The Tuesday Toss: Top 50 MVP Candidates, Part Two
March 28, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
25. Cameron Harris, Toronto Rush: This 27-year-old from Aurora, Ontario has excelled under the radar for far too long. Amidst an experienced, veteran core, Harris’ throwing ability, along with spectacular vision and creativity, make him a daunting threat to try and stop. He’s a huge reason why the Rush have remained a final four team in every season. With his great length, Harris uses his pivot and reach as good as anyone in the league; he is a nearly impossible offensive player to stop when he finds his groove. The stats back it up, as his 316 scores (goals plus assists) are third in the history of the league, behind only Indy’s Cameron Brock and Keenan Plew. Harris averaged 89.3 scores per season from 2013 to 2015, then dropped to 48 scores in 2016. Just a hunch that his 2017 number will be closer to 90 than 50, as the Rush will need him to take charge more frequently against the improved East Division.
Cameron Harris airs out a perfect throw for the score against the DC Breeze last season.
24. Grant Lindsley, San Francisco FlameThrowers: After a three-year absence, Lindsley is back in the AUDL in 2017. You can be excused if you don’t remember his 2013 performance vividly, since he only played 74 points for the Wind Chill that season. His game has been highly respected by teammates and opponents alike since his collegiate days at Carleton. In the past year, though, Lindsley has unquestionably ascended into the top handful of cutting talents in the world. It’s not just his ability to change direction as quickly as anybody, but it’s his otherworldly acceleration that makes him so tough to contain. With a well-rounded throwing arsenal to accompany his quickness, Lindsley has become the total package. It remains to be seen just how much of a commitment he’ll be able to make to San Francisco’s title pursuits, but his presence will change games. If he plays, he will produce. And when you do that for a winning team, your name rises into the upper levels of the MVP conversation.
Grant Lindsley elevates for the huge catch against the Madison Radicals back in 2013.
23. Noah Saul, Raleigh Flyers: A forgotten fact from the Flyers’ 2016 season is that Noah Saul had something of a lost year. Hampered by injuries, he only played in six games. In 2015, for a variety of reasons, he only played in seven games. So it’s natural to wonder whether the UNC alum can stay on the field and truly stand out as the every week anchor that he’s shown glimpses of being able to be. During certain stretches of his career, he’s played like Raleigh’s MVP, dominating on the D-line with his instincts, athleticism, and commanding leadership with the disc in his hands. He can be a crutch for the team’s coaching staff, who understandably place a lot of trust in his decision making and guile. In 2017, Saul, if he’s healthy, will have even more playmaking options around him. He’d certainly be a capable O-line handler, but with veteran teammates like Nethercutt and Snoke returning in the backfield , the Flyers are probably better off with him steering the D-line, perhaps with Matzuka as his co-pilot.
Noah Saul launches for a huge layout block in the lane in the Flyers 2016 home opener.
22. Matt Smith, Atlanta Hustle: Over the past two seasons, very few downfield cutters around the league have produced with Smith’s remarkably consistent efficiency. After playing 287 points in 2015, he played 285 last year. He’s averaged about 80 scores per season, with completion percentages at 98.7% and 96.5% the last two years. He’s as steady as they come, but he can deliver the flash, too. Whether it’s laying out for a full-extension score or rising up to an unexpected altitude, Smith just makes plays relentlessly. His two-year run with the Hustle is one of the cooler stories in the league, considering he was a relative unknown when he showed up for tryouts before Atlanta’s inaugural season. A scheduling conflict prevented Smith from attending the team’s closed tryout, but Coach Greg Swanson saw something in the speedy Smith, and that hunch has paid off tremendously. In the crowded South Division, Smith’s common name often gets overshadowed in the ultimate conversation. But his uncommon game speaks for itself.
Matt Smith gets up for the huge goal against the Dallas Roughnecks in the 2016 playoffs.
21. Cole Sullivan, Jacksonville Cannons: Another reason to be skeptical of statistics, the 2016 Jacksonville Cannons presented a calculation conundrum. How valuable were Sullivan and his number one target, Mischa Freystaetter, when the team finished with a 5-9 record? Sullivan’s league leading 81 assists and Freystaetter’s record-breaking 95 goals were eye-popping figures, but seven losses by five scores or fewer took much of the luster away from those individual achievements. One wonders if the Cannons need more from Sullivan and Freystaetter, or if spreading the wealth and seeing a dip in their personal numbers might lead to greener pastures. Late in the season, especially, Jacksonville did spend some time gunning for stats. Heading into the 2017 season, though, the Cannons are claiming the mindset will be much more team-oriented. But with a ‘shooter’s gotta shoot’ mindset, Sullivan’s huge hucks and generally aggressive style have been staples of his team’s approach for each of the past two seasons. It’s an attitude that helped the Cannons win 10 games in 2015. And it’s undeniable that Jacksonville’s overall depth of talent alongside Sullivan and Freystaetter is back resembling that squad that was a play or two away from Championship Weekend two years ago. We’ll see whether the Cannons defense can coalesce into a unit worthy of final four contention, but we know that Sullivan will light it up for the Jacksonville offense. This team is capable of fireworks, and their veteran quarterback is usually the man that ignites the fuse.
Highlights from Cole Sullivan's record-setting 2016 season.
20. Jonathan Nethercutt, Raleigh Flyers: The battle to be Dallas’s number one challenger could very well come down to the seasons that Sullivan and Nethercutt can put together for their respective teams. The Flyers’ QB gets the slight edge in MVP likelihood because Raleigh does not have an overwhelmingly dominant teammate like Freystaetter who can steal the spotlight more often. But that’s not meant to diminish Nethercutt’s receiving core, which may, believe it or not, be the deepest in the loaded South division. Aside from bringing back a bunch of familiar names, the Flyers added Shane Sisco, Micah Hood, and Charlie Muniz from Charlotte, not to mention the aforementioned two-time MVP, Goose Helton. That likely means more fun for Nethercutt, the 2015 Callahan winner who has rounded out his game to become more than just a flicking howitzer. An active coach and ultimate ambassador, Nethercutt is still looking to eliminate a touch of inconsistency that has plagued Raleigh in the past. But he’s also a marquee player who is just on the verge of entering his prime. At some point in the next few seasons, he will likely make a jump from very, very good to great. If it happens this year, the Flyers will be in good shape.
Jonathan Nethercutt has a fully arsenal of throws, but what makes him truly dangerous is his ability to understand his receivers.
19. Chris Mazur, Dallas Roughnecks: He only played in five games last year after moving from New York to Texas, but he made an indelible impact. The confident handler immediately stepped onto the best O-line in the league and looked like a master of the craft. His presence was invaluable when injury and international obligations left the Roughnecks shorthanded, and it’s fair to say that the natural leader will assume even more significant responsibilities this year. If Jimmy, Kurt, and Dylan are away, the champs could very well morph into Mazur’s men, a fact that would undoubtedly launch him into the thick of the MVP chase. Even when the squad is missing some of its cornerstones, Mazur would have a cadre of offensive weapons that any AUDL quarterback would envy. In five games last year, when he was just meeting some of his teammates, he scored nine goals and dished 18 assists. Having been a part of the 2017 squad from day one, Mazur should blow those numbers away. More importantly, he could be the number one X-factor in the Roughnecks quest for a repeat.
Chris Mazur uncorking a near full-field throw for the buzzer-beater during last season's semifinal against the Toronto Rush.
18. Mark Burton, Seattle Cascades: As an MVP finalist from 2016, Burton’s performance stood out among a cavalcade of Seattle stars. He finished the season +80, second-best in the league. It goes without saying that the Cascades will be counting on Burton once again this season. Perhaps too much so. Last year, Burton was often joined and was the beneficiary of these six individuals on the Seattle O-line: Simon Montague, Danny Karlinsky, Matt Rehder, Nick Stuart, Zane Rankin, and Mike Caldwell. Now, he is without each of those stalwarts, and the D-line will be without Reid Koss, Joe Sefton, Sam Hart, and Duncan Linn. All of these helpers are gone, but that does not mean the cupboard is completely bare. As arguably the number one young ultimate talent factory in the nation, the Seattle community has been bracing for a new infusion of faces. And alongside some familiar names like Will Chen, Mario O’Brien, and Adam Simon, Burton will guide this transition. It stands to reason that Burton’s production may drop off a bit because presumably he’ll be receiving even more attention from opposing defenses than a season ago. But his value may be ever more apparent in this budding challenge.
Highlights from Mark Burton's fantastic 2016 season.
17. Tom Doi, Los Angeles Aviators: In one of the under-the-radar moves of the offseason, the former DC Breeze cutter has moved to the west coast and joined a team that desperately needed someone exactly like him. Tom Doi has gone from the rag-tag Green Mountain College club team that barely scored at sections to the flex-line of Team USA, a unit that relied on its D.C. contingent for chemistry and calm. In that transformation, Doi converted from speedy downfield weapon who wanted little to do with disc-handling decisions to an all-around threat as one of the more unstoppable athletes in the sport. On the flex line, and during important moments with the Breeze, his one-on-one defense prowess would also shine on display. All this is to say that Doi has every tool necessary to become one of the most important players in the West Division. The Aviators lost a lot of their veteran core to San Diego, but they still have a solid array of talent who will be hungry to return to the postseason. Doi, despite being on a new team, will embark on this mission too. If it succeeds, the USA gold medalist will likely have his fingerprints all over it.
Highlights from Tom Doi's 2016 season with the DC Breeze.
16. Beau Kittredge, San Francisco FlameThrowers: It is natural for expectations to evolve. That’s what happens when great players rise and fall, with career arcs that are usually not linear. The three-time AUDL champion and two-time league MVP will be 35 in June, and remarkably, he’s still one of the greats in the game. But much like any aging star, the skills must evolve. New tricks must be learned to help cover up the effects of Father Time. It speaks to the sizeable gap between Beau and the field for much of the past decade that I can genuinely think he’s a different player than he was two or three years ago, and at the same I believe you would still want him on any universe point line in 2017. His big game reps are major. His confidence and swagger are legendary. And even though he’s on his third team in the last three years, he’s probably the betting favorite to win the thing again. He may not be the ideal MVP candidate who would overwhelm the opponent for 14 straight games, but amidst his Team USA responsibilities and video game designing career, the phenom from Fairbanks endures as the league’s number one enigma. Also worth noting: Beau could remain on this list for another five years. Things can change quickly, but to this point he’s maintained he plans to play ultimate for a long time. The legend continues.
The speed of Beau Kittredge continues to be legendary.
15. Dylan Freechild, Dallas Roughnecks: While Freechild’s ceiling as a player remains considerably below Beau’s all-time height, the 2013 Callahan winner from Oregon edges the Alaskan in this year’s projections. In terms of explosiveness today, Freechild is up there with the very best. His emotional demeanor stands out, but he has also cultivated a sharp and purposed focus into his game. Every point, on offense or defense, he takes the field with gusto and expects to help shape the action. When his teammates fail to bring equal fire, he lets them hear it, regardless if they’re a fellow gold medalist or an inexperienced rook. Late in the 2016 season, Freechild became one of the critical engines for the eventual champs, demanding his teammates meet the high level they were capable of. And now, Freechild’s talent, personality, and drive—the total package—has been identified by a couple of the sport’s most respected coaches as a good fit for one of the 10 male slots on the World Games roster. Over the past year, he has made great strides as a player. And there’s more room to grow even still. Freechild’s got business to attend to, and the Roughnecks are feeling fortunate to have him back.
Dylan Freechild has a style on the field that is entirely his own.
14. Nicky Spiva, Philadelphia Phoenix: How much of a difference can one great player make? Well, that’s a bit of a flawed question as it relates to the situation in Philly, as the Phoenix roster was overhauled with plenty of new talent. But Spiva was the marquee signee and the guy who has experience winning international medals and competing on the biggest stage. With D.C. last year, his presence felt underappreciated even though he made his fair share of absurd individual plays—his June Callahan against Toronto comes to mind. At 28 years old with a strong preceding reputation, Spiva arrives to a squad that has gone 1-27 the last two years, with the lone win coming against a team that does not exist anymore. It would be shocking, even with the several noteworthy changes, to see Philadelphia become a .500 club this season. But they will have some winnable opportunities against Ottawa and Montreal, and Spiva is the type of quarterback that a franchise can truly rally around. If he takes the torch from the season opener and the Phoenix can put a small handful of wins on the board, you will likely see Spiva meriting some All-AUDL buzz, and perhaps MVP consideration as well.
Nicky Spiva has the capability to change games with both his throws and his impeccable playmaking.
13. Alan Kolick, DC Breeze: A skinny southpaw out of William & Mary College, Alan Kolick perpetuates the idea that great athletes come in all shapes and sizes. He rarely if ever lifts weights, but Kolick has established himself as a steady force with the disc in his hands. With a crafty tone and slippery speed, Kolick serves as the Breeze’s pivot man, a role that will likely put even more of a burden on his shoulders this season. After all, this is a franchise that lost three players who are top 50 MVP candidates from last year to this year. With a new coach at the helm, the Breeze will be aiming to display the city’s growing ultimate depth. And, of course, D.C. still has stars, like Kolick, who can be as hard to guard as any handler in the league. If the Breeze can remain a contender amidst the personnel and coaching changes, Kolick, as much as anyone, will be prominently involved.
Alan Kolick defies gravity to reel in the goal during DC's playoff game against the Empire in 2016.
12. Pat Shriwise, Madison Radicals: At 29 years old, Shriwise has grown through his prime during four seasons with the Radicals. The Kansas State product came to Madison for grad school and became an instrumental cog in the team’s balanced offense. Along with Dave Wiseman, Colin Camp, Brian Hart, and several others, the Madison offense often revolved around easy under throws to these downfield cutters, smartly creating lanes for one another on the spacious AUDL field. Year after year, the Radicals run deep, as evidenced by the fact that no Madison player has scored more than 32 goals in a season in the last two seasons. But during the biggest moments, like during last year’s semifinal against Seattle, the Radicals subtly realized that they needed their biggest weapons to step up. And in these moments, they looked to Shriwise, a polished combination of size, speed, and smarts, with a motor to make big plays in big moments. So often, it felt like good things happened when Shriwise was involved, and contrastingly, if Pat became passive or if the Radicals did not feature him prominently, things could begin to look shaky. He can blend in beautifully when the offense is running its system, but Madison needs a guy to take charge when things aren’t clicking. The Radicals schedule may be conducive to balance, but in the biggest games, Shriwise is the most likely O-line Radical to rise into the MVP debate.
Pat Shriwise carves an inside-out assist for a clutch assist during last year's semifinal against the Seattle Cascades.
11. Isaiah Masek-Kelly, Toronto Rush: Entering last season, Masek-Kelly seemed as sure a top 10 MVP candidate as anyone. But then something strange happened: His production dipped sharply. He had been a part of 101 scores in 2015, and then contributed to just 49 last year. It wasn’t a major drop-off in playing time, for Masek-Kelly still competed in 14 of the team’s 15 games. But with others stepping up around him, he did not seek to take over and dominate the way he did so frequently in 2015. Of course, the Rush still managed to win their division for the fourth consecutive season, though this one came by a thinner margin than ever before. With the Empire arming up and the Breeze still a formidable foe, Toronto’s perch atop the East is as precarious as ever before, although we did say that last year too, and look what happened. My instincts say that last year’s drop-off in Masek-Kelly’s numbers was more of an aberration than the norm. Like Shriwise for Madison, Masek-Kelly is the go-to-guy in big moments, that downfield threat who you expect to deliver the tough catch with the game on the line. He remains just one of five players in the history of the league to accumulate a +90 or better during a single season, and the company he keeps—Freystaetter, DeGirolamo, Kittredge, and Allen are the others on the list—illustrates that he’s one of the elite players in the circuit. If not for Kittredge and Degirolamo, he probably would have won the MVP in 2015.
Isaiah Masek-Kelly towering for a goal against the Ottawa Outlaws in 2016. Ed. note: The Dallas Roughnecks announced this week that Kurt Gibson will be sidelined for the foreseeable future due to a pectoral injury and ensuing surgery.
10. Kurt Gibson, Dallas Roughnecks: A champion at every level, Gibson’s back in big D despite moving away from the Lone Star State in this past offseason. Now, he’ll reprise his role as a commuting lynchpin, much like 2014 with San Jose and 2015 with San Diego. It’s an interesting predicament, because you’ll often see commuting players contribute in smaller roles. Since they aren’t attending practice regularly, they take a more conservative approach on gameday and don’t look to personally dictate when the team has the disc. But Gibson has never been a guy to simply let the game come to him. When he’s on the field, even if he’s not functioning in an every-other-throw type role, his presence is felt. In each of the last three seasons, despite varying team success, Gibson’s numbers have remained remarkably steady. Last year was likely his best pro season yet, as he completed a career-best 96.5% of his passes and contributed on 44 scores in just nine games played. At 31 years old, his ultimate resume is the only one in the sport that can challenge Kittredge for superiority, and by the time he’s 32, perhaps he’ll be a step closer. If Gibson and the Roughnecks can win another AUDL championship in Montreal on August 27, Gibson will celebrate his 32nd birthday the next day with the legend’s legacy in his sights.
Kurt Gibson throwing the disc with so much power, not even a defender's swat can deter its flight path.
9. Mark Elbogen, Los Angeles Aviators: Some of his best friends were tugging at him during the offseason, wanting him to join the SoCal/Santa Barbara conglomerate forming in San Diego. But Elbogen, an LA guy at heart, remained loyal to the place where he enjoyed his top AUDL season last year. The UCLA alum has enjoyed very good complementary campaigns in 2014 and 2015, with 45 and 61 scores, respectively. In 2016, Elbogen went to a new level, finishing fifth in the league with 96 scores as he led LA to the postseason. Whereas he picked his spots and worked really well off others in previous years, his performance last season was much more of a commanding effort. The Aviators knew he could win his matchup and relied on Elbogen to initiate play, usually from downfield. As a leader, he set the tone that Los Angeles could compete with the best in the West. Despite a nightmare postseason performance against Seattle, the Aviators displayed how a west coast city outside of the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest can mix talents together and figure out a game plan to contend with the lasting powers. Elbogen’s fingerprints were all over this confident team identity. Despite the departures of several of his teammates, it would be foolish to count out Los Angeles in 2017. I can’t wait to watch Elbogen and Doi work together; they immediately could become one of the more fun duos in the league.
Highlights from Mark Elbogen's impressive 2016 season.
8. Greg Cohen, San Francisco FlameThrowers: Set to assume even more leadership responsibilities in 2017, Cohen returns as an impact defender whose offensive game has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. His big play ability coupled with his dramatic timing—whether it’s a last-second buzzer beater or a first-point layout Callahan—are both significant credentials in his quiver. With his unique blend of size and speed, he can match up with a variety of cutters. Even during the humbling experience of struggling to chase around Matt Rehder and Nick Stuart in the postseason, Cohen continued to bring the energy and the fire, two essential components that make him the all-around threat that he’s become. Even though he played more than twice as many defensive points as offensive points, he still finished tied for fourth in the league with a plus/minus of +73, a great testament to his ability to convert turnovers into breaks. With an even stronger supporting cast, Cohen, now at age 26, is in a grand position to enter his prime and churn out a string of spectacular seasons. The primary goal is to bring the AUDL title back to the Bay, but don’t be shocked if Cohen enjoys some significant individual success along the way.
Greg Cohen was the Player of the Week during the opening weekend of 2016. Can he repeat his stellar performance this Saturday?
7. Jeff Wodatch, D.C. Breeze: After criminally underrating Wodatch in 2016, I refuse to make the same mistake again. This guy is just an incredibly intelligent and durable burner. Having developed great chemistry with his D.C. teammates, the collective trust has enabled him to become something like an East Coast version of Joel Schlachet. The body type is a little different, but around the end zone, his quickness is similarly deadly to the opposing defense. Like Kolick, presumably even more will be asked of Wodatch this season, as the veteran offensive player seeks to replicate his 75-score season from a year ago. Though his younger brother, John, made plenty of highlights in his pro debut with New York, it was usually Jeff that finished with team bragging rights after a bunch of too-close-for-comfort family battles. The Breeze won three different one-goal games against the Empire last year, all of them requiring a little luck along the way. In the offseason, despite no official scoreboard, New York would likely get the edge from most judges’ cards. New York’s additions and D.C.’s subtractions are impossible to ignore. But when the two rivals meet this spring, the 29-year-old Jeff Wodatch will have a lot to say about D.C.’s place in the East Division hierarchy. It’s his second AUDL season, and he’s already proven he can be nearly impossible to stop.
Jeff Wodatch earned Second Team All-AUDL honors in 2016, in addition to earning the Player of the Week in Week 10.
6. Ryan Drost, New York Empire: It’s easy to look at the Drost twins as interchangeable defensive monsters, but that is a far too simple characterization. Mike Drost remains a very good player, checking in just outside the top 50 of the MVP discussion. Ryan Drost is coming off arguably the greatest season in Empire history, mixing his traditional block-hunting ways with a more polished and ambitious offensive approach. Athletically, he can match up with anybody. And as he gained confidence with newcomers like John Wodatch and Jeff Babbitt, they showed glimpses of being an unstoppable force. Drost, who will be 28 this August, was one of just seven players in the league last year to generate at least 30 blocks. Of those seven players, no one scored more than the Amherst alum. More than any statistical motivation, Drost and the Empire bring a hungry dose of unfinished business to the 2017 season. They still have never beaten Toronto, but the pieces are there for that to happen this spring or summer. We’ll see if the Empire, led by Drost, can put those pieces together correctly and reach new heights as a team.
Ryan Drost bombing a half-field hammer on a dime to send New York to overtime in Week 11 against the DC Breeze.
5. Peter Graffy, Madison Radicals: We’re getting to the cream of the crop, and with Graffy, you have arguably the most accomplished two-way player in the history of the league. He’s led the AUDL in blocks in two of the past three years, and his offensive talent as both a thrower and cutter are undeniable at this point. Last year, his plus/minus ranked third in the league at +79, behind Freystaetter and Burton. And unlike years past, you did not ever get the feeling that Graffy was a product of the Madison system, a thought that would occasionally creep into your mind in previous seasons. The Radicals played a lot of man defense in 2016, complementing their accomplished but no longer as novel zone—featuring the double-teaming mark, four wings, and usually Graffy deep—an alignment that has generated so many blocks throughout the team’s reign atop the Midwest. Graffy is fortunate to have an army of talented and committed teammates, but when you watch the Radicals regularly, you see his polish and instincts that rival any other player in the league. As an MVP candidate, you know that his team will be in the mix; which means that, individually, Graffy will be too.
Peter Graffy doing it at both ends of the field, getting the block and then the soaring goal among three defenders.
4. Cassidy Rasmussen, San Francisco FlameThrowers: Of all the gifted players who were not among the 10 men chosen to be on the initial 2017 USA World Games squad, Rasmussen’s absence surprised me the most. It also compels me to rank him higher on this list, since his abilities will presumably be targeted on the rest of the West Division of the AUDL. The argument against his inclusion on the World Games roster is probably the following: He lacks great size, and he’s dealt with nagging injuries the past couple years, the type of things that may not prevent him from competing but may hamper his capacity to perform at his highest possible level. When he’s been healthy, though, his ceiling is among the clouds, especially for someone who’s slightly less than six feet. As a cutter, his body moves like a pinball bouncing off rubber barricades, able to change direction with great fluidity and elevate with a springy surge. Of course, he can also stay back and handle, possessing a crafty approach and All-AUDL caliber savvy in terms of vision and decision-making. Overall, Rasmussen has built himself into a compact, explosive ultimate playmaking machine, and the FlameThrowers will benefit greatly from having one of their original captains back in the fold in 2017.
Pro career highlights from Cassidy Rasmussen.
3. Jeff Babbitt, New York Empire: No one in the history of the AUDL has ever recorded 40 blocks and 40 goals in the same season, but that plateau seems within reach for Babbitt, the former UMass megastar who made his pro debut last June after concluding his collegiate career in Amherst. The closest to achieve this feat was Jonathan Helton back in his first MVP season of 2012 with the AlleyCats, when he totaled 46 blocks and 34 goals in the league’s inaugural season. The league has obviously gotten exponentially more deep and challenging in the five years since, but Babbitt’s 2016 half-season of 20 blocks and 19 goals seems like just a surface scratching of what he can truly be at this level. The Empire have invested a great deal in the 23-year-old wunderkind, the type of guy they believe can elevate their franchise to the pinnacle of the sport. He’s young, hungry, confident, and surrounded by plenty of skilled teammates who are probably eager to see him do all sorts of unprecedented things in this game. Regardless of the numbers, which will probably be eye-popping assuming he stays healthy, his MVP credentials may boil down to whether or not his team can rise above its divisional rivals. It’s safe to say that he will be a fan favorite; whether his team can truly seize the East Division torch, that remains to be seen.
Jeff Babbit's impact for the Empire last season was as immediate as it was impressive.
2. Jimmy Mickle, Dallas Roughnecks: As Championship Weekend was about to begin last August in Madison, Beau Kittredge told me that Jimmy has gotten too good, and Beau couldn’t be on his team anymore because he had to try and put him back in his place. Good luck, Beau, on something that is way easier said than done. For at 25 years old, Mickle is presumably on the verge of those very special, peak-of-his-powers type years. He’s capable of anything and everything on the field, as a thrower, cutter, defender, or whatever, and he plays with a combination of power and grace that is really rare. Whereas occasionally the game would seem to speed up on him in his first pro season, he has reached a comfort zone where he can picture the action unfolding before it happens. He’s a dynamite deep threat in that narrowly defined role, but he’s also the most dangerous reset in the sport. Power position or not, when he secures a dump or a slash, the defense is virtually on its heels. This threatening presence exists at all times, and he still has managed to play with a calm poise that belies his years. There’s a reason everyone considered him a no-doubt choice to represent the USA in Poland this summer. In that international endeavor, Jimmy will be Beau’s teammate again. In the AUDL, however, we are entering the prime years of the Mickle era, and there’s every reason to believe he will be an MVP contender for a long time to come.
Jimmy Mickle was the only player in the league 2016 to earn Player of the Week honors twice, in Week 2 and Week 14 (shown).
1. Mischa Freystaetter, Jacksonville Cannons: Many may disagree with my opinion, but I truly believe that, ironically, the MVP is in fact a team award that’s given to an individual. It’s too simple to always go with the ‘best player on the best team’ approach, but some level of organizational success is necessary to declare one player to be the premier individual in a team game. In 2016, Freystaetter’s personal glory, complete with several AUDL records like 95 goals and a plus/minus of +121, was second to none. It was the greatest offensive season that any individual has had in the five-year history of the league. But as previously discussed, the Cannons crumbled as a team, winning only five games. Freystaetter was unquestionably an all-league performer, but his extraordinary performance could not overcome his team’s relative ineptitude in a sport where the #1 goal is not to accumulate goals, but to win games. With a refreshed mindset in 2017, along with new roster reinforcements and obvious motivation, it’s hard to imagine Jacksonville not making a sizable jump in the coming months. Some may think that the towering Freystaetter will have to sacrifice a large chunk of his projection for the betterment of the team, but I actually don’t think that’s the case. By putting more good players around him, it’s not gonna prevent the Cannons handlers from continuing to feed their 6’7” beast. There’s no tougher matchup in the league, and if he stays healthy, he’s likely to compile another plus/minus in triple digits, something that only he and Tyler DeGirolamo have ever done in the history of the league. Jacksonville is ready to contend again in the South, and when they do, their one-of-a-kind weapon will regain the primary MVP trait that he lacked a year ago. On the verge of the 2017 season, Cannons’ cutter Mischa Freystaetter is the league’s most likely future MVP.
Highlights from Mischa Freystaetter's record-shattering performance in 2016.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly during the AUDL regular season and will be monthly staple during the offseason. Got a comment or question about the AUDL or the current state of ultimate? E-mail Evan Lepler at AUDLMailbag@gmail.com. Feedback can also be levied on twitter: @EvanLepler