Reporting Shane Kitzman
Netting national championships?
That’s easy for the Freeze.
The Minnesota Freeze – the state’s Australian Rules Football Club (or footy, for those in the know) – dominated the country’s top opposition recently in Mason, Ohio, outscoring opponents 143-20 en route to its first national title since 2007.
Explaining how their niche sport works?
Not so easy.
“I always struggle explaining it to people,” said team recruitment officer Brent Fischer, a native Australian who has lived in Minnesota since 2002. He’s currently in his third year of law school at William Mitchell.
“It’s a hybrid between American football, soccer, rugby and volleyball,” he explained. “It has elements from all these sports, but it’s still fundamentally unique.”
It’s like American football in that it’s physical and fast-paced.
It’s similar to rugby in that there are no pads, but when footy players punt, they do it as the primary way to pass and to score.
It mirrors soccer in being a high-cardio activity, constantly crisscrossing a sizable field of play.
And it’s like volleyball in that the ball is hit out of the hand much in the way of an under-hand volleyball serve.
After winning the championship game 12-3 over the Los Angeles Dragons, the men will celebrate their successful season Saturday evening at Kieran’s Irish Pub.
But before they decide their team MVP – or “Best and Fairest” – this weekend, Fischer explained a bit more about the sport that resides a bit below the radar in the Twin Cities.
Where do you guys practice, and how long is the season?
At Lake Nokomis twice a week – Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. We start in April and run until October.
What was your regular season record; how far did you have to travel during the year for matches?
We were 5-2. We had one or two matches a month, and traveled to places like Kansas City or Des Moines.
Was a national championship realistic?
I went in knowing we should win it. The national tournament’s always one of those things where there are teams from all over, so you have no clear idea how strong any team in your division is. I would have been enormously disappointed if we didn’t win it.
Most memorable moment from nationals?
We had a game against San Diego that we won 65-0. Shutting out a team is almost unheard of in Australian Rules Football. It was the best game we played in a long time.
Are all Freeze players Australian?
They have a rule in the United States Football League (USAFL) that you can only have 1/2 of your team be a non-national player at any time. So, only half of your team’s players can be Australian and that’s to keep teams from bringing Australians off the boat and dominating.
Our team is about 80 percent Americans.
(Newbie U.S. players are instructed by the Aussies – this year, the Freeze’s captain was, in fact, American.)
You’re playing Division II, how come you’re not Division I (out of four divisions)?
Division I teams are the big cities that would have Australians in them, like New York. But after this year’s performance, I think we’ll be in consideration to move up to Division I.
How many Freeze players actually play on the national U.S. team?
Seven from our current team have played for USA Revolution.
(And Zach Weaver won the national tournament runner-up award for MVP, while Stephen Fashant was the title game MVP).