As halftime neared on Thursday, the Dimond flag football team’s fourth straight title was anything but assured.
The Lynx held a 7-0 lead over South High and appeared to have another drive fizzle after scoring to open the game.
But running back Mai Mateaki found Zoe Fanning on a fourth down play from 16 yards out with just five seconds left until halftime. That score gave Dimond some breathing room as the Lynx went on to a 26-7 win, securing a fourth straight Cook Inlet Conference title.
“That was a huge score right before halftime,” Dimond head coach Kristen Melican-Nevala said.
A light rain fell on the field in the early going on a brisk night in South Anchorage.
Mateaki, who was named CIC offensive player of the year after the game, displayed that award-winning prowess all night, including on that play late in the first half. She went left and threw across her body, finding Fanning in stride for the score.
Mateaki opened the scoring with a six-yard run in the first quarter. She added an extra point run to give Dimond a 7-0 lead.
“Mai’s just such a competitor and has such confidence,” Melican-Nevala said.
With Dimond leading 13-0 coming out of halftime, Lynx quarterback Maile Wilcox took a turn at spearheading the team’s offensive attack. She scored on a run from three yards out and found Liliana Harris on a pass for the extra point conversion. That series of plays gave Dimond a commanding 20-0 lead in the third quarter.
The Wolverines struck for their lone score in the 4th quarter as sophomore Brianna Bailey scored on a short run and quarterback Jillian Preston found Niveah Heartwell for the point-after conversion. That made it 20-7 with just under three minutes remaining in the game.
Dimond scored once more in the waning seconds as Mateaki streaked to the left side for a 22-yard touchdown.
Melican-Nevala credited the team’s diversity of athletes for the streak of success. Mateaki is heading to play Division I soccer while Wilcox is among the state’s best high school basketball players.
“Having really athletic girls each year helps a ton,” Wilcox said.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Lynx this season. They were upset last month by West High, a loss that Wilcox said helped refocus the team.
It was Melican-Nevala’s first year as head coach, but she coached on the Lynx staff with former head coach Kathleen Navarre for years and said it’s still very much a collaborative process.
“I’m officially head coach but we’re the co-head coaches and (Kathleen) knows the game better than anyone,” Melican-Nevala said. “(Former coach) Brad Lauwers is retired but we’re still doing a lot of his things, the same offensive plays. It’s just a lot of fun.”
Wilcox said the coaching continuity has helped the team continue to be successful.
“They pay really close attention to detail and at practice we break down everything, especially defense,” she said. “That’s our point of pride.”
Dimond has now topped South in the last two title games. The Lynx won 27-9 in last year’s championship. Melican-Nevala said the Wolverines will continue to be a contender going forward as the sport tries to expand enough to gain traction to be sanctioned statewide by the Alaska School Activities Association. There is currently no state title, but a CIC champion has been crowned since 2006. Dimond has now won 11 of those 18 titles.
“They’re a great team,” she said of South. “They’re young, Preston at quarterback and Heartwell (are both returning).”