Following a heartbreaking outcome in the 2015 Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) playoffs, the theme for the 2016 campaign was one of redemption for the Saskatoon Valkyries. With a combination of experienced veterans and enthusiastic new faces, Julene Friesen helped lead the way for a team ready to rise to the occasion.
As Friesen recounts, the ability to rebound after a loss in the 2015 Prairie Conference championship game to the Regina Riot and retain its place as league champions in 2016 was a turning point. Displaying tremendous character and dedication, Saskatoon approached the season with a more determined fervor. Despite suffering their first-ever postseason loss in 2015, it proved to be a character defining moment, setting the stage for even greater glories to come.
“We had never been in this spot before, coming in as the underdogs, but I think it was good for us. It helped us to be humble. It helped us bond as a team, work hard in the off season, and even harder during the season. It was a great feeling to beat Regina in the semi-final, which was a game we were waiting for all year in order to redeem ourselves, and finishing the season with a dominant win on the road was a perfect ending.”
With the gridiron as a blank canvas, upon which the dreams and ambitions of her teammates were painted upon it, Friesen assembled a riveting performance in the 2016 WWCFL championship game. Shredding the opposing Edmonton Storm defense with 117 rushing yards, Friesen would also run to daylight twice in an 81-0 final that entrenched the Valkyries as one of the great gridiron dynasties of the decade.
For her efforts, Friesen was recognized as Game MVP, while the Valkyries became the first team in WWCFL history to win five championships. Displaying the devotion to her team that makes her such a model athlete, Friesen is quick to point out that her MVP performance was attributed to the collective efforts of her dedicated teammates,
“I feel very honored, but at the same time, there are a dozen other girls that could have received it from our team. Sometimes the offensive skilled positions (running backs, receivers) get recognized the most because we get to score TDs, but we definitely had a strong team performance during our championship game. That was the best our defense has played, and we had some amazing stand out plays from our veterans, Beth and Rienna. Yet, it was also nice to see all of our young players get a lot of playing time and do very well.”
Undoubtedly, the love of the gridiron is in Friesen’s blood. Along with her brother Mitch, who played at the defensive back position with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, Julene was no stranger to Huskies athletics. A former track star with the program, her sprinting prowess included gold in the 800-meter team relay at the 2010 Canada West finals. As a side note, her younger sister Kenzie competes in varsity softball with Liberty University.
While Friesen’s gridiron legacy was only strengthened by the victorious outcome against Edmonton, it was not her only opportunity to compete at the championship stage this season. In spring 2016, Friesen was one of several Valkyries that competed in the championship game at the Canadian women’s flag football nationals.
Having also won a championship with the Valkyries in her rookie campaign of 2013, she took time off the gridiron in 2014. Having once visited Brisbane, Australia with surfing ambitions, Friesen attempted long distance running and beach volleyball in 2014, testament to her athletic abilities.
Returning to the gridiron in 2015, where she logged three rushing touchdown, including a convincing 62-yard run in her first game back, Friesen has proven to be very comfortable on the gridiron. Employed as a physical education teacher, the Valkyries have proven to be more than just a cast of characters but a chance to play with so many familiar faces, including fellow alums from the Huskies, setting the stage for one of the most cherished chapters in her athletic endeavors,
“Getting to play with former students, colleagues, friends, team mates and opponents from other sports…and just being part of a great group of amazing leaders and athletes. I also really enjoyed our win in the semi-final against the Riot, where we battled through a hail and thunder storm and an extended half time break, to advance to the WWCFL final.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”