The Lethbridge Steel will begin the 2019 Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) season Saturday by facing the same team that ended their campaign last year — the Edmonton Storm.
The Steel had surprising success in the 2018 regular season, going 3-1 with a group full of first-year players, before dropping the quarterfinal in dramatic fashion.
“We lost a heart-breaker last year by one point,” said second-year player Christy Weiss. “Definitely looking to settle that this year.”
The Steel possessed the WWCFL’s stingiest defense during the regular season, allowing a league-low 33 points against in their four games. But, in the quarter final the floodgates opened and Edmonton scored 45, eliminating Lethbridge from contention.
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The Lethbridge Steel practiced Thursday before their season opener on Saturday night.Head coach Quintin Cheverie is confident that when the Storm visit the University of Lethbridge stadium on Saturday night, they will face a Steel team that’s full of more experience and one that is prepared to stand up to adversity.
“We were actually fortunate,” said Cheverie. “Usually, we run about a fifty per cent [player] turnover rate. But this year [we’ve kept] around almost eighty per cent, so 18 of the players that we had last year are back again this year.”
“It’s promising — we’ve got a lot of veteran leadership.”
“In the six seasons I’ve played, we’ve had the most vets this year,” said veteran player Megan Bilkowski. “And we have some rookies too, which is awesome. It’s really great for the vets, because they get a chance to try new positions. And for the rookies there’s a lot of knowledge, a lot of leadership on the team. It’s definitely a huge advantage.”
The Steel are part of a tough western conference, where they will face the Calgary Rage and Northern Anarchy once each. But it’s the Storm who they are scheduled to face on two occasions.
“Edmonton is a good, well-coached team and our coaching staff knows their coaching staff decently well, so it’s always competitive, tough football.”
In their first meeting of last year, the Steel dominated the Storm coming away with a 40-13 victory in Edmonton before that post-season heart-breaker.
“Earlier in the season we went up there and beat them, and then they came down here and beat us in the playoffs. Hopefully we can return the favour here on Saturday.”
With a battle for redemption looming, the veteran-laden squad is doing their homework and tightening things up before the season opener.
“A lot of fundamentals,” said Weiss, “really knowing our playbook, knowing our jobs, knowing what do on defense, and really focusing on individual tasks, but still helping out the team in every way you can.”
The Steel will rely once again on that league-best defense, but Cheverie believes it’s the intangibles that will set his group apart this year.
“We’ve been training since January, but a lot of the stuff we can’t teach because it happens on the field in the game,” said Cheverie.
“So the biggest thing I think is leadership and those veterans that are coming back because those situations — battling adversity in the middle of a game — is huge.”
Last year’s earlier-than-planned exit is still fresh in the mind of those 18 returning players and they will kick off the season Saturday night at 7 p.m. with pay-back in mind.
“Redemption for sure,” said Bilkowski, “it was a really tough loss, so we’re going to go out there hard, get some hard hits in, and hopefully we win.”
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