Force of football: Sting of postseason loss last fall is motivation for success this year

By Lindsey Woods

It is hard to forget the sting of a poignant loss, especially a season-ending one. Athletes have been known to either dwell on these moments or use them as motivation to never feel that kind of devastation again.

The Chicago Force, the city’s women’s tackle football team, is choosing the latter.

During the 2011–2012 season, the Force completed an undefeated regular season only to have its national championship dreams dashed by the Boston Militia 50-23 in the quarterfinals of the single-elimination playoffs.

That wasn’t the only time the team came close to winning a national title. Several players remember an even more upsetting loss during the 2008 postseason at the Women’s Football Alliance National Championship. The Force was undefeated, as was its opponent, the Dallas Diamonds. The game went to a sudden death overtime, and the Force ultimately lost 35-29.

“You never really forget that feeling,” said Kimberly Marks, a Force defensive lineman who played in the 2008 championship game. “You never forget standing there watching someone else claim the trophy that you worked so hard for.”

Samantha Grisafe, the team’s starting quarterback, said coming so close and falling short is motivation to work harder.

“We’ve gotten very close but never won it, and we’re getting really fed up with it,” she said. “We want [a championship] really bad, which makes us very dangerous people to play against. That motivation is a really strong and lethal one.”

It’s been working so far this season. The Force won its first two games, including a convincing 47-0 victory during its April 21 home opener against the Columbus Comets, who finished No. 2 in the league last season.

“We stuck to the game plan and the players executed it,” said Head Coach John Konecki. “They did a nice job. There were very few critical mistakes at critical junctures.”

While that game was a definitive testament to the Force’s talent this season, what isn’t definitive is on which side of the ball the team is stronger. The offense had a total of 434 yards against Columbus, 247 rushing and 187 passing, while the defense held the Comets to 90 yards.

“Overall, the biggest asset of our team is that we have a very veteran-laden, strong team,” Konecki said. “On the offensive side of the ball that’s true, on the defensive side of the ball that’s true, and it’s true on special teams, as well.”

The team’s biggest offensive asset is its ability to make plays whether its running the pass or passing it, according to Grisafe, who connected on 13 of 22 passes for 158 yards against the Comets.

“I think that our strength is the diversity in our offensive package,” she said. “It’s hard to plan for us.”

The defense is also a force to be reckoned with, according to Marks. The team has put more focus on its defensive line, which forced three turnovers against the Comets, Marks said.

“When I think back to when I first started, our defenses were always a dominant force on the field, and we kind of got away from that a little bit,” she said. “But we’ve refocused back on playing solid defense this year.”

According to Grisafe, cohesion is another focus this season.

“I think the team this year is a little less selfish, and I don’t mean that in a negative way about last year’s team,” she said. “I feel like this year it’s more about the team and what the team can accomplish. It’s really refreshing and encouraging. Everybody is doing whatever they have to do to get the win. That’s going to make us successful as the season goes on.”

The team is hopeful the improvements and diversity of its squad will be enough to give it what every team wants: a national championship.

“We’re really all about [a championship] this year,” Marks said. “We have the talent we need to do it, we have the athletes we need to do it and we have the coaches we need to do it.”