Did You See What Arkansas -- Central Regional Preview

Though the state of Arkansas is quintessentially an American setting, its history has seen a number of nationalities come through.

Hernando de Soto and the Spaniards left their mark in a fairly inhospitable fashion to the locals during the 16th Century.  Then came the French, who pronounced the name given for the land by the Sioux translating to, “people of the south wind,” in their own inimitable twang; slightly different from the territory to the west that is known for their sunflowers.  They also named a landmark in the middle of the river running through the future state: “le petit rocher”.  After Thomas Jefferson acquired what would became the state of Arkansas in the world’s greatest land bargain, ever, the landmark became anglicized – Little Rock – while the state would keep its distinctive pronunciation.

Here now, in the 21st century, it’s Australia, or at least her game, that turns to the Natural State with eyes on integrating itself into its culture.  The sport of Aussie Rules football officially came to Arkansas last year with the birth of the Little Rock Coyotes.  They just pups now, but after hosting a USAFL game for the first time last year, they’re ready to start howling as the first leg of the 2017 USAFL Regional Series tour kicks off in their home town, on a thin slice of heaven by the banks of that River where the little rock was.

Though the field is slightly smaller than previous years, there is no shortage of intrigue surrounding the six sides to contest this first of the midsummer’s triple treat.  The Austin Crows are the best team in the land still, winners of the last two times we’ve had this shindig, and they’ll have a bunch of hungry teams trying to pick them off.  Will it be one of their instate rivals?  Will it be the emerging sides from the neighboring states?  Or will the Crows keep going on the route to breaking the longest winning streak in USAFL history?

USAFL Central Regional Tournament
Burns Park, North Little Rock, Arkansas (Fields 13-17)
Saturday, June 10th -- First game: 9am CDT
Video: Tape delayed on USAFL Youtube (tentative)
Radio: Live starting at 4pm CDT (tentative)

Pool A: #1 Austin Crows, #9 Houston Lonestars, Nashville Kangaroos

Last season, this very same tournament was held across three divisions.  By funny happenstance, this year all three division winners – Crows in D1, Houston in D2, and Nashville in D3, are in the same group of the singular division.

Much has been written and said about how hot the Austin Crows are coming into Arkansas, having won 25 games in a row, picking off everyone and anyone who has come to challenge them.  They opened the season at Dallas with a two game sweep in the first leg of the Texas Cup, though they almost saw that streak came to the end at the hands of the Lonestars. 

It’s been three years since they’ve lost away from Austin, but they’ll be bringing several of their big guns in search of their third straight Centrals title.  The biggest of the big is Kenrick Tyrell – the Northern Territory Thunder alumnus leads one of the best offenses in the league, and are paced by the ever dangerous Jesse Aguirre, Jesse “Tex” Leos, and US National teamer Mike Linehan.  Nolan Cox will most likely be a primary call up in the ruck, and whoever goes up against him will have a long hour or so in those trenches.

Speaking of the aforementioned Lonestars, They’ve had a solid, if not busy, going 3-3 after sweeping Tulsa and Baton Rouge in the Ruggles Cup, splitting against Portland (win) and Austin-B (loss) at home, and dropping two heartbreakers at the Texas Cup.  That weekend in Dallas was pretty good, despite their Jackson Pollack-like kicking against Austin, as they hung with two Division 1 caliber sides and almost picked off both of them.

Much like their rivals in the Texan capital, Houston has a star named Jesse, last name Carcamo.  He has fleet feet and quick hands, critical for those short passes to spring the ball forward.  Sean Smyth had a very memorable performance in last year’s Centrals, and he’ll look to carve up the backline again, and Thomas Donnelly’s ball winning will also be a key factor into whether or not the ‘Stars will advance to the final out of this group.

The wild card in this pool is most certainly the Nashville Kangaroos, who always show up with a strong team and who have acquired a steady supply of American talent in the heartland of the country.  The Roos, who played down in Divvy 4 at Nationals last year, are off to a hot start at 4-1, and are coming off home wins over Atlanta and St. Pete last weekend.

In Houston and Austin they’ll face their toughest tests of the season.  But they have athleticism to match that of their Texan poolmates.  John Freeman will be heading to Melbourne after a champagne rookie year, and Mo Howell’s play alongside him adds an element of skill to the ‘Roos midfield.  Cliff Cosnahan is the team’s sniper and leading goalkicker, and teams are going to have quite a difficult time keeping him quiet, and the veteran play of former Revo Dee Vstecka may be a determinate factor as to whether Nashville can rob two of the top USAFL sides of a win.

POOL B: #6 Dallas Magpies, [Tulsa/Oklahoma City/Little Rock], [Des Moines/Baton Rouge/Houston-B]

The Magpies’ resettling into a Division 1 contender continues in 2017, and they played quite well in their shout at hosting the Texas Cup opener a couple of weeks ago.  They defeated Houston convincingly and went toe-to-toe against Austin.  They also have defeated poolmates Tulsa earlier on the road this year by 72 points.

Dallas has always carried them a reputation as a tough team, with the likes of guys like Brenn Miller, Jack O’Dell, Craig Storer, and Grant Jortner, among many others, perpetuating their brand on the nose Texas footy.  But they also have some skill guys, led by David Grzesiak, who will also head to Melbourne this August wearing red, white, and blue.

The Magpies are the only standalone club in the pool, and they’re the highest ranked.  But that doesn’t mean that they’ve got a bye to the final on Saturday afternoon.  Not one bit.  As physical as Dallas is, their two opponents are just as hard-nosed, meaning that we are in for some battering ram football.

Tulsa’s Buffaloes were once a new team just starting out, and they’ve grown to the point where they have begat two clubs not terribly far away from them; the Oklahoma City Flyers and Little Rock Coyotes.  The Buffs and Flyers both went to Des Moines two weekends ago for the 80/35 tournament, with the Flyers picking up their first ever independent win, and the Buffs going 0-2.  The Little Rock Coyotes, who started up last season under former Buffalo Steve Grandfield, are hoping to take this first ever tournament at home and use it as a springboard for greater things and the beginning of footy in Arkansas.

As for the team, they’re the type that you’ll be able to run around them, but not through them.  A mostly American side featuring the likes of original Buffalo Dustin Brasel, Andrew Rose, Jon Showman, et all, they’ll be augmented by OKC’s Chris Cox, Ryan Minimizer, and Stephen Rasbold.   The Aussie representation will add key experience to the side; Grandfield is a hard worker in the middle of the ground, and former Florida Redback and Philly Hawk Alex Mirakian can play anywhere and has a good sized gas tank.

The final team in the group sees the Houston reserves teaming up with two clubs who played in Divvy 4 last year at Nationals, but who have had promising starts to season 2017 so far.  The Des Moines Roosters went 2-1 in their home 80/35 tournament a fortnight ago, falling to Minnesota in the final.  Baton Rouge’s TIgers, meanwhile, are 1-2, having already defeated Tulsa at the Ruggles Cup in Houston back in April, and played good skilled football against the Lonestars and at Atlanta in the meantime.

Both the Roosters and Tigers don’t rely on their strength as much as the Magpies and the Oklahoman combo do, but they are, for the most part, two fundamentally sound sides.  Des Moines has three players going to the International Cup – Hamilton May, Ben Judge, and Caleb Dougherty.  They are three consistent veterans of the game, and will have a good supporting cast.  Baton Rouge’s clan is led by their coach, Matt Heintze, the Moran brothers, and the dangerous Neil Stebbing.

2017 USAFL Central Regionals Schedule
All times CDT (15 hours behind Melbourne)

9am: Pool A: Houston Lonestars v Nashville Kangaroos
10am: Pool B: Tulsa/OKC/Little Rock v Baton Rouge/Des Moines/Houston-B
11am: Pool A: Nashville Kangaroos v Austin Crows
Noon: Pool B: Dallas Magpies v BTR/DSM/HOU
1pm: Pool A: Houston Lonestars vs Austin Crows
2pm: Pool B: Dallas v TUL/OKC/LIT
3pm: 5th Place Game: 3rd Pool A v 3rd Pool B
4pm: 3rd Place Game: 2nd Pool A v 2nd Pool B
5pm: Grand Final: 1st Pool A v 1st Pool B

Photo Credit: Tony Crigan

Posted in