June 09, 2022

Women’s flag football is gaining popularity in Monmouth County

By Tim Morris

Holmdel High School girls celebrate a touchdown. Women’s flag football is in its second season in the Shore Conference, and the sport’s popularity is on the rise with more teams joining the league this spring. Photo courtesy of Lors Photography

When Julia Saporito and her father, Rich, talk about football, it’s no longer a one-sided conversation. Thanks to the introduction of women’s flag football at the Shore Conference last year, Saporito can discuss defensive coverage and passing patterns with her father from experience.

“I have always loved football. I played it in my backyard,” she said. “My dad played football in high school [at Ramapo]and I enjoyed talking football with him.

So there was no doubt that when Holmdel, along with other area schools like Middletown High School North and South, offered flag football last spring, Saporito jumped at the chance.

“It took me completely by surprise when I struggled with flag football,” she remarked. “I was really excited.”

Saporito, who also throws the disc for the track team, plays wide receiver and defensive back for the Holmdel High School flag football team. Competing for the Hornets means a lot more to Saporito than just playing football and talking sports with his dad. She knows that she, her teammates and fellow footballers are trailblazers.

“We are definitely making history,” said the second Hornet. “It’s nice to be part of it. All of us [teammates and opposing players] are really close. We love sports.

This love manifests itself in the popularity of flag football. The sport took off. Holmdel coach Melissa Menges noted that the numbers were up from last year and the league had grown. It’s not far-fetched to think that in no time, flag football will be a college sport.

“There has been a bigger turnout all over the league,” Menges said. “We start playing JV games. Interest spread throughout the school. We had a lot of new girls coming in.

Mendez added that some of the Holmdel girls “consider soccer their main sport.” Having enough players to play JV football is important in building a program, Mendez explained, because it gives girls more opportunities to play.

Her teammate Katrina Walier watched her three brothers play football for Holmdel and wished she could play it herself. This chance came unexpectedly last spring.

“Part of me always wanted to play football, but it wasn’t accessible,” she said. “Personally, I love football. The coolest part is being part of a sport that’s brand new. It’s exciting.”

Last year’s inaugural season included Holmdel, Middletown North and South, Shore Regional, Pinelands, Mater Dei Prep and Matawan. This spring Raritan, Trinity Hall and Henry Hudson joined the league. In addition to the number of participants, the quality of the game is also on the rise.

“We’ve played more games in training and we’re going on a lot more routes,” Saporito noted. Menges noted that the game speed is faster and overall player skills are better.

The Hornets had an undefeated regular season in their inaugural campaign, but did not win the overall conference championship. They were defeated by Shore Regional in the post-season tournament final to finish 7-1. That’s something Holmdel wants to rectify this spring.

“We all put so much time and effort into it,” Saporito remarked. “We are really looking to win it all.”

Holmdel have won their first three games of 2022.

The Holmdel 2022 women’s flag football team players are Kayla Bielan, Grace Koenig, Brianna Cabunag, Taylor Bielan, Isabella Campo, Angelina Nadi, Kaydance Lempert, Katrina Walier, Tianna Mickens, Michelle Steele, Adrianna Morales, Kaitlyn Chen, Sarah Friedman, Ella Davis, Anwita Ketha, Katie O’Brien, Julia Saporito, Jacqueline Sirotic, Gianna Rutigliano, Juliana Kolbasovsky, Gabriella Bowden and Julia Chyzowych.