Whiz Wit - Previewing the Eastern Regional Championships

Philadelphia is a city of beginnings.

It was America’s first major city, it’s first capital, and the birthplace of this country’s two most important documents.  It’s where Ben Franklin, Mike Schmidt, and Ed Rendell had their best years.  It’s an area that loves its history, its culture, and its sport.  In the words of comedian Joe Conklin, “It’s the only place where babies learn to boo before they can walk.”

It’s also the only place in America where you can get a decent cheesesteak.  Don’t try and fight me on this, you will lose.

The city founded in 1682 by William Penn was bounded by rivers on either side.  The Schuylkill River (that’s SCHOOL-kill for you tourists), known as a rowers’, hikers’, and runners’ paradise, formed the western end of what is now Center City Philadelphia.  Follow it upstream a few miles and you’ll come across a lovely bit of green called Lower Perkiomen Valley Park, not far from where George Washington took a couple of historical spekkies over the Brits about 200+ years ago. 

In an area known for firsts, it’s fitting that this here will be the first site of the magical summer road trip that is the USAFL Regional Championships Series.

Three divisions of teams will take to the ground this Saturday, two men’s and one women’s.  For the women, there is a favored whole side looking to stay at the top of this region.  For the men, however, there is more parity in the region than at any time in recent memory.  Both divisions are fairly wide open, and we might need to break out ye olde abacus to determine who walks away with the hardware on Saturday.

Here is a look at how each division shakes out:

USAFL Eastern Regional Championships
Saturday, June 23rd, 2018 -- 9am to 6pm EDT
Lower Perkiomen Valley Park, Oaks, PA
Online Coverage - To Be Confirmed

#6 New York Magpies (2-1)
#19 Philadelphia Hawks (2-1)
#20 North Carolina Tigers (2-1)

Three weekends after meeting under ominous skies at NC State University, the Magpies, Hawks, and Tigers will clash again as part of the Men’s Division 1 roundel in Philly.  On that day, all three teams split, with New York edging out Carolina by eight points before the Hawks felled them by 27.  The Tigers notched their win over Philadelphia in a game that was called early after Thor woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

In previous years, one would look at this grouping of teams and think that that the Magpies would have it all locked up, and that the other two would be playing for second vittles.  New York has not performed as well on the road over the last two seasons, but the Magpies’ record in Philly should mitigate that factor a bit.  Add to the fact that both the Hawks and Tigers have improved in 2018, and this looks to be an even clash all the way round, one that might very well be decided by percentage.

How this group will play out will depend on how well the other two teams can defend against New York’s good ball movement and ability to pick out players in uncontested situations.  Though Aussies like Shane Lowry, Jimmy Poulach and Troy Danillo help make the engine go for the ‘Pies, is their veteran American core of Mike Murphy, Mike Frietta, and Ojas “Juice” Desai that strike with the quickness and swiftness of scorpion tails.

North Carolina would’ve love to have played their opening EAFL round match in DC following their win over Baltimore the road in Wilmington back in April, but with a 2-1 record coming into regionals, the Tigers have a little bit of momentum going.  A historically disciplined side led by captain Peter Capozziello, Revo Erik Hansen keystones a defensive side will look to strike on counters with attackers like Scott Bradley and Golden Gate transfer Jacob Aulmer lurking.

But both need to watch out for Jon Loring’s Philadelphia Hawks, who will come into this weekend brimming with a bit of confidence.  Their win over New York was just their second in their twenty year history, and they did it while missing two of their better players in Ryan McGettigan and Ryan Henry.  McGettigan will be back, as will kamikaze forward Jon Ginsburg to try and light up the scoreboard.  It will be up to Loring, Pat Miller, Bradd Gower and the Philly defense to help bring a title home by stopping some potent forward play coming their way.

New York Magpies (2-2)

Christina Licata’s New York Magpies come down to Philly the most battle tested of the bunch, and are in search of their fourth straight regional title.  Having recruited well in the offseason to bolster their numbers, the ‘Pies came within a bee’s paw of taking out the Montreal tournament two weekends ago.  Defensively their pretty stacked, with stalwarts Drea Casillas and Taylor Davidson leading the backliners.  The key to victory will be persistent offensive pressure, which will start from the middle with Natalie Wolff and newcomer Bree Mackenzie, and need to be punctuated consistently by Kim Hemenway and company up front.

But the showcase of this competition, as it has been over the last two years, has been the growth of the women’s game in the East.  The Baltimore-Washington Lady Eagles, who brought a dozen strong to Nationals last year, will bring slightly more to than that to the Hawks’ Nest and will have a bit of strength behind them to boot.  The “Lady Dee-gles” will have some speed in the middle, with Miriam Mehter, Molly Halberstadt, and Katie Rhee there to trouble the defenders.  Add in defender Alex Pike, tough players like Belinda Edwards and Kendall Jennings, and this combination will be there to contend on Saturday.

Columbus and the Philadelphia Hawks ladies join forces to round out the triumvirate.  The Cats ladies played well despite being shorthanded in a tough loss in Chicago a fortnight ago, and will come to Philly with a team is relentless at the footy.  Midfielder Amy Byrniarski will be joined by two teammates from last summer’s Liberty tour, Erica Sacci and Amy Arundale.  Both have speed and offensive prowess, feeding into the attack where Stephanie Shipley-Snyder and company will try to pierce the tough defenses in front of them.  Former beach handball player Bronwyn Smith will be the tall target, and be called on to generate chances as well.

#18 DC Eagles (2-0)
Baltimore Dockers (1-3)
Columbus Cats (0-0)
#16 Boston Demons (2-1)

As even as the first division quartet is, the four teams here are very well matched, and this one too may come down to percentage in the end.

Last year, the Baltimore-Washington Eagles handsomely took home ERC D1 title, and stamped their authority on the East.  This season, teammates are now rivals, as the DC Eagles and Baltimore Dockers as they are now known, square off in this group.  The Eagles have two wins against Baltimore, and three losses against the weather; three of their games have been washed away by rain, and the forecast seems foreboding again this weekend.  Big Sam Rowley leads the capital boys, and newcomers like Jesse Mayer and veteran Bort Edwards will be important in the backline, augmenting the veteran core of a team with Jake Moyer and Jay Levesque.

As for the Dockers, they have played four solid games of footy; tough losses in tough conditions to Carolina, DC, and Philly have been balanced by a huge road win in Nashville a few weeks ago.  The Dockers are looking for a breakout event, and this weekend might be it.  The Dockers have a lot of lumber about them, between Ian Payne, Ben Crenca, and Tracey Williams who are good at the aerial game as well.  Travis “Rocket” Flight and Bryn Hansen are two of the Dockers Aussie stars, balanced out by solid Americans like Paul LaShier and Nick Sisca.

Columbus and their new moniker debuted this season teaming up with players from Indianapolis and a few other teams in a loss two weeks ago in Chicago.  Their first set of games, the first round of EAFL, was rained out, so they will be chomping at the bit to get in some full-on footy in Philly.  Captain Clive Simpson is away in Rainbow, Victoria, so it will be up Revo products Rob Adams and Eric Politz and to stoke the fires of the Buckeye Boys.  Consistent action at the footy is the key and players like Declan Stimpson, Dean Panik, and Adam Laurer, will be in the middle of that to try and pin back their opponents. 

Boston will be travelling light down to Philly, but the Dees are a team that will turn you into quartz dust if you underestimate them.  Their two wins are against debutants Maine, though they are looking to steady themselves after a heavy defeat in Montreal a couple of weeks ago.  The Dees have experience to boot, starting in the middle with ruck Geoff Hamshar and onballer Ari Joniec.  Young tall John “Stretch” Newton, Will Calvert-Jones, and former Sacramento Sun Tom Ivester will be in the midfielders’ crosshairs on attack, while PJ Devine and the defense will have to contend with a lot of big bodies on some of the other teams.

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