Flag football has seen a lot of evenly balanced teams this year.
The result has been many close games, a tight race for the playoffs and a handful of squads have stepped up.
One of those teams is the Ace Paints and Décor Lady Panthers.
The Lady Panthers are enjoying their first year in the Cayman Islands Flag Football Association Women’s League.
The Lady Panthers are the women’s counterpart to the Burger King Panthers (another newcomer) over in the men’s league.
Both are coming off good seasons that are set to culminate in playoff berths by next weekend.
At present the Lady Panthers sit at 4-6 and have the fourth place seed and the final playoff spot.
Burger King meanwhile are 4-7 and have the sixth and final playoff spot seemingly all wrapped up.
The Lady Panthers had a bye week last weekend and watched as league powerhouse Zulu’s Warriors tussled with the DMS Dynamitez.
The Lady Panthers consist of 14 newbies/rookies to the world of flag football and just two veteran players in Lisa Malice and Jennifer Allen.
Malice and Allen, who are both sisters, had starring roles with the now defunct Lady Pirates, last year’s champions of the Women’s League.
Many might remember Malice was the one who orchestrated the winning drive in the final against the Walkers Wonders.
Yet both decided it was time for a change and a new presence. The duo was instrumental in making the Panthers team a reality along with head coaches Brendon Malice and Rhod Taylor (who captain the Panthers in the men’s league).
Assisting the coaching staff along the way has been Neil Clements and Ryan Smith. Both are regular players in men’s flag football with Clements the star QB for the Hammerhead Pirates and Smith a receiver for Burger King.
Team officials say the squad took shape about four weeks before the start of this season.
Many say if it were not for Jennifer Allen’s teaching connections the team may have never evolved.
For the record Allen is a first grade teacher at Triple C. She even convinced five of her fellow co-workers to try it out.
Once the idea of a new team was established the process of player recruitment began. It was an intense and extensive process.
Head coach Brendon Malice went the extra mile on that front, reportedly recruiting women at the grocery store, the Field of Dreams and the beach.
His biggest stumbling block was not that most women were afraid of getting hurt. But rather most times the women thought he was using the hunt for a team as a pick-up line.
He usually found himself explaining that he is happily married with two children and he was not trying to get a phone number for a date but was seriously looking for athletes.
The growing pains most new teams go through can be seen in the statistics. That aspect is no different with the Lady Panthers as they have less than stellar numbers. The team is in the middle of the pack in offensive production, having scored 165 points.
Defense has been an issue with the side as they have been outscored by some 34 points. Their total 199 points allowed puts them second to last in the league in points allowed.
In spite of those numbers and their record it must be noted that most of their games were close and came down to last second plays or close calls.
Most of the players feel the team is slowly coming together each week.
Coach Malice goes as far to say his Lady Panthers are what he calls a blue-collar team.
‘The Lady Panthers don’t care about individual accolades, personal stats, or the spot light,’ Malice said. ‘The only thing that they strive for is to win – as a team – and to have fun playing the game.’
Jennifer Allen shared her experience this season.
‘Being a Lady Panther has provided me with both mental and physical challenges. Although new, our phenomenal team spirit has kept me going through losses and has brought our team even closer together during wins.
‘I am proud of our coaches and proud of our girls. Together the Lady Panthers are a force to reckon with.’
For team captain and quarterback Lisa Malice the team is capable of doing damage in the playoffs.
‘We have such a talented and dedicated group of girls. I enjoy the positive attitudes and the support that we give each other – win or lose.
‘No matter who we are up against we come out and play our hardest as a team. We’ve lost a few hard-fought games, but don’t count us out yet. The playoffs are yet to begin.’
One of the new-found talents (in addition to Alecia Dixon) who has struck an accord with the veterans is Betsy Smith.
Most of her team-mates describe her as a real playmaker as she is a ball-hawk both as a wide receiver and cornerback.
Smith is low-key on her role with the team.
‘I feel lucky to have found such a great group to play football with. We have a dynamic team and we truly support each other – on and off the field.
‘I have played flag football in the past, but have learned so much more about the sport this season. Our coach is really knowledgeable about football and has taught us many skills that we can utilize in this competitive league.
‘Lisa has been a true team leader and they both have really encouraged us to be our best on the field.
‘It’s been one of the most fun things I’ve ever been involved in. Watch out for Ace Panthers in the play-offs.’
A notable performer on the team is rookie Michelle Music. On the field she is a lock-down defender who jumps routes and makes great open field tackles.
Off the field Music is a Saint Matthew’s University student juggling school work and the quirks of living in a new place.
Through it all Music says flag football has been a great way to meet people.
‘Coming to the island as a veterinary student there were a few things I knew to expect. I expected long hours in class rooms, having to study way too much, and final exam weeks that would test my knowledge and dedication.
‘I did not expect, however, to find the wonderful group of girls I have with the Lady Panthers. We have an exceptional group of girls and I am grateful they accepted me on to their team.
‘Being a part of this team has given me another perspective about the island, one that most visiting students do not get to experience.
‘I have met several wonderful people and made new friendships that I hope to keep for a lifetime.’