Local Construction Coordinator Helps Women’s Pro Football Team Snag Title

By DAVID BIGGY | Aug 15, 2018
Photo by: Supplied photo Gina Capardi, a construction coordinator with Richard Aitken Builders in Ship Bottom, catches a pass during the New York Sharks’ 27-21 victory over the Minnesota Vixen in the Women’s Football Alliance Division 2 championship in Atlanta on July 27.

NCAA Division I softball is no joke, and while at Fordham University some 10 years ago Gina Capardi thought she had reached the pinnacle of her athletic heights.

“I thought that was the peak of my athletic career,” said the 30-year-old receiver for the New York Sharks of the Women’s Football Alliance, which recently captured the WFA Division 2 championship. “Playing pro football is an entirely different level of competition. But it’s meant so much to me to play in the league and I can only thank people like Andra Douglas, the Sharks’ owner, for making so many women’s dreams come true.”

A construction coordinator with Richard Aitken Builders in Ship Bottom, Capardi got her start with the Sharks a few years ago when a friend told her about a women’s tackle league.

“My friend, Sam Wach, told me about it and I was shocked,” said Capardi, who had grown up playing softball, basketball and soccer in Caldwell. “I had never heard of it. But I couldn’t wait to see what it was about, so I went to the tryouts with her and fell in love with the game. I used to watch my brother play football and always wished I could play, too. I never had the opportunity.”

Once she made the roster three seasons ago, Capardi did whatever was necessary to get onto the field – she lined up in the backfield as a running back, took on a role as a backup quarterback, and played out on the flanks as a receiver. Last season, she further developed as one of the team’s prime targets within the passing game.

This season, starting quarterback Karen Mulligan fired the ball in Capardi’s direction a lot. In the first game of the season against the Baltimore Nighthawks on April 7, Capardi snatched a 9-yard TD pass late in the second half, which stood as the game-winning score in a 38-34 victory. That was the first of nine touchdown receptions for Capardi.

During a 49-26 win over the Nighthawks on April 30, Capardi caught a pair of TD passes in the first quarter of the contest. A few weeks later in a 28-24 win over the Philadelphia Phantomz, she not only caught a pass for a touchdown but also ran for one as well.

After the Sharks went 6-2 during the regular season, they received a first-round bye for the playoffs before winning three straight to snag the title. Along the way, Capardi caught a 23-yard TD strike from Mulligan, which ended up being the game-winning score in a 42-21 victory against the Tampa Bay Inferno in the conference championship game.

But the big moment occurred in the championship game at Keenesaw State University in Atlanta on July 27. With the Sharks trailing the Minnesota Vixen, 7-0, in the second quarter, Capardi lined up in the slot on second-and-goal from the 5-yard line, faded out to the right and Mulligan found her at the goal line for the team’s first score. The Sharks went on to win, 27-21.

“Every player has to go out there and do her job on the field for us to be successful,” she said. “I just tried to go out there and give it my all for my teammates, who all work so hard. It was really nice to contribute and score our team’s first touchdown.

“Initially, I wasn’t going to play this season because my brother passed away unexpectedly in December. But I decided to dedicate the season to him, so I’d like to think he was watching that day and that made catching that pass a little more special.”

Even more special was the reception she received upon arriving to work the following Monday. The crew at Aitken Builders threw a party in her honor.

“I was very surprised, but I shouldn’t have been,” she said. “They all got together and had a little party to watch the championship game after work that day, and the amount of support and excitement about me playing has been there all season. I couldn’t be happier to be surrounded by such amazing and supportive people. I’m very lucky and appreciate them all.”

And while it was a fantastic season for both Capardi and the Sharks, it comes with a bit of a bittersweet tinge. This season is the Sharks’ last as a franchise, since Douglas sold the team prior to the team’s 20th stint. The team will remain in the New York area as the Wolves, but Capardi is not guaranteed a spot.

“I still have to come back and try out,” she said. “Players from around the tri-state region already have reached out, hoping to join the team for next season, so there may be a lot more players involved next year, which is a good thing. But nothing is guaranteed.”

Interestingly, though, the Sharks still have two more games to play before the franchise officially is put to rest. At the end of the month, the team will travel to Birmingham, England for the first-ever Transatlantic Pro Cloud Trophy tournament – a round-robin style event pitting the Sharks against the Birmingham Lions and Helsinki Wolverines from Finland. The competition is scheduled for Aug. 31 through Sept. 2.

“I’m going to be there,” Capardi said. “We leave on Aug. 27.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

(Photo by: Supplied photo)
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