This will be the 4th season the North Star Blue Ox have been in existence after a several Minnesota Freeze women players decided to start their own team in the Minneapolis/St Paul area in 2017.
Recently when we wrote and article and spoke to newest standalone women's team the Centennial Tigers & Sara Rohner, we realized we hadn't finished an article last year about the North Star Blue Ox, the very first single women’s team in the USAFL. So we reached out again to get an update and chatted briefly again with North Star Blue Ox's, Helen Phillips, to bring us up to speed.
The North Star Blue Ox got their name as Minnesota is known as the North Star state, with "L'Etoile du Nord" being the state motto. Blue Ox comes from Paul Bunyan the lumberjack folklore. Minnesota lays claim to being his birthplace, and he was accompanied in his exploits by Babe, the Blue Ox.
In the previous 6 years women’s footy had grown significantly in the area with the Minnesota Freeze women taking full teams and some, to the USAFL Nationals and many players making the USA Freedom and Liberty teams in the previous 5 years.
The growth of the Minnesota Women's team opened up the opportunity to grow the game further, by being able to play more official USAFL games.
The excitement of a new team, The North Star Blue Ox however those years back, allowed a renewed focus for the love of the game and the building of friendships. The first President of the team Marie LaVictorie, had been a USA Freedom representative as far back as the late 2000s. Other Freedom representatives since have been Emily Smuder and Brianne Theisen, the latter is now the Blue Ox's coach. It's also worth noting that one of the 2019 Rookies, Hannah Alexander was awarded the Cooper's Medal at the 2019 Nationals.
The club remains small and last year at the Sarasota FL Nationals only 4 players attended. Playing with the Columbus Cats & Nashville Kangaroos combined team however in Div 2, they finished with a win on Sunday for their efforts. In 2018 6 players played in the Racine Wisconsin USAFL National Championships.
However, the focus of the team is often more about fun, playing with new people and making new friends than achieving lofty goals. And also it is worth mentioning many teams assess their success or failure, wrongly we believe at times, by how well they attend and perform at the USAFL National Championships each October.
For any new club in the US there are many challenges and we are sure for a standalone women’s team this would be even more exaggerated. The Blue Ox started with zero, no funding, no structure to build on, but plenty of ambition. You hear teams are built on passion right? Well this might be the perfect example.
In 2019 the Blue Ox were able to play relatively close to their home base in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St Paul, playing with the Chicago Swans team and playing against their cross town rivals the Freeze. So the 2019 year was the most successful year in terms of playing local games and having fun playing.
The Blue Ox were able to secure a sponsor in their first year but have had little luck finding partners since. This puts some financial strain on the club, with small memberships and limited support externally, growth can only be slow. But that is ok for this team Helen Phillips told USFootyNews. "We are having fun."
Helen, who has been with the club all 4 years, "temporarily retired" from playing with the Freeze, but was lured back by the Blue Ox. Chatting with USFootyNews, Helen let us know, "Since the split with the Minnesota Freeze a friendly relationship has developed and there are opportunities for Blue Ox players to play with both teams more often."
"The team practices are out in the Golden Valley area, just west of Minneapolis, and the goal in 2020 is as in any year for the Blue Ox, it is have a good time, get our rookies exposed to Nationals and other Championships events and get them hooked on a great sport for women." "Also to find some younger players to join the sport would be nice". Helen added.
Younger players in fact is the challenge for all teams across the USA where the average age of an American recruit to the game is often in the late 20s or even higher.
So the first standalone women's only team The North Star Blue Ox, is alive in well, well maybe a bit chilly right now. But come the full spring and summer, they will be back at it, playing women's Aussie Rules footy in Minneapolis, Minnesota.