Ever since the Staten Island Giants’ 12-U team won the Nationals two years ago, the Island has made a name for itself in the girls’ flag football ranks across the nation.
The Island added to that notoriety last weekend as two borough squads — the Next Level THT Cobras 10-U and the Staten Island Giants’ 14-U — brought home national crowns from the NFL Flag Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
Two other Staten Island Giants teams — the S.I. Giants 17-U and 12-U teams — placed second, while the S.I. Giants’ 10-U team lost in the semifinals, losing to the THT Cobras, 15-7.
The tournament took place at the Tampa Sportsplex and was hosted by NFL FLAG, the largest stage of youth flag football in the country with over 180 teams participating. Kids ranged in age from 6-17 in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions.
The tournament coincided with the events surrounding Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The THT flag football squad, coached by Joe Taglia, Brandon Sturman and Victoria Burgarella, went 6-0 during the two-day event, outscoring their opponents, 152-18. They beat the Virginia Hurricanes, 7-6, in the title game.
The girls where lead by co-MVPs Emily Salafia and Lauren Rodriguez. It was the second national tournament won by the team this month as the girls copped the Flag Football World Championships in Panama City.
“The kids will talk about this experience for the rest of their lives,” said Taglia.
In addition to Salafia and Rodriguez, the team consists of Maddie Renna, Brianna Libretti, Kiersten Harper, Emma Sturman, Gia Voglio, Juliana Bentivegna, Grace Anderson, Alivia Picciallo, Ariana Carruso and Victoria Stanley.
“We are so proud of the hard work that the girls, coaches and parents did over the last few months,” said Thomas DeAngelis, the girls’ and women’s league director of Next Level. “Most of the girls that went down to Florida started and continue to play Next Level Flag Football which makes us even more proud and Staten Island strong.”
Meanwhile, the Staten Island Giants 14-U team claimed the championship by topping the HCA Apex Predators, 7-2, to go 6-0 in the event. The same squad won the 12-year-old national crown two years ago.
The Giant offense was led by quarterbacks Jessica Finley and Valentina Fanetti, who helped wide receivers Allison Gandlin, Jade Mazziotta, Gianna Tirado, Sarah Colchamiro and extra-point specialist Mary Wigren combine for 84 points.
The Giant defense allowed only eight points in the tournament as linebacker Olivia Rijo, cornerbacks Gandlin and Mazziotta, safety Finley, and blitzers/rushers Adelaide Videon-Perino and Kylee Caetano combined for six interceptions and 14 sacks.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the girls. One year ago we lost the national championship game and to come back this year and make it back to the championship and win it and bring the title back to Staten Island is just amazing,” said head coach Mike Colt, who is assisted by Vinny Baccale, the defensive coordinator.
Colt said the team played the tournament for James Mazziotta, one of the team’s coaches and the Staten Island Giants co-founder, who died just before Christmas. His daughter, Jade, is a member of the squad.
“It’s been a rough month for the girls. They all played their hearts out for Coach Mazziotta in Florida,” lamented Colt. “All they wanted to do is go out and win it for him.”
The Giants’ 12-U team suffered a 13-0 loss to the Virginia Hurricanes in the title game, while the 17U S.I. Giants succumbed to the Texas Fury, 12-7, in the championship.
Chris Calimano runs his 150th marathon and wins it
Island road runner and ultra-racer Chris Calimano reached a personal feat of sorts Jan. 24 when he ran his 150th career marathon, the Icebreaker Marathon at Eisenhower Park in Long Island.
It was even more memorable since the Oakwood resident finished first overall in 3 hours, 10 minutes.
“It was a smaller field of nearly 50, but I managed to win,” said Calimano.
Calimano says he will be back on the Staten Island trails in two weeks to defend his Staten Island Trails Triple Crown event for what he hopes is a fifth straight year. He has swept all 12 races, coming in first overall in every race since 2017.
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