Westside Cougars win girls tackle football championshipJul 08, 2021 01:05PM ● By Greg James
The Kearns Cougars girls tackle football team completed an undefeated season with a championship game victory, 28-7 over Herriman. (Photo courtesy of Crys Sacco.)
By Greg James | [email protected]
In two years’ time, the Kearns area girls tackle football team has gone from winless to undefeated state champions.
“I feel these girls accomplished everything they wanted,” Cougars’ head coach Crys Sacco said.
With a few minor changes for last season’s runner-up, the team seemed more focused on its goal and its experience helped them over the edge. It changed its name this season to the Kearns Cougars to reflect the school its team members represented.
“We had girls from Kearns, Granger and Hunter,” Sacco said. “The championship trophy is going in the Kearns trophy case.”
Kearns won the championship 28-7 over the Herriman Sting. The Sting scored in the final quarter to tighten the game but not before the Cougars had taken charge.
“The game was back and forth until we wore them down,” Sacco said. “As the game went along, we started to dominate them. We played them early in the season, and they are a tough team.”
The Cougars played in their first season three years ago. They did not score one touchdown. Last year, they improved and made it to the championship game, losing to Valkyrie 12-0.
“This year we said, ‘We are going to do it,’” Sacco said. “Our seniors have gotten experience. Some of them have started playing rugby, and I think that has really helped them become better players.”
Essence Charles started at quarterback; she comes from a family that loves football.
“That is a football family, and she has played boys football,” Sacco said. “[Charles] makes everything look flawless. She is a true leader. I know she learned a lot as a leader on this team.”
The Cougars made it look easy. They won all six of their regular season games. That included a 14-7 victory over Sam Gordon and the Herriman Mustangs. Gordon is one of the inaugural members of the league and a leader on and off the field.
In the playoff semifinals, the Cougars avenged last season’s championship loss by defeating Utah Valley Valkyrie 21-0.
The Utah Girls Tackle Football League is a place where many girls experience contact sports for the first time.
“We had girls playing rugby too this spring,” Sacco said. “Jasmine [Roth] came from Idaho, and this was her first year. We wanted to give her a chance, and it has changed her life. She might try out for the Falcons (women's team) next season. Naliyah Rueckert is a player we couldn't have done it without. She played in the Pro Bowl last season with us.”
Sacco and HeaNisi Kinikini were the head coaches. Nephi Toafe was the team's offensive coordinator, and Renica Lese Rueckert ran the defense.
“We had such good support, dinners the night before games; it was fun,” Sacco said.
The Cougars team included Alyssa Burnside, Angie Chapman, Essence Charles, Brianna Fowler, Ashley Hawkins, Hiva Kinikini, Lili Kinikini, Rian Kornik-Neebling, Kiona Lole, Samahra Lopez, Lionala Mayorga, Riley Moreno Hillman, Paris Ott, Jasmine Roth, Naliyah Rueckert, Karma Soaia, Leneja Toafe, Raven Toki-Mauigoa, Nakaiya Wiley, Monalani Siliga and Tusisoloa Siaia.
The League played its first game on April 7, 2015. Since then it has grown. This season it fielded 32 teams over four divisions and included 650 girls. The high school division had 14 teams. The league recently lost its court case against the Utah High School Activities Association for girls-only football teams to be a sanctioned sport.
“Girls and women are now breaking barriers in football, as referees, coaches and players. The Utah Girls Tackle Football League is thriving and participation is exploding,” league officials said in a statement.
The UGTFL offers football for girls in the spring and is currently a club sport in Utah. The league is the first of its kind in the country.