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The Gym Bag: Two Island girls’ flag football teams win at Nationals, Chris Calimano runs 150th marathon and more

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.

THT Next Level

Members of the THT Next Level 10-U team show off their championship rings. (Photo courtesy of Next Level)

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.”

Staten Island Giants 14-U champs

The Staten Island Giants’ 14-U team captured the NFL Flag Bowl Championship in Tampa, Florida.

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.

What Makes 'Em Run

Chris Calimano competed in his 150th career marathon on Jan. 24, winning the race. (Photo courtesy of Chris Calimano)

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.

Do you have any good sports news? Send it our way

The Gym Bag publishes every Wednesday on the web and will appear in the Staten Island Advance shortly after. This is where we will feature short stories, tidbits and morsels about your players or teams going forward in place of the daily game results we used to take.

You can send us interesting information about your team after a strong start to the season, a championship season, a first win, a player who did something extraordinary in a particular game or event, etc.

If you have any news or tidbits like that, please email the sports desk at sports2@siadvance.com where we will evaluate the message and see if the content qualifies for our notebook.

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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