Dragons conclude 2018 season with strong showing at Nationals
The LA Dragons made the long trek up to scenic Racine, Wisconsin for the 2018 USAFL Nationals Tournament (held Oct. 13-14). Competing in Division 1 once again, the Dragons brought a large group aiming to compete with the best of the best. The Dragons also had four men’s players combine with the Atlanta Kookaburras in Division 4, and six women’s players combine with the Texas Heat for their second Nationals showing in Division 2.
The Dragons began their push for a D1 flag on Saturday morning, playing the Quebec Saints in game one. In 2016 the Dragons won in there only matchup with the Canadian team in recent years and after a D2 flag the Saints were looking to win in Division One.
LA got off to a solid first half start, with ruckman Sam Murphy making a triumphant return after spending a year playing at the WAFL’s West Perth Falcons. Along with Murphy, Ryan McGettigan, Pat Nicholls, Justin Kenna, Joe Silvio and Freddy Schulin, rounded out the Dragons’ midfield, and was able to feed the ball to key forward targets Justin Hall and Nick Shuttleworth. Veterans small forwards Will Crandall, David Dollar, Bill McGovern and Julian de Vizio excelled at applying pressure with repeat entries in a heavy, muddy track. With the addition of fierce winds throughout the day, the Dragons kept their skills sharp, solid defensive efforts helped as they squashed a potential Saints comeback.
Led by captain Chris Bagot at center half-back, the Dragons kept the opposition on their toes, alongside key cogs Paul Jackson, Drew Loewen, Lachie Macpherson and Dre Jansen. USA Revolution player, Donald Lee, normally a ruckman, performed well down at fullback, while Dennis Boyle, Ryan Lorseyedi and Lukas Golson were influential off the bench. By the time the final siren sounded, the Dragons were victorious, 6.1.37 to 1.5.11.
On Saturday Afternoon the Dragons were back in action to face an athletic and experienced Austin Crows team. Having not faced the Crows since the Rob Dollar Cup back in May, it was bound to be an intriguing matchup for the boys from LA. Sticking to the successful lineup from the first game, the Dragons were in for a dogfight, as both teams ensured the scoreboard stayed close. Some valuable clearances courtesy of Nicholls and Murphy allowed LA to get several key inside-50s, but an excellent Crows backline didn’t want to go down quietly. Austin took there chances in the first half for a 12 point lead.
Donald Lee starred at fullback winning every contest against Austin’s much heralded full forward along with a strong showing from Macpherson across half back. Both the Crows and Dragons had multiple opportunities deep in forward 50 in the second half, but some tough tackling and great intercept marking ensured that both sides would stay in it until the bitter end. The Dragons won a free kick inside 50 late and believed a quick goal would put them within a kick but the siren sounded as Hall was taking his shot the Dragons run was left too late. The Crows emerged with the W by a score of 4.1.25 to 2.1.13.
The Dragons had a chance to regroup ahead of a big Sunday Semi Final showdown against the Golden Gate Roos, with the winner to face Austin in the D1 Grand Final. As expected, the match was a nail-biter from the opening ball-up.
The Roos’ speedy midfield had some success early on, but the Dragons fought through, with the halfback line and midfield once again showing their class, grabbing plenty of contested possessions. With goals from Ryan McGettigan and Nick Shuttleworth (2) in the back end of the first half, the Dragons tails were up and appeared to be building some positive momentum. At half time, the Dragons led by 6 points and had a sniff to make the National Championship game.
The second half started poorly with Golden Gate grabbing two early goals to regain the lead but goals to Paul Ioakim who was fantastic at half forward along with centreman Justin Kenna saw the Dragon back in front at the halfway point of the final term. Golden Gate’s response a goal and two quick behinds saw them take a 2 point lead into the final few finals and despite the Dragons efforts to push the ball forward they could not get through the Golden Gate wall. A last minute over the back goal would push the result beyond the Dragons control, losing the Semi by only nine points.
The Dragons completed Nationals with a 3rd place finish after 2nd last year. Two great seasons just falling short. The boys celebrated the season into the afternoon and evening and made note to thank everyone from around the world who expressed their support, the women’s and D4 players for their help on game day and Fraggers for his efforts running the interchange in 2018.
The Dragons women brought a core group of talent up to Racine to bring depth to another second year team, the Texas Heat. Familiar faces Lani Silvio, Aileen Yoon, Yui Kawakatsu and Delphina Delgadillo along with rookies Sara Burns and Michelle Hotta brought experience and tenacity to a speedy and tough Texas team in order to form the “Dragon Heat.”
For the first game of the weekend, Captain and Liberty player Leilani Silvio and 2017 Dragons Nationals MVP Kawakatsu controlled the midfield, and the Dragon Heat started off on a positive note against the #1 seeded Columbus Cats/Philadelphia Hawks. Kawakatsu shined and scored 2 goals in the win against the “Kitty Hawks.” Delgadillo and Hotta rounded out a tenacious back line and helped hold the lead in the 4.3.27 to 2.3.15 victory. However, the celebration was short-lived, as the Dragon Heat lost in a shutout to the eventual D2 winners and former D1 teams Sacramento Suns/Montreal Angels later in the day. Despite Kawakatsu and Silvio racking up plenty of disposals, the ball didn’t bounce their way against a talented Suns/Angels side.
Despite the setback, the Dragon Heat were back on the hunt on Sunday, defeating the DC Eagles/Boston Demons women in a very low-scoring affair. Once again, Hotta and Delgadillo were excellent in defense, holding the “Deagles” to 0.4 on the day. Rookie Burns showed her speed to help keep the ball in the Dragon Heat side, and Yoon brought experience to a talented forward line as the Dragon Heat won 1.1.7 to 0.4.4.
With a second place standing on the line, the Dragon Heat were hungry to win their final match of the weekend against the Calgary Kookaburras/Arizona Hawks/Nashville Kangaroos. A few lineup changes placed Silvio in the backline, and despite the 3.2.20 to nil score in the first half in favor of the opposition, made key marks and clearances to keep the Dragon Heat in the game. Silvio came back to her usual on ball position in the second half, and led the team to a comeback that ultimately fell just short as the Dragon Heat lost by 1 point.
The Dragons women finished with a 2-2 Nationals record in only their second year of existence, but showed they are a force to be reckoned with from wins against long standing teams featuring many National team players. The future looks bright indeed for Coach David Morrow’s squad, as they hope to build up some positive recruiting vibes in the offseason and continue the positive momentum of women’s footy in LA.
Although the Dragons weren’t able to field a full reserves squad in D4 this season, they still had no shortage of talent combining with the Atlanta Kookaburras. Trevor Osterholm, Rick Shaibani and Julien Mayeur teamed up with American rookie Dave Uhlfelder to take the field with an emerging Atlanta side.
Opening up the action at 9 a.m. on Saturday, the Kookas/Dragons side drew a tough, scrappy opponent in the Arizona Outlaws/Seattle Grizzlies. The Kookas had some early success, with Shaibani playing at forward pocket, Osterholm and Uhlfelder down back, and Mayeur as an onballer. However, the Outlaws’ speed and classiness on the perimeter allowed them to blow the game wide open, shutting out the Kookas in the second half en route to a 13.7.85 to 2.0.12 victory.
Game two, unfortunately, brought some more rough sledding, as the eventual D4 champion Baltimore Dockers got out to a strong start and never let up, cruising to an 11.11.77 to 0.1.1 triumph over the Kookas.
At 10 a.m. on Sunday, the Kookas headed into the consolation game against the hosting Wisconsin Wombats. This game was a back-and-forth affair, with lots of contested possessions and physical midfield play. The Wombats had some quality athletes that kept them in front, but the Kookas made it a competitive outing, with Shaibani and Uhlfelder playing different roles as needed. The Wombats won by eight points, in a competitive contest to round out the weekend for the Division 4 Dragons.
Another big season is in the books for the Dragons, and we’re extremely grateful to everyone who helped us throughout the season, whether in an on-field or off-field capacity. The club would also like to extend a very special thanks to Dennis Boyle’s family, who were incredibly supportive to the Dragons the entire weekend and opened up their home for a wonderful dinner in their Milwaukee hometown on Saturday night. We are lucky to have a great network of supporters who do everything they can to help make the Dragons thrive.
The season will officially conclude with the end-of-year awards ceremony and AGM. Date and time TBD.