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Women rewrite tackle football playbook

Fighting Fillies, Shockwave drum up fan interest, support


by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Portland Shockwave running back Rebecca Dawson slips past Portland Fighting Fillies defensive lineman Terina Bissell on her way to a short gain in the first quarter of their recent game at Milwaukie High.Portland is the only city in the United States with two teams in the 42-team, 12-division Women’s Football Alliance, which has members in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

But, as they prepare for their 2014 rematch May 10 at Hillsboro Stadium, neither the Portland Shockwave or the Portland Fighting Fillies acknowledges the other as a rival.

“We stray away from that,” says Asia Wisecarver, coach of the Fighting Fillies. “We like to just talk about playing our game no matter what. Caring about (a rivalry) can get in your head.”

Shockwave running back and vice president Rebecca Dawson says her team has a more contentious rivalry with the Seattle Majestics, a Shockwave foe since 2002.

“We’ve been battling the Majestics since Day 1,” Dawson says. “I would say that’s our biggest rival.”

The Majestics, Everett Reign, Tacoma Trauma and Utah Blitz are in the same division as the Shockwave and Fillies.

The Fillies, who have four coaches, range in age from 19-year-old Heather Wood to 53-year-old Monique Harris. They had a 5-3 record last season.

The Shockwave, also 5-3 a year ago, have five coaches. Their youngest player, Emily Smith, is 22, and their oldest player is Megan Vanden Berg, 47.

The Shockwave beat the Fillies 20-14 April 12 at Milwaukie High, which is the Shockwave’s home field. The Shockwave pounded the ball for two early touchdowns, then staved off a Fillies second-half comeback.

“We fought really hard,” Wisecarver says. “We kept getting better as the game went on. It was a good learning opportunity.”

Shockwave coach Stewart Demos says his team tried some new things in the second half, including more work on the passing game. “We didn’t execute enough to score,” he says. “We were just off. It’s a matter of learning.”

Demos says the Shockwave are the superior Portland team simply because his players have been playing football longer than the Fillies. Eight Shockwave players, including Dawson, have been on the field for at least seven years.

Wisecarver says two-thirds of her team are rookies.

“It’s going to be a whole different team by the end of the season (in June),” she says.

Dawson says she always has been a football fan, “so when I found out there was a team, I was like, ‘Oh, let’s try it.’ Many years later, I’m broke down and still going.”

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Injured Fighting Fillies lineman Ruby Aliimatafitafi leads her team in a pregame chant prior to kickoff against the Portland Shockwave.Demos says both Portland teams would be better off combining to form a super team that could contend for a WFA title.(And that’s not including the Hillsboro Hammerheads, who play in the International Women’s Football League).

“I think it is ridiculous that we have two teams,” he says. “If we combined them, they would be so much more competitive on the national level.”

Both teams, though, say Portlanders should show their support.

“Give us a shot,” Dawson says. “I won’t lie — we aren’t as fast-paced or as aggressive as the men — but most people who come out for the first time are surprised, like what they see and come back.”

Tori Lopez, a five-year veteran on the Fighting Fillies, says she has received similar comments from friends.