2018 Nationals Preview: Mens Division 2 and 3

These aren’t undercards, these aren’t sideshows.

Division Two and Division Three at Nationals are as competitive and as full of skill as the top level, and there are very talented footballers, many of them American, taking to the ground from these eighteen teams.

Like Division 1, the format in these two divisions will be different than previous years.  With nine teams in each level, three teams of three pools will play two round robin games on Saturday.  The winner of each pool and one wild card (record, then percentage), advance to the Sunday morning Semis with the winner going to the Grand Final on ESPN3.  Not a bad carrot.


MEN’S DIVISION TWO

POOL A: Portland Steelheads, Minnesota Freeze, Calgary Kangaroos

If I may be allowed to make a College Football reference (and I’m going to make one anyway), the Portland Steelheads are the Boise State of the 2018 USAFL season.  They went 9-0 during the regular season, and unlike their undefeated brethren from Golden Gate and Austin, their schedule wasn’t as strong as the top tier teams.  Make no mistake, six of the wins came against teams playing in D2 this season, and they’ve earned every victory through speed and determination.

Martin Coventry’s boys know how much they enjoyed winning D3 in 2015 and 2016 and come to Racine trying to take the next step into elite company.  John Kim (yes, that John Kim) and Elliot Boys complete a potent Aussie triumvirate for Rose City, and both Jevon Mason and Scott “Lyle” Waggoner compliment Kim’s dashing with some wheels of their own.

One of Portland’s victims this year was Minnesota, but the Freeze, who went 8-4 on the year, will come down I-94 locked and loaded for revenge and a chance to usurp the group.

After a couple of rebuilding years, the Freeze posted an excellent 2-1 showing in San Diego last year and have parried away challenges from Chicago and Des Moines, among others this year.  Minnesota has been known as having a wide range of weaponry at their disposal, and with a bit of depth about them, a spot in the semi-finals and a run from there is not out of the question at all.  But will winter come a few weeks early?

Minnesota has their own Aussie playmakers, among them Justin Habel, Jamie Hepner, and Arlo Kemp.  The focus is on the American unit, however, which includes a group of guys who played, at one time or another, for the USA Revolution.  Rover Brent Fischer, tall timber Brent Mergen, the deft Brian Traut, quick moving Stephen Fashant, and Tiger Werner (who has an actual first name that isn’t Tiger) among them.

In previous years, Calgary has been an enigma wrapped inside a riddle surrounded by a question mark.  That’s because they don’t play any USAFL teams during the season.  They usually come down like raiders from the North, pillaging the nationals and go grinning about it all the way to the bar.

2018 has not been kind to the Kangas, however, and they bring a team that will be supplemented by the colleagues in Edmonton and Winnipeg as well as players from Baltimore.  All the same, this is still Calgary we’re talking about and they look to extend the streak of Canadian teams winning Division 2 to four consecutive tournaments.  Northwind tall guy Trent Loosemore and spiritual leader Lachlan Griffiths keystone Calgary in two games that will test them, but to which they are ready for.

POOL B: Dallas Magpies, San Diego Lions, Seattle Grizzlies

A 7-7 record for the white and black attack from down South, and a 2-1 record last year in San Diego has Dallas thinking they will play well in D2, where they move for the first time since 2011.  The ‘Pies opponents ran the gamut in 2018 from D1 Austin and Los Angeles all the way down to D4 Nashville, and they were unlucky to finish third at regionals back in June.

Dallas’ reputation is that of a team that hits hard but still has slick skills.  They also can sling the Sherrin at the goals like lightning bolts out of Thor’s hammer.  Young forward target Ben McIntosh and veteran workhorse Craig Storer pace the Maggies, and big tree ruck Jason Sutherland will be formidable.  But there is some good American talent here, including Kyle Bass, Stephen Bass, and Hunter Dale.  Also Jack O’Dell, who crunches opponents and force teams into mistakes.

Attempting to chase down the squad from Big D are two sides who know each other very, very well.  San Diego and Seattle squared up in the D3 final last year, and Seattle took home the chocolates in enemy territory.  The Lions got revenge on Seattle at regionals, but all bets are off on Saturday.

San Diego have slowly but surely clawed their way back into being among the showcase clubs of the league, both on the field and off of it.  The SCAFL premiers went 8-6 on the season, and more than held their own during the course of the years against the likes of Orange County and Los Angeles, as well as the upstart Arizona Hawks.

At its core, the heart of the Lions team are veterans with good fundamentals and their experience is usually what wins them games.  Brandon Blankenship, Justin Valley, and Brian Steffy are among the three headed ball winners for San Diego, and Aussie danger man John Carpenter had a sparkling regional tournament which he’ll try to repeat in Racine.

Moving up after taking home the D3 title last season, the Grizzlies played a lot of football in 2018.  Between their metro league, their BCAFL campaign, and the USAFL season proper, the Grizz played somewhere in the neighborhood of about thirty games.  They only posted a record of 2-6 on the year; Portland was their bane, though they fought admirably in the Western Div 1 games against Golden Gate and Los Angeles.

Champions of Division 2 in 2008, and near-miss runners up in the 2009 D1 Grand Final, Seattle’s renaissance has been a promising group of young Americans.  Max Depina will head to Australia to begin the next stage of his footballing career, but not before one last chance with the emeralds.  Alex Jessup and Austin Cox have emerged as stars, and Olympic rower-turned-Grizzly gun Rob Munn is gaining notoriety as well.  Add in Aussie forward Tex Edmonds, youthful Aaron Tomaselli, aerial specialist Matthew Hocking, and the Grizz hve a chance.

POOL C: Orange County Bombers, Houston Lonestars, Chicago Swans

From D2 champions in 2006 to back-to-back D1 runners up in 2014-2015, the Orange County Bombers have found their niche in Division 2.  Dropping down for the first time in a decade last season, the Bombers fell to Quebec in the Grand Final, but came out swinging this year to win the SCAFL minor premiership and post a solid second place finish at the Western D2.  At 8-6, OCB proved they could hang with anyone and perhaps make a run at the flag.

OC has prided itself on recruiting a strong class of Americans, and Abe Chase leads the way form the back.  The baby-faced Bomber stood tall defensively all season and during regionals, and it cleared the way for Jonathan Collins, Kelson Mustoe, and the rest to set up the attack.  Seb Aguiari, who is in his second stint for the sashes, is a stout yet dynamic onballer who is tough to get past without the football and tough to bring down with it.

Riding through the middle of the group is the Houston Lonestars, who at 6-5 this year have played up to some tough opponents including a thrilling one point win against Dallas at Centrals.  After taking the D3 title back to Texas in 2013, the ‘Stars are 6-5-1 in Nationals play at the Divvy 2 level, and with new crop of nationals coming through the Energy City, Houston should be considered a title threat.

There is rattlesnake danger in the middle here, lurking in Revolution products Jesse Carcamo and Chris Fielder; the latter of which earned praise from Tom Ellis and his staff during the Irish tour in August.  New Jersey native Vin O’Beirne is a 6’8 tall target and ruck option, something that Josh Devlin gave them in the past.  They also have a rookie Canadian named Steve Johnson on the team, and while he may not be bending balls around behind posts like the original Stevie J just yet, he has impressed in his early days so far.

The defacto home side, the Chicago Swans come flying up I-94 after knocking aside just about every team in the upper Midwest.  Going 9-4 on the year and sweeping the 80/35 tournament in Des Moines, Chicago ran into some tough competition at regionals, bounced back to pick up a couple of Ws against D3 Columbus in a couple of well-earned wins.

Three players with international experience – American fullback Jeff Kraemer, German ruck Christoph Odenthal, and Scottish utility Stu Nicol – pace the Swans as they try for their first flag since winning D3 in 2012.  Australian Corey Barker and American speedster Pedro Jiminez are the x-factors here for the Swans to make a run, though Kraemer’s play in the backline cannot be understated.

DIVISION TWO PREVIOUS WINNERS:
1999: Baltimore-Washington 3.4.22 def SC/NC/Tri-Cities 1.4.10
2000: Not contested
2001: New York 3.8.26 def Atlanta 2.3.15
2002: Orange County 7.3.45 def Golden Gate 2.3.15
2003: Milwaukee 4.2.26 def Golden Gate 3.1.19
2004: Arizona Hawks 3.4.22 def Philadelphia 3.4.20
2005: Golden Gate 7.3.45 def Philadelphia 1.4.10
2006: Baltimore-Washington 10.9.69 def Minnesota 2.0.12
2007: Minnesota 3.5.23 def Seattle 2.2.14
2008: Seattle 3.4.22 def Calgary 0.3.3
2009: Calgary 5.8.38 def Milwaukee 3.2.20
2010: Calgary 11.8.74 def Minnesota 5.1.34
2011: Dallas 8.6.52 def Austin 0.5.5
2012: Minnesota 1.6.12 def Los Angeles 0.3.3
2013: Columbus 5.5.35 def Los Angeles 1.5.11
2014: Los Angeles 11.3.69 def Columbus 1.0.6
2015: Quebec 3.9.27 def Sacramento 0.0.0
2016: Calgary 6.3.39 def Columbus 0.3.3
2017: Quebec 5.6.36 def Orange County 1.1.7


MEN’S DIVISION THREE

POOL A: Philadelphia Hawks/Indianapolis, Ohio Valley River Rats, Oklahoma FC

If you’re going to celebrate twenty seasons of footballing existence, having your best season is the best way to do it.  Eastern Regional D1 champs, a 7-4 record, two big wins over arch rival New York and their first ever win in Boston.  That’s the way to do it.  Coaches Jon Loring and Andrew Giacomo have Philly thinking they can win their first D3 title since 2002.  Kamikaze forward Jon Ginsburg will be the target for Aussie brothers John and Robert Hinchen, and defensive superstar Pat Miller will have handy reinforcements in front of him Indy’s Shane Branscum and Sam Gould.

Combining the two oldest clubs in the USAFL, the Cincinnati Dockers and Louisville Kings combine to make up the Ohio Valley side, winners of five D4 titles and on the hunt for their first ever D3 crown.  The fountain of youth is not in Florida, but rather in Southern Ohio, as stalwarts such as Kyle Strenski, Matt Sueling, Woody Stone and Jack Jacobs paced the Rats to a 5-3 record and the Central D2 crown.  Eric “Sleepy” Floyd returns to the fold and is harder to guard than the original Sleepy Floyd from Georgetown.

After growing by fission into two separate clubs, Tulsa and Oklahoma City came back together as one big happy happy just a month before the 2017 Nationals.  The newly minted Oklahoma FC side stomped through D4 and won their first ever title over New York’s reserves.  Their docket may read 2-10, but they were in many games this year, including an impressive effort against Dallas at home.  Some youthful Buffs such as Kalon Thrasher and Chris Cawood have added to the old wood toted by OFC, who swift decision makers such as Chris Cox and the Rasbold twins lurking.

POOL B: Columbus Cats, DC Eagles/Chicago*, Des Moines Roosters/Quebec*

Trading their stripes for hoops, the Cats era began in the Buckeye Capital with the D2 Eastern regional title, and a crack at the EAFL premiership in their first go at it.  At 4-4, Columbus has been feast or famine in 2018, and after going 6-3 in the last three seasons including a D2 Grand Final in 2016, the 2013 D3 champs look to make biscuits (because that’s what Cats do with their claws) in the lower group.  The Aussie brigade of Declan Stimson, Nick D’Ardenne, and Simon Leadston will be augmented by a couple of American speedsters in Rob Adams and Dean Panik.

Expanding from one club into two following a D1 appearance last year, the newly minted DC Eagles went 4-5 in their first year as a standalone club.  They went back and forth with former friend now foe Baltimore, and Dannie Seow’s team drilled his side on fundamentals which kept them instead during the season.  Seow, formerly of Melbourne and Collingwood in the then-VFL, is still tough as india rubber, and Harry Griffiths was a dead-eye diamond in the goal square during the season.

Being the only full American side in the competition is a feat, and the Des Moines Roosters are a competitive outfit at that.  The D4 National champs won seven of the thirteen games they played, and took on a veritable smorgasbord of competition from up and down the heartland.  There is a lot to be said about the potential of the all-Yank lineup, and the Revo core of Ben Judge, Hamilton May, and Caleb Daugherty is athletic and workmanlike.  Nana Coleman also provides pace to a team that has become more streamlined over the past couple of seasons.

POOL C: Sacramento Suns, Boston Demons, North Carolina Tigers

It’s getting to be evening, for the Suns have set ever so slightly lower from Div 2 down to Div 3.  They have not been here since they won it back in 2014 over Philly, and despite their 2-8 record under new coach Vicky Schoenagel, Sactown will be a formidable foe.  Multiple Roos medal winner and all around destroyer of worlds Saleh Tyebjee is on pace for another big Nationals, and the skillsets range from the high flying Kendall “Rabbit” Hutchings to the strong arming of Colby Campbell to the silent yet effect defending of fullback Toby Simmons.

A fixture in D2 for seven seasons, Boston makes the step down to D3 as they try for their first Grand Final appearance in two decades.  After a 7-6 season, the Dees try to improve upon a 2-7 record at the last three national carnivals.  Ruck Geoff Hamshar and paceman Tom Ivester will try to raise hell in the middle for the Demons, as will the smooth skill and flowing locks of Ari Joniec.  Former West Coast Eagle Jeremy Humm will draw attention from opponents, but they can’t let their guard down lest guys like Matt Wood and John Newton punish them for it.

From the rolling hills and shores of North Carolina, the Tigers have slowly stepped up to be tenacious, winning D4 in 2014 and then coming runner up in D3 in 2016.  Despite a 2-6 record, the Tiges were competitive in EAFL play, coming close to taking out New York at home in June in the rain.  Attempting to bounce back from an 0-3 showing in San Diego, Carolina has a bit of Irish fringe around them.  Gaelic converts Dara O’hAnnidh, Alan Corr, and Ciaran McManus supplement a mix of rookies and vets.  Revo Erik Hanson continues to improve and impress, and former Golden Gate Roo Jake Aulner has given the attack a much needed shot in the arm.

DIVISION THREE PREVIOUS WINNERS:
2002: Philadelphia 3.8.26 def Milwaukee 2.2.14
2003: Kansas City 6.7.43 def North Carolina 0.3.3
2004: Cincinnati 8.5.53 def Kansas City 3.2.20
2005: Minnesota 4.3.27 def Baton Rouge 3.3.21
2006: Las Vegas 7.5.47 def Baton Rouge 5.1.31
2007: St Louis 4.6.31 def Las Vegas 2.4.16
2008: Kansas City 3.8.26 def Austin 1.2.8
2009: Dallas 8.3.51 def Austin 1.2.8
2010: Austin 4.4.28 def Ft Lauderdale 2.5.17
2011: Arizona Hawks 5.2.32 def Atlanta 3.1.19
2012: Chicago 4.7.31 def Columbus 3.4.22
2013: Houston 3.5.23 def Sacramento 0.1.1
2014: Sacramento 7.1.43 def Philadelphia 0.5.5
2015: Portland 5.7.37 def Cincinnati 1.3.9
2016: Portland 7.4.46 def North Carolina 3.4.22
2017: Seattle 4.3.27 def San Diego 3.2.20

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