Once the scattered droplets of rain ceased to fall upon Visalia’s Goshen Park, cars slowly began to trickle into the gravel parking lot. The players of the Central California War Angels women’s football team got out and finished putting on their pads and jerseys as they headed toward the field.
There was a real sense of camaraderie between the players as they spoke and laughed with one another, all eagerly awaiting the coaching staff. Once the staff arrived, the whistles began to blow letting the women know that it was time to start practice.
The Central California War Angels is the Valley’s only all-female contact football team. The team is part of the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA), a league comprised of female teams across the country. The team is training this year in hopes of competing in the National Championships this August at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
War Angels coach Jeff King has been head coach for the past four years, after previously coaching the Los Angeles Amazon. He also has experience as both a player and coach in Europe, making football second nature to him.
For the past two years, the team has made the playoffs. This year their hopes are no different.
“This year, the goal is to win it all,” said King.
Team captain Lisa King, wife of the coach, agrees.
“Our goal is to win the National Championship,” she said. “We have by far the best team in War Angels history. Last season, we made it to the second round of playoffs, and this year, we are preparing to play and win it all.”
Lisa King has been playing football for a total of seven seasons, and this will be her third season with the War Angels. She has played the wide receiver, kick, and punt returner positions in her football career and has been captain for the past two seasons.
The team consists of women from all over the Central Valley, including women from Fresno and Visalia, the team’s home city, and even girls from as far away as the Bay Area.
Many girls from Fresno State travel each weekend to Visalia for practice, including Fresno State alumna, Chantel Wiggins, who said that playing for the team is like playing with family, because they are all such close friends.
Walking onto the field for the first time four years ago, Wiggins was unsure of what to expect but was greeted with only positive feedback.
She had never played in a women’s football league up before, but knew she was “hooked, right then and there.”Rookie player Gabriela Ramirez, said she always had an interest in playing football while growing up and was excited to begin her new venture with the War Angels this year.
“I’ve always liked football,” Ramirez said.
In high school she was not able to play on the boys’ team due to her parents worry of incurring an injury. When she got the opportunity to play for an all-female team, she took it.
Ramirez wants to return to play again next year, citing both physical and mental growth as her reasons.
“They challenge you to become a better player every second,” she said, adding that if this season doesn’t go as planned, the War Angels will be back for blood next year.
With a team roster of nearly 50 women, the War Angels are eagerly anticipating their first game. Their first home game is on April 6th, when they play the Las Vegas Showgirls to open their eight game season.
King, Wiggins, and Ramirez all agreed that the sport brings together women of all different backgrounds and socioeconomic groups to play as a team and as a family. In the words of Chantel Wiggins, “I have been truly blessed that the WFA has kept the league going and will continue to do so for many other ladies in the future.”