Four Marylanders look to help US Women’s National Team win soccer world title – Baltimore Sun
Kathryn “Lexie” Floor grew up watching her older brother Andrew prepare for his high school football games, and she was fascinated by the uniforms and the spectacle surrounding his games.
“I always remember thinking, ‘He looks like a superhero with all his stuff and his helmet,'” she recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like this. I want to wear armor and go to war and just catch footballs. And I remember telling my dad when I was really young that I wanted playing football, and he said there wasn’t really football for girls, he said it was really a boy’s sport.
Floor, a 32-year-old digital marketing executive from Beltsville, is helping to overturn that thinking. She is one of four Maryland residents roster for the U.S. Women’s National Tackle Team, which will compete in Vantaa, Finland, July 28-August 8 for the Federation Women’s World Tackle Championship. international football international (IFAF) 2022.
Floor, a 5-foot-7, 145-pound wide receiver, is joined by 6-0, 295-pound offensive lineman Jennifer Gray of Laurel, 5-6, 155-pound defensive back Chantal Ridlon of Monrovia and 5 -9, 195-pound defensive back LaShantel Wilson of Beltsville. All four are scheduled to attend Walsh University’s training camp in North Canton, Ohio, July 21-27, and Floor said she’s looking forward to making her first appearance on the world stage.
“It was a dream come true, but now it is coming true,” she said.
Of four players from Maryland, only Gray has international experience, as a member of the 2017 national team. Thirty-eight of the 45 players on the current roster will debut next month, which could be a factor, acknowledged coach Callie Brownson.
“It’s a big step, it’s a big opportunity, and there’s a lot of eyes on you,” said Brownson, a 2013 and 2017 team safety and current assistant wide receiver coach for the Cleveland Browns. “It’s something I intend to take them through in training camp and work with them to think it’s okay to feel that way. It’s big. That’s why you work so hard to get here, and that’s why we work so hard in training camp.
Team USA is the reigning world title slate, having won crowns in 2010, 2013 and 2017 – the only years the IFAF has hosted the championships. Last year’s tournament was postponed due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, which is why USA Football officials are eager to compete again this summer.
“[The level of enthusiasm] is exceptionally high,” said Eric Mayes, senior director of football operations for USA Football. “The last few years that we’ve all had around the world have led to this, and there’s just a general excitement to come back and compete. Our team is also excited to present the highest level of women’s football we have here in the United States and to do it again on the world stage.There has been a huge movement over the last five years to provide an equitable opportunity to show the high level of participation of women in all sports.
Football tackling is becoming a popular sport among girls. Forty-seven of 50 states saw an increase in the percentage of girls playing high school football with tackle in 2018 compared to 2008, according to attendance data compiled by the National Federation of High Schools and cited by NFL Football Operations, the league’s research arm. The report noted that the 593 girls playing tackle football in California was the highest total of any state, and the 204 participating in New Jersey represented a rate 6.3 times higher than in 2008.
These numbers confirm to Mayes why USA Football sponsors women’s soccer.
“I think USA Football is in the vein of football for everyone,” he said. “And the goal as we seek to expand opportunities or reduce barriers to participation is to hopefully present a level of play that inspires [women] to enter the sport as a player or as an administrator or coach.
Floor argued that the women’s national team playbook is as technical as the men’s. But she admitted she had no misconceptions about the physical differences between women’s and men’s football.
“Yes, I 100% believe that if I got tackled by an NFL lineman, I would be crushed,” she admitted. “But I could give them a hard time. I would be able to catch the ball before they crush all my bones.
The sport is still in its infancy and faces hurdles such as minimal television coverage and other media-related visibility. Additionally, national team players have had to pay to help offset travel costs to Finland, which is a sign for Brownson that there is still room for growth.
“There’s the greedy part of you and the part that says the dollar amount should be zero, but it got better,” she said. “We are going in the right direction. It’s not good enough yet, but we’ll get there.
For the first time in the history of the world championships, eight national teams will compete for the crown. Germany and Sweden, who last played in 2013, will join Australia, Canada, Finland, Great Britain, Mexico and the United States, who all played in 2017.
Floor said she and her teammates are eager to meet their opponents not only on the field, but also in social settings.
“I love the fact that I can go to other places and be with like-minded people who are also pushing against the grain,” she said. “People are like, ‘This isn’t for you,’ but we can relate to that.”
Brownson is aware the players have been hungry to defend the country’s previous three world championships, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic. But she acknowledged that there is a delicate balance that players have to strike.
“I think there’s a difference between excited and redlining, and I certainly don’t think we’re in that redlining zone,” she said. “And part of that is when you step into that experience, there’s still so much work to do. I think everyone is kind of at the bottom of the mountain. We didn’t go to the same room together, we didn’t go to camp, we didn’t train together. So it’s very hard to get to that point where you’re really excited.
The national team’s toughest opponents are its neighbors Canada and Mexico. Canada have been runners-up in all three competitions, while Mexico finished third on their debut in 2017.
Floor described the players as “mind gold”.
“I think we’ve all worked, and there’s this last little month of work left to play the matches of our lives in this tournament,” she said. “That’s it. I know a ton of people are going to put their whole body, blood, sweat and tears into this journey. So it would be a disservice not to incorporate that mindset into it.