West High's Maya Baquiran was all smiles when she ran onto the field for flag football practice Wednesday despite the enormous cast on her hand.
She was just happy to be playing again.
Baquiran, the Cook Inlet Conference defensive player of the year, is the smaller half of a dynamic duo that has led the Eagles to an undefeated season and a spot in Thursday's CIC semifinals.
The 5-foot senior linebacker commands the defense and 5-8 quarterback Rebecca Syrup, last season's CIC offensive player of the year, pilots the offense.
But a pair of injuries almost ended Baquiran's season before the CIC tournament.
She played three weeks without knowing she had partially torn ligaments in her thumb, and then she hyper-extended her elbow in a one-point win over Dimond in Saturday's regular season finale. When Baquiran went to get her elbow checked, the doctor was more concerned about her thumb, which is now encased in a cast.
Baquiran said she might have to get surgery but for now she has been OK'd to play, and she's focused on helping the Eagles pursue their first flag football championship — even if she has to do it one-handed. Baquiran missed West's quarterfinal win over Eagle River on Tuesday, but will be back on the field in Thursday's semifinal game against East.
On Saturday, Baquiran broke her own school record for flag pulls with 117 on the season. She first set the record as a sophomore in 2015 with 107 and broke it last season by getting 116.
"She puts everything she has into this game," Syrup said. "We wouldn't be the same team without her."
The same could be said about Syrup. She's a vocal quarterback who isn't afraid to change the play at the line of scrimmage and whose halftime talks help hype up the team.
"She motivates us to work harder," Baquiran said. "Every game, we get halftime motivation from Rebecca. We hype her up, she hypes us up."
A lifelong softball player, Syrup was a natural selection to play quarterback — a pitcher with a strong arm who is usually good for at least three touchdown passes a game. In a Sept. 25 win over East she threw for 345 yards.
When she isn't throwing, she's often handing off the ball to three speedy rushers: Isabella Roberts, Ta'Zhay Wyche and Sylvia Xaivong.
The transition from softball pitcher to flag football quarterback was a struggle at first, Syrup said. In the beginning, West coach Travis Cantrell would tell her "Stop throwing it like a softball."
Now, she's comfortable enough to make long throws downfield and audible to new plays if she doesn't like what she sees in the defensive formation.
"I think that's what I've improved on the most," Syrup said. "I'm able to kind of see what's going on and change things so that they can work. Cantrell has helped me a lot with that. I basically have his brain now."
Syrup and Baquiran are two of West's 24 seniors. About half have been playing since they were freshmen, when their C team rolled to an undefeated season.
They both joined the team because their older sisters played. When Baquiran and Syrup were freshmen, Baquiran's sister Mailee was a sophomore linebacker and Syrup's sister Lauren was a senior quarterback.
"I was very scared, kind of shy as a freshman … but (Lauren) kind of dragged me into it and I'm really glad that she did because it's my favorite sport now," Syrup said.
Four years later, the Eagles are on a mission to win a CIC title for Cantrell. West (15-0) came close last season but lost to Chugiak 12-7 in the championship.
"We still want to take it one game at a time, we have East next, but I think our attitude is just to stay focused so we can finally pull out the championship for the team and for Coach," Syrup said.
"We've worked really hard this season and we're ready to redeem our name for sure."