2022 National Championships Recap

In a season of a celebrated milestone, it was fitting that old, stalwart clubs came to the fore at the 2022 USAFL Nationals.

We didn’t see the sun at the Silverlakes Sports Complex in Ontario, California until the awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon. Instead, we ended up with pure, Melbourne footy weather.  Chilly temps and wind and a slow drizzle led to a pelting rain at the end of the day on Saturday, before tepid conditions took over on Sunday.

Still, the action was fierce as it always was, and in the end, the 25th in-person Nationals, and the first full-force carnival in three years was a great way to celebrate the league’s silver season.

The weekend was kickstarted with a successful and memorable Gala on Thursday night, honoring the USAFL’s legacy and raising money for the USAFL Foundation in the process.  Then, a rousing welcome party on Friday buoyed by watching former USAFLers Dani Marshall and Jess Wuetschner lead the Essendon Bombers to an AFLW victory.

41 teams competed in two days of Aussie Rules football action in six divisions.  And here’s how it all shook out:


Since 2000, the Men’s Division 1 Grand Final has featured either the Austin Crows or the Denver Bulldogs in 18 of the 22 matches held.  Fittingly, in this celebratory year, it would come down to the two winningest men’s team in this league’s history for the second time in three seasons.  

Austin came into the final game on Sunday winners of the last three championships and six out of their last eight.  They had scraped into this final game by squeezing out a one-point win over the Golden Gate Roos, who nearly got revenge for two of those Grand Final results.  Another premiership here would move them one behind the Bulldogs all-time on the men’s leaderboard.  

Denver, winners of eight men’s flags but none since 2011, used what little breeze there was at Cooper’s Field to pinch two quick goals in the game’s first five minutes.  Pressure led the experienced Crows side into mistakes, cashed into goals by Matt Howell and Aaron Gray.  Austin would fight back quickly, notching their own goals through Thomas O’Sullivan and Kenrick Tyrell.  The game and momentum hung in the balance at the main break, with Tyrell’s goal coming at the siren, cutting the ‘Doggies lead to 15-13.

A year earlier, the Crows blew open a close game early on to run over New York and set a near-record score.  Here, they wasted no time stamping their authority on the game.  This time it was another Aussie veteran, former coach Grant Campbell, who launched a kick but was taken down behind the play, leading to a free kick awarded to James Bates.  Bates’ checkside kick gave Crows the ascendency they would never relinquish, as Tyrell, Ben Carpenter-Nwanyanwu, and Mike Linehan helped control the footy in the Austin offensive part of the ground.

Goals seemed to come thick and fast from that point, and despite a game effort from the Bulldogs, they couldn’t triple their feat of defeating Austin twice in last two regular campaigns.  Outscoring Denver 26-1 in the final frame, the boys in the hooped jumpers had claimed yet another title and placed another medal around Nolan Cox’s neck.


Ten years ago, the San Francisco Iron Maidens played at their first Nationals.  Beginning with their sophomore season in 2013, they played in the deciding match of every Women’s D1 comp.  Having been vanquished by the Denver Bulldogs in three of those deciders, they turned things around to be the conquering force, winning five titles on the trot.  Another win would equal Denver’s 6-straight, and they arrived at yet another Grand Final having swept aside the hurdles in front of them by a 143-1 combined scoreline.

If the Maidens were the Tokyo Giants of the USAFL Women’s, then the Minnesota Freeze were the Hanshin Tigers.  In the same time period that the Maidens had been playing, Minnesota had always either fell in the semifinals or ended up in third place behind San Francisco or Denver.  Having played just one full game this season, not much was expected of them, as they were seeded fifth of the seven teams.  In a performance straight out of the “they don’t play footy on paper” cabinet, the Frees defeated heavily fancied Denver and Seattle on Saturday to book their place in their first ever Grand Final.

Taking control of the game from the start, the Maidens would, indeed, gain that sixth straight triumph with a 40-7 decision.  The win also set a new standard for most wins by a women’s team at Nationals with twenty-four.  There were three groups of players who impacted the result: Maiden veterans such as opening-goalkicker Brette Brower; players, like Katie Klatt, Leilani Cordoba, and Jess Blecher who had come over from other USAFL clubs over the past several years, and new converts to the game, like forward Kaley Marden and Irishwoman Nicole Feery.

The result looks comprehensive, but the Freeze provided stout opposition for 40 straight minutes, and the game was contested from start to finish.  Like the Maidens, the Freeze had veteran players like Cathy Hoha, Paige Thell, and Catherine Georgiadis, who had played at the National level and who had finally earned the well-deserved right to play for a title.  Marc Fischer’s team had a great season from start to finish, and with promising rookies like Lindsay Eliasen now in the fold, they’ll hit 2023 hungry as can be.


In the league’s dawning years, the Boston Demons were always at the top of the USAFL heap.  Finalists of four D1 Grand Finals and winners of two from 1998-2003, the Dees waited twenty years in between drinks, having lifted the D3 title in 2019 and coming up short against DC for the D2 title last year in Austin.  They would be back for their third straight granny, with Jarryd Fernandes and Jeremy Humm leading a core of rugged Australian talent to a 3-0 record.

Sacramento had experienced a resurgence of their own in 2022, having bounced up and down from D2 and D3, the Western D2 winners had earned a top seed in Pool B.  With the Hauptman Brothers and Americans Colby Campbell and Kendall Hutchings firing on all cylinders, the Suns scraped by Orange County by two points in a virtual semifinal to reach their second ever National Men’s D2 decider.

The opening half was punch and counter punch with each team’s forwards clicking early; Fernandes and Campbell featured for their respective sides.  Boston held onto a 19-15 lead at the half as the weather turned cold and the tension ratcheted up.  The Suns chipped away with behinds before a Campbell set shot from 25 meters out put them on top, 23-19 with twelve minutes left.  The Dees got the goal straight back with a ‘round-the-bend free kick from Ken McCarthy, but the work wasn’t done.  Boston’s pressure kept Sacramento from getting too many looks at goal. Fernandes’s third goal, after the siren, was the cherry on top of another premiership for the red-yoked-warriors, who now have their eye on a return to D1 after 13 seasons in 2023.


Since its inception in 2015, Women’s Division 2 has been a launching pad for emerging programs across the country to build towards Division 1.  After being absent in the 2021 edition of Nationals, a four team round robin representing fifteen clubs announced WD2’s return.

The Texas Heat, formed in time for the 2017 carnival, had played at a strong competitive level at each of the four tournaments they had appeared in.  A combination of players from Austin, Houston, North Texas, the Heat ran the table in the preliminary round.  Their eventual opponent on Sunday afternoon were the 2-1 Centennial Tigers, accompanied by players from the Columbus Cats and singletons from St Louis, Cincinnati, and Quebec.

Taking advantage of a deeper bench, Texas was able to control play for most of the match, with Iron Maiden reserve Emily McGregor pacing things and Heather Serpico and Lindsey Turse applying pressure and quickness.  Neutralizing the height of Katrina Scherer and the experience of Sara Rohner, the Heat romped home to a 27-7 triumph, adding a Women’s D2 trophy to the legacy of footy excellence already forged in the Lone Star State.


And speaking of footballing excellence, the Bulldogs came to Southern California with nearly four full teams of athletes looking to add to their club’s 15 national titles.  The reserves side, which had played more games than the one that took part in Division 1, had two strong victories on Saturday before hanging on barely against Oklahoma in game three on Sunday to make the final.

Like the Bulldogs, the Arizona Hawks had two robust victories on Saturday but were pushed to the limit on Sunday.  An 11-11 draw over equally unbeaten Nashville on Sunday morning was good enough for them to advance and defend their 2021 Men’s D3 flag.

Denver’s experience held them in good stead in the opening frame, leading 13-0 after 20 minutes.  The story, however, was the emergence of rookie Saadiq Hassan, who helped engineer both first half goals.  The L.A. native’s play had gained notice from the commentators, and perhaps the eye of Revos coach Tom Ellis.  Arizona would get their pokes in the second half, but three more goals down the stretch put the game out of reach, Denver winning 33-3.


One of the hardest tasks in putting together the Men’s Division 4 sides is making sure that they’re even in numbers and in skill.  It’s an exercise in effort that isn’t always reflected in the final analysis.  But after all six clubs had finished pool play on Saturday at 1-1 and the semifinalists had to be determined by percentage, it appeared the tournament committee had been centimeter perfect.  The final came down to a Pool A rematch between the Las Vegas Gamblers/St. Louis Blues combo, and a Des Moines Roosters entity that had players from Boston and several other clubs.

Avenging a 23-10 loss in the opening game of the weekend, the Blue Gamblers hit quick and often, tearing apart the Iowan defense and putting up five goals in a 34-2 win.  Vegas had last won a title in D3 back in 2006, then lost to St Louis in 2007.  Now both teams, which had rebounded mightily after the COVID break, had a trophy to take home.

Photos: Jerry Long

Posted in 
Watch AFL