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Hit by an angel
It's sexist, and an ego-trip for sure, and, in fact, you're a little embarrassed. But you can't help yourself.
You're watching the two dozen or so women of the Cen Cal War Angels stretched out on the grass, doing one-armed, leg-in push ups in full helmets and pads, and you're wondering, “Could I hang?”
For context: the War Angels is a women-only full-contact football team in its first year in the North Pacific Division of the Women's Football Alliance. They travel for games and compete on a semi-pro level, with NFL rules. Players get tired and sweaty. They get tackled and bloody.
This isn't some sorority flag-football league.
So, no, you probably couldn't keep up.
“They're tough. That's for sure,” says Ramon Arreola, the team's offensive coordinator. He's seen these women throw (and receive) some hard hits — like hard enough to dislocate a shoulder, though that player wrapped it up and got back in the game. Arreloa has another player lift up her sleeve to show a giant bruise, dark purple and lighter shades of the same, spread down the underside of the arm.
“It's getting better,” she says, and smiles, like it's nothing, then hustles back to practice.
The team is preparing for a home game this Saturday against the Utah Blitz. Game time is 7 p.m. at San Joaquin Memorial High School.
The War Angels are the sister team to the Central Cal Crusaders, and are coached by players and coaches from the Central Valley Football League. The team will play nine regular season games that could lead to the playoffs and a championship.
The players here are wives and mothers and colleges students, women with a passion to play a game in which most have little experience. This isn't about a pay day. In fact, the women each raised close to $500 for uniform and travel costs.
But forming friendships with the other players is worth that price alone, says Samantha Herns, who plays safety — and whatever other position the team needs. She'd never played football before joining the team, at least nothing organized. Her cousin played for the men's team and suggested she and her friends try out.
And there were moments where she wondered what she'd gotten herself into. The first couple of snaps were tense. But this is a first-year team and everyone is learning together, so she knew she wasn't alone.
Plus, she ran track and played soccer at Fresno Pacific College, so she's used to a certain level of competition.
In fact, what the players may lack in experience, they make up for with sheer athletic prowess. Most are ex-high school or college athletes. The team's quarter back, Chantel Wiggins, is a former Fresno State tennis star and current associate pro at Fig Garden Swim and Racquet Club. And she's got an arm. Receiver Lakeya Sears tried to get on the football team Edison High School, but it didn't work out. She did play basketball there, and later at Merced College.
She's not afraid of getting hit hard.
Of course, “most people can't catch me,” she says. “So...” She lets it drop there.
For those who need the statistics, the team is 1-3 for the season, with 84 points and 1083 total yards.
But a better statistical indicator might be the number of butts in seats at the team's first home game. The home-side bleachers were filled, says James Brandsen, the team's announcer and statistician. He puts the number close to 500. That's bigger than the crowds they've seen on the road, he says, even in Los Angeles, which has a veteran team that's one of the best in the league.
The fans support has been great, Sears says, and that's just what the team needs.
“The more fans we've got, the harder we'll play.”