2015 USAFL Nationals Recap

Well it was the time of the year we play all season for, as the Portland Steelheads made their way down to Austin, Texas for the 2015 national championship. With an impressive 2015 season under our belt, and the strongest squad of players we have ever sent, the feeling was great heading into the tournament. Numbers were so good, not only were we able to field a top seeded 3rd division team, we were also able to combine with our friends up the I-5 in Seattle to field a division 4 team. As well as the 2 men’s teams, Simone Sheppard and Jess Blecher came down to represent the Sockeye’s by joining up with the Calgary women’s team.

Match 1: Portland Steelheads vs. Austin Crows1544958_10153740321051518_4855740238132146061_n
Day 1 kicked off with a 10am game against the home town Austin Crows B team. Having the advantage of playing at home, they were able to field 3 teams, so we knew they would be a tough team to beat. The feeling was good but the nerves were there. After a couple of scoreless minutes, the Austin Crows pulled out the first score of the match – a goal. The Steelheads didn’t waver, though, and turned it around to score 3 goals before halftime.
The hometown Crows weren’t about to lay down and came out blazing with two quick goals in the second half to pull within seven points. Now it was Portland’s turn to will themselves out of the tight spot. The defense cracked down and shut out the Crows from there on out. Combine that with a number of goals from Ryan Stewart and Dave Quinn and the Steelheads took their first match going away. It was a good way to start the weekend.

Portland: 8.8.56
Austin: 3.2.20
Goals: Stewart 4, Quinn 2, Begg, Johnson 1

Match 2: Portland Steelheads vs. Des Moines Roosters
The later game saw us take on the Des Moines Roosters at 2pm. Known for their physicality at the ball, it was important that we worked hard around the contest to gain the early ascendency. And that we did. It was scrappy early, but once we got the ball into the open space, the skill of the steelheads shone through. The backline, led by the evergreen Martin Coventry, repelled everything that came their way, with Oscar Wight showing the importance of speed and youth. John Kim was just beginning to get himself into the game with some very nice passages, when he went up for a pack mark and landed awkwardly, breaking, dislocating and basically annihilating his foot. It was a devastating blow, not only for him personally, but as a vital member of the Portland team.
After a long and somber delay, we came back out and picked up where we had left off. Our fitness was vital as we began to run away with the game. The second half was pure joy to watch. Tyson Okely was smashing in and winning clearances, but it was all about the Dave Quinn show up forward. With a bevy of home grown support in his corner, he put on a show and made the forward line his own to finish with 4 goals. It was an unstoppable performance with every foray forward seemingly getting in his hands and him working his magic to get it through the big sticks. Our courageous leader Marto ended up playing the game out with suspected broken ribs, so the injury toll was not great, but an important win to go into Sunday 2-0 none the less.

Portland: 11.8.74
Des Moines: 2.4.16
Goals: Quinn 4, Stewart, Okely 2, Weinstock, Begg, Wright 1
Let’s just call it a memorable dinner:
We had a great team bonding dinner at Ranch 616, with many thanks to the team there and Ramzy for organizing all of that. Spirits were high and we took a lot of confidence going in to championship Sunday.

Match 3: Portland Steelheads vs. Nashville Roos12107087_1057177297648850_1465634947635021435_n
It was another 10am start on Sunday, this time against the Nashville Kangaroos, a division 2 team who have been struggling for numbers this year. Again, we knew it would be important to start well against a team that clearly would have some talented players running around. It was a pretty slow start, with the Roos getting on the board first, but the cool head of the Steelheads steadied. Seth Wright continued to present strongly and was rewarded with 2 goals, whilst Nathan Gaebe gave his best performance leading hard to provide a target and snagged one of his own.

Importantly, this game was a chance to get everyone some much deserved game time. Chris Chalk, Ryan Maule made the most of their opportunities up forward, while Brandon Snider held his own down back. Disappointingly, the star of Game 2 Quinny injured his hamstring, which would keep him out of the grand final. In the end, the Steelheads did what they had to, to get the win and move on to the big one.
Portland: 7.3.45
Nashville 3.4.22
Goals: Stewart, Wright 2, Mercurio, Gaebe, Maule 1
So with 3 wins from 3 games, the mighty Steelheads advanced to the Division 3 grand final, to take on the Ohio Valley River Rats, also unbeaten in their pool for the tournament. With Quinn and Kim out, it would take a full team effort to take home the silverware.

Division III Grand Final: Portland vs. Ohio Valley
The feeling was exceptional as the first ball bounced and there was a notable lift in intensity, despite playing on the larger Cooper’s field. It was clear from the start it was going to be hot around the contest, and there was no way we would take a backwards step. The half back line of Oscar Wight, Luke Mooney and Martin Coventry were incredible, particularly in the first half. Mooney was fanatical at the ball and man, while Wight and Coventry kept running all day and dominated their opponents. Will Sandman was given the job on the Rats gun full forward, and blanketed him superbly, while Brian Phillips capped off a great tournament down back also. The only minor disappointment was that the Steelheads were not able to capitalize on every opportunity going forward, kicking 2 goals 5 behinds going in to the main break.
But after the break, the foot stayed on the pedal. Mike Borenstein saved his best game until last, providing a great target up forward and leading the way with 2 goals. Matt Worden, who worked hard all weekend, was rewarded with a goal of his own from a strong mark and 50m penalty, while the play of the day was surely the clearance from the back line all the way down ending with a Borenstein goal. The ball did not hit the ground as the skills we had been working on all year came to the fore. In the end in was a dominant performance from Rose City team, with the lads saving their best team performance until last.

Portland: 5.8.38
Ohio Valley: 1.3.9
Goals: Borenstein 2, Worden, Brasch, Mercurio 1
Best on ground medal: Ryan Stewart

Video (First Half): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsAW3dwpzpY
Video (Second Half): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmrvSjDxKjI
So there it is, the Portland Steelheads take out their first national championship in the club’s history. It was a great weekend had by all. Thanks to everyone for their support over the weekend. Special thanks to Seth Wright and Andrew Daniel, it was a massive undertaking getting 50 or so people scheduled over the weekend and these 2 gentleman were phenomenal in their work and dedication to the team, there is no way we would have achieved what we did without their work.