Women’s tackle football national team features Albany kicker

Albany’s Alaina Lange will fight for a gold medal as kicker/punter for the US Women’s Tackle Football National Team in Finland on Sunday.

The gold would be the fourth straight for the US, which plays Great Britain at 12:10 pm in the International Federation of American Football World Championship.

Lange, who coaches soccer and teaches eighth grade at Lansingburgh High School, is in her fifth year playing tackle football, but this is her first experience with the national team.

Support from her students and friends back home is helping to keep her motivated.

“It helps to just kind of just keep us pushing forward and keep that gold medal goal in mind knowing that it’s not just for ourselves, but it’s for everybody back home who’s rooting for us and all of the United States,” Lange said.

Lange’s kicking was key in the team’s 28-10 semi-final win over Finland, in which the Americans scored 21 answered points in the last 24 minutes. The team started the world championship with a 63-0 win over Germany.

Sweden, Australia, Canada and Mexico also participated this year.

When: 12:10 pm Sunday

Where: Vantaa, Finland

Stream: olympics.com

“We knew coming into this year that it was going to be a much tighter battle all the way through to the gold medal match,” Lange said. “Finland is a great matchup, but they’re also a little nerve-wracking.”

The improved competition is due, Lange said, to the sport’s growth all over the world.

“This is something that has been a long time coming where we are now at a place internationally where there’s a men’s football league and a women’s football league, and … the women’s football league is very quickly making a name for itself across the world ,” Long said.

Although Lange has only been playing the sport for a short time, she has seen “astronomical” growth.

Data gathered by the National Federation of High Schools and compiled by the NFL’s Football Operations arm showed that participation among girls in tackle football increased in 47 states between 2008 and 2018.

In New York, less than 0.1 percent of high school football players were girls in 2008. In 2018, that grew to 0.4 percent.

“To see the number of younger women coming into the sport who either have been athletes their entire life and like me just didn’t know that the game of football existed for women outside of just pickup games and fun or flag, but also women who have been playing football with the boys, like with their high school teams, and wanting to continue that in their college years even coming out to play,” Lange said.

Lange first heard of women’s tackle football as the soccer coach at Schalmont, when parents of two soccer players asked her to try out for their team, the New York Knockout, in exchange for persuading their daughters to play goalie for her.

“I showed up to tryouts and fell in love with it and never looked back,” Lange said.

When she started, one of the parents predicted she’d end up on the national team eventually.

“I didn’t really know what he was talking about when he said that. I hadn’t really heard of the women’s national team before,” Lange said.

That’s partly because the competition has been held sporadically, in 2010, 2013 and 2017. (The US has won all three years.)

So when Lange found out trials were being held in Florida, she and a few other teammates signed up. They competed with 250 other hopefuls to make a roster of 45. After the tryouts came months of waiting during which Lange’s students and soccer players badgered her for news.

“Once you got that call it was an awesome sigh of relief and excitement and being ready to train,” Lange said.

Part of the training camp included a football camp for girls interested in the sport, held at the Cleveland Browns’ facilities.

“There were 50 to 100 young girls, ages 8 to 18, who came out to learn from us and to play some football and have some fun and really learn the fundamentals of the game from us,” Lange said.

Although she plays football because she loves it — “what’s not to love?” — Lange also enjoys being a role model.

“I love coaching those girls and I love being able to lead by example with those girls and be able to have them do as I do, not just do as I say,” she said.

Although she does sometimes get questions from people who are surprised by the existence of organized women’s tackle football, the reactions when she tells people what she does are generally positive.

“It’s almost like people are thinking, it’s about time,” Lange said.

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