After being delayed a week due to sub-freezing temperatures, high school girls flag football in the North Puget Sound League (NPSL) kicked off Jan. 19 at French Field in Kent.
The proposed Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) sport for 2024-25 had developed a lot of excitement and anticipation for this club season in the I-5 corridor.
“It’s all fun and exciting,” said Kentwood High School Coach Robert Thomas. “It’s a fun little twist where everybody is challenged and everyone is learning and developing.”
Kent was the first location for games in the regular season with all four Kent schools playing each other to start out the season. All four schools played doubleheaders on Friday night under the lights at French Field.
The combined number of players rostered was 80 across the four schools. Kentlake had the most players with 23 on the Falcons’ roster.
Kentlake walked away the only undefeated team, taking down Kent-Meridian and Kentridge in its two games. Under Head Coach Gregory Naegle, the Falcons have impressed the Enumclaw High School linebackers coach.
“It was an absolute blast,” Naegle said. “To see the girls where we started to where we are now, competing and having fun. Just a tremendous amount of perseverance tonight.”
Kentwood dropped its first game against Kentridge, which might have had the least number of players on Friday, but didn’t play like it. The Conks bounced back with a night high 28-12 win over Kent-Meridian.
Kentwood’s Thomas liked the resilience of his group.
“It says a lot (for the girls mental adjustment),” Thomas said. “Especially when it’s something that is not second nature… Even them grasping simple terms like an out-route, MOR (must outside release) or slant… It’s really stimulating to see the fact that these girls are able to adjust and learn and keep on going.”
“It was definitely a rough start, but everyone is catching on,” said Kentwood senior Kamalu Kagawa. “We had to learn from that first game how fast it was and how everyone was moving. But we caught on to it in the second game and started seeing patterns and going quicker.”
For the first night of games, the matchups were ultra-competitive. In all four games, for long periods of time the games were either tied or within one possession. With those types of games being as close as they were, the home bleachers started to fill up for an incredible opening night atmosphere.
In the first pair of games, Kentridge defeated Kentwood, 22-14, and Kentlake took down Kent-Meridian, 19-14.
For the second coupling of games, both undefeated teams matched up and both teams who lost faced off. Kentwood took a 14-12 lead and never looked back against Kent-Meridian for their first win of the season, and Kentlake defeated Kentridge in a tightly contested 14-8 game.
“It was really fun. A contact sport brings more energy,” said Kentlake freshman Hi’ilei Gomes. “I did have hope for us because I knew we were improving at practice. But winning out first two games? Especially against Kentridge, I wasn’t expecting that.”
Kentlake already feels the pressure and weight that comes with being the lone undefeated Kent school.
“Them lining up against new faces other than anyone someone that they line up against at practice. We talked about rising to the occasion, we talked about a target being painted on our backs and they rose to the occasion. I loved it,” Naegle said.
These flag football players, before they even played against other schools, had proved to be battle tested.
“The fact being is these girls have been out here for six, seven, eight weeks just straight practice, practice, practice. In the dark, cold, sideways wind and what not. They were finally able to come out here and put in the play was outstanding,” Thomas said.
Some girls may have been influenced by family, or maybe just being available during the winter season to play a sport.
“Both of my older brothers played and my mom was really pushing me to do it. I wasn’t doing much anyways,” said Kentwood’s Kagawa said. “It definitely was worth it and I have like a new sisterhood, so that is really fun.”
Girls on all teams came from different backgrounds. There were softball, rugby, soccer players and other sports in the mix, so these were some great athletes on display for fans at French Field.
“Usually, I play soccer but a change with new people was fun and cool. Building a sisterhood is just fun seeing everyone smiling. Whether it is pulling a flag or getting a touchdown everyone is celebrating together. It is just a cool environment,” Kagawa said.