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'Surreal feeling': 12 Saskatoon Valkyries make national women's football

-Written by Tyler Barrow

(Photo courtesy of Emmarae Dale)

Saskatoon Valkyries linebacker Emmarae Dale of the Western Women's Canadian Football League (WWCFL) is set to represent her country after making the women's national football team.

"It's a pretty surreal feeling," she said. "My goal for the last four years of playing football has just been to make team Canada."

She was one of 43 players named to the roster which will compete in the International Federation of American Football Women's World Championship in Vantaa, Finland. The tournament runs from July 27 to Aug. 8, featuring the top women's football teams in the world.

Joining her is fellow Valkyries player Ashley Viklund, who will be competing in her second world championship.

"Getting to play for team Canada and having your country's name across your chest is just absolutely one of the most thrilling experiences of my life."

Valkyries player Lauren Ferguson made the team as an offensive lineman and tight end. She originally played out in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

"Just the opportunities both as a player and a coach out here are night and day," she said.

The team will meet in July to train together in Finland ahead of the tournament. The team is still waiting to see who its first opponent is. Viklund says the U.S. is a heavy favourite to win the event, but she welcomes the opportunity to play them. In her basement, where she works out, she has a silver medal from when the team lost to the U.S . in 2017 to remind her to "get one step higher, wanting that gold."

"This time we're really hoping to make a game of it and actually be ahead on that leaderboard," she said.

Beyond seeking a gold medal, Vikund and her fellow Valkeries know they represent much more.

"I think there's a real opportunity for growth with women in football because it's been such a traditionally masculine sport," she said.

"Getting out there showing that it's not just guys that you know, play fast and hit hard — we do the exact same thing," said Ferguson.

The tournament was slated for 2021 but was postponed due to the pandemic. "I'm most looking forward is to compete at a high calibre and just see kind of what the world has to offer in terms of women's football," Dale said.

Canada's roster features 12 Valkyries players which is the most of any team. The WWCFL's Regina Riot landed another seven players on the team.

"Goes to show how good our football program is here in Saskatchewan," she said "We all kind of have the prairie toughness."

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