Girls flag football catching on at Shaler

Sunday, April 21, 2024 | 11:01 AM

The Shaler girls flag football team may not have everything figured out quite yet this season, but its all part of the process as coach Rob Heinrich helps the program adjust to rule changes.

Flag football changed this season, going from a five-on-five competition to seven-on-seven. Heinrich started to get Shaler prepared in the fall when it played in a tournament to get ready.

“They picked it up quickly,” Heinrich said. “The only way to learn the game is by playing. Our team is pretty well-seasoned. There is less space on the field. They expanded it from 25 to 35 yards, but there are four more people on the field. It’s rough, but we’ve adjusted to it.”

The Titans have opened the season with a 2-0-1 record. Shaler, which won the 2022 flag football championship, has experienced plenty of success.

Heinrich said the most important thing for the program now isn’t necessarily wins and losses. Shaler wants to encourage participation in the sport. Last year, the Titans had 20 players and they have around the same number this spring.

“I want to see the kids grow,” Heinrich said. “We don’t talk about wins and losses. We’re trying to grow the game. Wins are low-hanging fruit for us. We have created a good culture. We have a lot of support from past alumni and their families. It’s a new sport. I want to watch it take place and turn it into something huge like girls soccer and girls basketball. Growing the game is more important than stacking up titles.”

Shaler had a clean sweep of wins during its first weekend of the season. The Titans beat Hampton, 26-0, and North Catholic, 8-0. Shaler quarterback Bri Gumto guided the offense.

Hannah Sahr led the team in receiving against the Talbots.

Zoey Cieslak helped lead the running attack, while Emil Bacasa and Piper Keane both scored touchdowns running the ball. Heinrich said it is important to have balance on offense.

“The biggest thing is you want to spread the field as much as possible,” Heinrich said. “There are some spread concepts that don’t work in flag football. The girls are too athletic and too fast to just run draws. You have to be deceptive with your runs because there are no blockers. You have to lean on misdirection and rely on receivers to run off your defenders.”

Against North Catholic, Gumto threw a touchdown pass to Cieslak for the only score of the game. Gumto took over as quarterback this season.

“She’s done really well,” Heinrich said. “She stepped up in a big way. She’s stepped into a leading position on the team. Over the past two games, she’s done really well. She’s adjusted well. We’ve worked together and developed an offense to her strengths.”

Flag football has experienced major growth over the past few years. The Olympics will feature the game as a test sport during the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

“I think it helps a lot, honestly,” Heinrich said. “It’s something no one had heard about four or five years ago. It was mainly an intramural sport or adult league. For it to be growing at the rate it is will open avenues for kids.”


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