The Tuesday Toss: Parity and Chaos in the AUDL
June 6, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
The results seem to get wackier every week, and the most recent drama epitomized the cacophony of crazy that is the 2017 AUDL season.
Here are 10 quick bullet points from Week 10:
- Four games were decided by one.
- Four other games were decided by two or three.
- Road teams went 8-7, the fourth time in ten weeks that visiting teams won at least 50% of their games.
- The San Diego Growlers (4-5) went 2-0 on the road, giving the Growlers three straight wins on the road. Before May 27, they had lost their previous nine road games dating back to 2015.
- The Madison Radicals (5-2) lost at home in the regular season for the first time since May 12, 2013, snapping an absurd streak of 30 straight wins at Breeze Stevens in the regular season.
- The DC Breeze (6-3) won their seventh straight game since 2015 over the New York (2-5), five of which have been decided by one point.
- The Raleigh Flyers (8-1) won its fourth straight—and third game this —over the Jacksonville Cannons (6-3), three of which have been decided by one point.
- The San Jose Spiders (6-2) and Seattle Cascades (4-2), the top two in the West Division entering the week, both lost at home.
- The Austin Sol (2-7), Chicago Wildfire (2-6), Indianapolis AlleyCats (2-6), and Philadelphia Phoenix (2-6), four teams who had four wins combined through the end of May, all won a game this past weekend.
- The Minnesota Wind Chill (7-0), the only remaining undefeated team in the league, dodged the mayhem. A quirk in the schedule left the Wind Chill is the only idle franchise in the league in Week 10.
These are just a handful of the headlines from an action-packed weekend. It’s now time to try and make sense of it all, a challenging and perhaps foolhardy endeavor.
More than likely, the results and takeaways from this week will become irrelevant by next Tuesday.
The Full Field Layout
Where do we start?
How bout with a squad that looked destined for disappointment. Suddenly, a 2-0 trip has transformed a West Division also-ran into a serious threat.
The San Diego Growlers, coming off a 2-12 campaign, picked up their third and fourth wins of the season by squeaking out a pair of nailbiters in the Pacific Northwest. After a 1-5 start in which the Growlers struggled to find the right fit for all their new pieces, San Diego has now won three straight road games to rise to 4-5. And with four of their final five games a home, the Growlers are within striking distance of the first playoff berth in franchise history.
Three weeks after falling to Vancouver in double overtime, the Growlers battled through six lead changes and made the clutch plays when it counted to hold off the Riptide 25-23 on Saturday evening north of the border.
For the fourth game in a row, Hunter Corbett led the Growlers in plus/minus, gathering six goals, two assists, and two Ds in San Diego’s slim win.
“Hunter Corbett should be in [the] MVP talks,” said Dom Leggio, who added three goals and two assists of his own in the Growlers’ victory. “He is playing as well as any teammate I’ve ever had. His throws and breaks are so smooth, and combine that with his motor, he is a nightmare. I’m glad he’s on our side this year.”
Hunter Corbett earned Week 9 Player of the Week honors in the AUDL, and has been on a tear in recent weeks.
As an O-line cutter, Corbett has teamed up with Sean Ham, Jesse Cohen, Max Hume, and Travis Dunn as the downfield pistons over the past few weeks. Together, this quintet has found a consistent groove.
“Any one of those guys is good enough to draw the opponent’s best defender, which leaves one or two of them cruising live-side for gains on any given point,” Leggio explained. “Our offense also went four-for-four converting breaks after the D got a turn and we called timeout, which was huge.”
Capitalizing on Riptide mistakes was almost as important as forcing Vancouver turnovers near the goal-line. Steven Milardovich anchored the D-line’s effort with a couple key layout blocks in the red zone, finishing the game with four Ds overall. With the score tied at 22, San Diego scored three of the final four points to seal the deal.
“We really put the game away on defense,” said Milardovich. “Nate Page got a key block during that stretch and has been playing awesome defense all year for us.”
The victory over Vancouver set the tone for the weekend, but the journey would have been much less meaningful if not for Sunday’s effort in Seattle. The Cascades had been off for three weeks since winning in San Francisco, and San Diego’s effort prevented Seattle from rediscovering its mojo.
The Growlers held a narrow 11-10 lead at the half, but a strong third quarter increased the margin to four at 17-13. Although the Cascades were without superstar Mark Burton, they rallied back within one. Down the stretch, however, the San Diego offense was able to milk the game away.
“There was around two and a half minutes left in the fourth and we were up by two receiving the pull,” recalled Milardovich. “Our O-line had an awesome point where they killed almost two full minutes just maintaining possession before we finally punched in the score to go up by three with about 30 seconds left.”
By prevailing 22-19 in Seattle and handing the Cascades their second loss of the season, the Growlers have registered a critical break of serve in the season-long West Division quest. But it will mean very little unless they can consolidate the break by beating the Cascades again at home five days later. The AUDL Game of the Week train travels west for Seattle’s two-game SoCal swing, starting on Friday night in San Diego, where the Growlers could rise back to the .500 mark.
“I have been happy to see the guys maintain the belief that we were doing the right things on the field, even though we were struggling to get wins,” said San Diego Coach Kevin Stuart. “Grinding out these last three wins is a big thing for us to build from. I firmly believe that if we can stay disciplined on offense and maintain consistent effort on defense, we have the talent to win on any given night.”
“The team is really hungry right now and playing with a lot of confidence,” added Leggio. “Pretty excited for Friday.”
I’m a glutton for one-goal games. I bet you are too.
After four grueling quarters and sometimes 40 or 50 or even 60 points, it all can come down to one throw, one sky, or even one greatest.
We begin the odyssey of last-second drama with Jacksonville and Raleigh, two squads that met in North Carolina for the first time this year after the Flyers won a pair in Florida. In their last meeting, just two weeks prior, Goose Helton found Jacob Mouw with no time left to give the Flyers an epic and improbable 21-20 win. By the thinnest of margins, the Flyers entered the weekend atop the South and the league’s power rankings, while the Cannons were perfect against everyone except their rivals from Raleigh.
Highlights from the Week 8 Raleigh at Jacksonville thriller.
This past Saturday, each team made first-half runs. A bunch of first quarter breaks boosted Raleigh to an 8-4 lead, while Jacksonville rallied back in a hurry to tie the score at nine. Destined for another heartstopper, the squads were all square at the half, even at 12 apiece.
Full game footage from June 3 between Jacksonville and Raleigh.
“It seems like every game this year has had a slightly different theme,” shared Flyers Head Coach Mike Denardis. “In this version, our defense came out red hot, getting six breaks in the first 12 points. But we became complacent and gave up our own string of breaks. Both teams played incredibly clean from here and we mostly traded until the end of the game.”
After Raleigh registered a break to tie the game at 19 late in the third, the teams went back and forth like heavyweight fighters.
Terrence Mitchell elevates between two Jacksonville defenders for the huge sky goal to knot the game at 20 apiece.
“Both teams played an excellent fourth quarter,” said Jacksonville’s Chris LaRocque. The O-lines counterpunched their way to 14 consecutive holds, and with around 90 seconds remaining in the fourth, the score stood at 26-all. “I haven’t watched the film," LaRocque continued. "But I think here was only one turnover in the quarter. Unfortunately, it was our turnover, and they capitalized on it.” Cannons cutter Andrew Roney coughed up a clap-catch near the middle of the field, moments after Jordan Huston’s huge up-line layout kept possession alive. Huston’s quick swing clanged off both of Roney’s hands and fell to the ground, giving the Flyers a chance to take their first lead of the second half.
Raleigh’s Jonathan Nethercutt picked up the disc and began the possession with a swing to his right. Matt Bode, Jeff Nordgren, and Justin Allen all got touches, and Allen had the disc as Nethercutt took off deep.
“Their offense was completing every deep shot they took,” said LaRocque. “When Justin caught that under and Nethercutt was streaking, I knew the throw was going to him.”
While the Flyers coaches may have wanted Allen to bleed more time off the clock, Allen fulfilled LaRocque’s expectation, shooting his majestic flick toward the goal line.
“I knew there was less than a minute in the game, but I had no clue what was on the clock,” admitted Allen. “Once I got the disc, I saw [Nethercutt] set up his cut and determined how far away he was. He was less than 20 yards downfield, streaking to the open side with Cole [Sullivan] on him. I know Nutt would win he footrace and decidedly threw to that matchup. I was completely soaked and the disc was wet upon release; it didn’t feel perfect once it left my hand. I knew that I threw it slightly floaty and that Chris LaRocque was helping deep from the middle of the field, but I felt that the late outside-in edge on the disc gave Nutt the advantage.”
In between several Cannons, Nethercutt accelerated, elevated, and skied for the remarkable grab with 40 seconds remaining, giving the Flyers their first lead since the score was 12-11.
“[Nethercutt] made a great play, as he tends to do in those types of situations,” said Denardis.
Jacksonville trailed 27-26, but the Cannons still had a final chance.
“As I was jogging back to the line, I saw we had about 40 seconds to score, so we had enough time to work the disc down the field and score,” said LaRocque. “When I dove for Mischa [Freystaetter’s] pass to me, I thought there were about six seconds on the clock, so I looked for our team and threw it [to the end zone.] At first, I thought I threw it out the back, so I was glad to see I kept it in bounds. With our height—Mischa, [Michael] Fairley, and Travis [Catron], I always feel good about our chances to win jump ball situations. Both Fairley and D-Rich made great plays on the disc, but D-Rich’s positioning allowed him to get the D.”
Indeed, one of the league’s end-of-quarter kings, David Richardson, leaped to his apex and deflected the disc in the pack of desperate, lunging bodies. Several still photos revealed that Fairley had his fingers wrapped around the disc, but he could not secure possession and hang on in the chaotic moment. The plastic hit the ground, the clock was gone, and the Flyers had handed heartbreak to the Cannons yet again.
“All the last second wins have a similar feeling of elation,” said Denardis. “I just keep reminding the team, if we execute like we have the ability to, we can make them less thrilling.”
Highlights from June 3.
The Flyers improved to 8-1, and three of their remaining games are against winless Nashville. Raleigh remains a half-game ahead of 8-2 Dallas, and the Flyers know that if they win out, the journey to Montreal will go through Tobacco Road. Meanwhile, the Cannons fell to 6-3, with all three of their losses coming against the same opponent.
“This was a tough one,” LaRocque admitted. “Probably even tougher than the last one. We have now lost to them twice by one point, and I feel the game could have gone either way both times. I thought we played better offensively in this game than we did the last game against them. We still have things to improve on, so we will continue to learn from our mistakes and strive to be better every chance we get. I think we realize that we can work harder and make some adjustments and give ourselves a better chance at beating Raleigh. There is still a lot of season left for us.”
The Cannons host 4-5 Atlanta this weekend; a win would give them a virtual four-game lead for the final playoff spot with four games to play. They also have one more trip to Raleigh on June 24.
“I mean, we are right there,” added Sullivan. “Losing by one on the road to the best team in the country and yet again blowing another lead, it’s always a learning experience. When we have the lead by one with four minutes left in the playoffs, hopefully we will be able to rise to the occasion and not do what we have done the last two times we have played them. We will see.”
The Chicago Wildfire returned home on Saturday after falling by one at Madison last weekend. Every close loss naturally leads to several agonizing ‘what ifs?’, but the Wildfire’s progress was obvious; they were clearly making strides. Though their record sat at 1-6 in the Midwest, their improving play certainly made them a dangerous team capable of an upset. The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds probably realized this pregame, and they definitely knew it postgame.
Full game footage from June 3.
Chicago bolted to a quick 3-0 lead and never trailed in Saturday’s slim 22-21 victory over Pittsburgh, impressively hanging on down the stretch despite the Thunderbirds’ late surge. After leading by as many as five, the Thunderbirds used a 3-0 run in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 19. It was the first tie of the game.
Still, the youthful Wildfire maintained their composure, holding on offense to lead 20-19 and 21-20. Then, a frenzied seven-turnover point ensued, and Chicago capped it in epic fashion. Bill Kluender, an AUDL rookie who graduated from University of Wisconsin last year, sprinted through the end zone and delivered a greatest back into the field of play, keeping possession alive. One throw later, the Wildfire led 22-20, and victory was just about secure.
“He was overthrown on an away shot to the end zone and stuck with it,” remembered Chicago’s Michael Pardo, who caught six more goals for the Wildfire in the win. “Honestly, everyone thought it was going to be a turnover, but Bill somehow made it work. It was definitely the nail in the coffin for Pitt, and it was one of the best moments that I’ve been a part of with the Wildfire. The fans and the team erupted; it was pretty special for us. We went up by two with about a minute and a half to go, and after they scored we got the disc back with 30 seconds and it was fairly easy to run down the clock.”
Game highlights from June 3 between Pittsburgh and Chicago.
Chicago Coach Adrian King attributed to the victory to his team’s cohesion, confidence, and consistency.
“I swear the alliteration was unintentional,” King joked.
Plus, the Wildfire made three highlight reel plays that proved instrumental to preserving the lead and hanging on. Von Alanguilan authored ‘a superman D,’ Alex Rummelhart bid and caught a difficult hammer in the end zone, and Kluender’s greatest late in the game served as the clincher.
“Those type of plays have a multiplier effect on our energy and the other team’s confidence,” said King.
Though it’s unlikely the Wildfire will transform their 1-6 record into a postseason resume this year, they are starting to see the fruits of their rebuilding labor, an often-arduous process. A win over a playoff contender like Pittsburgh only serves to bolster that journey.
“We’re starting to figure out what works well for us, both on offense and defense,” explained Wildfire handler Trent Kuhl. “Some of it’s line calling and some of it is strategy and experience. We’ve started most games off hot this season; this time we had the confidence to hold them off for four quarters.”
Pardo, who leads the entire league in goals with 40, echoed these sentiments.
“In the second half, Pittsburgh tightened their lines a little and their veterans definitely made a push,” he said. “We did a decent job matching their intensity. They did manage to get it close, and there was a little bit of that creeping feeling like ‘here we go again,’ but the game never felt out of our hands and I was confident that we would be able to pull out the win. We had a few stumbles towards the end, but we’ve been in that position many times before this season, and it was only a mater of time before we took care of business.”
Whereas the Wildfire had led basically wire-to-wire in their upset triumph, the Philadelphia Phoenix spent most of their Saturday night playing catch up. The DC Breeze scored the first two points of the game and led 5-1 before the Phoenix found their footing. Philly narrowed the gap to one on multiple occasions, but never found the equalizer until the game shifted to the fourth quarter.
Full game footage from June 3.
Neither side registered any breaks in the third, and the Breeze took a 17-16 edge into the final 12 minutes. In the fourth, Philadelphia’s offense opened with a confident turnover-free hold, creating the first tie of the game. But DC’s O-line responded with a smooth score of its own, and the string of cool offensive ultimate continued until the late moments. In fact, Philly and DC combined for an astounding 30 consecutive offensive holds until the game was even at 21 with just under two minutes to play.
After a DC throwaway, Glenn Poole picked up the disc and quickly connected short with Scottie Xu. Then, Xu wound up and launched a towering backhand huck toward Greg Martin, who skied over Markham Shofner for a spectacular goal and the game’s first break since early in the second quarter. With about 90 seconds remaining, the Phoenix had their first lead of the game at 22-21.
On the final point of regulation, Xu followed up his go-ahead assist with a critical D. Then, the Phoenix completed 13 passes to run the rest of the time off the clock. When Nicky Spiva hit Marques Brownlee with the game’s final throw, Brownlee, whose +6 led the way, kissed the disc to culminate the victory as the rest of the Phoenix stormed the field.
“The big thing was getting guys to buy into the expectation that, if we play well, we will be in a position to win, and that we are capable of playing well,” said Spiva, who led the way with five assists and 53 completions. “The entire O-line played well, especially [Sean] Mott, Quinn [Hunziker], [Mike] Arcata, and Will [Hoehne]; great downfield crew. DC switched to soft junk looks after we hit some deep shots on them, and we did pretty well moving through the junk looks.”
Highlights from June 3 between DC and Philadelphia.
It was Philadelphia’s first win over DC since 2013, and the Breeze had to turn around quickly to return home for another tough battle with New York on Sunday.
“To this moment, we still haven’t really talked about what caused us to lose that [Philly] game, but that was on purpose, because we knew we had a huge game against New York,” explained DC’s Max Cassell.
Close games between DC and New York are nothing new. Ever since the Empire beat the Breeze 21-13 on June 21, 2015, the two squads have only played super tight games, with DC winning them all.
On this particular day, the Empire again showed signs of life, using a junky zone defense to run off multiple first quarter breaks. Of course, New York’s plaguing inconsistency also reared its head in the first half, as an early 5-2 lead quickly evaporated into a 6-all draw.
By the end of their 9-2 run, DC had built a four-goal lead that lingered until late in the game, when the Empire roared back to create an amazingly dramatic and drawn out conclusion.
“The end of the game was a whirlwind,” acknowledged New York’s Sean Keegan. “Each team probably could have and should have won the game multiple times. But DC-NY is always exciting, and both teams did everything they could to avoid winning for as long as possible. Our D-line had an incredible sequence of events at the end of regulation. Another monster [Jeff] Babbitt D and then a lightning quick strike from D to O and we scored with like five seconds left. It was honestly absurd.”
Highlights from June 4 between New York and DC.
The Breeze had been up by one with the disc with less than a minute left, but could not close it out and the game ventured into overtime after Babbitt’s equalizer.
Failing to maintain possession and run out the clock when you’re ahead and in control was a painful way for DC to give up the lead. Unfortunately for New York, they would soon experience the same exact feeling.
Overtime began with an interminably long back and forth sequence.
“At one point in OT, I looked at the clock and realized the first three and a half minutes had run down without either team scoring,” remarked DC’s Jonathan Neeley. “Just a really long, turnover-filled point. And then, once they did score, we were marching up but then turned it with something like 20 seconds left. I was thinking we needed some kind of miracle to even things up. Luckily, Rowan [McDonnell] came up with a huge block and Alan [Kolick] and Tyler [Monroe] did their things.”
Just like DC had done at the end of regulation, New York’s error kept DC’s door of possibility slightly ajar.
“All we have to do is maintain possession for 30 seconds and we get the win,” Keegan said. “Instead, we turned it over on our very first pass and then DC scrambles into the end zone to tie it. Crushing.”
Each team only scored once in the five minute overtime period, and a universe point beckoned in double OT. The Breeze were set to receive.
“We work it a few throws, and Lloyd [Blake] finds lots of space deep,” Cassell remembered. “Nate Prior throws a 50ish yard flick to Lloyd, who switches shoulders and lays out for the grab two yards short of the end zone. He pivots for five stalls looking for a score before we call our sudden death timeout."
“Stopped disc. Vert stack start. Alan is our distraction. The play was set up for Ty to score. New York came out with a bracket. Alan went left. Ty went right drawing two. I sat where I was, and game over.”
Cassell got open by barely moving, and Blake’s quick trigger found the free target in the small pocket of end zone space. Cassell emphatically spiked the disc to cap the Breeze’s 18-17 double overtime triumph.
DC’s dizzying weekend, including a one point loss and the double OT win, left the Breeze at 6-3, a half-game back of first-place Toronto in the East. Conveniently, the Breeze will host the Rush on Sunday in their final regular season meeting. Having split the first two showdowns, the coveted head-to-head tiebreaker is on the line his weekend.
“We’re definitely looking forward to Sunday against Toronto,” said Neeley. “It’s true that they’re just way better than they were at the start of the season, which isn’t surprising. I think the challenge for us is just to keep pushing and get to that state of sustained excellence that we want. Like, we show it in flashes, on the defensive and offensive ends, and we were just talking today about how if you look at the tape from our first Toronto game, we’re so much better than we were at the start of the year. And we’ve felt it—there have been things we’ve explicitly set out to work on that we’ve truly seen progress on. We’re just still striving to put it all together, and Toronto will be a huge test of our progress there.”
Meanwhile, the Empire slipped to 2-5, dropping their fourth straight game, three of which have been against the Breeze (by a total of five points). After Head Coach Tom Gibbons and Offensive Assistant Gary Dixon both stepped aside from their duties following the team’s 2-3 start, former Defensive Assistant C.J. Ouellette stepped into the head-coaching spotlight. Despite two more tight losses against the Breeze, Ouellette still expressed optimism about certain things he saw.
“I definitely bring more of a defensive mindset, so the biggest difference for me has been taking on the offense,” said Ouellette, who played for the Connecticut Constitution in 2012 and the Empire from 2013-2016 before joining the coaching staff this season. “We haven’t changed any of our core offensive strategies, but we have been working on new ways to adapt them to our players and different situations. I’m leaning a lot on Jeff Babbitt, Sean Keegan, Matt Auletta, and some of the other veterans as well. They have all been very helpful, and I am starting to get the hang of it.”
New York does have its next six games against Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Montreal. With half a season remaining, the Empire still have time to turn their season around and keep their string of four straight playoff appearances alive.
“Right now, our only concern is Philly in two weeks,” said Ouellette. “We can’t afford to look beyond that game. They beat DC the day before our loss to them, so we know they can play with anyone. We’re going to continue working on our offensive strategy and getting on the same page in certain situations. With the individual talent we have, if we can figure that out, we can play with any team in the league.”
Through ten weeks in the AUDL, there are 110 players who still have 100% completion percentages for the season. As you might expect, most of these individuals have not touched the disc too often.
In this group, only three have completed more than 50 passes. Pittsburgh’s Tad Wissel has gone 70-for-70. Raleigh’s Jacob Fairfax is 84-for-84. DC’s Nathan Prior is in a totally different realm. Through the Breeze’s first nine games, Prior has played in five contests and completed all 139 of his passes. His universe point huck on Sunday against New York may have been the most ambitious and excellent of them all.
“Nate Prior once proved once again to be our secret weapon,” said Max Cassell, who played with Prior at the University of Maryland. “He has all the throws and just the perfect temperament for an O-line handler. He has throws that you just can’t stop. When I mark him in drills, I know exactly what he wants to throw and I still can’t do anything about it. If a player is open, there isn’t much you can do to stop Nate from getting to him. It’s taken a while for people to see just how good Nate is, but it doesn’t surprise me that [Breeze Head Coach] Darryl [Stanley] is the one to see it.”
While only four of his 139 throws have been assists, Prior’s valuing of the disc has been an invaluable asset for the Breeze. Not too shabby for an AUDL rookie with plenty of tempting deep threats to target.
He will throw a turnover eventually. All good handlers do.
But through Week 10, Prior has made a name for himself with steadiness and poise. After helping to lead Maryland to its first ever appearance at College Nationals in 2015, the Breeze are hoping that he can now help steer the franchise toward its first trip to the AUDL Final Four.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
The Austin Sol went 1-1 this past weekend, moving their record to 2-7. Neither a win in Nashville nor a loss in Atlanta were particularly surprising results, but the Sol really needed to sweep their road trek to try and keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
With that said, you gotta give the biggest Sol fans some credit, as the most devoted Austin believers are not giving up hope on a playoff berth just yet, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
The gentlemen of Sol’d Out, the unofficial and hilarious media crew that loves its Texas team unconditionally, tweeted on Monday exactly what would need to happen for the Sol to make an improbable surge into the postseason.
Ok: @atxsol win out, Jax goes 1-4 (losing to Atl), Atl goes 2-4. Sol beat Jax by 9 to win point dif, make playoffs. STILL ALIVE! - WH
— Sol'd Out! (@soldoutulti) June 5, 2017
While I don’t view this hypothetical as a very realistic premise, I love that there are passionate fans maintaining belief.
If somehow the Sol’d Out crew proved to be prophetic, it sure would be a fun story to write. And it might read like a Hollywood script.
I wonder who would play Dr. Flatball in the movie…
After losing in Chicago on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds were excited to have a bunch of roster reinforcements traveling to Indianapolis on Sunday. Max Thorne, Tyler DeGirolamo, Jack Slevin, and Tad Wissel all missed the opening game of the weekend, but were journeying together toward Indiana when Thorne sent out an ominous text message to the entire team about 90 minute before the opening pull.
The text showed Thorne “pulled over to the side of the road, about 15 miles away, saying his car broke down,” explained Pittsburgh’s Mark Fedorenko. “Initiate panic to find them a car to go pick at least three of them up.”
Of course, soon thereafter, Fedorenko and the rest of his teammates discovered they had been pranked.
“Less than two minutes later, in typical Tad/Slevin fashion, they waltz into the locker room like nothing happened,” he said. “I’m proud to say that the mobilization to rescue them happened instantly, but less so to say I fell for the trap.”
Despite falling behind 10-4 in the first half, the Thunderbirds roared back with an 11-2 onslaught, building a lead that would not be relinquished. The AlleyCats battled to the end, but Pittsburgh prevailed 28-26 to salvage one win on the weekend when five different collegiate Thunderbirds made their season debuts. They are hopeful that the quintet of Slevin, Dillon Tranquillo, Sam VanDusen, Carl Morgenstern, and Thomas Edmonds will give them a boost for their stretch run.
Pat Earles, who dished 10 assists in the two games over the weekend, was particularly excited about what the young college crew will bring to the fold.
“DT is a stud defender with dangerous speed and knows when to cut,” Earles said. “SamVan brings a huge spark to the D-line offense and can cover the opponent’s best player. Carl is one of the best defenders I’ve ever played with and is incredibly smart. He causes a lot of trouble in the opponent’s backfield and then will take off on a turn to score goals. Him and Sam have a great connection. Jack is a rock on O and has all the throws to distribute the disc accordingly. He’s got an incredibly mind for the game. He also plays with a fire in his gut. Thomas is overall just an incredibly well-rounded player and can do anything asked of him. He played O-line vs. Chicago on Saturday and then switched over to D for Indy on Sunday. He made huge contributions both days on both lines.”
The Thunderbirds sit at 4-3 with a week off prior to welcoming Madison to town on June 17.
“We’re 4-3, but I don’t think we’ve even scratched our potential,” Earles added. “We’ve been starting games slow, which puts us in these holes early and we’ve closed deficits in all our losses but fell short in the end. I’m confident this team can hang with anyone if we put together a solid four quarters of play. Figuring out how to start games and maintain that high level of play for 48 minutes is the challenge we’re facing, but I don’t have an ounce of doubt that we’re fully capable of accomplishing this.”
Seven on the Line
1. While first-place teams like San Jose, Seattle, and DC all stumbled this past weekend, the Toronto Rush kept on rolling with a comfortable 33-23 victory over the Ottawa Outlaws. Both teams were missing a handful of their top young players who were attending Canadian U-24 tryouts in Montreal, and the Rush had the depth and veteran presence to prevail. “This really put the emphasis on the old guard,” said Rush Captain Thomson McKnight. “Since we were missing quite a few guys, it opened the door for the midseason signing of former [Toronto club] stars Kirk Nylen and Shawn Chua, who both looked right at home in the pro game and made an impact right away.” Isaiah Masek-Kelly registered a season high five assists, while Andrew Carroll’s +7 captured his solid all-around day with three Ds, three goals, two assists, and 24 completions with no turnovers. “This coming weekend will be very big for us,” said McKnight, when asked about the team’s upcoming road trip to Philly and DC. “It gives us a chance to really put some space between us and the rest of the division, but as we have seen the last few weeks, anything can happen, and if we don’t play well, we could find ourselves looking back upwards. Our main focus right now is this coming road trip starting in Philadelphia, against a team that has shown if you try and look past them, they will surprise you. After that, we have a short turnaround to our match with DC, which could be a pivotal game for deciding how our division shakes down. It’s going to be a tough weekend, but we are eagerly anticipating it.”
2. In the one Friday night game of Week 10, the Montreal Royal offered another illustration of why they should be taken seriously as a contender in the East Division. Whereas they had dropped five of their previous six meetings against Ottawa, the Royal trounced the Outlaws on the road this time around. Montreal roared on a 9-2 run spanning the middle quarters to widen the gap in a comfortable 31-22 triumph. “It felt good to finally get a win against Ottawa by more than a point,” admitted Royal Captain Kevin Quinlan. The story of the night was Montreal’s French trio of Quentin Bonnaud, Steve Bonneau, and Nasser M’Bae Vogel. Collectively, they totaled 12 goals and 15 assists, with just one turnover in 124 throws. “I think the storylines are in the stats,” said Quinlan. “The French Connection! Offensively, they were hitting so the other guys on O recognized early and kept feeding the French boys. It was a pretty crazy performance.” At 5-4, the Royal will have a chance to beat Ottawa again this weekend, as the Outlaws travel to Montreal on Saturday.
Highlights from June 2 between Montreal and Ottawa.
3. For about three quarters, the Cross Coast Challenge clash between Dallas and Madison had instant classic potential. Played in front of a packed and lively crowd of nearly 1,400 at Breese Stevens Field, the Radicals won each of the first two quarters, 5-4, taking a 10-8 lead into the half. The third quarter commenced with nine consecutive O-line holds, but the Roughnecks finally broke through when the score was 14-13. Matt Bennett’s bomb to Jay Froude not only made the SportsCenter Top 10; more importantly, it tied the game. The Radicals offense suddenly got flustered and the Roughnecks D-line registered breaks on each of the next two points as well to camp a 4-0 run and make it 16-14. Madison scored with 21 seconds left in the third to inch back within one, but Dallas brilliantly countered on a quick strike possession, beating the buzzer when Dylan Freechild found Brandon Malecek with one second left. Then, the Roughnecks poured it on even further by breaking the Radicals on the first two points in the fourth. By the end of regulation, the defending champs had closed the game on a magnificent 11-3 run to win 23-17. “We played a bit scared after they made a run,” admitted Madison Coach Tim DeByl. “They also played very well, with only one unforced turn.” The Roughnecks were hopeful that Jacksonville would knock off Raleigh and boost Dallas back into first, but the Flyers’ narrow win kept the Roughnecks a half-game back. Dallas is idle this weekend and will host Austin on June 17. With only one more remaining road game (at Austin on July 15), the Roughnecks will remain in the state of Texas for the rest of the regular season.
Highlights from June 3 between Dallas and Madison.
4. Overshadowed by all of the tight games and their rival’s two-game sweep on the road, the Los Angeles Aviators’ 28-23 triumph in San Jose also sent shockwaves through the West Division. Not only did it snap the Spiders’ six-game winning streak, but it also kept the Aviators within two games of the three-team pack that’s sitting atop the West. Even though a loss on Sunday in San Francisco dropped the Aviators to 4-4, they still certainly control their destiny in a division where anyone can beat everyone. It was also impressive to note that LA’s win over San Jose came without standouts Mark Elbogen and Eric Lissner. Eli Friedman, excelled on offense with four goals, four assists, and 36 completions without a turnover. For the first time all season, Tom Doi played primarily on the O-line, giving the Aviators another dangerous cutter. “Eli played well, but I was impressed with most of our O-line,” said LA defensive stalwart Zach Theodore, who mustered four Ds in Sunday’s setback at San Fran. “Tom and Brent [George] were very consistently open under, Tim [Beatty] also worked hard on the field and it paid off. Bryan Nguyen made some incredible catches, per usual. It looked like everyone stepped up their game without Mark and Eric.” Several Aviators also praised Andrew Padula for his defense, crediting him with slowing down San Jose standout Justin Norden on Saturday. “I thought we were too relaxed on defense and they were sharp,” said Spiders Coach Tyler Grant. “We also ended up with a few more unforced errors than usual, so the combination of all that led to our loss.” The Spiders and FlameThrowers are now even atop the West ahead of their showdown in Oakland this Saturday.
Highlights from June 3 between Los Angeles and San Jose.
5. The Atlanta Hustle had the fortune of being rested when they took the field to face an Austin team on the second day of a back-to-back. With that said, seemingly every week, a fatigued roster knocks off a fresh one. Obviously, nothing is guaranteed. Considering that the three previous meetings between Atlanta and Austin had been decided by one or two, it had to feel a little abnormal when the Hustle stretched the lead to four several times in the second half on Sunday. Though the spread never got wider than that, the Hustle hung on to win by three. Turns out they were one point away from free pizza! “[Assistant Coach] Stu [Downs] offered to buy the team pizza if we won by four or more, but unfortunately, we only managed [to win by] three,” said Hustle Captain Matt Smith, who led the team-effort with seven goals. Head Coach Greg Swanson was particularly proud of the way his squad used its depth to wear down the Sol. “Spreading out the responsibility was important for us,” he said. “We had 18 players play 17 or more points, and only one player with three throwaways. We did a great job on defense to close out quarters. I believe we held the first three quarters pulling with 20+ seconds left each time.” The play of the game was undoubtedly Nathan Vickroy’s spectacular sky that helped to put the Sol away late in the fourth quarter. “That absolutely should be in the top ten this week; at least on the AUDL countdown, if not on SportsCenter,” said Smith. “You could more or less feel the energy drain from their sideline. “That’s not a knock against them, they battled the whole way through, but there was no denying that score significantly changed the equation.”
Nathan Vickroy's skying goal between two Austin defenders.
6. The Indianapolis AlleyCats also earned a win in the wild weekend, but they knew they missed an opportunity to go 2-0 and storm back into the Midwest race. Firstly, they handled the Mechanix 32-23 on Saturday, prevailing despite Detroit’s Johnny Bansfield putting on a show. Bansfield registered seven goals and eight assists in a tremendous all-around performance, but the AlleyCats used an 8-0 run in the first half to break the game open.
Rick Gross put up a +12 on Saturday, with seven goals, four assists, and one D. Indy’s D-line also made its fair share of plays. “Will K[asprzycki] had an incredible D where it looked like there was no way he could’ve gotten to it, but did,” said Indy’s Keenan Plew. “And Alex Hamilton was great as our deep making big plays on some of their hucks.” One day later, however, Plew and the AlleyCats experienced another version of their recurring nightmare. Up by a half-dozen in the first half, the Thunderbirds seized control and Indy never really recovered. “It’s kind of like Groundhog Day, the movie,” admitted Plew. “It’s frustrating because it’s either decision-making or execution mistakes each week.” While the Cats have primarily been plagued by their own mental mistakes, it was the physical errors that doomed them on Sunday against Pittsburgh. “For once, we were making mostly good decisions and execution is what killed us,” Indy’s Travis Carpenter opined. “They could not stop us from getting open and moving the disc. And we got plenty of Ds and opportunities off turns. But we had silly drops; turfed throws; stuff like that. So many of them. We also are just a mentally weak team that can’t seem to dig in and find that final gear like so many other great teams in history.” The AlleyCats, at 2-6, have suffered each of their last four losses by small margins, all within three points or less.
7. In off-field news, two nuggets from the past 48 hours certainly stand out. Firstly, how bout DC area high school ultimate coach Dave Ohls winning five thousand bucks by drilling a mannequin from 50 yards away at halftime of DC’s win over New York.
The crowd was hyped, and everyone was secretly jealous that they weren’t the one picked to try for the grand prize. Secondly, it was pretty cool to see the photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wearing a Team Canada ultimate jersey go viral (at least in ultimate circles) after it appeared in a GW article. Between Malia Obama’s appearance in a photo with a frisbee and Trudeau’s jogging apparel, the gradual exposure of our great game continues to spread. One day, hopefully these sights will all seem normal.
While there may only be nine games on the docket for Week 11, it is a pretty incredible slate of action. Consider this: in every game this weekend, at least one of the two teams is currently in playoff position. Beyond that, the top two teams in three different divisions will be squaring off!
In the East, the Toronto Rush and DC Breeze will meet for the final time in the regular season. In the Midwest, Minnesota and Madison will tangle for the second of their three scheduled meetings, with the Wind Chill hoping to remain undefeated. And in the West, San Jose and San Francisco reunite for the third of their four critical clashes.
Beyond these scrums for first place, the AUDL Game of the Week crew will be in SoCal for our only double-dip of the regular season, featuring three teams that are likely battling for one postseason berth. West Coast expert Chuck Kindred makes his 2017 broadcasting debut alongside yours truly as the Seattle Cascades take on San Diego on Friday night and Los Angeles on Saturday. Both games will be seen live on the Eleven Sports Network along with being streamed for free on AUDL.tv.
After 10 weeks of unpredictable parity and chaos, it’s anyone’s guess what happens next.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly on theAUDL.com during the season. 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