The Blue Ox entered the 2018 USAFL National Championships with plans to improve on their 2017 results and most importantly to represent the state of Minnesota and the upper midwest with dedication, courage, and fair play. The Blue Ox competed in Women's Division-II and were paired with Calgary Kookaburras, Arizona Hawks, and Nashville Kangaroos.
Game 1 vs DC/Boston
The tournament started off on Saturday morning with cool temps and playing the DC Eagles/Boston Demons. DC and Boston have been combining all season in the Eastern Australian Football League and came in full of confidence after knocking off D-1 New York Magpies in the USAFL Eastern Regional Championship. Combining teams is always difficult for players and coaches but Blue Ox head coach, Bri Theisen, and Calgary coach Erin LeBlanc are no strangers to coaching combined teams.
With the players put in starting positions, interchange rotations set, and fingers crossed, the team comprised almost entirely of new players was ready to see what transpires. From the opening bounce, the defense held strong and the midfield and forward lines slowly started finding their way. Scoring shots were coming but inaccuracy kept the "Deagles" in the game.
When the final horn sounded, the Blue Ox/Kookaburras took out a 3.7.25 to 0.0.0 victory.
Game 2 vs Sacramento/Montreal
After round 1, Sacramento/Montreal looked like a contender for the title. Both teams were Division-I clubs in 2017 and were relegated to Division-II due to not having enough players to field a standalone team. The Sacramento/Montreal midfield was consistently winning the ball and the Blue Ox/Kookaburras found it much more difficult to sustain counter attacks from defense.
With minimal scoring chances, this was one a loss for the Blue Ox.
Game 3 vs Columbus Cats/Philadelphia
Day 2 started bright and early with an 8am start. The Blue Ox were looking forward to building on their Saturday results and getting into the medal hunt. Next up was the Columbus Cats (formerly Jillaroos) who were combined with the Philadelphia Hawks. Coach Theisen knew this would be a tough match with opponents like Kristina Scherer, Amy Arundale, and Erica Saaci providing difficult matchups.
The Blue Ox/Kookaburras battened down the hatches and dug deep to contest every ball and support their teammates. In a back and forth, defensive battle, both teams found it hard to get good scoring shots. In the end, Columbus/Philly slotted the ball cleanly once which was enough to put them over the top.
Game 4 vs Texas Heat/Los Angeles
Despite setbacks in the previous two games, the dominance of Sacramento/Montreal over the rest of the pack meant the upstarts from the Twin Cities and Calgary were still in the hunt for a second place finish. In order to have a chance at a medal, they needed to take care of business and then get some help.
Texas Heat debuted in 2017 and made an immediate impact by finishing second. Young, fast, and athletic across the ground meant the Blue Ox/Kookaburras were going to have to dig deep to play game #4 just as hard as game #1.
The Blue Ox/Calgary opened strong with 3 goals in the first half. It looked like they were going to cruise to a comfortable victory and make up some ground in percentage. Texas Heat had different ideas though. They came out strong in the second half, scored quickly and served notice that they weren't just going to hand the game to Blue Ox.
Texas kept the pressure up and Blue Ox/Calgary was finding it very difficult to sustain any kind of attack. Under immense pressure until the final siren, the Blue Ox/Kookaburras held on by the slimmest of margins to claim victory.
The Blue Ox did what they needed against Texas and Sacramento/Montreal beat Columbus in their final game. This set up a 3 way tie between Blue Ox/Calgary, Columbus/Philadelphia, and Texas/Los Angeles. With each team going 1-1 against each other, they were still tied after head to head results. The next tie breaker is percentage (points scored / points against).
In the end, a medal was not to be as Columbus finished with a percentage of 94 to the Blue Ox/Calgary percentage of 90.
Despite not earning a medal, the Blue Ox/Kookaburras had a solid performance in the tightest, most balanced Women's D-II. Rookies Nikki Kraemer and Angela Phillips had strong contributions and most importantly they caught the footy bug.