efforts, and dedicate myself to continuously improving my skills.

“Being sidelined on the tour because of an injury taught me how to lead in other ways off the field and ultimately aided my decision to become a coach when I retired from playing. The relationships that I built there in 2009 with my teammates and with Australians, particularly with Chyloe Kurdas, have been crucial to my development as a woman footballer, a coach, and a person.”

Licata took over as head coach of the Magpies women in 2014, becoming the first American to attain the AFL’s Level 2 Coaching accreditation, a process which took a full year.  The following season, she coached the ‘Pies to a second place finish at Nationals.  That same year, she was named an assistant to Judith Stein on the USA Liberty Development Squad, and served alongside her for the 2015 49th Parallel Cup and 2017 Liberty Australian Tour.

Having been up the rungs of the ladder, the Freedom’s newest coach has a clear vision of the team she wants to assemble for the future, both immediate and distance.  It’s a team in her own image in a lot of ways, and one that is tough but passionate, who are not just about growing a sport but growing a community as well.

“I believe that grit cannot be taught. You either have it or you don't. Without it, the determination to improve despite setbacks, to persevere through difficulties, and to develop as a teammate are nearly impossible. So first and foremost, I am looking for women who have that grit - a passion for the sport, a commitment to learn, and a dedication to improve themselves and their teammates.

“Teams who train hard, play hard. This is a USA program, and to me, that means that our work ethic has be at an elite level. I'm looking for players who are dedicated to putting in the work on and off of the field to make the team as strong as it can be.

“I am thrilled to have both veterans and new players involved in the program. I look forward to working with them and staff to build a program that strengthens the foundation that previous US coaches have laid while paving a new path forward for even more women to represent their country.”

Licata believes that building a strong culture and community over these next two years, including the development of the Liberty team, will be critical to the USA program’s success. “The game is not won by one. It takes every player, every coach, and every staff member putting in the work and giving all they’ve got to make the team exceptional.“

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