(Written by James Bingaman)
We all heard it growing up; “winning is everything”. This week, the Arizona Hawks proved that this might not be the case. While the determination and competitive nature instilled in the team by captain Jason “Pony” Wilhem was present as the Hawks warmed up in the gloomy conditions in San Diego, the Hawks were at times overwhelmed by the experienced and veteran heavy San Diego Lions side. While the final score was certainly lopsided, there were plenty of positives to take away from the game as the Hawks move forward as one of, if not the youngest and least experienced clubs in the country.
Ramping up to the game, the Hawks had seen more than 40 fresh faces at training sessions. This game was not just the first full USAFL game for the Hawks this season, but it was the first game EVER for the majority of the team. While the desire to win was there, the deep and booming voice of Darren Henderson reminded players to respect the game, remain composed, and to have fun. A big emphasis for the Hawks this season is to create a culture that relies on these principles, and while the game may not have gone in their favor, the Hawks showed what hustle and heart is all about.
Now to the game itself. In true Pony fashion, the opening bounce was won easily as he tapped the ball down to midfielder James Bingaman, who tried to break away and show off his speed. Unfortunately, he was stopped by the Lions defense and gave away a free kick. Pony would go on to win the majority of taps in the middle, while James would go on to injure his knee forcing him to leave the game 10 minutes in. Thankfully, he is okay and he’s hoping to return to the field for the upcoming game in LA. As the game progressed, the backline lead by veteran Barry Mullen, got a significant workout as the Lions controlled the possession of the ball. Barry was able to pick up on some of the key plays from the Lions and will continue on as a solid leader for the backline. Newcomers Greg Owen and Nick Bacon used their size to contest as much as they could, with their ability to keep at it being put on full display. As discussed at the start, there was a lot more to this game than the score showed. Towards the middle of the 1st quarter, James came off with an injury, followed by Barry, Nick, and Pony. Thankfully, they would all be okay, and the game was able to continue as San Diego provided extra players for the Hawks (cheers, lads). Eventual Hawk of the Match, Phil Mann, showed off his juking ability with some great passages through the middle of the field. Even though the Hawks were down, Phil never gave up and showed some real guts as he played his heart out for all 4 quarters. The physical presence of Travis Johnson and Preston Linser in the forward line excites the Hawks as they move as they continue to learn, with Travis already working hard at practice to become a dominating force for the remainder of the season.
Some other takeaways include the scrappiness of Alex Fernandez. His ability to get to the ball will be the key to his progress as a player. The intensity and drive of Justin Muilenberg was evident as he continuously asked questions and looked at how he could improve as the game went along. The team-first mindset and attitude of Jeremy Valerious is an example of exactly what the Hawks are expecting from players. The booming foot of David O’Sullivan is reminiscent of David Wirrpanda, and should be a spectacle for all to see. The Hawks leading goal scorer and all around nice guy Fredi Romar came off with an ankle injury, but you could hardly tell as he just wanted to get back out there for his team. Finally, the composure and steadiness of Ryan Marshall was evident as he began a lovely sequence through the middle that lead to a Hawks score. This game was a true team effort and all involved should be proud of the effort they showed in difficult conditions. Football isn’t all about winning. The Hawks proved this in San Diego.
A big thank you to the San Diego Lions for hosting and providing players to the Hawks. We hope this can be a long lasting relationship and look forward to hosting round 2 in Arizona in September. Also, a huge thank you to Coach Melissa Wilhelm, Dani Marshall, and Kari “Africa” Lawrence, for their support on the sidelines and for keeping us all in line. Finally, a big thank you to all of the supporters who came out to watch, especially since this was an away game.
The Hawks next game will be in the LA Metro League on Saturday June 30th at 3:00pm. The team will take the experience from San Diego and look to continue to improve as individuals, and more importantly, as a team.
San Diego, CA