Plum players learning, improving during inaugural flag football season

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Saturday, April 13, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Anna Zanchi didn’t know much about American football before coming to Plum as an exchange student from Italy.

But she has immersed herself in the game and now is a key member of Plum’s first girls flag football team.

“This was all new to me,” said Zanchi, who began her Plum athletic experience in the fall on the girls volleyball team. “We don’t have football in Italy. When I saw the sign-up sheet on the wall for the flag football team, my first thought was, ‘I have to play.’ It is a classic American sport. I like it a lot.

“My teammates and coaches are wonderful. The season has started pretty well. This is the first (girls flag football team) here, so when I come back in a couple of years, I can be proud to say I was on that team.”

Zanchi’s first interaction with American football was in the fall at Plum’s games on Friday nights.

“In the beginning, it was difficult to understand and follow what was happening,” said Zanchi, who also saw the Steelers win at Acrisure Stadium.

“Flag football is a little different from regular football, but now I understand a lot of it. I am usually open to trying any sport. My family is happy for me because I am trying and experiencing new things.”

Zanchi is a team captain with fellow seniors Amelia Faust and Reese Schollaert.

Faust and Schollaert joined the flag football team this winter while still competing for the Mustangs swim team.

“This is such an honor to be a part of the first team of this kind at Plum,” said Schollaert, who had experience playing flag football through the powder puff games around fall homecoming.

“We played last weekend, and having my parents in the stands watching me doing something on a field instead of a swimming pool is something special. I had never been able to do that before.

“This group of girls is amazing, and we’re making history as we learn more about the game, practice and get better. Everyone is so athletic in their own rights. Some girls had never played before, but they have come along so well.”

Open workout sessions in February, which started after the team was approved by the Plum School Board a month earlier, led to the official formation of the team last month.

A scrimmage against Penn Hills a couple of weeks ago brought the team closer, and scrimmage games April 7 against Penn Hills and Propel Braddock Hills put it closer to opening the season.

“Getting into the practices, we were building on a lot of the core stuff,” Schollaert said.

“We’re learning new things and slowly learning the playbook day by day. We have a small group of girls, but they’re mighty.”

Games are played on Sundays, and Plum was to open its season April 14 at Penn Hills against Woodland Hills and McKeesport.

This Sunday, April 21, the Mustangs will host eight teams for games and will face Gateway at 1 p.m. and Jeannette at 2. It is their only home games of the season.

Each team in the league will play 10 division games over five weeks through May 12.

Playoff-qualifying teams will meet for a one-day tournament May 19 to decide the league champion.

The league, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Steelers, began two years ago with six teams. Last year, that number grew to 17, and this year, is at 36.

The plan is for girls flag football in Pennsylvania to grow to where it will become a sanctioned sport by the PIAA as girls wrestling was nearly a year ago.

“I always loved the powder puff football games,” Faust said. “I think it’s an amazing experience for girls to play football. I love watching football games. The atmosphere is amazing. To have the opportunity to play football like this was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. I am so glad this is here and we’re out here making it a reality.

“From powder puff, I loved being a running back and a safety. That is where I think I am at my best. I was open to try new things on the team, and the coaches have been great to work with to get all the girls in the best spots. It is exciting to see everyone come together and see what we can do in the season.”

In addition to Zanchi, Faust and Schollaert, team members are juniors Mercy Newell, Selina Boea, Kaylee Rodriguez, Zoe Fulton and Chloe Quarles; sophomores Katelynn Porter, Kailey Burton, Maddi Killmeyer, Hanna Woltjen and Kadence Ohmer; and freshmen Amber Porter and Xoey Thorwart.

“This is an amazing opportunity for the girls, and for me, it is absolutely fulfilling,” said Fran Sciullo, a principal at Plum’s Holiday Park Intermediate School and one of the team’s two coaches along with Plum school police officer James Horwatt.

“We’re always looking to provide for our student-athletes in the school district, and here was this wonderful opportunity.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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