“Footy” National Champion Denver Lady Bulldogs Celebrating Win All Week

GlobaLinks Learning Abroad Staff Members Play On Winning Women’s Team at U.S. Australian Football League Championship

Celebration is a daily affair right now for the Denver Bulldogs Women’s Australian Rules Football Team, which last weekend won the 2010 U.S. Australian Football League National Championship in Louisville, Ken.

The 2010 national championship-winning team includes several GlobaLinks Learning Abroad staff members.: Kelli Modica, AsiaLearn assistant manager; Alicia Houghtelling, coordinator, outreach and student services; and Kimberly Tibbetts, manager, short term programs. Alicia Rippen Cone, a former GlobaLinks Learning Abroad employee, also plays on the team.

“It was a great weekend and one we will never forget,” Tibbetts said to her fellow staff members. “It is so great to come back to work and have people really excited for us and our accomplishment.”

To learn more about the championship, the United States Australian Football League, and the sport itself, the GlobaLinks NewsWire asked Lady Bulldogs Team Captain Kelli Modica a few questions.

Q: Tell me about the championship win.

The Denver Bulldogs took three teams with them to the USAFL Nationals in Louisville, Ken. We had a Division 1 men’s team, a Division 4 men’s team, and the women’s team. All three of our teams actually made it to the finals, but only the women’s team was able to pull through with a victory.

We played four games in two days and the final game on Sunday was against the Calgary/Montreal team. We actually had played Calgary/Montreal on Saturday and lost to them 55 to 10, which made our victory over them on Sunday even more amazing. The final game was close, with a final score of 19 to 18, which kept us all on our toes and playing hard the entire game.

It was a very physical game and we all walked away with numerous bumps and bruises, but the fact that we all were able to walk away was an accomplishment in itself.

Our loss to Calgary/Montreal on Saturday may be partially explained by the fact that our coach, Bruce Durrell, knew we did not have to win that game to advance to the semi-finals so he put us all in different positions and rested several of the starting players. Either way it felt fantastic to come out and show them how we truly play and to end up on top.

Q: Most people in the U.S. aren’t familiar with Australian Rules Football. How do you describe the game to those who are unfamiliar?

It’s anything but easy to try and explain Australian Rules Football. I usually tell people it’s a unique mix between American football, rugby, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Then I throw in that it’s a true athlete’s sport and there are positions on the field for people of all shapes and sizes. It’s fast-paced, skillful, and a blast to watch and play.

Q: Describe your Denver Bulldogs team – it includes how many people and from what backgrounds?

The Denver Bulldogs have been around for 11 years, with the women’s team joining about 3 years ago. We have 20 women ages 23 to 36 and most are young professionals. We have a couple mothers on the team who took last season off while they were pregnant but played this year with full force. Many of the players grew up playing soccer, but several of us stuck to basketball, and others strayed away from sports all together growing up but decided to pick up Aussie Rules Football (aka Footy) as adults.

We are more than just a team and a club.  We are truly a family and look to one another for guidance, support, help, and even more so for a fun time. The entire club has more than 70 people involved, so it’s a gigantic family, but a family nonetheless.

Denver Lady Bulldogs Coach Bruce Durrell.

Q: How often do you practice and how long is your season?

Our season is quite long and runs from April to early October. We practice twice a week and generally travel to 2 or 3 tournaments during the season to play actual games. It’s hard to stay focused throughout the season when you only play a few games a year, but since the closest team is in Arizona we don’t have much choice. To keep things interesting we participate in a coed, non-contact league, for eight weeks in the summer to gain more game experience and to learn from the men’s team. The coed league is a ton of fun and we get a lot more players out who prefer to stay away from contact sports.

Q: Is the sport growing in the U.S.?

Absolutely! The weekend at Nationals brought in almost 1,000 people from across the U.S. and Canada. More and more, I am finding that I don’t actually have to explain what Aussie Rules is because it’s now broadcast on ESPN2 and even some local channels.

The women’s league went from three teams to eight teams in just a few years and the interest continues to grow. The men’s league has around 30 teams.

Q: What kind of an athlete do you need to be to participate at this level of Australian Rules Football?

Any type of athlete can play this sport! There is a position on the field for people who are fast, slow, tall, short, small, big, good at kicking, good at catching, good at tackling, and good at running.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses when playing the game, but by playing together and finding the spot on the field that accentuates your strengths makes it a fun game for almost anyone.

Q: Does your team have any plans to celebrate its championship? Is another tour planned in Australia?

We have not stopped celebrating since we won the championship on Sunday, and we will continue to celebrate for the rest of the week. The week after you win is called “Medals Week.” This means that we must wear our medals every day, even to work, and we meet up at a different pub or restaurant every night to reminisce about the games and enjoy our accomplishment.

The U.S. Freedom Team is planning a trip to Australia again in August 2011 and will play against other teams from around the world. There will definitely be a few Lady Bulldogs on that team, but the final team won’t be chosen until 2011.

Q: The game can be very physical, I understand. What does your team do to stay in shape and stay tough?

Run, run, and RUN! Personally I run five to six days a week and lift weights at least once a week. As a team we engage in a strict and difficult sprinting drills throughout the season to improve our fitness, run hill sprints, and occasionally do distance runs to get our legs used to all different aspects of the game.

We’ve had several injuries on the team from sprained ankles, to torn ACLs, to a broken back, but every single one of the players who have been injured are back on the field as soon as they get the OK from the doctor. It’s an amazing group of women who are truly tough, but when you meet them and talk to them you wouldn’t guess in a million years that they play a full-contact sport!

Q: There are so many sports and activities to choose from. What is it about this sport that has so captured the interest of your team members?

Aussie Rules is addicting, and that’s all there is to it. Every person who plays loves the adrenaline rush they get when they step on the field. It’s such a fun and fast paced game that there is literally never a dull moment. There truly is a place on the field for any type of athlete. The top players can range from girls who are less than 5’ to girls who are well over 6’.

Q: Do you have any team traditions or pre-game rituals?

We don’t really.

Q: Is there a “breakfast of champions” or pre-game meal that you like to eat before a game?

A lot of us eat oatmeal or cereal, bananas for loading up on potassium, and between games a lot of us grab for Beef Jerky to keep our energy up and prepare our bodies for the next game. Pineapple and watermelon are great half-time snacks, although we rarely have time to actually eat anything.

After a game I head straight for the chocolate milk, which I now swear by! For one it’s delicious, and it also is great for muscle recover.

Q: Did you do a calendar this year?

No, not this year. We actually haven’t done much for fundraising.

Q: If your team could play any where in the world, where would it play?

I’m willing to bet everyone would say Australia. That is where the game was born and it is extremely gratifying to play the game on its home soil. It would be even more gratifying to actually beat some Australian teams! I know when I played on the U.S. Freedom team in August 2009 and we played against four different Australian teams I came back a much better player. I was able to learn an amazing amount from these teams who grew up with the sport and was forced to play at the top of my game at all times just to keep up with them.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

Winning a National Championship is an incredible feeling and it is still a bit surreal. My teammates are some of my best friends, and when I look around at each one of us I think, ‘How did we win a championship?!’ We aren’t all ridiculously amazing athletes. We don’t all train every day. We are just normal, everyday people who happen to enjoy the game. But, I think our close relationship and our dedication to the sport and one another is what gave us the edge this weekend and ultimately won us the National Championship. We also are lucky enough to be part of one of the most tight-knit clubs in the league and have the support of all of the men on the team who watched our games, cheered for us, and encouraged us to play our hardest even when we thought we had nothing left to give. Without the club, our coach – Bruce Durrell – and our strong friendships this would not have been possible.

For a write-up on the team’s win and more information on the Denver Bulldogs teams, visit the team’s web site.

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