The pinnacle of first half of the year was the USAFL Central Regional Tournament on July 11th in Racine, Wisconsin, a stone's throw from Chicago. 12 teams competed including 2 teams from outside the Central Region in New York and Denver, both amongst the highest ranked teams in the country. The Lonestars found themselves in Division 1 alongside the best in the league, including local rivals Austin, Minnesota, Chicago, Denver and New York. Pool games against first-time opponents New York and Minnesota would determine the Division 1 play-off games. This was a tough assignment...but also an opportunity to mix it with the best.
23 Lonestars showed great commitment to make the journey up, and whilst traveling without several key players, the Lonestars carried a quiet sense of confidence up north given solid results against Austin a couple of times this year. Chisi and Sonni took the reins on the boundary as Coach Dan took a prominent place in the forward line. Stu Job made the late decision to bring his 3 little champions on a road trip and Seany returned to the USA in the nic of time to play, despite fitness concerns following a rather relaxing month in Australia and a long plane trip back....
Game 1 v New York Magpies
The first game was a good stern test against last year's Div 1 Premiers. The game opened tightly with good contests in the middle with Dale and Tommy D winning well in the ruck and Stu Job and Triegue consistently getting first hands to ball. However New York rebounded well as the first half wore on running strongly in numbers from half back. The Lonestars defense held up well but were let down at times by poor disposal - New York's first 2 goals came direct from Houston turnovers. The defense used the width of the field well, Sean and Captn Matt constantly creating options for the switch, but delivery to forwards again let us down. In the second half, New York continued to put pressure on in the Lonestars midfield but failed to convert, missing a number of goal chances. When DB snapped opportunisticly from a forward throw-in the Lonestars found themselves within 2 goals and felt a glimmer of hope of a huge upset. The Magpies steadied with a goal to seal victory by 19 points but the Lonestars were far from disgraced.
Houston: 2 - 2 - 14
New York: 4 - 9 - 33
Goals: Tommy, DB
Best: Stu Job, Matt Stevens, Trigger, Damo, Ruggles, Tommy
Game 2 v Minnesota Freeze
Following a solid performance against New York, the Lonestars next game was against Minnesota Freeze - yet to play their first game of the day. The Lonestars had the better of first 10 minutes of the game but failed to put the score on the board. Minnesota got going thanks to a dubious mark paid by the umpire directly in front of goal. The only goal for Houston came from Mark McClaine kicking truly after the siren following a good string of play through the midfield, however the game was far closer than scoreboard reflected. The 2nd half saw Minnesota reap the reward of not playing an earlier game and their USA Revolution players lead charge as they ran out the stronger team and created space all over ground. Birthday Boy Ruggles defended gamely on 1 leg, Dale again dominated the ruck, while Stu Job and Triegue played tirelessly the ball. The most eye-catching performance came from Nick Maass who threw himself into multple contests, at one point up-ended but bouncing right back up and taking possession of the ball. This was a break-out game for the little pocket rocket! Despite some gallant efforts, the Freeze proved more fresh and consistent to take out the game by 34 points.
Houston: 2 - 4 - 16
Minnesota: 8 - 2 - 50
Goals: Mark McClaine, Stu Job
Best: Nick Maass, Trigger, Stu Job, Dale, Matt Stevens, Ruggles, Bren
Game 3 v Chicago: (5th place play-off)
Unfortunately, after losing their 2 games in the other Div 1 pool, Chicago decided to retreat to home, obviously not wanting to confront the Lonestars ready to repeat the dose from last year's Nationals. So the boys still ready for footy, graciously offerred to help out Louisville against Tulsa in the Div 2 play-off for 3rd position. Solid performances from Dale and Damo, helping make for a good contest, despite Tulsa coming out on top. The 'Sluggers' seemed like a good bunch of blokes and may be an option for a future road-trip.
The Lonestars came away from the weekend holding their heads high, competing admirably at Division 1 level. Thanks to the 23 players and their partners(Bec, Cate & Jody) for making the journey. Overall the tournament was run really well for its first time and promises to be a permanent fixture on the calender. Austin took home the Division 1 trophy and had a very strong team (with a few new surprise additions!) that we will have to be well ready for in the next Texas Cup on Sept 19 here in Houston. Dallas took out Division 2 comfortably after moving down from Div 1 due to reduced numbers, however they faired well and we look forward to taking them on in September also.
A huge thank goes to Scotty and Paul Mueller for coordinating the trip and Sonni for overall support and coordination.
Good work also to boys who helped with umpiring during day. DB, Triegue, Phil, Jordan and anyone else that helped out.
Game replay against Minnesota can be watched here: http://houstonfooty.com/links (Although not our finest display..)
After a quick turn-around at the hotel(and a few naps), all teams boarded buses for the afterparty at Outhouse 20 for some dinner and drinks. As always it was great to socialise with the rest of the US teams and the Lonestars always have a great presence at these events. MOHFATS were rightfully awarded to Stu Job and Nick Maass before Seany got into full swing and started buying shots for all. A hard-core group of about 15 Lonestars partied into the night at a downtown Racine bar with Austin & New York, where boat races where the order of business again lead by Coach Phil Harford and Tommy. The 1st and official race saw a dead heat between Houston & Austin, with Austin afterwards deeming Houston the fair winner. In the 2nd race, New York's male/female combo took out the honors and Austin came home hard to take the 3rd. No idea why there were 3 boat-races but it was a good way to identify some strong and not-so-strong competitors for the Lonestars. Some work still needing to be done before before the team is settled for Nationals.
Missing in action for the night was Josh Devlin who went for a nap at 7pm and didn't wake up till 8am the next morning! Fines for the weekend have been recorded by Scotty and JD, along with a few others can expect to be notified in due course of their penalties...
On the Sunday, the team head off in various directions to enjoy Chicago and Milwaulkee on a beautiful summers day in the mid-west. Attention now turns to a big September and October after a summer break and time to re-group for a strong showing in Texas Cup and Nationals. The first half of the year has certainly been tough with a lot of injuries and guys missing in action for various reasons but the drive and belief is still there to keep building OUR/YOUR club on and off the field into one of the best in the US and we hope that ya'll are on board with us!
~ Contibutions by Scotty & Prez DB