For the second time this academic year, Western University has come away with a football championship. Western's women’s football team finished first in the Laurier Championship Tournament this weekend.
Western capped a successful season that saw the team go 8–2–2 during regular season tournament play, winning two of the three tournaments that they competed in.
The season's first two tournaments were held at the University of Toronto and at McMaster University, and the championship tournament was hosted by Wilfrid Laurier University. After finishing 2–0–1 in the championship's pre-tournament round-robin, Western swept the playoffs, winning the final game over the Laurier Golden Hawks by a score of 17–7.
A two-touchdown performance from wide receiver Laura Swaffield highlighted the Mustangs' winning effort. After going up 14–0 in the first half, the Mustangs added a field goal from Riley Louise and held the Golden Hawks’ offence to one touchdown in the second half to complete the victory.
“Winning a championship is a great feeling,” said Swaffield, “but doing it with the people who have suffered through the 7 a.m. practices in -20 weather with you makes it way more special.”
Swaffield’s mindset perfectly describes the mindset of the team. Despite being champions, each team member is quick to emphasize the team over individual accomplishments.
“Joining this team was one of the best experiences I’ve had in university,” said defensive back Miranda Winslade. “I get to walk away with 50 teammates who have my back on and off the field.”
A large motivator for the team is the feeling that Western does not give the team the respect that they deserve. They feel that the school carries a popular misconception that the women's football team is not a "real" team since they do not carry an official varsity title.
Attempting to dispel this misconception, quarterback Olivia Ghosh-Swaby asserts that they are a competitive team, despite the league they compete in being called "powderpuff."
The league name has a long history and originally referred to the makeup and face-paint the women would ironically apply during halftime. The current team however, prefers the name to refer to the snow that they play in, though.
“We should be taken seriously," said Ghosh-Swaby. "We want to eliminate that idea of "powderpuff." We want to be looked at as athletic as any other football team.”
“People … should view it as if it is at the varsity level,” adds running back Jess Io. “It does require a lot of dedication.”
Despite not holding an official varsity title, the team goes through a rigorous tryout process, commits to practices four times a week — in viciously cold January weather — and attends three tournaments every year that they have to travel to.
There are a total of 19 teams in the league, comprised of universities across Ontario including the University of Toronto, York University, McMaster University and Queen's University. The league is a mixture of flag and contact football; the line-play is contact and the skill players are flagged. All other rules follow the National Collegiate Athletic Association college football rulebook.
A large amount of the disrespect they feel comes from the lack of the official varsity title. Despite looking into attaining varsity ratification, it is not something the team can currently pursue.
The main problem that the team faces with the ratification process is the necessity of playing an entire year locally. The process insists that the team take a year off of travel-play and keep all games within the university. This mandate is made in order to allow Western to determine if they meet the standards of a varsity team.
Not playing travel tournaments is simply not an option to the leaders of this team.
"The thing is, we love this team. We love playing." Explains Ghosh-Swaby, "for us to take a year off,... it seems like a lot [to ask of the team]."
Even though Western University women's football team may not receive the recognition they deserve, they are champions. And for now, that's enough.