The Cayman Islands Flag Football Association women’s national team came back with a trophy as national champions after the United States Flag and Touch Football League’s National Championships in Plant City, Florida, Jan. 15-17.
Going undefeated at 4-0, the women made history after the ups and downs of the games leading up to the final.
Their semifinal game was a rematch with Capital Punishment from Washington, D.C., the team that had knocked the Cayman women out of the semifinals during the 2015 Fallen Warriors Tournament in Atlanta, Georgia. Nevertheless, the team felt comfortable knowing what they were up against.
The game went back and forth, with both sides scoring one after the next. With under a minute to go, the score was 14-14, with Capital Punishment having possession of the ball.
Nik Stewart, corner for the Cayman team, then read a pass perfectly from Capital Punishment’s QB, and not only intercepted the ball, but ran it back for a touchdown.
“I wasn’t aware of how much time was left in the game, but I remembered Coach Clay [Clayton Lopez] always says ‘play every down as if it’s your last,’” Stewart said. “We were right on the goal line and it was their last chance to score and win the whole game. I read the play, and I just allowed myself to do what I practiced. I went for the ball with confidence, no second guessing, this was it. And to my surprise I still had the ball, all I could hear was “RUN, RUN, RUN” from everyone on the sideline, so I never stopped. That was my Forrest Gump moment and I was super excited to make my team proud.”
The game ended in a 20-14 Cayman victory, and advanced the women to the finals.
Cayman faced the Chicago Force in the final. The game went back and forth with possessions, but Cayman was on the board early. The women continued to hold the Force scoreless, with Cayman claiming the national championship after their 6-0 victory.
Coaches Brendon Malice and Clayton Lopez had nothing but great things to say about the team.
“I have been very fortunate to be one of the coaches of the Women’s Flag Football National Team,” Malice said. “Over the years I have coached the national team squad along with Rex Whittaker, Josh Pawlik, Chris Lucas, and now with Clayton Lopez. Much credit, however, really goes to all of the coaches who regularly coach in the women’s league – Adrian Russell, Phil Brown, Renford Barnes, Oliver Parker, Darryl Porter, Andrew Wisdom, and others who are behind the scenes. They work with these ladies year-round to help them improve their skill level so that they can compete at an international level.
“These ladies worked so hard to push themselves beyond their comfort level to accomplish this amazing victory. It was remarkable to see them playing like a well-oiled machine – each one doing their part, and supporting each other 100 percent. I am truly honored to have been a part of coaching staff of the National Team for many years … It was a true team effort and all of the credit goes to these ladies who gave their all on the field this past weekend. I feel fortunate to have been their coach along this incredible journey.
“Maggie Ebanks has been a major driving force behind the women’s National Team,” he noted, “and without all of her behind-the-scenes work, none of this would be possible. She has truly been the glue of the team, an outstanding leader, and a talented athlete who inspires her teammates.”
Ebanks said, “Our coaches did a great job of keeping us mentally sound and pushing us to not think about the fact of the missing players [four players were delayed after missing their flights due to work commitments]. Because of them [the coaches] we went into [the first game] rallying together as a team and wanting to win for those players.”
On the other side, the Men’s National Team went 0-4 for the tournament, and was plagued with some unfortunate injuries that hurt the already short numbered team. Nonetheless, the team finished the tournament and was there to support the women in each of their games.
The annual tournament features 400-plus teams from around the United States that earn bids in their local leagues to have a chance to play in what is described as the biggest and most recognized tournament for flag football.
The Cayman Islands Flag Football Association has sent men’s and women’s national teams to compete for six years.
The 2016 Men’s National team is coached by Adrean Russell and Rohan Marshall, and the 2016 Women’s National team is coached by Brendon Malice and Clayton Lopez.
Lopez thanked all the sponsors and “all the local support that made this possible for these women to achieve such a prodigious feat.
“It wasn’t easy, but the women stuck together and played smart, fast, physical, and together – the formula for success in this game – and I couldn’t be more proud of the Cayman Women National Flag Football Team.”
CIFFA’s annual coed league starts in early February. The youth league is already under way on Saturdays at the Camana Bay field. Visit www.ciffa.ky.