It’s been seven years since the St. Louis SLAM women’s tackle football franchise has lifted championship hardware. This weekend, the squad takes it first post-season steps in making its desired 2016 goal a reality.
The SLAM (4-2) hosts the Houston Power (1-6) in the quarterfinal round of the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) Tier II playoffs Saturday at Lindenwood University’s Belleville Campus (2600 West Main, Belleville, IL). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Reaching the post-season is commonplace for the squad that was founded in 2003. Including this year, the SLAM has reached the WFA post-season six out of the past eight seasons, highlighted by a National Championship in 2009.
However, new this year is the overall complexion of the WFA playoffs. In the past, all post-season entrants in the 40-plus team alliance engaged in a lone 16-team bracketed national tournament that featured divisional winners as well as at-large teams. This method resulted in first-round pairings that sometimes contained lopsided differentials.
A new schema that offered parity was implemented this season as teams were classified in one of three WFA tiers based upon a rankings system that incorporated an algorithm that included strength of schedule and performance, with the end result being a more competitive post-season.
With the new rankings system in place, St. Louis capitalized on opportunity. Winning records against comparably-ranked opponents, combined with a 32-0 home triumph over WFA Tier I rep Kansas City on May 28, awarded the SLAM the top seed for WFA Tier II that results in Saturday’s home field edge.
Let’s put the locals’ trip to “Algorithm Nation” off to the corner for one moment. After a four week break, the team can’t wait to tackle the turf Saturday night and looks to sport a simple letter: a “W” that pushes the scrappy squad to the the semifinals.
“The team is still amped following our win against KC,” said SLAM running back Taylor Hay upon reflection and anticipation. “It was a good boost to enter the playoffs with. Time off is a blessing and a curse. It gives us time to implement new things and work on the old but, at the same time, it lets anxiety sink in!”
The SLAM notched three straight victories heading into the quarterfinals and possesses numerous weapons on both side of the ball.
Leading an offense that averaged 32 points a game, rookie quarterback Jamie Gaal had over 1,000 yards in passing with 16 touchdowns during the regular season. Prime targets were receivers Kaylee Kneutzling, who had six end zone snares, while Keyonna Smith and Danielle Brock had five and three, respectively. Chelsey Clay, Kim Kinsella and Jessica Foote also had six-point catches during the campaign.
On the rushing side, the aforementioned Hay, who missed action earlier this season due to injury, averaged a touchdown plunge per game when she returned. Veterans Jelani Kelly and Raven Williams also contributed key rotations in the backfield during the season.
At the forefront of the scoring was the solid work of the offensive line, paced by hard-charging veterans Antonnia Washington, Caitlin Erickson, Juan Snow, Marion Ball and other first-time footballers.
“The O-line is made up of seasoned vets and rookies and it took some time to get a cohesive unit running, but it’s finally worked,” said Hay of the front line. “On any team, the offensive line is the most important part!”
On the defensive side, the SLAM flexed its muscle by holding its opponents to an average 17 points per contest, which included the eye-opening shutout over the high-octane Kansas City at the regular season finale.
The aforementioned Williams, Neutzling, Fields, Brock, Kelly, Smith and Clay are joined by Robyn Morrow, Pamela Green, Brooklyn Bastain and a host of others while stubborn special teams play help compliment.
“Our defense is solid and they have saved us all year long,” acknowledged Hay. “They backed us up on offense when we were working out our kinks. Everybody knows that defense wins championships!”
Saturday’s first-round opponent, Houston Power, has a 1-6 record but the mark is misleading as their losses were against stronger WFA Tier I teams such as Dallas and Arlington, who all reached the post-season in that respective Tier, as well as Acadiana, who is the top seed in WFA Tier III and is an odds-on bet to be that classification’s national champion.
The Power’s lone duke during the regular season was a May victory over WFA Tier III Austin. The squad was held to under double-digits in six of its seven contests during the regular season. With its low average against tougher opposition, finding offensive standouts on paper are difficult. Receivers Alicia Sutton and Rachel Zabawa both have a pair of touchdown grabs this season for a squad that netted a majority of its points in the air.
With slates completely wiped clean, St. Louis fully understands that the WFA post-season is a different beast altogether and doesn’t plan on taking Houston lightly.
“We have seen (video on) Houston and we are preparing accordingly,” assessed Hay. “Just like any team we play, we expect them to bring their ‘A’ game. Also, they made it to the playoffs and that’s a compliment in itself, therefore we are prepared for their best.”
The winner of Saturday’s SLAM/Power tussle reaches the WFA Tier II semifinals to face the winner of the Sin City Trojans vs. Mile High Blaze quarterfinal in a match-up that takes place on July 9. If the SLAM wins Saturday, safe money has the top-seeded locals hosting a semifinal round game next month and a potential trip to the WFA Championships in Pittsburgh in late-July.
“Women’s football is growing all around the country,” enthusiastically said Hay. “Be a part of the movement. You won’t be disappointed.”
Come late-Saturday night, the SLAM don’t plan on being disappointed either.
For more info on SLAM Football, go to stlslam.com.