VVHS students redefine football for women
It was a warm, late August evening in Surprise and the first game of the season for the Valley Vista Monsoon. They were battling the Warriors from Westwood in the first game of the 2019 season. The Monsoon started out fast with a 24-6 lead at halftime. They didn’t let up in the 3rd quarter, adding two touchdowns and safety to stretch their lead to 40-12. With under a minute left in the 3rd quarter, the Monsoon tacked on another rushing touchdown. With a commanding 46-12 lead, the second string kicker was put into the game to attempt the extra point. That might not seem like much of an occasion on any other night, but for this game it was groundbreaking. The kicker’s name was Sara Lowry. She jogged onto the field sporting the number 99 jersey her older brother wore when he was on the team.
“When Coach Sekoch put me in, I was really excited,” Sara said. “I didn’t feel like I was going to miss. It was nice and high, a little to the right. Everyone went crazy.”
With that extra point kick, soccer star Sara Lowry became the first girl in Valley Vista Monsoon history to score a point on the varsity football team.
“It’s pretty cool,” she said with a slight grin on her face. “I feel accomplished doing it, but I didn’t do anything impossible. It’s cool to be the first though.”
The story of how Sara made the varsity football team is one that is all too common in high school. Head Varsity Coach Joshua Sekoch went to the soccer coach looking for a kicker. That position is hard to fill at the high school level. The Monsoon’s previous kicker graduated, and they needed someone with a good leg.
“Like two weeks later the soccer coach sent me a video of Sara kicking,” said Sekoch. “She was kicking 30 yard field goals. He asked if that was ok, and I said absolutely, the best kicker will make the team.”
“I never thought I would play football,” Sara exclaimed. “Like if you asked me, even a few months before it all happened, I would have said no way!"
After settling in and realizing that she could kick a football, Sara tried out and made the team. That isn’t uncommon anymore though. She might be the first to score a point for the Monsoon, but she isn’t the first girl to score a point in the district. As far as an analysis of records can show, that honor goes to Desiree Justus, another soccer player who participated as a kicker from 2011-2013 at Willow Canyon High School. Desiree once kicked seven extra points in one game, and has 37 points through extra points throughout her career.
Sara isn’t even the only girl on the Monsoon team this year. In fact there are three girls. Vanezza Valdez is a kickoff specialist and Mackenzie Goodrich isa wide receiver. All three girls also play soccer.
“A lot of people say I have a good foot because of soccer,” said Valdez. “They said I should be a football kicker. And I was like, sure!”
“We always dress multi-sport athletes,” said Head Coach Joshua Sekoch. “We just never thought we’d have girls from the soccer team on the football team.”
All three girls are seniors, but it’s Mackenzie who has been playing since she was a freshman.
“I started playing my 7th and 8th grade year in flag football,” she said. “And when it came to high school my dad told me, no. So I kind of took it on as a challenge, like, yes I can.”
Mackenzie came into the high school spring weightlifting session as an 8th grader. The coaches knew immediately that she was serious about it. She showed up all summer and went through everything in preseason just like all the other freshman did.
“I remember the freshman coach telling me, she’s going to make it,” said Sekoch. “She’s going to be out there and doesn’t want to be treated any different. Mackenzie didn’t back down, she’s never quit. She doesn’t hesitate at all. She’s earned her spot on the team.”
Mackenzie began by playing defensive line. During a big game against Willow Canyon High School that year, she started the game and forced two back-to-back fumble recoveries. She converted to a wide receiver this year and caught a first down pass. While each of the girls are second or third string players, Sekoch takes offense with anyone who says they didn’t earn their spots on the team.
“They are three really good athletes,” said Sekoch. “They’re not just here to be on the team. They are some of the top soccer girls in our school. It’s different than someone just wanting to be part of it. They can do everything. They aren’t out of place. The coaches say it all the time, those girls are athletic.”
That mentality has permeated down to the male players, who all three girls say don’t treat them any different because of their gender.
“It’s not weird,” said Sara. “It’s not like the boys treat us any different. We’re the dudes now.”
“When the guys see them come out and work and grind every day just like they do and commit to being here, then you’re accepted,” said Sekoch.
Despite wanting to be treated and looked at the same as the boys, all three girls realize that they’re a role model to younger girls, who even come up asking to take pictures with them.
“I’ve been told no for the last 6 years, and here I am,” said Mackenzie.
“I don’t think anyone should let their gender hold them back from doing what they want to do,” said Sara. “It doesn’t really matter what other people are going to tell you, you know what you can do, so just do it.”