It’s been a rough few years for the girls sports at Harrison High School. While the school as a whole has continued to produce plenty of success on the field and court, its girls programs have struggled to even field winning seasons.
Head girls flag football coach Dan Nankivell was reminded of that during one of the first preseason meetings he had with his team.
“In the beginning of the year, we’re having our first team dinner kind of thing and I said raise your hand if you’ve ever had a winning season in your athletic career. Looking around the room there were very few hands in the air unfortunately,” recalled Nankivell, a longtime member of the Harrison football community as a player and assistant coach. “Going off of that I said why don’t we promise each other right now that this is never going to happen to us again. We’re going to be a winning program and we’re going to continue to be that. I think they really internalized that.”
Since then, the Blue Tide haven’t just been winning, they’ve been dominant. After defeating Pompton Lakes on Friday, the second-year program is now 9-0 and on top of the NJIC standings heading into the final week of the regular season.
“We have a lot of buy-in,” Nankivell said. “I think our girls have started to believe in this program and believe in our identity and once those things start coming together, the rest is kind of easy.”
This is the third season of the New York Jets’ High School Girls Flag Football League, which is done in conjunction with Nike and Gatorade. Since its formation in 2021, the league has expanded from eight teams to now more than 100 in North and Central New Jersey, Long Island and New York City.
Locally, Harrison, Lyndhurst and Nutley started flag football programs last season. North Arlington started play this spring.
Since flag football is not a NJSIAA sponsored sport, girls are allowed to play flag football as well as another spring sport at the same time.
Nankivell believes the newness of the sports has allowed the Harrison girls to compete on a more even playing field than in other sports, where other teams have stronger recreation programs for girls before getting to high school.
“Last year was the first year ever playing this game,” Nankivell said. “Now that they’re able to come out here with an understanding of how this game operates, how practices operate and what the expectations are, it’s been a seamless year two.”
At quarterback is Hailey Scocco, a standout on the softball field and a true game-changer on the football field with both her arm and legs. The sophomore has thrown for 511 yards and 11 touchdowns, ran for six more TDs and also has two interceptions on defense.
“Really doing a great job and has come into her own,” Nankivell said. “She can wing the ball. She’s throwing the ball 40 yards down field and hitting receivers. I’ve had a hard time coaching boys who played their entire life just to be able to do some of the stuff that she’s learning how to do – reading defenses, looking off safeties, she has full audible ability.”
At running back is freshman Mya De Jesus, who also started in soccer and basketball. De Jesus has made an instant impact with 617 yards and 14 touchdowns on offense and five interceptions on defense.
“Mya is a game changer in every sense of the word,” said Nankivell. “Whenever she touches the ball, there is a very real possibility it ends up in the endzone. Mya, in a very short time, has become one of the more electric players I’ve had the pleasure to be around.”
The other two primary offensive skill players are Harrison’s two captains, Rasha Abdeljalil (251 yards, five touchdowns) and Fatma Mohamed (334 yards, eight touchdowns), who according to Nankivell are “in many ways, the heart and soul of our team.”
Isabel Cruz and Paulina Niczewski are dual-threats as linemen and tight ends. They’re joined on the offensive line by center Jessica Mota, who Nankivell termed an “unsung hero on the offense.”
A rotation at defensive line is led by Rebecca Sardinha, a sophomore basketball and soccer player, who has double-digit sacks, as well as Hanna Medina and Jamie Benavides. Abdeljalil Serenity Maldonado and Danica Carr are the linebackers and Mohamed, Scocco and De Jesus are in the secondary.
Harrison concludes the regular season on Tuesday at 6-2 North Arlington. The Blue Tide will host the NJIC Championship game on May 31, with the winner advancing to NJ Girls High School Flag Football Championships which will be held at the Jets training facility in Florham Park.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)