Season Preview Part VIII - Womens Central

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In our look at the Central region's men's side, we mentioned about the long history that midwestern clubs had in the fabric of growing the game here in the USA.

For the women's side, however, it's been a more arduous task over the past five years.

Two years ago, there was only one full team in this region; the Minnesota Freeze.  But 2017 saw Des Moines, Wisconsin, and newcomers North Star and Texas enter the fray, and last year saw the formation of clubs in Chicago and Nashville and the shift of the six-time champion Denver Lady Bulldogs over to the Central.  The result of all of this was that, in 2018, the Central regionals contained a women's division for the first time in three years.

In 2019, the Central region's women's division is growing, and more importantly, there are quality athletes being recruited and picking up the game fast.  This isn't just great news for the individual clubs, but for the USAFL women's program at large, including a number of players who we may see in red, white, and blue at AFL International Cup 2020.

WOMEN'S CENTRAL REGION


2018 Nationals:                 2-2          Runners-Up, Division 2 (w/ Columbus & Philadelphia)

2018 Recap: Windy City’s original Aussie Rules club has had numerous historic moments, and one of the biggest was last season’s official launch of the Swans’ women’s side.  They made their debut at Central regionals with a number of Aussie recruits assisting players from Minnesota and Nashville as part of the Midwest All-Stars, and continued to recruit hard during the season.  Northern Victoria’s Rebekah Quinn was the sparkplug for the Bloods during the year, and they got experience from former San Francisco Iron Maiden Claudia Hendershaw.  Quinn and Hendershaw were joined at Nationals by original Swan Amy McGuinness who had moved to Toronto in the off season, as well as Central Blues veteran Danielle Comolli, and the quartet played a pivotal role in their teams’ bringing home the silver medal from up the road in Racine. – BB

From the team: “After an exciting 2018, the Swans are looking to grow again in 2019, as female interest in the sport continues to grow. We are hoping to establish our own standalone team this season and show that the girls from the Windy City can mix it with the best in the country!”

Key Matchups: “The Swans host their biggest rival, the Minnesota Freeze on June 1. A double-header is in store as both the women's and men's teams will be competing on the day.”

2019 Outlook: The Swans sent two women to Nashville to be a part of the Kangaroos-Atlanta matchup this past weekend.  Quinn has been doing the hard yards on both sides of the white line to get Chicago ready for the season; both she and Anastasia Nally will be important cogs in whichever team acquires their services during the season. – BB


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

2018 Recap: One finds it hard to believe that it’s been a decade since the Denver Lady Bulldogs won their first premiership on that scalding hot weekend in Louisville in 2010.  After five more titles and two losses at the final hurdle to San Francisco, and with a roster of mostly new talent, one sensed that the Denver Bulldogs were at a crossroads: either make the step back up to premiership glory, or simply step back as a new team would enter the fold.  A loss to the champs and some reinforcements early on was a stumble, but they would rebound with a sweeping victory in the Central Regionals in July over Texas and the Midwest All-Stars was followed by a victory over Los Angeles, and the stage was set for a run at National title number seven.  After a close victory over Portland, a matchup against Minnesota, a team with their own title aspirations, produced arguably the best game of the tournament.  Trailing by two goals in the second half, Sara Edwards Rohner booted home the required major scores in the span of a minute to give Denver a 2-0 record and avoid a semi-final clash with the Maidens.  But there wasn’t enough magic to dispel the Seattle Grizzlies who were determined enough to hold off the Lady Bulldogs and ensure they would finish the outside the top two for the first time since 2009. – BB

From the team: “Our team has gone through a lot of changes during the past year, and we plan to build on the momentum we accumulated in 2018.  While we were disappointed we missed the 2018 Grand Final appearance we accomplished what we set out to do, which was recruit, build our culture, and play together as a team regardless of game results. We far exceeded our expectations last year. 2019 will be an exciting year for the women.” - Sara Edwards Rohner, Vice President

Key Matchups: “The Lady Bulldogs look forward to hosting the USAFL Central Regional Tournament, where they will see an uptick in full sides competing, in contrast to the 2018 regionals.”

2019 Outlook: Through injuries, retirement, and the general wave that is life, the Lady Bulldogs will be missing a significant number of players from their long era of dominance.  However, the recruiting class from 2018 was a high-water mark for the ‘Doggies, one that produced the likes of gridiron covert Valeria Gil and quicks Zoe Do and Anna Evans, who were among the top performers at Nationals.  One thing that has helped new players pick up the game and the Denver system has always been its veterans, and with examples such as rover Rohner and forward Anna Thexton, it’s easy to see why.  Rohner, who is a Freedom alumnus and a multiple premiership winner, is currently in Australia as she seeks to make a VFLW or AFLW roster overseas, but should be back come Nationals to help lead the Bulldogs in Florida.  Rohner’s sister, fullback Amanda Newell, will be giving birth this season but the ‘Doggies will welcome back Carly Austin and Susan Bruce who welcomed in new additions to their families during the offseason.  The road back to the top of the USAFL ladder will be a steep one, but the amount of new players and the rededication of the veterans will make Denver an intriguing package in 2019. – BB


2018 Nationals:                 0-4          5th Place, Division 2 (w/ Baltimore, DC, and Wisconsin)

2018 Recap: For the third year in a row, Emily Rice led Des Moines’ women’s program, making thirteen appearances with both the home club and making cameos at regionals and Nationals.  Rice scored the All-Stars’ only goal at the Central regionals, and was one of the best on ground for the composite side.  Much like Hannah Bailey in 2017, local Taylor Dougan joined the team just in time for the National Championships and drew high praise from her performance in her Aussie Rules Debut. – BB

From the team: “We had a great recruiting year last year, picking up five very strong players on the men's side and adding one on the women's side.  The new members of our club are really excited about playing footy, and have brought life and energy to many of us who've been playing for some time.”

2019 Outlook: With Dougan and Bailey getting back into the swing of things alongside Rice, Des Moines will try to get more players wearing the red-and-black as they face and join teams from the upper Midwest.  It will be exciting to see how they go in Denver in July, and then again in Florida, where Rice made her debut in 2016. – BB


2018 Nationals:                 1-2          4th Place, Division 1

2018 Recap: Following a relatively conservative schedule to counteract the effects of IC17, the Freeze women did a fair bit of travelling last season that included sojurns to Des Moines, Chicago, and Oregon.  Their only loss of the regular year came at the Stumptown Throwdown in August, an 8-7 war with Seattle.  With veterans returning in spades and a rookie class that included college basketballer and gridiron football convert Connor Lewis, depth was not an issue for Minnesota as they made the trek down to Racine.  Minnesota’s women have always played well at Nationals, but in 2018 they may have looked their best despite missing out on the final.  Following a 1-1 record that included a difficult loss to Denver, the Freeze almost pulled off the upset of the year in their semi-final match against the Iron Maidens, throwing everything they could at the defending champs before going down in a valiant 10-7 defeat. – BB

From the team: “The Minnesota Freeze 2019 Season promises to be an exciting year for its women’s team. The past few years have seen tremendous growth in the players' game knowledge and skills with many players representing their country with the Freedom and Liberty USA teams, with five rookies joining four veterans for the 2019 March’s Freedom camp. Brent Fischer, a member of the Revolution and Freeze Men’s team, is stepping in as head coach to bring his tactical knowledge to the women’s side as they look to continue a competitive bid for their first National Championship after heartbreaking close calls at the 2018 National Tournament.”

2019 Outlook: With two Nationals losses coming by a total of four points, Minnesota will come into 2019 with fire, drive, and a squad that is largely intact.  With enough in the arsenal to melt the coldest of Northern nights already, new coach Brent Fischer’s objective will be to turn years of tactical and footballing know-how into the club’s first women’s Grand Final.  Their sophomore class, led by the versatile Lewis, also includes the likes of Renae Curtis, Shereen Parskalleh, Pia Richie, and Rachel Colter.  Lewis, one of five Freeze women named to the Freedom Training squad, has teamed up well with Cathy Georgiadis, Andrea Mattison and Kate Mullin in the mids to provide Lightning McQueen type speed.  On defense, Paige Kiecker’s strong marking is complimented by the contesting marking of Liberty players Rae Hale and Brianna Ostoff, as well as the quick persuit of Lindsey Stene and Caitlyn Conley.  Freedom call-up Cathy Hoha’s snipering skills are still there from the half-forwards, setting up the opportunistic attackers in Jess Nelson and Kait Peterson.  They’ll have to get by San Francisco to do it, but if everyone stays healthy and they can bring a full side down to Florida, this will be Minnesota’s best chance at a women’s premiership in the team’s decade-plus history. – BB


2018 Nationals:                 2-2          2nd Place, Division 2 (w/ Calgary, Blue Ox & Arizona Hawks)

2018 Recap: We love a good Aussie Rules “discovery” story.  In the lead up to the Central Regionals in Nashville last July, the ‘Roos had just one woman among their ranks – Carson Moore, whose Australian fiancé plays for the men’s team.  Six days before the first ball went up at Regionals, a group of women were playing soccer next to where the Kangaroos were practicing.  Curious, they came over, and that weekend were playing Aussie Rules alongside Moore and two women that were recruited by Jess Gray, a player for Denver who had recruited a couple of women up from where she worked in Chattanooga.  The Nashville contingent, all of them playing competitive footy for the first time, sparkled as part of the Midwest All-Stars group.  Keeping up with metro games during the season, the Kangas sent three of those who came to regionals on to play with Calgary and friends where they finished third.  – BB

2019 Outlook: Buoyed by the success of those initial steps, recruiting has been amazing so far.  Nashville’s full women’s match saw the Kangaroos run out big winners over Atlanta at home.  Natalie Smith, Alexa Roncancio, and Lauryl Dench, the three reps from Nationals, form a high quality nucleus for such a new team.  Nashville native Roncancio, and former Division I NCAA soccer player Smith (the pride of Soddy-Daisy, TN), are both headed to the Freedom training squad camp and it would be a fantastic story if at least one of them heads to Australia next year.  But the key indicator as to the Kangas’ progression is the new players who have made an immediate impact.  Former gridiron player Chelsea Hornbeck cleared paths for the offense, and Jess West, playing her first ever Aussie Rules game, booted home a bag of seven.  The story is a very good one, it will get even better if Nashville and get more talent and grow into a consistently competitive side. – BB


2018 Nationals:                 2-2          2nd Place, Division 2 (w/ Calgary, Nashville & Arizona Hawks)

2018 Recap: North Star’s first pioneering season as the league’s inaugural independent women’s club was a smashing success.  After placing themselves in the mix as part of the game’s growth, the Blue Ox entered 2018 with the hope that they would grow their club and get more experience in the process.  They supplied players for matches as the 80/35 cup in Des Moines and at a game at Minnesota against the cross-town Freeze, but were strongly represented at Nationals, with five Ox as part of the Calgary combine. – BB

2019 Outlook: Now into their third year, the Blue Ox’s foundation is as strong as Babe himself, but the effort to add more players around that continues.  Brianne Theisen has been instrumental in helping this group come together on the field as a unit, and the veteran presence of Freedom alumnus Marie LaVictoire has helped the newcomers, like Minnesota local Nichole Kraemer, come along.  There will be more teaming up with other clubs this year, but it’s been wonderful to witness this team contribute on both sides of the oval. – BB


2018 Nationals:                 2-2          3rd Place, Division 2 (w/ Los Angeles)

2018 Recap: From concept to reality in the final three months of the 2017 USAFL season, the Texas Heat was the most inspirational story in the USAFL Women’s realm that year.  After a 2-2 showing at Nationals in San Diego, there was optimism and momentum going into the first full year for a team that was exceeding all expectations.  Made up of mostly players from the Houston Lonestars, along with some from Dallas, the Heat gave a memorable performance at the Central Regionals, defeating the combined Midwest All-Stars side and giving the established Denver Bulldogs team a fight in the de facto final.   With the exhilaration of the previous year’s Nats in their minds, and with a handful of athletic reinforcements from LA, the Heat went to Racine hoping to lift a trophy.  After a two goal win over Columbus, they would be rocketed back to Earth in a shutout loss to the eventual champions from Sacramento.  Still, they would finish at 2-2 and again wind up in third from a five team field, and more bright lights shone for the Texans. – BB

From the team: “The Houston Lonestars Women/Texas Heat are pumped for their 3rd USAFL season after a solid year being highly competitive at Regionals and Nationals in 2018.  In 2019 the team will be focusing on recruiting more local talent and building their skills and ball movement as they look to push the more established teams in the League.”

Key Matchups: “The Heat will be looking to be competitive at Regionals in Denver in July against highly rated Denver and Minnesota.”

2019 Outlook: As has been the case with other developing sides, the Heat have in their ranks top-tier talent, which not only drives their growth on the field but off of it.  Aubrey Bagley put in another stellar season in 2018, taking out the Central Regional MVP and taking charge of just about every game she was in.  Arguably the best rookie at Nationals last year was another midfielder and rugby convert, Nadira Smith; she wreaked all sorts of havoc for the Heat in Racine and it will be exciting to see how she goes as a player.  Another exciting sophomore heading into 2019 is 6’1” Hailey Rebar, who showed a lot of footballing intelligence during the year, and helped carry her team at regionals.  Another Texas A&M alumni, Jess Lampi, has impressed her teammates in her first trainings and is looking to make her mark once the season starts. Perth native Michelle Noel stepped up in her first season with the side, and her presence will be needed to fill in for another West Australian, Julia Wells, who has gone back home.  The Heat will also be without fullback Taylor Ballanger, out with an ACL, but players like Jackie Sparling are battle tested and will be up to the challenge of holding down the fort.  The Dallas contingent will see the addition of Maddy Rose Cheatham, 3 time premiership player in regional Australia and fitness guru and super mom Mel Hannam alongside veteran Maddie Morris returning and with an influx of Gaelic ladies.  – BB

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