Yea, you read the title correct: Women’s Maple League! Here in Finland American Football is an equal opportunity sport, and the women take full advantage of that. If you would like to get more information about women playing football checkout sajl.fi for detailed information. I will not even attempt to tell you I know what’s going on in the Women’s Maple League, but I know a quick jump to their standings paints a pretty good picture. Three undefeated teams, three completely defeated teams, and two teams in the middle.
That’s about all the research I will do on the league play, I’m more intrigued about the actual players in the Women’s Maple League. Looking into rosters and stats lead me to the very talented Lea Kaszas of the Turku Trojans Ladies team. Lea is a native of Canada who began her football career in the United States. She was kind enough to do a quick interview with me in between her hectic practice and gym sessions.
GETTING TO KNOW LEA
Perfect: Where are you from originally?
Kazsas: I was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and moved to Edmonton, Alberta when I was 8 years old. I moved to Toledo, Ohio when I was 22 years old.
Perfect: What sports did you play before American Football?
Kazsas: Throughout junior high and high school I played volleyball and soccer. I played basketball for a few years and really loved it but we didn’t have enough girls to make a team at the small French school I attended.
Perfect: Do you think you could have gotten as far playing one of those other sports?
Kazsas: I was really good at soccer and basketball and do believe that had I attended a bigger school in Canada or school in the U.S I could have received a scholarship somewhere.
Perfect: What position do you prefer to play?
Kazsas: If I had to pick one, it would be linebacker!!!!!! It allows me to read and react and use my athletic ability to the fullest. I also really enjoy playing qb because I like having the ability to manage the game and make plays. Rb is great as well because I can be very physical and use my favorite move, the stiff arm.
Perfect: If you had to compare your play style to an NFL player who would that be?
Kazsas: That’s a hard question to answer since I play so many different positions. I’d like to pretend that I’m like Barry Sanders but I don’t think anyone should compare themself to him. lol
Perfect: Do you have another profession besides American Football?
Kazsas: I teach PE (Physical Education) to elementary students at Stephen Foster Elementary in Indianapolis, IN.
THE LEA KASZAS FOOTBALL STORY
After moving to Toledo, Ohio in my twenties I was searching for something active that I could do and I sort of just fell into football. My first year playing football was a whirlwind. I played running back for Thee Toledo Reign and though I was a rookie, I had a wonderful season and fell in love with the game. That first season I was chosen as the offensive MVP on my team and was nominated to the All- American team by the league. In the All-American game that took place in San Diego, I scored the winning TD and was given a trophy for being the game MVP. This was my introduction to football and it was an amazing experience. After roughly 6 seasons of playing running back and moving to Indiana to play for the Indiana Speed (currently the Indy Crash), I challenged myself to a new role and became the quarterback of our team. I had great success as QB, scoring many passing and running TDs and was once again selected as an All-American. I have played QB for the last 4 years and my performance has progressed quite a bit over time. I went from being a successful running QB to one that was able to read the defense, make audibles and stand in the pocket to deliver a pass. I have a strong arm and I am still one of the fastest in our league, the Women’s Football Alliance. Because of the low numbers on my team at the time, a few years ago I decided to learn how to play defense. In 2014 I attended the first ever Women’s World Football games and signed up as a linebacker for the camp. I learned a lot in that short week and brought back my new skills to my team where I played full-time outside linebacker on defense and QB on offense. I was one of the leading tacklers on my team and had several interceptions. Since that season, I have continued to play on both sides of the ball and truly enjoy it. I love the intensity of defense and I feel as though it allows me to de-stress a bit from playing on the offensive side of the ball. I do love scoring touchdowns, however, and the feeling of a well-executed play from the break of the huddle until the time when the ball leaves my hand. I learned of the opportunity to come to Finland through a Facebook post on the female tackle football players around the world page. They were looking for people interested in becoming import players. Immediately I wrote to them expressing my interest. I made a highlight video and wrote a biography to send and hoped for the best. Initially I did not hear anything back and found a way to contact Jonna Hakkarainen, team manager for the Turku Trojans though Facebook. I sent her some messages and she replied right away. We continued to talk about the process and when she let me know that they chose me, it was one of the best days of my life. She worked really hard to get me to Finland and I will always be grateful for her efforts.
WELCOME TO FINLAND!
Perfect: How do you like it in Finland?
Kazsas: I love it here!!! The people are amazing, Turku is a beautiful city and my teammates are really cool.
Perfect: How do you like the Finnish People?
Kazsas: I have completely bonded with my teammates and know that I have made some friendships that will last. The Finnish people are very nice, open and a lot of fun. If they didn’t have such depressing winters, I would consider moving here.
Perfect: What is your favorite meal to eat in Finland?
Kazsas: I love the smoked salmon, the meatballs and the new potatoes.
Perfect: Is the language barrier an issue with you and your teammates and coaches?
Kazsas: The language has not at all been a barrier, most speak very good English and they make an effort to speak with me as much as possible. I’m also learning some of the important words in Finnish. (I won’t say which. lol)
Perfect: Do you spend a lot of time with teammates or on your own, outside of football activities?
Kazsas: Most of my friends are football players and two of my best friends have either played with me on the team or coached for the team since I started playing in Indianapolis. In Finland I have been hanging out with my teammates outside of football a lot.
WOMEN’S MAPLE LEAGUE FOOTBALL
Perfect: What do you see as the end result for your team(Turku Trojans) this season?
Kazsas: My team at home(Indy Crash) didn’t make it past the first round of playoffs this year but I believe my team here in Finland, the Turku Trojans, will win the Maple League championship!!!!
Perfect: How do you feel about your individual performance so far this season?
Kazsas: I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve played. I have over 1000 all purpose yards and 14 tds in 3 games. My offensive line is beastly and our offense is complimented by a great qb and talented receivers which really opens up the run game.
Perfect: So what’s next for you after the season?
Kazsas: I will play at home in Indianapolis in the spring and if I get invited back to Finland, I’d love to come again.
WOMEN AND FOOTBALL
Perfect: How do you think women effect the sport of American Football?
Kazsas: I think women bring a whole new level of passion and commitment to the sport. We pay to play, work full-time jobs and fight constant criticism and restraints to play the game that we love. We don’t get any glory besides what we share with our teammates and we have to work ten times harder for people to take us seriously. The growth of women’s football is also helping the sport to grow around the world! We are inspiring little girls to want to be football players and also opening up the opportunity for girls and women of all shapes and sizes to compete in sports.
Perfect: Do you believe woman can play football at the same level of entertainment as men?
Kazsas: While I know that the game will probably never be as fast and hard as the men’s game, I am positive that it can be just as entertaining. We have a long way to go as far as the development of football as a product but the talent and drive is there. We need more sponsors, facilities and general interest but I do believe that we are on the verge of an explosion for women’s football.
Perfect: Any words of advice for any girls or women who are interested in playing American football?
Kazsas: Go for it! Do not be afraid to try it, you will learn incredibly quickly and meet some amazing people. DO NOT let anyone talk you out of it if you really want to do it. It will be hard but it will be worth it. Use facebook to find your local team and reach out to teammates if you need extra help learning. Unlike boys who have had the opportunity to play since they were young, we are all still learning new things every practice. Every team wants and needs more players and interest, they will be happy you reached out. I promise that if you go for and stick with it, playing football will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life!