In a city dominated by men’s sports, one women’s football team has the chance to cement its name into the city’s sports championship tradition: The Mile High Blaze.
The team is competing in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) Division II National Championship in Canton, OH for the first time in franchise history this weekend.
“There's a reason this squad is here and we're coming in, and we're going to battle,” said quarterback Kimberly Santistevan.
Santistevan has been with the team since it began playing in 2013 as the Mile High Cowgirls. The team had just 20 players back then. Santisteva said the team's chemistry is as strong as ever.
“It’s just an amazing feeling and now I think we have an even bigger target on us this time,” Sanitstevan said. “That’s just more reason to work that much hard.”
For nine seasons, the Blaze have seen their fair share of success and disappointments. After three straight years of coming up short, the team, who went 5-1 during the regular season, finally punched their ticket to the championship by beating the Houston Energy, 12-6, in the American Conference Championship Game at Aurora Public Stadium two weeks ago.
Blaze head coach Rob Sandlin, who won national titles with youth and men’s teams, said his athletes are passionate about the sport.
“There are ladies on this team that have been playing for 15 years and you know we got a 52 year-old running back,” said Sandlin, who is in his sixth year full-time with the team.
The WFA is the largest and longest running women’s tackle football league in the country. It started in 2009 and features three divisions.
“[They] start in January and their first game isn’t until April. They're out here busting their butts for eight months out of the year. So, to be able to bring it home and let them reap the reward of it is good,” Sandlin said.
The Blaze are the favorites heading into the title matchup against the Derby City Dynamite out of Louisville, KY. That team was promoted to Division II after winning the Division III National Championship last season. After a 2-4 start, the Dynamite got hot during the playoffs, and beat last year’s National Conference champion, the Baltimore Nighthawks, 40-12.
Santistevan said winning would be special because a women’s sport from not just the city, but from Colorado has never been this far.
“I think it’s more pressure for that than it is for the actual city. But, it is good feeling to know that we’re it and we’re repping all of Colorado,” Santistevan said.
The WFA Division II National Championship kicks off at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, OH, on Saturday at 6 p.m.
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