East Rockaway reaches title game


Nassau County, with tremendous support from the New York Jets, has cracked the code for high school girls who want to play football.

For the East Rockaway flag football team, it has already found success just three short years into the program’s history. Coached by Fred Cange, the Rocks finished with a 9-3 record and made it all the way to the Nassau Conference II title game before falling to Plainedge, 19-7, on May 20 at Long Beach Middle School.

“It’s very satisfying to know that what we’re building here in this program is working,” Cange said when asked about the deep postseason run.

As for East Rockaway, its defense this season was outstanding. The unit only allowed 20-plus points in three of its 12 games.

Led by multiple contributors, the Rocks’ defense was a force to be reckoned with all season long. Nicole Zugnoni led the team in flag grabs (54), sacks (18), and deflections (14). Rachel Burch led in interceptions with eight while Emma Van Wickler was not far behind with seven. Stephanie Lynch and Isabella Alvarez each had over 40 flag grabs, while Sofia Ferkov and Dayanara Jose Merino each finished the season with five sacks.

Not only did the defense hold opponents to less than 20 points in three fourths of the games, but it also pitched a shutout in half of them. That includes consecutive shutout victories over Roslyn and Bethpage in the Conference II quarterfinal and semifinal playoff games.

While the defense led the way in the school’s first trip to the county championship stage, the offense stepped up when it needed to. While Van Wickler picked off plenty of passes on defense, she was also East Rockaway’s starting quarterback, a position she had never played until this spring.

After the team lost its quarterback from last season, the captain stepped up and learned how to play the position.

“She was awesome,” Cange said. “Pretty impressive to learn a new position in January and then bring them to the Nassau County championship just four months later.”

The Rocks opened the playoffs May 14 with a 14-0 victory over Roslyn. Van Wickler connected with Zugnoni on a 19-yard touchdown pass in the first half and scored on a 4-yard run in the second half.

Two days later, Van Wickler had the only points — a 2-yard touchdown run — in a 6-0 win over Bethpage.

Other two way players, like Alvarez and Lynch, played huge parts in the rushing attack. Those two, along with Ava Caradonna, combined for 916 rushing yards. “Ava is just a freshman so she’s the future of this program,” Cange said. “And Isabella is just a great athlete with a natural feel for the game.”

The future is certainly bright for the program, especially with Cange at the helm.

The game as a whole has grown so much in Nassau County in just three years. “It’s something new the girls can do,” Cange said. “The opportunity for them to play football is spreading like wildfire.”