Players in Cayman’s women’s national flag football team are getting ready to head back to training after celebrating their success in winning the United States Flag and Touch League National Championship title last week.
The players have returned to Cayman after their Jan. 17 victory in Plant City, Florida.
When asked if the tournament was a foreseeable win, Jen Choice, who won the Offense Most Valued Player award, said, “To be honest, no.”
Choice, who has been a flag player for four years, has also played various other sports, including basketball, volleyball, track and field, and soccer. Although soccer was her main game for many years, a friend’s invitation was all it took for her to fall in love with flag football.
Naturally on offensive player, Choice has had experience as a linebacker and wide receiver while on the team.
“As a running back,” Choice said, “I am asked to receive handoffs for a rushing play and catch passes from the backfield and make the defense miss. As a linebacker, I am asked to back up the line of scrimmage – which I didn’t need to do as our line did an awesome job.”
Avenging last year’s defeat
The team qualified for the semifinals where they faced a rematch against Capital Punishment of Washington, D.C., only to defeat them and proceed onto the finals against Chicago Force – and again triumphing.
According to Choice, “These girls up there [in the States] play together all year round and many of them have been playing flag since elementary school, high school, club teams, etc. They live and breathe football. For us to go up there and win this tournament is a huge accomplishment and I feel so proud to be part of it.”
In contrast with Choice, Glenita Logan seemed to think that Cayman’s win was inevitable. “From the way we practiced,” she said, “I knew from then that we were going to do great things.”
Logan, who was awarded All American Defense Player, was introduced to the sport by her friends. “I used to play netball for many years,” she said. “But since starting Flag Football I haven’t looked back.”
‘More like family’
Playing alongside a team of 23 players “is an experience. I think of us as more than a team,” said the rusher-turned-linebacker. “I feel like we’re more like family because we look out for each other in more ways than one.”
Logan said she enjoys training and learning about new plays and positions in the sport.
The women’s national team, which is coached by Brendon Malice and Clayton Lopez, meet for training twice weekly, but when competitions are coming up, the team trains three times a week.
During training sessions, everything from plays to formations to footwork are worked on. Taking on blocks is also part of the training regime, as it is important when playing the 8-man tournament.
Outside the regular training framework, players also engage in strength and conditioning.
Last year, the women’s national teams were knocked out of the semifinals by D.C.’s Capital Punishment. “It didn’t feel too good at all,” recalled player Antoinette Lewis.
The 2015 tournament took place in Atlanta under conditions different from those found in Cayman. According to Lewis, a recipient of an All American Offense Player award this year, the tournament took place on top of a mountain and was quite cold.
“I am not saying that the temperature or climate was the reason why we lost,” she said. “It was my first time in Atlanta, and I’d say that it was for most of us – but our bodies took a worse beating than our actual scores.”
In their victory over Capital Punishment, the Cayman team avenged their loss last year in the semifinals to the same team. “That felt really good! It was sweet revenge,” said Logan.
“They are a good team with very strong athletes,” added Choice. “The moment we knocked them out, I knew the championship would be ours. No one was going to take it away. It was up to us.”
Beat number one seed
Prior to the semis and the finals, the Cayman team went up against the Replacements, winning 6-0, then against the number one seed in their division, DNT, who they beat 19-1 to secure their spot in the semifinals against Capital Punishment.
The semifinal was a back-and-forth match with the score sitting at 14-14 with less than a minute to go and with both teams vying for the win. A last-minute touchdown from Nik Stewart helped settled the win for Cayman, 20-14.
In the finals, Cayman faced Chicago Force, and got on the scoreboard early, and then kept the Chicago team scoreless throughout, winning 6-0.
“I was not nervous [going into the finals],” admitted Lewis. “I know what it takes to go and come out of the finals. Being nervous was not the issue for me. I put my heart into [everything] that I do. I played with one good leg and I wanted to give my all to my country.”
“I know the capability of my team and I trusted that we were going to play with everything we had,” added Logan. “I had that faith in my team to know that we were going to seal the deal and bring it home for Cayman.”
Following the win and the awards, the teammates celebrated over dinner and had a small get together, in hopes of celebrating the big win in Cayman.
Cayman’s national women’s club was able to participate in the United States Flag and Touch Football League nationals by competing in and winning USFTL-sanctioned tournaments and local leagues, which featured many teams from across the U.S., Mexico, Canada and the Bahamas.
Choice said she felt “very grateful and honored” to have received the Tournament Offense MVP award. “However,” she said,” I feel the MVP award is a small bonus compared to the joy of winning the four games we won. The feeling of being part of such a wonderful group of girls, all sharing the same feeling and goals, is just priceless.
“Nothing can beat the feeling we all had when the ref blew that final whistle! What an accomplishment we all did together.”
“I’m still trying to figure out what it means to me,” said Shenel Gall, who was awarded the All American Offense Player. “Of course, it’s nice to bring something back when you went empty handed. It’s always nice to be rewarded for your work.”
Logan acknowledged her coaches for having faith in her to carry out her role in the team. “Seeing that I was playing a position that I hadn’t played before, it showed that I can do anything I place my mind to,” she said.
Other awardees from this year’s national tournament included Maggie Ebanks and Nekita Saintvill who both received All American Offense awards; Tournament Special Teams MVP Jessica Ebanks, and Treveen Stewart, Amanda Caldwell and Scimone Chin, who received All American Defense awards.
“Women are always overlooked in whatever sports we play,” said Lewis. “And this [win] is just to say, women can do it too.”
“What I envision [for the future of the team] is that nothing changes at all, honestly …. The connection and chemistry on the team is very special,” said Gall. “The coaches are brilliant.
They have founded confidence in each player and I enjoyed that.”
Back to training
The team is set to start training sessions shortly in the hopes of getting another win at the next scheduled tournament in Atlanta in July.
The Cayman Islands Flag Football Association begins its annual co-ed league in early February, and its Youth League is currently under way on Saturdays at the Camana Bay Field.