The 2011 Women's International Cup of Australian Football was a roller coaster of emotions. What better way to end my playing career with the Freedom than the first women's International Cup? I was expecting the feelings of elation that come with seeing a dream come true. And I knew that I would also be feeling the sadness of knowing that this was a farewell tour.
When we established the first women's competition outside of Australia in 2003, Leigh Swansborough and I had a vision of women from across the globe participating in such an event.
USAFL women's footy has been leading this effort since the start. We played our first women's match in 2003. After the 2004 USAFL nationals, I was asked to join the USAFL board as the Women's Football Director. The women's division at Nationals was established in 2005 and in 2006 the national team was initiated. When the other members of the USAFL board asked who we would play, I said "Well, it looks like we'll be playing Australia".
The first step in establishing the national team program was selecting a head coach and Wayne Kraska from Atlanta took the helm. It turns out that word of women's footy had spread to Canada and we were invited to send a team to compete in the 2007 49th Parallel Cup in Vancouver. The US Freedom played Canada in the first women's international matches. The matches were a success in that the Calgary based players decided to come down to the USAFL nationals later that year in Louisville.
We then set to planning a tour of Australia by the US Freedom. In August of 2009, 24 women and 3 coaches embarked on a whirlwind 10 days that included 4 matches across Australia -- Sydney, Cairns, Bendigo, and Melbourne. We played a lot of footy, met many new friends, and put international women's footy on the map in Australia.
It's safe to say that the women's division of the 2011 International Cup would not have occurred without the pioneering efforts of USA based women's footy. I had decided to retire from the USAFL board after the 2009 nationals and was very excited that Andrea Casillas accepted the position.
It was such an honor to have been a part of all of these events that I decided that I had to try out for the 2011 squad and end my US Freedom playing career by competing in the International Cup. I was realistic and was not expecting to be on the field all the time. I'm glad that we have a crop of younger women coming up through the ranks. I figured that my primary role would be to mentor players and provide veteran stability since the squad was very inexperienced.
I was hoping to have a decent run in our last game, which was also the last time I would be pulling on the red white and blue jumper adorned with the Statue of Liberty. Alas, it was not to be as it was my 3rd game in which the coaches chose not to play me. My playing time in the other two games was severely limited and I was only put in when the outcome was decided and the ball never came close to our forward 50. 5 games with about 15 minutes spent on the field in one game and one minute in the other. And thus ends my playing career with the USA Freedom. Not quite the goodbye I was hoping to have.
I was happy for the team that they finished in third place and that my teammates from the Minnesota Freeze played well. I felt a bit like a hen watching her kids grow and move out of the nest. I got to know some of the newer players better and was especially glad to see Jen Cravens perform so well after she missed out on the 2010 49th Parallel Cup due to an injury.
The AFL Coaching Accreditation Course in Melbourne was amazing and has already helped me prepare for the next phase of my footy career. I'm still playing club footy with the Minnesota Freeze and plan on staying involved in footy via coaching once my playing days are over. 2011 will be my 9th consecutive nationals played. Its hard to imagine that there are no other women left from that first match in 2003 and only a few of us who have played in every USAFL Nationals.
It was great to catch up with people that we met on the 2009 tour like Lisa Roper in Sydney, Jo Butland from Cairns, and Chyloe Kurdas, Emma Phillips, and Michelle Palmer in Melbourne. I finally got to meet Jan Cooper, AFL Women's Development Manager, after years of communicating via email. These are fantastic relationships to have and I hope the Freedom maintains them.
I can't help but think about how fortunate the girls are to be able to participate in this amazing sport during their athletic prime. I've had wonderful experiences and made many friends from across the globe because of Australian Football. However, I do wish that I had the opportunity to play when I was younger.
I am honored to have a part in providing an opportunity for women across the globe to play the sport that I call the purest form of all the ball sports. I hope to see everyone at the next International Cup, I have no idea what role I will have, but I'm sure I will find something.