Austin, Dallas, New York Ladies Take Centrals Honors

Both the Austin Crows and Dallas Magpies entered Saturday’s Central Regional in Racine with the intention of staking their claim as threats in Division 1 at the National Championships.  Both Texas sides proved their point, and took home championship cups to boot.

And so too did the New York Magpies and Columbus Jillaroos, who combined to take down the Minnesota Freeze ladies.  In doing so, both clubs also sent a message that they were not to be taken lightly.

It was, though, just part of some great footy played on the day, done so on the lush ground of the SCORe Complex under blue-grey skies that bore some rain, but not enough to dampen the crowd, nor the spirits of the games played underneath.

MEN DIVISION I:

The New York Magpies brought all of eighteen men with them to Wisconsin, many of them not on the side that won them the Nationals premiership last season.  But with players such as Mike Murphy, Paul Guarino, and Jordan McIntyre leading the way, they were still in good shape, and the ‘Pies began their day with a 33-14 victory over a game Houston Lonestars club.  The ‘Stars would look to rebound against the Minnesota Freeze, but could not contain the northerner’s runs, as Minnesota had seven players kick their eight goals in a 51-16 decision. 

In the Pool A decider, however, it was New York who had the legs, and were able to neutralize the triple threat of Andrew “Tiger” Werner, Brent Mergen, and Brent Fischer.  The ‘Pies got off the blocks early, and never relented, winning 52-20 and advancing to the Grand Final.

Over in Pool B, the rankings pointed to a potential Austin Crows vs Denver Bulldogs showdown to determine who would advance.  But no one told that to the Chicago Swans, at least for the first half of their game against the Crows.  Chicago charged out to a 13-1 first half lead, and Austin’s comeback attempt started with seven consecutive behinds into the second half.  But once Kenrick Tyrell and company got started, they didn’t let up, finishing on a 51-1 run and taking the opening game.

The loss seemed to take the wind out of Chicago’s sails, and against the Bulldogs they again were overmatched.  The magic that Jason Wilhelm’s side found in their upset win against Minnesota earlier in the season just wasn’t there, and though they fought hard against Andy Vanica and Denver, they again went down 39-13.

To decide Pool B, it would in fact be Austin and Denver.  And this would be the best game of the day.  The pace was frantic, and the footy was of high quality.  Austin’s forwards were the more successful, though, as Ben May, Chris Merritt and the midfielders kept getting the ball to Stefan Barr and big Tyrell, and he and the forward line did work. Only a single Denver goal interrupted a champagne opening term for the Crows.  Denver coach Tom Ellis tried to rally his team with a fiery speech at halftime, and after five minutes of work they earned a goal and it looked like the comeback was on.  The Crows would answer with two goals, quashing any hope of a return.   Austin cruised 53-21 to clinch a spot in the final.

So the Division I Grand Final saw the last two National Champions, #2 New York and #3 Austin square off. The Magpies’ attrition was apparent, as they had to call on Chicago’s Wilhelm to fill in at ruck in order to have 18 players.  But he was no match for Austin’s Nolan Cox, and just as they did against Denver, Barr, Travis Avera, Jesse Aguirre, and “Lord” Kendrick Tyrell picked apart the Magpie defenders.  Tyrell, who led the Orange County Bombers to the Divvy 1 final a season ago, would be awarded the MVP medal for the final match for his dominate play.

Despite the fact that the Magpies were tired and down 33 at the half, however, they showed why they were the defending champions, digging in and making things tougher for Austin in the final 20 minutes.  The ‘Pies would outkick the Crows five goals to two in the second stanza, but midfield slowed down the play enough and saw out the match.  When the siren went, coach Grant Campbell, who himself played well in the forward line, celebrated with his team the 53-32 triumph.  Cox, whose younger brother Mason is currently plying his trade for Collingwood’s VFL team, was awarded Best and Fairest for the Division.

New York’s two losses on the year have both come at regionals, their other one being to Ft. Lauderdale at the Easterns in mid-April.  Austin, however, is now 8-0 to start the year, and with their new weapon joining an already talented team, they can safely assume the mantle of favorites when they host Nats in three months.

Pool A W L %   Pool B W L %
New York Magpies 2 0 250.00   Austin Crows 2 0 300.00
Minnesota Freeze 1 1 104.41   Denver Bulldogs 1 1 90.91
Houston Lonestars 0 2 35.71   Chicago Swans 0 2 29.67

POOL GAMES:
New York 4.9.33 def Houston 2.2.14
Austin 7.10.52 def Chicago 2.2.14
Denver 5.9.39 def Chicago 2.1.13
Minnesota 8.3.51 def Houston 2.4.16
Austin 8.5.53 def Denver 3.3.21
New York 8.4.52 def Minnesota 3.2.20

THIRD PLACE: Denver 10.2.62 def Minnesota 1.1.7
GRAND FINAL: Austin 8.5.53 def New York 5.2.32

WOMEN’S DIVISION

That what was originally a three-team tournament was reduced to a single, four-quarter game did not take away from one of the better women’s matches played in some time in the USAFL.

Minnesota travelled well and brought a number of the players that will play for the US in the Parallel Cup later this month.  They are well known for being a cohesive unit and, playing against a combined side, would’ve been a good choice to pick to win the match.

But the New York Magpies have been flexing their muscles of late, and they brought a four game winning streak to the game in Racine.  They would team up with the Columbus Jillaroos, who lacked experience but brought passion and augmented the ‘Pies talent perfectly.  Also taking part were Tulsa’s Chelsea Vance and Chicago’s Amy McGuinness, both trying to stoke the fires of the women’s game in their own home towns.

The opening half was a back and forth affair, and every player on the field stayed involved from the beginning.  Both sides had lightning rods; Minnesota’s Cathy Hoha and New York’s Kim Hemenway both gave their opposite numbers fits, but it was the Pies who had made the most of the opportunities.  Despite holding a 39-20 advantage at the main break, it was very much anyone’s game.

Hoha and the Freeze began the second half with a quick goal, and threatened to burst open the floodgates.  But New York’s Drea Cassillas, Lissa Regets, and the Jillaroos’ Stephanie McKitrick would stem the tide and create chances on the break.  However, just as those transitions would find Regets, Heather Serpico, Leah Heller, and Janet Beyersdorf free, Minnesota’s defense would return the favor in kind.  Terri Tupper and Nefla Poff made things difficult for the attackers, and the third-quarter would end a stalemate with both teams earning just eight additional points for their troubles.

Starting the fourth quarter, the Magpies got off on the front foot and appeared to drive away with the lead.  Again Hemenway, who was named MVP, and Regets led the charge forward, and though they would get five scoring shots in the final term, only one of them went for a sausage roll.

With seven minutes to go, the Freeze saddled up the wagons and mounted a desperate push.  A solid mark and goal from Emily Smuder, playing in her first USAFL match since her knee injury in the International Cup last year, gave Minnesota life.  Another goal from Hoha in the frantic minutes that followed made a comeback seem real.  But they would run out of time, and though the Magpies/Jillaroos combination would end the game on their heels, they had a 57-42 victory.

New York earned their second trophy of the season with the victory, and moved to 5-0 on the year.  For Columbus, it was their first trophy in club history, and for McKitrick, who is the longest tenured Jill, the victory had special meaning.

“It was a good team effort, and it felt really rewarding after going through everything over the last couple of years with the team almost disappearing,” she said.  “It’s amazing to see what we have become.  It wasn’t just some of us and most of them [New York], it was a combined effort from both teams.  It didn’t quite feel real at first, but it was awesome.”

New York/Columbus 8.9.57 def Minnesota 6.6.42

MEN DIVISION II:

The minor card on the tournament was full of action despite the amount of attrition plaguing the sides who contested it. 

Dallas, bringing just eighteen players with them to Wisconsin, opted to play down in Divvy 2, and were the favorites emerge victorious at day’s end.  Their opening game saw them pick apart an even more undermanned Des Moines Roosters club.  Though game, the Roosters were no match for robust midfielder Craig Storer’s runs through the middle, and the ‘Pies waltzed to a 66-18 win.  Ohio Valley’s encounter with Des Moines was just as convincing, as the River Rats also handled the Roosters, this time by a 76-20 scoreline.

Led by Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and Dave Zitko, the River Rats posed the “uncatchable force” to Dallas’s “immovable object”.  Dallas is known as one of the most physically toughest teams in the country, and Brenn Miller, Jack O’Dell, and the rest proceeded to muscle their way through the River Rats defense.  Taking the Pool A deciding match 46-8, the Magpies’ 112 points led all teams in offense, and they didn’t show any signs of slowing down come Grand Final time.

Meanwhile, it was Columbus and Tulsa who would come together to determine Dallas’s opponent.  Both teams made short work of the combination side featuring the Indianapolis Giants and Milwaukee Bombers.  Despite an honorable showing, the combo fell 34-12 to the Jackaroos despite leading at halftime, then went down 54-1 to the Buffaloes.

Columbus came out swinging in the last match of the round, jumping out to an eleven point halftime lead.  Clyde Simpson plagued the Buffs defenders, and the balanced Jack attack looked to put the game away early. But Jason Snooks and Dustin Brasel’s team were not about to go gentle into that good afternoon, and rallied with two goals in the second term.  But that’s as close as they would get, as the Jackaroos held on 37-22.

To the final, with #7 Dallas and #13 Columbus clashing for the first time in their history.  And just like they had in their previous two games on that Saturday, the Magpies would dominate their half of the field.  Tim Zorka had free reign inside the 50-meter-arc, kicking the first goal of the match.  But that reign was paused when he was sin-binned for a sling tackle of the Jackaroos fullback into the hard ground.  The finishing would disappear with the big forward, as six more scoring shots would all go behind the big posts.  Columbus had a few ventures forward, but trailed 12-1 at the break.

Chet Ridenour founded the Jackaroos seven years ago, and has long been their heart and soul.  At halftime, he brought his team into a frenzy with an impassioned speech worthy of John Kennedy or Ron Barassi.  Putting his money where his mouth was, Ridenour played like a man possessed out of the halfback line, and his team followed suit.  But Dallas was too strong, and Storer, who would take home both Best and Fairest and MVP honors, kept the ball away from Columbus defenders.  The ‘Pies would kick three straight goals in the second half, then stifle the comeback attempt to come away 30-14 victors.

Dallas’s victory, though not against the same caliber competition as that in Division I, is an important one as they try to hang onto the same status at Nationals.  Columbus, meanwhile, could hold their heads high at a good performance overall as they prepare for another year in Divvy 2.

Pool A W L %   Pool B W L %
Dallas Magpies 2 0 430.77   Columbus Jackaroos 2 0 191.18
Ohio Valley River Rats 1 1 127.27   Tulsa Buffaloes 1 1 237.50
Des Moines Roosters 0 2 26.76   Indianapolis/Milwaukee 0 2 14.77

POOL GAMES:
Dallas 10.6.66 def Des Moines 3.0.18
Columbus 4.10.34 def Indy/Milwaukee 2.0.12
Ohio Valley 12.4.76 def Des Moines 3.2.20
Tulsa 7.12.54 def Indy/Milwaukee 0.1.1
Columbus 4.7.31 def Tulsa 3.4.22
Dallas 7.4.46 def Ohio Valley 1.2.8

THIRD PLACE: Tulsa 3.5.23 def Ohio Valley 1.7.13
GRAND FINAL: Dallas 4.6.30 def Columbus 2.2.14

The league would like to thank the folks at Real Racine for their efforts and their hospitality in helping us put together the Central Regionals, and we look forward to returning there soon. 

Photo: Scott Olsen

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