2018 Season Previews - Men North

The Midwest is known for its agriculture, its rolling landscapes, and its personal charm.  No surprise then that it’s where the USAFL’s origins were cultivated.

Many of the clubs in the Central Region, especially up north, are made up of mostly American born players.  Many of them have gone on to represent the US with the Revolution and play in the International Cup.  Such is the case here, especially in Columbus, Indianapolis, and Des Moines.

With gridiron football rivalries abounding, there is no surprise that long-time Aussie Rules rivalries have thrived here as well, going back to the days of the old MAAFL.  They will be renewed during the year, at Central Regionals in Nashville, and at Nationals in Racine.  Add to that the invaders from the Great White North, and you have a very competitive region.

Calgary is very much on the D1/D2 bubble, but if they don’t stay up in D1, you could very well see four teams from this article battling it out in Divvy 2, which should stoke the rivalry fires a bit more.

With Six D1 and D2 Grand Final appearances and three D2 premierships to their credit, the Calgary Kangaroos have proven themselves amongst one of the best teams to play at the USAFL Nationals.  Part of it may stem from the fact that no one in the USAFL gets to see them play before October, as they play their schedule north of the border (where the rapids, and beer, run fierce).

Having won Division 2 in 2016 over Columbus, the ‘Roos had eyes for the D1 title, but they were swept by Golden Gate, Dallas, and Denver.  They had played all three tough, with standout performances by Aussie veteran Daniel McLeod, and midfield workhorse Michael Karutz.

Much like USAFL clubs, the teams in AFL Canada spend much time and resources finding and recruiting local talent, and the Kangaroos have done a lot in the past couple of offseasons to bring folks in through their social and indoor footy programs.  With veterans such as Alex Rowe, Matthew Ryan, and Craig Sargent departing, Calgary are hoping that their Canadian nationals will pick up the slack.  Trent Loosemore, who played for the Northwind at IC17, leads the pack of locals who are steadily improving with every game.

Calgary will welcome in the Portland Steelheads as part of the annual Kelwona Cup, and will be clashing with strong sides from Vancouver and Edmonton during the year.  They’re one of the few “bubble” teams between D1 and D2.  How they fare during the year, and how other teams on the D1/D2 cusp go, may determine where they land in Racine.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Low Seed, Division 1

If one were to come up with a visualization for the Chicago Swans recent seasonal form, it would have to be Woodstock, the bird from the Peanuts comic strip.  Well meaning, full of passion, but a flight path all over the place.  Plus, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Nathan Bird looked like when crashing into the goal post in Boston a la Leigh Matthews.  Good times.

The Bloods went 4-5 at during the campaign before going three-and-out in D2 against Houston, Quebec, and Portland.  Still, last year was a positive one for the boys from Chicagoland, as they had two players – Jeff Kraemer (USA) and Stu Nicol (Scotland) represented their countries in 2017, as did newcomer Christoph Odenthal (Germany).  Kraemer in particular did standout work as the Revos fullback, and perhaps was unlucky not to be named to the All-World team.

Odenthal and Aussie Marcus Colby join the fray this year, and AJ Crossley hopes to raise the eyebrows of the Revos selectors in this, his second season.  Chicago’s recruiting efforts have been apples so far in 2018, with recruits Christian Burkhardt and Taylor McPherson already impressing their teammates with how quickly they’re picking up the game.  Bird will be back again, and all joking regarding him getting into fights with inanimate objects aside, he is one of the team’s most constant players.

Games against Boston and regional rivals Columbus and Minnesota highlight the schedule, and the Swans should match up well against all of them.  Where they will be come October is a bit of a toss-up, as they’re right on the D2/D3 cusp.  If they’re in D3, they’re certain title contenders, but don’t write them off should they slot in Divvy 2.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Low Seed, Division 2

Playing as the Ohio Valley River Rats for nearly a decade, the Dockers went it alone following the 2017 regular seasons and headed to Nationals with players from Cleveland, Las Vegas, and Indianapolis.

Cincy played most of their regular season games against regional competition, including the Giants and Jackaroos.  They should much pluck during the year, finishing 3-4.  Playing in Division 4, they would win both games on Nationals Saturday before falling to eventual champion Oklahoma.

The Dockers, one of the league’s two original clubs, heads into their 23rd season which much of their core veterans back.  Woody Stone, Kyle Strenki, and Scotty Schroeder pace a team that is feisty and frantic with the footy.  They are a good and crafty side, and are a tough nut to crack for the opposition.

Depending on how the chips fall, Cincy might find them back up in Division 3 in Racine.  If they’re in Division 4 again, they might be hauling another trophy back to the Queen City.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Low Seed, Division 3

Optimism has abounded over the past couple of seasons in Believeland, with the Cannons bulking up their numbers and getting a steady group out to matches, if not on shorter sides.  They weren’t on any winning combination sides in 2017, though they joined with Cincinnati to travel to Pittsburgh and give the Philadelphia Hawks one of their strongest showings of the regular season.  The banded with the Dockers and Indianapolis at Nationals and came one win short of the Grand Final in Division 4.

It’s been a quiet winter in the Cannons camp, and there has been very little news as to their plans for this season.  They may bring a couple of players down to Nashville for the Central regionals and after that, it’s anyone’s guess.  We hope to update you as soon as we learn more.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

Luck be a lady.  And sometimes that lady is Cruella de Vil.  Or Maleficent.  Or Ursula from Little Mermaid.  Or the owner from Major League.  What was her name?  I don’t remember.

The defending D2 runners up from 2016, the Jacks’ 2017 season turned with the knee of Mark McClure; their season seemingly snapped along with big Stork’s ACL at the Eastern Regionals in June.  They were 7-1 before McClure went down, 0-7 after it.  There were a number of other injuries in there as well, including veteran American Eric Politz, and Columbus limped into Nationals at the eighth seed in Division 3.  They redeemed themselves with a hearty 1-2 in San Diego, their lone a testy affair against Philadelphia.

Recruiting has been strong and swift for the Jacks, as they prepare for a tough bi-regional schedule.  Never afraid to challenge themselves, they’ll take part in the EAFL round-robin, where they will have the likes of New York and Baltimore to try and crack, as well as their rivalry matchup with Chicago.  Rob Adams, who will play for the Revos in Ireland this summer, and has been a perennial sparkplug.  Simon Leadston stepped up as captain with Clyde Simpson being away for the IC and lead from the front; the team will look to him again, as well as big Adam Peterson.

If McClure, Simpson, and Politz can stay healthy during the grueling schedule, they’ll give the other teams all they can handle.  The dip down to D3 might be a temporary one, as they should be back in the D2 circuit in Racine.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Low Seed, Division 2

The state of Iowa is known for its football prowess, at least on the gridiron.  One would argue that its stature in Aussie Rules is highly underrated, especially with a D4 championship from 2012 under its belt.

The 80/35 Des Moines 10s tournament is the grand kickoff to the season, and last season the Roosters almost took it home, boosted by a solid half-dozen strong recruiting class.  They came up one game short, losing to Minnesota-B in the final.  Though they would struggle to pick up wins during the year, finishing 0-3 in D4 at Nationals, the play of Ben Judge and Hamilton May, both for club and country, represented the side with distinction.  Two-thirds of the Roosters’ founding troika retired following Nationals, with coach Paul Fradd and longtime stalward Tyler Kammerman stepping aside.

Des Moines’ tenth season sees recruiting off to a hot start, and it has yielded the acquisition of a lot of athleticism and speed.  A mostly American outfit, Peter Bailey and Josh Judge join the fray alongside Josh Stec and John Johnson, and the rest of the veterans.

Consistent numbers will be the key for a good season from Des Moines, who base their game on speed and skills, and who play well at home.  If they field a full team during the year, and can get a good group for the short journey to Wisconsin, they’ll make a good size dent in Division 3.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Low Seed, Division 3

2018 will be a pivotal year for the G-men.  Like Des Moines, they struggled with having consistent numbers on the ground, and ended up pairing with Cincy, Chicago, and Nashville during the year, and admittedly it was a bit of a step back from the promise they showed two years ago.  They did send a couple of players to play with Cincinnati and Cleveland in Division Four, and the play of Phil Lash and Liam Sawyer helped the squad to a 2-1 finish on the weekend.

The good news is that like their AFL counterparts at GWS, Indy’s younger players have gained a lot of experience during their formative years, and they are poised to break out this year.  Sawyer and 2016 team best-and-fairest Sam Gould are strong on the ball, and both proved it when they hosted regionals two years ago.  They’ll get feeds from ruck Grant Lamie, and look for the target of defender-turned-forward Pete Elliot.  A further boost should come in midseason, when Revo prospect Shane Branscum is expected to return from an ACL injury that sidelined him for most of last year.

With a ramped up social media presence expanding their reach in the Hoosier State, and with both Regionals and Nationals being within easy reach, the Giants should bring full, competitive sides to both.  If they’re able to wrangle the numbers to Racine, they could be a strong D4 finalist hopeful.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

Minnesota is known for its long winters, where anything above zero in January is balmy.  It’s also known as the place where the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl.  Sorry, Not Sorry.

On the footy field, however, 2017 was a year where the Freeze men emerged from the winter of rebuilding to produce a strong campaign, one that ended on Nationals Sunday morning at the hands of the Orange County Bombers.  Mark Fischer’s squad had figured to be an outsider during the year, but with a strong showing at the Western Regionals, and an overall record of 11-3, they are once again back in the conversation as Division 2 threats.

The key to their emergence from the frozen cocoon and into the warm sunlight of advancement is their experience, with players such as Brent Fischer, Zach Weaver, David Walsh, and David Meissner.  Fischer is coming off one of his best seasons, including a masterfully consistent performance at IC17 for the Revos.  They’ll also get the services of teenage sensation CJ Adams, who came up through DC Junior Eagles, as he’ll be attending the University of Minnesota.

Big Fish (that would be Mark) and the Freeze have focused on fitness and indoor sessions, as is their wont.  And so far it’s paying off on the recruitment front, but also on the retention one as well.  The Freeze are back, and with a good draw, will be back to be playing for their first cup since they took out D2 in 2012.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: High Seed, Division 2

Located in the capital of Madison, the Wisconsin Wombats will have Nationals right down the road from them this year.  That should be a big boost in their second full year as they continue to establish themselves in a large college town.

Last year saw them play their first standalone games as part of the 80/35 tournament in Des Moines, and though they went 0-2, they showed promise in a two-point loss to Minnesota.  They have a good core group, led by hometown boy Lucas Pillar, and continue their recruiting push this year.  Nationals in Racine will be a good size carrot, and they should hopefully get some help from a rebuilding Milwaukee Bombers outfit as part of that boost.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

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