A team doesn't put up a record of 171-39 and win seven championships in 13 seasons without solid coaching, which may be why an inspired Dimond Lynx flag football team charged onto rainy Dimond Alumni Field for Saturday's Cook Inlet Conference championship game.
A couple of hours before they claimed their second straight CIC title with a 26-6 victory over the West Eagles, the Lynx read a motivational Tweet from assistant coach Kristen Melican-Nevala: "We have won in the snow, and we won in the sun. Today we will have to win in the rain," she wrote, referring to Dimond's record against West in CIC championship games.
Then, as kickoff neared, head coach Kathleen Navarre gathered players in the Dimond gym and stole a page from the Notre Dame playbook.
"I told them to 'play like a champion today,' and then we walked a lap around the running track and slapped last year's banner," she said.
If that wasn't enough to put the Lynx in the proper mental state, there was the sight of three of their best players on the sideline, out of uniform due to injuries. Two were propped up by knee braces and crutches, including defensive player of the year Angelline Nageak, who went down with a possible torn ACL in last week's semifinal win over East.
On the field, Kristine Cristobal rushed for two touchdowns and Kana Mateaki anchored a stingy defense for Dimond. Cristobal rushed for 158 yards on 15 carries, including TD runs of 18 and 8 yards, and Mateaki made six pulls, two for losses.
Cristobal and Haley Rogers, who scored on a 22-yard pass from Savannah Johansen, helped Dimond to a 13-6 halftime lead, and the Lynx widened the gap in the second half with Cristobal's second touchdown and a 2-yard pass from Sunshine Meraz to D'Ahvionn Rabb with time running out.
Ta'Zhay Wyche, the CIC's offensive player of the year, put West on the scoreboard with an 86-yard run, but the Eagles were held scoreless in the second half when the wind picked up to make a rainy day even colder. Conditions were not ideal for West's usually potent passing attack.
The Eagles finished with a 12-5 record and their third straight runner-up finish in the CIC playoffs. They lost to Chugiak 12-7 in 2016 and dropped a 19-18 heartbreaker to Dimond last year.
Since flag football made its debut in 2006, no team has more runner-up finishes than five-time bridesmaid West, which lost the 2011 and 2012 championship games by a combined nine points. The Eagles have never won a CIC title.
The Lynx have won seven of the 13 championships awarded. They are 171-39 all-time, 31-3 over the last two seasons and 16-1 this season.
Navarre said this year's championship was especially sweet because it came during a disruptive school year at Dimond, whose tackle football team was suspended for two weeks because of sexual assault allegations made after a road trip to Fairbanks early this season. After the Anchorage School District fired three coaches, Navarre and assistant flag football coach Brad Lauwers guided the boys team through its first post-suspension practice.
"In light of all the negatives, it was great to beat (the Eagles)," Navarre said.
The Lynx won despite the loss of three key players. Senior D'Shanna Schuster broke her collarbone in the final regular-season game, and juniors Nageak — a two-way threat who rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season — and Mahailey Sullivan both suffered knee injuries in the semifinals. Stepping up in their absence were a pair of senior reserves, Jessica Tolentino and Faith Nilles.
"We told the kids, 'You have bench players for a reason, and you've gotta be ready,' '' Navarre said.
The Lynx were ready. And now they have another championship banner to hang in their gym.
CIC championship history
2018 — Dimond 26, West 6
2017 — Dimond 19, West 18
2016 — Chugiak 12, West 7
2015 — East 19, Dimond 6
2014 — Dimond 6, Service 0
2013 — Dimond 33, South 7
2012 — Dimond 14, West 6
2011 — East 13, West 12 (OT)
2010 — Dimond 21, East 15
2009 — Dimond 32, Bartlett 12
2008 — Chugiak 13, Bartlett 6
2007 — Chugiak 33, Service 7
2006 — Bartlett 19, Chugiak 18
First team all-CIC
Offensive player of the year — Ta'Zhay Wyche, West. Defensive player of the year — Angelline Nageak, Dimond. Punter-kicker — Mekenna Nowland, Service. Assistant coach of the year — Brad Lauwers, Dimond. Coach of the year — Kathleen Navarre, Dimond.
Find second team and honorable mention players here.