Representing Canada at the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championship has become a reality for nine Regina athletes.
This will be Canada’s third year participating in the championship since it was established in 2010. In the previous two competitions, Canada captured two silver medals.
Hoping to come home with the gold around her neck is Aimee Kowalski, quarterback for the national team. She will be returning to the international field for the second time.
“At this point, I’m as prepared as I can be. Personally, I’m stronger than I’ve been, and in better shape than I’ve been,” said Kowalski, who has been playing for the Regina Riot since the team was established seven years ago.
Over 100 athletes were invited to try out for the national team this past summer. Most of them play for their provincial teams and are scouted during national championships. Others are American players who have Canadian citizenship.
There are two selection camps located in Eastern and Western Canada. The Western tryouts were held on Dec. 17, 2016 in Moose Jaw, Sask. Because the competition is elite, coaches have to narrow down their roster selection to a total of 45 players. An additional 11 athletes are then selected for the reserve roster.
Olivier Eddie, the Regina Riot head football coach, is also the special teams coordinator and receivers coach for the national team. This will be Eddie’s second term coaching team Canada. “We sure take it seriously, there is no doubt about it. We scout extensively,” he said. Final decisions were made by January.
“I want to lead my team and my nation to a gold medal”
Six of the nine Regina picks are rookies.
Four years ago, Artemis Kouropoulou was playing basketball when her friends, and now football teammates, encouraged her to try out for the Regina Riot.
“I laughed at them. I was like, ‘Have you seen the size of me? I’m tiny, and don’t play contact sports.’” But in only a few months, the now football linebacker will be representing Canada at the World Championship for the first time.
“I’m ecstatic, I’m really nervous. I don’t know what to expect, it raises the hair up on my neck when I think about it,” said Kouropoulou. “I’ve never played at such a high level of sport, so that’ll be incredible”
Eddie believes that football is a sport where all body types are welcomed and accepted. “Talk about a fun opportunity to give somebody some self-esteem, to make them feel valued. As a coach, we’re fortunate to get the chance to do that for people," he said.
Prior to coaching the women’s team, Eddie coached men’s football at the university level. “I guess I look at the game through a different way. I think culture is extremely important for women’s football,” he said.
The Regina Riot players attending the tournament are Aimee Kowalski, Carmen Agar, Ashley Viklund, Claire Dore, Alex Kowalski, Katie Hungle, Artemis Kouropoulou, Emilie Belanger and Adrienne Zuck. Celeste Schnell and Mallory Starkey are on the reserve roster.
The team will report to the championship on June 17 and will play from June 24 to July 2. The location has yet to be determined, but players have heard rumors that it will be held in British Columbia.
Kowalski said she looks forward to “wearing the maple leaf on the jersey and being able to do it with the best players in the nation.”