2016 Season Preview - Women's East/Central

EVERY attendee to 2021 USAFL Nationals in Austin, TX, will need to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination OR negative COVID test result. Test must be taken Oct 13, 2021 at 8am or later.

Logged in users can submit their Covid-19 vaccine/test report.  Results must be submitted online no later than 5pm Friday, October 15.

All COVID-19 reports will be expunged on October 18, 2021.

The story that is the future of Australian Rules football is being written by a new set of authors.

What was once a flickering flame in the hearts of a small band of women is now a roaring fire that is continuing to warm the souls of footy aficionados everywhere.   What’s equally exciting about this year isn’t just what’s already happened, but what is to come.

Nearly 200 women now make up the membership of the USAFL, with that number expected to grow steadily over the next several years, and two women have taken the first steps towards showing that American women can perform at the highest level of footy’s demands.

This is the first of two previews looking ahead at the women’s season in 2016.  It must be noted though ten clubs are previewed here, women’s football in the USA goes beyond the beyond the decuplet represented in these two articles.  Tulsa, Houston, and Chicago were all represented by at least one player on Nationals teams, while Seattle, Las Vegas, San Diego, and several other teams have female programs in their infancy.

We begin in the East and Central regions, where two teams made serious championship runs, and three more continue their rebuilding processes towards long term success.

Despite only maintaining a core of about six or seven full time players, the Lady Eagles are full of talent, one that lent itself well to the growth of the program in 2015.  Though they went winless through matches played in combination with Columbus, Boston, and ultimately Arizona at Nationals, the players from our nation’s capital grew as a unit, which should only help with recruiting into a bigger side.

Emily Riehl was her normal sparkling self in her first season with BWE, and her triple threat of speed, savvy, and accurate kicking makes her one of the dangerous players in the league.  Karen Stablein had a good defensive year for club and country, solidifying her as one of the best defensive players in the league. 

Emerging as a future star last year was Samantha Schultz, whose deceptive speed makes her a vital force through the middle.  Schulz was one of the USA Liberty’s best on ground in the 49th Parallel Cup development match, and Freedom coach Leigh Barnes will be watching her closely for a chance to move up within the next couple of years.

Coach Judith Stein’s first season as coach of the Eagles and USA Liberty was a good building block for the future in both entities.  If the Eagles can wrangle some recruits within the transient population of Washington and the beltway area, then they’ll be right with the other teams.

2015 was a rebuilding year in Beantown for the Lady Dees, but it was certainly a memorable one.  A team made up of largely newcomers bonded throughout the course of the season, and though they were also short on wins, they got a huge shot in the arm in September.

Jessica Weutschner, who plays for the East Fremantle Sharks of the WAFL and starred for the Western Bulldogs, came across as the first Australian in the USAFL’s exchange program, with five weeks left in the season.  Though the Lady Dees went just 1-4 while Woosha served as player/assistant coach, the impact she made was long lasting, hopefully helping the program into a resurgence.

Head coach Lisa Arredondo will be happy to welcome back Feedom midfielder Cailin Deal to the sidelines, whose campaign ended with an ACL injury a week before Nationals.  Deal was having a solid year up to that point, providing good linkage to the forward line.  Emily Hsieh had a fantastic first season, leading heir team in goals at Nationals, and giving her side some offensive bite.  Amanda King assumed ruck duties admirably, allowing Arredondo to patrol the wings and add height to the corridor.

Two players poised to have a breakout 2016 were Alyssa Green and Alicia Olsen.  Green, a former rugby player, brings the elusiveness and toughness of a rugby back to the Demons forward grouping.  Olsen, who is a correctional officer by day, can shut the bars on opposing offenses, and is among the three or four best fullbacks in the USAFL.

Boston has been recruiting heavily within the rugby community, which may bring an edge similar to that with which their men’s team plays with.  If they can gain consistent numbers, they too will be back in gear.

The Jillaroos comeback story continued last season, with the majority of the players who saved the program from extinction in 2014 getting a full season under their feet in 2015. 

Their persistence and practice was rewarded in July, when they teamed up with New York to take out the Central Regional championship.  Jills forwards Leah Heller and Stephanie Snyder were among the key contributors in the title on a team full of contributors.  Columbus would pair with Boston and single players from three other clubs to go 1-2, but the experience they gained will see them as a better club this year.

Midfielder Amy Bryniarski was the standout performer last year, showing toughness and a defensive strength that all coaches would dream of out of the center of ground.  Her targets up front are Heller and Ariel Balske, Columbus’s “thunder and lightning” forward half duo.   Claire Conley was the Jills’ best defensive player last season, and she’ll look to improve even moreso alongside last year’s most improved, Megan Hils, as well as veteran fullback Stephanie McKitrick.

Though the Jills haven’t played together as a team as long as most of the other clubs in the USAFL, there is a spirit and determination to learn and improve that is very strong.  If they can continue to recruit and play teams like Minnesota and Toronto hard, it will show in spades in the next couple of seasons.

When the Freeze ladies played their first ever home game in August against then-5-time national champion Denver and won 50-0, the qualification was attached that the victory had come against a shorthanded side.

So, just to show it wasn’t a fluke, the Freeze beat the Bulldogs again.  This time on Sunday morning at Nationals, ending Denver’s 20 game Nationals win streak.  Paige Keicker’s goal after-the-siren put the Freeze in the catbird seat to win her club’s first national championship, but a loss to New York in high scoring thriller later in the afternoon relegated them to a fourth place finish.  Their reserves did well on their own right, teaming up with Montreal for a splendid runner up showing in Division 2.

After the season, longtime coach Dale Williams retired, having had a hand in building the largest women’s team in the USAFL.  His replacement, the legendary Kat Hogg, also had a hand in that achievement.  The first female 100-gamer in USAFL history seeks a seamless transition into the coaching role, and, for this year at least, she’ll have a diverse arsenal at her disposal.

Hogg’s forward line is paced by Cathy Hoha, an elusive forward who never gives up on the ball.  Veteran Jackie Juan is a strong option in the forward line who is very difficult to bring down, and has a nose for goal.  Brianne Theisen is a versatile utility player who can play either in the front or in the backline, in which she did well during the Parallel Cup.  A burgeoning midfield corps is led by  Lauren Shelton, Jackie Thelen and IC14 All-World teamer Cathy Georgiadis.

One thing the Freeze have prided themselves on is an emphasis on being fit, and they have become a team with the work-rate efficiency of a car park full of Priuses.  With Hogg at the helm, the Freeze may be the one who finally snatch the trophy out of Denver’s ringed paws.

Though the New York Magpies had their third close call with winning the National Championship in six years, it was undoubtedly their best year yet.  Led by the omnipotent Kim Hemenway and a vastly improved mix of veterans and bright newcomers, the Pies lost just one game during the season, and headed into Nationals the 4th seed out of the five team Division 1 field.

From the first game, they would put their mark on the weekend.  A come from behind win against cross-country rival San Francisco gave them hope.  A loss against Denver on Saturday turned out to be the deciding factor that placed them as runners up at 3-1, but there was no denying how far the team had come, just one year after going 0-3 on Nationals weekend the year before.

A good deal of the success must be credited to coach Christina Licata, who took her decade of footy expertise and knowledge of her own team’s capabilities and fashioned them into a winning system.

But this year, Licata is going to have to do it with a slightly different team.  Lissa Regets and Melissa Fudor, two of New York’s more consistent players, will be assisting Licata as assistant coaches and a number of other players have moved away from New York.

Good recruiting, however, has ensured a deep lineup full of players that can fill in the gap.  Taylor Davidson came over from San Francisco last season and played quite well out of fullback.  Her addition allowed longtime captain and stalwart Drea Casillas to push up more as an attacking half-back.  Rising star Ashley Singer and bulldozing second-year player Grace Koplow look to continue their good form defensively as well.

Up front, Hemenway will look to build upon what was arguably a league-wide MVP performance in 2015.  Australians Renee Coff and Julie Lee form a quick one-two combo that create a good deal of scoring chances for their forwards.  Janet Beyersdorf and Lauren Skoneiczny provide good transition play, with Skoneiczny’s work rate being among the best of anyone.  With 16 players contributing to the goal sheet last year, however, anyone is likely to have a crack, and opposing defenses will need to be aware.

The Magpies will need to be consistent in order to duplicate last year’s masterpiece season.  It may take a game or two to get settled, but this is now a confident team that knows how to do it.

Posted in 
Watch AFL