2018 Nationals Preview: Womens D2, Mens D4 and Reserves

Developing clubs, both new and ongoing, are the symbol of growth throughout the USAFL.  Whether it be new clubs starting up in unchartered cities, or women's clubs adding to the rapidly growing base, the Women's D2, Men's D4 and Men's Reserve are perennial favorites.  Here are the competiting teams:


WOMEN’S DIVISION TWO

[COLUMBUS CATS, Philadelphia Hawks, Chicago Swans]
[BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON EAGLES, Boston Lady Demons]
[SACRAMENTO SUNS, Montreal Angels, Wisconsin Wombats]
[CALGARY KOOKABURRAS, Arizona Lady Hawks, North Star Blue Ox, Nashville Kangaroos]
[TEXAS HEAT, Los Angele Dragons, Oklahoma FC]

Still on the upswing from their 2014 renaissance, the Columbus Cats (nee Jillaroos) are topped up by two clubs who are also putting things together on the women’s side, the Philadelphia Hawks and Chicago Swans.  Columbus has just one win at Nationals since, but they have a good deal of optimism as they bring a mix of skill and aerial prowess (Also Ariel prowess, as one Ariel Balske (CLB) is back in the forward line for C-bus).  Philly will want another taste of victory after winning the D2 title last season alongside Portland.

The Cats have fond memories of Racine, as they combined with New York to win the 2015 Central Regionals on the same ground.  Liberty midfielders Lauren Balsley (CLB), Amy Byrniarski (CLB), and forward Stephanie Shipley-Snyder will be reunited with Erica Sacci (PHI), a midfielder who is smart with the footy and has a long lasting battery.  Rookie Lindsey Turse (PHI) harried many an opponent at the Eastern Regionals and looks to impress on debut.  WA native Bronwyn Smith (CLB) adds another tall target alongside Katrina Scherer (CLB), and may platoon for “Sonic” in the ruck to allow the latter to show the scoring touch she unleashed playing for Bond University in the QWAFL this summer.  Former Iron Maiden Claudia Hendershaw (CHI) adds experience to the side, as does Aussie veteran Rebekah Quinn.

Having combined to take out the Eastern Regional title against mighty New York, the Baltimore-Washington Lady Eagles, and Boston Lady Demons join up as they have during the season on a couple of occasions during the regular season.  They’ll be joined by Des Moines’ Emily Rice (DSM), who is a handy swiss-army-knife of a player to have on any side.   The Lady “Deegles” finished with a 1-3 record and in fourth of the five clubs, but there was heaps of deserved optimism from both clubs, as BWE brought their largest women’s contingent and the Boston women contributed mightily to the effort.

Rookie Kristin Lough (BWE) was a revelation at the fullback position at Regionals, her first Nationals may be a breakout weekend.  Speed is in spades for this combo; Meriam Mehter (BWE) and Molly Halberstadt (BWE) were key midfielders during the season, and Katie Rhee (BOS) brings her youthful speed to the team with an ability to play both sides of the pill.  Veterans Alex Pike (BWE) and Karen Stablein (BWE) are key in getting the ball inside fifty, looking to put defenses back on their heels.

Having both stepped back from Division 1 play into D2 this year, the Sacramento Lady Suns and Montreal Angels add in two experienced Wisconsin Wombats players for a combo that has a bit of everything in terms of footballing skills.  Sacramento teamed with LA to edge out San Francisco in the final game of the season.  Montreal, the AFL Quebec women’s representative side, has added another team to their growing metro league and are reaping the benefits.

Essendon VFLW rover Valerie Moreau (MTL) returns after turning more than a few heads down in Melbourne this year.  She is very much on the AFLW draft radar, and her teammates in the middle will benefit from her McGuyver-like improvisational skills.  Having quick thinking mids like Erin Graham (SAC) and Vicki Schoenagel (SAC) IC14 MVP Aimee Legault (MTL) joins Caroline Leduc (MTL), fresh back from her stint in the WAFL, to pace an attack punctuated by forward snipers Christine Flok (SAC) and Nicolette Clark (SAC).  The defense is led by four National team products with quick closing speed: Margo Legault (MTL), Larissa Andrushyshyn (MTL), Liz Danielson (SAC), and Nafla Poff (WIS)

The last time Calgary was in Division 2 at Nationals, it was 2015 and they combined with Vancouver and Portland to romp home winners.  Here, they bring ten players down from the great white north and combine with teams from three eclectic locales: the North Star Blue Ox, the Arizona Lady Hawks, and the Nashville Kangaroos, the latter making their USAFL women’s debut.  All four Hawks and all three Kangas make their debut, while the Blue Ox make their sophomore run.

The crafty Canadian contingent from Calgary (alliteration rules!) is led by Northern Lights star Caroline Ireland (CGY), and have capable footballers in Becky Emerton (CGY) and Rebecca Mansell (CGY).  Of the debutants, there is great anticipation for Dani Marshall (AZH), a tall but incredibly speedy midfielder who many are predicting will be playing for the Freedom in 2020.  Fellow Hawks Casey Troy (AZH) and Cassie Cox (AZH) also had fantastic debuts at the Western Regionals and will try to do the same in Racine.  Nashville’s historic trio of Alexa Rancancio (NSH), Natalie Smith (NSH), and Lauryl Dench (NSH) impressed mightily at Centrals, and Dench’s quick closing defensive play can only get better alongside seasoned Freedom alumni Marie LaVictoire (NSBO).

One of the best stories to come out of the whole Nationals carnival last year was the Texas Heat, a combination of players from Dallas and Houston.  With most of them having only begun playing three months before their sojourn to San Diego.  They came home in third place, with a 2-2 record.  Now there is belief among the Heat ladies that they can go that extra lil’ bit to championship glory, and they’ll have some equally hungry women from Los Angeles and Oklahoma alongside them.  Incidentally, the LA women went 3-1 last year at Nationals with the Arizona Hawks, and helped the Portland Sockeyes take out the women’s Western Regionals as well.

If you feel the need – the need, for speed – the Heat breathing Dragons will have it in spades.  Aubrey Bagley (HOU) is the slight favorite to take out the Roos medal this year after coming one vote short last year.  She’ll work alongside dynamic duo Aileen Yoon (LA) and Yuie Kawakatsu (LA) and rugby convert Celeste Teroy (OKL) which should be must-watch TV when they play.  Up front, Leilani Silvio (LA) is always good for a goal a game; working with exciting rookies Kate Smith (HOU) and Freedom prospect Nadira Smith (HOU) should help boost that average.  Heat Captain Taylor Ballenger keystones the backline and has speedy options in front of her with Michelle Hotta (LA) and Delphina Delgadillo (LA) in toe.  Two veterans round out the group, with Joanne Beatty (DAL) and Beth Nollenberger (HOU) helping to round out the side.

PREVIOUS WOMEN’S DIVISION 2 WINNERS:
2015: Calgary/Portland/Vancouver (3-0 in Round Robin)
2016: Portland/Seattle/AZ Hawks/Tampa 7.4.46 def Montreal/Boston/Philadelphia/Chicago/Des Moines 1.2.8
2017: Portland/Philadelphia (4-0 in Round Robin)


MEN’S DIVISION FOUR

POOL A: Baltimore Dockers, Atlanta/Los Angeles-B, Seattle-B/Arizona Outlaws/Las Vegas

The Baltimore Dockers first season saw them play more football than just about anyone else in the USAFL; their 5-10 record saw them tangle with everyone from Boston all the way down to Nashville.  The Dock Show is the top seed of a group with a lot of talent, and they bring plenty of thunder (ruck Ben Crenca and forward Tracy Williams) and lighting (defender-captain Nick Sisca and WA native Bryn Hansen) to the party.

Focusing mostly on their local and social football in 2018, Wayne Kraska and the Atlanta Kookaburras come to Racine with solid fundamentals and a good chance of going through to the Sunday semis. Kookaburra defender Basil Benjamin and LA players Rick Shiabani and Trever Osterholm bring experience and patience to the combo.

Formed from a core of Arizona veterans in February, the Outlaws make their Nationals debut as a club alongside friendly rivals Las Vegas as well as the Seattle Grizzlies B side.  Ronnie and Robert Lutostanski provide the speed for the side as well as the quick transitions forward.  The Anderson clan – Brett, Matthew, and Cameron lead the way for the Gamblers who are still kickin out in the desert, while Dan Wix and Ed Ellis lead the charge for the Grizz-erves.

POOL B: Nashville Kangaroos, Houston-B/Fort Lauderdale, Wisconsin/Arizona Hawks

Nashville had a respectable 3-5 season, and as one of only two full sides here in Divvy four, seem to be a finals chance.  Led by the venerable David “Frosty” Harris, who played well for Tom Ellis and the Revos in Ireland this summer, the Kangaroos’ veteran core have helped their newer players along quite quickly.  Halfback Tim Dunn is a keen distributor of the football, and Aussie duo Joel Thornton and Steve van de Kamp will have the football a lot during the weekend.

And now it’s time for everyone’s favorite team name, the Fort Lauderdale Fighting Squids!  The Squids have been hard at work in their cave down in Florida, and come North paired with Houston’s B-side.  JJ Burke leads the Squids contingent, having spent the last year plying his trade for St. Mary’s in the Northern Territory and Jacana of the Essendon District Football League.  Former New York Magpie Pat Bilder had a good metro season, as did forward Neil Cohen.  Houston’s reinforcements are battle tested, and are led by veteran Adam Ruggles and former Oklahoma player, Ryan Minmier.

Representing the homes state are the up-and-coming Wisconsin Wombats, who will be paired with players from the Milwaukee Bombers and Arizona Hawks.  Call them the Flying Bombats.  This was the Wombats first full season of USAFL play; they showed flashes of brilliance behind Karl Galko and Lucas Pillar.  The Milwaukee group includes two old stalwarts; Brenton Riggall, and the ageless Paul “Plugger” O’Keeffe, and the Hawks will be led by the athletic Alexis Saucedo Fernandez and the versatile James Bingaman.


MEN’S DIVISION 4 PREVIOUS WINNERS
2007: Denver-B 112 def Golden Gate-B 13
2008: Ohio Valley 6.3.39 def Seattle-B 2.5.17
2009: Ohio Valley 3.5.33 def Orange Co./Des Moines 2.1.13
2010: New York-B 13.4.82 def Denver-B/Kansas City 0.3.3
2011: Ohio Valley/Milwaukee 4.2.26 def Ft. Lauderdale/Baltimore-Washington 3.2.20
2012: Des Moines 5.6.36 def Ohio Valley/Milwaukee 4.4.28
2013: Ohio Valley/Milwaukee 8.4.52 def North Carolina 4.7.31
2014: North Carolina 7.2.44 def Denver-B/Kansas City 4.6.30
2015: San Diego 7.5.47 def Kansas City 4.3.27
2016: Ohio Valley 8.5.53 def Tampa Bay 7.2.44
2017: Oklahoma 6.11.47 def New York/OC/Portland-B 0.1.1


MEN’S DIVISION RESERVES

Golden Gate Roos, Austin Crows, Denver Bulldogs, New York/Portland/Minnesota

The Austin Crows’ reserves were the only thing that stood between the Golden Gate AFL and a historic three-peat, beating the Roos in the first ever Reserves Grand Final.  Noor Jenghir won another Roos medal in the process as the Crows look to go for a double.  Golden Gate will look for revenge from the likes of young Sam Warren and George Smyth.  Denver has some legendary names of yore in their ressies roster, including Rich Mann, Dan Umbdenstock, and Brent Dowling.  Sean Holmesby and the New York B’s will team up with Portland and Minnesota, the latter led by the great Charlie Nelson.

RESERVES PREVIOUS WINNERS:
2017: Austin 7.6.48 def Golden Gate 3.0.18

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