West Forsyth's girls flag football team has only been together for around a month, but on Wednesday night, players embraced and celebrated with each other like they'd known each other for years.
They certainly played that way too: The Wolverines had just ended the first-ever Forsyth County girls flag football season as the league champion, defeating Lambert 13-0 behind a very effective performance on both sides of the ball.
But while the win itself was certainly gratifying, West head coach and athletic director Brett Phipps couldn't help but smile from ear to ear as he saw the kind of impact he'd helped make. Yes, he had played a role in a new opportunity for female athletes, but also in helping his players build new, potentially long friendships.
"I've done a lot of things in my life," Phipps said. "I've been in education almost 30 years and I've been an AD for nine years now, coached football for over 20. But this was special -- This sport has all kinds of potential and I've just been really honored to be a part of it."
Lambert and West made it to the Wednesday's title game after defeating Forsyth Central and South Forsyth, respectively, earlier in the night. The Wolverines jumped out to a quick lead with a touchdown pass from Haylee Dornan to Taylor Robinson with around 11 minutes left to play in the first half. Throughout the game, Dornan, who also had an interception on defense, was amazed with the kind of progress she and her teammates had made.
"It's been incredible watching us grow," she said. "The hours we put in learning stuff and the effort that we've given, if you had asked these girls to do the things we did tonight on the first day, they would have looked at you crazy. It's leaps and bounds from where we started."
Lambert's Emerson Zimmerman picked Dornan off with 49 seconds to play in the first half, but Dornan's pick with 34 seconds left ended the Longhorns' brief chance. Throughout the second half, West's receivers made multiple catches in traffic. With 3:30 to play, Ellie Bullock scored the Wolverines' second touchdown, and Catalina Infante caught a Dornan pass for a two-point conversion.
"We were cooking tonight," Phipps said. "This is the best we've played in about three weeks. Even I was impressed. I'd call any play on the sheet and it would just go. I was like, 'Man alive, it hasn't been this easy all year.'"
With girls flag football set to become a GHSA sanctioned sport next year, West is already on track for a good start, with players like Dornan set to return. The Wolverines are already anxious to show what they can do on a bigger stage.
"(Haley) was talking the other day with me," Phipps said. "She's like, 'I can't believe how much we can do now.' It is kind of cool. I can call any formation, I can call any route and they'll just do them.
"We haven't had a bad day together. They're just great kids."