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Inaugural Pioneer and Woodland High School flag football teams honored with Golden Empire League accolades

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Following the first year of girls high school flag football in California, the City of Trees combined to earn nine total All-Golden Empire League selections.

Pioneer High School

Pioneer finished second in the GEL standings behind Dixon at 13-4 overall with a 12-2 record in league competition. The Patriots advanced to the Division II CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Flag Football Playoffs as the No. 11 seed and lost 13-0 at No. 6 Antelope in the first round.

Six Pioneer players were recognized for their play during the inaugural 2023 season by the GEL. Four Patriots headline the All-GEL first team: sophomores, Zayda Rodriguez and Naomi Navarro, junior Keziah Maldonado-Lemus and senior Samantha Urbina.

Navarro totaled up nearly as many interceptions on defense as she had touchdown receptions on offense.

“She played this game when she was little. When the CIF brought girls flag football to the high schools, it sparked a flame for her to want to be great. Not just for herself but for this team,” recalled assistant coach Gabriel Morales. “Her mentality, playing both sides of the ball, that’s what really brought the morale up of this team to have her be a part of it. She’s such a great playmaker and leader.”

Co-captains, Maldonado-Lemus and Rodriguez, alternated as the starting quarterback throughout the season.

“Just like Naomi, she brought competitive leadership and that’s why she was defensive captain,” Morales said of Maldonado-Lemus. “I knew that she would love to lead the defense. Keziah is a phenomenal player.

“The chemistry of having Zayda, Keziah and Naomi, that whole trio really made the team better by bringing the leadership, communication and motivation overall, just helping build each other up. That’s what Zayda did, she led this team. She couldn’t do it by herself because she wanted everybody to be in on it, that’s what I love about Zayda being an offensive leader on and off the field.”

According to Morales, Urbina plans to continue playing organized flag football following graduation.

“These young students are the future of women’s flag football,” Morales explained. “Since day one when I first met Samantha, I knew for a fact that she was going to be one of the great playmakers. She continued to put in the work.”

Xiomara Gonzalez Gastile and Sofia Castro eached shined as sophomores to earn spots on the league’s second team.

Woodland High School

Woodland had a tough first year earning wins, finishing seventh out of eight teams. Three games into the inaugural season, head coach Dave England had to step down and have foot surgery. With his daughter Izzy on the team, varsity softball assistant coach Jeff Loesch stepped in as the flag football team’s only coach.

Three Wolves were honored by the GEL for their individual play throughout the inaugural season. Senior co-captain Brooklyn Johnson was the lone Wolf selected to the first team after playing wide receiver on offense and safety on defense.

“(Johnson) would thrive every opportunity she could. I asked her to pretty much go above and beyond,” Loesch recalled. “She was one of our team leaders. It was all brand new to me going into this and she stepped up to help. She picked up the game pretty quick and did well on both sides.”

Senior Alice Corbari and freshman Lucy Lopez were chosen for the second team. According to Loesch, Corbari is a foreign exchange student from Italy and playing flag football was her first experience competing in an organized team sport, which shocked the entire team, including Loesch.

“She was one of our top running backs,” Loesch said of Corbari. “She was one of the fastest girls I’ve ever seen!”

Woodland held an awards ceremony for the fall athletic teams on Nov. 7. Johnson was awarded with Overall MVP, Cobari won Offensive MVP and Lopez earned Defensive MVP.

“She’s something special as far as being a (pass) rusher,” Loesch said of Lopez. “She was also super fast and brought a great attitude. Being at such a young age and having that much talent, you’ll hear more of her in the next few years if she sticks with this.”

Senior Brooke Rogelstad was presented with the Coaches Award. Senior co-captain Brooke Russo won the Woody Award.

Loesch admitted that coaching flag football was much more challenging than softball but would “definitely” welcome the opportunity to coach the team again next year, with a couple assistants by his side.

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