2021 USAFL Nationals - Women's Division Preview

For the past ten seasons, it’s been either the Denver Bulldogs or San Francisco Iron Maidens who have lifted the trophy at the end of the season.  The Doggies had their run of six, followed by the Maidens current run of four.

In 2019, the Maidens felt the challenge of the Seattle Grizzlies, New York Magpies, and Minnesota Freeze.  And the Bulldogs saw their run of deep runs at Nationals come to an unceremonious end, finishing sixth and last in D1, and leaving Lakewood Ranch, Florida without even a goal to reminisce on.

Two years later, the Maidens will finally have a chance to close within one title of the Doggies tops of six.  Denver will have a deep enough team to stop them and bring their record-breaking total to sev-win.  They’ll have three challengers in that quest; two combo sides coming together to try and upset the proverbial apple-cart, and a DC Eagles outfit who are finally at the league’s top step.

Yes, there are only five teams here in Austin for the women’s division.  And yes, we miss those who aren’t here.  The talent that has brought the USAFLW to more and more prominence and catapulted it to global heights is here, and the ten games that will determine the best women’s footy team in America should be entertaining from beginning to end.

To wit, the five teams will play two ranking matches on Saturday.  Every game, every point, every second is important, because the top three teams get a bye directly into Sunday’s semi-finals.  The 4th- and 5th- place teams have to play into that group, and their “reward” for winning that quarterfinal match is to take on the top seed.  So, every position has its importance.

Who will emerge queens of the oval in 2021?  Let’s look at the combatants:

Women’s Division (one pool):
San Francisco Iron Maidens, Denver Bulldogs, DC Eagles, Texas Heat (w/ Arizona, Columbus, and Minnesota), Orange County Giants (w/ Centennial, Cincinnati, Seattle, Sacramento, and Denver-Reserves)

When the San Francisco Iron Maidens rode off into the Florida sunset with their fourth cup in as many years, many pundits looked back at the journey that got them there and questioned if the rest of the competition had closed in on them.  Indeed, 2019 was their toughest challenge, and they met it.  One of the reasons they did was one Katie Klatt, one-time Sacramento Sun and one-time Melbourne University Muggar, who shored up an already tough backline, and let the offense do their thing.  Klatt was expected to be a one-year wonder, but two years later, she is back in the Bay Area and set to help San Francisco win another title.

Klatt and her cohort only played two league games, both not far from home, and both convincing wins – over Centennial and a Sacramento-led combo side.  The side they bring to Austin is pretty consistent to what they’ve had during the year and one important addition will be Jess Blecher, another former VFLW player (Collingwood), who is fast and good at ground balls.  Tongan-born volleyball player Seini Moimoi, an SEC all-academic selection from Ole Miss, compliments the height of Meg Leone, Brette Brower, and Panda Nguyen.  Nikole Mackenzie and Ellise Gallagher are the engine that makes the Maiden Train go, if you lose track of Milli “The Magnificent” Bruce, you lose the game, and Julie “Mama” Marks cooly conducts the defensive concerto.

The Maidens may think they have what it takes to win *again*.  But Denver, as a club, has been one of the most committed clubs in terms of recruiting and activity during this long layoff.  They are bringing more than the full complement of players, veterans and newcomers alike.  They went 3-0 on the year, picking up two victories from cross-town Centennial, and defeating Seattle at home.  Two years after being in the doghouse, these pups are set to proudly sit on top of the roof, kind of like Snoopy did all those years ago.

The veteran group from all of those championships at the start of the last decade comes back in force.  The Kastaneks, Lindsey and Hallie, return to the lineup as proud mamas, and are inspiring a group looking to return to its halcyon days.  Anna Thexton has a renewed spring in her offensive step, and Jess Gray brings her zippy ball movement to the attack.  Denver’s recruits have learned the game quickly, but they will also have the help of several USAFL veterans who have moved to the Colorado capital and have given the ‘Doggies a renewed pep.  This includes three former Grizzlies in Alison Leonard, Marissa Poorboy, and Katya Hewitt, all with Grand Final experience.  One of the biggest gets in the off season is National Team selection Leilani Cordoba, who comes over from LA to give Denver an imperative offense punch.

Good things do come to those who wait, and the DC Eagles will get their first crack at D1 after losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Arizona/Philadelphia combo in the D2 final in 2019.  The Eagles have their strongest women’s team in their history, going all the way back to their BWE days.  They’ve strong performances against New York, Philly, and the West Coast teams, and as one of the three full sides, they look to crash the Maidens-Bulldogs party and perhaps shock a few people in the process.

Most of the seasoned core from that 2019 team that held so much promise is back.  Kristin Lough keystones things in the fullback rank, while midfielders Mariam Mehter, Olivia Trischler, and Mackensy Medlin burn up the corridor.  Sydney native Alex Trollip was arguably the Eagles best player this year, and heads up an Aussie contingent that also includes exciting playmaker Emelia Lukeman.  Claire Conley is a useful utility who has contributed well in her first season after coming over from Columbus and Tampa, and the fruits of DC’s recruiting labor are led by accurate and rapid Morgan Daugherty.

The quintet is rounded out by two combo teams, who will have to learn quickly to coagulate together, but who have leadership and talent in spades, and could easily dislodge one of the top teams into the play-in spot for Sunday morning.

The triumphant return of the Texas Heat sees 11 players from Houston, three from Austin, and one from the new North Texas Devils.  There is a pretty solid defensive foundation here with Long Island natives Heather Serpico and Jaclyn Sparling serving up “Iced D”, and Crystal Winters and Minnesota’s Paige Thell (nee Kiecker) providing surehanded marks.  Columbus’ Katrina “Sonic” Scherer brings wheels to the side, as does another Freedom teammate in Arizona’s Melissa Wilhelm.  Up front, Cathy Hoha’s will bring her Freeze Ice Beams, and will be accompanied by former lacrosse player Amanda Mora (Arizona) and another Austin Crow, Dianna Sosa.  North Texas’s Olivia Parsons, who hails from Melbourne’s west, gives that little extra umph where needed and helps complete a formidable lineup.Rounding out the team is another triumphant return.  Orange County was an original USAFLW team in 2003.  Then known as the Bombshells, the team now known as the Giants bring half a dozen strong, and are headlined by midfielder extrordiare Aileen Yoon, and defensive midfielders Delphina Delgadillo and Michelle Hotta.  But this conglomerate will have with them an exceedingly talented backline corps from Seattle.  Amelia Kahr and Lateah Holmes are VFLW caliber players and are the reason why the Grizzlies have had so much success.  April Lewis will be handy in the ruck, and Amanda Boe’s goalkeeping experience means she will be able to rack up the marks.  Lizzy Sawyer from the Wasatch Wargulls is one the most natural born leaders in the league, and she’ll look to spur the offense led by Christine Flok (Sacramento), Jesse Aston Sinkula (Cincinnati) and Allison Dykes (Centennial).

2005: Atlanta 6.5.41 def Fusion 2.1.13
2006: Atlanta 3.10.28 def Pacific Coast 0.0.0
2007: Atlanta 7.7.49 def Arizona 0.0.0
2008: Calgary 4.3.27 def Atlanta 3.4.22
2009: Milwaukee 8.3.51 def Calgary 1.5.11
2010: Denver 3.1.19 def Calgary/Montreal 2.6.18
2011: Denver 3.7.25 def New York/Montreal 0.1.1
2012: Denver 3.4.22 def Boston/Baltimore-Washington 0.0.0
2013: Denver 3.7.25 def San Francisco 0.0.0
2014: Denver 2.3.15 def San Francisco/Portland/AZ Hawks 0.4.4
2015: Denver (3-1 in round robin, defeated NY in Tiebreaker)
2016: San Francisco (4-0 in round robin)
2017: San Francisco 2.2.14 def Denver 1.0.6
2018: San Francisco 3.2.20 def Seattle 0.0.0
2019: San Francisco 2.2.14 def Seattle 0.3.3

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