2012 was a big year for the Houston Lonestars. It was the first year they became a fully independent club, symbolised by a brand new logo bearing the famous red, white and blue colors and a Texas bull bounding through the infamous Lonestar.
The new image is the visible change, but more importantly the club has made progress both on the field and amongst its competing peers. President Dan Holwerda has continued the gradual process over the past 4 years of building a consistent player base focusing on participation and skills development. Over this period, the American National player numbers have increased and skill levels have improved impressively. The club has also tapped into a growing expat community in Houston, attracting many Aussies & Irish to the club with experienced football backgrounds.
The regular season saw increasing player numbers and skill levels, reflected in team performance and results. A commanding win over Baton Rouge Tigers to kick start the season was followed by a strong performance against the highly fancied Austin Crows team, with the Lonestars pushing them all the way going down by less than 5 goals. The early signs of improvement were reinforced a few weeks later when for the first time in the club’s history, the Lonestars defeated Austin comprehensively in Houston. This was a highlight of the regular season for the young developing club.
The second half of the season continued the growth trend with another commanding victory over the Tigers before a group of 15 Lonestars travelled with family to Fort Lauderdale for a road trip game against the Squids in August. Played in torrential rain, the game was highly competitive with the Lonestars going down by less than a goal against a very strong home side. The regular season rounded out with a three-way meeting between the Lonestars, Baton Rouge Tigers and Atlanta Kookaburras in Baton Rouge. The Lonestars had another strong win against the Tigers and fought hard against the talented Kookaburras, going down by a mere 3 goal margin after backing up straight after the previous game in extreme heat.
One of the major goals set for 2012 was for the club to establish itself as a competitive force in the USAFL and have a significant presence at the USAFL Nationals, which were held in October 2012 in Mason, Ohio. Consistent improvement during 2012 gave the Lonestars confidence going into the 2012 Nationals with the team entered in Division 4 in its first ever USAFL Nationals as an independent team.
On 13-14th October, a team of 25 players arrived in Mason decked out in the new club gear and made an instant impression at the welcome event on the Friday night with many peers commenting the jersey being the best in the league. The Nationals involved 38 clubs from across the USA and Canada arranged in 4 Mens and 1 Women’s Division in a round-robin format over 2 days. The main objective for the Lonestars was to make the Division 4 final held at 2pm on the Sunday.
The first Lonestars game on Saturday was against the combined Washington / Baltimore Eagles team. The Lonestars dominated the game, showing they meant business winning by 12 goals. The performance was defined by aggression for the ball and good team awareness. This was the team’s first opportunity to belt out the newly written team song “Lonestars Fight”, to the tune of the AFL’s Sydney Swans theme song.
After a few hours break, the second game was against a Milwaukee / Dallas combined team. Following on from game 1, the Lonestars dominated the game, surviving a player count on the field and all to run out strong winners by 100 points. More encouragingly, this game saw some great break-out performances by several young American Nationals in the team. Day 1 was deemed a huge success, but our toughest opposition would come the next morning.
Sunday morning came and brought with it gale force winds with tornado warnings for early in the evening. This made for very difficult conditions for football, especially in the crucial knock-out game against Minnesota / Ohio Valley team who had also dominated on the first day. The game was a tale of 2 halves as the wind had huge influence. The Lonestars Kicked with the 6 goal breeze in the first half, winning the ball at ground level but failed to capitalize on the scoreboard. At half time Lonetstars lead 4.4.28 to 1.0.6, but had not made the most their dominance. The second half saw the Lonestars play a very defensive style of game as the wind picked up. Minnesota / Ohio persisted and with the aid of very accurate kicking and some questionable umpiring, were able to nudge ahead in the dying minutes to run out winners by 4 points. This demoralizing defeat spelled the end of the Lonestars Nationals for 2012, which the whole team took pretty hard. The Lonestars stuck together to watch the Division 4 grand final between their conquerors and the Des Moines Roosters from Iowa, who ran out eventual victors in a tough contest.
Whilst the final result at Nationals 2012 did not quite live up to Lonestars aspirations, plenty of positives came out of the tournament including the USAFL voted best 2 players in Division 4 being Lonestars players, as well as seeing significant improvement in many new players at the club.
The Lonestars will go into 2013 having learnt some important lessons at 2012 Nationals and with confidence in its ability to consistently compete against more established teams during 2012.