JUNIORS: Playoff Preview

This Saturday the Junior squad travel to Richard Taunton Sixth Form Academy in Southampton to play the Solent Seahawks Academy. Kick off is at midday. The Cheetahs and Seahawks are the only sides competing for the inaugural Southern Trophy that have not faced off already in the regular season. Both teams finished with a 3-3 record, though the Cheetahs make the postseason courtesy of Farnham Knights inability to field a side.

In their first competitive Junior season following a year-long hiatus (which included a change of coaching staff) the Cheetahs made a significant impression on Britball nation with huge performances against some of the country’s most established programs. The season began with a painful home defeat to Britbowl finalists – the London Blitz.  At a crossroads, the Cheetahs season could have dropped off of the radar (as so many junior programs have historically done).  However, the team rallied, completing its first multiple win season with two victories over the Essex Spartans and an away-day romping of the Black Country Vipers.  A one-score road loss to the Farnham Knights, followed by a spirited performance against the undefeated Birmingham Lions, left the Cheetahs playoff hopes in the hands of the Knights, whose regular season finale blowout loss to the Seahawks seemed to have ended the Cheetahs pursuit of silverware at the first time of asking. However, the Knights decision to withdraw gives the Cheetahs a well-earned shot at ending the season on a high, and bringing the Cheetahs Academy its first ever trophy.

Affected by the late-notice and summer holidays, the Cheetahs will be without a few key pieces, including rookie Quarterback Ollie Mulcahy.  Stepping up, veteran Tom Best, who last took snaps under-centre for the Cheetahs in an associate friendly scrimmage against the Buckinghamshire Wolves in March 2016, having been one of the three players who turned up to Coach Halms’ first session.  In what will be Tom’s last game for the Cheetahs Academy, the circularity and import of such a set of circumstances is not lost on the Cheetahs coaches.  It is fantastic opportunity to prove that commitment, loyalty and flexibility are the cornerstones of any junior programme.

Tom will be helped in the backfield by the presence of 10 TD-man Jack Stodel, who stepped up from Youth to Junior at midseason and took the offence by storm.  He is joined by veteran Will Feaver and Manny Odiong (the latter player 2/3 from Coach Halms’ first session). Wide receivers include rookie James Whiteford and Ashley Gutalah, along with wily veterans Charlie Hardiman, Ed Hollis and Aaron Connell. Full-back / TE James Jackson will be playing his final game for the Cheetahs Academy (having survived three changes of coaching staff and four years with the club), and will share the load with newly appointed club captain Joe McGregor.  The OL is bolstered by the presence of Hertfordshire Hurricanes regular Sam Troth, Cheetahs standout Billy Ray and the towering Jonty Tatchell.

On the defensive side of the ball,  the Cheetahs have finally found their answer with CB Johanne Remigio becoming a match-up nightmare, with a one-handed interception against the London Warriors topping his highlight reel for the season.  Multi-purpose superstar James Abegglen (the third of the three first session guys) moves into his most-natural spot of FS, where he is joined by tackling-machine Francois “Frenchy” Earp and the hard-hitting Patryk Cwiertnia.Bruisers Pat Callisto and Frank Delciampo are joined by rookie sensations Ben Yusuf Jones and Cameron Hodge at Linebacker, and the DL pursuit is led by the uber-talented Alfie Nash and stalwart Byron Kealy. As always, field position via Special Teams will be crucial to securing a Cheetahs win.

The Cheetahs coaches are fully aware of the physicality and well-drilled nature of the Seahawks, whose organisation has been unashamedly used as a template for the Cheetahs own Academy. Look for the Cheetahs to bring a fresh look to their offensive strategy, to react to the Seahawks twin-back, double-wing and spread formations on defence, and seek to control the pace of the contest.

Head Coach Alex Halms is excited for the game:  “To get this opportunity to prove, on the biggest stage, just how far this group has come is richly deserved.  The circumstances may be unforeseen, and I want to thank Coach Chris Howard and everyone at the Farnham Knights for how candid and expeditious they were in the whole process, but there can be no denying that this group of players deserves to be in this game.  We are fully aware that we are the underdogs, that the Britball nation is expecting a Solent win. But I believe in my guys.  We have overcome far longer odds to field a squad this season, longer still to win games and longer still to make the playoffs.  At every stage we have proven people wrong, and at every stage we have seen the team get better and better.  I know for a fact that not a single guy in yellow and black on Sunday will leave a single regret, nor an ounce of unspent energy on the field.  The coaches have prepped a comprehensive game plan, install went well, and the spirit within our camp is infectious.  There’s a positive nervousness in the squad, spawned not from fear or worry, but from welling anticipation that we might be on the precipice of doing something truly remarkable. Some said impossible.  I implore everyone associated with the Cheetahs, senior, junior, youth, flag, family, friend, neighbour – to get on the coach to Solent, or to follow in convoy.  Throw your support behind these players and watch them sparkle.  If we do our job, if we execute our assignments, if everyone plays, coaches and prepares to the best of their abilities – Saturday is going to be the biggest day in this club’s 31 year history – at any level.  You don’t want to miss it.  

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