In its inaugural season, the Baltimore Dockers sailed into beautiful but chilly Racine, Wisconsin ready to compete for a USAFL Division IV National Championship. The Dock Show rolled deep with 29 men, but USAFL rules only allow 24 players on a roster for each game. With a good problem to have, Coach Bryn Hansen had to make some tough decisions, but in the end, everyone got on the field, everyone had a run, and we can proudly say that everyone is a national champion!
Throughout the tournament, the entire team displayed skills that we have been working on all season long. From fitness trainings in early January at Reflex Functional Fitness to fall practices under the lights at Lansdowne High School, every member of the Dockers club put in the work for ten months to give the team a chance at a Division IV National Championship. By the end of the tournament, few could walk without pain, no one had a voice, and one unlucky lad even left on crutches.
All weekend, the Baltimore Dockers showed heart and determination on and off the field. Not only can we say that we are national champions, we can also say that we are best mates.
First Round vs. Seattle Grizzlies – Saturday at 12 pm
Going into the first game versus the Seattle Grizzlies, the Dockers were amped up and a tad nervous. The nerves showed in the first half as the Grizzlies used windy Racine to their advantage and managed to put up a handful of goals on the Dockers’ veteran defense. Down by quite a bit at halftime, the Dockers were determined to get back in the game.
The initial nerves dissipated in the second half and the Dockers got back to playing their brand of footy, which they had crafted all season long in training. Defenders Pete Gormley and Mike “Mad Dog” Gilbart helped shut down the Grizzlies’ offense in the second half and the Dockers prospered from having the wind to their backs with goals by Ian Payne and Albert Kobe. A punch to the throat did not stop Dan “Wristy” Zimmermann from attacking the footy all game. Bryn Hansen, Travis “Rocket” Flight, and Nick Sisca led the charge in the middle of the field as the Dockers entertained the grounds with some premiership-level footy towards the end of the game.
Unfortunately, the Grizzlies’ commanding first half lead was too much for the Dockers to overcome. Seattle’s bear attack left the Dockers badly bruised, but ultimately, it was not enough to sink the ship.
First Round vs. Atlanta Kookaburras – Saturday at 3 pm
The Dock Show did not travel all the way to Racine, Wisconsin to go 0-2 on the first day. After a close loss to Seattle, Baltimore was focused on righting the ship versus the Atlanta Kookaburras. With an early goal by first-year player Jack Chalmers, the Dockers built on that momentum and never looked back.
After multiple goals from veterans Ian Payne and Kit Drury, the Dockers’ bench put on a display that few USAFL teams could replicate. The Dock Show benefited from goals by first-year players Johnny O’Connor and Josh Hildebrand, and the cunning bloke Greg “Frenchy” Brétière scored what some are calling the “goal of the century.” (Well, he’s calling it that.)
Baltimore also profited from aggressive play by Aaron Wolff and Paul “Flippy” LaShier, who hunted the footy every second they were on the pitch. Self-proclaimed “greatest goal-kicker in USAFL history,” Scott “Stacks” Bradford, lived up to the title when he got in on the action in the second half. And Matthew “Bunda” Byrne demonstrated that age is just a number with his offensive prowess and high footy IQ.
Like that scene in “Speed 2: Cruise Control,” the Dockers’ ship invaded the grounds at the SCORe Complex in Racine. And when the final horn sounded, this massacre left the field covered in feathers and these Kookaburras were not laughing about it.
National Semifinal vs. Nashville Kangaroos – Sunday at 10 am
Entering the semifinal on Sunday morning, the stakes were high for the Baltimore Dockers. Win or go home. Thanks to strong leadership and determined veterans, the Dockers kept their composure and were not fazed by the Kangaroos from the Music City. Shortly after first bounce, long-time veteran Kit Drury got the Dock Show started with a beautiful goal.
With suffocating pressure led by Bryn Hansen, Terence “Tez” McAuliffe and Jesse Galdston, Nashville hardly was able to get the ball into their forward fifty throughout the game. Baltimore continued to tack on points with goals by Jack Chalmers and Albert Kobe. And the midfield held their ground as the Dockers maintained a commanding lead in the second half. Onballers Ben Crenca and Nick Tyson helped control possession and Nashville’s two forward lines barely touched the ball in the second half. Throughout the game, forwards Tracy Williams and Zeluis “Ze” Teixeira used their large frames to shepherd (or block) their opponents and create space on the Dockers’ side of the field. And attackers Mark “Ski” Salansky and Brian “Boz” Thornton helped build a zone around Baltimore’s forward fifty to prevent the ball from advancing beyond the midfield.
Nashville did their best to play their style of footy, but they could not be saved by another “music city miracle.” The only hearts getting broken in this country song were the Kangaroos’ as they hopped off the field. Up the Dockers!
Division IV Grand Final vs. Seattle Grizzlies – Sunday 1 pm
The Baltimore Dockers were humbled by the initial matchup with the Seattle Grizzlies, but were confident they would meet the bears in the Division IV Grand Final if they were so lucky to advance that far. Determined to get revenge, the Dockers were calm, cool, and collected entering their final game of the tournament. Knowing that this was the final forty minutes of the season, the Dock Show was ready to leave everything on the field.
Despite going down by a goal early in the first half, the Dockers came sailing back with a strong core up the middle of the field. Rocket, Ian Payne, and Kit Drury led the ball movement throughout the duration of the game. Nick Sisca showed why he is captain of the club winning nearly every 50/50 ball in his direction. Nick Tyson may not be able to kick straight (with 10 behinds throughout the tournament), but he used his speed and strength in the middle of the field to keep the ball on the Dockers’ offensive side of the ground.
Baltimore held a strong lead at halftime but the shine of the cup may have distracted them from where their attention needed to be. The Grizzlies came roaring back in the second half, when the Dockers’ defense broke down for the first time all tournament. Then, after a scary injury to first-year legend Josh Hildebrand, the Dockers were inspired to get back on track. Forwards Wristy, Neale Williams, and Andrew Pike helped maintain possession of the ball in the Dockers’ forward fifty. Late in the game, the Baltimore defense buckled down with a couple of key marks by Tez and some clutch spoils by Will Lothian and Mike Horney. Albert Kobe was a true sailor providing tremendous marks and goals in the first half and defending the ship late in second half.
Ultimately, the Seattle Grizzlies put up a noble fight but were mauled by a large vessel that could not be docked. The Baltimore Dockers cruised to victory and were crowned USAFL Division IV National Champions. By hoisting the cup, the Dockers became the first club to ever win a National Championship in their inaugural season. (We are still fact checking this.)
Tournament Notes and Accolades
Dockers Midfielder Flippy made his umpiring debut during the championship tournament and did a fantastic job, receiving a perfect score from all the fans – except for his fellow Docker teammates who playfully heckled him from the sidelines of each game. Great work Flip!
At the trophy ceremony, Dockers President Ian Payne was named the “Best on Ground” for Division IV and Rocket was named Grand Final MVP. Absolutely well deserved!
The Dockers’ championship trophy (or “Cuppy” as we are calling it) could not have been secured without contributions by all the players mentioned above, as well as the Dockers players who could not make the trip but challenged the team in training all year. Welcome to the team Cuppy!
Thank you to our sponsors, volunteers, and board members who supported the team all season and provided the Dockers with necessary resources that made the trip to Racine possible. We could not have done it without you.
We are all National Champions! Let’s celebrate!