Kessie Stefanyk is the new head coach of the Lethbridge Steel women’s football team. As the rookie skipper guides the Steel into their 2015 Western Women’s Canadian Football League season as the first female head coach in the league, Stefanyk preferred to not slap a gender on her new role.
“I’ve been asked that question about being the first woman (coach) and honestly I’m a coach just like every other coach in the league and I don’t see my gender as a barrier,” said Stefanyk, who will also act as the Steel’s offensive co-ordinator in addition to working with the quarterbacks.
“It’s kind of unfortunate that I am the first one, I think, because we have a lot of potential in other women out there. I’m taking my first head coaching job, so I’m more excited than anything to be able to lead this team and see what we can do.”
But before the ball snaps for the upcoming season, there’s a bit of fundraising to tackle as the Steel will hold a garage sale April 18 at 2417 23 St. N. from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“The funds will go towards any expenses that the girls will have, the bus trips and hotels and stuff like that,” said Sandra Wade, operations co-odinator for the Steel.
“There are going to be lots of household items, clothing and other stuff, too.”
In the meantime, the Steel get ready for another season with an abundance of new faces bolstering some solid numbers coming out for preseason training, which began with indoor practices last month.
“Numbers-wise, we’ve had the most players we’ve ever had out,” said Stefanyk. “We’re sitting at about 33 total right now, so that’s definitely a good sign. It’s a sign we’re growing, that’s for sure, and getting more interest. We’ve gotten all of our players into equipment right now, so that’s exciting.
“We can run into each other, which has been exciting the past few practices. Things are looking good so far.”
Less than half of the players from last season have returned this year, said Stefanyk.
“Our turnover rate is usually about 50 per cent. But we have fewer than past season, but (we have) a lot of new faces this year, which is awesome to see.”
Those new recruits haven’t been lacking in excitement, either.
“Our new players are definitely excited to be learning a new game,” said Stefanyk. “(They have) a lot of passion and drive to get better every practice and to learn. They definitely have a lot of potential this year, which is exciting. I can’t wait for the beginning of May to see what they can do in a game.”
Of course, there’s a difference between lining up your own teammates in practice and playing in an actual game.
“You can tackle as much as you want in practice and go over the plays, but I think once you’re in a game facing the opposition, it’s no-holds-barred,” said Stefanyk. “I’m sure it’ll be a bit of a shock to start.
[But we do have a preseason jamboree (May 2 in Edmonton). So the coaches are actually on the field with them. So that’ll be a good way to ease them into playing an actual game.”
Still, the first-year coach will have some returning players to help her get the first-year players up to speed.
“I haven’t had to lean on them (veterans), they’ve just stepped up and been there to help when they can,” said Stefanyk.
“Obviously, you try to address everything you can as a coach, but some things you can’t see all the time. They’ve stepped into that role where they can step up and guide the new players, which is awesome to see.”
Joining Stefanyk’s coaching staff this season is assistant head coach Tyler Mantyak.
“He’s a University of Regina alumni,” said Stefanyk. “He’s definitely excited and knows his stuff and is bringing a new flavour to the team this year. It’ll be interesting to see.”
Mike Roberts is back with the Steel as line coach.
“He’s been with us for a few seasons and the girls love him,” said Stefanyk.
“They respond really well to him.”
Matthew Sentes returns as line coach and special teams coach.
“He’s a young guy, but he has quite a lot of experience playing,” said Stefanyk. “He’s currently playing with the University of Regina. He knows his stuff and it’s awesome to have him there.”
Mike Peters is the Steel’s defensive back and receivers coach.
“He’s a really enthusiastic guy and excited to be working with the team this year,” said Stefanyk.
Rounding out the Steel’s staff is strength and conditioning coach Justin Tillery and head trainer Michela Reese.
The Steel have advanced to the WWCFL final for the past three years, but have lost to the Saskatoon Valkyries each year.
Now, the Steel look to get back to that championship game.
“Goal-setting is something I’ve really been putting an emphasis on with our team this year,” said Stefanyk.
“I’ve made short-range and medium-range goals. Our long-range goal, obviously, is to win our half of the league and get to that final game where we can win the whole thing. Even though we have a lot of new faces, winning is definitely on our mind all the time.”
Find out more about the Lethbridge Steel at http://www.lethbridgesteelfootball.com/.