Category: Sapphire Series 2019/2020

Sapphire Series 2019/2020

Sapphire 2019/20. Round 4 MVPs and Recap

GAME 1: LEICESTER FALCONS

The first game of the day welcomed the  Leicester Falcons to the fantastic facilities at the House of Sport. The last time the two teams faced each other in the series, defence had been dominant on both sides resulting is a nail biting finish. With both teams having more time to prepare for the matchup the question was whether the offences could match the defensive aggression.

For the Valkyries, despite losing the skills of last round’s overall MVP Sara Pratt due to injury, this round we saw the return of last season’s defensive MVP and line-backer Lauren Oldacre who immediately picked up where she had left off before. With both teams hungry for the win, it was again the defences that started strongest. The Valkyries shutting down the Falcons on the first possession while the Falcons’ heavy pressure forced a safety on the Valkyries’ first possession.

Undeterred, the Valkyries defence led by the line-backer unit of Lauren, Zoë Wilder, and Zoe John continued to put the pressure on the Falcons, forcing sacks, fumbles, and limiting their strong run game. When the Falcons were forced to pass, corners Lois and Ruth were in position to nullify the threat along with Lauren who dropped back into coverage to make an interception. The pressure from all defensive personnel was evident all game, never allowing the Falcon offence time to get established and it was great to see rookies Maria Cook and Hayley Dobbs getting plenty of valuable game time.

For the Valkyrie offense, they began to feed off the energy that the defence was bringing. Patience was the key here. With the defence ensuring that the Falcons were kept out of the endzone, the offence were able to adapt the game plan to target the weaknesses of the opposition. With the Falcons needing to account for the ever-present threat of receiver Ruth Lewis, the Offensive Line began to create lanes for the strong running back trio of QB Katherine and Running backs Laura and Zoë Wilder.

The breakthrough came on a piece of individual brilliance from RB Laura. Taking the run to the left she was swarmed by Falcon defenders and it looked like it was going to be another safety for the Falcons. However, breaking free of the would-be tackler she reversed direction and came all the way back across the field before turning it up the sideline for a full length of the field score to put the Valkyries up.

With the offence full of confidence and the defence continuing to put the pressure on, the interception by Lauren gave the ball back to the Valkyries in touching distance of the endzone. After a few strong runs, QB Katherine powered over the line to take the score at half time to 12-2

The second half was a carbon copy of the first. The Valkyrie’s defence continuing to exert pressure and deny the Falcon running game any time or space, while the offence continued to run the ball effectively. A Falcon fumble again gave the Valkyries the ball close to the endzone with the same result as before, with Katherine pushing through Falcon defenders to cross the line. A new formation saw LB Zoe John come on at wingback to lead the blocking for the extra point that saw Laura take the snap as QB and run in untouched.

With the Falcons needing to move the ball quickly and turning to the pass, Ruth Lewis came up with a big interception to again give the Valkyries great field position. With Ruth now showing the Falcons the versatility of the Valkyrie’s backfield by moving to QB herself, she called her own number and, with great blocking on the edge, forced her way into the endzone for another score.

The celebrations began when the final whistle sounded – A first win for the Valkyries and on home ground!

Final score:

Cardiff: 25 – Leicester: 2

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GAME 2: CHESHIRE BEARS

Unfortunately for Leicester, who lost several of their team during our game, they withdrew from their game against the Cheshire Bears, which gave the Valkyries a quick turn-around to get ready to face the Bears.

Injuries within the Valkyries meant that we started the game without standout QB Katherine, with Ruth taking her place at QB. Three plays into the game and Laura Johnson was unfortunately injured requiring medical treatment. A little while later and Ruth was also forced from the game after suffering an ankle injury after a hit from the Bear’s defensive line.

However, despite losing three key players on offence, the heart of the Valkyries’ efforts shone through. With Zoe Wilder now stepping as the fourth string QB, players from defence were asked to come across and fill in the spots required. With corners and line backers playing at receiver as well as line backers and defensive line filling in at wingbacks it meant that most played the full game going both ways. With the classroom work really being tested on the field the newly formed offence began to gain some success against the strong Cheshire defence. Some good runs got chunks of yards and it was great to see corner Lois hauling in the pass from Zoe to help move the ball. However, despite the efforts, the Cheshire defence overall proved too strong and ultimately snuffed out the attacks

On the defensive side of the ball, there were hard hits and lots of energy from the Valkyries, as well as an interception by Zoe John. Though the tackles came in thick and fast, the Bears’ offense kept driving and driving. With fresh legs and an incredibly strong offensive line, the Bears gradually began to pull away as the gaps in the defence began to open.

Play after play the Valkyries fought, and although the end score giving a loss of 37-0 to the Bears, the coaches couldn’t be any prouder of the team. Head coach Simon Browning comments:

“As the dust settles on yesterday and the end of the Sapphire season for us it is still hard to put into words how proud I am of the team and my fellow coaches.

I have been around the sport for many years. I have been on teams that been facing large deficits and watched them quit, or point fingers. I have never seen that with this group. As I looked onto the field with a few minutes to go I saw my corner at receiver, my Will backer at slot receiver, my Mike backer at Wingback and my RB/FS operating as the 4th string QB. But what made the moment special was that I watched my 4th string QB lead a huddle with more defensive players in it than offensive, call her own plays and have success. Everyone was working together. There was no quit. There was no finger pointing. And as I turned back to the side line I saw a rookie playing in her first ever games. She had a huge smile on her face and said “this is awesome”.”

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MVPS

Evident through the round reviews, there are several names mentioned which indicate how essential they were to the game. These player MVPs are well deserved, congratulations!

Defensive: Lauren Oldacre

Offensive: Katherine Fretwell

Overall: Zoë Wilder

We hope all injured players make a speedy recovery. With thanks to Leicester and Cheshire for an incredible season, we wish the teams luck in their fight in the finals on March 14th!

It is with our continued thanks that we mention LexisNexis® Risk Solutions who sponsored this event. This tournament would not have been possible with their sponsorship, let alone in the high standard of facilities at House of Sport.

Sapphire Series 2019/2020

Sapphire Series 2019/2020 Round 3 recap and MVPs

The Valkyries returned to action for round 3 of Sapphire. Having suffered several injuries, this was to be the first action since the 7th December, having been forced to miss out round 2.

Despite several key injuries remaining, the squad was fortunate to welcome back a couple of key players to the squad who were hungry to get back out onto the field

Cardiff v Cheshire

The first game saw the Valkyries pitted against the ever strong Cheshire Bears. Right from the start the Bears proved why they are the force to beat in the division establishing their run game behind a great performance from their O-line. With strong blustery conditions present all day, the game turned into one that saw the run being the primary play call on both sides.

Despite the early onslaught in the first half the Valkyries defence began to rally in the second and create some stops against the formidable Bear’s run game – really epitomising the never say die attitude that the team has.

On Offence, Ruth Lewis, taking her first snaps at QB began to settle into the game and formed a great 1-2 threat with running back Laura Johnson. With holes beginning to open on both sides as tiredness set in, Laura managed to break a couple of tackles, reverse direction across the field and take it almost the full length of the field for the score in an amazing solo effort. As the game went on, and with the wind now behind them, the Valkyries tried to open up the game with more of  passing threat. After a few near misses Ruth hit Katherine Fretwell, one of the players coming back form injury on a deep ball over the top of the defence with Katherine doing the rest for the long TD play.

Overall the game finished 54-12 to the Bears, who were deserved winners. However, the manner of the performance in the second half provided some confidence going into the second game of the day.

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Cardiff v Leicester

After a short turnaround the Valkyries were back out on the field, this time facing the hosts Leicester. With confidence on the rise, dancing on the sideline and a new defence ready to be unveiled the team were in high spirits.

With the wind still posing a factor, but dropping for periods, there was scope for the Valkyries to try to continue to open up the playbook and look to be more balanced in attack. With Ruth continuing to gain confidence in calling plays from the QB position and some excellent play from the back-up O-line of Katie Rappell and Jennifer Davies, who were forced into action for the day following injuries, the options began to open to attack a very spirited Leicester defence.

Overall the game was one of near stalemate. While the Valkyries offence found ways to move the ball, the Leicester defence continued to make critical stops at key times to stem the drives. On the other side, the Valkyries defence played possibly its best game to date and managed to shut down what was a very strong running attack of Leicester, giving no room to operate.

Despite rotating players into the defence in order to keep bringing in fresh legs, they never let up. Led by outstanding play from veteran linebacker Zoe John and ably supported by Free Safety Zoe Wilder and Corner Sara Pratt, they kept turning back the Leicester Offence.

Finally the deadlock was broken by a piece of individual brilliance from Ruth Lewis. Despite a pass play being called, Ruth read the situation, tucked it and took off for a full length of the field score. Despite not converting the extra point, this put the Valkyires in front 6-0.

The game continued to go back and forth for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, a fumble on the Valkyries 5 yard line, recovered by Leicester in the final minutes meant a high drama finish to what had been an enthralling game. With 3 consecutive stops it all came down to the final play from just a few inches out. Unfortunately the power of the Leicester run game saw them push over the line for the tying score. Another fantastic tackle at the goal line denied them the winning extra point and ensuring that the game finished a draw 6-6

Despite the end, it was great to see the performances from both sides of the ball. The games really showed the hard work that the players had put in and with many playing out of their usual position there was great experience to be had for all. They quite rightly finished extremely pleased of themselves and their performances and left the coaches proud.

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MVPs

It was hard for coaches to select MVPs as there were lots of great performances. However, following much debate the following were selected.

Defensive – Zoe Wilder

Had one of her best performances in her Free Safety role. Always up looking to get involved and make tackles, she was a constant disruption on the day and certainly relished her amended role against Leicester

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Offensive – The O-Line

With veteran Mandy anchoring a line consisting of not only 2 rookies, but rookies that were recently playing other positions they not only held up well against a powerful Cheshire D-Line but started to really create time and space for both Ruth and Laura in the backfield. It was a great performance and really set the tone for what the offence was able to do on the day

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Overall – Sara Pratt & Ruth Lewis

This was the hardest one to give. When looking at overall MVP coaches look for a player that had a profound impact upon the outcome of the game. In both Sara and Ruth there were two players that influenced the game both on Offence and Defence.

Despite playing Corner, Sara was asked to play a heavy role in the defence of the run game and never backed down form any tackle. She not only set the edge brilliantly on the day and let the help get there but also made the tackles when they were needed. Not only that but she made several long chase downs that saved scores – showing immense effort and hustle to be involved in every play. Alongside this Sara played WR and made some critical blocks out on the edge to allow runners to get extra yardage.

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On the offence, Ruth showed a high level of poise and composure to run the offence in her first games at QB. Despite the nerves to start, she quickly settled into the game and began to read the defence in front of her, making critical decisions on plays to take advantage of what the defence gave her. A sign of her growing confidence was her ability to take on more of the play calling through the games or to recognise what needed to be done. The level of play, and the confidence she gave to the rest of the team, was one of the fundamental reasons for the success of the offence on the day.

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The next round will be held in Cardiff House of Sport on February 29th! See you there!

With thanks to ‘Photos by Furfie’ (www.photosbyfurfie.com) and Peth (@pethsphotography) for the incredible shots!

Sapphire Series 2019/2020

Sapphire 2019/20: Round 1 review and MVPs

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CARDIFF VALKYRIES v CHESHIRE BEARS

Final Score: 36-18

The Valkyries had faced the Bears before in the 2018/19 season and so knew that the game was going to be a physical affair. With players having also competed in various Diamond series there was a great sense of rivalry between the teams as friends off the field got to go head-to-head on it.

From the outset the game went as envisaged with both teams going back and forth at each other. The Bears landed the first blows with some powerful running for a score, but undeterred the Valkyries hit back through the powerful running of Laura Johnson.

Both defences were bringing the pressure and time after time saw Valkyries in the backfield, either shutting down runs or putting pressure on the Bears QB. In the secondary Zoe Wilder almost had a couple of interceptions and it was great to see club President Lois McConville, in her first match back from injury, solid in the tackle when needed.

With both offences facing heavy pressure, it was a case of looking for that big play and the Valkyries found one in a great pass from QB Kira Walker that found the ever-safe hands of Ruth Lewis, who did the rest taking it the distance.

Despite only 2 points separating the teams at half time, the size of the Bear’s squad began to show in the second half. Fresh legs kept the pressure up on the Valkyries and the pressure from the powerful Bear’s Defensive Line was rewarded with several defensive scores to end the game 36-18

Despite the score line it was great to see the new wave of Valkyries in action. A true baptism of fire against a powerful Bears squad did not deter them and they showed the “never say die” spirit that typifies the Valkyrie way. Fighting to the end, they did themselves proud.

CARDIFF VALKYRIES v LEICESTER FALCONS

Final Score: 20-8

With a short turn around of 20 mins the Valkyries were back in action again, this time facing the Falcons. With previous gaming experiences as the Division 1 Derby Braves, before forming as the Falcons, there was a sense of the unknown for the Valkyries.  With only a brief chance to see them in action against the Bears, the game was one of new challenges, bringing a fascinating and very different gaming experience to Cheshire.

Offensively, the Valkyries faced a very different style of play resulting in a different game plan to game 1. However, with the offensive line opening holes, the outcome was the same with more powerful running form Laura Johnson leading to another full field run for a score.

The game became another where both teams traded blows with Zoe Wilder coming in at running back to gain the hard yards and another long throw to Ruth Lewis ultimately coming up short of the endzone.

On defence, the Valkyries were facing a new style of offence and rookies were constantly tested to adapt to the well drilled and executed blocking schemes of the Falcons. On the outside, corners Lois and Ruth, as well as rookies Sara Pratt and Maria Cook, were called upon to play a big part in the run defence making plenty of big hits. Defensive adjustments began to cause pressure on the Falcons with Linebacker Zoe John causing fumbles and also getting a safety.

However, despite another non-stop effort, the Falcons execution ultimately proved to be the decider with the relentless running punching in for a couple of scores to seal the game 20-8

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Round 1 MVPs

While the score lines may not have gone in our favour, there was no denying the heart and spirit that the team showed throughout the day. The team took several rookies to the tournament and all not only contributed on the field but embodied the Valkyrie spirit of playing hard to the final whistle with a smile on their face. This is also despite being asked to play a range of positions through the day as well as adjust to new plays and tactics in real time, a true testament to how hard they have worked during the pre-season.

Given the effort shown by all, choosing MVPs was a hard job for the coaches as there were many great performances. However, the final decision came to…

DEFENSIVE MVP

Such a great performance from across the board. Rookie Sara Pratt showing immense hustle chasing down the ball carrier to save what seemed like a certain scored that typified the effort she showed all day. At Linebacker, both Katie and Jennifer gave it everything they had with constant effort and determination. They were constantly hustling to the ball and looking to play aggressive with real tenacity. Katie also came across and covered on the Oline as well in great two-way performance.

Overall though, the defensive MVP was Zoe John. Leading from the front, the veteran Linebacker made tackle after tackle. Always a thorn in the opposition side she seemed to always either be in the QBs face or hunting down the runner. A true captain’s performance and one whose energy and enthusiasm positively affected all those around her.

OFFENSIVE MVP

Facing strong pressure across both games the Oline gave the QB the time needed at key points allowing the explosive plays to the receivers. At receiver, Sara Pratt executed her role brilliantly. With crisp routes and great blocking on the edge it was great to see her develop and she showed the potential to really grow as the tournament progresses.

Overall though, Laura Johnson was the game changer. Either breaking runs to the outside or straight up the middle, she was a constant threat with ball in hand all day and thoroughly deserves the MVP award.

OVERALL MVP

Overall one player stood out across the board. Another veteran leader of the team, she helped inspire those around her to greater levels of play. Asked to play the majority of tournament both ways as both receiver and corner she executed both to the high standard we have come to expect. On defence she was hustling to the ball and making key tackles in the run game. On Offence, she played her role to perfection and was duly rewarded for her efforts.

Congratulations Ruth Lewis.

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