Denver Lady Bulldogs' Six-Year National Championship Run Comes to an End

When you think of Denver's most nationally competitive sports team, the Super Bowl-winning Broncos probably come to mind (or perhaps not during these last couple of weeks). But in any case, you'd be wrong. That distinction belongs to the Denver Lady Bulldogs.

Since 2010, the Lady Bulldogs have won six consecutive national championships in the sport of Australian Rules Football (AFL), which, as one might guess from its name, is a sport imported from Down Under.

While the game is still relatively obscure in the United States, it does have a growing and dedicated following, as well as established men's and women's leagues that consist of teams from most major cities in the country.

Roughly described as a combination of American football, rugby and soccer, the game is fast-paced and physical, and it's played on large, open fields with goal posts on either end.

Last fall, Westword explored the dominance of Denver's female AFL team, the Lady Bulldogs, in our cover story "We Are the Champions" — just before the team headed to Austin, Texas, and picked up its sixth championship win. It was the continuance of a remarkable run built on the backs of a diverse but tightly knit group of women.

This past weekend, October 15 to 16, the Lady Bulldogs were in Sarasota, Florida, for 2016's AFL championship. And finally, their national title streak has come to an end, after the team lost 9 to 6 against the San Francisco Iron Maidens in a championship-deciding match.

To get a recap of the weekend's drama, as well as to find out what the Lady Bulldogs have in store for the future, Westword caught up with the team's captain, Hallie Adrian.

Westword: We're sorry to hear that your national title streak has come to an end. Can you tell us what happened over the weekend?

Adrian: This year we took 24 players, including seven rookies, to Nationals. It was a newer team, and I'd say potentially the best rookie class we've brought to nationals. So even though this was a young team, it was a team to be proud of and is encouraging for the future.

We started the weekend playing Minnesota and Sacramento, and we beat both of them pretty handily, which was encouraging. But even though we won, we could have played a little better and were working out kinks, especially with all of our new players.

San Francisco had also beat everyone handily before we played them at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning, [October 16]. They looked good – showing up with all their heavy hitters and an impressive rookie class. To give you some history, in the six national championships that we won, we had beat San Francisco in the final game three times. So they were sick of it.

This year, we pretty much knew that our match against them would decide the championship. When we went into that game, though, there was heavy wind, funneling the ball into one part of the field most of the game because the ball is super-lightweight.

San Francisco used an amazing game plan against us. Because of that wind, they funneled all of their players into our forward line whenever we had the ball, which mucked up our scoring.

We lost by three points.

And San Francisco was undefeated over the weekend?

Yes. They were undefeated and we ended up going 3-1, which is why they were awarded the championship title.

We're sure you're disappointed that you didn't continue your championship run, but were you encouraged at how the league is becoming more competitive?

Absolutely. I was able to move on and get past the grieving of losing fairly quickly.... [The Denver Lady Bulldogs] couldn't [win] forever. And a part of us losing was a big step forward for women's [AFL] in the United States, and I know that.

I love to win, but by finally ending our streak and letting someone else take over the reign, it almost feels like a sigh of relief. I'm proud of what we accomplished, but I know that it's only going to be encouraging for the women on the other teams to know that anyone can win this tournament and not feel like, "It's always going to be Denver." It shows that the level of competition has risen. I can say with confidence that the team we brought to the championships this year is the best team I've played for in Denver, and the fact that another team won is just awesome.

In terms of the sport's overall popularity, what were the crowds like at Nationals this year as compared to years past? Did you see more spectators than usual?

Oh, yes. Like, at the 11 a.m. game we had against San Francisco, there were people lined up all around the field; people knew what was on the line, that we were both 2-0, and there was a lot of buildup for that game.

How will you and the Lady Bulldogs change your strategy for next year?

I think that losing is going to motivate us. Some of us can get a little comfortable when you're on this ridiculous winning streak. I think we'll recruit harder, build up our program more and fix a couple of holes in our game. For example, San Francisco did a great job of hand passing the ball, and that's one of the reasons why they beat us. Our coach says we may implement more hand passing into our own strategy next year.

For any women who are interested in joining the team, when does next year's season start, and how would they get a hold of you?

We'll start our pre-season in May [2017] and the competitive season in August…. We've recently revamped our website, and you can contact us using the form at
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker