XZero Heroes: Arkansas Wildcats Advance to National Championship

​A hard-hitting team of women is days away from representing central Arkansas on their sport’s biggest stage.

With just 12 players on its roster, the Arkansas Wildcats, Arkansas’ premier women’s full-contact semi-professional football team, are headed to the WBowl II Division III championship game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Friday, July 21st.

“Everything has come together for us this year,” Wildcats General Manager Daniel Sims said. “Although we have a small roster and have had a lot of injuries along the way, we have a group of fantastic ladies with a lot of heart and we’re very proud of what they have accomplished this year.”

Formed in 2010 as the Little Rock Wildcats, the Wildcats are members of the Women’s Football Alliance—the largest and most competitive women’s tackle football league in the world, which features 65 teams nationwide.

“We are a team of women from all walks of life: teachers, moms, nurses, and public servants,” Wildcats Head Coach Earnest Dukes said. “Football is a passion for all of us, and this playoff run [has been] an amazing opportunity for us to show the state, the nation, and the world what we can do. We play to show that women and girls can do anything we set our minds to.”

After finishing the regular season with an 8-2 record, the Wildcats reached the postseason for the first time since 2012. The team won its first two postseason games, 36-6 over the Austin Outlaws and 38-21 over the Southern Oregon Lady Renegades.

“It has taken a lot of hard work and perseverance to get to where we are today,” Sims said. “The focal point of our success is the extra time we put into cardio and increasing our stamina by finding opportunities to take rests. We’ve won a game this season where we only had nine players due to injury. This is a team with a lot of heart and a lot of the time we’re successful because we show that we want it more. It’s been a big difference maker for us in some games. When we hit the field, we know what’s at stake, we know who we are and why we’re doing what we do.”

The Wildcats average 28.4 points per game this season. Quarterback Charmaine Alfred commands the offense, completing 25 of 69 passes for 234 yards and five touchdowns. Kiara Vinson leads the rushing attack with 33 carries for 526 yards and eight touchdowns, while adding two receiving touchdowns and two punt returns for touchdowns. Starry Bady bolsters the receivers with nine receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, Lindsey Edwards paces the team with 57 ½ tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

Looking ahead to the title game, the team expects to utilize its strengths to get the job done.

“We need to be very cognizant of holes in their defense and find ways to accentuate our strengths on defense,” Sims said. “Our speed is our advantage. If we can keep our nerves in check and keep our focus on the game, I think we can be successful.”

In addition to the tension of playing for a national title, emotions are sure to run high as the Wildcats play to remember a fallen teammate.

“In 2012, one of our players, Kelsey Goode, was killed in a car accident,” Sims said. “She was a very indomitable part of our program. She was new to football but was very excited about it. She worked as hard as she could to contribute to the team and never gave up. Although her death hit many of our players hard, her passing became the spirit of our team. In her memory, we adopted a team motto— ‘It’s a Goode Day to be a Wildcat.’ Her spirit has been a source of motivation for us over the years.”

In the team’s recent semifinal game in Oregon, the Wildcats received an unexpected motivational boost from Goode’s family.

“When we went to Oregon, Kelsey’s parents traveled from California to see us play because they never got to see a game while she was alive,” Sims said. “Meeting her parents at the game was very emotional for many of us and galvanized the team’s resolve in a way that I haven’t seen before. We truly felt that Kelsey’s spirit was there with us in Oregon and having her parents there was a big difference maker for us in that game.”

Similarly, the Orlando Anarchy—the Wildcats’ opponent in the championship game—is dealing with the loss of two of its players.

“The Anarchy will be in a similar state of mind,” Sims said. “One of their players, Cory Connell, was killed in the Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting last year. Another player, Jahqui Sevilla, who was also present at the Pulse shooting, was killed in a car accident in May. They’ll be playing in their memory.”

In the future, the Wildcats hope to use their success to grow women’s football in central Arkansas.

“During the off-season, we are looking to get in deeper with our community,” Sims said. “We’re planning a community service project called Wildcat Goode Works where we can start working with young girls to show them that football is not just a sport for boys. At games, we’re looking to implement more family-friendly activities to make our games a fun event for all to enjoy.”

“Women’s football is amazing,” Dukes said. “We hope to bring home a national championship to Arkansas and continue to inspire women and girls to follow their dreams to the gridiron and beyond.”

To make a donation toward the Wildcats’ trip to the championship game, visit https://www.gofundme.com/wildcatsplayoffs2017. For more information on the Arkansas Wildcats, including joining the team, visit www.facebook.com/arkansaswildcatsfootball.

Each day in Arkansas, many athletes are overcoming the odds and accomplishing great things in their community. XZero Sports wants to recognize the brightest stars in central Arkansas athletics by sharing their stories for the world to enjoy. Nominate your XZero Hero today at www.xzerosports.com.

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