5280 and Counting: Central Regional Preview

Two years ago, the USAFL held its Western Regional Championships in the Denver suburb of Westminster.

Two years hence, we are back, only this time for the Central Regionals.  It’s always good when a city can shift regions without the aid of some sort of earthquake, right?

The city is a mile high, the air this thin, but the football will be thick with champions trying to do their thing again.  The Austin men and Denver ladies are looking to stretch their trophy case’s structural integrity just a bit more, while others are looking to end the day on Saturday lifting hardware.

All told, there will be eleven clubs represented, from the wooded wilderness of Minnesota to the expanse of Texas, and from the Music City on west, each of the three divisions has its intrigue and its talent.  And boy, what a backdrop it will be.

2019 USAFL Central Regional Championships - July 13, 2019
Westminster City Park - 10455 N. Sherdian Road, Westminster, CO 80020
Umpires Clinic and Women's Clinic: 8am
Kids Clinic: Noon
Games from 9am - 6pm
Coverage: YouTube.com/USAFL1997 (delay)

After Party and Presentations: 6:30pm - ?
The Irish Rover Pub - 54 S Broadway, Denver, CO 80209


 #1 Austin Crows (2-0), #5 Denver Bulldogs (0-2), #6 Minnesota Freeze (3-0)
(Round Robin; 4x15 minute matches)

As much as we hear about how the USAFL’s West has all of the power, five of the nation’s six teams will be a part of this round robin showdown.

Their blemish in the Rob Dollar Cup AFLX Final aside, the Austin Crows are soaring through another season in search of their second straight National Championship, and their fifth in seven years.  The South Central AFLX cup, their win in Bogota, a 2-0 start in the Texas Cup and a high scoring metro session are arears now.  They come to Denver winners of twelve games in a row going back to the beginning of last season, and both veterans and rookies are already pumping on all cylinders.  Ben Carpenter-Nwanyanwu is back wearing the hoops, as is veteran playmaker Stefan Barr.  With Nolan Cox the tall threat complimenting Ben May and the runners, Austin is the lead dog for their fourth regional title in five years.

The home team, however, will have something to say about that.  Precision passing and strong defense have long been the hallmarks of the Denver Bulldogs team, from their halcyon days as *the* team in the USAFL to their current phase.  There will be some revenge flowing through the Dogs’ blood, after the Crows trounced them in the group phase last year at Regionals in Nashville.  They also want to make a good home showing after going 0-2 at the 80/35 Cup in Des Moines last month.  Veterans Andy Vanica and Phillip Camping lead the charge for Denver in their fight to lift their first regional trophy.

Minnesota rounds out the D1 trio, and for the Freeze, it’ll be their first full regionals since they took to Westminster City Park as part of the Western Regionals in 2017.  That year, the Freeze went 2-1 and upended Sacramento in D2 play in a thriller.  Two years on, Brent Fischer, Brent Mergen, Ryan McLuen and company head to Colorado the defending D2 National Champs, and face stiff tests from two teams they’ll most likely face at Nationals in October.  For now, though, the Freeze will be up to try and pick apart their opponents with their strength in the forward line and build from their 80/35 championship.

Denver Lady Bulldogs (1-2), North All Stars (Minnesota, Des Moines, Chicago, Ohio Valley), South All Stars (Texas, Nashville, North Star), Denver Lady Bulldogs-B

The move from the Western Region to the Central for the Denver Lady Bulldogs had an eye on developing the women’s game.  Last year in Nashville, Denver posted two convincing wins over Texas and an All-Comers side, but both matches were competitive.  Though a number of their veterans from that six-in-a-row run at the beginning of the decade of retired, recruiting has been strong, and the fruit of that will be in the two teams that they field on Saturday.

After failing to make the Nationals D1 Grand Final for the first time in nine years, DLB’s tries for their third regional crown in as many years.  They’ll also be looking for their first win of the year, but they’ll have the depth to be considered the favorites.  Sara Rohner, still playing some of the best footy in her long career, will have a promising sophomore class working with her, including runners Zoe Do and Alexis Koo.

Minnesota came within a bee’s diaphragm of making its first women’s Grand Final, and with new coach Brent Fischer at the helm, they have a steely resolve to take the final step or two in October.  But this is July, and they’ll come to their first regionals in three years trying to upend Denver and the Southern conglomerate.  Considering their love of Game Of Thrones, it’s no surprise the Freeze, with their vet core of Cathy Hoha, Cathy Georgiadis, and Paige Kiecker, will be the center of the “North” team.  Des Moines’ Emily Rice leads a growing contingent from Des Moines, while Chicago’s Rebekah Quinn and Ohio Valley’s Bronwyn Smith are the key cogs in the reinforcements for what should be a competitive team.

Their rapid ascent and athleticism has made the Texas Heat one of the most exciting teams to watch in the women’s game.  Last year, the Heat had a sparkling 1-1 performance at regionals in Nashville before going 2-2 at Nationals.  Newly anointed captain Hailey Rebar leads the Southern contingent into battle with a new sidekick – former New York Magpie and Portland Sockeye Heather Serpico, who will be tasked with growing the women’s program not only across Texas, but in her new hometown of Austin.  Another band of relative newcomers, these being from Nashville, will try to build off of an early season win over Atlanta and a strong showing alongside Columbus at Easterns, with Brooke Elias and Freedom prospect Natalie Smith bringing pace.  The North Star Blue Ox round out the side here, led by veteran Olivia Vongharath.

Pool A: #12 Houston Lonestars (2-1-1), #10 Chicago Swans/Wisconsin Wombats, Nashville Kangaroos/Des Moines Roosters

Houston surprised some folks by getting all the way to the regional D1 Grand Final last season, where they fell to Austin.  This year, they could be considered to win the whole shebang as their recruits from the last couple of years ripen into good players through a busy spring.  The have several slippery players, including ruck Chance Mire, Canadian Steve Johnson, and bearded wonder Nick Plaisance.

Chicago’s 2-1 showing in last month’s 80/35 tournament showed them to be a good, balanced side, and they’ll need consistency to top this group.  The Windy City contingent held their own in a tough draw last season; this year they’ll be playing alongside the up and coming Wisconsin contingent, who is improving with each game they get under their belt.  The Swans are a solid defensive side, with USA Revolution defender Jeff Kraemer and danger man Gordon Barnett patrolling.

Nashville and Des Moines round out the group, and both have gotten off to a spirited start in season 2019.  The ‘Roos have three wins from four games coming into the weekend, while the Roosters will try to add some wins to their season total so far after going 1-2 at home in the 80/35.  Revo veteran Ben Judge’s smart football skills compliment an athletic and opportunistic Kangaroos team, with the venerable David “Frosty” Harris still in very good form.

Pool B: #13 Dallas Dingoes/#15 Ohio Valley River Rats, Denver Bulldogs-B, Oklahoma FC Okies (1-3)

The officially merged River Rats, bringing in players from Cincinnati, Louisville, and Indianapolis, are the defending D2 Central Champions.  Add in the Dallas Dingoes, a hard-nosed side with plenty of offensive firepower, and you have a team that can metaphorically light up the scoreboard.  The Rats, at 2-1 so far, will bring last year’s regional best & fairest, Kyle Strenski, as well as guns Shane Branscum and Liam Sawyer.  Dallas’s Kyle Bass is an all-around threat, and keep an eye out for Josh Morris who is dangerous as well.

Hosting regionals gives a team the opportunity to show their depth, and the Denver Bulldogs’ grizzled veterans, as well as their developing players, will be on display as part of their reserve side in this tournament.  They last competed in a regionals here at Westminster, when they went 0-3.

The Sooner State boys, now officially known as the Okies, are on the hunt for more Ws to add to their victory over Wisconsin at 80/35.  Despite losses to Houston and Dallas this year, Oklahoma has shown themselves as a formidable side.  The Okie’s strength, led by Ben Walker and the Rasbold Twins, are balanced by the pace of last year’s Central MVP Jordan Calero and wily utility Andrew Rose.

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