Murray-based Utah Falconz women’s football team opens season as defending champions
Since their creation three years ago, this Utah Falconz team has lost only one game. (Utah Falconz)
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By Carl Fauver | firstname.lastname@example.org
The best Utah sports team you’ve likely never heard of is about to launch its fourth season. In the previous three seasons they lost just one time, a championship game, by four points.
“I’ll never forget that game,” Keeshya Cox said. “Sure, we’ve won all the rest…but that one still hurts. I never want that feeling again.”
Cox is the star running back for the 31-1 Utah Falconz of the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL). With league names like the Yellow Jackets, PhantomZ and Lady Crushers, IWFL teams compete coast to coast, from Maine to Montreal and Tampa Bay to Tennessee.
The Murray-based Utah Falconz play their home games at Cottonwood High School.
Last season Cox rushed for 1,364 yards in 12 games (113.7 ypg), guiding the Falconz to a blowout win in the 2016 IWFL World Championship in Charlotte, N.C. Utah beat the Minnesota Vixens, 49-6.
It was sweet revenge for the Utah women, who’s only loss in three seasons came in the championship game, the year before.
The Falconz begin defense of their title April 8 in Phoenix. Their home opener is April 15 hosting the Sacramento Sirens.
“I grew up watching football with my family and always wanted to be a part of it,” said team founder and owner Hiroko Jolley. “This is not a profit making venture. I spend five to sometimes 10 hours a day coordinating team activities. But I love the game, so it’s worth it.”
In this pay-to-play league, each team member is charged $800 to cover uniforms, equipment, travel expenses and referees. Coaches volunteer their time. Nearly every road game involves a long bus ride, though the trek to North Carolina was by air.
“These women are all former athletes and come from all walks of life,” Jolley added. “We have former rugby and soccer players, track runners, basketball and softball players, you name it.”
The 52-woman Falconz roster has an 18 year old, all the way up to a 45 year old.
“No grandmothers on the team,” Jolley said. “But lots of moms.”
Cox became acquainted with the team while playing flag football at Sugarhouse Park. The former Dixie State University basketball player was approached after the non-contact football game by Louise Bean, the Falconz quarterback.
“She told me about a brand new team that was just being formed and asked me to join her at one of their tryout clinics,” Cox said. “I loved it right away. This is not a rec league. It’s very, very competitive. It’s great for former collegiate athletes because many of us need something to replace that level of competition.”
In addition to her nearly 1,400 yards rushing last season, the Missouri native Cox also scored 29 touchdowns. “Sure, I love carrying the ball, but it’s even more fun for me to assist and mentor my teammates, and watch them succeed,” she said.
Another of those former college athletes is Elisa Salazar, who played softball for McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La. She’s now a wide receiver and defensive back for the Falconz.
“What I love about the team is the effort our coaches make to get everyone into the games,” Salazar said. “In the championship game last summer, everyone had gotten in by the second quarter. I love playing myself, but it’s also amazing to see my teammates do well.”
The Falconz normally deploy a veer triple option offense, primarily to offset their smaller size. Air Force Academy graduate Rick Rasmussen is their head coach.
“He’s amazing,” Salazar added. “He doesn’t smile a lot, but he has a big heart. When he calls us out once in a while, it’s only because he wants what’s best for us.”
Something must be working. Last season the Falconz outscored their opponents 621 to 40. Utah outgained the opposition, in total offensive yardage, 4,299 to 962.
Tickets to their April 15 home opener at Cottonwood High School are $10 for ages 11 and up, $8 for seniors and members of the military. Kids 10 and under are free.
“If people come out to see one game, I think they’ll like it,” Jolley said. “Our players take it seriously and work hard.”
With 31 wins and only one loss, that seems to be working.