by Neal Rozendaal, V.P. Communications, D.C. Divas
Washington, DC – Sometimes it’s not just about the wins and losses.
Two weeks after the D.C. Divas put on a lackluster offensive performance in a 21-18 victory over the New York Sharks, the Divas went blow-for-blow with the Boston Renegades last Saturday before dropping a heartbreaking decision in overtime, 26-22. This Saturday, the Divas look forward to their second straight home game against the powerful Chicago Force (Lee High School in Springfield, VA; Kickoff at 6:00 PM).
Divas head coach Greg Gaskins was much more pleased with the Divas’ play in the loss against Boston than he was with their previous victory in New York.
“Nobody ever wants to lose, that’s for sure. It’s always tough taking a loss,” Coach Gaskins said. “But [Saturday] was one of those losses where it was hard to be mad after the game, because I thought we played very, very well. I was very happy with how hard we competed against Boston, especially coming off our last game in New York, where – to be honest – we played a terrible game offensively. To rebound and play the way we did against a team the caliber of Boston, it was very encouraging to have that performance. We got better, even in the loss.”
“I only wish the players had been rewarded with a win, because they really played hard,” he continued. “The main thing I can say is that we definitely made progress. And even though we played well, there were also a lot of opportunities we did not capitalize on, so we have the ability to get even better. If we can fix some of the little things we got wrong against Boston, we will all feel really good about this team moving forward.”
The offense in particular was much improved for the Divas (2-1), not only in scoring points but also in gaining yards and moving the ball down the field. “We cleaned up a lot of our mental mistakes, and we just played harder,” Gaskins observed. “But the biggest difference to me is that we seemed to be playing more as a team instead of as individuals. Against New York, a player would make a play here or a player would make a play there, but we never made a play all together as a unit. On Saturday against Boston, we were playing as a unit, so when we made plays it was everybody working together, not just one player doing something.”
The one constant this season has been the Divas’ defense, which held the potent Boston offense to just two touchdowns in sixty minutes of regulation. “Our defense has been absolutely outstanding this entire season,” Gaskins said. “We knew coming into this year – with the players we had returning on defense – that we would be very stout defensively. But I don’t think anybody thought we would be as strong as we are on defense. As we’ve been transitioning on offense, our defense has been carrying us. They continue to impress me as a unit, and I can’t say enough about them. Coach Bennett and our defensive staff really has them clicking on all cylinders right now, and we’re going to need them to continue to be a force to be reckoned with.”
One week after hosting the Boston Renegades, one of the top teams in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA,) the Divas continue a brutal three-week stretch starting with a home game against the Chicago Force. The Force, who won the 2013 WFA national championship, are perennial contenders to win the WFA’s Eastern Conference.
So far this season, the Force (3-0) have sandwiched two forfeit victories around an 84-0 stomping of the Detroit Dark Angels. Coach Gaskins was impressed by what he saw on Chicago’s film from that contest.
“They’re an outstanding team, obviously,” he said. “They have a lot of veteran players, and they are very well-organized. They know exactly what they want to do, and they do it very, very well.”
“What everyone knows about Chicago is that when you play them, you’d better be ready to play for 60 minutes,” Coach Gaskins continued. “They are relentless. They run a lot of hurry-up on offense, and they don’t let up for one second, whatever the score. If you make mistakes, Chicago will pick you apart and they won’t hesitate to blow you out.”
The Chicago Force are led by quarterback Sami Grisafe, who returns to the field after a two-year retirement. Grisafe has started one game in her career against the Divas; she completed 20 of 27 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-27 Chicago victory back in 2014.
“Watching her on film, [Grisafe] is to their offense what Ally [Hamlin] was to our offense for so many years,” Gaskins noted. “She’s their field general, and she’s pretty much a coach on the field. She gets people lined up in the right spots, and she rarely makes a bad read or a bad decision with the football. When you’re playing against Sami, you have to make sure you’re in the right spot defensively at all times. She’s good enough that she will still find a way to make plays sometimes even when you are in the right spot, so you can’t make her job easier by making a mistake, or she will tear you apart.”
Grisafe leads a host of skilled offensive playmakers for the Force. Kristy Moran, who many consider the greatest women’s football player to come out of Australia, is suiting up at running back with the Force; in her first game against Detroit, Moran dazzled with 219 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Cassey Brick, the 2012 national championship game MVP with the San Diego Surge, is back in a Chicago uniform as well and is a dangerous threat every time she touches the football on offense or special teams.
At wide receiver, Grisafe has no shortage of weapons to target. Tamika Robinson had three receptions against Detroit, and all three of them went for touchdowns. But Chicago’s most feared receiver is still Jeanette Gray, who had 252 receiving yards and four total touchdowns against the Divas in Chicago’s victory in 2014.
As was the case with Boston, when a team has a high-scoring offense, the defense tends to get overlooked. The Chicago Force have had a stifling defense for years, and 2017 looks to be no different.
“I’m really impressed with their offense, of course, but watching their defense, they return a lot of really good, veteran players from last year,” Gaskins said. “When you study their defense, their defensive line really jumps off the film. They are very, very disruptive, and they make a lot of plays. Their entire defense plays fast, aggressive, and physical football. In order to neutralize their defense, you need to find a way to slow down their defensive line. Teams wind up making mistakes because of the pressure Chicago’s defensive line creates, and their linebackers and defensive backs are all smart players who are great at taking advantage of those mistakes. Their whole defense is very tough, and I think it’s their defensive line that really sets the tone for their defense.”
The Chicago Force will be taking the field for just the second time in 2017, thanks to two prior forfeits. The Divas, on the other hand, will be playing their fourth game of the season and their second game in as many weeks against an elite Eastern Conference foe. But if the Force have the potential to be the fresher team, Coach Greg Gaskins is looking at the positive side of the Divas’ quick return to the field after last week’s loss to Boston.
“Personally, I think it’s a great thing to get right back out there, because it doesn’t allow us any time to dwell on the loss to Boston,” Coach Gaskins said. “We lost Saturday, but by Sunday, it was on to Chicago. You have to move on quickly, especially with a team the caliber of Chicago coming to town. If you’re still thinking about Boston, you know that Chicago has no reservations about coming in here and blowing you out, so it’s a good thing to be right back on the field the next week against an opponent of this caliber.”
Coach Gaskins is hoping that the home environment will help his team respond positively to their first loss in over a year. “It’s always good to play in front of the home fans. There’s nothing like having your friends and family out there cheering you on and giving you that motivation,” Gaskins observed. “We’re treating every single game like it’s the most important game of the season. But coming off of a loss, you always want to rebound quickly and bounce back. Chicago is a great team, but on the flip side, that means we have a chance to get a great win and get right back on track.”
Tickets for the D.C. Divas’ game this Saturday night against the Chicago Force are now on sale at http://dcdivas.com/tickets/chicago-2017/. Online ticket sales end at noon on Saturday, after which tickets will only be available for purchase with cash at the gate. Discounts are offered for seniors, students, and service members (military, police, and firefighters) with a valid ID, and parking is free of charge.
What: D.C. Divas vs. Chicago Force
When: Saturday, April 29 – Kickoff at 6:00 PM
Where: Robert E. Lee High School
Address: 6540 Franconia Road, Springfield, VA 22150
For tickets and more information: http://dcdivas.com/tickets/chicago-2017/