2015 USAFL Nationals Preview - Men's Divisions 2, 3, 4

We end our look at the 2015 Nationals pools with Men’s divisions 2, 3, and 4:

MEN’S DIVISION TWO:

Pool A: Columbus Jackaroos, Boston Demons, Sacramento Suns, Ft. Lauderdale Fighting Squids

It’s no surprise that the Jackaroos are the top overall seed in Division 2, having made the Grand Final in each of the last two seasons.  After beating them in 2013, then getting thwacked last year, they won’t have to worry about meeting LA in the final this time.  That said, they have proven to be difficult to beat, especially on the road, where they had four impressive victories, including a resounding win at Nashville.

Midfielder Clyde Simpson has used the valuable experience gained both in Australia and with the Revos to become a formidable presence in the midfield.  Mark McClure, Rob Adams, Eric Politz, and Dan Hamilton also headline this largely American outfit that always seems to be in the thick of things come Sunday, and they’ll figure into the result this year.

Once a dominating Division 1 side, Boston Demons have toiled in Divvy 2 the last couple of seasons, and at the beginning of the year looked to be ticketed for Divvy 3.  But huge wins over Philly and a triumphant trip to Chicago brought the Dees back into to fold, and worthy of the second spot.  Led by Rusty Smith and defender Ari Joniec, they play everyone tough and are deceptively strong off the ball.

They will also get a boost from Rory Smith, who spent this season playing with Subiaco of the WAFL, and will bring back some invaluable experience back to his hometown club.  Boston has been right in the thick of the Top 20 poll all season, and they will match up well against all three teams in the pool.

In Sacramento, where the Suns were shining a bit brighter after taking down Philadelphia for the D3 flag last year, it’s been another season forward for Matt Bishop’s side.  A Western Regionals D2 victory started the season off well, and they capped it off with an upset win over Golden Gate.  Saleh Tyebjee is having another stellar year, emerging as arguably the best defensive half in the country.

But there is more to the Suns than Tyebjee; Aaron Crumpacker is a hard hitting midfielder who is good on counters, speedy Melvin Chen can cut through gaps deftly, and Tom Ivester is an invaluable playmaker.  They’ve also a future star in rookie Ramish Bahramand, who has taken to the game quickly.  Sactown’s first go in Divvy 2 will be a learning experience, to say the least, but they’ll be good for at least one win.

Fort Lauderdale rounds out this pool, and though they defeated North Carolina and a depleted New York outfit in April to claim the Eastern regional, their ascension into Division 2 has been a bit of a surprise.  Last year, they were the 2nd overall seed in D3, but their thin side was unable to stay with the competition, and they fell in three straight.

This year, numbers may again be an issue, but what players they are bringing will constitute a competitive side.  The Squids will rely on Cam Pinnock, Branko Milic, and Glen Parrish for plays going forward, as well as the cool presence of Tom Hecker.  Their lack of depth will be a concern here, but that won’t stop them.

Pool B: Minnesota Freeze, Houston Lonestars, Chicago Swans, Quebec Saints

Minnesota makes the drop from Division 1, and should be home as the 2nd overall side here in D2.  It’s been an up and down year for the Freeze on the scoreboard; they followed up a home loss to Chicago with a disappointing fourth place finish in the Central Regionals in Racine.  They would pick up a W over undermanned Denver, squeak out a road win over Des Moines, but finish the regular year with a blowout loss at the rival Swans.

Brent Fischer and Andrew “Tiger” Werner, comparable to Simon and Garfunkel in terms of their dynamic duo status on the footy field, each had good seasons for club and country and will be pivotal if the Freeze want to repeat their 2012 championship in D2.  Forward Ryan McLuen is also having a good year up front, and he’ll try to get free to be a target.  The Freeze will have their hands full with Houston and their old “friends” from Chi-town, and will need to play flawless ball to make it through.

Down in the Energy City, the Houston Lonestars are growing into one of the largest clubs in the nation by numbers, and they will be bringing a deep squad to Austin, a place they know quite well.   They won the 2013 D3 crown at Onion Creek, and will be trying for a repeat performance.  Their 3-11 record this year would say otherwise, but their resume belies what they can do on the field, and they have been forged by the fires of matches against Dallas and Austin.

A good mix of Australians and Americans dot the ‘Stars, led by Stuart Job who is having another Best-and-Fairest season, and captain Matt Stevens keeps his team composed.  The emergence of young Yank players such as Nick Maass and Jesse Carcamo will sustain Houston for years to come.  Many tipped them to beat out Columbus and make it to the Grand Final last year.  2015 will be different, and with a wide open group, the possibility of a second final in three years is quite real.

Chicago plays a very good brand of team football, and that’s been their trademark since their inception, through their United years, and into the present.  They are also notorious for their inconsistent play, and this year has been no different.  The 2012 D3 premiers have just two wins from seven games, but two of them have been against Minnesota, who they just happen to be facing on Saturday afternoon.

The heart, soul, and talisman of the team is Jason “Pony” Wilhelm, who is in the top three ruckmen in the USAFL.  Jeff Kraemer, Doug Malcolm, and Brian Hoyt will need to provide support in order to take advantage of his hitout prowess.  Make no mistake, the Swannies are a Division 2 side through and through, but like the Freeze, will need to play their best footy if they want a sniff at the final.

Montreal’s footy program has grown since the Quebec Saints began in 2008, and they will be back in Divvy 2 after putting up a good showing last year in Dublin.  Their only encounter against a USAFL opponent was a home loss against Boston, but the Demons had to fight for the victory for 80 minutes.

A good amount of Canadian talent is flowing through the veins of the boys from La Belle Province, led by Gaelic convert Ronan Shaughnessy.  Midfielder Bogdan Rotaru and tall rover Morgan Whyte are especially potent as well.  Quebec has an outside shot of advancing, but it’s a shot nonetheless.

MEN’S DIVISION THREE

Pool A: Tulsa Buffaloes, Philadelphia Hawks, North Carolina Tigers, Ohio Valley River Rats

That Tulsa moved up into D3 after spending their formative years in Division 4 was not much of a surprise.  That their first foray upward will be as the top overall seed is, however.  The Buffs used their size and ball-winning ability to rack up several wins this year, with Jonathan Showman, Shane Hood, and Dustin Brasel leading the way.  They’ll also have 31 players available, which should give them an edge in the fitness department as well.  Tulsa’s growth as a club on and off the field is easily apparent, and a medal in Austin would be a fitting addition.

After making the Division 3 Grand Final last season before losing to Sacramento in the final, Philadelphia set about this year with the incentive of having that winning feeling on the tips of their tongues.  A blowout loss to Boston aside, Jon Loring’s group battled hard all year, and though they’ll be light on numbers and have Ryan McGettigan still recovering from a mid-season injury, they are still capable of making it though.  6’8” Alex Lyden is still solid in the ruck, former Revo Pat Miller is everywhere on defense, and Jon Ginsburg attacks the ball with reckless abandon.

It took 16 years of pinballing around the Nationals’ divisional ladder for North Carolina to win their first championship, and they did it in D4 last year.  Wins over Baltimore-Washington at home and away as well as Atlanta have them thinking back-to-back, and that’s not too farfetched.   Wes McCallister, Matthew “the Tank” Sherman, and last year’s D4 Best and Fairest Peter Capozziello take the hard-nose Tigs into what should be three well matched games.

Ohio Valley’s debut in D3 last year was a good effort, finishing 2-1, just behind Sacramento.  This year has seen the Cincinnati-Louisville arrangement fly under the radar, at least in the eyes of the Top 20 panel.  An early win in Nashville turned some heads, and a win late in the year against Baton Rouge helped to set the stage.  Veterans Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Kyle Strenski, and Dave Zitko head the Rats into battle in what will be another tough go at Nationals, but they’re used to winning games where they aren’t expected.

Pool B: Portland Steelheads, Des Moines Roosters, Nashville Kangaroos, Austin Crows reserves

Portland have been notorious underachievers at Nationals, as they have yet to make it to a grand final in their decade long history.  That drought may very well end in Austin.  A huge upset victory over Orange County and a draw against Golden Gate, albeit at home, have caught the attention of punters across the league.  Terry Brasch, fresh from his stint in Dimboola, Australia, returns to lead his hometown side, with quickman John Kim, veteran Zach Johns, and the ageless Martin Coventry all in support.  There is no pity in the Rose City, and none will be shown by their footy club.

Des Moines returns to Division 3 after a 1-1-1 record in Dublin a year ago, scoring a division low five goals in the process.  This year, Tyler Kammerman’s charges have shown improvement, and almost took out Denver at home in the Central 9’s tournament.  The Roosters have also knocked off Tulsa twice, so they won’t fear anyone in this pool.  Like the Buffaloes, Iowa’s footy club is almost exclusively American, with two of their ilk representing the USA this past summer, Hamilton May and Ben Judge.  Potential here is high, and they’ll have the depth to contend.

A light travelling troupe to Austin means that Nashville will be dropping down to Divvy 3 this year, despite putting together a good campaign, complete with a big road win at Columbus.  The ‘Roos have shown their vulnerability at times, and their lack of depth, much like Philadelphia in Pool A, may hinder them from getting into the final.  In spite of all that, defender Luke Nemeth is having a fantastic season, including being named MVP of the 49th Parallel Cup, and midfielder Tim Fulwider is in fine form too.

Hosting Nationals has its benefits beyond simply playing in familiar territory.  Austin is expected to bring over 70 players with them, and they will have enough for a complete reserves team to round out Pool B.  The last time the Crows B-team played at this level, they were crushed in three straight back in 2013.  This time the Divvy 3 side will have more depth, which will mean a more competitive side.

MEN’S DIVISION FOUR:

Pool A: [New York res/Columbus res], Los Angeles reserves, [Kansas City/Cleveland]
Pool B: [Calgary res/Milwaukee], [Baltimore-Washington/Edmonton], Golden Gate reserves
Pool C: [Orange County res/San Diego], [Dallas res/Austin res], Atlanta Kookaburras
Pool D: [Portland res/Seattle], [Denver res/Indianapolis], [Houston res/Baton Rouge]

Division four, a delightful whirly-bird of reserve sides and undermanned clubs, is always hard to predict.  This year 12 teams – the largest field in a single division since 2001 – will compete.  Los Angeles and Golden Gate will be sending full sides, so the money would be on them, at least on paper.   But footy isn’t played on paper, it’s played on grass.  With four groups and the winners going to the semis on Sunday, teams can’t afford to make any mistakes in pool play.

Denver’s reserves will be joined up with a still growing Indianapolis Giants side, led by young Shane Branscum.  The Doggies were paired with Kansas City last year, and this year the Power will be another emerging club in the Cleveland Cannons.

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