Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hillsborough flag football teams making moves to reach finals


A Hillsborough County team represented the area in three of the last four flag football state championships, including back-to-back appearances in 2010 and 2011 by Alonso.

And they've come up just a little short each season.

"There is a lot of talent in this area," Plant City coach Larry Langston said. "It shows the level of commitment the players and coaches have around here."

With the season just about at the midway point, here's a look at some of the local teams that have a chance to again reach the finals in Tallahassee on May 4-5.

Alonso: The Ravens have been the linchpin in terms of area flag football of late, appearing in two straight state championships. Each time, Alonso has returned to Tampa without a title, and each game was lost by the narrowest of margins. Dr. Phillips beat Alonso 27-26 in overtime last year and the Ravens lost to Seminole Ridge 12-8 the season before.

"We've been right there," Alonso coach Matt Hernandez said. "But we lost a lot from last year's team."

Almost everyone, actually. Alonso graduated 13 players from last year's team, lost every offensive starter and four more on defense. Only four players returned from last year's varsity and one of those, Alisa Davis, tore her ACL playing soccer and can't play this season.

"We've had some growing pains," Hernandez said of the 2-1 Ravens. "But to be honest, we played Chamberlain pretty well. The girls have exceeded my expectations so far."

Alonso lost to Chamberlain, widely regarded as the area's top team, 21-6 before beating Wharton and Leto. Sophomore Madison Shelquist has looked good at quarterback with classmate Leah Marcus becoming her top target.

Plant City: Unlike Alonso, Plant City returns nearly the same team that won a pair of playoff games last season. The Raiders graduated just one player from the 2011 team and are off to a 3-0 start this year.

"We had more girls than ever before come out for tryouts and conditioning," Langston said. "We picked up some girls from the soccer team that won districts and that has really helped."

The Raiders have been a model of consistency, reaching the playoffs in all five seasons of play. Plant City is two seasons removed from a state semifinal loss and three from a defeat in the state title game. In their six seasons of play, the Raiders are a combined 62-7.

"There's a ton of good athletes out here in Plant City," Langston said.

Senior quarterback Katie Evans is a the key on offense and has a pair of talented options to throw to in Ali Grimmel (averaging two touchdowns a game) and Amy Booher.

"Amy just brings such great leadership out there," Langston said. "She's that "rah rah" type on the field."

The defensive is lead by speedster Shay Wright, the Raiders' top defensive rusher, and freshman Avery Brown is quickly turning heads.

"(Brown) is so versatile and I'm telling you she's a future quarterback," Langston said. "I think she has the potential to be every bit as good as (former QB Quet) Shaw and Evans."

Chamberlain: Most area coaches agree that this is the team to beat in the area.

"We've got a strong team," Chamberlain coach Norm Soash said. "But there are some other very good teams around here, too."

Chamberlain (4-0) is loaded with experience on both sides of the ball, led by four-year starting quarterback Andrea Aaron. Elena Madrazo, a three-year starter, is her top target.

"Most of these girls have been together for the last three years," Soash said.

East Bay: The Indians have been as good as any team around the past five season, winning district titles from 2008-10 while finishing runnersup in 2007 and 2011. The Indians and Plant City are the only two teams to win three district championships in the area.

East Bay (3-1) lost All-State players Liz Arp and Megan Loomis but return a good nucleus that should have the Indians right in the mix come playoff time.

"We lost quite a few girls from last year, but return our core group," coach Michael Cooper said.

Four-year starting quarterback Stephanie Williams and junior receiver Nicole Lock are a formidable pair. Lock broke school records for receptions, yards and touchdowns last season. Madeline Hornacek gives Williams a solid No. 2 option at wide out.

East Bay will also play in the Capital City Classic in Tallahassee on April 3. This will be the Indians' third trip to the tournament after a pair of third-place finishes.

"It's good for the girls to get out of the area and see what other teams have and where we stand," Cooper said. "It's a good measuring stick."

Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]

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