Sacramento State alumnae find a competitive outlet and family atmosphere on the gridiron of the International Women’s Football League with the Sacramento Sirens.
Katherine Axiak and Jenna Avansino — who both played club rugby at Sac State — practice three days a week for three to four hours each training session and protect the backfield from would-be tacklers as members of the Sirens offensive line.
“When you’re doing a sport that has so much contact you become, like, a family,” Avansino said before a practice at John F. Kennedy High School. “When I graduated, I missed that family atmosphere. Rugby taught me a lot: (like) safety (and) proper tackling.”
Axiak — who plays the center position — remembers attending multiple Sirens games, but said she never felt she could compete alongside them. Eventually, the middle school teacher decided to test herself, and not only did she make the team, but she became a starter.
“There’s nothing better than working hard together and accomplishing goals together,” Axiak said. “I like the discipline (and) having to hold each other accountable.”
But for the players, being on the team provides more than just a place to play football. Avansino, who plays right tackle, joined the Sirens for the competition, but said she has grown to develop a stronger sense of self-worth and empowerment.
“It’s important to me because it reminds me that I am strong,” Avansino said. “(When), I have a hard day at work, or I don’t think I’m doing much, it helps me kind of feel like I’m accomplishing something on a daily basis — not only with myself and my body, but also with my friends.”
Christy Medinger — who started playing for the Sirens in 2003 before becoming the assistant coach last season — said the team accepts women of all heights and weights.
“We give our players an open area to use what they have and be successful,” Medinger said. “We have girls who come to us who are all different shapes and sizes, and we appreciate that. Anyone who’s any size can play on our team.”
The Sirens joined the IWFL, which is comprised of 21 teams across the United States, in 2000 and have since won the International Women’s Football League Championships in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
“These girls come out here and do great things, they’re tough and they work hard,” Medinger said. “It’s not easy, we’ve all got lives and families and what not, but they come out here and work their asses off.”
The Sirens played their first four games of the 2017 season against the Phoenix Phantomz (21-18 win), Nevada Storm (49-0 win), Utah Falconz (38-0 loss) and North County Starz (48-6 win). The Sacramento-based team will next play the Carson Bobcats Saturday in Carson, California.
“Once you get in it, once you get that first hit, it changes your views about sports and what you’re capable of,” Avansino said. “After I started playing, I realized I can do just about anything now.”
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