March 26, 2020
By Evan Lepler
Imagine a pair of primetime doubleheaders airing tonight and tomorrow.
This evening, we’ve got the 2016 Dallas Roughnecks facing the 2018 Madison Radicals at 7:00 PM, followed by the Bay Area showdown between the 2017 San Francisco FlameThrowers and 2014 San Jose Spiders at 9:30 PM. Don’t be overly confused by Beau Kittredge playing for three of the four teams.
Then tomorrow begins with two undefeated champions, the 2019 New York Empire and the 2013 Toronto Rush, clashing in a matchup dripping with drama. And finally, the two-night ratings bonanza will be capped by the 2015 San Jose Spiders tangling with the 2017 Dallas Roughnecks. In this twin-bill, Kittredge is slightly less busy, only suiting up for one team in each game.
These hypothetical quarterfinals of the Greatest AUDL Team of All-Time Tournament are certainly tantalizing, full of fascinating quirks and wrinkles. With seven former champs among the eight remaining rosters, the athletic pedigrees of the competitors speak for themselves. However, there is a key factor that may lead to some separation, as Kittredge asserted in a recent conversation where he analyzed some of the remaining matchups in the bracket.
“Until you’ve won a championship, people still don’t completely know what that feeling is,” said Kittredge, now a five-time AUDL champ. “That’s why this is so interesting, you’re taking teams and making them play against other teams who have that feeling. It’s not asking which team is best; you’re asking what happens when they play each other, which is a completely different question. That’s a huge part of sports, bringing in that past history. When you bring in that past history, it’s a much harder thing to guess.”
Belief and chemistry were the two buzzwords that Beau kept returning to when asked about how certain teams would match up with others. He talked about talent too, but at a certain point, he insisted, mentality becomes the most important dynamic.
“When you’re gonna go into battle with somebody, you want those people to be people you’ve already won battles with,” remarked Kittredge, whose personal postseason record improved to an outrageous 17-1 after last year’s title as a member of the Empire.
In other words, the immeasurable concept of confidence matters mightily, even if it cannot be quantified. And as I’ve learned through the years, athletes are typically much more honest about confidence retrospectively rather than in the moment. When adrenaline’s building, there’s a desperate desire to make yourself believe and ignore the whispers of doubt. Contrastingly, reflection often leads to revelation, where more measured analysis can thrive and educate.
Time to dive into the rest of the bracket, with eight teams and seven games set to determine the greatest team of all-time.
Editor's note: All team capsules are the same as Part 1 of this series
#1 Dallas Roughnecks ('16) vs #9 Madison Radicals ('18)
Quick 2016 Roughnecks Capsule
Core Superstars: Dylan Freechild, Kurt Gibson, Beau Kittredge, Jimmy Mickle, Cassidy Rasmussen
Key Complementary Talent: Matt Jackson, Ben Lohre, Kai Marshall, Brandon Malecek, Stanley Peterson
Underrated X-Factors: Chris Larberg, Dillon Larberg, Thomas Slack, Dalton Smith
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Matt Bennett, Chris Mazur, Jeremy Langdon
The Narrative: The inaugural ’16 Roughnecks steamrolled their competition, going 14-0 in the regular season, maintaining perfection by an average of 9.6 goals/gm, including 11 games in which they never trailed. Insanely, they never once faced a multi-goal deficit in the regular season. That changed in the playoffs where Dallas fell behind 2-0 twice, but the Roughnecks handled all three postseason challenges with relative ease, beating Atlanta, Toronto, and Seattle by margins of seven, seven, and six to become the league’s second-ever undefeated champion.
Quick ’18 Radicals Capsule
Core Superstars: Kevin Brown, Colin Camp, Peter Graffy, Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Pat Shriwise
Key Complementary Talent: Thomas Coolidge, Sterling Knoche, Andrew Meshnick, Ben Nelson, Andrew Meshnick, Dave Wiseman
Underrated X-Factors: Logan Pruess, Tom Annen, Chase Marty
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Tarik Akyuz, Scott Richgels
The Narrative: After years of heartbreak—from 2013 to 2017, the ’18 Radicals had gone 3-5 at Championship Weekend, falling short in the final on three separate occasions—the stars magically aligned for Madison in 2018. In fact, a large chunk of the roster had been with the team since the franchise’s inception, providing a galvanizing motivation for the team and its hearty, dedicated fans. Madison's mindset clearly shifted midseason after a blowout loss to Raleigh in late May, as Peter Graffy assumed a larger role on offense for the second half of the journey, an adjustment that helped Madison win nine of their next 10 games, including Championship Weekend triumphs over Los Angeles and Dallas, as the Radicals cathartically hoisted the trophy for the first time.
The Skinny: Back in 2016, most ultimate fans expected we would witness Championship Weekend history with Dallas and Madison, both of whom went undefeated in the regular season, meeting in the finals. Of course, Seattle shockingly denied us that showdown. Two years later, we did get the Dallas-Madison title game clash, however that matchup feels mostly irrelevant in terms of adding much context to our current hypothetical, considering the ’18 Roughnecks were clearly a different team than the ’16 or even ’17 versions. Interestingly, an interdivisional battle in 2017 may yield the most insightful evidence regarding the imaginary quarterfinal between ’16 Roughnecks and the ’18 Radicals. In that game at Breese Stevens Field on June 3, 2017, the Radicals actually controlled the tempo against the defending champs for much of the game, taking a 10-8 lead into the half and maintaining a 14-12 edge deep into the third before Madison’s mojo unraveled over the final 16 minutes. Dallas flexed its championship confidence down the stretch, storming on an 11-3 run to prevail 23-17.
Now, we’re talking about a different season for each team in our hypothetical matchup, however you can reasonably argue that the ’17 versions of the Roughnecks and Radicals were both probably in the range of 85-95 percent as strong as the editions that we are discussing. But in terms of how the ’18 Radicals would have sought to handle the firepower of the ’16 Roughnecks, the strategies would have started in a similar spot to where the ’17 team landed. “They like to score quickly,” reflected Madison Head Coach Tim DeByl this past week when asked about the potential matchup. “We would try to slow the game down to a crawl, poach off the handler, stop all the give-and-go action, and over-help from the break-side deep. Make them swing a lot and turn Jimmy [Mickle] into a high volume thrower. If you get Jimmy up to 50 or more throws, he is going to give you lots of chances to take the disc away.” It certainly seems like a plausible game plan for the underdog Radicals, however it’s worth noting that Mickle’s usage was considerably lower for the 2016 Roughnecks compared to 2017, averaging around 23 completions/gm including the playoffs in the former and north of 31 completions/gm in the latter. Simply, the ’17 Roughnecks needed Mickle to do more, and he only went over 30 completions twice for the inaugural Dallas squad.
The ’16 Roughnecks also are not necessarily remembered for their patience, but they typically played smart in important moments and were willing and eager to spread the disc around. I recall being particularly impressed at the team’s ability to hit the open man; it certainly helped that so many players on the team had spectacular throws and high-level vision. In their championship victory over Seattle, nine different players finished with multiple goals and nine different players finished with multiple assists. Six players—Freechild, Gibson, Kittredge, Dillon Larberg, Mickle, and Rasmussen—collected multiple goals and multiple assists that day, a testament to the Roughnecks balance and depth. Furthermore, Dallas’ army of weapons gave the Roughnecks a luxurious line of offensive playmakers even when Dallas was on D, as Freechild, Langdon, Lohre, Emmons, Jackson, Smith all played plenty of D-line. The Madison O, even with Graffy, Shriwise, Camp, and Kevin Brown, would struggle to consistently deliver against the Roughnecks’ pressure.
The Result: 25-18 Roughnecks over Radicals
#4 San Francisco FlameThrowers ('17) vs #5 San Jose Spiders ('14)
Quick ’17 FlameThrowers Capsule
Core Superstars: Antoine Davis, Beau Kittredge, Cassidy Rasmussen, Marcelo Sanchez, Joel Schlachet
Key Complementary Talent: Greg Cohen, Lucas Dallmann, Eli Kerns, Byron Liu, Jordan Marcy
Underrated X-Factors: Kevin Cocks, Lior Givol, Sawyer Thompson
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Ashlin Joye, Mac Taylor, Grant Lindsley
The Narrative: Following a couple years as San Jose’s pesky but inferior little brother, the FlameThrowers seized the torch as the premier Bay Area power in ’16 before blossoming into top contenders in ’17, with Kittredge and Rasmussen notably returning to the West Division in the latter after spending the former in Dallas. The FlameThrowers were inconsistent throughout portions of the campaign as they fit all the puzzle pieces together, but got a substantial boost late in the year when Joye returned to the field and at Championship Weekend where Lindsley and Taylor were additional difference-makers. The Toronto Rush played phenomenally in the final, but the FlameThrowers had all the answers, narrowly prevailing 30-29 in arguably the most thrilling title game in league history.
Quick ’14 Spiders Capsule
Core Superstars: Mark Elbogen, Kurt Gibson, Simon Higgins, Ashlin Joye, Beau Kittredge
Key Complementary Talent: Tyler Bacon, Kevin Cocks, Greg Cohen, Eli Kerns, Jeff Silverman
Underrated X-Factors: Michael Kiyoi, Kevin Smith, Sonny Zaccaro
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Nate Bosscher, Nathan White
The Narrative: The first AUDL game I ever saw in person was opening day for the ’14 Spiders, in which they outscored San Francisco 7-4 in the fourth to prevail 20-16, setting the tone for their magnificent debut journey in the league. It was evident early that Gibson, Joye, and Kittredge would shoulder significant responsibility on San Jose’s inaugural roster, but several young studs along with the easily overlooked “Santa Barbara contingent” provided the Spiders with enough firepower to cement their status as a league-wide favorite. Through the entire season, San Jose’s lone blemish was one-point loss to San Francisco on a wildly windy mid-May Saturday in the North Bay, a game in which the Spiders actually coughed up a five-point first-half lead. In the postseason, the Spiders pounded the FlameThrowers by 10 in the West Division final, outlasted Madison by three in the semis, and then crushed the Rush on Toronto’s home-field 28-18, the largest rout in AUDL championship game history.
The Skinny: It’s certainly not as simple as just comparing the diverging players on these two teams, but let’s start there. There are seven relatively important names—Cocks, Cohen, Joye, Kerns, Kittredge, Sanchez and White—who were on both of these teams. Each individual is not necessarily the same exact player with three years of growth and/or regression from ’14 to ’17, but there’s a case to be made that those seven players altogether are basically equal adversaries in our hypothetical. Consequently, let’s now look at seven other top players who were on each of the teams. For the ’14 Spiders, that group would consist of Bacon, Elbogen, Higgins, Gibson, Kiyoi, Silverman, and Smith. For the ’17 FlameThrowers, that crew is Dallmann, Davis, Lindsley, Marcy, Rasmussen, Schlachet, and Taylor. And damn, that would be one huckuva savage game to three, wouldn’t it? I lean toward Lindsley, Rasmussen, Schlachet, and Taylor over Kurt and company, but it’s definitely closer than I initially suspected, with Elbogen and Higgins both able to make big plays and Bacon and Kiyoi known for their versatility to adapt to any role.
Honestly, I think one relatively underrated factor in this matchup is the scope of AUDL experience. Obviously, we’re talking about two championship caliber rosters, but the ’14 Spiders were entirely a group of pro ultimate rookies while the majority of the ’17 FlameThrowers had several years of AUDL action. Even when we’re contemplating the teams with their Championship Weekend makeup, there’s a noteworthy difference in one season of high-pressure professional instincts versus three or four. Through the years, we have seen many of ultimate’s great players struggle to adapt immediately and seamlessly to the silent stall count, wider field, and double-teaming dynamics present in the professional game, and the split-second decision-making required in the most intense moments of a Greatest Teams of All-Time Tournament quarterfinal might lead to some separation.
Furthermore, going back to Kittredge’s ethos about surrounding yourself with the right people, the ’17 FlameThrowers have a much larger cadre of not just AUDL titles but also world championships compared to the ’14 Spiders. Just looking at recent USA National Teams that won gold medals in major international events, 10 different members of the ’17 FlameThrowers represented USA in either the 2016 World Ultimate & Guts Championships or the 2017 World Games; comparatively, the Spiders had six. Both teams were special, but this matchup is an instance where the disparity in depth and big-game experience make the difference, especially with relatively similar playing styles of two Bay Area-based teams.
The Result: 27-23 FlameThrowers over Spiders
#2 New York Empire ('19) vs #10 Toronto Rush ('13)
Quick ’19 Empire Capsule
Core Superstars: Jeff Babbitt, Ben Jagt, Beau Kittredge, Grant Lindsley, Jack Williams
Key Complementary Talent: Marques Brownlee, Harper Garvey, Ben Katz, Conor Kline, Jibran Mieser
Underrated X-Factors: Albert Alarcon, Mike Drost, Ryan Drost, Matt LeMar
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Josh Alorro, Matt Auletta
The Narrative: The Empire finally broke through in 2018 by shockingly toppling Toronto on the road in the East finals, but New York redefined expectations for the ’19 season when Lindsley and Williams signed free agent deals and Bryan Jones officially became the team’s new Head Coach. Suddenly, the Empire were the favorite, and it was a pressure-packed burden that they struggled to fulfill through a decent chunk of the season. They were victorious in every game, but the margins were often slim, winning by more than five goals only once and needing overtime to prevail twice. Still, the Empire improved mightily as the season progressed and played their best when it counted most, outscoring the Roughnecks 7-3 down the stretch in the biggest game of the year to complete their undefeated championship run with a 26-22 triumph in the finals.
Quick ’13 Rush Capsule
Core Superstars: Cam Harris, Jeff Lindquist, Mark Lloyd, Isaiah Masek-Kelly, Adrian Yearwood
Key Complementary Talent: Gord Harrison, Michael Jones, Thomson McKnight, Geoff Powell, Ricky Szeto
Underrated X-Factors: Steve Armitage, Trevor Henry, Andrew Kubinec, Phil Watanabe
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Calum Mackenzie, Sachin Raina
The Narrative: The AUDL had just two divisions in 2013, but this was the year that several long-standing successful organizations made their debuts. The Windy City (now Chicago) Wildfire went 14-2, the Madison Radicals went 13-3, and the New York Empire went 11-5 in their premier campaigns, but obviously none of these teams were as strong as the ’13 Rush, who went 16-0 in the regular season with a ridiculous +171 goal differential. In the postseason, the Rush handled New York 25-18 in the semifinals before edging Madison 16-14 in the finals, setting the league’s initial standard for perfection. At 18-0 with a +180 goal-differential, they remain the most dominant team statistically in AUDL history.
The Skinny: It’s safe to say the ’13 Rush never faced a team that had anywhere close to the elite top-of-the-roster firepower of the ’19 Empire. However, that’s not to imply that Toronto’s stars couldn’t match up for significant portions of the game. Harris, Lindquist, Lloyd, Masek-Kelly, and Yearwood were all dynamic forces that could take over the game on offense, and the Rush’s system enabled them to work well together. Lloyd, in particular, was just entering his prime that year and developing into an amazingly versatile weapon with size, skill, and swagger. Obviously, he would not shy away from any matchup. Yet I worry about how Toronto would handle itself over the long 48-minute duration of the game. New York would have plenty of defenders to throw at the Rush’s stars, and eventually Coach Bryan Jones would mitigate the efficiency of Toronto’s attack.
Another nugget about these two teams may surprise you, and it also speaks a bit to the difference in overall quality of talent and level of play in the league from 2013 to 2019. Looking at the ’19 Empire, their top 17 throwers (in terms of completions) for the entire season all registered completion percentages above 90. In that group, 14 of the 17 were at 93 percent or better. Meanwhile, on the ’13 Rush, only nine of their top 17 throwers were north of 90%, while eight players, including high volume throwers like Harris, Lindquist, Lloyd, and Masek-Kelly, were in the 80s in the completion percentage department. Toronto’s defense after a turnover obviously was one of the reasons they were successful en route to a dominant 18-0 record that season, but the Rush would have to dramatically cut down its mistakes to give themselves any chance against New York.
And in the end, it’s hard to imagine who on Toronto would slow down Lindsley, Jagt, and Williams on offense, not to mention other effective strikers like Kline and Matt Stevens who have a knack for doing damage too. Remember, this edition of the Rush did not yet have guys like Andrew Carroll, Jonathan Martin, or Anatoly Vasilyev, all who joined the team in future seasons and would have come in handy as speedy and ferocious defenders against the Empire’s premier athletes. Considering how New York struggled to create many leads greater than five during the Empire’s run of perfection, the projection will follow suit. But this quarterfinal would never feel in doubt for New York, with perhaps a three-goal halftime lead ebbing and flowing into a comfortable five-goal win.
The Result: 23-18 Empire over Rush
#3 San Jose Spiders ('15) vs #11 Dallas Roughnecks ('17)
Quick ’15 Spiders Capsule
Core Superstars: Simon Higgins, Ashlin Joye, Beau Kittredge, Cassidy Rasmussen, Marcelo Sanchez
Key Complementary Talent: Chuck Cao, Greg Cohen, Sean Ham, Christian Johnson, Russell Wynne
Underrated X-Factors: Kevin Cocks, Jordan Marcy, Kevin Smith, Sonny Zaccaro
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Tyler Grant, Justin Norden
The Narrative: This edition of the Spiders lost Bacon, Elbogen, Gibson, and Kerns from the previous year, but added more than enough firepower to their arsenal to be considered the superior San Jose squad. Kittredge increased his production beyond his MVP-worthy ’14 numbers, earning the AUDL’s top award fo the second straight year, while Ham and Johnson became goal-scoring staples in their first seasons with the Spiders. After a 7-0 start, San Jose experienced a bit of midseason malaise in dropping four of their final seven regular season contests, however they erupted for 35 goals to stomp Seattle in late June, securing first place in the West for the second straight year. With Kittredge nursing an injury in the playoffs, Joye, Higgins, Ham, and Sanchez all stepped up around him to help the Spiders maintain their throne as kings of the AUDL.
Quick ’17 Roughnecks Capsule
Core Superstars: Dylan Freechild, Jay Froude, Kurt Gibson, Chris Mazur, Jimmy Mickle
Key Complementary Talent: Abe Coffin, Ben Lohre, Kai Marshall, Stanley Peterson, Dalton Smith
Underrated X-Factors: Dan Emmons, Matt Jackson, Chris Larberg, Ben Lewis, Thomas Slack
Wait, He Was Also On That Team!?!: Matt Bennett, Joel Clutton
The Narrative: Beau and Cassidy departed Dallas after a single season, but the ’17 Roughnecks added Coffin and Froude to the similarly stacked crew that swept all competition in the inaugural campaign. They started 6-0, improving to 23-0 all-time, before losing their first games ever, dropping a pair in Jacksonville and Raleigh on consecutive days. This created a tougher road in the postseason, but the Roughnecks stomped the Cannons by 10 in Dallas in the opening round before playing a brilliant game in Raleigh to advance back to the final four. Most presumed that destiny would yield a San Francisco-Dallas clash in the finals, giving fans the opportunity to see the Roughnecks battle against Beau. But that clash never materialized, as Dallas faltered against Toronto in semis.
The Skinny: This battle looks like the closest of all the quarterfinals, with two franchises coming off titles the year before. Each experienced a bit of a regular season letdown the following season, and obviously only one of the two successfully defended their title, but both rosters were loaded and terrifying for the opposition when everything clicked. Frankly, it’s a challenge to identify too many differing characteristics between these two excellent all-around teams, but one minor factor involving continuity might be relevant.
Whereas Gibson and Lohre, unquestionably two of the Roughnecks top seven or eight players, only played four and eight games in 2017, respectively, the Spiders saw 21 of their 22 contributors play double digit games, with Justin Norden seeing the field in nine games. Most notably, all 14 Spiders listed in the first three lines of the team capsule above were among the regular contributors. In reflecting on where the Roughnecks fell short in that semifinal against Toronto, they were certainly not flawless in terms of precision and poise under pressure. The Spiders, on the other hand, came up with many clutch plays in their 2015 final against Madison, while also ratcheting up their team defense in the most critical moments late in the game.
With all the stars on both teams more or less cancelling each other out, there are a couple other X-factors that would impact the outcome of this quarterfinal. Cao and Marcy were both hugely underrated handlers for the Spiders in 2015, complementing Joye, Rasmussen, and Kittredge, the trio that touched the disc more than anyone else on the team. While capable of producing big plays, Cao and Marcy were integral in maintaining stability and generating resets without turning it over. Combined, they registered a 96.7 percent completion rate on 744 touches for the year, a brilliantly efficient duo. While the Roughnecks had their own army of competent disc movers, none of them were quite as steady as Cao and Marcy. And in a matchup that I’m confident would come down to the wire, I trust the Spiders disc deliverers just slightly more. I’m also giving the league’s all-time winningest competitor the benefit of the doubt.
The Result: 27-26 Spiders over Roughnecks