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  WINDY CITY TIMES

New-look Chicago Force eyes return to national championship form
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-03-14

This article shared 6307 times since Sat Mar 14, 2015
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Let's start with the new, and there's plenty of that for the 2015 Chicago Force: home stadium, quarterback and coaches.

But still, the women's tackle football team which was the 2013 Woman's Football Alliance ( WFA ) national champion, the goal is the same: just win.

"I'm feeling energized and excited about this year's team," said team owner/general manager Linda Bache. "We have a smaller roster this year and half the players are rookies, so we will have a lot of inexperienced players on the field. But I really like their energy, effort and desire. Our challenge is to put them on a steep learning curve and have them game ready for the opener. We have more team speed this year than we've ever had, so I'm expecting us to be explosive, particularly on offense."

The Force offense, as with any football team, is anchored by its quarterback—and Chicago no longer has Sami Grisafe to rely on, as the singing sensation retired from the sport to further her musical career.

"You simply can't replace Sami Grisafe; she's been the heart and soul of this team for years. In addition to her elite quarterback skills, she was also our team leader," Bache said. "Any time you lose a player of that caliber, you try to fill the void with multiple people. There's an opportunity here for the team to forge a new identity, for new leaders to emerge, and for this year's squad to begin their own legacy."

Quarterback Rachel Gore and receiver Jamie Fornal join the Force this season after playing for Seattle last season. Both will be key, as well as running back Cassey Brick, who previously played for two teams in California. "All three are very talented players with speed and experience," Bache said.

Several other key players have either retired, relocated or are unable to play this season for various reasons, including Darcy Leslie, Liz Okey, Jen Dulski, Amber Kimbrough, Mary Choules and Dorian Bridges.

"I expect our offense to be dynamic," Bache said. "We have wide receiver Jeanette Gray returning, and she was the 2014 Conference Offensive Player in the Year. We have running back Brandy Hatcher coming back, and she follows her blocks better than any back we've ever had. And running back Kelsey Casey, who was our Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, also is returning and has worked very hard in the off-season. We're expecting a great season from her.

"We should run the ball very well again this year with All-American offensive linemen Dawn Pederson, Jamie Menzyk, and Tami Engelman on board. Joining them will be All-American Cat Converse, who previously played for us in 2010."

On defense, the Force features Elisha Okrey, Angel Smith, Melissa Nelson, Kim Marks and Martha Dantuma—all returning. "We'll have a lot of new faces on defense because that's where we had the most turnover on our roster," Bache said. "Those changes start with our new defensive coordinator, Mario Coleman. He replaces Adam Lewandowski, who set the bar high in his three years [in the position]. Coach Lew did a phenomenal job and we miss him tremendously. He simply wasn't able to make the commitment this year due to family responsibilities. We're very fortunate that Mario was able to step in; he's very experienced, talented and I love the energy that he brings. Mario, Lew and [John] Konecki all coach together at Crete Monee High School, so this is a seamless transition."

Konecki ( 54-9 with the Force ) is back for his seventh season as the club's head coach and Bache said there aren't enough superlatives to describe him. "Suffice to say, we have the best coach in the league," Bache said.

Assistant coaches Bill Smith, Carlos Jones and Jim Ramazinski are returning, and Al Maldonado is rejoining after taking most of last season off. "I'm very pleased to have such a cohesive and experienced staff," she said.

The Force features an impressive group of rookies, such as Kelly Moore, Kylie Scurto, Vianny Saucedo and Anke Kutzscher. "All the first-year players have been working extremely hard and we're beginning to see significant improvement," Bache said. "The weather has really worked against us this year, keeping us inside longer than we'd like."

This is the team's 13th season and Chicago boasts a 99-23 overall record—including eight division titles, three conference championships and one national championship.

And this season, all Force home games—starting with the opener against the West Michigan Mayhem on April 11—will be played at Lane Stadium on the campus of Lane Tech High School on Chicago's north side.

"It's great to be back in the city of Chicago again," Bache said. The team had played there in 2006, prior to the stadium renovation. The past three seasons, the Force played at Evanston Township High School.

"I love the vibe and feel of [Lane Stadium]. It's an old school, concrete stadium from the early 1900s that was recently renovated with field turf and lights. It's also an attractive venue for our fans and sponsors."

Chicago's 2015 schedule includes home games against the Indy Crash ( May 9 ), Kansas City Titans ( May 16 ) and a bitter battle against the Boston Renegades ( May 30 ). The game against Boston will be played at Evanston Township High School, starting at 7 p.m. All other home games start at 5 p.m. Chicago's last home regular season game is June 13 against the St. Louis Slam.

The WFA playoffs begin in late June and the national champion will be crowned on Aug. 8.

"On paper our team looks thin, [with] the smallest roster we've had, so we're lacking depth in certain areas," Bache said. "Unless we can continue to grow the roster we will have a number of players getting reps on both sides of the ball. I'm still bringing on new players and will continue to do so throughout the season. I have some college graduates and international players that will join us mid-season. We are always looking to add players and improve and expand the roster, so if there's anyone out there toying with the idea of playing football, contact us now. Don't wait until next season. I'm adding players daily; it's not too late to join.

"We have a very competitive regular season schedule this year, which will help prepare us for the playoffs.

"We have developed an intense rivalry with the Boston team. We've met in the conference championship each of the past four seasons, with each team winning twice. The playoff format has shifted this year so, if we do face Boston in the post-season, it would likely be a round sooner, in the conference semi-finals. It's a shame to have the top teams facing each other that early in the playoffs, but we have no control over that."


This article shared 6307 times since Sat Mar 14, 2015
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