As the second season of flag football gets underway, coaches are expecting the competition to be as intense — or more — after a year of learning what the sport is all about.
“I think every team has gotten more talented,” Hillgrove coach Daniel Pinckney said. “I expect nothing but tough competition”
Four of the eight Cobb teams that participated last year — McEachern, Marietta, Hillgrove and Allatoona — made it to the state quarterfinals, with Hillgrove making it to the finals before losing to West Forsyth.
This season, North Cobb, Pope, Lassiter and Harrison will join the original eight teams — which also include Osborne, Kennesaw Mountain, Wheeler and South Cobb — giving Cobb County a contingent of 12 schools with flag football teams.
The Cobb teams will be spread out between two areas, compared to an all-Cobb area last year. Class 6/7A Division 3 Area 1 will consist of Allatoona, Harrison, Kennesaw Mountain and McEachern, while the remaining eight teams from the county — Pope, Lassiter, North Cobb, Hillgrove, Osborne, Kennesaw Mountain, Wheeler and South Cobb — will be in the all-Cobb Division 3 Area 2.
“I expect a lot from Pope and Harrison,” Osborne coach Ormond Moore said. “Just from coaching other sports in the athletic world, I know Pope’s track program is amazing.”
As for Division 3 Area 2, McEachern coach Zach Desmarais said he expects Allatoona, which finished atop the area last year after finishing 5-1, to be his team’s biggest challenge. The Lady Indians finished in the No. 2 spot in the area last year, right behind Allatoona.
“We see them as our biggest threat in our area,” Desmarais said, “but I feel pretty good about our chances at winning the area and making a run at the state championship.”
McEachern returns key players from last year, along with almost an entirely new defense.
“(We have) experience coming back offensively,” Desmarais said, “and then we have a whole new crop of girls who came in on defense, and they are doing a fantastic job.”
For Allatoona, Samantha Beck (WR/Rush), Maci Strickland (OB/RB/Rush) and Haley Coyle (RB/CB) are returning. The Lady Buccaneers kicked off their season Friday with an 18-0 loss to West Forsyth and a 12-0 loss to Lambert.
Allatoona coach Jordan Davis said it is hard to know what to expect from the new competition in the area.
“It is tough to know what to expect from it because I expect everybody else to be way better than what we saw last year,” Davis said. “I fully expect Harrison and North Paulding to have good teams, and East Paulding and Paulding County are good-size schools as well.”
Kennesaw Mountain is also new to Division 3 Area 1. The Lady Mustangs finished 2-4-1 last year, just missing out on a playoff spot, but Davis said the Lady Mustangs was some of his team’s toughest competition last year.
In Division 3 Area 2, Moore said he thinks Hillgrove is the favorite.
After finishing 6-1 last year and making it to the state championship, Pinckney said his team is focusing on staying consistent and improving every day.
“We are just making sure that we can have consistency and maintain consistency,” Pinckney said. “This is a really short season, and you do not have the opportunity to take a couple steps back. It could really throw you off.”
The Lady Hawks will be returning a handful of players from last year, including quarterback Lauren Render, who was a standout on the team last year.
Marietta, which was 3-2 last year, has four key players returning this year, including McKaela Walker (QB), Kennedy Colbert (S/RB), Cate Gruehn (S/RB) and Akhaila Makenna (WR/LB).
Coach Nick Houstoulakis said the main thing he is wanting to see from his team this year is growth.
“I’m looking to see how much more the girls can take in this year, as opposed to last year being brand-new to the sport, brand new to the language, verbiage, all of that,” Houstoulakis said. “Year 2 now, with the majority of our team, we are wanting to see how much more we can add now and how much more depth we can get into.”
While Osborne finished 2-8-1 and seventh in the area last year, Moore said he is returning all of his players from last year, and that he is excited to see how his team competes this season.
One player the team will have to be without, though, is standout Aliyaha Heron, who dislocated her hip this summer.
“I’m really confident (in our team),” Moore said. “The cohesiveness is great, and we have grown a lot. We went from 14 girls last year to a roster of 28.”