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SDSSAA flag football flourishing this fall
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Just a few short years ago, there was some legitimate concern in the ranks of those most passionate about Sudbury and area high-school flag football.

Since its inception locally, the girls’ game has been played in a 12 v 12 format, the anomaly, as it turns out, to the bulk of the rest of the province.

The move was made to 7 v 7 a few years ago, but not without some casualties as those who backed the status quo – and make no mistakes, there are some advantages to the larger numbers – did not universally make the switch over to the new (SDSSAA) version of the sport.

Throw a pandemic year into the mix and one can understand why co-conveners Brad Smith (Confederation) and Lance Patrie (Lasalle) may have felt some apprehension as the fall of 2021 approached.

But with a historically high total of 20 teams taking part in three different divisions, including a bonafide junior circuit for the first time ever, it would be hard to look at the first few weeks of scheduled play as anything but a resounding success.

“When we switched to 7 v 7, we weren’t sure what the numbers would be like, what the buy-in would be,” said Smith. “I actually enjoy the 7 v 7 format better. It’s a little easier to coach because there are a few less moving parts going on. It’s a little less demanding and you need less athletes to play.”

“I do believe that flag is one of those sports where you don’t have to be an expert to start coaching.”

Same goes for playing.

In her final year of secondary schooling, 17 year-old Courtney Smith decided to try out with the Horizon Aigles flag football team this fall. It’s a decision that the 3-0 Division B leaders greatly appreciate as the talented soccer athlete has helped solidify the Horizon defense, picking off three passes in a key 13-9 victory over the Bishop Carter Gators.

“I just kind of follow the ball and hope for the best,” explained Smith. “I try and make sure I am under the ball and that I have a clear path of where I am going.”

In some cases, a few years of experience will lead to a completely different focus, as it was for Audrey Vigneault, one-time quarterback and now the primary rusher for a Macdonald-Cartier Pantheres crew that boasts a 2-0 record heading into a showdown on Monday with the Gators.

Macdonald-Cartier improved to 3-0 thanks to a 19-14 triumph over Bishop Carter.

“I switched to rusher because it was much better for me,” said Vigneault, also 17 years old and playing flag football for the second time of her career at ESMC. “I watch the players behind the quarterback and in front of the quarterback, and also the ladies that run forward. And you look at the quarterback’s eyes – they will look wherever they are going.”

Alexie Fredette and Alexie Dubois would account for the touchdowns in a 12-0 shutout of the Champlain Requins last week, with Vigneault more than a little appreciative of the efforts of the Pantheres offensive unit.

“I really liked how they ran,” she said. “They kept pushing through then they had the ball. They didn’t stop, no matter if their flag was gone or not, they still kept going – and that’s a good thing for us.”

It doesn’t seem to matter how big or small the school, girls who love to run are making their way out to the turf of the James Jerome Sports Complex. Emily Lankshear darted into the end zone with scampers of 11 and 15 yards to help lead the Chelmsford Flyers past the Sudbury Secondary North Stars 18-6, with Mia Labelle returning a kickoff 65 yards for the only SSS score.

Lacey Hein capped off the offense for CVDCS, hauling in a 13 yard pass from Lankshear as she enjoys a fourth year of flag football at Chelmsford. “You can learn leadership, sportsmanship – it’s just honestly a fun sport, all around,” stated the Flyers senior. “It’s a team sport and it’s not all about winning.”

Still, hitting the win column for the first time was a welcome sight for Hein and company, who quickly deflected the praise over to her team’s defensive seven. “We were a lot better at realizing the plays and flagging today,” she said.

“You never really know which way they’re going to go, whether they’re going to twist their hips or anything. The key to being a good flagger is not being scared to dive.”

Over in Division A, the Confederation Chargers are off to a 2-0 start – no surprise there. Coach Smith returns a glut of talent built around a core of Chelsea Leduc, Zoe Roper, Ashley Ruddick, Chloe Pitura and Lara El-Darazi, among others, the Chargers have built their program gradually over the course of the past five years or more, to the point where they are now perennial contenders.

“In grade nine, a lot of the teams knew us as a running team,” said El-Darazi. “Every single time that we would get the ball, it would mostly be running plays. We’ve developed our throwing game so much better now. We’re able to keep the other team’s defense on their toes. They don’t know whether we are going to run or throw the ball.”

Confederation was one of a handful of teams that played an abbreviated season last fall in the new indoor bubble at Lasalle, though most of the girls seem fine with a return to the great outdoors. “At the bubble, we would throw the ball and it would hit the wire (that ran from one side to the other, about 20 feet in the air),” said El-Darazi.

“And the field wasn’t as wide, which made it more difficult for our running game. With outdoors, we’re having to deal with weather issues, the wind and the cold – but I think we prefer the turf at James Jerome.”

The Chargers, who can put up points with the best of them, understand that it’s not all there is to their game. “Honestly, our defense is probably the strongest that they’ve been in four years,” said El-Darazi. “Our rushers, Jordan Greene and Ashlee Riopelle, both are really good. They just have an eye for the flag and go and get it.”

“And the defense is always getting a bunch of pick sixes.”

As for the man behind it all, Smith fully acknowledges that this is more than a one-person undertaking. “Part of the success and consistency at Confed has been being able to get other coaches who are committed and passionate,” he said. “We’ve been really lucky to have that the last four years with people like Samantha Falcioni, Leeza Connor, Matt Riehl, Craig Flanagan.”

The Lo-Ellen Park Knights are currently tied with Confederation, with a trio of other Division A teams also having hit the win column, while Marymount (3-1), Lo-Ellen (2-0) and Confederation (2-1) battle it out for supremacy in the junior ranks.

Following are some results from a cross-section of encounters that have been played, along with a few game highlights:

Division "A" - Senior
Lo-Ellen Park Knights 7 (TD from Erin Coles)
Notre-Dame Alouettes 7 (TD from Emma Coutu)

St Benedict Bears 14 (TDs from Mikayla Montini and Ali Somerset)
St Charles Cardinals 13 (TDs from Katie Pilotte and Samantha Paris)

Confederation Chargers 12 (TDs from Chelsea Leduc and Ashley Ruddick)
Lockerby Vikings 7 (TD from Halle Bertrim)

Lo-Ellen Park Knights 20 (TDs from Erin Coles (2) and C.C. Anderson)
St Charles Cardinals 14 (TDs from Katie Pilotte and Samantha Paris)

Lockerby Vikings 26 (TDs by Halle Bertrim (2) and Kaija Beljo (2)
Lasalle Lancers 0

Division "B" - Senior
Bishop Carter Gators 29 (TDs from Sierra Boyuk (2), Jersey McMahon and Ella Caissie)
St Charles Cardinals "B" 8 (TD from Ayla Legace)

Horizon Aigles 14 (TDs from Brooke Dugas and Olivia Hinich)
Champlain Requins 0

Lively Hawks 20 (TDs from Charla Zelinski, Brook Kowaluk and Jordyn Vildis)
St Charles Cardinals "B" 8 (TD from Ayla Legace)

Horizon Aigles 13 (TDs from Brooke Dugas (2))
Bishop Carter Gators 9 (TD from Mackenzie Fougere - Makayla Bertrand with a one-handed interception)

Champlain Requins 26 (TDs from Kelly Clark (2), Madison Smith and Zoe Landry)
Chelmsford Flyers 0

St Charles Cardinals 29 (TDs from Katelynn Jacques (2) and Kaydon Francoeur (2))
Chelmsford Flyers 8 (TD from Danica Theriault)

Junior Division
Lo-Ellen Park Knights 19 (TDs from Kami Dreger, Kendra Shanks and Teia Kolari)
Lockerby Vikings 0

Marymount Regals 13 (TDs from Tara Guse (2))
Notre-Dame Alouettes 0

Marymount Regals 18 (TDs from Ava Massimiliano (2) and Brooke Williams)
Lockerby Vikings 0

Lo-Ellen Park Knights 40 (TDs from Kami Dreger (3),, Maija Potvin, Lacey Mackinnon and Jennifer Dempsey)
Notre-Dame Alouettes 0

Confederation Chargers 38 (TDs from Abby Walker (3), Addison Johnstone, Marley Tremblay and Maddison Leblanc)
Marymount Regals 0

Lockerby Vikings 7 (TD from Elizabeth Uguccioni)
Notre-Dame Alouettes 6 (TD from Emma McLeod)

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