2019 Nationals Preview - Mens Division 2, 3, 4

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Call this the undercard if you must, but there is plenty of talent, action, and excitement at the lower levels of the USAFL Nationals.

Teams are competing not just for a trophy this weekend, but for the chance to move up a division at next nationals.  From the champions of yore looking to claw their way back to the top, to teams who have been treading water for several years looking to make the breakthrough, to the new kids on the block, Divisions 2, 3, and 4 on the men's side have something for everyone.

Here is a look at who each of these divisions will shake out.


MEN'S DIVISION 2

POOL A: San Diego Lions, Houston Lonestars, Philadelphia Hawks, Nashville Kangaroos

There was a time in history when the San Diego Lions were the best team on the West Coast, and they would strike fear into the hearts of their opponents a la their namesakes.  The two time D1 National Champions are on a five year upswing that began with them lifting the D4 title in 2015, and are swinging their way through a 13-win season this campaign.

Adelaide Dominic Graves led the Lions through a torrid stretch that saw them take out the Socal and SCAFL premierships, as well as a toe-to-toe showing against the very best in D1 at regionals.  But it’s the Americans that lead this pride, from Nationals alumni Justin Valley and Brandon Blankenship to the roving speed of Bryan Powers and Lukas Golson.  There are those in the peanut gallery who could see San Diego competing at the D1 level sooner rather than later, and how they go in the heat of Florida will measure the pH on that take.

Houston comes across the gulf in search of their first Grand Final in six seasons, having taken out the D3 flag against Sacramento in 2013.  They are still in search of that breakthrough performance at this level, and after landing in fifth from nine teams in Racine a year ago, they want to end their tenth season with a large trophy that they’ll need to check in.

The Lonestars are a side of improved polish, and one that has brings heart to their games which usually sees them through.  Zach Weikel led the ‘Stars at regionals and has been an offensive workhorse for them this year.  Chance Mire’s athleticism will put teams back on their heels, and Jeffery “Jammer” Jamnik is pesky when he doesn’t have the footy.  The foreign legion is led by Andrew and Simon Craig, and by former Baton Rouge Tiger Lachlan Miscamble.

It took 16 years for the Philadelphia Hawks to bring a National Championship back to the Delaware Valley, and they did it after getting back up off the canvas against Ohio Valley.  With that D3 title and two straight Eastern D1s behind them, they now make their return to D2 after seven seasons a rung below.  The road to Sarasota-Bradenton has been bumpier than Baltimore Avenue in West Philly, but this is still the best team the Hawks have brought to Nats.

John Hinchen was unlucky not to have taken home the Roos Medal last season; he returns with a fire in his belly to right that wrong.  Fellow Aussie Damien Holland is the link-up artist for a side that has two sets of good wheels in Jon Loring and Dan Greenberg.  Dustin Jones and his 22 years of USAFL experience prowl the entirety of the oval, while ruck Chris Gough and rangy American Dean Kakouras will be important in maintaining possession from stoppages.

Nashville’s jump up two divisions was seen as a surprise by some, but the Kangaroos’ playing unit has congealed nicely over two or three seasons in the southern sun.  After racking up seven big wins this year, the ‘Roos find themselves in the role of upset-maker from the bottom of the pool, but should be equal to the three challenges put before them.

Logan Monday, last year’s D4 Roos Medal co-winner, will be one of the main stopping points for foes on the weekend, but there is pace in veterans Kersei Davis and Mo Howell, as well as forward know-how in Revo scorer John Freeman.  Eric Toepfer is Nashville’s sharpshooter, and his clean distribution and goal mouth chances will be vital.

POOL B: Portland Steelheads, Orange County Giants, Dallas Dingoes, Baltimore Dockers

Portland went to Racine a year ago as D2 favorites, having come off a perfect 9-0 season.  They would leave with two losses, both to Minnesota, and silver medals in their pockets.  The last time they were in Lakewood Ranch, they had dusted off the second straight D3 final, and after running up a 6-2 tab here in 2019, they look to take the long road back to redemption.

Victorian veteran Chris Ince joins Austen Flint and double-centurion Martin Coventry and the rest of the Aussie ranks for the Rose City.  At Westerns, Ince loaded up on possessions and was more dangerous than a diamondback rattler in the desert.  Scott Waggoner, who was this Author’s best on ground for Portland in both Minnesota clashes last season, will be among the Steelheads’ main targets up front, taking feeds from the rapidity of Jevon Mason and Erik Anderson.

In the first year after trading their sashes in for giant letter “G’s”, the Orange County Giants’ return as a tour de force has come here in 2019.  Tussling with San Diego and Los Angeles all season long, and coming runners up in the SCAFL, the Giants are looking to return to the top tier, and their first D2 flag since 2002.

Il Maestro, Seb Aguiari, is back for another Nationals after being chaired off after last year’s 1-0 slog against Houston.  Abe Chase has been a key cog to OC’s backliners, while veterans Adam Shanks and Gareth Allen form a potent 1-2 punch in the attack.  Tyler Mounce, the regional Best and Fairest, has always put up top performances at Nationals, as has the fearless Kelson Mustoe.

Much like Orange County, the footy club from Dallas also dropped their buffs for this season of Survivor: USAFL, as the Magpies became the Dingoes.  And, like the Giants, they have battled their way up in a three-way part of the country that has a strong D1 opponent and a worthy opponent at their own weight class in Houston.

The Dingoes, who’s last premiership in D2 was in 2011, are led by the American core of Kyle and Stephen Bass, who take a no-nonsense approach to getting to the pill first.  Zach McKinney has been a bright spot for Big D this season, and the specter of Jack O’Dell smothering one of your kicks is something to be dreadfully fearful of.

Joining Nashville in the “double division jump” club is the Dock Show.  Baltimore had to truly earn their D4 title last season, edging a combined Outlaws/Seattle outfit to lift their first cup in their first season as an independent unit.  But with 12 wins from fifteen games, and a battle heavy season the year before, they should be right at home in Division 2, where they have every chance to run the gamut and get into the Grand Final from the four-hole.

Charm City’s veteran unit from overseas has a little something for everyone.  Height from Ian Payne, flair from Bryn Hansen and Jack Chalmers, and speed from Reece Garner.  But the Americans who wear the orange and the black add pep of their own, led by Dallas transfer Patrick Pryor, athletic utilities Nick Tyson and Jake Moyer, and the leaping attack of Nick Sisca.

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
2018: Minnesota 5.7.37 def Portland 3.0.18


MEN's DIVISION 3

POOL A: Austin Crows Reserves, [Boston/Maine], Arizona Outlaws, Sacramento Suns

A reserves team has never won anything higher than Division Four, and the Austin Crows look to make yet another bit of history here.  They were winners in the reserves division the last two years we held it at Nationals, and a combo of old and new looks to put the seniors in the position for another double.  Jesse Aguire, Sam Nix, and Tim Christou are names from the past that come into the fold, alongside Americans such as Noor Jenghir and Lalo Hererra.

Representing New England as a whole, the Boston Demons and Maine Cats come together to challenge for a flag in the latter’s first ever appearance at Nationals.  Both teams did limited travelling this season, and it seems to have energized them for this run at Nationals.  The height of Geoff Hamshar and John Newton will pair well with the speed of Matt Wood, and of Maine’s national team alumni Tim Fulwider.

A new team with experienced parts, the Arizona Outlaws make the jump up from D4 runners up a season ago to test their mettle in D3.  They’re well-travelled this year, having gone up and down the west coast.  Joey Luto is the heart and soul of this desert band of Outlaws, and the defense is led by the force of Brett Anderson, Matt Anderson, Peter Abernathy and Matthew Lambert.

Looking to jump up and surprise the trio ahead of them, the Sacramento Suns have come of another one of those seasons where effort and potential is not reflected in their win total.  This is still a team of athletes, with Kendall “Rabbit” Hutchings leading the way with his aerial feats of fancy.  Sham Shangera and Tim Peterson are also just as cunning and quick, while Aussie veterans Toby Simmons and Sean MacEchern compliment the play of former Golden Gate Roo and Revos product Jim Blocho.

POOL B: Denver Bulldogs Reserves, Columbus Cats, Chicago Swans, Oklahoma FC Okies

Denver’s reserve side is probably the deepest, both in history and in talent.  With a squad of players who represent strongly the Bulldogs’ glory days of the naughts, these old Dogs will try to be up to their old tricks.  Phillip Camping, Brent Dowling, Geoff Shakespear, and Rich Mann are among the group who led the Doggies to the Central D2 premiership at home in July, and will try to repeat the feat and duplicate their 2007 D4 National title.

Among the animals chasing down the Bulldogs is a band of Cats from the Ohio capital.  Perhaps an underrated side among their eastern brethren, the hoops’ run to the semi-finals last year was ended by Philadelphia.  And though the Hawks have moved up, they want that loss to fuel a run back to the D3 final and their first premiership there since 2013.  Ruck Mark “Stork” McClure makes his long awaited comeback from the knee injury he suffered two years ago, and will be assisted in the hitouts by Declan Stimpson and the ever dangerous Clyde Simpson.

Stepping back down to the D3 level for the first time since they won it on a blustery day in Mason, Ohio in 2012, the Chicago Swans blow into Florida having handled most of the challenges thrown at them by the teams in the upper Midwest.  Their third place finish in D2 at Centrals showed them to be capable of intelligent possession footy.   Flying Scotsman Stu Nicol leads the Bloods into battle alongside Aussie vets Al McGlashan and Andrew Woodman, and a strong American legion with players like Ajani Crosley.

Oklahomans, as the song goes, have “plenty of heart and plenty of hope,” and the Okies had that in spades in enduring a winless season.  Here in Division 3, they will be challenged again, but the players on this team are battle worn and not afraid of any of the sides above them.  Aside from Matt Borton and coach Alex Mirakian, this is an all-American Group that is difficult to defeat in contests.  Andrew Rose and Caleb West are the engines of the Okies attack, but there is a good deal of good old Midwest strength through Ben Walker and Chris Cox that will keep them in the game this weekend.

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
2018: Philadelphia 7.4.46 def Ohio Valley 3.2.20


MEN’S DIVISION 4:

Pool A: [Ohio Valley/AZ Hawks], North Carolina Tigers, [Baltimore/Quebec/Sacramento], [Tampa Bay/Ft Lauderdale]

Pool A of Division 4 features one whole team, two pairs of smaller sides thrust together, and a monsterous three reserve congregation. 

Shane Branscum and the Ohio Valley River Rats put together a solid run at Nationals last year, only to fall to Philly in the Grand Final.  This year, they’re paired with the Arizona Hawks, led by angular ruckman Jason Wilhelm.  The Rats have five D4 titles to their name, and are a solid favorites to take out number six.

North Carolina’s season has been hilly, but the Tigers are in familiar territory, as they won D4 in 2014 – the venerable club’s only premiership.  Can the victory of their AFL sister club in Richmond inspire them?  Erik Hansen, Shane Bradley, and the rest of the YELLOW AND BLACK will hope so.

The “Frankenstein” of this group combines the Baltimore Dockers, Quebec Saints, and Sacramento Suns reserves teams together, and with the recruiting that all three sides have cultivated, this isn’t a matter of experience but talent.  Veterans Matty Byrne, Scott Bradford, and Christopher Cuellar led this amalgamated band of upstarts.

After a two year absence, the home region has a team again as the Tampa Bay Tiger Sharks take to the ground at Nationals, playing beside their South Florida soulmates from Fort Lauderdale.  The last time the Squids and a team from Tampa played together, they went to the 2010 D3 Grand Final.  Tampa Coach Greg Bray will have his own side and the Squids, led by former Houston Lonestar David Anastas.

POOL B: [Des Moines/Seattle], [Atlanta/Rome/Jacksonville/Savannah], [DC Eagles/RVA Lions], [Minnesota/Baton Rouge/Houston]

Pool B kicks off with the Des Moines Roosters, supported by reserves from the Seattle Grizzlies.  Des Moines is another all-American side, after taking the step back from D3, goes for their first D4 title since 2012.  The Roosters are led by Ben Judge, Hamilton May, and Caleb Dougherty, who have all represented the red white and blue at the International Cup.

Footy in the southeast has a bright future, due in large part to Wayne Kraska helping to cultivate rivals for his Atlanta Kookaburras to play.  The Kookas will have the help of players from the Rome Redbacks, Jacksonville Saints, and Savannah Hurricane – all clubs that have come into the league in the last eighteen months.  Maxwell Freudenberg, Justin Ward, and Hunter Bates will be the key players to watch out from these Southern crusaders.

Balanced and dangerous, the DC Eagles’ threw everything they had into this season.  Another new club, the RVA Lions, joins them in this D4 run, and it turns out club founder Darren Green is pretty handy in the forward line.  With the quick-witted Ryan Raybold and Paul LaShier in the attack, the Capital boys are poised to ruffle some feathers of their own.

Minnesota’s reserves side, topped up with Baton Rouge and players from the Houston Lonestars, completes the group.  The Freeze and Lonestars have recruited hard this season, and their newer players look to contribute to a run in D4.  Charlie Nelson and Tiger veteran Neil Stebbing will hope for some key wins early to give them a run into the final.

MEN’S DIVISION 4 PREVIOUS WINNERS
2007: Denver-B 112 def Golden Gate-B 13
2008: Ohio Valley 6.3.39 def Seattle-B 2.5.17
2009: Ohio Valley 3.5.33 def Orange Co./Des Moines 2.1.13
2010: New York-B 13.4.82 def Denver-B/Kansas City 0.3.3
2011: Ohio Valley/Milwaukee 4.2.26 def Ft. Lauderdale/Baltimore-Washington 3.2.20
2012: Des Moines 5.6.36 def Ohio Valley/Milwaukee 4.4.28
2013: Ohio Valley/Milwaukee 8.4.52 def North Carolina 4.7.31
2014: North Carolina 7.2.44 def Denver-B/Kansas City 4.6.30
2015: San Diego 7.5.47 def Kansas City 4.3.27
2016: Ohio Valley 8.5.53 def Tampa Bay 7.2.44
2017: Oklahoma 6.11.47 def New York/OC/Portland-B 0.1.1
2018: Baltimore 4.7.31 def Seattle-B/Arizona Outlaws 3.4.22

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