Whisney Takes Final Bow as USA Freedom Team Manager

This weekend, sixty hopeful athletes make their way to Racine, Wisconsin for the USA Freedom Training Squad Camp.

It will be the continuation of a dream to be a part of a national team – to impress coach Christina Licata and her staff enough to earn the right to play for their country in International Cup 2020, and the 2021 Trans-Atlantic Cup.

There will be those this weekend who will be kicking goals and taking marks and making tackles in a metaphorical way of screaming “PICK ME” to the assembled selectors.  Jess Whisney has experience in that respect.

But camps like this don’t just sprout from the ground.  Hotels and busses and logistics don’t just magically arrive by flying unicorn.  And when it comes to organizing large groups of footballers and staff, it sometimes feels like herding cats.  Jess Whisney has experience in doing that too.

In fact, she’s done both at the same time.

But for the past six years, her presence as team manager has been as vital to the success of the USA Freedom program as anyone who has taken to the field or stood in the coach’s box.

And after a memorable tenure which has stretched for almost three International Cup cycles, the Minnesota native will be stepping down from her role following this weekend.

“I'm always looking to grow and challenge myself in both my work and personal life and this role seemed to be a great fit,” Whisney told USAFL.com.  “The most rewarding part of this role by far are all the people and lifelong friends you make all over the country/world.  I will miss this part the most.”

Her journey began with the Minnesota Freeze in 2011.  “I was looking for a way to stay in shape and meet people, she explained, “so I found Fitness through Footy on meetup.com and immediately was hooked.” 

She joined the Freeze at a time when their women’s program was kicking into high gear both in participation and in quality.  There would be solid representation from Minnesota at the 2014 AFL International Cup, and Whisney strongly considered going to Melbourne as a fan to cheer her teammates, and her fellow countrywomen, on.

“In 2013 I was talking with [Minnesota teammate and USAFL legend] Kat Hogg after practice one night and she was talking about the IC2014,” Whisney said.  “I made the comment that maybe I would go to Australia as a fan and she said, ‘Do you have an interest in being the Assistant Team Manager?’   I thought about it for a second and was like, ‘Yeah, sure why not.’”

Whisney was assistant manager to Amy Bishop during the 2013 Parallel Cup in Edmonton, Alberta.  The following year she took over the main role.  But as it turns out, Whisney wouldn’t just be there as a fan, or as team manager during the Freedom’s International Cup run the following year.  She would also be playing in the tournament with the USA Liberty, the Freedom’s development program, as part of the IC14 competition.

As chaotic as it was to have to play and also manage the giant Tetris puzzle of logistics surrounding an international tournament, Whisney looks back on that first International Cup as her fondest memory during her time with the women’s program.

“It was a super stressful tour having so many responsibilities and not really knowing what I was doing,” she remembered.  “But nothing can compare to lining up and singing the National Anthem right before your game while in Australia knowing you are representing your country.   Not many people get to say that.”

From there it was onto the 2015 Parallel Cup in Florida, and then the IC17 back in Melbourne, with the tryout camps and sundry going on in between.  As time went on, she learned how to handle the dynamic fluidity that came with managing all of these moving parts:

“The most challenging part was realizing that things are going to constantly change and not everything is going to go as planned so you need to be able to adjust and roll with the punches as they say.  This was definitely a weakness of mine so the Team Manager position has helped me to be more relaxed, accepting of change, and have more of a go with the flow type attitude especially when I'm traveling.”

Whisney organized the IC17 trip, which featured the Freedom as part of the main tournament and the Liberty playing five matches against local VAFA clubs around Melbourne.  By now, however, she was a seasoned veteran, and there was familiarity with the role, and the people around her.

“I had been through one IC so I was much more relaxed and able to enjoy myself as I knew what was expected,” she said.  “I met more wonderful people, reconnected with some from IC14, danced in a conga line with people from around the world, and had an overall unforgettable experience.”

It will not be the last you will see of Whisney as she will be on the sidelines at Nationals in Sarasota cheering everyone on.   Her place in the game is punctuated by hard work and a passion to ensure that everyone who plays Aussie Rules for the USA has a fun and meaningful experience.

And it takes a special kind of person to take that on.

“I would like to be remembered by hopefully making each training camp, Parallel Cup, and IC the best experience for everyone I possibly can, making them want to come back again and again.

“In the end I would just like to thank everyone for the unforgettable ride and my door is always open if you find yourself in MN braving the mosquitoes in the summer or the cold in the winter.”

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