Carolina in My Mind: Eastern Regionals Preview

North Carolina is a vast, diverse state.  Its terrain and culture are wide and varied, from the mountainous west to the oceanic east, with fertile plains and cities in between. 

It’s home to several prestigious universities, the place where the first successful human flight took place, and where you best like your BBQ pork sopped with vinegar because that’s how they eat it down there.

They also have a legendary sports history, especially in basketball.  The home of the Dukies, the Heels, the Deacs, and the Wolfpack.  Where the legends of guys like Worthy and Jordan and Volvano and Smith were born.  It was also the home of the legendary Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks of the World League of American Football, who went 0-10 in their only season in 1991.  That was fun.

Smack dab in the middle of the state is Raleigh, the capital named after the great explorer, home of the North Carolina Tigers.  The American version of the YELLOW AND BLACK! are steeped in the long history of Australian Football in the US, being one of the first USAFL clubs.  And it is they, and North Carolina State University, that plays host to the middle leg of the USAFL Regional Series, with the Eastern Regional Tournament.

USAFL EASTERN REGIONAL TOURNAMENT
Saturday, June 24th, 2017
10am - 4pm
North Carolina State University Miller Fields, Raleigh, NC
Broadcast (Delay: youtube.com/usafl1997)
After party: Carolina Ale House, 500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh

Six men’s clubs enumerating seven teams will take to the ground.  In Divvy 1, they’re chasing the New York Magpies, who might, just might, be able to take the #1 spot in the league when the next poll comes out at the end of the month, now that Austin are no longer immortal.   The hosts are a part of Division 2, where they meet two scrappy sides looking to make an impact.

On the women’s side, a full length display of national team players, rookies, and veterans alike is on tap, with the New York Lady Magpies looking to win a regional title for the third straight year.

Here is how the teams will look.

Disclaimer: As of publication, none of the teams have released their rosters for the regionals. The author cannot be held responsible for mentioning any players who aren't coming this weekend.



The New York Magpies opened the year with a win over Baltimore-Washington by six goals at home in conditions where webbed feet would’ve been more effective than the cleats that were worn by the combatants.  The ‘Pies are the #2 ranked team in the country, a rating that a certain group of footballers in the Bay Area may strongly disagree with, and depending on what happens this weekend, they could very well be challenging for first, with Austin going down a fortnight ago.

Long the superior team in the East, Sean Holmesby’s team has been inconsistent on the road.  But they still have a strong core of vets, including forwards Toby Carrington, Brenton Hocking, and Matt Lovell, as well as Americans including Ojas “Juice” Desai, Eddie Heppt, and Revolution national teamer Mike “Magic” Murphy.  New York will be a hard nut to crack, and the proof will be in that third game against the Jacks at the end of the day when the heat becomes a factor.

Columbus comes to Raleigh as the 11th ranked team, and always seem to be in a continuous dogfight with the teams around them in terms of superiority. Their A side are 2-1-1 against the Tiges all time, while the Jackaroos have taken both meetings against BWE, both times at Nationals.  Excluding their metro games against Cleveland, they are 3-1 so far this year, their only loss an undermanned but hearty defeat at Boston.

The Jacks are a mostly American outfit, and teams will need to contend with “the Stork,” mark McClure in the ruck, as well as speedy midfielders Clyde Simpson and Dan Hamilton, and crumbers Rob Adams and Matt Beeghley.  Their matchup against North Carolina will be the most entertaining, seeing as though both sides are known for playing with a ton of heart.

The Boston Demons are a rung below Columbus on the ladder at number 12, and like New York, they have been known to be inconsistent on the road.  After defeating the Jackaroos, Memorial Day weekend, they went up to Montreal where they fell by two goals to the Quebec Saints, who they’ll host next weekend.

Scrappy would be the way to describe the Dees, but not in a desperate way.  They work hard, and hard working veterans like PJ Devine, Ross Druckenmiller, and Ari Joniec are supplemented by high flier Jeremy Humm and young gun Aaron Tenbuuren. 

Bringing two sides down to Carolina this weekend, the #15 Baltimore-Washington Eagles will end up playing all five of the teams joining them at Miller Fields.  The Eagles are 1-1 so far, losing to the Magpies in the quagmire, then thumping the undermanned Hawks on the road.

Revo Jay Levesque has been the heart and soul of the Eagles for years, and now he has a team around him that can challenge with the big boys.  Speaking of which, Tracy Williams will be there, and with big Sam Rowley playing in the middle, Williams has gone up front alongside Ian Paine, also a piece of tall timber.  Efficient forward Keith Thornburg and the acrobatic Nick Siska are among a compliment of up and coming American players for the birds of the Beltway.

A trip to Pittsburgh two weeks ago and a win over a combined Cleveland Cannons / Ohio Valley River Rats side was just the medicine needed for the Philadelphia Hawks’ confidence, given that it was their first regular season win in two years.  They will face two teams they match up well against, and they could very well go 2-0 on the weekend.

Current Revo Ryan McGettigan remains the key target in the forward line, alongside wrecking ball Jon Ginsburg.  They’ll miss goal sneak Ray Cascella who broke his hand in the loss to BWE, leaving Greg “GG” Glasgow to pick up the slack, something he is adept at doing.  Former Revolution members Pat Miller and Jon Loring, and midfield terror Dan Greenberg will be the keys to the Hawkers going back up the corridor with 2 W’s in their pocket.

That just leaves the home team, and this is a case of “last, but certainly not least.”  The North Carolina Tigers fell to Portland in the Division 3 National Championship game last year, and they used that loss as the impetus for a good start to 2017, turning aside Atlanta to open the year.  They get Columbus, Philly, and the Eagles-B side, and if they keep up the pace that got them their first win, they could get two, possible three wins.

Curly-haired and athletic, Erik Hanson is the talisman for the Tiges.  He’ll be heading to Melbourne this August for the International Cup as well, and longtime Tigers Nick Capozziello and Scott Bradley have to be watched at all times lest they bury you with possession and accuracy.


WOMEN’S MATCH

NEW YORK/BOSTON/PHILADELPHIA v BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON/COLUMBUS

Two notes before looking at this matchup.  Firstly, the teams above are subject to change based on the teams’ discretion on the day, and this preview is for the 4x20 match to take place in the morning.  There is a second, 2x20 game later in the day.

Each of these five clubs spent the first months of the season playing metro footy up and down the east coast, picking up new recruits and giving the veterans a good jump on their own skills.  It also represented the first hitouts for the players going to Australia to play in IC17 as part of the Freedom, or who will be touring as part of the Liberty.

The New York Lady Magpies claw campaign to get back to the upper echelons of the women’s game continue, and they looked good in their opening matches at home and in Philly, and played solidly despite dropping both games in Montreal.  

The defense is strong, keystoned by Freedom defenders Nat Wolff and Drea Casillas, the USAFL’s Secretary of Defense.  Andi Hargrave has established herself consistently in the ruck, and if she plays aside Boston and Philly as advertised, will most likely be sharing those duties with Boston’s Amanda King.  Speedy Aussies KJ Russell and Julie Lee punctuate the attack alongside the omnipotent Kim Hemenway, and second year player Ari Lockett has improved steadily, as has Liberty selection Clare Algozin. 

Boston’s Lady Demons will be reunited with the Lady Hawks of Philadelphia, with whom they joined forces to finish as D2 runners up last season, and again in Philly as they fell to the Magpies/Eagles combo.  The aforementioned Amanda King, who will be going to IC17 to play for the European Crusaders, will be a key target when she’s not in the ruck.  Tracey Toner and Ashley Mallet each have different weapons, but their midfield play will be imperative, as will that of Liberty player Cailin Deal and impressive rookie Katie Rhee. 

As for the Hawks contingent, Amy Arundale and Erica Sacci are elusive and athletic, and will be difficult to contain in the midfield.  Improving rookie Lauryn Kelly kicked her first goal in Boston as the Hawks played alongside Columbus, and she’d love another one in Raleigh.

Like the Dees and Hawks, Columbus Jillaroos and Baltimore-Washington Lady Eagles will also rekindle their Nationals partnership from last year. 

The Jills are 1-1 to start the year, having lost to Toronto at home and then going to Boston to beat the Lady Dees with the help of the Philly girls.  Katrina “Sonic” Scherer was arguably the best rookie in the league last year, and this will be an important exercise before going to IC17.  Columbus’ Liberty players, Lauren Balsley and Amy Bryniarski look to trouble the middle of the ground, and they will look for targets up front, including another Liberty player, Stephanie Snyder.   Veteran defender Stephanie McKitrick anchors the back with accurate kickouts and timely hits.

Baltimore-Washington’s emerging women’s side is led by Freedom leader Emily Riehl, who is fast, accurate, and tricky.  She’ll be alongside the tireless Molly Halberstadt, who buzzes like a human bee around the ball, and newcomer Olivia Tritschler.

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