August 24, 2016 | 3 p.m.
By Whitney Bak '15, content specialist
On July 23, The Minnesota Vixen’s 2016 season came to an end after a 49-6 loss to the Utah Falconz during the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL) World Championship game. But for rookie quarterback and Bethel alumna Kiersten Hansen ’10, the season was more than she could have imagined.
After leading her team through an undefeated regular season ending in the Vixen’s attainment of the IWFL Midwest Conference Championship Title, Hansen and eight of her teammates—along with Vixen Coach Damion Topping—were named to the IWFL East Conference All-Star Team. The players participated in an East vs. West Conference All-Star Game as a part of the 2016 Championship Weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The All-Star Game wasn’t the only time Vixen players would storm the world championship field. After securing the Midwest Conference Champions title, the Vixen faced the New York Sharks on July 9 for the East Conference Title. A win in double overtime secured the Vixen’s spot to compete against the Falconz in the team’s first-ever IWFL World Championship Game.
The Minnesota Vixen are the longest-standing women’s tackle football team in the U.S. Founded in 1999, the team has undergone ownership changes and numerous other transformations. They officially joined the IWFL in 2013, and made history the following year when they played in the Legacy Bowl against the Carolina Queens—the first bowl game to be officiated by an entirely female crew. The 2016 season was their most successful to date.
Before last fall, Hansen hadn’t had any experience with either the Minnesota Vixen or of the IWFL, widely considered to be the highest level of competition for women’s football in the world.
“I went to the tryout not even expecting to make the team,” she says. “I just wanted to meet my goal.” A lifelong football fan, Hansen had always dreamed of playing competitively. As a child growing up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, she’d played on her school’s football team with the boys. But after her freshman year of high school she retired her football cleats to pursue more female-friendly athletic opportunities.
Hansen continued her athletic involvement at Bethel, playing on the women’s basketball team from 2007 to 2009 and rounding out her senior year as goalie for Bethel women’s soccer. Women’s Basketball Coach Jon ‘Herbie’ Herbrechtsmeyer says he was not surprised when he learned of Hansen’s success with the Vixen, remembering her love of football and her skills as a Bethel athlete. “Kiersten, from the time I started to recruit here, was one of the best all-around athletes we’ve ever had,” he says.
After the fall 2015 Vixen tryouts, Hansen received a call from Vixen Head Coach Brandon Pelinka, who offered her the opportunity to join the team as a quarterback. Though she was shocked to receive the offer, she accepted. By the time of her first official game, the coaches were confident enough to start her. “They’re phenomenal at building players up,” Hansen says of her Vixen coaches, going on to explain how her time at Bethel helped her to value the impact that character-building can have on a team.
“Bethel does that really well: building a relationally-driven environment in the sports world that’s not only about meeting those athletic goals of ‘let's win this game, let's do this,’ but also asking ‘how are we going to grow together as a team, as friends?’ and ‘how do we incorporate our faith being competitive athletes?’” she says.
Hansen also recognizes that her own interpersonal and leadership skills have been an important factor in her team’s success, though she jokes, “I’ll maybe only take 10 percent of that (credit).” She says that leaders should not only be responsible for commanding attention and encouraging teammates, but that establishing mutual respect amongst players and developing camaraderie is key. So far, that hasn’t been a problem for the Vixen. “It’s one of the most cohesive teams I’ve been a part of,” Hansen says.
Hansen is eagerly awaiting the coming fall tryouts, and she encourages any interested women to sign up. “We have people from all walks of life, all body types, and all experience levels,” she says. “I surprised myself that at 28, I can still keep up!” But Hansen goes above and beyond “keeping up.” Last season she ranked at the top of many passing categories, making the top five in passer rating, completion percentage, and touchdowns. Next year, she’s aiming to shoot her completion percentage up to about 60, among other personal improvement goals.
In the mean time, Hansen says she will continue to practice excellence in other areas of her life—another takeaway from her time at Bethel. “One of the great things about Bethel is that academically and athletically, there’s a standard that’s modeled by the coaches, by the professors, by the staff,” she says. “There’s a mindset and attitude of doing your best, putting forth your best effort.” Hansen admits she was surprised to discover such attitudes were not universal outside of Bethel, and says that her strive toward excellence has been a consistent attribute of her work, playing for the Vixen, and in her community.For the Vixen team as a whole, striving for excellence means preparing to not only compete in the 2017 world championship game, but to win. “Our team is anxious and rearing and hungry to get back out there,” Hansen says. “After a season like this one, the expectation has to be ‘we want to get back out there, and we want to win it.’” Regardless of what the coming season brings, Hansen says the Vixen will continue to build awareness about professional opportunities for female football players by getting out on the field and hitting hard—in a way only women can.