Watsonville High sophomore Stephanie Martinez was an offensive weapon for the Wildcatz girls' flag football team during its inaugural season in 2023. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

Watsonville High senior and football junkie Joselyn Gutierrez has been playing competitive flag football since her days of ruling the grass fields at Lakeview Middle School.

When she became a freshman, her career was momentarily cut short only because the sport wasn’t an option in the fall, winter or spring.

That was until this year when the Wildcatz girls’ flag football team stepped onto the gridiron for the first time in the school’s history. 

“I really wish they would have done this sooner,” Gutierrez said. 

The ‘Catz competed in the Super Saturday Jamboree hosted by Alvarez High on Nov. 4 to close out their inaugural season for not just them but all schools throughout California.

Watsonville senior Itzel Martinez and junior Fernanda Lazo each had two touchdown passes en route to a 24-12 over Monterey High in the first game. 

Both quarterbacks targeted sophomores Itzury Vazquez and Stephanie Martinez, along with junior Brianna Leon and senior Juleanna Ramirez for the scores.

On the defensive side, Regina Sientes and Monique De La Mora each recorded an interception. 

In the second game, Itzel Martinez added three more touchdown passes in a 32-14 victory over host Alvarez. Lazo and Stephanie Martinez each recorded a passing TD, as well. 

Stephanie Martinez, Ramirez, Evangelina Gaona each had one TD reception, while fellow teammate Brianna Leon hauled in a pair of touchdown receptions

Mariana Ramirez and Sientes each recorded one interception for Watsonville, which finished the regular season with a 14-10 overall record (Team Gold: 12-5; Team Black: 2-5).

Itzel Martinez finished with a team-high 23 passing touchdowns. Juleanna Ramirez caught 12 of those TD passes and also had six rushing touchdowns, both good for best on the team. 

De La Mora and freshman Jocelyn Avalos tied for a team-best eight interceptions, with De La Mora returning three of those for a TD.   

Watsonville High head coach Zach Cook said it’s been a fun experience for everyone from the coaching staff to the players and families, and the community. 

Cook—who also coaches the varsity girls basketball team—noted that having flag football as an option for girls to play is critical because sports builds character. 

“Sports, especially for women, builds confidence, builds self worth,” he said. “Being able to participate in any sports for females is important, but namely flag football, because it’s new and it’s something that girls are excited about, especially in this community.” 

Flag football is a big hit at the middle school level within the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. 

Cook was expecting at most 20 girls to show up at tryouts. But more than 80 girls were interested, 60 of them showed up to the first practice and 40 made the cut.

One unique feature about the roster is that roughly 20 students hadn’t played a sport since setting foot on campus.

Gutierrez was also wary girls would show up for tryouts after last year’s low turnout for the Powder Puff game between the junior and senior classes.

Still, once she heard flag football would be an official sport Gutierrez knew it was a golden chance girls couldn’t pass up. 

“I feel like I inspired some girls to join because I’ve heard from other people saying ‘I want to do football because I see the way that you do things, it looks easy when you do it,’” Gutierrez said. “I never knew that flag football was gonna come until once it did, I was like this is the opportunity.” 

On top of flag football duties, Gutierrez has a full schedule as a student and a member of the tackle football team.

Gutierrez and teammate Xitlali Najera-Leon have been on the football team for the past four years. 

“I feel like I’ve honestly been getting better each year,” Gutierrez said.  

Gutierrez got to carry the ball for the first time this season in the football team’s 46-26 win against St. Francis on Oct. 21. 

She took a huge interest in football because of her brother, Alvaro Velasquez, who played at Aptos High. 

Velasquez told his younger sister about the commitment it takes and having the right mindset going into a brutal sport.

Gutierrez’s mom didn’t want her to sign up because she feared her daughter would get injured as the boys are much stronger and there’s the possibility of getting run over. 

“But the thing is, how I think of it, I don’t care. I signed up for this, so I’m gonna just go for it,” Gutierrez said. 

Gutierrez mentioned one of the biggest differences between both teams is she feels a stronger connection with her flag football teammates.  

“I feel like every time we have games, we all support each other,” she said. “It’s not just little groups…It’s actually everybody cheering for each other.”

Flag football will make its debut at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. But for now, Gutierrez has her eyes set on extending her career in college and is hoping this inaugural season will begin to put Watsonville on the map

“I want to get football out there for Watsonville,” she said. “If so be it, it’ll be flag football.”

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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