On Saturday, November 4, two teams will raise the first fall gold ball for AIA Flag Football. After a few years of anticipation, girls across the state all have a shot to win a championship on the gridiron. Some schools have played club flag football for years. Others will see their first competitive games in just a few weeks.
Over 30 schools will take part in this fall season split into two conferences. The 6A Conference will hold teams with prior experience playing flag football while the 5A Conference houses new schools to set the foundation of their programs.
To prepare for this season, a few schools took part in a season of flag football this past spring, won by Casteel. Tryouts and practices are now underway and time is running out before the whistle blows on the games that matter.
This week, we dig into a few of the west valley teams who are doing whatever it takes to get their athletes on the field with a shot to become the first fall champions of AIA Flag Football.
Canyon View Jaguars
It won’t be the first go-around for every team in the west valley. While a handful of teams in the state have played flag football for a year or more, select west side teams joined in on last spring’s mini-season. The Canyon View Jaguars joined in on the fun and got a taste of what their program could look like in a season of firsts.
“I think the expectations are high for all programs across the state,” Head Coach, Cory Beal told Best in the West. “There is no bar that has been set, so there is no comparison program to program. We played in the Spring season under the new AIA rules with teams from the east valley and that was a great litmus test to see where we were. Our goals, like most teams, is to win our [Region] and then make the playoffs, and we feel like we will have a very deep team to be able to make that happen. No matter what happens, if we have represented our school and the sport well in this first year, that will also be a win!”
Had a great experience in Washington DC playing against some of the best teams in the country, Thank you to the NFL for inviting us. pic.twitter.com/kT1SB8ltBm
— Katelyn Jewell (@Katelynrjewell) July 30, 2023
Coach Beal looks towards quarterback, Katelyn Jewell, to be a primary leader on the team, not just as the quarterback but as a leader of people and to stengthen every player around her. One of the most veteran players on the team, Jewell began her flag football career in the 4th grade.
“We will go as far as she takes us. Katelyn will learn this first season that not everyone can do what she can do and we will lean on her to elevate every player’s play.”
And be sure to keep an eye on Coach Beal’s “junior Budda Baker,” Maycie Bassett. In last year’s spring season, Bassett had a standout game with 17 flags pulled against Eastmark, and Coach Beal hopes to see her grow into a vocal leader on the team.
“She is a silent leader who is the first on the field and the last one off. She carries the bag, she runs every drill at 100%, and was voted by coaches and players as a captain.”
Other upperclassmen that Coach Beal will be watching includes Aaliyah Oliver, Gwen Siler, and Angelina Harrell. And Coach Beal isn’t new to coaching or Flag Football. Alongside being a theater director for 20 years, he has a decade of experience coaching his son’s flag football team. But there will be plenty of teaching and learning along the way since only 3 of last year’s 24 team members had ever taken a snap of competitive football.
.@LadyJagsFlag QB @Katelynrjewell showed off her arm strength and made several plays with her feet for the Jags in a tough loss to Agua Fria. Full highlights: https://t.co/x8lVvhYLaw pic.twitter.com/9qRlSAzzQ1
— BJ Media (@BJMedia1) April 17, 2023
“Sometimes our team feels like a Disney movie,” Beal said. “We have so many eclectic personalities and levels of experience, our biggest hurdle is to gel as fast as possible. We had a great Spring season and the team chemistry got better every week. Having said that, our goal as a staff will be taking all of those personalities and make a cohesive unit out of them.
“Our players know this game and what it takes to be special. This experience of being the first year of flag football as an AIA sport is not lost on them. Our players want to be remembered as trailblazers and to be talked about when they think back about this first year. They desire to be ambassadors for the sport but they also want to be in the conversation as winners!”
Canyon View kicks off its season on Tuesday, August 29 at home against Williams Field and will hit the road on Thursday, August 31 at La Joya. CVHS will play against familiar foes in the 5A Desert West Region against their Agua Fria District sister schools, Agua Fria, Desert Edge, Millennium, and Verrado.
Copper Canyon Aztecs
Meanwhile in Glendale, the Copper Canyon Aztecs are in the weight room and preparing to hit the field with a squad of young athletes.
When building a new program from scratch, leadership from the athletes on the field is vital. While many athletes this year won’t have prior football experience, any form of leadership experience will go a long way, especially when it comes to experience at the top level of a sport. CCHS flag football will lean on one of their wrestling team captains, senior Anahi Ramos, to help build the program in its inaugural AIA season.
“The interest is there – it’s about the investment.”
We took a closer look at the major movement of Girls Flag Football across the state in our @az_nff Social Spotlight.
It’ll be an AIA sanctioned sport in 2023 – exactly the support the sport deserves:@Sports360AZ #AZHSFB pic.twitter.com/cbotF3cJIf
— Eliav Gabay (@eliavgabay) December 16, 2022
“Some exciting things we are doing at Copper Canyon is waiving try-outs,” Head Coach, Christopher Sisson told Best in the West. “We want all girls that are interested to come out and be a part of the team. We are implementing a rotating Varsity [roster], where the students will have to weekly earn their position to play. This way, other girls who are newer or need some more time, do not get excluded from the program and we can build their skills throughout the season.”
One of the major hurdles Coach Sisson and this program is working to overcome is recruitment to bring more athletes into the sport for tryouts. Sisson hopes that incoming freshmen will also take an interest and be contributors to the program in 2023.
Copper Canyon will reside in the 5A Northwest Region that features teams from across the valley including Flagstaff, Barry Goldwater, Deer Valley, Westview, and fellow Tolleson Union school, La Joya.
The Aztecs begin their season with a three-game homestand against teams who will have a long trip to Glendale. They kick off 2023 against Higley on Thursday, August 31, followed by Vista Grande on Tuesday, September 5, and Mountain View, Marana on Thursday, September 7.
Another school that took part in last year’s spring season was the Verrado Vipers. VHS enters their second season of flag football with Terry Barnes as the head of the program alongside Assistant Coaches, Sabrina Booth and Jarrod Willhite.
It’s been a busy summer for the Vipers as returning members have hit the weight room in anticipation of the first day of practice on August 10. It will be an uphill battle for most athletes and programs in this first official year of AIA Flag Football. A mix of inexperience playing the sport, alongside just how fast everything came together to allow the opportunity to compete for an official state title this year has created unique barriers for every school.
Arizona high school football flag family. pic.twitter.com/Q7PILo1gXd
— Xavier Flag Football (@XCPFlag) June 27, 2023
“One of the biggest hurdles we are having to overcome this year is that flag football moved to a fall sport instead of spring so we lost some of our girls to other sports,” Barnes told Best in the West. “Verrado athletics is all about building community and crafting character all while staying competitive.”
Verrado will see experience in age when it comes running the offense. Senior, Kalia Santos, be at the helm of the offense at quarterback and will be alongside fellow senior, Jordan Geter, in the backfield at running back.
The Vipers begin their first season Tuesday, August 29 at Campo Verde before their home opener on Thursday, August 31 against Westview. Verrado will join sister schools, Canyon View, Millennium, Desert Edge, and Agua Fria in the 5A Desert West Region.
It’s a whole new game for these athletes and they’ll be performing on the big stage on Tuesday and Thursday nights this season. Every team has its sights set on becoming the first fall AIA Flag Football Champions in November. Join in on the conversation on Twitter using #FridayNight360AZ and follow @Sports360AZ to keep up with the action from across the state this season!