Iron Maidens claim fifth USAFL Nationals title

LAST weekend saw the running of the 2021 United States Australian Football League (USAFL) Nationals, which were held in Austin, Texas. Due to a combination of factors, the women’s division at this year’s Nationals was much smaller than normal, with only five sides travelling to Texas to battle it out for the title. 

The women’s division teams were:
1. Denver Bulldogs
2. DC Eagles
3. San Francisco Iron Maidens
4. Texas Heat (a combination of several clubs from Texas, with additional players from Minnesota, Columbus, Arizona)
5. Orange County Giants (with additional players from Seattle, Sacramento, Wasatch, Centennial, Cincinnati and Denver)

The structure of the tournament saw five round robin matches played on the Saturday, with finals on the Sunday, and a National Champion crowned on the Sunday afternoon.

Due to the uneven number of matches each side played on the Saturday, an extra quarter final was added on the Sunday to ensure each team had a fair opportunity to still make the grand final. 

Since the tournament was in Texas and the SB8 Abortion Bill had recently passed in the state, and many players wore a purple armband during the tournament as a protest of the Bill. 

The first two games of the tournament were the most lopsided.

Game one saw the four-time reigning champions San Francisco up against Orange County (OC). 

The Iron Maidens ended up winning the match 1.9 (15) to 0.0 (0), but OC held the ball for most of the game, which meant the Maidens had very few chances. 

Game two saw the five-time National Champions Denver taking on Texas, and the Bulldogs took the game out comfortably 6.3 (39) to 0.0 (0).

The third game of the tournament saw San Francisco up against the DC Eagles. 

For much of the first three quarters San Francisco was the dominant side. The Iron Maidens are the four-time reigning National Champions for a reason, and their clean disposal, strong tackling and ability to switch the play was a level above the Eagles. In saying that, the Eagles were impressive. Their tackling game was strong and they proved a tough opponent for the Iron Maidens. 

In the final quarter though, after Alex Trollop kicked the Eagles first goal of the game, the momentum began to swing, and the Eagles sensed they were in with a sniff. Unfortunately in the end it was a case of too little, too late as the Iron Maidens ended up 19-point winners. It wasn’t all positive news for the Iron Maidens, with Julia Havili suffering an injury. 

Game four of the tournament saw Denver up against Orange County, and after it was really tight for a while it was Denver who took the win 2.4.16 to 0.2.2. Orange County played very well defensively, with Lizzy Sawyer (who normally plays for the Wasatch Wargulls) among the Giants’ best defensively. Amelia Kahr (who is from Seattle) was arguably Best on Ground across both sides. 

Jessica Grey and Anna Thexton both played well for Denver, but it was not all smiles for the Bulldogs with Alison Lennonard going down with a knee injury. Whilst the severity remains unclear, the initial prognosis ruled out an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Game four’s result cemented the Bulldogs’ position on top of the ladder and San Francisco’s position in second. On the other end of the spectrum, it also relegated Orange County to the qualifying final.

The final match of the day between Texas and DC would determine the remaining ladder positions. The winner of the match would finish third and avoid the qualifying final, while the loser would finish fourth and battle Orange County in the qualifying final first up on the Sunday morning.

With about eight minutes to go in the last term, Lissa Regets kicked the goal to put Texas ahead 13-8, but then DC were able to respond through Mariam Mehter. There was a long kick to the top of the goal square, and after the ball was dropped Mehter kicked the goal from point blank range after a 30m dead sprint. Dakotah Turner’s goal clinched the game for DC with two minutes to go. In the end the scoreline read DC 4.2 (20) defeating Texas 2.1 (13).

Among the best for DC was rookie Morgan Daugherty, while for the Heat Paige Tehell (Minnesota), was one of the stars after playing in the ruck and taking a couple of good defensive marks. 

Day two of the tournament was ‘Finals Day’, with five finals played in the search to determine who would be the 2021 National Champion. 

First up on Sunday it was the quarter final between Orange County and Texas. The winner would go on to play Denver in the semi-final, while the loser would go on to play in the consolation final and have no chance at winning the tournament. 

The first quarter was frenetic and scrappy, but in the end very low scoring. Orange County did much of the attacking particularly early on in the term, but were only able to register two behinds on the scoreboard. 

Texas did much of the early attacking in the second term, and the Heat were finally able to get reward for their effort with a goal through Amanda Mora. Both sides had plenty of chances to add to their score in the subsequent minutes but nothing was able to eventuate and at half-time, the Heat held a four-point lead. 

Early in the third term it was once again the Giants who did much of the early attacking, but were not able to make the most of their high number of opportunities as the defence of the Heat held strong. Amelia Kahr, who had been dominant for the Giants for much of the term, were finally able to get a goal on the board for Orange County and they retook the lead. That was the only major of the term as the Giants took a three-point lead heading into the final change. 

Kahr’s goal was ultimately the match winner as neither side registered any score in the final term, which meant that the final result was a three-point win to the Giants and they progressed on to the semi-final against Denver. 

Next up was the first semi-final between San Francisco and DC. The winner would go on to the grand final, while the loser went on to the consolation final against Texas. 

In the end it was the Iron Maidens who triumphed, defeating DC 5.4 (34) to 1.0 (6).

Next up saw Denver take on Orange County in the second semi-final, with the winner to progress to the Grand Final and the loser’s tournament was done. 

In the end it was the Bulldogs who progressed, beating Orange County 2.11 (23) to 2.0 (12).

The consolation final was a tight affair, but it was DC who narrowly beat Texas by three points. 

Then, all that was left was the grand final. Would San Francisco win their fifth National Championship in a row, or would Denver be able to break the Iron Maidens’ run?

The first quarter of the Grand Final was fast paced and very physical. Claire Colleran got the first score on the board with a goal for the Iron Maidens, but the Bulldogs responded minutes later with a dribbling goal from Courtney Jessamy.

San Francisco almost had its second goal in the early stages of the second quarter, but a brilliant defensive effort from Denver stopped the Iron Maidens in their tracks. San Francisco kept peppering the goals for much of the term, but a strong defence from Denver ensured that nothing much came of it. Nicole McKenzie was eventually able to take a mark in the forward line and kick truly for the Iron Maidens. Meg Leone then booted what many thought was a goal, but was only a behind to extend the Iron Maiden’s lead even further. Denver almost had their second major with minutes to go in the term, but a bad bounce ensured it was only a behind. They kicked another point with seconds left in the term to see the Iron Maidens lead by only five points at half-time.

The Iron Maidens maintained forward half possession early in the third term, but were not able to convert a goal until Brett Braeur was able to draw a free kick and kick truly to extend the Iron Maidens’ lead even further. Braeur then set up the next goal to Colleran who kicked truly, and the Maidens started to run away with the match. They held a 19-point lead heading into the last quarter.

San Francisco took mere seconds to extend its lead further in the last term with a goal from Elise Gallagher. Denver pegged a goal back minutes later through Jessamy to spice things up.  Denver was the more dominant side possession wise in the last term, but unfortunately for the Bulldogs it was a case of too little, too late as they just ran out of time and the Iron Maidens took out the win and the Championship.

Post-match there were also several awards handed out. The Paul Roos Medal for the Best and Fairest went to Katie Klatt from San Francisco, while the Geoff Cann Medal for MVP in the Grand Final went to San Francisco’s Meg Leone. The Coopers Medal for most consistent went to both Denver’s Hallie Kastanek and DC’s Kendall Jennings.


Picture credit: Jerry Long / myfootypics

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