Smash and Nash: Previewing the Central Regionals

They say that Boston is the hub of New England, such that all roads seem to lead there.   Tennessee, it might be argued, is the hub of the south.  No fewer than seven states border her, and smack dab (nearly) in the middle is the city of Nashville.

Say “Nashville” and music, food, and PK Subban spring to mind.  At least, the last one does for us hockey fans.  A big city with a big heart, Nashville has gone from its humble beginnings as Fort Nashborough in the 1790s, to a modern metropolis where good food, good music, and good people come together to make the heartbeat of the Volunteer State.

And much like their city, the Nashville Kangaroos have been a keystone in the footy community in the southern USA for the last 21 seasons.  A mixture of expats and American devotees have kept the red, white, and blue going in what is a fertile and fanatical sports city.  This weekend, they will host their first ever Regional Series tournament, hosting teams from Georgia to the Rockies.

Can Austin, or another team, keep Dallas from a D1 repeat?  Can Oklahoma bring home another trophy to the Sooner State?  Will Denver’s Lady Bulldogs hold off a band of women’s upstarts?


2018 USAFL Central Regional Championships
Saturday, July 14, 2018 -- 9am through 6pm
Metro Soccer Complex - 1266 Donelson Pike, Nashville, TN
Online Coverage: TBC (either facebook.com/usafl or youtube.com/usafl1997


MEN’S DIVISION 1

Pool A:
#3 Austin Crows (2-0)
#5 Denver Bulldogs (2-2)
#13 Chicago Swans (6-2)

The Austin Crows, winners of three D1 Nationals titles in four years before the Golden Gate Roos derailed them in San Diego last fall, began the long road back to the top with two AFLX triumphs in Arizona and Baton Rouge.  Nolan Cox, Ben May and the rest of the murder kicked off their regular season with a two-game sweep of the opening Texas Cup leg, blanking Houston and holding off Dallas.  The Crows will come to Nashville looking to redeem themselves after falling to Dallas in last year’s regionals Grand Final, and bring the height and athleticism of guys like Cox mixed with the experience of May, Kenrick Tyrell, Grant Campbell, and Anthony Butt.

But we all know that Denver will have something to say about that, and the Bulldogs usually speak quite loudly to that effect.  Going 2-2 at the Des Moines 10-a-side tournament at the beginning of June, they’ll eye both matchups with a bit of fire, as they lost to the Swans in Iowa and fought to a come-from-behind tie at their last regionals meeting in Indy two years ago.  Defenders Ryan Garthright and Tom Harkness will have their hands full in both games, and former Gold Coast recruit Brandon Kauffman will try to duplicate his breakout performance last year.

Rounding out the pool is Chicago, with a couple of players with Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Bloods have come out swinging in season 2018, winning six on the trot before dropping two in a row to Minnesota, once at home and once on the road.  This will be two tough tests for Chicago, but they have guys like Revo defender Jeff Kraemer and veterans Pedro Jiminez, Corey Barker, and Scottish international Stu Nicol through the middle, which could have them in the conversation for top of the group and a final date on Saturday afternoon.

Pool B:
#4 Dallas Magpies (1-1)
#9 Houston Lonestars (3-2)
Nashville Kangaroos (1-2
)

Fresh off a split in the Texas Cup at home, and a competitive win at Tulsa against Oklahoma, the defending Central Regional Champions Dallas Magpies come to Tennessee with a hunger to repeat and send a further message to the rest of the region, and the league.  They’ll have the assistance of the Indy Giants as well, with the likes of Revo prospect Shane Branscum.  Mike Mayne, Alexander Crampton, and Craig Storer were the key cogs in the victory machine last year just about all over the ground, and they are a good bet to be in there again as Big D goes for the double.

Speaking of the Lonestars, they too have been busy in the early season, notching a 3-2 record and showing their mettle in the AFLX format at the Baton Rouge tournament.  Houston’s tight knit culture is one of the best in the league, and they’ll be keen to get by the Magpies and into the final late Saturday.  Their veterans are a strong bunch; they big Bobby Sears, playmaker David Anastas, and former Boston Demon Aaron Tenbuuren know that on any day in the USAFL, any team and surprise another and walk away with the bikkies.

For home standing Nashville, however, this will be a chance for them to shine on home turf in two winnable games.  The ‘Roos are 1-2, having fallen at Chicago and at home against Baltimore earlier in the season, but came back last month to beat Ohio Valley on the road and should be at the ready.  Jon Freeman and Mo Howell were breakout performers last year in Little Rock, and success will key on the two of them and their veterans, such as Dee Vstecka and David Harris, on this weekend at the Metro Soccer Complex.

WOMEN’S DIVISION:
Denver Lady Bulldogs (0-1)
Texas Heat (Houston/Dallas/Oklahoma)
Midwest All-Stars

Doing a reverse Horace Greeley, the Denver Lady Bulldogs will “go east, young ladies,” making their Central Regionals debut.  Six time defending National Champions, and reigning Western Regional champions, DLB comes to Nashville with a mixture of veterans and a mix of rookies.  Freedom players Alison Bremner, Hallie Kastanek, and Lindsey Kastanek bring the muscle for the ‘Doggies, and veterans Anna Thexton and Kaitlyn Mashcer-Mace lead the attack.  Denver will be hungry, looking to avenge last weekend’s loss against San Francisco with another trophy to their case.

But it won’t be easy.  They’ll have two challengers.  The first, the Texas Heat, are made up of players from Houston, Dallas, and Oklahoma, surprised many last year at Nationals en route to a 2-2 record.  Though the Bulldogs might be more athletic, the Heat will bring the speed.  Former Orange County Bombshell and USA Freedom player Beth Nollenberger leads the Heat alongside up-and-comers Celeste Teroy, Taylor Ballinger, Aubrey Bagley, and former Texas A&M softball catcher Hailey Rebar.  They’ll also have Aussie veterans Joanne Beatty, Felicity Harrison, and Julia Wells among them to give the Doggies what should be an entertaining game.  The Midwest All-Stars will be made up of players from seven up and coming women’s programs, including Chicago, hometown Nashville, Des Moines, and Atlanta, and will be led by newcomer Carson Moore from the Music City.

MEN’S DIVISION TWO:
Oklahoma FC (1-5)
Ohio Valley River Rats (1-2)
Atlanta Kookaburras (0-0)
Des Moines/Baton Rouge

In their first full season as an official combined unit, Oklahoma (combining the forces of Tulsa and OKC) have had a promising renewal to their D4 crown last year.  Though they have a combined 1-5 regular season record, they are coming off a very encouraging effort against Dallas last weekend and a big win against Des Moines at home the week before.  Coach Alex MIrakian will think that his team have a chance to top the group, led by Revos prospects Andrew Sneed and Andrew Rose, and the Rasbold twins.

Perennial Division 4 Powerhouse Ohio Valley, combining players from Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Louisville, have been a busy pack of rats to start the year.  A veteran laden team will come to Nashville, the Rats are 1-2, having split against Indianapolis and falling to the Kangaroos in Cincinnati last month.  Legendary names from the annals of USAFL history, such as forwards Jack Jacobs and Matt Seuling, and ballwinners Scott Klink and Scott Schroeder, and offensive threat Dave Zitko will have Ohio Valley trying to knock over OFC, and the rest of the field.

Atlanta president and league legend Wayne Kraska has gone back to basics to building up the Kookaburras back into the team of their halcyon days of the 2000s.   The Kookas have focused on their Social and Metro programs, which has been immensely successful in bringing out veterans and bringing in new blood to the club.  Kraska has a keen sense for fundamentals, and he, Ryan Downey, dependable Sam Ridenour, big man Basil Benjamin, and the rest of the Kookas are raring at the bit to make their 2018 regular season debut.

Combining as they did last season, Des Moines and Baton Rouge, lovingly called the “Tiger-Cocks” by Des Moines stalwart Sean Chiccone, are back.  Josh Cartmill and Baton Rouge are 1-1, including a win against OFC in Houston, and coming off a strong performance as hosts of the South Central Regional AFLX tournament.  Hamilton May, Ben Judge, and the Roosters, meanwhile, are much more dangerous as a unit than their 2-4 record shows, as their speedy, mostly American side has picked up two wins over Wisconsin.

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