After a 1-2 start to the season, the Service High flag football team has won seven of its last eight games, including a six-game winning streak.
A major reason for their turnaround has been the leadership and production from senior team captains Greta Helgeson and Zoe Witter.
“I think we have a really good bond this year,” Witter said. “The team chemistry has been really good and we had kind of a rough start but we’ve just been building on it and are trying to get better every game.”
The two share a strong bond off the field and a lethal connection on the field. That rapport has caused several defenses around the Cook Inlet Conference headaches.
“I think we have a great group of girls, everybody works hard and puts in the effort and I think when some people are lacking some days, the other people pick it up,” Helgeson said.
Helgeson is the Cougars starting quarterback and has thrown for 1,063 passing yards and 15 touchdowns to just three interceptions through 11 games.
“She knows all the plays, she knows where everybody should go, that’s just her,” Service coach Tony Maldonado said.
He praised Helgeson for her intelligence, solid arm strength, knowledge of the routes and where to throw the ball on every play. He also said she has presence in the pocket, which is key for making necessary quick decisions.
In flag football blockers are only allowed to impede the opposing team’s rushers by standing and shuffling in their way so quarterbacks have to get the ball out quick or buy themselves more time to throw by scrambling.
“She’s a pocket passer,” Maldonado said. “We have rollouts but she can definitely sit in the pocket and look. In flag you have to let it go in a second.”
Helgeson organizes a lot of team activities when players gather outside of school and practice, Maldonado said.
Witter has recorded 810 all-purpose yards through 11 games, including 125 rushing, 510 receiving, and 175 on seven punt returns. She has also caught seven touchdown passes and is a force on the other side of the ball as well.
In the team’s 12-6 win over Betty Davis East on Tuesday, Witter recorded two interceptions, returning the first for 34 yards and the second for a 44-yard touchdown.
Helgeson said their connection has grown stronger over the years, in part because Witter is such a sure-handed receiver.
“We get along and I think we both just work on what we need to work on,” Helgeson said.
Their coaches try to isolate Witter when she is on offense to figure out what the opposing defense is doing and where to go with the ball and what the best matchups are.
“We’ll pick them apart then come back underneath sometimes too,” Maldonado said.
Her two-interception game against the Thunderbirds brings her total to 14 for the season through 11 games, with three returned for defensive scores. She also has 29 flag pulls which are the flag football equivalent to tackles in traditional full-contact football.
Getting into flag football
Witter is a soccer player by trade and chose flag football as her fall offseason sport after trying out and not liking cross-country running as a freshman.
“It wasn’t my thing and then my friends just invited me to join flag my sophomore year and that’s how it happened,” she said.
Being allowed to use her hands in a sport took some getting used to for Witter, who credits her soccer background for the agility she displays in the open field.
“It was hard learning to catch the ball but once you get that, it’s a lot easier,” she said.
Helgeson, on the other hand, comes from a strong football background and family.
“I grew up around football,” Helgeson said. “My dad played football when he was in high school, my brother played football and went on to college to play football, and I’ve played flag since I was seven years old.”
Her older brother Henry graduated from Service in 2020 and while he was a two-sport star in both football and basketball, he shined the brightest on the gridiron.
As a senior, he was named Offensive Player of the Year for both the state and Cook Inlet Conference, earned first-team all-state honors as a wide receiver. He now attends Valparaiso University, where he is a member of the football team and plays receiver there as well.
Helgeson said football is her favorite sport and is a huge fan of the Minnesota Vikings.
She was glad for the opportunity to continue playing flag football when she got to high school and has made the most of it.
“She’s got some schools interested in her to play flag in college so hopefully one of them picks her up,” Maldonado said who also coached her brother. “I think they will.”
He said that Witter has multiple colleges recruiting her to play soccer at the next level.
Biggest victory to date
The most meaning win for the Cougars through the first 11 games of the season is hands-down their 14-13 upset over their Hillside rival South on Sept. 1.
“That was like the best feeling in the world,” Witter said.
Service trailed by seven points with less than a minute left in the game and capped off a game-winning 80-yard drive with a touchdown pass from none other than Helgeson to her favorite target Witter.
“We had less than 10 seconds, it was fourth down, we took our last timeout and said ‘hit Zoe’,” Maldonado said. “(Helgeson) hit her and she took off and ran.”
The two connected again on the two-point conversion play as Helgeson threw the ball to Witter’s outside shoulder for a successful attempt.
“They’re our main rival,” Helgeson said. “Playing them and having a close rough game and then just picking up the slack at the end for an 80-yard drive was just really insane and I think that we all really built on that as a team.”