Two years ago after what was basically an experimental season involving teams in metro Atlanta the GHSA decided to sanction flag football for girls.
Richmond Hill was one of fewer than 90 teams statewide fielding a team and under Coach Tony Dragon the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four. While just learning the game that inaugural Wildcats team was able to win on talent and the fact it had a coach who, unlike many of his counterparts who treated flag football more or less as an extension of a physical education class, had his team well prepared for each game.
Dragon’s approach hasn’t changed but the game has. And it’s changed for the better in that when the state playoffs start next week there will be 218 teams statewide chasing a state championship in three divisions.
Richmond Hill (9-2) will be in that field but where it will be seeded won’t be decided until Thursday night when it concludes regular season play against St. Vincent’s Academy at 6 p.m. at Henderson Park.
The Wildcats are playing in Division 1 (1A-4A) Area 2. The other divisions are D2 (5A-6A) and D3 (7A). Although in all other sports Richmond Hill is 7A it was placed in D1 for geographic purposes.
The Saints, who played Woodville-Tompkins and Savannah High in a Wednesday doubleheader, entered the week atop the D1-Area 2 standings with a 7-0 record. Richmond Hill and New Hampstead were one game back with 6-1 records.
Now in their third season Dragon has seen tremendous improvement in the Wildcats’ quality of play.
“We have a lot of three-year starters, girls who have played a ton of flag football,” Dragon said. “They now have the base skills of throwing, catching, pulling flags.
“There’s not so much teaching as we did the first two years,” Dragon said. “That has allowed us to open the playbook up because we’re spending less time teaching the basics and more time designing plays.”
Interest has grown, too, as Dragon said 60 girls tried out for the team and the Wildcats are now able to play a full junior varsity schedule. He has two assistants in Tiffany Gray and Chris Scholar.
“I think we have really good players,” Dragon said in explaining his team’s success. “When you have 60 girls tryout you get a lot of great athletes. I feel like our girls at every position match up with anybody we see.”
The Wildcats are generating more big plays offensively this year, Dragon said, and it all starts with quarterbacks Avery Washington and Lucy Tuttle who is in her third year. Washington is a sophomore.
“We’re trying to go vertical with the passing game,” Dragon said. “Other teams try it, too, but we can do it. Both of our quarterbacks are on the field at the same time and we rotate them at two different positions. Either one of them can throw it.”
Washington and Tuttle both showed their big play capabilities in a recent 14-0 win over Woodville-Tompkins when Washington lofted a perfectly thrown spiral to sophomore Samantha Johnson who caught it in stride for a 65-yard touchdown. Minutes later Tuttle returned a punt 85 yards for a score.
And when it comes to big plays the Wildcats have one of the top running backs in the state in speedy Kayla Jackson who is a threat to go the distance any time she touches the ball.
Jackson, who has signed to play soccer at Jacksonville University, is one of several multi-sport athletes on the team.
“Kayla has really upped her game,” Dragon said. “The first two years we didn’t throw much to her but we’re throwing more to her this year and that has been a game changer.”
Defensively the Wildcats are led by seniors Shannon Lacy, Keira Jones and Kendal Cox.
Photos by Gilbert Miller.