Moncton Vipers Star Tara Keohan Ready to Continue Winning Ways

Mark Staffieri@@MarkStaff100Contributor IIMay 24, 2013

Keohan in action against the Saint John Storm, Image by Topher Seguin for the Saint John Telegraph Journal, Obtained from:
Keohan in action against the Saint John Storm, Image by Topher Seguin for the Saint John Telegraph Journal, Obtained from:

Having been named to the Canadian National Team, Tara Keohan, a star for the Moncton Vipers is looking to help Canada win the gold at the Women’s Tackle Football Championships. Regarding Keohan’s career in the Maritime Women’s Football League, the results speak for themselves.

As the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2007, Keohan built on the momentum with All-Star nods in 2009, 2011 and 2012, respectively. During the 2012 campaign, Keohan would help the Vipers claim SupHer Bowl IX in a visceral contest against the Capital Area Lady Gladiators.

With the Most Outstanding Rookie Award setting the foundation for a storied career on the gridiron, the honor was one of great meaning for her. That initial recognition was the catalyst that would provide her with the motivation required to transform herself into an elite athlete.

“Being named the MWFL Most Outstanding Rookie in 2007 meant that I was being recognized for all the practice, sweat, and pain. It gave me the inspiration to continue playing year after year. I was proud to win the award and humbled to know that the league was paying attention to me. I have never fished for compliments or been one to brag.”

“Having an impartial body award me a title like most outstanding Rookie really was an honor.  The various awards I have received over the years assert my talent and demonstrate that I am a great athlete. I am proud of all my achievements and I am humbled to receive the recognition. I hold my teammates, my coaches and the MWFL in high esteem so being named for an award is an honor.”

Like many women in tackle football, Keohan had a background in rugby. In Keohan’s case, participation in rugby would come after an initial run at football.

“Interestingly, I actually began playing football before playing rugby. I was approached in high school by my soccer coach who suggested I play rugby, but I didn’t even entertain the thought. It wasn’t until my first year of university at Mount Allison that I ever gave contact sports a consideration.”

"In meal hall during my first year, I met a girl who played football for the Halifax Xplosion. Prior to this I was entirely unaware that women played football. I had assumed that throwing the football in the back yard, or playing a touch game at the park was the extent of women’s football.”

“So this girl gave me the inspiration to contact my local team (the Moncton Vipers). When I returned home to Moncton in 2007 after exams, I joined the Vipers and have been playing ever since.”

While Keohan would claim the MWFL’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2007, the return to academic life could not extinguish Keohan’s competitive desires. Armed with her background in football, Keohan’s gridiron experience would eventually translate into a distinguished run in rugby that would feature a stint with the New Brunswick provincial team.

“It was only the following summer that I began playing rugby. I had missed playing sport throughout the school year, so I thought I would try rugby. I began playing for Mount Allison’s Women’s rugby team. I was brand new to the sport and it took me a while to grasp the rules, but once I understood the game I began to enjoy it. I played for Mount Allison University, Moncton Black Tide as well as the Halifax Tars rugby club.”

“I also played for Team New Brunswick at the National Women’s League championship in Vancouver back in 2011. However, I never took to rugby the same way I did football. I am a passionate person by nature so when I find something I truly enjoy, it becomes a lifestyle.”

“However, one thing that was instilled in me during my rugby career was team dynamics. I truly realized what a team sport was while play rugby. My rugby team was more than a team; it was a family, a support system and a community. A rugby team is a coherent unit both on and off the field, and I found this was an idea I tried to bring with me to football.”

In reflecting on the early years of her playing career, Keohan and her teammates have shattered the barriers of a traditionally male-dominated sport. She offers enthusiastic words of encouragement to young girls that are interested in considering participation,

“PLAY!! I was initially intimidated by contact sports, because of misconceptions I had about the game. Once I discovered football, it was as if I had found the sport I had always been looking for. I am confident that there are more young girls just like me out there.”

“There are girls who are intimated by the stereotypes of female football players. Girls who have always been told that football is a man’s game, girls who love watching football but never thought they could play. I would advise all women with even the slightest inclination to play football, to try it. If not for themselves, then they should try it because so many women prior never had the opportunity.”

As part of a championship squad in 2012, Keohan’s efforts in SupHer Bowl IX paid dividends as she scored twice in a high scoring 49-42 affair. With her Vipers squad prevailing over a talented Capital Area Lady Gladiators squad that featured seven-time, All-Star quarterback Alex Black, Keohan played the game of her life.

“I scored two touchdowns in the MWFL championship game; one rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. Winning the title meant everything to me that summer. My teammates and I fought hard for the title. Winning the championship game was exciting because it was a unique game where I truly felt like the Vipers controlled the outcome of the game.”

The championship was a watershed moment for Keohan and her teammates. With the Saint John Storm having won three titles in a four-year span (between 2008 and 2011), there were many seasons of struggle.

“In years, past Vipers teams allowed other teams to control the tempo of the game. During the 2012 championship, we controlled the intensity. The Moncton Vipers have lost hard-fought battles in the past, where the score board did not reflect the talent on the field.”

“Winning last year was a gratifying feeling that demonstrated to me that heart is crucial to winning football games. I sent a letter that I wrote to my teammates the night before the championship game.”

Heading into the title game, Keohan sought a source of motivation for her teammates. As a fan of the New York Giants, she was inspired at the way they overcame the odds in Super Bowl XLII. With a 9-7 record, the Giants upset the undefeated New England Patriots. In composing the letter, Keohan saw unique parallels in the championship situation of both squads. The last paragraph of the letter magnified the meaning of her motivational message:

“If we walk on to the field as a team, play 4 quarters of hard-nosed football, and when that whistle blows to signal time is up, if we can look at the player next to us wearing teal and silver, and say ‘I left nothing on the field. I gave it my all, and some’, then I guarantee you that we will walk off the field as a team of Champions.”

“In this letter, I talked about how the New York Giants are an inspirational football team because of their teamwork and passion. I compared the Vipers and the Giants in so far as overcoming challenges, hard work and teamwork are concerned.”

“I meant every word I wrote that night, and I am confident we won that game because we worked as a team and controlled the tempo of the game. I think what made winning the championship last year so exciting is that we did it as a team; not as individuals wearing the same colored jerseys.”

With the title representing redemption, Keohan is hoping to duplicate her success with the Canadian National Team. At the inaugural World Women’s Championships in 2010, Canada was bested by an archrival United States squad in the gold medal game. With the opportunity to wear her country’s colors, Keohan would love nothing more than golden glory in 2013.

“Receiving the phone call back in March was the biggest success of my life. Being named to the Canadian National team is the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon a Canadian female football player. Playing for the national team is comparable to the Olympics. To quote our coach Olivier Eddie, we are “Best Women Football Athletes in the Country”. If football was in the Olympics we would be on the team.”

“Being named to the national team is an enormous accomplishment and I am so proud that my hours of practice, hours of training and my talent has paid off. I am extremely excited to play alongside these other amazing athletes, and I look forward to all the opportunities to improve.”

While the ghosts of the 2010 loss to the United States lingers, Keohan approaches it with ethereal serenity. As her playing career has resulted in crossing paths with several women from the inaugural Canadian team of 2010, Keohan has absorbed their lessons learned. In reflecting on the loss, Keohan employs acumen while pondering the future confrontation with the U.S. 

“As I have learned from my friends who played for the national team during the inaugural tournament, the American team was a physically domineering team. The women on Team USA are bigger and stronger, so we need to accept this.”

“We need to be confident in the strength training we have done and we need to approach them from a different angle. Perhaps we need to tap into Canada’s talent. I think in order to win the gold medal this season; we need to beat them with speed, agility, and quick execution. We will need to focus on technique and proper execution. We will need to remain focused and positive.”

“Often, when playing a more dominant team, teams can lose focus and the bonds of teamwork are dismantled. We need to insure that we walk off the field—regardless of the outcome—with our heads held high. We have accomplished an enormous feat and the scoreboard does not define success.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”