Calgary Kookaburras win 2008 US Nationals
The Calgary Kookaburras have capped off a stellar 2008 season by winning the US National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Kookaburras were unbeaten in four games to win their first National Championship, overwhelming the previously-undefeated Atlanta Lady Kookaburras in a thrilling final.
The tournament win was made more remarkable because Calgary finished last in the 2007 US Nationals when they merged with the Washington First Lady Eagles. Losses to Milwaukee, Arizona and Atlanta during that tournament sparked the Calgary women into a vigorous off-season fitness program and led to the development of the first full-season women’s footy league in North America during the 2008 summer. Regular matches and dedicated women’s footy training sessions helped to give the mostly-Canadian squad the skills needed to take out the 2008 title.
Calgary was drawn in a group with Milwaukee and 2007 runners-up Arizona on the first day of the tournament. Milwaukee were skillful opponents with a lot of footy experience, featuring US Freedom players Denielle David and Helen Spink in the midfield and Kathryn Hogg at full-forward. In the wet weather, the Kookaburras focused on creating space around the packs to allow effective clearances, and to shutting down David’s attack with heavy tackling. Kookaburra Lesley Zmurchuk created problems for the Milwaukee defence, but errant kicking into the wind kept the Americans within reach. Erin LeBlanc and Holly Greatwich were impressive in Calgary’s 43-point win.
Next up, Calgary played a hard-tackling Arizona Lady Hawks side. Knowing Arizona’s reliance on skilled midfielder and US Freedom vice-captain Tina Arend, Calgary focused on shutting Arend out of game and exploiting a deeper bench by running the ball down the wings. The Kookaburras had too many angles on goal for the Lady Hawks to cover, and Greatwich, Zmurchuk and full-forward Roxy Kelly each booted three goals in a solid 49-point win.
Calgary met Denver in the first semi-final on Sunday morning. The Lady Bulldogs loomed as a dark horse in the competition, with several US Freedom players in their large squad of 20 and plenty of experience of training at high altitude. Calgary focused on using their height advantage around the ground, but the wet conditions and a strong cross-wind made marking difficult. Lady Bulldogs captain Anna Thexton was kept quiet by Calgary’s half back line, and Kookaburra Lori Bossert kicked the opening three goals in a dominant display off the half forward flank. The final siren sounded a 26-point win to Calgary and set up a final against the reigning US Champion Atlanta Lady Kookaburras.
Having lost heavily to Atlanta in 2007, the Calgary girls were well aware of their opponents midfield proficiency and scoring capacity up forward. US Freedom players Jenny Sarbacker and Judith Stein are household names in North American women’s footy, and Calgary went out seeking to nullify their influence on the game. The Kookaburras started strongly, putting three unanswered goals on the board by halftime and using the wind to their advantage. Atlanta were tackling hard, but also conceded several free kicks in front of the Calgary goals, allowing the Kookaburras to build a healthy lead. Tonya Strickland kicked a fourth for Calgary early in the second half, but after that Atlanta lifted a gear and the momentum shifted in their favour. Calgary struggled to clear the ball effectively from defence into the strong wind, and the Lady Kookaburras kicked three goals to put the game in the balance. Great defence under pressure by Caity Kidd and Meg Goodfellow kept Calgary in the lead until the final siren went and the celebrations began.
Holly Greatwich was named as a most consistent player in the group stage of the competition, and Erin LeBlanc was named as the best player during the finals. Calgary captain Kathryn Zakus accepted the gold medallions on the club’s behalf and lifted the women’s division championship trophy with club coach Jake Anson.
Saturday October 11, 2008
Calgary Kookaburras 6.7.43 def. Milwaukee Lady Bombers 0.0.0
Goals Calgary: Kelly 2, Bossert, Greatwich, O’Rae, Zmurchuk
Best Calgary: Zmurchuk, LeBlanc, Greatwich, Kelly, Zakus
Calgary Kookaburras 7.8.50 def. Arizona Lady Hawks 0.1.1
Goals Calgary: Greatwich 2, Kelly 2, Zmurchuk 2, Bily
Best Calgary: Greatwich, Kelly, Zmurchuk, LeBlanc, Jones
Sunday October 12, 2008
Calgary Kookaburras 5.3.33 def. Denver Lady Bulldogs 1.1.7
Goals Calgary: Bossert 3, Goodfellow, Strickland
Best Calgary: Bossert, LeBlanc, Zakus, Goodfellow, Mumford
Calgary Kookaburras 4.4.28 def. Atlanta Lady Kookaburras 3.5.23
Goals Calgary: LeBlanc 2, Bossert, Zmurchuk
Best Calgary: LeBlanc, Goodfellow, Kidd, Zmurchuk, Bossert