2022 USAFL Nationals - Women's Divisions Preview

The USAFL Women have been changing the game for almost two decades now, and that isn’t about to change anytime soon.

2021 was an understandably lean year for the Women’s competition at Nationals.  But with nature slowly healing and with it former players and new football converts making their way back to the ovals of the USA, the competition is back to its full-on format.

Eleven groups of women – Seven full sides playing in Division 1 and four sets of combo entities playing in D2 – will compete at the 2022 USAFL Nationals in Ontario this weekend.  Some are chasing history, others chasing down a dynasty to stop them.  For some, it’s keeping the flame of the women’s program going, and for others, it’s a first step forward.

Either way, the women of the USAFL love the game as much as anyone else and watching the competition evolve the way it has since its debut in 2005 (after two years of exhibition matches) has been an absolute joy.

The seven-team format, not used since 2013, sees the three teams in Pool A squaring off for one single semi-final spot, while four teams in Pool B battle for a clear Grand Final berth and the other semi-final place.  It should be intriguing, thrilling, and magnify the importance of every game.

Division two will see four combined sides play a round-robin over the first day-and-a-half, with the top two clubs playing again, this time in a Grand Final showdown.

Can anyone stop San Francisco?  Can Denver return to fame?  Will this finally be Seattle’s year, or will a new contender emerge?  And what about those mixed up teams in D2?

Let’s break down the teams of amazing athletes:


POOL A: San Francisco Iron Maidens (5-0), New York Magpies (2-6), Sacramento Suns (1-6)

Each year it seems that the field might catch up to the Maidens and end their long winning streak.  Then they add another piece to the puzzle that takes their game up a notch.  In 2019 it was Katie Klatt, in 2021 it was Jess Blecher.  This year it’s Leilani Cordoba, who came over from Denver and gives San Francisco another presence in the forward line who can create chances and has a nose for the goal on her own.  Ruck Seine Moimoi had a standout Nationals last year and gives the Maidens another tall option to go with Panda Nguyen, Brette Brower, and Meg Leone.  Irishwoman Nicole Feery was best on ground at Westerns, and joins up with compatriots Albhe Doreghty and Claire Colleran as part of San Francisco’s Shamrock Brigade.

San Francisco comes to Ontario at 5-0 in 2022, winners of five D1 titles, and 20 Nationals matches on the trot.  Both of those last stats are records that could be theirs by Sunday evening, but not if the other six clubs have anything to say about it.

There’s always a bit of a fire that burns in the belly of the New York Magpies.  After missing out on the Grand Final in 2019 by four points, the ‘Pies make their Nationals return with a seasoned lineup peppered with a few new recruits and a flaky crust baked golden brown and delicious.  That, combined with a 1-1 showing at Eastern Regionals and a loss against a combined DC/Quebec/Philly side at home will have Christina Licata’s side hungrier than a Media Manager writing a preview before breakfast.

The way back to the semifinals may be through the air, as the Magpies have a lot of New York skyscrapers to take marks.  Up front, Kim Hemenway can do that and launch missiles toward the sticks.  In the middle, Andi Hargraves and Lucy McLeod can platoon in the ruck and provide good linkup coverage.  Cricket Temple was a fantastic addition across the backline alongside the venerable defense led by Nat Wolff, Drea Casillas and Taylor Davidson.  Add in the speedy Jani Boal and Janie Green, and New York has a chance to end the Maiden party early on Saturday.

It's rare to see regional rivalries in the pool round but the Sacramento Suns, making their return to D1 for the first time in five years, will relish the thought of also possibly spoiling things for their NorCal foes.  They have one win this year but it was a big one, defeating a combined Bulldogs-Maidens team at home.   Can lightning strike again?

Historically, the Suns have been one of the best teams in the country and that remains the case, especially with the addition of Jenna Taipaleti and her booming kicks from fullback.  National teamers Liz Danielson and Makenzie Adamo help anchor the back line, with Danielson able to help out in the forwards if needed.  Deftness through the midfield is provided through newcomer Jess Leahy and Freedom product Erika Titus-Lay, and there’s enough veteran oomph on the team for a competitive run.

Three teams that know each other very well in a sprint for one semi-final spot.  This should be fun.

Pool B: Seattle Grizzlies (4-2), Denver Bulldogs (3-5), Minnesota Freeze (1-0), D.C. Eagles (4-3)

The USAFL’s 2021 slogan was Bouncing Back, and that could easily be used for the 2022 Seattle Grizzlies women’s side.  D1 Runners up in 2018 and 2019, the Grizz send a half dozen players as part of the OC “Combos” team that made it to the semifinals a year ago.  They’ve returned to full strength and then some this year, seeking not just to make it back to the Grand Final but to finally claw their way to the top of the mountain.  They’re the one team that has played the Iron Maidens consistently best in the past four seasons but will need to play well in pool play to get their crack at revenge.

Tegan Hamilton and Marian Dickinson are back to lead the midfield, as is the Amelia Kahr, who showed that she can play on the ball and across center half forward if need be.  Seattle’s recruiting game has yielded all sorts of dividends during the season, with Anna Zimmern helping Kahr, Amanda Boe, and Lateah Holmes defensively and Jennifer Anderson adding more pace to the middle.  The Grizzlies will also something they haven’t had in previous years – a full bench.  On paper, this is the best team they’ve brought down from the Emerald City, but you know what they say about playing sports on paper.

Emerging from the pandemic break like a bear from their cave after a good nap and a hearty breakfast, the Denver Bulldogs women made it back to the Grand Final for the first time in five years back in Austin, falling of course to San Francisco.  After coming in third at their home regionals with a 1-2 record, the Doggies will want to put themselves in a position to defend their six-title record and bring home their first cup on the women’s side in seven seasons.

New recruits Iris Wu, Samantha Scheidt, and Rita Hill made splashes during the regional tournament, sharpening their footy skills and racking up possessions.  They’ll look to do the same in Ontario, as will Marisa Poorboy; the former Grizzly kicked two of the goals of the year back in July and has become Denver’s sharpshooter inside offensive 50 alongside Courtney Jessamy.  The normal slate of regulars are there, with the Kastaneks, Kassi Wilkerson, and Anna Thexton shoring up Denver’s spine.

There had been some questions earlier this season as to whether or not Minnesota would field a full side at Nationals, but the answer turned out to be a resounding “you betcha!”  They had combined with Columbus and Philly to help take out the Eastern Regional Championship, with Connor Lewis taking home B&F, Cathy Hoha being her normal goalkicking self, and rookie Liz Edd sparkling in the ruck.

This might be the most athletic team in the Freeze’s long history.  Lewis’s gridiron teammate Kaiya Sygulla is a great leading threat, Paige Thell has shown that she can push up in addition to play halfback, Lindsey Stene can bowl through defenses, and Jeri Johnson-Chambers adds to the forward threats.  The Freeze have either finished third or fourth in Div 1 play since 2010, and the hope is this’ll be the year they break the ice and get into their first ever Grand Final.

Every year there’s a good story about a team rising from the D2 ranks up to D1, and after placing third in combined division play in Austin, the D.C. Eagles play their first full top-level Nationals carnival.  They’re coming off a season-ending win with New York and a strong performance against them at Easterns in June.  There’s confidence and talent in this lineup that just keeps getting better and better.

Local recruits abound in the blue and yellow, starting out the back with defender Kristen Lough and the ever-ready-to-tackle Kendall Jennings.  Morgan Daugherty, arguably last year’s best rookie, can play in the ruck or offer herself as a tall option, feeding the speedy combo of Mackensy Medlin and Mariam Mehter, and Ally Dykes comes over from Centennial to bolster ball-winning chances.  East B&F Alex Trollip, former UTS Shamrock Stephanie Hower, and midfielder Brooke Pye lead the DC foreign legion as the Eagles get back to their first decider since 2019’s D2 game.


[PORTLAND/Boston/Philadelphia/North Star], [AUSTIN/Houston/North Texas], [ORANGE COUNTY/Arizona/Wasatch/Hawaii/Seattle*], [CENTENNIAL/Columbus/Cincinnati/St. Louis/Quebec]

We lovingly refer to D2 as the Kordell “Slash” Stewart division because of all the combos, but this grouping will be absolutely fun to watch.  Which team will gel the fastest?  Which can bring together players from four or five different teams and emerge top of the heap?

Portland’s Sockeyes were part of Division 2’s first three winning sides from 2015-17, and now return to headline the top seed.  They bring national team experience in ruck Brandy Machado (PDX), a tenacious forward Lauren Skonieczny (PDX), and wall-like ball winner Marie LaVictoire (NS).  Perth native Caitlin Tilsted (PHI) should pair well with “Schnitz” up front, and Rose Stokely (PHI) adds another dimension of height.  We also get to see the return of Boston utility Diane Welch (BOS) and good hands from Lauren Williams (PDX).

Uniting once again, the Texas triumvirate seeks to atone for finishing fifth in the five-team 2021 field, this time with Austin’s largest-ever contingent.  Nine players from the capital headline this team with lots of experience.  Original USAFL Women’s competitors Dionne Jones (AUS) and Holly Wenrich (AUS) come over from Tampa to lend their know-how alongside slicing, dicing defender, and world-famous steak expert Heather Serpico (AUS).  Barb Williamson’s (AUS) tall play will pair well with the speed of veteran Erika Cormie (HOU) and teenager Ellen McDonald (HOU), while Olivia Parsons (NTX) eel-like movement through the mids confounds would-be tacklers.

Orange County’s women’s division debut was a successful one, as they spearheaded a combo team that advanced to the semifinals.  This season Aileen Yoon (OC) and company are on the hunt for a title with a balanced lineup and down the oval.  Lizzy Sawyer (WAS) leads from defense, pressuring full forwards into trouble.  Amanda Mora’s (ARZ) quickness and acceleration will compliment Yoon’s speed nicely, opening things up for Melissa Wilhelm (ARZ) and Jessica Rojas (WAS).  We also see the debut of the Hawaii Eagles at Nationals, with Susan Swink (HAW), the former DC Eagle, looks to expand the field for this competitive Giants side.

Divvy Two rounds out with the long-awaited Nationals debut of the Centennial Tigers, led by Freedom alumnus, Sara Rohner (CEN).  There’s a lot of former National teamers on here, largely from the Ohio contingent.  Amy Bryniarski (CLB), Stephanie McKitrick (CLB), Katrina Scherer (CLB), and Stephanie Shipley Snyder (CLB) have all worn the red, white, and blue, and bring a unique set of abilities to this combo.  They’re familiar with Jessie Aston (CIN) and Emma Whewell (STL) from playing together during the season, and when you add in Canadian national teamer Gabby Bureau (QUE), you’ve got a side that should be in just about every game.

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