Dogs that Bite - Previewing the Eastern Regional

In my mind, I’m going to Carolina.  Tomorrow, we’ll all be there in person.

Raleigh, North Carolina.  One leg of the Research Triangle, home to the NC State Wolfpack, the Carolina Hurricanes, and some damn fine BBQ.  Whether you like it saucy or vinegary is your own choice and I won’t hold you to whatever you enjoy most.

But it’s also home to the mighty North Carolina Tigers, strong and bold like their Richmond counterparts.  And they will welcome in a gaggle of eleven clubs – the most in Eastern Regional Championships history – as we kick off our annual mid-summer road show.

This is the first of three regional USAFL events that we will have over the next six weeks.  We begin in Carolina, where the New York Magpies men and women try to return to glory after being derailed last year, where the Hawks and Dockers hope to emerge as local powerhouses, and two new USAFL clubs are represented at the league level for the very first time.

2019 USAFL Eastern Regional Championships - June 15, 2019
Mac Sports and Entertainment - 8924 Midway West Rd, Raleigh, NC 27617
Umpires Clinic: 8am \\ Women's Clinic: 8:30am
Games from 9:30am - 6:30pm
Coverage: (delay)

After Party and Presentations: 8pm - ?
Hibernian Pub - 311 Glenwood Ave, Raleigh, NC 27603

#4 New York Magpies, #14 Philadelphia Hawks, #16 Baltimore Dockers, #17 Columbus Cats

Lots of hardware in this group – the reigning EAFL champions New York, the defending National D3 and Regional D1 premiers Philadelphia, last year’s National D4 winners Baltimore, and 2018’s Regional D2 victors Columbus.  Holy crap.  Will New York or Philly become the first repeat winners here in D1, or will Columbus or Baltimore make it five different winners in as many years?

The only head-to-head matchup between these four teams so far this season was New York’s 41-28 EAFL win in Philadelphia two weekends ago, in a game where former LA Dragon Matthew Djordjevic kicked three majors and the Magpies really had to charge home to stave off the Hawks.  New York’s Australian brigade, led by Djordjevic, Connor Delves, and Karl Schoenmaekers will try and steer the ‘Pies to their first regional title since 2016, and right an inconsistent road string that has plagued the team over the past couple of seasons.

Philadelphia had its best season last year – ten victories, a regional title, and a national title.  And, more importantly, one of the best recruiting classes in the club’s twenty-year history.  They certainly gave the Magpies all they could handle in their match and will be bringing a deep team down to Raleigh.  The Hinchen brothers, John and Rob, are potent on either side of the oval, and attackers Aleks Fedoriw and Chris Gough will also try to mine some goals and some gold medals in the process.

If there is any team that has absolutely been in form heading into this tournament, it has to be the boys from the Charm City, who have run off four straight wins and are coming off a decisive 26-point home win against Nashville of a fortnight ago.  Baltimore has built up a strong mix of local and Aussie veterans, with athletic forward Nick Tyson and Nick Sisca leading the former group and tall dude Ian Payne and Tasmania native Jack “Super Nintendo” Chalmers a key part of the latter.

There will be a twinge of revenge in the Columbus-Philly match, as the Cats try to pay the Hawks back for knocking them out of last year’s D3 National semi-final.   The defending regional D2 champs have a win in their pocket this year, a 95-point win over a combination DC/NC side at home that could’ve been bigger if they would’ve kicked straight (14.25).  Cbus’s largely American outfit (bar Croweater Declan Stimpson) is well seasoned, with Captain Clyde Simpson, Eric Politz, and Rob Adams patrolling different parts of the ground.

2015 Fort Lauderdale – Fort Lauderdale Fighting Squids
2016 New York – New York Magpies
2017 Raleigh – Baltimore-Washington Eagles
2018 Philadelphia – Philadelphia Hawks

New York Magpies, [DC Eagles/Baltimore/Atlanta], [Philadelphia/Columbus/Nashville]

One cannot say enough about the rise in the standard in play of women’s football in the past five years.  It has been as constant as the sunrise.  It hasn’t just been by the bigger clubs, but by the ones whose women’s sides are springing up and developing. 

For years, New York has been the gold standard in the Eastern Region.  That changed last year in a rough and soggy forty-minute span in Philly, when Boston and Baltimore-Washington belted their way to a 13-1 win in the de facto final.  After two defeats to start the season, Christina Licata’s side may be the one most in-form thanks to a decisive win in Montreal two weekends ago.  Kyleigh Johnson has emerged as a key target alongside Kim Hemenway and Clare Algozin up front, and one of the toughest defenses in the league, led by Natalie Wolff and Taylor Davidson, will be tested by two sides that are anything but pushovers.

The DC Eagles have always had some sort of female footballing presence, but since 2017, there has been a steadiness in their growth and they have some of the most talented American footballers under their wings.  After defeating New York by 33 points at home to start the year, the Eagles, along with Baltimore’s Roxy Alei and Megan Hils and Shuana Chamblee from Atlanta, will try to repeat as Regional Champions.  There is plenty of speed with Freedom prospects Makensy Medlin and Christina Sobral, and Kristin Lough, who was a brick wall last year, will try and stop the potent Eastern offenses.

Rounding out the field is a combination of players from four sides who might just add up to the winning equation.  Last year, the Columbus Cats and Philadelphia Hawks combined at both regionals and Nationals, taking home a silver in the latter.  This year the core Cats, led by ruck-turned-forward Katrina Scherer, have a seasoned group women from Philly and Nashville alongside them.  Both of them are coming off wins to start the year; forward Lindsey Turse and ruck Leslie Gartner paced the Hawks over New York, while Freedom prospects Alexa Roncancio and Natalie Smith of the Kangaroos are quick and athletic.

2016 New York – New York Magpies
2017 Raleigh – New York/Philadelphia
2018 Philadelphia – Baltimore-Washington/Boston

DC Eagles, [#18 Boston Demons/Jacksonville Saints], [Atlanta Kookaburras/RVA Lions], North Carolina Tigers

Percentage points separated Columbus from Boston for the D2 title last year.  This season, the Demons will have to face the DC Eagles, hometown North Carolina Tigers, and the resurgent Atlanta Kookaburras if they want redemption and hardware.

The Eagles come to Raleigh at 1-3, having split with Baltimore and Carolina in Richmond and then losing at home to Baltimore and away at Columbus.  Despite the record, they are a skilled team through and through, led by Clint and Craig Zarnosky and augmented by a skilled Australian veteran core that can hit on attack and which has height inside attacking 50.

Boston’s sortie to North Carolina will be their first hitouts of 2019, and their well-balanced crew will have the assistance of the Jacksonville Saints, who make their USAFL debut.  Boston’s Geoff Hampshar is one of the more underrated rucks on the east coast, and veteran Matthew Wood will be a key target.  Andrew Beh and Hunter Bates lead the Floridian quartet that hope to make history in their first league action.

After going to Nashville last season for the Central Regionals, Atlanta makes its Easterns debut with eyes on improving an already good 3-1 season record.  Jonathan Rosenfeld, who kicked a half dozen goals in the Kookas’ road game against Rome, will try to conjure some more sausage roll magic.  Georgia natives Seth Stokes and Ryan Downey also come in hot, and they’ll be joined by RVA Lions’ founder Darren Green as another new club makes their regionals debut.

But if any team has history on their side, and with something to prove, it’s the hometown Tigers.  Looking to erase a 62-point road loss at Atlanta, the Tigers will try to become the fifth straight team to win an ERC title at home.  Revo defender Erik Hanson is keystone of the defense, but it will be up to veterans Nick Camilleri, Shane Bradley, and Andrew Wesche to solve the defensive Tetris puzzles that the other teams throw at them as they try to keep the championship trend going.

2016 New York – Baltimore-Washington Eagles
2017 Raleigh – North Carolina Tigers
2018 Philadelphia – Columbus Cats

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