With a flurry of touchdowns, an Arlington girls flag football team won the NFL Flag Football National Championship in Las Vegas this past weekend.
The Virginia Hurricanes, a team made up of sixth grade girls mostly from Arlington, dominated the competition in their age range during the six game tournament. The team routed their opponents during the tournament by a combined score of 96 to 8.
The team has been playing together for about three years. That continuity and cohesion is what makes this group special, the players tell ARLnow.
“We have all the right pieces. So, when it all fits together and is working, it feels like we could beat anyone,” quarterback Zoe Connor says.
Receiver Adriana Ordenes agrees, saying it’s the sometimes unquantifiable traits that can turn a good team into a great one.
“It’s a team sport. There’s not just one player that does everything,” Ordenes says. “Everybody is working together.”
Coached by Mike Rivera, this isn’t the first time the Virginia Hurricanes has won or participated in the national championship. In fact, two other girls teams he oversees — including the Virginia Girls 14U and the 12U squads — made it to this year’s tournament as well in Vegas, also playing extremely well. Additionally, he runs a program for girls basketball teams.
But Rivera says the sixth grade Hurricanes were particularly successful due to that togetherness.
“They just have a lot of good team chemistry,” he says. “They’re great kids who get along well and are so supportive of one another. They are very unselfish.”
The tournament is sponsored by the NFL, with each team representing an NFL franchise. The Virginia Hurricanes won the regional tournament in New Jersey in June, so they went to Las Vegas representing the New York Jets. The NFL team provided apparel, jerseys, and brand new cleats to the players.
Like any great team, they did overcome some challenges along the way. Lyla Kelly, who plays cornerback on defense and center on offense, has cystic fibrosis, which landed her in the hospital at times during the season. But she says that her teammates always picked her up by checking on her and not missing a beat when she couldn’t be on the field with them.
“It’s so welcoming and everyone always supports me with everything,” Kelly says. “There’s not one person who treats me any differently.”
Her teammates agree.
“Lyla is such a great athlete and teammate. Nobody really notices [that she has cystic fibrosis] all that much,” Connor says. “On our team, she’s just a really good player. And a really good friend.”
The teammates talk about how Coach Mike Rivera, who lives in the Woodmont neighborhood, makes the sport fun for them, but also knows that he’s focused on the same thing they are: winning.
“Coach Mike… makes it so much fun, but the [coaches] don’t make too much fun so that we all goof around. We get serious,” says Ordenes. “And I love winning.”
When the final whistle was blown and the Virginia Hurricanes knew the championship was theirs, they celebrated by “screaming and jumping around” and drenching their coaches with water blasters (the tournament was also sponsored by Nerf).
But Kelly, Connor, and Ordenes all say that their work isn’t done yet. Sure, winning one championship is nice, but they hope that bond they have will help them win again next time.
“We just get each other,” Ordenes says. “We’ve been playing with each other for so long that we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We all help each other out on the field.”