2021 USAFL Nationals - Men's D2, D3, and D4 Preview

Treats from Oz

The lower divisions of the men’s clubs are no less important than those at the top.

In Division 2, there are teams on the precipice of moving up to that top stage in 2022, and teams trying to steady themselves for future years.  In Div 3 are reserve sides of players trying to do their own, as well as strong clubs topped up by others to make a full squad.

Div 4 has a mixture of reserves teams, smaller clubs, and brand new teams.  Each match is important, and each game vital towards lifting a cup and having a medal around your neck on Sunday night.

For Division 2 and 3, eight teams will play in two pools of four teams each, the winner advancing to the Grand Final directly.  For Divvy 4, six teams play in three-team pools, with the top two advancing to the semis.

And here is how each group will stack up:


MEN’S DIVISION 2

Pool A:
Seattle Grizzlies, Houston Lonestars, Boston Demons (w/Maine Cats), Baltimore Dockers

A season after peaking their heads up into Division 1 for the first time in a decade, the Seattle Grizzlies are now among the top teams here in Division 2.  A big win off of rival Portland two weekends ago has them full of confidence and momentum, and they seek to win their first cup since taking out San Diego in San Diego for the D3 crown in 2013.  Their 2-4 record aside, the Grizzlies are a good, balanced side that have some straight-up athletes in their lineup.

Saleh Tyebjee plays in his first Nationals for the Grizz, and though you’ll see him in the backline most likely, he has the freedom to run and bounce until opponents force him not to.  Revolution prospects Rob Munn and James Kinder are strong and pacy, which is what you like to see out of your midfielders, Tex Edmonds and Dakota Hunt are two of the Aussie regulars who you’ll see pumping home goals for the emerald-and-black.

Three hours down the road from Austin, the Houston Lonestars have been gearing up for that next step into a Grand Final, their first since they took out D3 in 2013.  They’ve been tempered by a tough set of teams here in the Lone Star State, and look to at least be in the hunt for the Grand Final berth out of a bruising group.

The ‘Stars are excited about homegrown talent Daniel Garcia, who we may see in the mix for the Revolution team in 2023.  Another Revo prospect, Jesse Carcamo, will be here and will bring the wheels.  Newfoundlander Steve “Stevie J” Johnson keeps improving and he’ll be linking up with Zach Wiekel and Alex van Bemmelen in trying to get Houston over the line and past some of these sides.

Boston, with some help from their brethren from the Maine Cats, brought back Beantown’s first footy title in 20 seasons back in Florida by accounting for Columbus in the D3 Grand Final.  This season, they played a handful of matches against Maine, and that was their season and their prep for this weekend.

The fifth overall seed in D2, the Demons’ will bring a team loaded with Australians, and they’ll need to figure out how to accommodate them all within the 50/50 rule. Patrick Kean was the Dees’ offensive juggernaut in 2019, sealing the game early in the first half.  Jakob O’Meara-Gill comes over from Oklahoma as a midfield gun, and veterans Geoff Hamshar and Michael Mattera lead an onballing attack that is fierce but focused.

Baltimore did the unthinkable two years ago, going from D4 champs to D2 Grand Finalist, falling just short to a San Diego Lions outfit on a mission.  The Dock show are well weathered having had to go up against DC and Philly and New York all summer, and though they notched just three wins from 11 games, you cannot count the orange and the black from the Charm City out of this group.

Nick Siska hit the 50 game mark for the Dockers, the first to do so in their short history.  He is a leader on and off the field, and he’s good at sneaking through back lines in praised of metaphorical sausage rolls. John O’Connor was part of a tie for the Roos medal in 2019, and he’ll be imperative if the Dockers want to overturn things, as will Revo prospect Jake Moyer.  The non-national core is led by Jack Chalmers, who can be found wherever the ball is, as will Albanian born Val Kaf, a heat seeking Sherrin missle.

POOL B:
Orange County Giants, DC Eagles, Sacramento Suns, Dallas Dingoes

Playing in Southern California means you’re gonna get a lot of good games against good competition.  And the Giants, who went and took out the D2 title at the Sacramento sub-regional have been playing good football in 2021.  And here they are as the #2 seed in a division that they can very much win.  They’re looking to erase a 19-year premiership drought, and losses in 2014, 2015, and 2017.

Melbourne native Harris Eilenberg has been an emerging star for the orange men this season, taking out B&F in Sacramento.  Gareth Allen and Chris Butler are two of OC’s other star Aussies, trying to make big, big sounds on the scoreboard.  In terms of local talent, the Giants will have the high-octane presence of Trevor Osterholm, as well as Tyler Mounce and David Lasezkay, who will be fueled by the remembrances of those lost Grand Finals.

Since expanding into their own club in 2017, the DC Eagles have been, perhaps under the radar, amassing talent and wins.  Making their first step up into Division 2 this year, the Eagles are buoyed by a 9-2 season, including handing New York their only two losses of their campaign.  There is belief in the Nation’s Capital that they’ll be heading back there with some checkable hardware, and one would be foolhardy to think otherwise.

The Eagles, long a harbor for Aussie impact players, come to Austin with a strong band of local recruits.  The versatile Brendan Kelly leads this group, as does cunning half-forward Michael Hoffman.  Former Columbus Jackaroo/Cat Tom Mathew has been a consistent presence for the Eagles, and the team is excited about Icelandic recruit Jon Hoeskuldsson.  Sam Rowley is a strong forward/ruck option that has been neigh invincible in past years, and he’ll be the key forward to lead from passes from Matt Woodruff and company.

With a 4-1 record in limited action this year, Sacramento has been hard at work locally through their metro and tag programs to get ready and duplicate their last trip from 2015, where they made the D2 Grand Final.  They move up from D3 two seasons ago, but are here to prove more than a few people wrong and perhaps be playing for another title to take back to the capital region of California.

Argentine Facundo Lay has been one of the team’s most improved players over the past few years, and he may be in the Roos medal conversation with a good tourney.  Toby “Sheik” Simmons is like a rock of Gibraltar in the defensive goal square for the Suns, who are traditionally good at keeping the other team at bay on the scoreboard at Nats.  Up front, the American Suns are led by Kendall “Rabbit” Hutchings, who has the uncanny ability to fly high for marks and then kick reliably.  Ramish Bahrahmand is one of the fastest players in the West, and Tristan Boyer has been a steady presence wherever he is asked to play.

Dallas will be happy to be back in their home state, and they're bringing a hungry and deep pack of Dingoes chasing their first title since 2011.  They finished strongly despite a 4-5 mark, but played well enough against the likes of North Texas and Oklahoma to acquaint themselves well in this grouping.

The Dingoes are a largely American-bred team, but they have good players around the oval.  Kyle Bass is accurate and deadly from wherever he decides to drop the pill onto his boot, and Zach McKinney and Eric Spenk are always racking up possessions for Big D.  A key addition has been Jeff Kraemer, who has come over from Chicago to be a deft defender leading from the back line.  Ben Moffatt is one of the handful of ‘Straylans on Dallas, but he is strong and tough to tackle.


DIVISION 3

POOL A:
Denver Bulldogs Reserves, Minnesota Freeze (w/Kansas City), Oklahoma Okies, North Texas Devils

Division 3 is where old Bulldogs go to win their team more cups.  They finished second in D3 in 2019, but after a good season, and as part of an 88 player contingent across four divisions, the Denver reserves would be considered a good chance to rule the roost.  Casey Robertson hasn’t lost a step as he flies through the air, Tate Caromdy and Rich Mann are still pumping at 100% whenever they’re on the ground, and Carrington Beard leads the group of Americans from the western kennel.

Minnesota’s smaller contingent means that they’ll be playing in D3 instead of D1 as in 2019, and they’ll be missing some important names, but they’ll have a handful of Kansas City Power players eager to make their return to Nationals after six years.  Ryan “Hanga” McLuen and Brett Mergen will be here, they’re both tall and take strong marks.  CJ Adams, one of the heroes of the 2018 D2 title run is back and continues to improve as well.  KC will lend veterans Caleb Dougherty and Josh Henges to the fight as part of their quartet.

Might this be the year that Oklahoma repeats their 2017 D4 title with one from Division 3?  This is their deepest team yet, and bar three exceptions, they’re all American.  Kalon Thrasher and Caleb West led the Okies and they’ll be supplemented by athletic players such as Dontavious Griffin and Byron Fisher.  Andrew Sneed and Stephen Rasbold, two long time Okies from the Buffalo days, are reliable players and will have their side in contention on Sunday morning.

It’s always great to welcome a new team into the fold, and after coming into existence at the end of last year into this year, the North Texas Devils come down from the Metroplex to make their debut.  That they finished with two wins from their eight games is a brilliant achievement, and no matter what happens, James Henderson will be proud of his team.  Tim Dingess and Jaxon Jackson lead the Devils into this group, as do rookies such as Aaron Surf Victorian, and a couple of Dallas crossovers in Stephen Bass and old reliable Brenn Miller.

POOL B:
Austin Crows Reserves, Columbus (w/Houston-R), Arizona Hawks (w/ Philadelphia & RVA), Chicago Swans (w/ Indianapolis
)

Like Denver’s seconds, Austin’s reserves are full of players with D1 medals hanging back home.  Denver may have had a better season, but the Crows are playing at home, and so have to be given some strong consideration for possibly taking out their own double in D1 and D3.  Jesse Aguirre, Ben Altman, Noor “Ninja” Jenghir are amongst those who would love to put the Crows over the top here, as would former OC and Portland player Seb Aguiari, who is still going strong even though he said he was gonna retire three years ago.

Columbus came one game short against Boston/Maine for the D3 title in 2019, but they feel they will have a chance this year, aided by reserve players from Houston.  The regular Cat crew is here, with captain Clyde Simpson, defensive hero Steve Raimo, and utility men Dean Panik! (at the Disco) and Eric Politz trying to overtake Austin and company.  Josh Devlin leads the Lonestars rezzies, who will lend a good hand to an already good team.

Two years ago, the Arizona and Philly Hawks women’s teams joined together and took out the D2 title.  Now it’s the mens’ teams chance to replicate things in Men’s Division 3.  Jason “Pony” Wilhelm can play in the ruck or in front, and he’s at home in both places.  Barry Mullen, the Irish superstar, is always dangerous wherever he shows up on the oval, and Alex Fernandez brings the flair.  Philly’s group may put this Hawks combo over the top, with John Hinchen, Rob Hinchen, and Alex Coren, all players with D1 FCS gridiron experience, helping to top up the side alongside RVA Lions veteran Darren Green.

Chicago and Indianapolis team up to round out this pool.  Plenty of talent with the Giant Swans here, and the Swans were busy this year in prep for perhaps a surprise go at the top of this group.  Ajani Crossley and Paul Enzinger are skillful and quick as is John McPike, a former Giant himself.  Former German Eagle Christoph Odenthal will patrol the ruck and forward line, wherever he is needed, and the Indy contingent is led by talented and seasoned vets Shane Branscum and Sam Gould.


DIVISION 4

POOL A:
Nashville Kangaroos (/w Nth Texas-R & Cincinnati), Las Vegas Gamblers (w/ Denver-3rds), Los Angeles-Reserves (w/ Sacramento-R & Wisconsin)

Nashville always puts up a strong side when they come to Nationals with a strong side. The familiar faces are here, including David “Frosty” Harris, Evan “Colonel” Ling, and Logan Monday.  They’ll be topped up with a handful of players from the defending D4 champions from Cincinnati, led by Mike Hannavan.

After drips and drops of life, the Las Vegas Gamblers have sprung to life this year with new recruits and a logo that absolutely slaps.  They are led as always by Brett, Cameron, and Matthew Anderson, and a small band of Aussies including Tim Duckworth.  They’ll be accompanied by a handful of Denver’s thirds, which will include Revo legend Andy Vanica and former Paris Cockerel Steve McVicker.

Pool A is rounded out with reserve players from Los Angeles and Sacramento playing alongside the Wisconsin Wombats.  LA’s group is led by Frederick Shibani, who has experience playing overseas, and the Suns group will have Villami Taipaleti and a pair from the Wombats to challenge for a shot on Sunday.

POOL B:
North Carolina Tigers (w/ New York-R, Golden Gate-R, and Atlanta), Des Moines (w/ DC-R), St. Louis Blues (w/ Wasatch & San Diego-R)

D4 champs in 2014, the North Carolina Tigers are here alongside reserves from New York and Golden Gate, and players from Atlanta.  The Tigers will have seven players coming up to play with Chris Congas and friends from the Roos, a host of the New York seconds, and three Atlanta Kookaburras, led by club president Ryan Downey

Des Moines combines with the DC Reserves as the Roosters try to make it back to the D4 final after falling out to Ohio Valley two years ago.  The Roosters have been strong all year and are led by Peter Bailey and Josh Judge, while the DC troops have experience through players like Bort Edwards and Scott Williams.

Finally, a fantastic story of a club making a tremendous comeback and another debutant.  St Louis appears at Nationals in their own colors for the first time since 2008, led by veteran Dave Zitko and exciting rookie Jake Bowling.  They’ll have a group from Utah’s Wasatch War Gulls along side them, making their Nats debut with four Americans and two Aussies.

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