By Kevin Mitchell, SP Sports Editor
The Steel and Saskatoon Valkyries will square off in Saturday’s Western Women’s Canadian Football League final at Griffiths Stadium (7 p.m. start), but there’s a wrinkle to their relationship. Even though they’ve never played each other formally, Steel head coach Jamie Fisher views the Valkyries as a model franchise and a team he’d like to pattern his own after.
“When I first started, I said ‘who’s the team to beat?’ We try to replicate a lot of the things Saskatoon has in place,” Fisher said Thursday. “They’re the cream of the crop, for sure.”
The two-year-old Valkyries have never lost a game, and they crushed their competition this season. They won regular-season games by scores of 36-6, 58-12, 47-0 and 35-16 before pounding the Manitoba Fearless 56-0 in the opening playoff round.
Saskatoon’s toughest test came a week later, when they beat the Regina Riot 35-21 in the Prairie Conference final — a game Valkyries head coach Jeff Yausie welcomed happily.
“In football, you want to face adversity,” Yausie said. “That’s part of the game. We want the girls to have to struggle, and they did in that game. It refocused the girls. When you’re blowing everybody out, you don’t have to focus that hard.”
Yausie said his team has staged their best practices of the season in the wake of that win over Regina.
Like the Valkyries, Lethbridge has put an emphasis on recruiting locals who perform well in other sports. And like Saskatoon, Lethbridge is unbeaten this season.
But their scores in the Western Conference were much closer: They won 19-6, 16-14, 19-14, 41-6 and 20-0 in the games leading up to this weekend’s clash against Saskatoon.
They’ll field a roster of 22 players Saturday, including 14 first-years. Saskatoon expects to have 36 players in its lineup.
Fisher, who grew up in Saskatoon and played high school football at Bedford Road, took the Steel’s head-coaching job this season after they went 1-4 in 2011.
The keys to beating the Valkyries, he says, are simple.
“Four quarters of football,” Fisher said. “That always sounds so darned cliche, but it’s true. That . . . and error-free football.”
Yausie, meanwhile, noted that many Lethbridge women will play two ways because of their smaller roster, and he hopes to use that to the Valkyries advantage.
“We’re hoping we have a bigger, more physical team,” Yausie said. “So if we can control the line of scrimmage, they should wear down with that smaller number of players.”
The Valkyries won last year’s WWCFL title with a 35-7 win over the Edmonton Storm.
Tickets for Saturday’s finale are $10, with kids under five admitted free.
Photo by Gord Waldner, The StarPhoenix