Season Preview Part V - Mens West Region South

One part of the USAFL equation that has remained constant has been the prowess of the west coast teams.  Each year, they have several teams vying for titles in the men’s division.

In fact, since 2011, there have been at least two teams from the West in a Grand Final at Nationals.  That’s a pretty impressive streak, and one that doesn’t appear to be letting up any time soon.

The SCAFL, a metro league that features three teams from Los Angeles and two standalone USAFL clubs and the three-way SoCal Cup lightning tournament heats up the Golden State.  Next door, cross town rivals in Arizona build their way up, while a half-an-ocean away, a new club among the most beautiful places in the world spreads its wings.

Go West, friends.  We start down south.


2018 Record:      0-3
Nationals             1-2          5th Place, Division 4 (with Wisconsin/Milwaukee)

2018 Recap: Like the city that bears its central anchor, the Hawks rose like a phoenix from the ashes in 2017 after not fielding a men’s side for five seasons.  Despite the added pressure of a new cross-town rival, the Arizona Hawks campaign showed continued signs of encouragement for Sun Devil State’s first footy club.  Challenging the Southern California teams during the year and playing them tight, the Hawks were split for the Western Regionals; half the team got D1 experience playing alongside San Diego, while the other half, led by Revo forward Jason Wilhelm and speedy mid Alex Saucedo Fernandez, helped Portland take out the D2 title.   At Nationals, the Hawks joined the Wisconsin Wombats in finishing fifth out of a six team D4 field, a performance punctuated by James Bingaman’s mark of the tournament against Nashville. – BB

From the team: “We are coming off a great season that saw a lot of growth in not just participation but in the development of players and leaders. The key to success for both the men's and women's sides for 2019 will be to stay hungry and not become content. Last year we were trying to figure out what sort of club we wanted to be. This season, we know who we are, we know what we want to accomplish, and we know what we need to do in order to be successful. If you come down to our practices you will see this heightened energy and intensity that was lacking this time last year. It's an exciting time to be part of this club, and we look forward to a season where we can show the rest of the league this renewed sense of what it means to be an Arizona Hawk. The image of a hawk rising from the mountains is not just something emblazoned on our training tops. It's a mentality we have as a club. The Hawks are rising.” - James Bingaman, Vice President

Key matchups: “The Sun and Surf showdown against San Diego is the biggest test. The first game will be used as a gauge to see where the team is at, with the teams meeting again in September as a lead up to Nationals. The partnership that has been formed with San Diego has been incredible and the Hawks have nothing but respect for the Lions.” - James Bingaman, Vice President

2019 Outlook: One game is already in arears this year for the Hawkers, a loss to the Lions in what is a budding rivalry, but one that is based on mutual respect from two clubs that were integral in the league’s early days.  Arizona started six new players in the game and even picked up a quarter win the contest.  They’ll get their chance at revenge on August 27th in San Diego.  Recruiting has been potent, and it has brought in the likes of young gun Saucedo Fernandez, Irishman Barry Mullen, and multi-talented utility Ryan Marshall.  Revo prospect Dan Hall has been a godsend for the team both on and off the field, and his work alongside Wilhelm and the rest are helping to cultivate a sustainable future for the game in Arizona.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

2018 Record:      1-4
Nationals:            3-1          Runners Up, Division 2 (with Las Vegas/Seattle-B)

2018 Recap: Arizona is not your typical place, and the Outlaws are not your typical team.  Formed from footballing veterans in February of last year and bolstered with a fast-paced recruiting effort, the new club put on a successful opening carnival, co-hosted the Rob Dollar Memorial Tournament, in May.  From there, they teamed up with Las Vegas and played three hearty matches at the Western Regionals.  Despite and 0-3 record in Sacramento, a few heads were turned by the play of Rob Lutostanski in the midfield and Peter Abernathy in the back, and the it offered encouraging signs for the rest of the season.   After a home-and-home split to end the regular season against Vegas, the Outlaws, Gamblers, and Grizzlies-B side combined at Nationals, won their first three games, but could not overcome a determined Baltimore Dockers outfit in the D4 Grand Final. – BB

From the team: “​2018 was a great first year for the Outlaws and AZFooty, our club grew rapidly from the ground up and were strong competitors at nationals. This year we are having a strong focus of building our presence in the region as well as forming our first state womens team. 2019 is the year the Outlaws grow to be one of the regions powerhouses.”

Key Matchups: “​The one game the Outlaws want more than any, and the fans should have it, is the Arizona Outlaws vs Baltimore Dockers. Since the heats and Grand Final at nationals left the 2 teams at a win a piece, both close games also. There is nothing we want more than to beat Baltimore at nationals at the end of the year.”

2019 Outlook: While most teams are just now getting back into the groove of the season, the Outlaws have been running AZFooty, their metro league, during the winter months.  That has fed right into the new USAFL season; each of the two teams that participated picked up a win in the RDMC in March, the tournament has become an early fixture on the USAFL calendar.   As a unit, AOFC will have a strong defensive core wrapped ‘round Abernathy and keystoned by team defender of the year Matt Lambert.  Lutostanski and Robert Yackley are just two of the athletic names for opponents to be wary of, the latter set to make his mark in this, his first full year.  Where the Outlaws end up depends on their numbers, but whether they are in D3 or D4, they are a competitive bunch and always a chance.  – BB

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

2018 Record:      n/a
Nationals:            n/a

2019 Outlook: Footy is officially a part of the Aloha State now, the Hawai’i Eagles have had nearly twenty players come out to their metro games and practices held in the shadow of Diamond Head.  The squad has a couple of USAFL veterans, including former Austin Crow Dallas McCulloch and former Seattle Grizzly Jason Clifford, and the vast array of Honolulu locals and Aussie ex-pats that have come to play are committed to the growth of the side there.  They are planning to make the trip to Salem for the Western Regionals, and will host their first ever match against Seattle in September.  Nationals will be a bit of a stretch for them, but this first season has already been memorable.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Division 4

2018 Record:      9-3
Nationals:            2-1          3rd Place, Division 1

2018 Recap: After clawing their way to their first D1 Grand Final in 2017, the Dragons re-established themselves as the best team in Southern California with a convincing win in the SoCal cup over neighbors Orange County and rapidly improving San Diego.  Behind defensive master Julian de Vizio, forward sentinel Paul Ioakim, and rover extraordinaire David Dollar, Los Angeles had a superb season and racked up victories left and right.  The bane of their season, however, was Golden Gate, the team that knocked them sideways in the ’17 Grand Final.  After losses to them at Westerns, and again late in the year on the road in the Bay Area, the Dragons and Roos faced a collision course again, this time in the D1 semi-finals.  The Dragons were superb, as they had been all season long, but the defending champs were nine points better, and the boys in teal would land in third despite their best efforts.

2019 Outlook: You can’t start a year any better than the Dragons did at the Rob Dollar Cup, when they batted down current National Champion Austin in the final.  The SCAFL season and SoCal cup will once again prove worthy obstacles for LA, who are now firmly established as one of the premier teams in the competition.  And just like the others at the top, they have the arsenal.  Local Sam Murphy returned from West Perth last year having used his experience in the WAFL side’s camp to improve his ruck work and add another option to the nearly indomitable Donald Lee in the aerial game.  The addition of Ryan McGettigan from Philadelphia made an already formidable on-balling core even stronger, with the Revo veteran adding his athleticism and experience to the likes of Dollar and Christopher Bagot.  Up front, Pat Nicholls had another marvelous Nationals last year, and both, Ioakim, Justin Hall and Justin Kenna make the Dragons one of the most potent offensive teams out there.  The Dragons are very much premiership contenders and it will be fun watching them breathe fire this year heading towards that goal.

Nationals Seeding Prediction: High Seed, Division 1

2018 Record:      8-6
Nationals:            2-2          7th Place, Division 2

2018 Recap: The Orange County Australian Football Club’s 2018 season was a historic one; they celebrated their 20th anniversary, and it turned out to be their last under the Bombers moniker.  But what a season it was.  OC went through the SCAFL season 4-0, only to fall to the Lions in a hotly contested Grand Final.  At Regionals, the County weathered the challenges – and the heat – to post wins over the Outlaws/Gamblers and Sacramento before falling to the Steelheads/Hawks combo in the de facto Grand Final.  Donning the sash for the last time at Nationals, they went to Racine hoping to make it back to the D2 decider as they did in San Diego.  After dropping their opener to Chicago by just 13 points, both they and Houston met on a muddy oval with the chance for either side to possibly grab a wild card spot for the semis.  Houston won, 1-0, and OC would rebound the next morning to beat Calgary 18-15 to lock up seventh place. – BB

From the Club: “Everyone at the club is ecstatic to be partnering with GWS and become part of the Giants family in 2019. It's a huge opportunity for us to grow our club on and off the field and we're very excited to see what the future holds. Moving on from 21 fantastic years as the Bombers isn't easy, but we're proud of everything the club achieved in the black and red and wouldn't be in the position we are today without all the hard work and success of club members past and present. Our on-field goals for 2019 are to increase the depth of our playing squad and push up the USAFL rankings. We're targeting D2 again for nationals and gunning for the best possible outcome we can achieve!”

Key matchups: “2019 regionals is something we're very excited for in 2019. We have some exciting 1st/2nd year players that'll have used the SCAFL to get their hands on the footy, so it'll be exciting to see how we go in our first tournament wearing Giants Orange!”

2019 Outlook: With the backing of the GWS Giants behind them, the OC Giants head into this year having retained most of their playing roster from 2018.  Club Best & Fairest Tyler Mounce, who took out the club B&F and Roos Medal double, is back to lead the G-men and is one of the most skilled ball handlers in the country.  They’ll also have the services of last year’s rookie phenom Connor Francek, who is expected to build from an outstanding first season.  The team will miss retired legend Seb Aguiari, but word from the club is that he’s been to every practice so far this season, so there’s a bit of a question mark around that.  The combination of new recruits and able veterans will make their SCAFL encounters against Los Angeles and San Diego fun as heck, and if they can bring their well-stocked side to Florida, they’ll have a crack at the D2 title. – BB

Nationals Seeding Prediction: High Seed, Division 2

2018 Record:      8-6
Nationals:            1-2          6th Place, Division 2

2018 Recap: From the heights of a perennial D1 Grand Final contender to rock bottom and back again, the San Diego Lions revitalization has been one of the biggest stories in the league over the past four seasons.  From a D4 title in 2015 to a D3 runners-up run at home in 2017, the Maroons continued their ascendancy last season.  After a 3-1 SCAFL record, the Lions tagged Orange County back in the Grand Final, then managed a SoCal cup win at home over D1 Los Angeles, eeking out a 13-point victory.  They stood toe-to-toe against the Dragons and Golden Gate at regionals, and got a statement win over much-fancied Seattle to finish their go in Sacramento at 2-1.  The Grizzlies would get the last laugh at Nationals, shutting down the Lions enough to where even an invigorating 25-point win over Dallas couldn’t get them a wild-card spot into the semis.  Despite the 6th place finish, the Lions’ Aussie core of Dom Graves, Tony Ballis and Andrew Connell helped lead the team to a respectable performance and set them up for 2019. – BB

From the Team: “Numbers have been strong in the early part of the season which bodes well for a another year of growth in San Diego.  With 14 match weekends in 2019 we will be looking to promote the development of a number of new faces, and a strong Aussie contingent are ready and keen to pitch in and help out wherever they can.  The sun is shining and things are looking up in SD.”

Key Matchups: “The Lions took on new rival The Arizona Hawks in the first two 'Sun N Surf Showdowns' for the year this past weekend, with the return leg poised for August 17th in San Diego.  After taking the first two installments in 2018, the second in a come from behind win in hot Scottsdale weather, the Lions will be looking to make it 3 and 4 in a row.  These two games are shaping up as great contests.  Another massive test comes later in the year in a round robin Tourney in LA in September as the Lions will step up to take on 2018 Division 1 Runner-Up Golden Gate Roos and local SoCal rival the LA Dragons.”

2019 Outlook: With an emphatic opening win over the Hawks in Glendale, Arizona on ANZAC weekend, the Lions are off on the right paw.  What’s more, their games against OC and LA have paid dividends in matches outside SoCal and the SCAFL, which will make them a threat in D2 this season.  The Aussies here are rock solid, led by team Best & Fairest Tony Ballis and backliners Jack Haw and Dom Graves.  The American talent on this team is potent as well, with Revo prospect Brian Powers showing why he would fit well in Tom Ellis’s scheme, and the versatile duo Stephen Loper, and Patty Slane showing their speed out on the defensive and wing flanks.  The long journey to Florida and the long season will test San Diego, but they’re an entertaining bunch to watch and they’re just getting better every game. – BB

Nationals Seeding Prediction: Middle Seed, Division 2

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