global panthers: 2024 cohort
Continuing with the great program that was started in the 2022 season, your Mississippi Lady Panthers are excited to announce our newest addition to the Global Panther Program! This time, your Panthers travel to Poland to welcome the newest member of our family, Aleksandra Lukasiewicz.
We asked Aleksandra a series of questions about her football experience and how excited she is for this opportunity. You can read her responses below in this release.
- What inspired you to start playing football?
“When I was a kid, I liked both stereotypically girly and boyish things. I liked playing with dolls, but also did martial arts, played video games and got into fights with other boys. I’ve always been drawn into strong female characters in movies and was always looking for an option of choosing a female character when starting a video game. I was dreaming I want to be a cool fighter too.
Even though I was raised in Europe, I’ve been consuming American entertainment since I was little – cartoons, movies etc. Back then I had no idea what the rules of football were, but its dynamic and the energy was drawing my attention. I even remember some cartoon where in one episode a girl started to play football in high school and I thought “oh my god that is sooo cool!”. I remember that when I was playing handball in primary school I had thoughts like “I wish I was born in the USA so I could play football” cause in my imagination football was like a cooler version of handball. So when I was 20 and I got to know that there is one women’s football team in Poland, Warsaw Sirens, I didn’t hesitate one minute.”
- When did you start your journey? What positions have you played, and what position has been your favorite (if you have played multiple)?
“I came to my first football practice in September 2013 in Warsaw. It was the first and still is only women’s football team, Warsaw Sirens. I had no idea what the positions were, I just wanted to hit people. The coach put me on the defense at the middle linebacker position. After around a year I transitioned to offense and played as fullback and running back, because I was curious about the offensive side of the ball. Basically every few years I changed my position (between offense and defense), otherwise my ADHD brain would drive me nuts. But it’s always running back/fullback or linebacker/strong safety. I played a little as a tight end and even one season as a quarterback (because I was very curious about this position), but I know it’s not for me. It’s hard to choose only one favorite position, cause I appreciate different things in them. As a rb/fb I love that moment when even though I’m the ball carrier, I’m the one hitting people. As a lb/ss, I feel more freedom on the field and more wild team energy. I also love those moments when I’m making tackles for loss and feel like “punishing” the offense.”
- How did you learn about the Mississippi Panthers, and why did you choose to America to take your talents?
“I found the Mississippi Panthers around a year ago when I started to be more interested in WNFC. I already played in the USA in a different league in 2017 and WNFC really caught my attention with their professional-looking image. So I started to follow a few teams that somehow have caught more of my attention. In the case of the Mississippi Panthers it’s quite funny, cause the first thing I’ve noticed was the name – I’ve been rooting for the Polish men’s football team, Wrocław Panthers, since I started following Polish football (around 2014) so it was like “hey, I like Panthers!”. And then, during the 2023 season, the team proved that I had good feelings about it.
The decision to once again come to the US was driven by multiple factors. Primarily, it’s my desire to develop my football skills and knowledge and elevate them on a completely different level. We have some good coaches in Europe, but there is a reason why the women’s US team wins every IFAF Championship Games. When I was playing in the US last time, I remember that I’ve never gained so much football knowledge in such a short time – both before and after that experience. In the US, football is not just a sport, it’s a whole cultural phenomenon and I can’t wait to experience it once again.”
- What most excites you about playing for the Mississippi Panthers and the Women’s National Football Conference?
“Woah, where do I start! First and foremost, the opportunity to compete at a high level in a league that seems to have the most professional approach of all women’s leagues. It’s also about being part of something bigger, a movement that showcases the incredible talent and dedication of female athletes.
I can’t wait to come to Jackson, MS, and start practicing with the Mississippi Panthers. One of my favorite Polish coaches has been telling me that if I want to have real American football experience, I need to go to the south. And since I’m in contact with the team, I think I started to realize what it means. Mississippi is a state with a rich football culture and the south is known for its hospitality, so that just makes a perfect match.
I’m extremely passionate about football and I feel that with the Mississippi Panthers I’ll feel like it’s “my” kind of place. Especially that the team has information about their Global Panther Program on their website, so for me it’s very important information – because it means that the team is open to international players and value their potential input.”
- What advice do you give young girls who are looking to play football?
“Believe in yourself, trust your guts and don’t let anyone bring you down. Be humble, but also don’t be afraid to ask questions and know your worth. Football is a very addictive sport, but remember not to base your self-esteem on your performance.
Women’s football is not perceived in society the same as men’s, but it doesn’t mean we are some sort of worse athletes. Don’t let anyone tell you that less view rates means we’re worse and it’s not worth it to play it. No. It only means that we’re less promoted – because of a lot of social and economic circumstances. Soccer became a worldwide popular sport, because at some point Adidas has chosen to invest in it and build their branding around it.
Remember, when women gained their right to vote ONLY 100 years ago, a lot of people also called them crazy and didn’t understand that. We still have a long way to go, but we’re on the right path.”
- What advice do you have for women who are looking to come to America to play football?
“If you have that possibility – don’t hesitate any minute! It’s the best you can do for your football development and there is no other way to get so much knowledge in such a short time. It’s not easy of course, but it’s doable. Just find a team that will resonate with you and be prepared that everything you know about football might be revised.”
- The Mississippi Panthers are grateful for the opportunity to invite international players to play each year with our new Global Panther Program. How do you feel this program will impact women’s access to playing football?
“I feel it’s very important for women’s football development worldwide. In the case of women’s football, we don’t have that many opportunities to really elevate our game at some point. In Europe men can aspire to play in the European Football League for example. But women? We have only IFAF Championship Games, but if your country doesn’t have a national team (like mine), you’re out. Also, very often women’s football in Europe is not attractive to coaches, cause usually it’s a work for free, so many good coaches won’t even consider it (they’ll go to a men’s team or not coach at all). Of course not all coaches, but statistically we have less chances of getting a really good coach.
Therefore, the best way to really step-up on your game is to go to the US, the fatherland of football. But again, it’s not easy, because you don’t get any money from it, you need to figure out how to live for a few months in a completely different country, how to get housing etc. It’s a factor that stops a lot of great female athletes from playing in the US and that’s why every program that will make our (international players) lives easier is gold. The Global Panther Program can change not only one’s life, but also all future international players that now will see that you can make your dreams come true.”
- What do you hope to take away or gain from this experience?
“First of all – lifetime memories, on and off the field. I’ve been playing football for over 10 years and I’ve learned that the thing that I love the most in this sport is the moment on the field when you’re so exhausted you want to cry, but your teammates help you get up and all together you’re playing next play, and the next play, and the next play. You raise up each other and feel that you really played as a team, not just a bunch of individuals in the same uniforms. You don’t really need to like everyone privately, but when you step-up onto that field, the person next to you is your sister and you protect each other. The goal is to win together, and everything else in our lives doesn’t matter at that moment. It’s the most beautiful thing in women’s football and I hope I will be able to experience it once again.
I also hope to elevate my football skills and knowledge to a different level. I want to be a coach one day (probably the day when my body will says “ok you’re done”) and in every team I’ve been on, or on every football camp I’ve been to, I’ve been collecting football knowledge. Even with basic stuff, I always look even for small hints that will make me play better. Honestly, I have like a small archive of football knowledge in my mind and my life goal is to fill it up as much as possible. I’m constantly looking for improvement and this is what I’m looking for in the upcoming season. I know that my time with the Mississippi Panthers will be challenging on the field (and I hope it will be!) but I’m looking forward to it.”
To learn more bout the program, visit the Global Panther Program page.