This will be the 4th season the North Star Blue Ox have been in existence after a several Minnesota Freeze women players decided to start their own team in the Minneapolis/St Paul area in 2017.
Recently when we wrote and article and spoke to newest standalone women's team the Centennial Tigers & Sara Rohner, we realized we hadn't finished an article last year about the North Star Blue Ox, the very first single women’s team in the USAFL. So we reached out again to get an update and chatted briefly again with North Star Blue Ox's, Helen Phillips, to bring us up to speed.
The North Star Blue Ox got their name as Minnesota is known as the North Star state, with "L'Etoile du Nord" being the state motto. Blue Ox comes from Paul Bunyan the lumberjack folklore. Minnesota lays claim to being his birthplace, and he was accompanied in his exploits by Babe, the Blue Ox.
In the previous 6 years women’s footy had grown significantly in the area with the Minnesota Freeze women taking full teams and some, to the USAFL Nationals and many players making the USA Freedom and Liberty teams in the previous 5 years.
The growth of the Minnesota Women's team opened up the opportunity to grow the game further, by being able to play more official USAFL games.
The excitement of a new team, The North Star Blue Ox however those years back, allowed a renewed focus for the love of the game and the building of friendships. The first President of the team Marie LaVictorie, had been a USA Freedom representative as far back as the late 2000s. Other Freedom representatives since have been Emily Smuder and Brianne Theisen, the latter is now the Blue Ox's coach. It's also worth noting that one of the 2019 Rookies, Hannah Alexander was awarded the Cooper's Medal at the 2019 Nationals.
The club remains small and last year at the Sarasota FL Nationals only 4 players attended. Playing with the Columbus Cats & Nashville Kangaroos combined team however in Div 2, they finished with a win on Sunday for their efforts. In 2018 6 players played in the Racine Wisconsin USAFL National Championships.
However, the focus of the team is often more about fun, playing with new people and making new friends than achieving lofty goals. And also it is worth mentioning many teams assess their success or failure, wrongly we believe at times, by how well they attend and perform at the USAFL National Championships each October.
For any new club in the US there are many challenges and we are sure for a standalone women’s team this would be even more exaggerated. The Blue Ox started with zero, no funding, no structure to build on, but plenty of ambition. You hear teams are built on passion right? Well this might be the perfect example.
In 2019 the Blue Ox were able to play relatively close to their home base in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St Paul, playing with the Chicago Swans team and playing against their cross town rivals the Freeze. So the 2019 year was the most successful year in terms of playing local games and having fun playing.
The Blue Ox were able to secure a sponsor in their first year but have had little luck finding partners since. This puts some financial strain on the club, with small memberships and limited support externally, growth can only be slow. But that is ok for this team Helen Phillips told USFootyNews. "We are having fun."
Helen, who has been with the club all 4 years, "temporarily retired" from playing with the Freeze, but was lured back by the Blue Ox. Chatting with USFootyNews, Helen let us know, "Since the split with the Minnesota Freeze a friendly relationship has developed and there are opportunities for Blue Ox players to play with both teams more often."
"The team practices are out in the Golden Valley area, just west of Minneapolis, and the goal in 2020 is as in any year for the Blue Ox, it is have a good time, get our rookies exposed to Nationals and other Championships events and get them hooked on a great sport for women." "Also to find some younger players to join the sport would be nice". Helen added.
Younger players in fact is the challenge for all teams across the USA where the average age of an American recruit to the game is often in the late 20s or even higher.
So the first standalone women's only team The North Star Blue Ox, is alive in well, well maybe a bit chilly right now. But come the full spring and summer, they will be back at it, playing women's Aussie Rules footy in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
On the recent 'Outside 50' podcast with Tom Ellis the USA Revolution Head Coach, we learnt things are changing up in a big way for the USA Revolution and the International Cup in Queensland Australia beginning in late July. With the increased opportunities for US players to play in Australia, Tom and his fellow coaches have quite the dilemma on their hands trying to select the best team for the 2020 IC.
"It is a great thing to have happen really for the team" Tom said. With nearly a dozen USA players now playing in Australia, mostly in the Melbourne suburban leagues, its making the selection process to make the USA Revolution team more complicated but more exciting at the same time.
Tom first played with the Denver Bulldogs in 1999 and has been a part of the Bulldogs legendary eight Div 1 championship wins, the last being in 2011. Tom has also been a player himself in two International Cups and this year will be his second time visiting Australia as Head Coach of the USA Revolution.
With a Revolution camp coming up in late February in Houston Texas and a separate tour planned to Croatia this year, headed up by Kyle Strenski, the USA men's team development is certainly going ahead full steam. There are still player spots up for grabs too with the final team of 28 and 2 emergencies to be named after the late February camp in Houston. From then on it is fundraising and ensuring players are prepared physically and mentally for the two week tour on the Sunshine Coast of southern Queensland. A stark contrast from every previous IC which have been held in Melbourne and notably under wintry conditions.
There is no opportunity to play on the MCG this year, but the final of the International Cup will be curtain raisers and curtain closer at a Brisbane Lions v North Melbourne Kangaroos game at the GABBA on August 8th
You can follow along with the Revolution team in the lead up to the IC on their Facebook page here.
As the 2020 International Cup in Queensland, Australia looms on the horizon in late July, this year the women's USA Freedom team Head Coach, Christina Licata's unfinished story is remarkable already. From the humble beginnings of finding the sport whilst attending her last year of College at Arizona State University, to establishing the first women's team in New York, to being the only Level 2 AFL coach in the USA, to now leading the USA team herself into battle at the 2020 IC. It is a story of hard work, perseverance and passion for Aussie Rules Football.
Christina originally played with one of the only three women's teams at the time in the USA the Arizona Hawks and attended the first National Championships for women in the USA, which was played in Milwaukee Wisconsin in 2005. Though the Hawks were not successful that weekend that taste of competitive contact sport was enough to fuel a passion for Aussie Rules Football that is still as evident today as it was 16 years ago. Unfortunately Christina suffered from two ACL knee injuries, the second in 2013 after moving to New York in 2008. Christina hung up her playing boots after the second one, but that did not stop her from continuing on in the sport she now loves, helping establish and later becoming the Head Coach of the New York Magpies women's team. With the help of her best friend to this day she met in college in Arizona, Andrea Murphillas (Casillas), they have been pioneers of women's footy in New York and across the USA.
With a drive beyond all in the USA so far, Christina became the only USA Level 2 AFL coach in the country, either men's or women's. It was inevitable perhaps or destiny maybe that she would be appointed in 2018 as the USA Freedom Head Coach and lead the team to Australia on tour. It is not a place unfamiliar to Christina being a part of the very first tour to Australia in 2009, at a time well before International women's AFL football was a thing.
For our soon to be released episode of Outside 50 podcast show, Christina mentions some of the people that have helped and guided her along the way. New York men's coach Rob Oliver especially and another notable was Chyloe Kurdas who made a significant contribution to the organization and therefore success of the 2009 Freedom tour but also to women's sport in general when working for AFL Victoria. Chyloe was also an attendee at USAFL National Championships and ran clinics in New York and other places around the USA, as a true leader of international women's footy development she remains a great friend of Christina's and many USA women players around the country, to this day.
Also in our interview, Christina elaborated on the plans this year for the final Freedom camp weekend to be held in Sacramento, taking place from May 28th to the 31st. There the 28 selected players and 6 emergencies will undergo testing, advanced coaching seminars and certainly full scale match practice sessions, prepping them all for not only the 2020 IC tour, but the future of the sport in the USA.
As Head Coach of USA, Christina was clear that the goal at the 2020 International Cup was, "Win it all", but still pleased to say like maybe a typical well educated coach, "we will take it one game at a time, when the time comes."
There is no doubt regardless of the results on the Sunshine Coast later this year, women's USA footy at the highest level is in good hands, through Christina Licata's, vision, drive and passion for the sport there is no looking back, only forward.
We are proud to know her and to have seen part of her unfinished story.
Pretty much under the radar a new Women's team has emerged just outside of Denver in Colorado, the Centennial Tigers. They have been established largely on the growth of their now neighbors the women's team in the Denver Bulldogs, and are looking to establish themselves as a competitive outfit very quickly in women's footy in the USA. The team formed way back in October 2019, lead by Denver player and board member Sara Rohner. They are the 46th member club of the USAFL.
To give you a roadmap perspective maybe, Centennial is about a 20-30 minute drive south of Denver, so not that far, and home to about 100,000 people. The Denver area has a population of around 2.8 million, which makes it the 28th most populous city in the USA. (Only 28th? I can hear some Aussie saying ;)
Recently they announced their first Head Coach, Destry Gillette. Destry played all of his footy career with the Denver Bulldogs up the road, debuting in 2000, and was a member of the Bulldogs when they strung together several Div 1 Premiership wins in the early 2000s. The appointment as Head Coach however will herald his first active return to the sport after a several knee surgeries.
This week Sara Rohner told USFootNews though the decision to break away from the Denver Bulldogs wasn't easy, the time and effort to continue with the club when you have to drive multiple hours in peak hour traffic just to practice, had some to do with it. Sara also reminded us this isn't the first time a club has split off to start a team and in fact in the early 2000s there was a split off from the Denver Bulldog men’s team in Colorado Springs, called the Rocky Mountain Saints. That split didn't last long but others have followed in recent years, the Minnesota Freeze women's team split off to form the North Star Blue Ox, also a standalone women's team, and on the men's teams two more recent splits were the Arizona Hawks to Arizona Outlaws and the DC Eagles amicable split to form the Baltimore Dockers to become their own team.
From their website, the Centennial Tigers have a clear message to their purpose.
The Centennial Tigers were established on a foundation of core values: Tenacity, Integrity, Grit, Empowerment, Respect and Sportsmanship (TIGERS). While winning is always fun, our main desire is to empower women of all ages through sport. We’ve witnessed transformations in countless women by helping improve fitness, building self confidence, and encouraging each woman to be herself.
Just recently the Centennial Tigers were recognized at the Colorado Women’s Sports Fund Association (CWSFA) grant banquet in Fort Collins. The Tigers received a $500 grant from the organization for their "dedication to growing women’s participation in Colorado sports".
Already numbering a solid group of players up to 30 in all Sara Rohner told us, from the areas of Centennial, Greenwood Village, Englewood, Littleton, Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Parker, Castle Rock and Elizabeth cities/towns, the Tigers look to stamp their mark on the USAFL's women's footy soon. There is a chance many will see them in action first at the Central Regionals in Dallas and then most definitely at the USAFL Western Regionals, which is across town virtually in the opposite direction from Denver, in Westminster CO.
You can read more about the Tigers and follow them on social media by visiting their website at https://centennialtigers.com
Kids Saturday Morning Footy in DC ready for its 16th year
A junior kids football program in Washington DC is gearing up for its 16th consecutive year of teaching 6-9 year olds in the DC area about Aussie Rules Football. The program that is run each year by Chris Adams who has lived in the area since 2002, is very similar to the Auskick program run by the AFL in all parts of Australia.
Chris first got involved in USA footy in Wisconsin in 1999 then later moved to DC with his family. An avid Carlton Blues fan it has been a passion of his to grow the Australian game he loves. Chris told USFootyNews this past week, “probably over 1000 kids have gone through the 6 week program ran in the USA summer so far.” Whats is fantastic Chris’ son CJ who started in the program when he was six, has gone on to play men’s team football for the Minnesota Freeze, helping that team win a Div 2 USAFL National title in 2018. CJ also played in Australia in 2019 whilst studying at the University of Sydney and both he and his Dad Chris, helped umpire at the International Cup in 2017.
In the early days Chris was mentored by DC Eagles stalwart and later USAFL President Denis Ryan on how to run the program and with the help of another former USAFL President now back in Australia Mark Wheeler. “Wheels had a role with AFL Victoria when he went home to Australia, and with his guidance it helped the Saturday Morning Footy Program become established and be a stable program since.” Chris also related. Matt and Amy Bishop who were also strong contributors to the DC Eagles and had rolls in the USA National teams at that time, (Matt was USA Revolution coach) also helped Chris run the programs on Saturday mornings.
Interestingly enough the program is free for kids to participate and with the support of some local sponsors and give-ways from AFL teams such as the Adelaide Crows and Freemantle Dockers over the years it continues to be a next to no cost way kids can learn the fundamentals and culture of Aussie Rules Football. “It’s a program that is unique mostly to DC with no other consistent kids programs in the USA that we know of for the 5-9 year old age group.
Our hats are off to Chris Adams, a founder of USFootyNews, to sticking with this program, long after his son CJ had grown, as well as all the volunteering he has completed over the years for USA footy.
You can find out more about the Saturday Morning Football program in Washington DC by visiting the website https://satmorningfooty.com or listen into to an upcoming episode of "Outside 50' podcast.
As we all start to brush off the New Years cob webs we thought we would let you know, in case you are still trying to get those Bluetooth headphones to work you got for Christmas, that USA footy in 2020 is going to be huge. Huge, I tell ya.!!
Let us kick off with the three Regional Championship events. June 13th in Arlington Texas, June 27th in Cincinnati Ohio and July 11th in Westminster Colorado. I know what you are thinking. Are those Central, Eastern and Western Regional’s not all in the same Central region in how the USAFL groups teams? You are right they are, and I thought the same thing.
So lets try and explain. The USAFL from what we can tell consider the regions ‘flexible’. With the Western regional’s this year just outside Denver, the Bulldogs who would normally play in the Central regional’s and in fact hosted the Central regional’s in 2019. This year they will play in the Western regional’s and the Denver team have hosted the Western regional’s before in 2017 though.
Cincinnati hosting Eastern regional’s is somewhat similar. Normally a Central region team they will obviously play in the Eastern regional’s this year, whilst teams like Chicago a little Nth West of them and Nashville slightly Sth East, will have to make the trip all the way over to Texas for the Central regional’s.
As is seems to have been explained before the USAFL have now taken full control of the three regional events, including all logistics which includes field hire, officials, umpires and importantly hotel accommodation. The events are put out for bids by cities around the USA that want to host the events and have the necessary field requirements and facilities. This obviously narrows the field somewhat and with the notion that the USAFL probably also wants to move the event around to different cities each year, the selection available this year must have been thinner than normal we can only surmise.
So are you thinking we might as well throw out the window the Regional model of the USAFL and come up with something else? Well not so fast, the league must elect three Vice Presidents to ‘manage’ those current regions per their constitution and the election of officers. But perhaps we are getting to a stage for some change. (Incidentally last year USFootyNews separated the USAFL teams into 6 regions as you might have seen, as we thought it just made more sense from a reporting standpoint)
The USAFL National Championships on October 10th-11th go back to California for the second time in three years however it is not on the coast like the picturesque San Diego destination was in 2017, it is eastward inland, at Silverlakes Sports Park in Ontario. If one is using LAX as the inbound flight destination to California it can take from 1 hour to 2 hours plus, to drive to Ontario from LAX, depending on the pretty extreme LA traffic. There is an airport in Ontario, however it has much fewer flights. Players could be advised to book early if going direct. There you go, you heard it here first.
The 2020 USAFL Nationals will be massive though. The San Diego 2017 Nationals were the biggest on record and with the vibrant growth of footy down the west coast it is expected that Ontario will match that at least. In 2017 in San Diego, 53 teams represented 40 clubs on 6 fields and over 80…yes 80, 2x20 min half games were played. That’s a lot of games, it’s a lot of everything.
It has been discussed that Regional events can help form the seeds of divisions for the National Championships. But in essence we believe this is only relevant for Division 1 teams pretty much. The results of previous years Nationals continues to be the best guide to the coming years Nationals in our opinion, with a few minor exceptions. As well teams get 'options' on which division they can play, based often on how many players they have making the trip.
There are other events going on too in 2020. The International Cup in Australia in late July early August where the USA Revolution and Freedom teams will match it with teams from around the world, like they do every three years. This year the event is up on the Sunshine coast of Queensland, surely to be nicer weather, but not as prestigious as getting the chance to play on the MCG.
The finals however will be played as curtain raiser and curtain closer games (that’s new) to the Brisbane Lions v West Coast Eagles at the Gabba on August 8th. USFootyNews might get out there for this great event ourselves.
Another event worth of mention is the Rob Dollar Cup supporting the Rob Dollar Foundation https://www.robdollarfoundation.org
Held late March on the 28th, this event in 2019 attracted a handful teams to the sunny 70f weather of Phoenix AZ, but all reports it was a huge success and likely to grow even further each year.
There is also a new Invitational 12s tournament in Spring down in Savannah Georgia. This event was held last year organized by the Atlanta Kookaburras and new teams the Savannah Hurricane and Jacksonville Saints with players from the new Tampa Bay Sharks also attended. This year all teams are invited including women's teams.
And finally along with all that there are home and way events littered all throughout the year and mini (often three way) game day events which are now very popular all over the place. Tampa have already started practices and have a mini game with Ft Lauderdale on February 8th in Ft Myers FL, and other teams are either starting practice in February or running some social games at least.
Anyway, we hope to see you out there in 2020, its gonna be a huge year…!!!
The USAFL Freedoms tilt at the 2020 International Cup in Melbourne Australia goes into full swing this week with a 4 day camp in Racine Wisconsin.
Earlier in the year at an Arizona camp with 75 players in attendance the USA Freedom selection panel lead by head coach Christina Licata, selected 54 players from 125 available to remain in IC2020 tour contention. In Racine this week from Thursday 14th through to Sunday 18th, over 40 of those players will be striving for selection in the 28 player squad to head to Australia in 2020. That squad may also include players currently playing outside the USA with ten squad players playing overseas in 2019, mainly in Australia, but also in Ireland.
This week USFootyNews heard from Coach Licata who related "While selection for the squad that will ultimately compete at the International Cup in 2020 won't occur until the Nationals Championships in Sarasota, performance at the 4-day camp will factor heavily into the coaching team's decisions."
Licata with all the assistant coaches this weekend will put all the players to the test, the 4-day camp will feature;
Skills and fitness assessments
Full sided games
Small sided games
Team goal setting and self assessments
At the 2017 IC the USA Freedom did not live up to their own expectations after several set backs through injuries and finished with a 2-3 record. Leading Great Britain in the last game at 3/4 time, the Freedom team saw that game slip away in the final minutes to finish a disappointing 2017 campaign in 4th place.
For 2020 however we see a far greater preparation through well attended and stronger Regional Championship games, Freedom camps and initial squad selections allowing a far greater pool of players prepare for selection. Also with several players having valuable match and training experience in Australia since 2017, all other teams better watch out in 2020.
That Freedom roster will be announced at the 2019 National Championships in Sarasota FL however we are sure there are 40 or so women footy players getting ready for a massive 4 days in Racine Wisconsin this week.
Recently the USAFL released their Australian Football Development Handbook. The handbook is primarily the work of Katie Klatt who developed the handbook as a project of the USAFL Development Committee's Safety Group. Katie was the Vice Captain of the USAFL Freedom at the International Cup in 2017.
"I thought this handbook could just be a good resource for those little specifics of footy we all take for granted, but are actually not as straight-forward as we see it!" Katie told USFootyNews this week.
The 25 page handbook covers many areas of player development with sections on learning skills, playing the game and safety, just to name a few. There are excellent reference links to videos, documents and other important resources contained in the handbook. Everything is covered that a new or recent player to the game of Aussie Rules Football would need to improve their footy and become a more knowledgeable and better skilled player.
You can download the Handbook here. USAFL Development Handbook
Katie Klatt herself is a much traveled footy player having just spent three years playing Aussie Rules in Melbourne Australia and now is back in San Francisco playing for the Golden Gate Iron Maidens.
Originally a player for the Sacramento Suns, Katie went down to Melbourne and played VFLW with the Melbourne Uni Mugars for three seasons. The Mugars are one of the strongest and most successful women's teams in Melbourne. There was some adjustment and hard work needed in Melbourne, Katie told USFootyNews.
"I had to work my way from their Div 3 team to the Reserves, then to VFLW each season as I got more experience."
"It was quite different playing in Australia. The knowledge of the game is significantly higher, and the skills much more silky and natural. The hits are harder and the speed is so much faster. It was definitely an adjustment." Katie went on to say.
We asked Katie what did she think was different now back in USA footy after 3 years away?
"I'm really excited by the growth I've seen in the US women's football scene since I've been gone, and the fact that so many women are starting to be interested in playing in Australia. And with so many new players coming out the Handbook was developed as I was hoping to encourage people to learn to tackle and play safely. We want this spread out to as many people as possible."
Finally, the travels may not over for Katie. Katie told USFootyNews she will be on the move again after this year's national championships in Sarasota Florida.
Where will Katie play in 2020? That might be a story to be covered at another time, for sure she will be a huge part of the USA Freedom's IC2020 campaign. For now thought Katie is officially a Golden Gate Iron Maiden! Congratulations Katie on your contribution to USA footy from USFootyNews and all your footy family.
The reigning USAFL National Champions the Austin Crows had little trouble in ensuring they will go into the 2019 Championships as hot favorites by winning the Central Regional Championships in Denver this past weekend. First up they accounted for the USAFL Div 2 Champions the Minnesota Freeze by a stunning 86 points in a massive first game shut out, the final scores Austin 13.8.86 to Minnesota 0.0.00. The Freeze wanted a yardstick for their move up into Div 1, well I think they got it. The Freeze who did not attend the 2018 Central Regionals were sent home without a win, after also failing to make that much of an impression against host team the Denver Bulldogs, go down 23 to 81.
So Crows then faced the host team the Denver Bulldogs in the afternoon heat for the main prize. Traveling in huge numbers the Austin outfit were quite ready for the task. Denver although with the luxury of being in their home field surroundings, were no match for the Crows. In the end it was a 36 point victory for Austin, 8.8.56 to Denver 3.2.20.
Austin now have a month off before facing Dallas and Oklahoma in Dallas. Things are looking pretty good though for the Texas leaders in 2019.
In recent times we have seen the reemergence of footy teams in Florida. Last year the Jacksonville Saints were fully established and this year they brought several players to the USAFL Eastern Regionals to play with eventual Division 2 winners, the Boston Demons. The new Saints team also played with the Atlanta Kookaburras and Rome Redbacks in an exhibition game in Savannah Georgia in late June as those teams assist with team development in Georgia.
Apart from that activity we wrote recently about maybe the darkness footy has been in recently in Florida. So we reached out to a few leaders of the new Tampa Bay Tiger Sharks club to get their side of things.
Tampa Bay Tiger Sharks have affiliated recently with the USAFL after the implosion of the Major League Footy organization. An organization we were informed that was being run basically by just one person. Several players in the Tampa area were becoming disillusioned with the MLF set up, as it was to them just scrimmage games with no real competition. Players would come down, pull on a different uniform each week however the results would be posted on the league website for whatever team colors they represented as legitimate games. “There were games versus Ft Lauderdale as well but they were not very well organized”, new club leader Robbie Scarallo said recently.
Born in Dubbo Australia, Robbie Scarallo and others like former Columbus Cats players Tom Mathews and Claire Conley recently formed a provisional committee to restart footy in the Tampa region. After the press release of the USAFL recently and the design of their new logo coming with that news, Scarallo said “I am confident a brand new “voted in” board of management would be in place by the end of July. Currently we have ‘around' 20 players we hope to get out onto the practice field from the past MLF group, however early numbers are much lower than that.”
Other plans have also been discussed about also splitting into to local metro teams quickly so the club can immediately play competitive games without having to travel far. Tampa although a very large city the Tiger Sharks are still a long way away from any other USAFL club. Ft Lauderdale is 4 hour drive away on a good day and Jacksonville is 3.5 hours as well, so establishing rival teams inside their own city is probably a must do.
With the USAFL National Championships just a 1 hour drive south to Sarasota this October the Tampa Bay leaders are confident they will have enough players and enthusiasm to again have a team playing in the biggest footy event outside of Australia.
Probably the next point of interest will be to see if Ft Lauderdale can also regroup and fully return to the footy fold and if any other clubs can be started in Florida, especially one maybe in the central Florida region like Orlando. That would benefit all the other clubs in the Florida state greatly at the same time.