While their practices aren’t quite back to a normal format due to some of the gathering restrictions that remain in place for at least a few more weeks, it’s a lot closer to normal than the Valkyries have experienced in a long time.
For some players, the first practice of the year felt a bit like going back to school after summer vacation.
“I was honestly really nervous. I don’t know why, I had anxiety about getting back on the field but then as soon as I got here and saw all the girls and stuff and we started playing, it just felt so good to get back to it,” linebacker Devyn Peters said.
The six-time Western Women’s Canadian Football League champions won’t be chasing a seventh title in 2021, as the league has opted not to play an official season for a second straight year, but they will at least get a chance to play some games.
That’s a significant improvement compared to what they experienced last year, which featured virtually no football activity at all.
“Tentatively we’re planning three games; a three-game series with (the) Regina (Riot). Whether we have more than that after that, we’re not certain,” head coach Pat Barry said.
The exhibition series will give the Valkyries a chance to sharpen their skills after a long time away from the sport.
“Regina’s one of the best teams in the country and to play them on a regular basis will only help us,” Barry added.
The return of WWCFL football, albeit in exhibition form, also helps the league itself. It’s hard to guess how significant an impact two completely dark years would have had on the league’s overall health and its efforts to grow the women’s game.
WWCFL president and Valkyries veteran Jaime Lammerding is confident that the league will bounce back and believes all seven of its teams will survive beyond the pandemic, though she acknowledges that it’s been a challenging time.
“There’s just lots of things coming into play that we might have not had to think about before that might be something we have to think about in the future, but we’re still relatively new so we know how to deal with a lot of those challenges,” she said.
As for the Valkyries, while they may only be playing exhibition games this year, there’s no shortage of benefits.
“We’ve said to the team already, whatever you want to get out of this season is what we want to try to give to them. Whether it’s for some camaraderie, whether it’s for friendship, whether it’s for exercise,” Barry said.
“Some of the players on our team are looking for film. Many of them have a good chance of being on Team Canada and playing in a world championship next year, so that’s pretty exciting for some of those athletes too. That’s one of the unique things about our sport and one of the things that we can provide for them.”
Just being on the field again has boosted the team’s spirits.
“It’s really important, not only for our mental health and stuff, to actually be able to be around people again, to be around your friends, be around a community, a good, supportive community, a group of badass ladies,” Peters said.
A group that, after well over a year apart, is finally back together.