Nashville Kangaroos resilience and spirit at USAFL Nationals in Austin, Texas.

The Nashville Kangaroos traveled with a reduced squad to Austin, Texas for the USAFL National Championship Tournament on October 17th and 18th. Although the Kangaroos had a couple of good wins against Division 2 teams during the regular season, the decision was made to play in the 16-a-side Division 3 rather than 18-a-side Division 2 at Nationals.

Division 3 was played in two pools of four teams, with each pool competing in a round robin competition. From each pool, the team with the best results would advance to play for the USAFL Division 3 National Championship.

Seeded third in Division 3, the Nashville Kangaroos were in Pool B. They faced second seed Portland Steelheads, sixth seed Des Moines Roosters and seventh seed Austin Crows. Their opponents would watch for national representative players Tim “Squirrel” Fulwider and Nathan Caldwell, but the whole team contributed to a 2015 season that included wins against two highly-ranked Division 2 teams. Joining the Kangaroos was Indianapolis Giant Shane Branscum, starting ruck Mark Schmit from the Minnesota Freeze, and veterans Craig Corby and Mark Fischer also from Minnesota to guest coach and interchange off the bench.

First up were the Des Moines Roosters at 10AM on Saturday. The Des Moines Roosters featured some talented American players such as Tyler Kamerman, Ben Judge and Hamilton May. A relatively new club founded in 2009, they have performed well in Division 3 in recent years. Their 2015 regular season included a very recent win against top seed Tulsa Buffaloes. The Roosters compete against other midwest teams including the Minnesota Freeze, the Kansas City Power and the Milwaukee Bombers.

The Kangaroos started strongly, but inaccurate kicking cost them the opportunity to start the weekend with a win. The high point was Branscum’s two goals. There were a similar number of opportunities for most of the game, with only a late flurry extending the Roosters’ lead.

Final score:
Nashville Kangaroos 2.6 (18)
Des Moines Roosters 5.11 (41)

On Saturday at 2PM, the Kangaroos came up against the home team Austin Crows, the only reserves side in Division 3. The Crows gained skills and smart strategy throughout the year by training with the top overall team in the USAFL. While they didn’t have the big names of their Division 1 champion teammates, Austin provided a showcase of the next crop of Crows players. The Crows leadership are doing a great job of recruiting, and player numbers were outstanding. Their recruiting efforts combined with the home town advantage to produce a Division 3 team that played hard and competed strongly.

Two teams displayed a similar skill level, and the Kangaroos were again in it almost all the way. The difference for the Crows was better execution of the game plan, topped with a couple of soft free kicks leading to two goals in the last few minutes. It was exciting to see superb goals by Cliff “Nugget” Cosnahan and Fulwider, both wrestling to be Nashville’s leading goal kicker for 2015.

Final score:
Nashville Kangaroos 2.4 (16)
Austin Crows 4.5 (29)

The Kangaroos waited until Sunday morning to face the top seed in Pool B. The Portland Steelheads from Oregon played in Division 3 in 2014 and had a fine 4-2-1 record in the 2015 regular season. They have steadily grown as a club since being established in 2003. Their on-field performances continue to improve through a local four-team metro league and strong west coast rivals. Along with some of the best leadership in the USAFL, Portland had a number of key players to watch for, including Martin Coventry and Terry Brasch.

Nashville can take pride that they gave the eventual Division 3 champions a scare in the champs’ closest game at Nationals. As in every recent Nationals, the Kangaroos’ best performance was in their last game. The final score does not fully express the quality of this game, with the Steelheads putting in their best effort to overcome the perseverance of the Kangaroos. Cosnahan kicked two goals from distance, and Fulwider added another goal to his tally.

Final score:
Nashville Kangaroos 3.4 (22)
Portland Steelheads 7.3 (45)

Many teams have performed well in their two pool games on Saturday but left little for the third pool game on Sunday morning. With few reserves to call on, and temperatures soaring as high as 90 degrees, the Kangaroos played smart and pushed hard to the final siren. Although they didn’t come home with the wins or the trophy they wanted, Nashville showed plenty of character and spirit, a firm foundation for the 2016 season.

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