Crows, Lady Bulldogs, River Rats Outlast Temps in Nashville

Footy in the US is a summer sport.  It's a complete 180 from the climate in Australia, where it is dead in the middle of their winter and that's where the game thrives.

That's why footy in the US is a completely different beast, and last Saturday in Nashville, the winners were those who could get handle not just the teams in front of them, but the neigh-triple digit temps that greeted them at Metro Soccer Complex.  With planes landing at Nashville International behind them, 13 teams from the breadth and width of the midwest came in search of a cup.

In the end, the Austin Crows sliced through their three games like a hot knife through something melty, Ohio Valley's veterans stoked them towards their first regional championships tournament title, and a competitive women's competition with new players on new teams complimented another championship for the Denver Lady Bulldogs.


MEN’S DIVISION ONE: AUSTIN RUNS THROUGH FIELD FOR THIRD REGIONAL CROWN

In the opening game of Pool A, Chicago had no answers for Austin’s Mitchell Dell and Nolan Cox, as the Crows applied their scoring touch early and often en route to an 87-0 whitewash over the Swans in the cool morning temps.  The Swans would fare slightly better in their second group game against Denver, with Jeff Kraemer helping to pull the Windy City boys into a fight against the 8-time D1 National Champs.  But Brandon Kauffman’s dominating middle play, and the agility of Lachlan Fleet was too much for the Bloods, as Denver came home 52-point victors to set up a preliminary final with the Crows.

The Austin-Denver dynamic has been viewed as a changing of the guard from one USAFL dynasty to the next, and the last time the two met at a regional championships in 2016, it was Austin who had to claw their way from behind to knock off the Bulldogs.  Here, though the Crows would win by 50 points and go through to the final, Denver played them the toughest of all, as Kauffman, Cameron Freeman, and the Bulldogs forced 11 misses on goal and scored the only point that Austin would surrender on the day.

Pool B began with Dallas taking on hometown Nashville, and the Magpies came out of the gate faster than the planes taking off from Nashville International behind the field.  The Kangaroo defenders, skilled as they are, simply couldn’t contain Ben McIntosh in the first half, as the big Aussie kicked six straight goals to give the ‘Pies a flying start in the first half.  Dallas changed their look in the second half, however, and that allowed the Kangas to open things up on their end through midfielders Mo Howell and Kersei Davis.  Each team would get two goals in the second half, and though Dallas won 49-16, Nashville used their second half spurt to propel them into their next game against Houston.

Firing on all cylinders now, it was Nashville who came out hot in the second game, with Howell and John Freeman controlling the middle of the ground and setting up Eric Toepfer in the forward line for a couple of goals.  Trailing at halftime, however, the Lonestars came out of the break with the upper hand, as rookie Chance Mire took charge in the ruck, which allowed Sam Donnelly to take a couple of cool marks around the goal and convert.  Kicking a string of goals to see out the second half, it was Houston who would get up by nine points in a thriller, and set up a match against Dallas in the prelim final.

On paper, the Magpies were favored here, but, as has been said hundreds if not more times, they don’t play footy on paper.   A tug-of-war the whole way, Houston and their inspirational talisman Dave Bryant kept Dallas at arm’s length the entire game, and though Dallas would claw back in the last minute to come to within one point, that the way the game would end.  34-33 Houston, and a date against Austin in an all Lone Star State clash in the final.

Austin arrived in the final with confidence, and they would exude it in miserly fashion over their in-state rivals, who battled intensely for forty minutes.  Daniel Brown stopped any Houston sorties forward and turned them into advance, setting up Matthew Foster for two early goals.  Grant Campbell, the veteran Peter Daicos-type of the Crows, scored an early goal and then worked the Houston defenders into the ground to create a second a couple of minutes later.  The Crows would continue their dominance into the second half, and kick away to a 56-0 win to lift their third Regional Championship trophy in four years.  Brown would take out MVP for the final, while Dell would be named best and fairest.

Down the hill, Dallas stake itself to an early lead behind Indianapolis Giant hired-hands Shane Branscum and Phil Lash to hold onto a four point win for third place, while Chicago wore down Nashville in the late afternoon heat to take home fifth place.

POOL A: Austin Crows (2-0), Denver Bulldogs (1-1), Chicago Swans (0-2)
Austin 12.15.87 def Chicago 0.0.0
Denver 10.7.67 def Chicago 2.3.15
Austin 5.11.51 def Denver 0.1.1

POOL B: Houston Lonestars (2-0), Dallas Magpies (1-1), Nashville Kanagaroos (0-2)
Dallas 8.1.49 def Nashville 2.4.16
Houston 5.5.35 def Nashville 4.2.26
Houston 5.4.34 def Dallas 4.9.33

CLASSIFICATION MATCHES:
Grand Final: Austin 8.8.56 def Houston 0.0.0
3rd Place: Dallas 4.5.29 def Denver 3.7.25
5th Place: Chicago 7.4.46 def Nashville 3.6.24


WOMEN’S DIVISION: LADY BULLDOGS DANCE TO VICTORY, TEXAS, ALL-STARS SHINE BRIGHT

That the Denver Lady Bulldogs would win both games in their Central Regionals debut by handy margins should surprise no one; the six time defending champions were heavily favored coming into Nashville against a second-year team and a mixed bag of players from clubs in their infancy.  But the story here was how the other two teams faired against each other, and against the mighty Bulldogs, and what hey can take into the future.

The opener saw the Texas Heat face the Midwest All-Stars, a team made up of players from Nashville, Des Moines, Chicago, Minnesota, and Cincinnati.   Chemistry is a buzz-word in footy, but for a team of near strangers, they had it early against the Texans, pressuring the Heat defense until Des Moines’ Emily Rice got the first goal of the match.  Pressure by Nashville’s Carson Moore and Minnesota’s Kathryn Mullin produced scoring chances, while Chicago’s Tess Maisey and Nashville’s Lauryl Desch kept the Heat to just one behind in the first twenty minutes, as the All-Stars led 10-1.

Texas kicked into gear after halftime, as the Heat’s two gunners, Taylor Ballinger and Aubrey Bagley, took control and started creating opportunities of their own.  Bagley hit two quick goals, while Kate Smith kept the ball away from the All-Stars midfielders, and six-foot rookie Hailey Rebar threw herself at the footy with the frequency of a Florida thunderstorm.  Rebar’s efforts netted her a goal in her first game, and the Heat picked up a handsome 24-12 win in a game that both sides could be proud of.

Now the All-Stars had to face Denver, and considering that this was a group of players spread all over the Midwest against The Mighty Lady Bulldogs™, they put on a pretty good show.  Moore and Maisey were not afraid of Denver stalwarts Hallie Kastanek and Allison Bremner, going after the footy and taking marks away.  But they didn’t have an answer for two other veterans, as Anna Thexton finessed her way to three goals, and Kaitlyn Mascher-Mace muscled home three more in a 57-point victory.  Despite the convincing win, the All-Stars played extremely well to their credit, and hopefully we’ll see the likes of Moore, Desch, Maisey, and the rest back at Nationals in October.

The nightcap was another convincing Denver win, but this time it was their rookies who took center stage.  Alexis Koo buzzed like an angry bee to collect possessions like pollen, and both Zoe Do and Lyssa Gad created a number of chances for Mascher-Mace, Sara Rohner, and the forwards to convert.  The Texans managed two points against the Lady Bulldogs, but their play impressed all, including their opponents themselves.  Bagley had another strong game running from the back, both Rebar and Julia Wells held their own against the taller Bulldog onballers, and USAFL women’s original Beth Nollenberger used her experience to collect double digits in possessions.  Bagley would take home the MVP medal, while Kastanek’s domination of the middle led to the best & fairest nod.

Denver’s ladies lifted another trophy on the day, but women’s footy continues to grow in the nation’s heartland, with the hopes that more teams will compete in next year’s tournament.

Final Ladder:
Denver Lady Bulldogs (2-0), Texas Heat (1-1), Midwest All-Stars (0-2)
Texas 4.0.24 def All-Stars 1.6.12
Denver 8.10.58 def All-Stars 0.1.1
Denver 7.10.52 def Texas 0.2.2


MEN’S DIVISION TWO: OHIO VALLEY'S VETERANS TURN ASIDE D2 FIELD

The Ohio Valley River Rats know how to win a title; they had done it five times in Divvy Four at Nationals since the 2008 season, and the Cincinnati Dockers were one of the league’s first power teams.  On this sweltering day in Nashville, the Rats would have to deal with the defending D4 champs Oklahoma FC, a resurgent Atlanta side, and the ever dangerous Des Moines Roosters/Baton Rouge Tigers combo, who had the assistance of three members of the Minnesota Freeze.

Ohio Valley started the day with a straight-forward 51-point win over Atlanta, though the score belied a strong effort from the Kookaburras, led by Braden Medders.  The Rats’ veterans, led by midfielder Kyle Strenski and forward Matt Seuling, were too much for the Kookas however.  Up the hill, Des Moines, bolstered by Minnesota halfback Brent Mergen and Baton Rouge rover Lachlan Miscamble, were holding play against OFC, and with a complete team effort, accounted for the Buffs by six goals.

Oklahoma used their setback to the “Tiger-Cocks” as motivation in their afternoon game against Atlanta, and with stalwart forward Alex Mirakian and rookie sensation Jorden Colero leading the Charge, the Buffs hung three digits on the game Kookaburras, accounting for Atlanta by 96 points and keeping their cup hopes alive.  The Rats, meanwhile, had no difficulty with DSM/BTR, as Strenski, Jack Jacobs, and the rest of the white-and-purple overcame an inaccurate combination side by seven majors.

That left the winners of the last two Divvy 4 National Championships to play for the regional title, with Des Moines/Baton Rouge waiting in the wings on percentage.  Both the Rats and Buffs had experience in spades, but it was Ohio Valley’s that shown through.  Strenski, who would be named best and fairest on the tournament, was again the dominant force to get the ball forward, and the OFC defense had no answer for Seuling, who would kick a bag of four and hold off the comeback-minded Buffs by eight points to get the chocolates.  The “Tiger-Cocks” conglomerate finished in second by virtue of their win over Atlanta in the nightcap.

Final Ladder:
Ohio Valley River Rats (3-0), Des Moines/Baton Rouge/Minnesota (2-1), Oklahoma FC (1-2), Atlanta Kookaburras (0-3)
Des Moines 7.4.46 def Oklahoma 1.4.10
Ohio Valley 10.9.69 def Atlanta 3.0.18
Ohio Valley 8.7.55 def Des Moines 2.7.19
Oklahoma 16.7.103 def Atlanta 1.1.7
Des Moines 12.19.91 def Atlanta 0.1.1
Ohio Valley 5.1.31 def Oklahoma 3.6.24

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