‘Making history’: Duke’s first women’s flag football club team plays inaugural game

The team gathers in a Keohane common room to discuss flag football strategy.
The team gathers in a Keohane common room to discuss flag football strategy.

Football season came early to Durham. Amidst a record-breaking year for women’s college athletics, Duke’s inaugural women’s club flag football team competed in its first game against North Carolina Central University Monday night.

The Lady Devils, founded in spring 2024 by sophomore Chris-Ann Bennett, is the first women’s flag football club team in the school’s history. Despite having no flag football experience before creating the team, Bennett said she was inspired by seeing other women’s teams on TikTok.

“I used to run track in high school, and I just missed being active and competitive … the sport looked really fun,” she said.

Bennett leads the student-run team alongside sophomore coaches Niles Luke and Caleb Dudley.

Luke joined the team due to his love for all things football, calling the opportunity “a great way to re-engage with the game and with people interested in just learning more.” 

Bennett described creating the team as a learning effort. To gain more experience with flag football, she looked to the internet for tutorials.

Bennett also benefited from the guidance of Amber Clark, a former defensive back on the 2023 U.S. women's flag national team and current head coach of the University of St. Mary’s women’s flag football program. Jaquan Milliam, head coach and offensive coordinator for the NCCU team, also advised Bennett.

Junior Katherine Wiest, a member of the Lady Devils who joined with little football knowledge, agreed that her experience has been an opportunity for growth, praising her coaches and the supportive environment her teammates created. 

However, forming the team did not come without its challenges.

“At first, it was a little rough and discouraging because only three girls [were] showing up, and they were my friends,” Bennett said.

To increase engagement, Bennett held information sessions, emphasizing to prospective players that they would be joining a community and would “be a part of making history.”

Currently, there are around 20 members of the team who participate intermittently. The Lady Devils do not require players to have prior experience — according to Luke, many “just want to be active and engage with the sport.”

Bennett hopes the team can cultivate a supportive community of women and build awareness around the sport.

“A lot of people are paying attention to women’s sports now … and so I think this is going to be the next big thing,” she said. 

There was nervous excitement in the air as the Lady Devils warmed up for their first game. “We’ve been practicing a lot, so hopefully our practice reflects that today,” Bennett said.

Luke echoed this sentiment, adding that he was “more nervous than [he] would like to admit.” Nonetheless, he was confident based on the hard work the team has been putting in over the past few months.

Game day

The pre-game looked much like any regular-season Duke football game, as both teams lined up in their respective end zones and ran practice drills.

Even though the Lady Devils did not come out on top for their first match, the team was able to celebrate the community it built as a new program, regardless of the game’s outcome. 

It was clear from the opening snap that the team would face a tough challenge in its first game. Although their opponents boasted over a year of experience, the Lady Devils had only had about a month and a half to prepare for their inaugural game.

NCCU got off to an early 21-0 lead, following two costly interceptions from the Lady Devils that their opponents expertly converted into points. Despite being down early, the team never lost their spirit, encouraged by a small group of Duke students assembled on the sideline enthusiastically cheering them on.

“The crowd was so energizing,” said team member Maddy Perez, a junior. “I just fed off of that, and then it kept me going throughout the rest of the game.”

The crowd’s energy certainly enhanced Perez’s performance. Right before halftime, as it looked as though the Lady Devils would go scoreless in their first outing, she intercepted a pass. Immediately taking off into a sprint, Perez returned it down the field for a pick-six as her teammates and supporters ran down the sidelines alongside her, cheering along the way. 

Perez’s pick-six served as a crucial momentum shift for the Lady Devils, re-energizing the team as they headed into a halftime huddle led by their two head coaches. 

At the start of the second half, the score was 26-6. The Lady Devils carried much of the momentum they gained at the end of the first half into the second, making impressive plays on defense. Perez continued her stellar gameplay, earning another interception which her teammates quickly converted into six, bringing the score to 26-12. 

Even with the shift in momentum favoring the Lady Devils, their opponents' experience was too much for them to overcome. The game ultimately ended in a loss for the Duke players, with a final score of 40-12.

However, the team members were all smiles as they ran to hug friends and snap pictures from their first game. Morale remained high, and many team members were reminded that they joined the team for these moments of camaraderie and friendship.

“I like the competitive atmosphere,” said Perez. “This is a way for me to do that with a bunch of fun girls, so it's been the best experience this semester.”

“[The] main feeling right now is just pride,” Luke said after the game.

Michelle Brown profile
Michelle Brown | Associate News Editor

Michelle Brown is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


Share and discuss “‘Making history’: Duke’s first women’s flag football club team plays inaugural game” on social media.