John Harrell Memorial Cup Match Reports
After a mediocre 2011 season, the Nashville Kangaroos have reloaded. Five weeks of strong commitment to training produced a confident team, united in their determination to retain the John Harrell Memorial Cup at the Louisville tournament.
Blue sky and sunshine broke through early cloud cover to provide good conditions for both players and spectators. Five teams competed for the Cup, with hosts Ohio Valley, Nashville and a combined team in one pool, while Columbus and Chicago battled in a full-length match.
Game One - Nashville Kangaroos V. Ohio Valley River Rats
Player/Coach Clint Milner produced a game plan that showcased both the development of individual players and the flexibility of dedicated teamwork. His full forward was David Walker, a player who in recent years had created mismatches on the flanks. Jesse Wells started at center half forward, a player who often picked up the scraps now justifiably recognized as a “tall.” Andy Steinman started in the ruck, switching with newcomer Nathan Caldwell. Jeff Persson was rediscovered as a defensive player after so often playing as a forward.
Defense dominated the first half against Ohio Valley. The small field combined with some overexcited players getting out of position to produce congested, scrappy play. Both teams struggled to break free, and scores were tied at a low 2.1 (13) as time ended for the first half. However, Ben Vaatstra had earned a free kick from a mark deep in the half forward flank. Vaatstra’s long, straight kick after the siren provided a six point lead.
Exhibiting poise under pressure, Ohio Valley evened the score within the first minutes of the second half. Tim Creed kicked a goal for Nashville to take back the lead, and the differential was extended by a goal by Preston Jezek, a second goal by Creed, and Vaatstra again having the last word with his second major score.
For Nashville, disciplined straight kicking played a big part in a first round match won by 14 points despite one less scoring shot.
Nashville 7.2 (44)
Ohio Valley 4.6 (30)
Goals: Ben Vaatstra 2, Tim Creed 2, David Walker 2, Preston Jezek.
Game Two - Nashville Kangaroos V. Combined Team
Half the task of making the final was completed, but the second game revealed another portion of the Kangaroo plan: deep talent on the bench. Coach Milner had the luxury of retaining a formidable squad even while sending several key players to augment the combined team. This provided opportunity to further observe attributes of several players who could later play a significant role in the final match: the speed of Duane Mathes, the skill of Joshua MacWilliams, the development of Collin Erickson, and the wile of Adam Brink.
Nashville 10.8 (68)
Combined Team 2.2 (14)
Final - Nashville Kangaroos V. Columbus Jackaroos
In the meantime, Columbus Jackaroos had won a thriller against Chicago on the other field. Only five points separated the two teams after four quarters of tough footy. Defeating Chicago for the first time and having easily defeated Nashville in their 2011 encounter, the Jackaroos were overflowing with excitement at the prospect of competing for the John Harrell Memorial Cup.
Just as they planned, Columbus broke quickly from the center to immediately take a six point lead. Relentless pressure from both sides continued throughout the first half, and the Kangaroos responded with nervous scoring attempts from suboptimal opportunities. Six behinds resulted, punctuated by a Vaatstra goal that resulted from a poor kick-out by the overworked Jackaroo fullback. Frustration was building and the outcome appeared bleak when the Kangaroos trailed 1.6 (12) to 3.1 (19).
Kangaroo enthusiasm was single-handedly reignited by Preston Jezek at the perfect time. At the end of the first half, Jezek dashed down the wing with the ball, brilliantly juked an opponent on the forward flank, and banged the ball straight through the middle. The Nashville team gathered elatedly during the break, trailing by a point 2.6 (18) to 3.1 (19), but feeling they had all the momentum. In contrast, the Jackaroo camp was clearly deflated and quieted despite holding a lead with only twenty minutes remaining.
Leading by example, the Jackaroo center field again gained the first clearance. A behind by Columbus was the first score of the second half, but there was little opportunity for the Jackaroo forwards beyond that.
Mischa Nemeth and Luke Nemeth blockaded the half back line for the remainder of the game, repeatedly winning the ball and returning it to the forwards. Not to be outdone by Jezek, Vaatstra produced a goal in similarly spectacular style. Jezek responded by winning the ball out of a pack in the forward pocket to kick his second goal. Milner kicked a tough goal from deep in the pocket. The wily Brink produced another opportunity for Vaatstra, who made sure of his third goal for the match. Persson finally had his opportunity and made no mistake from a free kick. Walker also made the most of his opportunity, taking a great full forward’s mark and kicking a goal to end the match.
Nashville’s emphases of team fitness and bench utilization played a big part in the sixth and final period of football. Further tests are ahead for the Roos at the Down Under Fest Footy All-Stars Cup in Cumming, Georgia during the Memorial Day weekend.
Score of Cup Final:
Nashville 8.8 (56)
Columbus 3.2 (20)
Goals: Ben Vaatstra 3, Preston Jezek 2, Clint Milner, Jeff Persson, David Walker.
Best: Preston Jezek, Mischa Nemeth, Ben Vaatstra, Joel Morley, David Harris.