Lions’ ladies secure Sapphire top seeding
On International Women’s Day it was fitting that such an array of strength, pace and dexterity was on show: Women’s American Football representing all that is good in relation to women in sport. The Lions a new addition to the University’s sports portfolio is going from strength to strength and on a beautiful spring day their skills did all the talking as they powered through the day undefeated to take the spoils.
Having played their first opponents a fortnight previously the home side started strongly against Derby’s new Braves outfit, opening aerial scores from Quarterback Jo Kilby to Wing Laura Moore and End Becky Williams the catalyst for the Lions’ defence to then take a stranglehold. Linebacker Phoebe Schecter and cornerback Jemma Nixon featured strongly, harrying play and shutting down all threats courtesy of their bruising and enthusiastic style of play. With Derby a fast improving young team, showing bags of spirit, Birmingham were perhaps flattered by the final score-line (43-0).
Next up was Kingston and this was a fixture Birmingham needed to be on their game for – it only being a few weeks previous that Kingston had caught the Lions cold and served them a short, sharp lesson. But that was then and this was now and with Head Coach Jamie Kilby pulling the strings, orchestrated scores from Moore and Schecter, cameoing on offence, were enough to see the offence move clear. Indeed Lions’ attack might have covered more ground late in the game but for an unfortunate injury to half-back Ezme Moyse, a double-tackle (and resultant broken ankle (….get well soon Ezme)) ending her day after a promising run had threatened to go all the way. With Wing Charlotte Jeff also feeling the effects of a pulled groin, Lions’ defence needed to step-up, and so they did: an impressive and imposing game from Schecter back in situ at linebacker, cornerback Nance Stone and Safety Nena Killick shutting Kingston’s options down, the final whistle bringing a dominant display for the Lions to a more than rewarding close (final score: 13-0).
Portsmouth Destroyers were Birmingham’s next foe but despite their physical prowess they were simply outgunned from the start: strong carries and good-work off the ball from inter-changing Ends’ Kiara Vincent and Emelie Taylor (on debut) notable illuminations. Stone, in defence, showed off her athleticism taking an interception back for a touchdown; Killick on the next defensive set almost did the same (an illegal block bringing progress back), but it wasn’t long before the defence were at it again, hustle and bustle from replacement nose tackle Rin Voigt-Hill asserting the pressure that lead to a Portsmouth bad snap, Schecter reacting like the proverbial (big) cat to pinch the points. Portsmouth grabbed a 6-pointer themselves before the final whistle was sounded – a lateral pass that didn’t find its target a gift for the Destroyers defence, who finished their score with gusto (32-6).
With Birmingham undefeated, the final game of the day saw a show-down against the University of Hertfordshire, also undefeated and in good form. Things however couldn’t have started any worse for the Lions after a misunderstanding in the back-field saw a fumble off the first play recovered by Herts just five yards out. Despite a strong defensive effort the visitors crossed the Lions’ goal-line for just the second time that day to take an unconverted 0-6 lead. Flustered, the Lions, drew breath and mounted their assault, but things just weren’t clicking. Offensive exchanges were curtailed by both team’s dominant defences and so come the change over at half-time, it was time for a re-think. Adaptability is something the Lions have been working hard to add to their game and it wasn’t until mid-way through the second half that things started to come good. Herts defence who had been reading our game brilliantly up to now were now starting to show signs of concern as our aerial assaults started to bear fruit, huge receptions when we needed it coming from Moore and the touchdown from Williams to tie things up, a very welcome fillip (6-6).
Within a drive however Herts were back in front, an over-commitment in our defensive patterns leaving space for their wing to steal an unconverted score (6-12). With just 1.28 remaining on the clock, it was now or never for the Lions. Stone, who had entered the fray in previous plays, was starting to get up to speed, despite an already exhausting day on defence, and when Moore pulled out a vital first down, Kilby took to the air with four attempts to play with. The first fell short the second did not, Stone’s super route and deceptive pace taking her past her marker and into the end zone for a 30yd catch, with the PAT desperately close but just shy of completion it was golden point, shoot-out time (12-12).
The first team to break the pattern of scoring would be the winner – Birmingham were up first, and with a coolness not fitting the palpable tension evident around the field, QB Kilby dropped the ball onto a sixpence for Stone to pull-in – TOUCHDOWN. First blood Lions. Herts now had it all to do, our defence, ranked number one in the series to date, had one last big play to make, and boy did they make it. From the off the precedent was set: Deli out of the blocks from Nose, brushing aside her opposite number to apply the pressure, but Herts’ QB, knowing she had to get rid of the ball (within 7 seconds), just could not find an open receiver, with everything locked down her last-ditch pass fell away and that was that: an explosion of delight from the players, coaches and supporters was just reward for a fantastic display of football from both teams……that the Lions, won it, on their own turf, well that was kinda good too!
Special mentions go to:
Michelle “Deli” Gwynne: a nose tackle by trade, Deli also put the hard graft in at centre during the early part of the day (whilst we bedded Polly Danks back in after injury) – Deli’s power and strength harried opposition offence’s all day whilst she effortlessly bought her offence time on the ball with her powerful (and at times effortless) blocking – awesome job.
Nancy Stone: a GB running back last year, Nancy has selflessly played cornerback all series this season to serve a greater purpose for the team; her best defensive showing in a Lions’ jersey she picked off three interceptions, running two home for touchdowns…however in the Lions’ time of need she made the ultimate cameo, slotting in to half-back to collect the winning score in overtime.
Coaches Jamie and Brian: for setting the expectation, going on the roller-coaster and making the big plays and getting them right – this was for you as much as anyone else.
…and finally, our thanks and appreciation to the University and the overarching Lions’ set-up, notably from Wayne Hill, Greg Freeman and support from the men’s team, who helped the day pass smoothly and convivially for all concerned and a shout out to the officials who adjudicated with good humour and clarity all day long.
Image with thanks to Garry Charles Photography and © MyLonelyTreeMedia.