Rocky Road to Dublin - Previewing the Super Regionals

Okay, so the song is talking about Dublin, Ireland, and while the interstates and friendly skies leading towards central Ohio are generally well paved and (hopefully) turbulence free, we begin our Midsummer Aussie Rules quest.

First stop: Dublin, Ohio.  

Founder John Sells arrived in 1808 and two years later, he began to plan out a new home town with business partner John Shields.  Shields looked about the pristine, green countryside which reminded him of his birthplace on the Emerald Isle, and christened his new home the same.  Thank goodness he wasn’t from Muckanaghederdauhaulia.

Two centuries hence, and Dublin is a charming and still cozy suburb of Columbus.  There’s a lot of green(s) about, thanks to four golf courses, and a populace who loves life and their sport.  They’re not far from (THE) Ohio State University, the Blue Jackets, the Crew, the Clippers, and a torn major league baseball allegiance.

We were there ten years ago for Nationals, and two years before for the Parallel Cup.  And they were such great hosts that we’re eager to come back and have a kick or two or three at Darree Fields once again.

2024 USAFL Eastern/Central Super Regionals
Darree Fields - 6259 Cosgray Rd, Dublin, Ohio
First Round Starts at 9am EDT, last games begin at 5pm EDT (full schedule here)
Coverage (streaming/recording):

In its second season, the Super Regionals feature teams from the East and Central parts of the USAFL.  And this year we have players from Boston to Denver, and from Minnesota to Texas, and just about every point in between.  All told, 23 clubs make up the fifteen teams across the four divisions, and there are some interesting story lines ahead of the weekend.

Of course, each team wants to schlep some trophies and medals back home with them.  Austin wants to redeem itself after getting pipped by Denver last year, Minnesota wants show how hard they’ve been working in the offseason, Columbus wants to impress the home fans, and teams who are looking to either start their seasons off with a bang or turn them around early.

This season, however, has an added twist for a number of American athletes.  With rosters for the TransAtlantic Cup in August due to be set at the end of the month, there are those who will be looking to give one last positive impression to the selectors of the USA Revolution and USA Freedom.  How many will play their way onto the plane this weekend?  We’ll know soon enough.

Anyway, it should be a cracking day of Aussie Rules, and here’s a breakdown of each of the teams taking to the ovals:

Note: The preview reflects the rosters submitted, or not submitted, as of 9am EDT on June 14th.

Division 1: Austin Crows (3-0), Baltimore Dockers (5-0), Denver Bulldogs (0-0), Minnesota Freeze (5-0)

It’s been one year since that Lachie Fleet kick after the siren pierced through the thick Kansas Air and the Austin Crow’s hearts. It had been seven years since the champs had lost at regionals, and it was almost foreign to see them lose at all. But they got their revenge on Denver four months later, running over them in the D1 Nationals Final to tie the ‘Doggies at the top with eight national championships.

Grant Campbell’s team is out to get back to the top and run over/fly through (because crows don’t run, do they) anyone on the way. In the process. They are unbeaten to start the year, though their foes from Colorado are here too and they’re the only team to beat the Crows - three times in as many years - since Covid.  A fully loaded team - Cox, Dragus, Aguire, and Barr will al be there - gets an added weapon of former Dallas and Seattle player Zach McKinney to try and take back what is, in their minds, rightfully theirs.

This is pretty heady heights for Baltimore. After cementing themselves firmly at the Nationals D2 level, they’re going to see how they go against D1 competition.  All’s been well in the Charm City, with a three game sweep at the Mid-Atlantic Cup and wins over Philly and DC/Virginia, the Dock Show can really announce their arrival if they can drop anchor on the competition in Dublin.  There’s some good speed here, with Isley Autrey, Val Kafexholli, and Jack Chalmers running through the center, and a stout defense led by Albert Kobe.

Denver makes the long trek out to Ohio with a side that is full of good skills, but missing some of the players that took them all the way a season ago.  This is their season opener, and they’ll have some National team prospects in Aaron Gray (BOS) and Caleb Dougherty (KC) in tow.  There’s some seasoned veterans here; guys like Troy Kirk, Dan Duffield, and Tim Wilson-Humphries are part of the fabric of the team.  But there’s also Americans like Luke Durkin and Jay Blistan who can poke holes in the opponent’s defenses.

When Minnesota welcomed in the Central Regionals to the National Sports Center, they proved that playing at home can light a little bit of a fire under your butt.  And they held their own with a tip-top Austin side in the final that year.  They ran the table at the 80/35 tournament and are coming off a solid victory over the St Louis/Des Moines combine.  This is one of the rare top-level sides with a mostly American core group and after the performances that McKenzie Callahan and Bailey Callander had at the Parallel Cup last summer, you know that Freeze have some hot rising stars to go with the vets.

Women’s Division: Minnesota Freeze (0-0), [Austin (2-0)/Denver (0-0)], D.C. Eagles (0-1)

While the Freeze women have only recently entered the conversation as one of the top two teams in the USAFL, they come to Ohio searching for their fourth straight Regional championship and fifth overall.  They achieved victory over Golden Gate at Nationals a season ago, and came within a goal of snatching their crown. Midfield dynamo Connor Lewis (MIN), and nationals MVPs Lindsay Eliason (MIN) and Kaiya Sygulla (MIN) will get a boost from young Queenslander Lonestar rover Ellen McDonald (HOU) and local Freedom program alum Amy Bryniarski (CLB).  With its abundance of American talent, there will be a definite Freeze in the atmosphere both this weekend and in Toronto at the beginning of August.

One team is coming off two straight Nationals D2 titles. The other rattled off six in a row in D1 at one point.  They’ll combine on the weekend with the hopes of derailing another Minnesota championship. Here too should be a combination of tall targets and wheels; Barb Williamson (AUS) and veterans Kait Mascher (DEN), Hallie Kastanek (DEN) and Lindsey Kastanek (DEN), Ally Dykes (DEN) bring the height, and Rita Hill (DEN), Alison Leonard (DEN), and Lindsey Turse (AUS) bring the speed. With reinforcements from North Texas led by Emma “Squid” Whewell (NTX) and Livvy Parsons (NTX), this will be a fun team to watch and a dangerous one to play.

Optimism abounds in our nation’s capital, with the Eagles women eager to take it to a couple of D1 caliber sides. They put in a solid effort against New York in the wet to begin 2024 a couple of weeks ago, and will carry a full side here to Dublin. Morgan Daugherty (DC), coming off a season that saw her entrusted with the ruck role for the Freedom, will battle it out with some of the best rucks in the country and match up well.  Mariam Mehter (DC) adds her deftness to the midfield alongside their talented Aussie nucleus of Alex Trollip (DC) and Stephanie Hower (DC).  Cricket Temple (NY) comes down from New York to give the  mids a tall target and help in the ruck, while Aussie Elizabeth McAskil (NY) provides another boost of experience for the Beltway bunch. 

Men’s Division 2: Columbus Cats (2-0), DC Eagles (1-3½), Houston Lonestars (3-0), Des Moines Roosters (2-2½)

Buckeye nation will turn its eyes to the horseshoe in a couple of months’ time, but for now Columbus has Cats’ scratch fever, and the men in the hoops host their first USAFL tournament since the 2014 Nationals. That year, they made it to the D2 Grand Final. Here, they are the top seed in D2 with two victories, both on the road.  C-bus has always been brimming with American recruits that have excelled at the National level; vets Clyde Simpson and Mark McClure will be in to, but so will be Chase Beardsley, who put in a fine performance in the Parallel Cup ressies game in 2023.  Derrick Shotwell, last year’s D2 super regional B&F, is one of the most athletic players the league has seen, and he’s keen for another championship.

D.C. has found the beginning of 2024 to be a bit of a bumpy road, though they’ve played every one of their five matches tough. The defending D2 champs from the 2023 Super Regionals are keen for a repeat. Strength is the Eagles’ game, with Paul LaShier and Scott Williams winning the tough contested balls.  It’s a bit of a homecoming for Tom Mathew, who began his career with Columbus and has ascended into a reliable ballgetter as well to complement Alex Foster.  The side also features three North Carolina Tigers, including veteran Erik Hanson (NC) and rising star Keith Phillips (NC), looking to take on the red, white and blue again up in Toronto.

As consistent and mechanical as an oil derrick in the Texas sun, the Houston Lonestars have been plugging away each season in D2 at Nationals. Their only loss this season was to Mother Nature; bad weather wiped out their Texas Cup clash against Austin, but this Saturday Dave Bryant’s team might have the chance to announce themselves as contenders. After losing to DC/Nashville in the Grand Final in Kansas, the ‘Stars Americans are primed to make an impression and take that next step.  Chance Mire will be in the mix for a ruck role in Toronto, Daniel Garcia adds his hops, and Carey Nolan’s big boot will be augmented by the omnitalented Brett Biermann (WIS), one of two players from the WIsconsin Wombats.

Des Moines would’ve been disappointed to have finished their 80/35 tournament at 2-2 after coming within a goal of upsetting Minnesota last year.  But for a team that plays as well as they do with zero Australians, the Roosters never seem to be out of a game.  Josh Curtis’s ascension into one of the best rovers in the country has been a treat to watch, and he is a catalyst for a side that has strength all over the oval.  Jacob Spain is another one who can contract leather poisoning, and the one-two punch of Jacob and Zach Vander Ploeg has given opponents the heebie-jeebies.  Curtis and up-and-comer Layne Bender will be among those to watch at the National level too, as the Iowans look to leave Ohio over .500 and with some hardware.

Men’s Division 3: [Nashville (4-1)/Cleveland (0-½)], [Chicago (1-1)/Virginia (3-1½)], [Oklahoma (1-3)/Kansas City (0-4)], [St Louis (0-½)/Cincinnati (0-½)]

Ever had Nashville hot chicken?  That’s about what the Kangaroos’ season has been so far. A split in their first two games followed by a three game sweep at the Three Rivers Cup has them coming in nice and spicy as they look to replicate their D2 Super Regionals title in D3. This time Matt Filchak (NSH), Cody McLain (NSH), Will Procter (NSH) and the mostly American ‘Roos join forces with the reconstituted Cleveland Cannons, who make their first regionals appearance in eight years.  Veterans Dale Versteegen (CLE), Dayne Plemmons (CLE) and Andrew Wang (CLE) along with newcomers Holden Thomas (CLE) and Aaron Gardner (CLE) look to help push the Cann-garoos to the top.

Chicago has always been a handy partner for the teams they’ve joined with, and this year it’s Darren Green’s (VIR) Virginia Lions, who are quietly amassing a competitive side in the growing Mid-Atlantic part of the country. The Lions and Philly Hawks took out D3 at Nationals back in October, and so far they’ve notched three victories and looked strong in the process.  Veterans Green and Ian McCormick (VIR) and newcomers like teenager Logan Cox (VIR) should mesh well with the Swans’ Josh Halliday (CHI), Ashley Callen (CHI), and Rushil Chokshi (CHI).

Two clubs with rich histories of playing Aussie Rules in the prairie; Oklahoma and KC both play a similar brand of football.  So it’s natural that they team up with one another here.  And, they should play off each other pretty well as they look to collectively boost their win total for the season.  George Pellersels (OKL), Chris Cawood (OKL), and Caleb West (OKL) have past all-regional nods under their belt, and are quality with the Sherrin.  The “Pear” (if you know, you know) are led by emerging talents in Erik Rodriguez (KC), Michael Berryhill (KC), and Lucas Castilleja (KC).

Once upon a time, in a galaxy not that far away, the Cincinnati Dockers and St Louis Blues were part of a Division 4 tumbleweed juggernaut called the Ohio Valley River Rats.  The band is getting back together for the weekend, and are hoping to come from the four-spot and shock their rivals.  Both teams have been on the losing end as split sides so far this season and come from the lands of ribs and cinnamon chili to dine on W.  Scott Schroeder (CIN), Kyle Strenski (CIN) and Mike Hanavan (CIN) were seemingly taking marks over Jack Dyer and are still playing top-shelf football. St. Louis was well represented at the Parallel Cup carnival by Alex Tajkowski (STL) and Joel “Frosty” Freisen (STL), and some newcomers led by Kace Holt (STL) are in for the challenge.

Photos: Jerry Long/myfootypics

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