Breaking barriers, Stephanie DeHaven is part of a fascinating time for female sport in Great Britain. Part of an exciting sporting movement, one where these spectacular British women are bringing tremendous authenticity through their assiduous effort and love of the game that is tackle football, a fascinating apex reached during a momentous 2017.
As the game is still undergoing a formative time in Great Britain and throughout Europe, the chance to compete at the 2017 IFAF Womens Worlds is more than just a milestone. Gracing the gridiron in the host city of Vancouver, it allowed Great Britain the opportunity to build its gridiron mythology.
For players such as DeHaven, who has already enjoyed a league championship, the chance to don the British jersey in Vancouver is a monument to her dedication, providing all the women of the British contingent with a well-earned place in the sporting spotlight.
With a sporting background that included participation in the Irish (Exiles) Rugby Union earlier in the decade, DeHaven is one of several former rugby competitors that are part of a compelling conversion to American football. Possessing leonine grace and strong character, the brush with history allowed DeHaven a much more reflective admiration of the game and her teammates.
It was a huge honour to be a part of the GB squad for the debut in the worlds, the effort the players and coaching staff put in just to get us there was immense!
Among the wondrous women who call the Birmingham Lions their club team, DeHaven relished the opportunity to don the British jersey alongside so many of them. Competing at the fullback position with the Lions, wearing number 30, she made her epic debut on March 22, 2014 against Derby.
Undoubtedly, DeHaven’s rugged determination and unmistakable persistence made her an impact player from the moment that she first graced the gridiron for the gallant club. Ever studious, looking to refine the aspects of her position, DeHaven’s great hands and quick feet are an integral part of the superlative offense.
Earning a place in the starting line-up for the 2014 National Sapphire Finals, she would follow it up by contributing to Great Britain’s win over Sweden in the same year. Internationally, she would follow it up with wins over Russia in the IFAF European championship qualifier, along with tournament wins over Germany and Sweden again.
Indulging in the joyous chaos of American football, DeHaven’s IFAF debut in Vancouver signified a watershed moment. Opening the tournament by avenging a loss to Finland, one that was suffered in the gold medal game at the 2015 European championships, the chance to knock the proud Finns of their pedestal brought with a tremendous sense of redemption.
With Union Jacks waving in the stands, the obligatory adrenaline rush provided the motivation to make a phenomenal first impression for the British at the IFAF Worlds. The scene is one that DeHaven shall preserve in her memory for the remainder of her gridiron career. Possessing a combination of anticipation, nervous energy and national pride, the privilege of being on the worlds biggest stage was the type of moment that validated the nations status as world-class,
“The first game against Finland, I walked out onto the field with the supporters shouting and singing. It was amazing and my emotions were getting the better of me, singing the national anthem as always gave me goose bumps. I was ready to start; the nerves were present until the ball was kicked to start the game!”
Prevailing by a 27-21 final, as DeHaven contributed to the cause with four carries, fearlessly blocking for fellow running backs such as Ruth Matta and Claire Davies. It was a vibrant portrait of the teams potential to reach greater heights, although DeHaven emphasizes that the conclusion of the game was definitely one of the most riveting and nerve wracking in team history. With the British defense holding the Finns to a goal line stand, it was one of the most dramatic and exciting displays of elite female football in Vancouver, showing how much the competitive gap has started to close globally,
“I guess one can see by the picture what beating Finland meant to me and the team. They were the only team to have beaten us before the Worlds, and we felt like a score needed settling, which we did with a solid defensive stand to hold on in the last few seconds. Not going to lie, the last 10 seconds were the longest ever, with Finland getting closer to our line but I had no doubt in the D-line.”
Following the game against Finland, the British squad competed against the host Canadians, marking the first time in the history of the IFAF Womens Worlds that countries from the British Commonwealth competed against each other. With the winner qualifying for the gold medal game, it represented the biggest game in program history.
In spite of the Canadians emerging victorious, there was a feeling that the British were now part of the conversation among the worlds finest tackle football countries. With DeHaven enjoying the chance to meet members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, one of Canadas most iconic symbols, representing cultural fascination for DeHaven, it also stood as one of the highlights of such a memorable time that has elevated her career to new heights,
“Wow, there were so many good memories to pick one is difficult. I suppose it would have to be beating Finland, and meeting two Mounties.”
Gaining the chance to compete in the bronze medal game, it represented more than a proud career highlight for DeHaven. Said game resulted in a significant supply of confidence, instilling the belief in DeHaven and her fellow teammates that the European gold medal which eluded them in 2015 is firmly within reach at the next edition of the championships, to be contested in 2019.
“Yes, I feel that we can win the European championships. If we have the right personnel and strong plays called at the right time, then we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Capturing the essence of historic empowerment, the IFAF Womens Worlds was an event that shall place DeHaven and her teammates in a treasured place in British female sporting history. Dedicated towards changing the perception of women in sport, the stout heart that DeHaven brings to the gridiron reflects a strong leadership, quickly emerging as one of the games most admirable characters.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”