For years, the women who played tackle football in Maine – from the Maine Freeze of a decade ago to the recently defunct Maine Rebels – often went an entire season without winning a game.

This year is different. The Maine Mayhem, a first-year team, will play during the Independent Women’s Football League championship weekend later this month in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Everybody is so excited,” said Alicia Jeffords, a running back, linebacker, team captain and much more for the Mayhem. “Our chemistry and attitude is so amazing from prior years, when we couldn’t wait for the season to be over. I know part of that is due to winning. But we also want to be together. Nobody wants this to be over.”

The Mayhem will play the Knoxville (Tennessee) Lightning in the Affiliate Bowl on July 22. The game will decide the championship of the league’s Affiliate division, which consists of seven teams that are first-year clubs or small-market teams.

At its top level, the IWFL has 26 teams playing in four conferences. The championship weekend will include the title game for those teams on July 23 as well as an all-star game that will include five Mayhem players.

The league is a Texas-based nonprofit that formed in 2000 to support tackle football for women. It has teams in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Denver and other major and smaller cities across North America.

The Mayhem, who finished their regular season on June 11 with a 4-4 record, formed after the Maine Rebels were sold and moved to New Hampshire last year. Jeffords serves as president of the five-member board of directors that runs the club. Team members have to buy their own equipment, pay for their training and treatment, and are raising money for the trip to Charlotte.

“We’re definitely going,” Jeffords said.

The Mayhem have 23 players, many of them playing both offense and defense. They played their home games in Portland at Fitzpatrick Stadium and Memorial Field at Deering High. They practice in Gorham once a week.

“They haven’t had a whole lot of success here in Maine the last six, seven years,” said Jeremiah Rohner, who coaches the Mayhem and previously coached the Rebels. “I know for the girls who have been coming back year after year after losing so much, it gets discouraging. But we’re putting a program in place that these girls can thrive under. And seeing how hard they work is very gratifying. The transition has been amazing.”

Rohner pointed to two games the Mayhem played against the New England Nightmare, a team from Connecticut that plays in the United States Women’s Football League. Maine – which is allowed to cross over to the USWFL to fill out its eight-game schedule because teams in the Affiliate division are spread across the nation – lost 2-0 and 14-8 in two games against the Nightmare, who finished 7-0.

“In the past we’d lost by 30 points to them,” said Rohner, who also coaches at Gorham Middle School.

The Mayhem played only one Affiliate Division team this year, defeating the New York Knockout three times (24-6, 40-0 and 28-0). They played one established IWFL team, the Montreal Blitz, twice, losing 52-0 and 63-0. They also defeated the Connecticut Hawks, another USWFL team, 32-7.

“Last year we made some strides. We didn’t win but we battled hard,” said Rohner. “This year we came out to win our first game (against the Knockout, 24-6) and really gained confidence from that.”

Jeffords is one of the five Mayhem all-stars. The others are fullback/linebacker Paula Beaulieu, who was also a first-team selection, and second-team selections Theresa Hendrix (quarterback/cornerback), Frankie Curtis (defensive end/guard) and Jessikah Lopez (defensive tackle/guard).

Jeffords said playing in those all-star games – she has been in five – has improved the quality of play.

“Every year I’ve gone there I’ve learned something and increased my football IQ,” she said.

Now 36, Jeffords has been playing since she was 25. “I always loved football,” she said. “When I got the opportunity to play I said, ‘OK.’ I was hooked and never left.”

Hendrix, a three-sport star (field hockey, basketball and softball) at Cheverus High and St. Joseph’s College, has had a dramatic effect on the Mayhem as a rookie. She came across an article on Jeffords and the Mayhem in a magazine and was intrigued. She spoke to Jeffords, joined the team and after playing wide receiver a few games, moved to quarterback. She’s a good passer but also possesses the ability to make defenders miss tackles in the open field, so the Mayhem have put in a spread offense.

“She’s obviously gifted in several areas,” said Rohner. “She gives us another dimension.”

Hendrix said she’s fortunate to be playing with so many veterans.

“It’s so much to learn compared to any other sport,” she said. “Luckily a few of the girls have been playing for 10 years or so, and help out and do things on the side to get things ready.”

And how did she feel when she absorbed her first hit?

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” said Hendrix. “I was really nervous about it. But with all the pads and protection it isn’t that bad. And playing quarterback, I get to sometimes just run out of bounds or slide.”

The team’s biggest hope in going to the championship weekend is that it creates a buzz for the future.

“The word is not out on women’s football in Maine,” said Jeffords. “We tried to change that this year. We’re trying to get our name out there so people know this opportunity exists.”