Season Preview Part III - Mens Central Region North

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… Ohio to be exact, the first USAFL clubs were born.

The game and the league have now spread their reach far and wide across this country, but the roots that were put down in the mid-1990’s are still very integral to the now and tomorrow of Aussie Rules here.

The upper Midwest, with its sporting history, its college base, and its industrial centers have been a hotbed for the game, and though some of the older clubs are hanging onto each other to forge forward, the six clubs in and around the Great Lakes come into 2019 with things to prove and trophies to win.

Minnesota, another trophy in the case, goes against the big boys again.  Ohio Valley, now with Hoosiers in their holsters, go for redemption.  Denver tries to recapture the magic against old foes and new.  Chicago and Des Moines keep getting better, and Wisconsin continues to write its opening chapters.

CENTRAL REGION – NORTH


2018 Record:      9-4
Nationals:           2-1          4th Place, Division 2

2018 Recap: Flying right out of the gate like an angry goose, the Swans’ ran through the Des Moines tournament en route to four straight wins.  They would then drop three in a row before picking up a nice win at the end of the Central Regionals over home standing Nashville, then finished off the season with straight wins over Columbus.  The Bloods’ had a fair bit of confidence heading into Nationals, which was basically in their backyard, just a short jaunt up I-94 in Racine.  Solid wins over Houston and Orange County put them into the semi-finals, but the dream of a D2 title would be derailed by arch-rival Minnesota in a rout.  Still, this was the best performance the Swans had put in at Nationals in some time, and Tom Crameri was rewarded with Most Consistent as a result. - BB

From the Team: “The Swans have a host of new faces and a collection of old heads around the club as we head into the 2019 season. We are looking forward to another big year of footy in the Midwest, continuing our success off the field and hopefully notching up a few wins on the field too!”

Key Matchup: “The Swans host their biggest rival, the Minnesota Freeze on June 1. A double-header is in store as both the women's and men's teams will be competing on the day. Chicago will be out to make amends after bowing out to their northern rivals at Nationals in Racine last October.”

2019 Recap: Chicago’s recruitment has been very strong over the past two seasons, something that has also extended to their new women’s side as well.  The Swans return utility stud Brad Clifton who is primed for another big season, as well as young locals AJ Crosley, Alex Campanella and Steve McEvily.  In the past, I’ve touted Chicago as an inconsistent team, but in the last two years we’ve seen them play with much more cohesion, and if they bring good numbers down to Florida, there’s no reason why they can’t be in the Grand Final conversation out of D2. - BB

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Middle Seed, Division 2


2018 Record:      5-7
Nationals:           0-3          6th Place, Division 1

2018 Recap: Actual Bulldogs tend to bite pretty hard.  I should know; my brother-in-law’s big boys are fierce tug-of-war opponents in the backyard.  The Denver Bulldogs have not lost any bit of bite in the seven years since they last won D1, but their grip over the rest of the USAFL isn’t as strong as it used to be.  They went 2-2 in the 80/35 Cup early on, went 1-2 at the Central Regionals including a tough loss to Dallas, but fought hard in losses at Austin and at home to Golden Gate.  Behind the seemingly ageless Andy Vanica on defense, and with club B&F John Clayton in tow, Tom Harkness’s Bulldogs were bounced from pool play by New York by two points, probably the toughest game in that division. The Reserves, meanwhile put in a strong second place effort with a number of their vets, including well-travelled legend Rich Mann, putting in the hard yards. – BB

From the Team: “After a disappointing showing at the 2018 Nationals the Bulldogs are excited to enter the 2019 season. We have made some coaching changes appointing Bulldogs and WAFL legend James Waddell as coaching director and appointing second year Bulldog Jarryd Watters as new head coach.  Jarryd recently said “I am an inspired leader and want to make the Bulldogs great again. I believe I can do this with my coaching skill and unique style.” The bulldog D1 squad is looking to bounce back to some winning form after disappointing showings over the past years, while the reserves squad has been extremely close to winning the elusive National Title and will continue their quest for glory. We are extremely proud to be the only USAFL club to field a team in Division 1 every year since our formation and very excited by the prospects coming through our reserves team program. 2019 will be the year of the Dog.”

Key Matchups: “Both the Division 1 squad and Reserves squad are really looking forward to hosting the 2019 Central Regional Tournament. For the D1 squad it is a chance to regain their winning form against the recent National Champions in Austin and Minnesota, showing the footy world they are still amongst the best. While the reserves will earn valuable experience playing together against the Central regions up and coming teams. Both teams are very excited for the challengers that will be head to the mile-high city in July.”

2019 Outlook: One thing that has never deviated in the past two decades of this league’s existence has been Denver at or near the top of the USAFL mountain, and perhaps after being in the peloton of D1 since 2012, this is the year the Doggies draft towards the top again.  The only thing more formidable than the Rockies themselves is the Bulldog defense, with veterans Vanica, Tim Wilson-Humphries, and the returned Alex Mayberry (R.F.D., for you classic TV fans).  Harkness will also be present across the half-back to feed the midfield, including last year’s rookie of the year Nick Morretto, Revo rep Ryan Garthright, and veteran danger man Michio McGrath.  High flying acrobat and famed specky-taker Casey Robertson is back from a back injury, and former Florida Redback (remember them?) and LA Dragon Cam Freeman looks to have a stellar second season. – BB


2018 Record:      4-5
Nationals:           1-2          6th Place, Division 3

2018 Recap: With the Nation’s only All-American team, Des Moines put forward likely their best season since they won the 2012 D4 final.  Led by Revos Ben Judge, Hamilton May, and Caleb Dougherty, the Roosters went 2-1 at the Central Regionals, then picked up two good wins against newcomer Wisconsin, and pulled off a thrilling win at home over northern neighbor Minnesota, which was something to crow about (as opposed to Austin Crow about).  Going up to Racine, Des Moines split their games on Saturday, and came roughly ten points short of getting the wild card.  They would finish the year going down by a single solitary point to Sacramento in the fifth place game. – BB

From the Team: “Coming off of the 2019 season, we're really excited about the new blood that's joined the club.  We had a great recruiting year last year, picking up five very strong players on the men's side and adding one on the women's side.  The new members of our club are really excited about playing footy, and have brought life and energy to many of us who've been playing for some time.  We went into USAFL Nationals with confidence from a strong, close match up to Minnesota, who won the Division 2 title.  Even though we didn't get into the quarterfinals at Nationals, our performance made us feel like we could compete with any Division 3 team.  We're excited to build on that growth from last year.”

Key Matchups: “August will be a big month for the Roosters.  We'll be in Tulsa playing Oklahoma Football Club and Denver Bulldogs on the 10th and up in Minneapolis playing the Freeze and Portland Steelheads on the 24th.  These are matches that will really test our skill as a club and our ability to stick with some of the most consistent and technically sound clubs in the USAFL.”

2019 Outlook: Last year’s recruiting class has been something to crow about for the Roosters, as midfield quicks Ryan Kooiker and Josh Curtis provide continuity through the middle and look to do so in this, their second season.  Former Drake University soccer player Ted Schleisman, an all-conference scholar athlete to boot, is a complimentary piece to Judge on the wing.  With retention rate high, and with new blood contributing, the Iowans have a real crack at battling for D3 chocolates.  If nothing else, they will be more competitive against Oklahoma and the Freeze, and how they do at home in their annual 80/35 tournament will set the tone for the season. - BB

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Middle Seed, Division 3


2018 Record:      8-4
Nationals:           4-0          Premiers, Division 2

2018 Recap: It had been six seasons since the Freeze tasted the sweet nectar of a championship (or at least I think that’s nectar).  It had been a matter of treading water in the last couple of Nationals with a number of veterans retiring and stepping back from the team, and were coming of a 2-1 performance at the ’17 Nats.  The Freeze won eight from twelve during the regular season, including three victories at the 80/35 in Des Moines and a 1-2 record at the Stumptown Throwdown.  One of those two losses would come at the hands of the Portland Steelheads, who were much fancied to take out D2 in Racine.  Minnesota, rolling deep down I-90, got sweet revenge over Portland; a grinding 10-7 win in the group stage, which put them onto the semis where they notched their fourth win of the year over Chicago.  A rematch against Portland was the final test, and with Grand Final MVP Ryan “Hanga” McLuen planting his proverbial flag inside offensive 50 with his marks and goals, the Freeze broke away from the Steelheads to win their third D2 premiership. – BB

From the Club: “Following a great 2018 season culminating in winning the Division 2 premiership we look forward to building off this success in season 2019. Under the new leadership of Captain, Ian Robertson “Robbo” and Vice-Captain, Brent Mergen “Mergo” and the appointment of 2 assistant coaches in Brent Fischer “Fisch” Chris Byrgiotis “Byrg’s”, Freeze footy has never looked so good.”

Key Matchups: “We look forward to all our regular match ups, this year with Des Moines, Chicago, and Central Regionals in Denver, however, especially look forward to hosting Portland Steelheads in a Grand Final rematch in August.”

2019 Outlook: A winning culture has always been the norm in Minnesota, even when a trophy hasn’t been at the end of the rainbow.  Though last year’s team best & fairest Niranjan Sathianathen has gone back home, the club’s cultivation of new talent and rejuvenation of the veteran will send a shiver into the Freeze’s opponents.  Ian Robertson, second behind Sathianathen in the B&F voting gets the captaincy nod this year, joined in the leadership group by Revo fixture and noted Fremantle supporter Brent Mergen.  Two players to keep an eye on are most improved Spencer Reisbick, and teenage sensation C.J. Adams who kicked a fabulous goal in that triumphant Grand Final match. – BB

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Low Seed, Division 1


2018 Record:      5-3
Nationals:           3-1          Runners-up, Division 3

2018 Recap: In the decade that they have competed as a singular entity, the Ohio Valley River Rats have been the Captain Planet of the USAFL – the Cincinnati Dockers, Louisville Kings, and St. Louis Blues combining their powers to rack up Division 4 Championships.  The Rats had a busy regular season, traveling all over the Midwest and lifting the Central Regional D2 trophy behind Kyle Strenski’s Best and Fairest performance.   At Nationals, they saw off Oklahoma and the fancied Philadelphia Hawks to make it through to the Semis, then turned aside Boston by two goals to go to their second D3 Grand Final.  There, despite racing out to a lead thanks to forwards Matt Seuling, Scott Schroeder, and eventual Roos Medal winner Regan Smith, they were blanked by Philadelphia in the second as the Hawks got their revenge, and their premiership. – BB

2019 Outlook: Because of their tenancy in the lower divisions at Nationals, and their status as a combined force, Ohio Valley seems to be one of the more underrated sides in the competition.  But they have heaps of talent, and with the Indianapolis Giants now turning a terrific trio into a quintessential quartet (it’s that new math), the Rats are Division 3 premier threats.  Indy’s quick rover Shane Branscum, ruckman John McPike, and forward Pete Elliott join up with Louisville fixtures Smith, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, as well as Strenski and the Docker crew.  Cincy is the strongest of the individual bunch as one of the USAFL originals continues to grow; players who have around the league seemingly long enough to once have dinosaurs shepherding for them have up-and-comers Allan Mann, James Howell, Tyler Sasse, and Derrick Shotwell to try and get them the chocolates in Sarasota. – BB

Nationals Seeding Prediction: High Seed, Division 3


2018 Record:      0-2
Nationals:           1-2          6th Place, Division 4 (w/ Arizona Hawks & Milwaukee)

2018 Recap: From their beginnings in 2016 to their official anointment the following year, a dream was finally realized in Madison, Wisconsin, as the Wombats played their first ever stand-alone, four quarter games, a home-and-home series against the Des Moines Roosters.  Though Des Moines got the full points in both contests, Lucas Pillar and the Wombats showed their nerve and received the respect of their opponents.  The Wombats also got runs in alongside Chicago at regionals, and teamed up with Milwaukee and the Arizona Hawks to take on Nationals in their own backyard over in Racine.  Bedecked in their new “BIG OL’ W” jumpers, the Wombats and friends went 0-2 in the group stage before turning aside Atlanta in a tight 8-point consolation victory. – BB

2019 Outlook: The Wombats come into 2019 again looking to grow their numbers behind coach Nafla Poff and Nationals standout Eric Monroe, along with American vets Pillar and Kyle Maichle.  They will also have the agency of the Milwaukee Bombers, who are continuing their rebuild with coach Brenton Regall and double-century defender Kurt Landers. – BB

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

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