The Samohi Lady Vikings flag football squad made a splash in its first campaign, going undefeated in Ocean League play. Credit: Santa Monica High School

Every student athlete knows the beats to a sports season. From pre-season practices all the way to the postseason, the routine doesn’t differentiate much, as players are familiar with the sport and the way the coaching staff wants it played. Weekly practices, games and recovery periods are baked in at normal intervals; creating a typical campaign that breeds the best results.

The Samohi Lady Vikings’ flag football season was an exception to this rule, as the inaugural 2023 game slate was anything but typical. Both players and coaches alike were unsure of what the rules to the game were, while some skeptics were unsure if the team should even go ahead within the male-dominated sport. Although none of the measures for a successful season were in place, the Lady Vikings figured it out slowly but surely, gaining momentum that snowballed into an undefeated Ocean League championship campaign. The squad finished 16-3 overall, with an unblemished 8-0 Ocean League record.

“It’s honestly such a blessing,” said junior safety and wide receiver Bella Medina. “I can’t believe that we started off not knowing anything about flag football, playing on the grass baseball fields, to [being] Ocean League champs. We had a really good season … really exciting for us, especially because it’s our first year as a sport.”

When the flag program was introduced to Samohi students, it represented a chance for girls to showcase their skills in a typically hyper-masculine environment. Junior quarterback Anica Mindes, who helped evolve the Lady Vikings into a stellar offensive unit, was one such player that just wanted an opportunity in an American pastime.

Credit: Santa Monica High School

“I’ve always been interested in football, I’ve always thrown the ball around with my dad, and [I’ve always been] wanting to play but there was never an option,” Mindes said. “So when I heard about it, I was really intrigued to see if it would actually turn out to be a team.”

Turning a group of girls who had little knowledge of one another into a cohesive unit fell on coach Ramsey Lambert, switching gears after previously coaching the Samohi Vikings football squad for three seasons. Lambert preached taking “baby steps” by revisiting the rulebook and expanding what the girls were capable of, building up a repertoire of schematics by the week.

Taking advantage of the basketball and soccer players who joined flag for the fall season, Lambert hammered home various “set plays” similar to out of bounds plays on the basketball court or corner kicks on the soccer field. Practicing plays “to death” until the team had a “mastery” of them, the Lady Vikings adapted strongly enough that the players called the first several plays of the final 2023 contest themselves, scoring on the second play from scrimmage.

“It was pretty nice to see that they [had] a total grasp of it, and they’re not robots out there,” Lambert said. “They actually contextually understand what makes a successful offensive play.”

Credit: Santa Monica High School

Mindes noted that learning the different plays as quarterback was one of her favorite parts of the season, citing the “mental challenge” of incremental yet crucial offensive progress.

“I was definitely just [trying] to think through each play, and not just play with our emotions, but to really think what’s the best option here, what are the best routes, kind of a collaborative effort,” Mindes said.

The on-field product grew in direct correlation with the team’s off-field dynamic, which was boosted by implementing team-building activities and learning about each other’s personal and family lives. Lambert said that the Lady Vikings took off once the players were able to “gel personalities together” and “trust each other.”

“I joined the team barely knowing any of the girls and [when the season ended] they’re some of my closest friends now,” Medina said. “I think something that helped us all bond together was that we were with each other every day. We would go on the bus rides, we would go home together, and we were all learning the same thing … just being able to have people to confide in also helped us a lot to grow together.”

The Lady Vikings’ consistent growth made waves throughout the flag football universe, becoming standard-bearers in the sport’s first year officially sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation. The team was recently featured on Fox 11’s “Good Day LA” and Lambert said the support “means everything” for the sport’s potential. The coach’s goal remains reaching out to other schools, hoping to provide resources to generate new teams and new programs for the 2024 season and beyond.

Credit: Santa Monica High School

Local support was even more important for the student-athletes, who felt that they earned equal footing as more established Samohi sports programs.

“Honestly, it was very shocking because I didn’t really think people were [going to] support us like they did, but it was honestly such a nice feeling, it made us … feel special to come out at our games and have people actually watching, supporting us,” Medina said.

The dominant inaugural season, cresting with the Ocean League title, has made the girls just as excited for the future as the coaching staff.

“A lot of the girls felt like we had something to prove, just the fact that it was a new team, and there [were] a lot of doubts on whether or not there should have been a team to begin with,” Mindes said. “I think us being able to [win] that title just kind of made a statement that … we deserve to be here, we deserve to have a team.”

Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...