Vanessa Baer, local girl
Vanessa Baer kicks extra points and plays tight end.

Local women trying to win another title for Boston Renegades

July 21, 2023
James Albert, Lowell Sun

REVERE — One splits double teams. Another splits the uprights.

Minna Lehtinen and Vanessa Baer hope to show off their skills Saturday on national television.

Lehtinen, who came to the United States from Finland and now lives in Dracut, is a nose guard, while Baer, who lived in Chelmsford before moving to Allston, is a kicker and part-time tight end for the Boston Renegades, the women’s professional football team.

The two, along with five other local players, will be competing for the Renegades as the team looks to capture its fifth straight Women’s Football Alliance championship with a contest against the St. Louis Slam at Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio starting at 1 p.m. (ESPN2).

Both teams are 8-0 with prolific offenses and stubborn defenses. The Renegades have outscored teams 493-63 led by five-time league MVP Allison Cahill, the quarterback, while the Slam have outscored teams 312-47. Baer (maiden name is Aukshunas) believes the team has what it takes to win number five.

“Absolutely. All we have to do is be ourselves, execute the way that we know how and we’ll be holding the trophy at the end of the day,” said the 32-year-old who works in a marketing firm.

Baer was a multi-sport athlete at Chelmsford High, including running a 5:32 mile time at the MVC Championship Meet her junior year. She also played center-midfield on the soccer team. She went to UConn before transferring to UMass Lowell and played racquetball competitively.

She played years of flag football before joining the Renegades in 2021. That season she led the league in PAT kicks with 26 and became the first and only kicker in the league history to go through a season without missing an extra point. She took last season off, but surpassed the 50 in a row mark before the streak ended during a win over Pittsburgh.

Recently, Baer was named a WFA Pro All-American for her kicking, although she also plays a little tight end, which included a TD reception.

“In the rain, over the shoulder, no big deal,” she said with a big laugh.  “I got a nice push off the line, got open and was ready for it. It was my first touchdown ever and it was just all of the work that I had done up to that point culminated into that one emotional and exciting kind of moment of time, if you will. It was incredible and I can’t wait to get more of them.”

One of the team’s coaches, Vern Crawford, certainly believes there will be a lot more TDs coming her way considering her improvement.

“She has made leaps and bounds, especially to start playing receiver this year. The future is bright for her to be a receiver for us for the next few years,” he said.

Minna Lehtinen lives in Dracut
Minna Lehtinen #72 tackles a Tampa Bay Inferno rusher.

While Baer has helped the team rack up the points, Lehtinen is one of the biggest reasons why opposing teams can’t run against the Renegades.

“Minna just splits double teams like you have never seen. We call her the bull because she just leads right in,” said teammate Danielle Fournier of North Andover.

After playing 12 years of volleyball and seven years of football in Finland, Lehtinen made the move to the United States and the Renegades. She has also been named a league All-American.

“I just felt like there wasn’t enough of a challenge for me (in Finland). I knew (teammate) Tytti Kuusinen, who was also on the Finnish National Team and we played together, so when I started to look for a team to play for here (in the United States) she recommended the Renegades,” said Lehtinen. “I love being here and I feel so grateful to be a part of this team. It’s full of so many amazing football players who all have this same mindset, same goal and who are willing to put in the effort to do what it takes to be the best.”

Added Crawford, “Minna sets the tone. She can play multiple positions so she’s like a JJ Watt-type player where she can play inside or outside and make a mark in the game. It’s not always that’s she’s going to make the sack, but she probably disrupted the play and made her flush out so someone else could make the play. She’s the one who is going to get forced to face double teams all of the time because she’s in the middle. She’s a great asset and I’m happy that she came over to our team this year. She’s made our defense ten times better.”

Baer and Lehtinen are joined by local residents Sam McKay and Nicole Gordon of Dracut, Ravy Thok of Lowell, Jocelyn Forrest of Westford and Sarah Tully of Chelmsford. They are fighting for a championship and for the world to recognize the sport, and the team.

“Once people see us and give us a chance, they’ll love it and will want to come back,” said Baer.