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A flag football evolution that just might be sustainable

High-school girls' flag football in Sudbury has evolved.

Yes, some of the evolution of the sport lies in the move to a seven on seven format, versus the traditional twelve aside that had been played for years.

Likewise, there are alterations that are quickly attributed to the fact that teams have been forced to adjust to the indoor dimensions of the Lasalle Dome, a venue that is both shorter and narrower than their usual stomping grounds at the James Jerome Sports Complex.

Still, to a purist of the sport of football, there is something to be said for the manner in which the offenses, in particular, have grown. Athleticism, on both sides of the ball, is featured on a regular basis - and not always in an identical manner.

With the pin-point precision of Addison Elliot at the helm, the Lively Hawks have showcased a more wide open aerial attack, one in which the running game is pretty much limited to those times when the shifty quarterback makes something happen on her own.

Most interesting is the fact that the Hawks have interspersed a variation of receivers in all shapes and sizes, with the common thread lying in their ability to catch the ball. "My brother played football, so he taught me a lot," noted grade 11 veteran Brooke Moneweg, whose specialty is to run an underneath crossing pattern, one which she and Elliot complete to perfection, the receiver seldom breaking stride, more often than not.

"We practise a lot, practising the same plays over and over and over again," Moneweg continued. "Half of our practice is just going over everything."

Whether the gun-slinging quarterback be looking in direction of her deeper threats (Fyscher McQueen, Hannah Berens, Charla Zelinsky), or the security blanket that is the outlet provided by center Katie Punkari, Elliot does so knowing that she benefits from a group of receivers that are, quite appropriately, ball hawks.

"You can't be scared, you have to take chances," said Moneweg. "Most of the time, if you commit to something, you will get it. If you just look at the ball and keep thinking, "I'm going to get it, I'm going to get it, I'm going to get it", chances are that you're going to catch it."

Throw in a defensive unit that has shown a propensity to both stifle the run and pick off an errant pass at the most timely opportunities, and it's clear that coach Emma-Liisa Makinen has the makings of a team that can contend.

"She is such a great coach, literally the best coach I could have ever asked for," stated Moneweg. "She's very positive and she puts time towards us. You can really tell that she's not here because she has to be here, she's here because she really wants to be here."

"She wants us to learn and get better."

Few in this league have followed that mantra more fervently than Confederation Chargers head coach Brad Smith. Over the course of the past five years or so, the former Laurentian varsity soccer player has put the pieces in place for a squad that has worked from Division B champs to a legitimate threat with the more well-established programs in the city, challenging for city supremacy on an annual basis.

Interestingly enough, the Chargers game plan on the attack is far more evenly split between the running and passing games than is that of the Hawks, though both teams have enjoyed plenty of success this fall.

That is in large part due to the ultimate threat that is 16 year-old Chelsea Leduc, one of a handful of girls in the league who have the ability to break a run deep at any point in time (Lasalle QB Mackenzie Roberts and Lockerby junior Sydney Coe also come quickly to mind as well).

"We try and balance off between our four downs," said Leduc. "We don't really like to risk on third downs or fourth down, so we try and get our first downs early. That kind of opens us up to throw. We try and look for every player, just so that we're not always going to the same people, and I'm not always running."

The previously noted dimensions of the field have clearly had an impact. "In our first exhibition game, the field was even smaller (than it is now), but that made us push to throw, which really improved our throwing game. But it's also affected the running game, in terms of how we run."

"We have to do a lot more jukes," added Leduc, throwing around the type of football terminology that would bring a smile to the face of every single male football player in the city. "At James Jerome, it's a lot wider, but here, it's not just all about sprinting. It's about moving and stopping and going, trying to get around players."

These are the types of plays that add an extra dimension of excitement to the games. In virtually every outing, we are witnessing a reception/interception or two that is an absolute testament to the athletic abilities of the likes of Halle Bertrim (Lockerby), Chloe Pitura and Macie Savoie (both from Confederation), junior Charger Taylor MacNeill, and many, many more.

And that is an evolution that can hopefully be sustained, beyond the pandemic.

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