As the signature franchise in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, the Saskatoon Valkyries have no shortage of star players that have donned their colors. While the 2015 season represented a transition for the team, as new faces arrived and an injection of youth ensured that the future remained promising for the franchise, it was also an opportunity for veteran leaders to shine.
Among such veteran players was Shaylyn DeJong, one of the club’s longest serving players. Having experienced the thrill of capturing the WWCFL title in both 2013 and 2014, contributing to the Valkyries overall run of four titles, her contributions helped place the club into dynasty status.
Akin to so many other wondrous athletes that escaped their comfort zone and embraced the nascent yet exciting world of women’s tackle football, DeJong had an athletic background in another sport. With experiences in both gymnastics and track, her transition to the gridiron represented an entire new chapter in her sporting endeavors. In approaching the gridiron game, she realized that some elements of her background could prepare her for football,
“The major thing I learned from my previous sports was discipline. I was training 25 hours a week which required a ton of dedication and a large amount of work ethic which I try to bring to the field every week.”
With the 2016 WWCFL campaign representing her fourth with the Valkyries, DeJong has matured into one of the roster’s more experienced players. Taking into account that the Valkyries were successful in recruiting even more new faces prior to 2016, the club boasts an exciting combination of youth, hungry for a championship, and veteran players, experienced and confident in looking to returning to the top.
Understanding that a key aspect of leadership is teaching by example, DeJong’s work ethic provides a reassuring tone for many of the younger players to look up to. Like so many women who make the transition to football, DeJong acknowledges that one of the biggest challenges was initially learning the game. Having acquired the confidence that comes with a greater understanding of the game, DeJong feels comfortable seeing her game evolve to a new level comprising of leadership,
“Yes, I’m beginning to. As a team we have had a lot of new girls join in the last few years and I know it can be a huge learning curve as I knew nothing about football when I joined. I really try to lead by example, when I step on the field I try to have intensity and continually keep learning so I can encourage and mentor others.”
In reflecting on her football sojourn, DeJong has experienced many great personal and team milestones. Among the moments that she has treasured since first wearing the Valkyries helmet, it is the element of camaraderie and unity that comes with being part of a football team. Proud of the team’s culture and the feeling of working towards a collaborative goal, such essence defines what DeJong has enjoyed most about her experience with the Valkyries,
“There have been a lot of really good moments with the Valkyries. Winning back-to-back championships was a great experience but I have really enjoyed the team atmosphere. Coming from sports that were more individualized, its been a completely different experience knowing that we have to play as a team to be successful and that I’ve got 50 other teammates I can rely on.”
With the postseason looming, redemption serves as the key theme for DeJong and her Valkyries teammates. Having lost to archrival Regina twice in 2015, including the Prairie Conference final, the Valkyries are looking to avoid a similar outcome this year. As DeJong prepares to help Saskatoon work towards gaining a fifth title, which would make them the first team in WWCFL history to do so, she discusses what it will take to win that landmark championship.
“As a team we have been working really hard this season. Continuing to show determination and focus will hopefully lead us to another successful season.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”