Liberty Turns Aside Bulleen-Templestowe for First Win

It was a beautiful night to the east of Melbourne on Tuesday, and a nice night to make some history for the USAFL Liberty.

After five seasons, the American women’s footy development program finally notched its first victory, a hard fought tug-of-war in which the Liberty defeated the Bulleen Templestowe Bullants by 14 points.


Conditions were about as perfect as a meat-pie at Bulleen Park, with little wind to speak of, no rain about, and comfortable temperatures.  The Liberty forwards put the pressure on the Bullants from the opening tap; Bulleen Templestowe were fielding five U-18 players in addition to their seniors.  The first twenty minutes were punctuated by many stoppages and held balls along the bench side boundary, a theme that would hold for a fair bit of the game.

When the ball did become pried loose from the jaws of the hungry pack, Amy Arundale, Lauré Kwoka, Leilani Silvio, and Clare Algozin probed with kicks and short handballs to punch holes in the Bullants defense.  They would be wasteful with their chances, chalking up four minor scores.  For their part, however, the defense would stonewall Laura Mayne and the Bullant attack, led by Valerie Barber-Axthelm and captain Lizzy Even.  The first quarter ended 4-0 to the USA.

The second period continued the trend of close-in, honey pot football and long straight kicks at a premium.  Cailin Deal stood tall at fullback, as did Rae Hale and Barber-Axthelm, and though the Bullants got more of the sway of play, they themselves could only manage one behind for the twenty minutes.  Amy Arundale got more active in this quarter, as did her Philadelphia teammate Erica Sacci.  Robyn Leslie also got a bunch of possies here, and though the Liberty didn’t trouble the scorers, they had made it through the first half up 4-1.

Quarter number three tested the back line more, as they were forced to take the game on more with the Bullants forwards pressing.  Much like the Liberty were in the opening stanza, they were wasteful with their chances, including a couple of dropped marks in front of goal, and Bulleen Templestowe slowly hacked into the lead like a butcher into a piece of meat.  Kathleen Michaels as holding her own in the ruck against 16-year-old Hayne, who had a couple of inches against her.  Surely but slowly, the Bullants tied the score at 4-4.

With five minutes left in the third term, lightning struck twice for the Liberty.  First, Arundale got a ball in the middle of the ground whose off-target kick went off of Skonciezny’s hands, then Algozin’s, and it bounced right to Leslie who composed herself to kick the game’s opening goal, 56 minutes after it started.  Four minutes later, the quarter ended with a booming Silvio kick down to Lauren Balsley who found Silvio again with a kick fit for a platter.  Silvio’s kick came simultaneous with the siren, and Judith Stein’s team was now up 16-4 and twenty minutes from sewing up the win.

The final quarter was a struggle as both teams pushed forward and parried the other team away.  Barber-Axthelm, now playing on the wing, continued to harry the ball carriers, and Rae Hale came up with some timely clearances.  The Bullants added another point as they put the pressure on time and time again, but the Liberty were ready to drive this one back into the garage and put it back for the night.  Stephanie Shipley Snyder applied good forward pressure, as did the rest of the forward line, and they would focus on keeping the ball on the other side of the ground.  They succeeded, and the ground was jubilant after the final siren went with a 19-5 scoreline showing for the Liberty.

The demon was exorcised, the duck was broke, and the Liberty had a win to tuck into their suitcases.

Valerie Barber-Axthelm, the Seattle Grizzlies defender, was arguably the best on ground for the Liberty with her tackles and constant pressure.  She had been through a tough loss the last time she played on the team, in 2015 against Canada.  But tonight, all of that was washed away.

“It’s just incredible.  It was an emotional win, these girls fought so hard,” she said.  “Every single one of my girls had my back so I just went in hard for every ball, I didn’t have time to think about them having more experience.”

The strategy from the Liberty coaching staff helped turn the tide in the game, switching assignments and having their defenders wall up more in transition.

“We were talking about having the forwards attack the ball as well as having the midfielders be there in support and building their wall,” said assistant coach Lisa Arredondo.  “We didn’t leave any of the field empty so there wasn’t a fat side of the field and we were there to put the ball back into the forwards and we kept hustling and hustling.

The Liberty get three days to rest, then back into action they go against Monash University at Frearson Oval on Friday, August 11th.

Bulleen Templestowe





USA Liberty






Bulleen Templestowe: None
USA Liberty: Silvio, Leslie

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