A record breaking 13 women’s teams representing 21 clubs from across North America will compete this weekend at the USAFL Nationals in San Diego, California.
Along with North America’s women battling it out for the Division One and Two titles respectively, the weekend will also be including an appearance by the touring Aussie Sparks women’s team, featuring Fremantle AFLW captain Kara Donnellan, the Dockers’ latest recruit Emily McGuire, and Swan Districts premiership coach Nicole Graves.
Although the San Francisco Iron Maidens head into the weekend as reigning Division One champions, many a predicting one of the two Canadian sides participating this year to take out the title.
The Calgary Kookaburras took out the Division Two title in 2015, skipped last year’s Nationals in Florida, but according to Lyndsay Smith her side is stronger than the 2015 squad and see themselves a good shot of taking out the Division One title.
“It’s looking really good,” Smith told Girls Play Footy.
“I think we have quite a strong team, we have eight girls that were there for IC17 in Australia, and then just a pile of others who are really, really talented.”
One of the teams that will be looking to stop Calgary and the Canadian invasion is fellow Division One Pool A team, the Minnesota Freeze.
For the last few years the Freeze have always been there abouts, finishing middle of the table, troubling the top sides, but never able to finish them off.
USAFL Liberty team member Lizzy Even told Girls Play Footy that when she returned back to her home club in Minnesota, she was impressed with the development of the players while she and a number of others were away touring Australia.
“Getting back to some of the girls who were still at home and putting in the hard work, it was amazing to see the changes they had made over the month that we were gone,” Even explained.
“Then just learning to play together as a team again was an amazing process; and we have a couple of first timers who came out to play a little over a month ago, so really excited to see their talent grow as well within the team.”
On the subject of growth, the rise of the Seattle Grizzlies has been nothing short of amazing.
From just starting up their women’s program last year and supplying three players to the Nationals, this year the Grizzlies will debut in Division One and bring a squad of 21.
Captain of the Grizzlies, Marian Dickinson told Girls Play Footy even she was blown away by the ability to recruit so many players in such a short space of time.
“I really have to credit my teammates on this,” said Dickinson.
“Val, Tegan and April, have done an absolutely fantastic job in recruiting players; and Kyle our coach, he’s a trainer at one of the gyms, and he approaches who might look alright out on the field and encourages them to come have a kick.
“Plus, the great thing about the Grizzlies is, it’s a really social club and really welcoming to guys and girls, so once we get them out on the field it’s not too hard to get them to come back.”
In the other Division One pool (Pool B), two sides are looking at continued improvement.
For the New York Magpies, although they finished last year’s Nationals without a win, they managed get game time into around a dozen rookies.
Coach Christina Licata says the team from the Big Apple’s focus has been on development, and with that eventually success will come.
“Last year we had a very successful year in terms of recruitment, with over 30 women who were on the throughout the year,” Licata told Girls Play Footy.
“We did have some veterans who moved away or had children… [but] I’m happy to say the majority of first year players we recruited last year have come back, and a just really learning and growing and working together as a team very well.
“The skills they have developed over the past year have just really catapulted them into a whole other level since last year.”
One of the teams that beat New York last year, the Sacramento Suns, did so by registering their first ever win at the Nationals.
Sacramento vice-captain, Laure Kwoka says they’ve also picked some new quality recruits, who’ll be needed is what’s expected to be a tough pool for the Suns.
“We’ve got those new girls we picked up in September, and got them into a game before Nationals and they were phenomenal,” Kwoka told Girls Play Footy.
“We have a new girl Sonia, who played Rugby at UC Davis; we put her against Carly Smolak (of San Francisco) and she was phenomenal, putting up a good contest.
“Our other girls, just making those good connections from the back line to the midfield to the forwards.”
With Division One of the USAFL Nationals growing from five standalone teams to eight this year, it’s easy to also overlook the growth of Division Two from three combined teams to five.
One of the new combinations taking part if the Texas Heat, made up of players from the Houston Lonestars and Dallas Magpies, along with one player from the Wisconsin Wombats.
Sarah Pulliam from the Lonestars said it’s been remarkable how they’ve managed to form their debut squad, in just a handful of months.
“I think they girls have picked up the skills really fast,” Pulliam told Girls Play Footy.
“We have some girls who’ve came in who played Rugby, or Gaelic which is somewhat of a similar sport, and they come in and learn how to do things a little bit differently then they’re used to.
“But they’re very fit and very athletic, so they pick it up very quick.
“The atmosphere is very fun, so people really enjoy it, and want to keep trying even if they’re kind of not sure about it when they start.”
The USAFL Nationals in San Diego, California, gets underway at 9am on Saturday, October 21.
Eight teams in Women’s Division One are divided into two pools, with the top team from each pool progressing through to the Grand Final on Sunday, 22nd October.
The five combined teams in Division Two play a round-robin tournament, with the team finishing top of the table declared as Champions.
A select number of women’s pool games will be recorded and uploaded to YouTube.com/USAFL after the conclusion of the tournament.
Pool A: San Francisco Iron Maidens, Minnesota Freeze, Montreal Angles, Seattle Grizzlies
Pool B: Denver Bulldogs, Calgary Kangaroos, Sacramento Suns, New York Magpies
Baltimore-Washington/Boston, Columbus/North Star/Chicago, Houston/Dallas/Wisconsin, Portland/Philadelphia, Los Angeles/Arizona/Des Moines/San Francisco (B)