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Force climbing back to the top
Extended for the Online Version of Windy City Times
by Ross Forman

This article shared 2583 times since Wed Apr 15, 2009
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The Chicago Force has the same goal this season that it did in 2008, which landed the women's tackle football team in the championship game of the Independent Women's Football League ( IWFL ) .

But if they return to the title game this season, it will be with a new look, a new approach, a new head coach and without some of the best players in team history.

In 2008 the Force had its best season ever, which ended in an overtime defeat in its first-ever championship game appearance. The Force placed 13 players and two coaches on the 2008 IWFL All-Star Team after it won the Midwest Division and the Eastern Conference titles before falling to the Dallas Diamonds.

The 2008 honorees included defensive back Linda Bache, running back Melissa Smith and head coach Jim Stahl—all of whom have retired, although Bache remains as the team's general manager and part-owner.

"I can hardly stand it; it's hard not being out there [ on the field ] ," said Bache, who was the team's MVP in three of her six seasons, including 2008. "Even just going to practice, where I have the urge to hit or tackle people, or just get out there, that's tough, too.

"But the team's looking good. For the first time ever, the strength of the team is on the offensive side of the ball, whereas typically, we've been led by our defense. It should be interesting to start the season with more experience on the offensive side of the ball."

The new-look Force will, once again, center around All-Star quarterback Sami Grisafe. Chicago will run the spread offense, with three, four and five receivers per play.

"Our offense kept us in the [ championship ] game," Bache said. "I think we're going to be explosive on that side of the ball. We have the potential to put up a lot of points. Sami has a great arm; she brings an exciting style of play."

Replacing Smith, the team's top running back in 2008, will be large shoes to fill, though Bache praised the play of rookies Candace Griffin and Karyn Silvestri and returnee Esther Henigan.

Replacing Stahl as the new head coach is John Konecki, who actually is in his third season with the Force. He previously was responsible for the offensive line and the offensive coordinator duties.

Konecki is in his second year as offensive coordinator at Crete-Monee High School, where he also teaches. He began his athletic career at Brother Rice High School, where he played basketball and football; participated in track and field; and wrestled.

Jerry Verde takes over the Force's defensive coordinator post. Ironically, Verde is the head coach at Crete-Monee, while Konecki is one of his assistants.

"I think the defense will improve with each game, which is fine. We don't have to be great in the first great; I just want to be great by the end of the season," Bache said. "The new [ head ] coach is on the cutting edge; he's bringing a lot of things to the table. You're gonna see some things we haven't done before. John is a motivator and a brilliant offensive coach."

Grisafe has a host of returning receivers she can throw to, such as Albiona Zhubi, Diane Didier, Patricia Harper and Tashaunda Shumpert.

"We have to have the tallest, quickest group of receivers in the league," Bache said. "I think defenses are going to have a very difficult time trying to match up with our receivers. With the spread offense, it forces [ the defense ] to make plays in the open field, which is difficult."

Grisafe certainly should have time to pass this season as she stands behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

"The offensive line is going to dictate how successful we are this season," Bache said. "They will give Sami time to throw; they're going to open the lanes for the running backs. They're very, very good. But we need to keep them healthy."

Liz Okey is a newcomer to the offensive line, where she joins such stalwarts as Dawn Pederson, Keesha Brooks, Stacey Baker, Jamie Menzyk and Rosalyn Bennett.

The Force defense is now without Bache and injured returnees Tricia Charbonneau and Darcy Leslie.

Kim Marks has moved to middle linebacker.

" [ The defense ] has talent, but is a little thin on experience. But I think it'll get better and better," Bache said.

Carolyn Lee will again handle the team's kicking duties.

"If we can stay healthy, and get a few of the [ now-injured ] players back, it's our expectation to get to the playoffs and make it to the championship game," Bache said.

The Force open the home schedule on Saturday, April 18, against the Wisconsin Warriors. Game time is 7 p.m., at the Holmgren Athletic Complex on the campus of North Park University. They ripped the Iowa Crush 54-0 April 11 in Des Moines, Iowa.

The eight-game regular season features four home games, including the regular-season finale on June 13 against their archrival, the Detroit Demolition.

Chicago plays at Detroit on May 16.

"Those games against Detroit are circled on the calendar," Bache said. "They have all of their players back and then some; they got a few out of retirement. So they're going to be very tough this year. I think it's good that we're not playing [ against ] them in the first two weeks of the season, so hopefully we can get a little healthier. But those two games will dictate our season."

The IWFL National Championship will be played July 25 in Austin, Texas, and Bache is confident the Force will be back.

"It will be a different season; the face of the Force is changing. And change is good," she said.

But as things change in some areas for the Force, they also remain steady in others—namely, their winning tradition.

This article shared 2583 times since Wed Apr 15, 2009
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