Newport Harbor wins inaugural girls’ flag football Battle of the Bay

Newport Harbor's Maia Helmar attempts to avoid having her flag pulled by Corona del Mar's Abby Schalow.
Newport Harbor’s Maia Helmar attempts to avoid having her flag pulled by Corona del Mar’s Abby Schalow during the inaugural Battle of the Bay girls’ flag football game on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Battle of the Bay game is a storied one across many sports.

Add the emerging sport of girls’ flag football to the list after Wednesday night.

Newport Harbor beat Corona del Mar 18-6 at the Sea Kings’ field, finishing out the regular season in the Matt Leinart Flag Football League.

This is the second year in existence for Newport Harbor’s team, which won the Pacific League and takes an 8-0 record into next week’s playoffs.

Newport Harbor's Audrey Burns, left, and Isa Whittaker, right, celebrate after Maia Helmar scores a touchdown against CdM.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Sophomore Maia Helmar was an obvious standout for the Sailors. She caught two touchdown passes from senior quarterback Jianna Lopez and also made two interceptions on defense for Newport Harbor.

The Sailors blanked CdM in the second half after the score was tied 6-6 at halftime.

“Our defense has been the best part of our team all year,” said Newport Harbor coach Jayson Guyser, whose team is allowing just 4.5 points per game and hasn’t given up more than six points all year. “We’re good all around, but defensively we are tough to deal with. We’ve got athletes everywhere, they’re typically disciplined and they pull flags. CdM [ran] a lot of short stuff, and occasionally they did beat us, they’d break a few tackles. But as long as your athletes are pulling flags, it’s going to be tough to go all the way down the field.

“We’re in a pretty basic defense, but we have good athletes that are smart. They recognize things and they move to the ball well.”

CdM's Mary Kate Angeloff has her flag pulled by Newport Harbor's Maia Helmar during the Battle of the Bay game Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The game goes quick, with a running clock throughout. The teams use a field that is both shorter — 80 yards long — and narrower — 40 yards wide — than a traditional football field.

Senior Isa Whittaker also caught a touchdown pass for the Sailors, who have improved a lot in a year’s time.

In August 2021, senior Delaney Gahm started the Newport Harbor Girls Flag Football Club. Gahm is a co-captain this year, along with Helmar, who has been selected to play for the 17-and-under team in a regional NFL Flag Football tournament on Nov. 6 at Edison High.

Newport Harbor's Jianna Lopez throws a pass in the game against Corona del Mar on Wednesday.
Newport Harbor’s Jianna Lopez throws a pass in the game against Corona del Mar on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Newport Harbor added a JV team this season and appears ready to make a run at a title.

The sport as a whole also continues to gain momentum. On Sept. 29, it was established as a CIF Southern Section-approved sport. All that’s left is final approval at a state council meeting in February, and girls’ flag football will be added as an official CIF sport for the 2023-24 school year.

Nine of the Sailors’ 14 varsity players, including Gahm, Helmar and Whittaker, are on the girls’ soccer team as well.

“It’s super-exciting to see how far we’ve come,” Gahm said. “I’m just so proud of everyone. We gave it our all, and it worked out, it paid off … There’s less pressure [in flag football]. We enjoy coming to practice and just being with each other.”

Helmar also plays softball, but she said flag football is probably her favorite sport.

CdM's Alex Boserup leaps over Newport Harbor's Delaney Gahm after she pulls her flag during the Battle of the Bay game.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“Especially with the social aspect, it’s just so much fun,” she said.

Corona del Mar, which is 4-3-1 headed into the playoffs, got a first-half touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Alexa Rokos to junior receiver Alex Boserup. Rokos and Boserup are co-captains for the Sea Kings, who are in their first year of operation.

CdM junior Peyton Vovan, who stood out at cornerback in Wednesday’s game, started the CdM Girls’ Flag Football Club along with senior Brea Sofferman. Like their Newport Harbor counterparts, they both also play soccer.

Newport Harbor's Audrey Burns and Isa Whittaker gesture to the referee as CdM's Alex Boserup pleads her case on a catch.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Vovan said she really enjoyed the environment of the Battle of the Bay.

“We’ve never had this many people come out for soccer,” she added with a laugh.

Rokos, whose father Theo is an offensive coordinator for CdM’s team, had her older brother T.J. announcing the game. T.J. is the ASB president and an offensive lineman for the CdM football team.

Alexa was at less than 100% for the game, she said, after suffering a left knee injury while playing basketball on Oct. 17. She wore a big brace to stabilize the knee.

Corona del Mar's Alex Boserup celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Newport Harbor during Wednesday night's game.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“I knew I could throw,” she said. “I just couldn’t run, obviously, or play [defense].”

CdM coach Yvonne Sturgeon admitted that it limited her team a bit.

“We didn’t have the mobility that we usually have,” she said. “There are some plays that revolve around that mobility that just couldn’t be called, that would have beat their defense. Hopefully in playoffs, if we run into them again, we have some solutions. All in all, I feel good, but against [the Sailors], one mistake and they’re gone.”

Both teams also honored their seniors following Wednesday night’s game.

Edison is the other local school playing girls’ flag football this fall. The Chargers finished the regular season with a 3-5 mark.


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