The Tuesday Toss: Flyers Prevail on Epic Buzzer Beater To Claim Top Spot In South
May 23, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
With less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation, overtime felt inevitable.
A traveling violation had pushed Raleigh in the wrong direction, and when Dave Snoke caught Jonathan Nethercutt’s reset with 18 seconds left, 70 yards separated him from the end zone the Flyers sought.
From downfield, Terrance Mitchell moved toward the disc, and Snoke fired a tight backhand his way. Jacksonville’s Jakeem Polk anticipated the release, poaching away from his man and launching himself horizontally. As he soared airborne, it looked certain he would reach the disc.
But as Mitchell and Polk intersected, Raleigh’s 21-year-old cutter somehow had reached the plastic first, maintaining possession through the collision. Time was still briskly ticking, though.
Mitchell swung it to his left and raced to his right. Jacob Mouw caught the swing, and sacrificed even more yardage to give the disc back to Snoke, who promptly fired around to Mitchell. He still was around 55 yards away from the end zone, and barely five seconds remained. Meanwhile, Mouw, from the handler area, had begun a full-field sprint down the other side of the field.
With his teammates yelling for him to throw it deep, Mitchell obliged. He wound up for a flick, but the disc had no distance. It was going to land well shy of the end zone.
Alertly, Raleigh’s Goose Helton, who had been ready to break for the goal line, came back to the disc. The timer had dwindled to less than two seconds left, and fortunately, Helton was facing the stadium scoreboard as Mitchell’s forehand flew his way. He knew he needed to hurry.
He whirled around and fired an off-balance, no-pivot, floaty backhand diagonally across the field. It left his hand with maybe four-tenths of a second remaining. In the end zone, there were two Jacksonville defenders and one Raleigh receiver.
In a blur, the buzzer sounded, the disc soared perfectly over both Cannons, and Mouw reached up for the two-handed claw catch that triggered two wildly different emotions. For the Flyers, in the white, an uproarious celebration began. The Cannons, in their black and gold, were catatonically stunned. Intense euphoria and utter despair, juxtaposed for all to see.
The final drive.
The Flyers’ 21-20 buzzer-beating victory was dramatic and shocking. The ramifications in the South division race were vast, and the way it ended was jawdropping and miraculous.
Most everyone, players and spectators alike, thought that the Flyers had lost their chance when Mitchell’s huck didn’t make it to the end zone. “Warning track power,” uttered one of his teammates jokingly after the game.
Count Raleigh Coach Mike Denardis among the masses who did not think Helton would be able to get off another throw. But when he saw Helton’s desperate release and then heard the buzzer, in that order, he knew the Flyers had it.
“[Goose] threw it, and I saw who was there, and I thought ‘Jake’s gonna catch the trash, like he always does,’” Denardis explained. “It was a great finish.”
Denardis’ confidence was bred from experience. He had seen Mouw come down with ‘trash’ before. In fact, when Mouw played for Denardis at UNC, his nickname on the team was ‘The Trashman.”
“I found some trash today,” said a smiling Mouw, who led the Flyers with four goals in the improbable comeback win. “I just saw a big throw go up to Goose, took a look at the clock, screamed his name, put my hand up, and ran to the end zone. He put an absolute dime in my hands…It was a great feeling. It was awesome.”
Raleigh, by winning in Jacksonville for the second time this season, improved to 7-1 atop the highly competitive South Division. Half of their remaining games are against winless Nashville, while two other contests will bring the Cannons to North Carolina.
Jacksonville slipped to 5-2, losing a three-goal lead over the final seven and a half minutes. Compared to the Flyers, the Cannons’ remaining schedule is much more daunting, with trips to Atlanta, Dallas, and Austin in addition to their pair of road games at Raleigh.
Regrouping after such a sudden and painful setback is typically a challenge, though the Cannons really felt like they played well for about three quarters on Saturday.
“Our defense broke the Raleigh offense many times, and we gained some much needed confidence from that,” said Jacksonville’s Chris LaRocque, who led his team with six assists despite playing 14 of his 24 points on the D-line. “We watched the Raleigh vs. Dallas game and decided that we wouldn’t allow Nethercutt to huck as much as he wanted.”
Nethercutt managed five assists, compared to the 13 he registered against the Roughnecks. But the Cannons still were undone by many of Raleigh’s role players, along with their own excruciating mistakes.
“I think we lost that game because the pressure got to us,” LaRocque added. “The entire game, our offense was content to throw as many passes as they needed to score. Raleigh had a very good strategy to limit our deep looks. They had flat marks on our big throwers and made them throw 30 or more passes. In the last quarter, we reverted back to our old ways. I think this is an amazing learning opportunity for our team. When we trust our system and play the right way, we can beat anyone.”
Game highlights from Saturday night.
When things mattered most, the Flyers showed an immense belief in their system and all of its pieces. On a team with plenty of stars—Nethercutt, Helton, Saul, Allen—it was a host of guys many would consider role players that made such a huge difference.
Trailing the entire second half, Nathan Goff found Danny Schmitt to even the score at 19 with 3:36 to go. About 90 seconds later, Jeff Nordgren connected with David Richardson for the go-ahead goal. Then, the relatively unknown Mouw registered the winner as time expired.
“Those role players all played key points,” said Denardis, who will try and lead UNC to its second national title in three years at College Nationals in Cincinnati this coming weekend. “Jake’s been with me through UNC, and he’s always been that guy who gets stuff done. A guy like Danny [Schmitt], you can see it in practice. He’s that close to being a great player. He’s still young. He knows pressure. He knows timing. At any point, any of our secondary players can just catch fire and turn into a great player.”
While they trailed for most of the night, the Flyers persevered and beat the Cannons for the seventh time in nine meetings. Four of these meetings have been decided by one goal, and two others were settled by two.
“We weren’t consistent the whole game, but we just kept fighting and pressuring them to make mistakes, and they started making them,” shared Denardis. “They started taking contested looks and they got a little panicky when the clock was ticking down. We closed out.
“We’ve been trying to preach all year about just sticking to the mantra of just trying to be calm and cool under pressure and trying to make sure you’re treating each individual point the same regardless of the score and regardless of the outcome on the prior point. We got away from that a little bit, but we focused enough to get the win.”
The business-like approach has been beneficial for the Flyers, though their final seconds on Saturday were anything but normal. A few days later, Raleigh’s walk-off win still reverberates as the most thrilling finish of the week in the AUDL.
Full game footage between Raleigh and Jacksonville from May 20.
While nothing else around the league quite matched the intensity, drama, and stakes of the conclusion in Jacksonville, several other games, including two other one-goal results on Saturday evening, came close during a 10-game Week 8.
The Full Field Layout
Right around the same time that Raleigh’s Jacob Mouw was celebrating his game-winning goal in Jacksonville, Atlanta’s Max Leonard launched an ambitious half-field hammer in the final seconds in Austin. It was the culmination of another classic between the Hustle and the Sol, two franchises that have been about as close as can be over the past two seasons.
Last year, Atlanta and Austin met twice and ventured into overtime both times, with the visiting team prevailing in each road venue. Saturday’s showdown produced almost identical circumstances, except overtime never arrived.
With just seven seconds remaining, Leonard’s majestic hammer angled over multiple defenders and somehow found the Hustle’s Christian Olsen for the go-ahead score, capping a 3-0 game-clinching run in the final minutes.
“When Max sent that hammer up, I went through a wild range of emotions,” Atlanta Captain Matt Smith acknowledged. “At first, I was calm because Max is a very conservative player and I assumed he wouldn’t throw it unless it was wide open. Then I looked downfield and panicked because it was not as open as I thought. Back to being calm because he was throwing to [Nathan] Vickroy, whose going to come down with 90% of those. Heart sank as I saw it sail over Vickroy’s head into what looked like a defender’s outreached arms. Finished on elation as I saw Christian pick up the trash.”
Smith was not the only one who was surprised when Leonard unleashed the daring upside-down attempt.
“I wasn’t wild about the throw when Max put it up, but I knew that we were at least going to OT if it didn’t connect,” admitted Atlanta Coach Greg Swanson. “That win was obviously necessary for keeping our playoff hopes alive.”
Austin had one last gasp, but Chase Cunningham’s gigantic ‘Hail Mary’ huck was thwarted by a four-pack of Hustle defenders as time expired, leaving another hometown crowd in a state of disbelief. Atlanta had avoided overtime and prevailed 28-27, a victory that improved the Hustle to 3-3. Afterwards, they admitted that the win had not always felt inevitable.
The final three minutes of play from Atlanta's come-from-behind win against Austin.
“The Austin game was tight the whole way, but it felt like it was slipping away from us in the fourth,” Swanson explained. “We put pressure on our O-line to score faster and switched to riskier defenses because we fell behind early in the fourth. The story of the game for us was our second defensive squad earning most of our breaks.”
Like the contrasting emotions in Jacksonville, one team’s late-game glory was another’s anguish. With postgame perspective, the Sol pointed to a similar explanation for the heartbreaking result.
“Watching the last couple points, it really looks like we lost our focus,” said Austin’s Caleb Denecour, who scored a game-high nine goals. “We had two opportunities to seal the victory and we didn’t execute. It’s very frustrating losing that way after our offense played so well throughout the game.”
The Sol felt like they played their best overall game of the season, yet still fell short in the end. Their record dropped to 1-6, a hard realization for a team that went 7-7 a year ago and has been competitive in just about every game.
Game highlights from Saturday night.
“Those final points have haunted me the last few days,” admitted Austin’s Jeff Loskorn. “In the last two minuets, I threw one away on the goal line and got a finger on another disc but couldn’t haul it in. Both led to Atlanta scores. Games like this are probably why I have so much gray hair.”
One day later, the Hustle attempted to quickly turn the page for game two of their doubleheader. They were happy with Saturday’s result, but not satisfied to simply go through the motions in Dallas.
At halftime, the Hustle were ahead by one, leading the defending champs 11-10. The reeling Roughnecks, who had been 23-0 heading into last week’s action, were staring the potential of a third consecutive loss directly in the face.
After halftime, however, the game changed considerably. As the wind picked up, the home team handled it much better. Dallas closed the third quarter on a 3-0 rally to take an 18-15 lead, then continued its onslaught with a dominant 8-3 fourth quarter surge. The Roughnecks prevailed comfortably, 26-18.
Game highlights from Sunday's matchup between Atlanta and Dallas.
“I thought it was funny that half the team was still really pissed about the prior weekend and the other half of the guys who didn’t make that road trip were out of sync with the negative vibe,” revealed Dallas’s Brandon Malecek. “Atlanta showed a decent amount of 1-4-2 zone, making Dallas’s offense move deliberately in the wind while also saving legs for the back-to-back games. For halftime adjustments, [Captains] Jimmy [Mickle] and [Chris] Mazur focused on adjusting the marks [to be] flatter on [Atlanta’s] Dylan [Tunnell], eliminating the hero ball and playing as a team. We were able to ramp up our defensive intensity and went on a run to take control of the game.”
While Dallas improved to 7-2 to stay within a half-game of Raleigh at the top of the South, the Hustle slipped to 3-4. If Atlanta can knock off Jacksonville this coming Saturday, though, the Hustle would inch within one game of the Cannons in pursuit of the third playoff spot in the division. This outlook would be significantly different if not for the last-second triumph on Saturday in Austin.
“Doubleheaders are hard; still, I don’t think we ran out of gas against Dallas,” said Swanson. “They executed better in the second half, and we didn’t as the wind picked up. I’m proud of our players for being disappointed in a 1-1 road trip. They have their minds on the right track.”
Later on Saturday night, the Vancouver Riptide got off to a solid start in San Jose. Coming off their first win of the season last week, a slim one-point edging of San Diego, the Riptide were hoping to emulate Raleigh and Atlanta by stealing a tight game on the road. Early on, this appeared very possible, as the first-place Spiders looked shaky.
“The first point started out as a disaster,” said San Jose’s Justin Norden. “We got a D, then ended up getting high in a count and called a timeout to sub in the O-line. We proceeded to turn it over three times, and the entire point was around five minutes. This set a poor tone for our confidence with the disc for the rest of the game.”
Visiting Vancouver scored four of the first five points and led 4-2 at the end of one. The Spiders felt it could have been even worse.
“The first quarter was all about mistakes and miscues,” said San Jose Coach Tyler Grant. “I was happy not to be down 5-1.”
By halftime, the Spiders had drawn back even at 8-all, and San Jose took its first lead of the night at 10-9 in the third. The see-saw struggle continued; Vancouver led 11-10, then San Jose went up 13-12. Heading into the fourth, it was all square at 13.
Four points later, at 15-all, the Spiders finally made their run, scoring three in a row to create some separation. The Riptide responded, scoring with 90 seconds left to get within one at 19-18, but it turned out to be too little, too late.
“We received the disc with something like 1:30 left on the clock at 19-18,” Grant remembered. “They had already broken us once, but I had confidence in our offense. Our guys maintained possession and even generated a scoring opportunity. However, they decided to dump it instead of forcing anything so that we could guarantee the win.”
Game highlights between Vancouver and San Jose.
Norden, who finished with six assists and now leads the league with 43, said that the Spiders exhaled a few sighs of relief after the game. “I think we all knew his was by far our worst performance of the season.”
Still, the Spiders improved to 7-1, matching Raleigh for the most wins in the league through Week 8.
The Riptide, at 1-7, looked to quickly bounce back less than 24 hours later in San Francisco. Like Atlanta, a promising start fizzled as the home favorite took charge after halftime.
“We were just gassed,” admitted Riptide veteran Morgan Hibbert. “I noticed it mostly mentally. We had a bunch of easy catches that we dropped. We also, on multiple points, forgot the force, changed the force, or tried switches without communicating. We attempted lazy throws instead of putting that extra effort in to move your mark before making the throw. We just played like we had turned our brains off. Our legs showed up, and we ran hard and did some really good things defensively again, but we forgot to bring our brains to the game and sunk ourselves.”
After the game was tied at 5-all, a 3-0 run to cap the opening quarter gave San Francisco a lead it would not relinquish. The FlameThrowers advantage grew to 18-11 at the half, 24-16 through three, and 33-20 by the final buzzer.
Game highlights between Vancouver and San Francisco.
“This week, the team came into Sunday fresh and engaged,” said San Francisco’s Cassidy Rasmussen. “It was a hot day and we had low numbers, so being able to be efficient was a huge benefit and really let us grind them down.”
The win kept San Francisco (5-2) within a game of the first-place Spiders in the competitive West. Both the Spiders and FlameThrowers are off this weekend, and they each will face Los Angeles at home the following weekend. After that, on June 10, San Jose and San Francisco will reunite in Oakland for their third meeting of the season.
The Riptide, meanwhile, were left to bemoan opportunities lost.
“Teams like San Jose and San Francisco make the smart plays that win games,” Hibbert said, reflecting on the weekend. “With San Jose up 19-18, their offense killed something like 1:30 off the lock. Amazing, smart, patient, and aware. San Francisco was the same. These teams really execute the fundamentals really well. They will never hand you a victory by making dumb mistakes. You always have to take it from them. It is why they are hard to beat and why they consistently succeed. Whereas on the Riptide it feels like we are our own worst enemy, making it as difficult as possible to get a win.”
The Riptide have a week off to lick their wounds before beginning a three-game homestand on June 3. Vancouver does have four of its final five games of the season at home.
While many things seem to be changing across the AUDL, Madison’s propensity for taking care of Midwest business at Breese Stevens Field is not one of them. The Radicals, who had looked sloppy in their slim 18-16 victory over Chicago in their home opener, delivered a strong defensive statement on Saturday night against Pittsburgh.
Madison opened the game with a break and scored five of the first seven goals to seize control quickly. It was 7-4 after one, and the Thunderbirds would never inch any closer during the final three frames of a wire-to-wire 31-25 win.
Game highlights between Pittsburgh and Madison.
“Our defense was unstoppable,” said Radicals Coach Tim DeByl. “It felt really good. It was really just intensity. We haven’t had it [through our first four games,] and we came out of the gate [on Saturday] with that killer look in our eyes.
The effort was spearheaded by Peter Graffy, Sterling Knoche, Andrew Meshnick, Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Bill Everhart and Thomas Coolidge, a crew that combined for 18 goals, 18 assists, and 13 Ds. Madison’s offense was shaky through much of the game, but the defense kept coming up huge.
“That D-line in general was playing crazy well, as noted by the solid win of six goals and our O-line getting broken about seven times,” recognized Radicals handler Tom Annen. “The story of the game was our defense’s ability to get the disc and score, as well as our back up O-line never getting broken so Pitt could never go on a run.”
On the flip-side, as you might expect, Thunderbirds felt that their defensive effort was their best of the season, forcing the normally steady Madison offense into plenty of mistakes. But like the Radicals, the T-Birds could never find their rhythm offensively either.
“There were a couple of repeated themes that showed Madison outclassed us,” Pittsburgh Coach David Hogan remarked. “They did a great job of forcing us into tight spaces and aggressively chasing blocks there. We played into their hands by willingly moving into those spaces and then were unwilling and unable to leave that tight space and reverse fields. Our spacing also crowded he disc, which made throwing lanes smaller and encouraged Madison to set double teams. It was a very well-designed and well-executed defensive game plan, and those turnovers kept our O-line from being consistent enough to get us back in the game. I have a lot of respect for how they played us.
“Graffy and Meshnick played great. Graffy was key in directing their switching defense and scoring on a turn, while Meshnick just made a lot of plays. Knoche also was a consistent force on defense and had a few key blocks.”
One wonders if the game might have progressed differently if Pittsburgh’s Tyler DeGirolamo had been on the field. Unfortunately, the same groin injury that kept him out against Seattle prevented him from playing in Madison.
“He partially practiced Wednesday, but was not able to get up to full speed,” said DeGirolamo’s teammate Mark Fedorenko. “Team policy is if you can’t practice Wednesday, barring extenuating conditions, you will not play Saturday.”
DeGirolamo’s status remains week-to-week, and a determination for his participation this weekend at Detroit will be made at Thunderbirds practice tomorrow.
It’s also worth noting that Madison prevailed without a couple of its key players too. The Radicals were missing Kevin Brown and Brian Hart, two O-line regulars that DeByl is hoping will help solve the offensive woes when they return.
Madison will host Chicago this Saturday before welcoming Dallas to town for the resumption of the AUDL’s Cross Coast Challenge on June 3. The Radicals also have difficult battles at Minnesota and Pittsburgh looming on June 10 and June 17.
Although the perennial Midwest champs still haven’t found their midseason stride, Saturday’s comfortable margin over Pittsburgh was a critical step for the Rads. Undefeated Minnesota remains atop the division, but Madison, for the first time this year, illustrated its capabilities, especially on defense. Over the next month, the offense rounding into form could catapult them back into the championship conversation.
At the midseason point, no AUDL team has a more baffling resume than the Montreal Royal.
In some ways, it feels they should be 5-2. At the same time, they seem fortunate to not be 1-6.
This past weekend exemplified the Royal’s roller coaster. On Saturday, they fell behind big early against a shorthanded D.C. squad. A second-half surge inched Montreal within two, but the Breeze hung on for the three-score win behind Rowan McDonnell’s big day.
One day later, the Royal looked their best in their final quarter of a two-game weekend, breaking a 14-all tie to beat the almost as confusing New York Empire 19-16.
Game highlights between Montreal and New York.
The Royal now sit at 3-4, just a half-game behind 2-2 Ottawa in pursuit of the third spot in the East. With four of their next five games at home, one would think that Montreal is well positioned. At the same time, it’s hard to know what to expect from this intriguing yet unpredictable squad. To recap, the Royal have now won at Philly, at Toronto, and at New York, but lost at home to both the Rush and the Phoenix, with both of those losses being against teams on the second day of a back-to-back.
“I would say that this weekend we really saw the team come together and play with energy and passion in a way that we did not on our first doubleheader road trip,” said Montreal’s Max Rick, who registered a pair of assists in the victory over the Empire. “On Saturday, we came out flat offensively and fell behind early, but our team showed a lot of fight and our defense brought us back into the game.
“The change in mental attitude from our first New York game to our second has a lot to do with creating a belief over the year. We developed a belief in our system, teammates, and ourselves that we are capable of beating anyone. Jordan Taylor, who was out of the game with a tweaked hamstring, also brought an enormous amount of energy to our sideline and helped keep our entire team focused and motivated.”
Montreal Captain Kevin Quinlan echoed this sentiment.
“We are finding our identity,” Quinlan stated. “We are defining Royal Ultimate. As a team, we have made a conscious effort to create an environment that is encouraging and is fueled by constant energy. I am really proud of how everyone is stepping up. You can feel things are changing up here.”
Though the Royal have proven that they can compete and beat just about anybody this season, their postseason fate might very well come down to how they fare in their matchups with rival Ottawa. They have not met the Outlaws yet, but three of their remaining seven games will be against their nemesis from Ontario, whom Montreal’s gone 1-5 against over the past two seasons.
Before worrying about the Outlaws, however, Montreal will battle Philadelphia for the third time this season. Each of the first two meetings went to overtime, with each squad winning on the other’s homefield.
“After the win [at New York,] we talked about keeping a high positive intensity through practice this week, while staying focused on one game at a time,” said Rick.
Entering the season, the San Francisco FlameThrowers did not have many unknowns. With a roster full of players who have championship pedigrees on the AUDL and world stage, there were just a couple names that ultimate fans were not very familiar with.
It did not take long for Antoine Davis to ascend. Week after week, the uber-athletic Virginia Tech alum has made plays worthy of Top 10 highlight reels. This past Sunday, though, another Bay Area newcomer enjoyed his breakout game as a FlameThrower.
Brown University-alum Sawyer Thompson led San Francisco with six goals in the FlameThrowers’ big win over Vancouver, adding an assist and a D to his all-around brilliant afternoon. Thompson, who has been invited to Team USA U-24 tryouts, had scored just four goals in his first three games in the AUDL before erupting for a half-dozen against the Riptide.
“Sawyer is a guy that is always working hard,” said Rasmussen, matter-of-factly. “When he’s guarding you, you can’t let up because even if you’re able to create space, he is going to go all out to try and eat that up, and if there is any margin of error in the throw, he can make a play. He brings the same effort to his cutting, which makes him a great deep target. Obviously, his size helps, but you know when he starts a cut he is 100% committed, which makes it very easy to throw to him. I think that having him on the same line as Cody [Kirkland on Sunday] was huge for both of them, and they connected a lot.”
For a FlameThrowers team that has so many players with national team commitments, getting contributions from guys like Davis and Thompson have been critical in weathering the roster fluctuation storm. Grant Lindsley, Joel Schlachet, Marcelo Sanchez, Sam Kanner, and Justin Lim all had big games on Sunday too, but it was Thompson, the AUDL rookie, who topped the team in goals.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
As usual, there has been plenty of good material in the ultimate sphere, but I’ve probably enjoyed the faux-feud between Atlanta’s Dylan Tunnell and Dallas’ Matt Bennett as much as anything. Both are spirited handlers, but the size and stature mismatch has fostered some laughable sequences.
First, Tunnell skied Bennett easily in Atlanta on April 30. But Bennett got a tiny dose of revenge by “skying” Tunnell on Sunday in Dallas.
Atlanta tweeted about this latest chapter, and the always engaging Bennett joined the conversation.
Of course, the AUDL has latched onto the discussion, showcasing Tunnell and Bennett’s on-field interactions. One might call it hilarious poetic justice.
The legend continues: Tunnell vs Bennett pic.twitter.com/X1vpGym3W0— AUDL (@theAUDL) May 23, 2017
This week’s tale of dicey airport decisions comes from Atlanta’s Matt Smith, who shares what happened when his teammate made a last-second realization that nearly cost him dearly.
“One of our rookies, Josh Bush, almost didn’t make the flight to Austin,” Smith explains. “He was there on time, but as we’re waiting in the security line he realized he had left his wallet in the car, probably about a mile away. He gives his bag to Vickroy to take through, and after running back to get the wallet, he gets his ticket and goes through security again…only to realize at the front that his ticket says ‘John Bush’ instead of ‘Josh Bush,’ so he’s sent out again. Fortunately, an airline employee expedites him through security after re-ticketing him, and he’s the last to board the plane. However, Vickroy, who clearly doesn’t fly much, had left Josh’s bag out in the gate assuming he would see it on his way in—I know, I know, we can all hear the ‘no unattended baggage’ PSA over the speakers even now. Josh has to run out and grab his bag, which miraculously had not been confiscated, and hustle back on the flight before finally finding a seat and taking off.”
Thankfully, he made it. Bush, a former D-III national champion at Georgia State, recorded seven goals and four assists on the weekend.
Seven On The Line
1. The Minnesota Wind Chill used a dominant first quarter to play from ahead again in a wire-to-wire 26-17 victory over the Detroit Mechanix on Saturday. As the only undefeated team in the AUDL, the 6-0 Wind Chill have consistently gotten off to good starts. They have only trailed in the second half in one of their six games, at that was a short-lived one-point deficit to Indianapolis on May 6 in a game which they eventually won by three. “The team is really encouraged by the 6-0 start, but we absolutely understand the challenges ahead of us in June and July,” said Ben Feldman, who led the Wind Chill with six assists against the Mechanix. “Our sole focus is winning the Midwest Division, a goal that has not yet been accomplished in team history. There is no question this is the deepest and most committed team the franchise has ever seen. The effort and intensity at practice is incredible. We continue to take it one game at a time and are really looking forward to hosting Chicago this upcoming Sunday.”
Game highlights between Detroit and Minnesota.
2. Speaking of the Wildfire, the men of the Windy City tasted triumph for the first time in 2017 with a sizzling second half on Sunday against the Mechanix. Believe it or not, Chicago’s lead was just 11-10 before the Wildfire closed the game on an 11-2 run to rout Detroit 22-12. A few upwind scores early in the third quarter triggered the avalanche that buried the visitors, who were playing their second game in as many days. “I was happy in two regards,” explained Chicago Coach Adrian King. “One, we executed our game plan, which was to maximize their throw count and now allow any easy upwind points. Two, we played hard all the way to the end. We had a stronger second half than our first half, which is indicative of our persistence.” Throughout the game, the Wildfire fired a ton of deep shots to prevent the Mechanix from having a short field. Primary handler Pawel Janas would usually look for Michael Pardo or another deep cutter shortly after the pull. It led to a slew of turnovers—Janas finished with 10 throwaways—but the strategy ultimately paid off. Janas registered six assists, while Pardo tallied six goals and four Ds. At 1-4, the Wildfire are only a game and a half behind Pittsburgh in the race for the final playoff spot in the Midwest. “Overall, the team’s mentality has shifted for the better this year,” said Pardo, who leads the team with 19 goals and 11 Ds through five games. “We’re a younger squad that had a lot of turnover, but we really are getting better every game. I think we can hang with any team in the Midwest. Our losses to Madison and Minnesota came from our own mistakes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we snagged an upset this season.” Chicago will have a chance to shock the Radicals in Madison this weekend. The Wildfire are the only Midwest team to ever have won at Breese Stevens Field. Of course, that happened 1,472 days ago, a 16-15 result back on May 12, 2013.
Game highlights between Detroit and Chicago.
3. D.C. Head Coach Darryl Stanley has certainly noticed how Montreal has won at Philly, Toronto, and New York, and he was very glad his team did not also fall victim to the Royal’s road success. On Saturday, the Breeze’s depth was again on display, as the absences of Alan Kolick, David Cranston, Markham Shofner, Matt Kerrigan, and others did not prevent D.C. from prevailing. “Lloyd Blake seamlessly stepped up and led our team as the matchup nightmare that Alan and Tyler [Monroe] have been for us so far,” said Stanley. “He went out there and just put his influence on the game in typical steady and quietly dominant way.” While Blake led the way with five assists, Rowan McDonnell’s defensive dominance was the other story of the game from the Breeze’s perspective. With six blocks along with three assists and two goals, McDonnell impacted every facet of D.C.’s victory. “I can recall two of his blocks being of the spectacular chase down aerial variety,” Stanley remembered. “He had one block against Kevin Quinlan in the end zone that was just unbelievable. Clear SportsCenter material, as he made up a ton of ground on KQ and just jumped from behind and swatted the disc I think before KQ could even jump. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. Rowan has been the biggest surprise to me this season as a coach. Watching him is like having an NBA Jam player on your team, while everyone else is playing the sport with realistic NBA 2K physics, movements, and skills. He’s just on another level physically, skill-wise, and in the amount of time he dedicates to the sport.” The 4-2, the Breeze sit atop the East, tied with Toronto. D.C.’s next two games are both against New York. Speaking of the Empire…
4. Yikes. While wanting to give Montreal sufficient credit, it also feels accurate to pin some weighty disappointment on New York, a squad that slipped to 2-3 despite having had four of its first five games at home. In the light of a bunch of high-profile offseason signings, preseason expectations were very high for the Empire. Still just one game back of the Breeze and Rush in the loss column, it would be premature to bury New York’s chances entirely. But as I tweeted on Sunday afternoon, it has been an uninspiring five games from the Empire. With four goals and five assists, Jeff Babbitt had his typically robust stat line, but the team’s offense clearly missed guys like John Wodatch, Markian Kuzmowycz, Kevin Norton, and Chris Kocher, none of whom played against the Royal on Sunday. Because of the team’s abundant collection of talent, every remaining game still feels winnable. But the Empire will close their season with five straight on the road, including a pair of doubleheader weekends. They certainly are not making things easy on themselves.
5. The Austin Sol’s hard-luck season takes another blow with the departure of Caleb Denecour, the team’s leading goal scorer who announced prior to Saturday that it would be his final game with the squad. While it may seem like a sudden exit, Denecour had been aware and transparent about it with the team’s ownership since before the season began. “My wife and I decided last year that we’d make the move to Minneapolis in May or June, at the end of her teaching year,” Denecour explained. “We wanted to be in a city where we would be closer to family. When that decision was made, I reached out to [team owner] Patrick Christmas to let him know my situation. Thankfully, Patrick is an outstanding person and agreed to sign me with a contract that expired halfway through the season.” Thinking ahead, Denecour then reached out to the Wind Chill about possibly joining Minnesota’s roster for the second half. He attended tryouts in the Twin Cities back in February and was offered a contract to join the team at the midseason point. No one would have predicted that he’d be going from a 1-6 team to a 6-0 team. “My goal is to be the best teammate and asset I can be for the Wind Chill,” Denecour said. “I’d love for that to involve seeing the field and scoring some more goals, but I also understand if that’s not where I end up. As the saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ and the Wind Chill are far from broken.” During his time in Austin, Denecour was known, perhaps as much as anything, for his choice of the great Frozen tune “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” that would play after he scored. Asked whether he will change the song with a new team, he said he was sticking with ‘ Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” He added, “It will finally make sense!”
6. Though the Dallas Roughnecks have had to handle with a great of roster fluctuation during their first nine games, they have had seven players who have been in every game. Of that group, no one has been on the field more than Dalton Smith, who leads the Roughnecks with 243 points played, a number that is tops in the league. He’s consistently produced, but his best game of the season thus far was probably against Atlanta on Sunday. Splitting his time between offense and defense, Smith collected four goals and eight assists, adding a block in as well. He finished the game a team-best +11, raising his full-season plus/minus to +41, fourth-best in the entire league. “Dalton Smith has taken his game to the next level on the Roughnecks this season,” Brandon Malecek said, when asked about his teammate. “On defense, he makes plays in the air on big-time cutters and controls the ball after the turn. On offense, he’s versatile, an explosive downfield thrower who can finish points quickly.” It’s possible he’s been overshadowed at times by Jimmy Mickle, Dylan Freechild, Jay Froude, and Abe Coffin, but Smith’s performance certainly has him in the All-AUDL conversation.
7. With five blocks in San Jose’s narrow victory over Vancouver, Brandon Fein moved into a tie for fifth in the league in that category. Only Dallas’ Froude, New York’s Babbitt, Madison’s Meshnick, and Pittsburgh’s Anson Reppermund have more than Fein’s total of 14 Ds through Week 8. His recent effort, understandably, drew a bunch of praise from his teammates. “Fein just crushed it,” said Norden. “He has been rocking it on defense all, season, but this game in particular, he got [five] Ds. Also, the whole time while marking their best receivers.” Fein is currently in his fourth year in the AUDL, but he has already surpassed his blocks total from any of his previous campaigns. He registered eight and nine blocks, respectively, for the FlameThrowers in 2014 and 2015, then recorded 10 last season for the Spiders. “Brandon has always been there to get a block for us on defense,” said Grant. “Vancouver kept throwing it his way, and he kept coming up with block after block. It was great to see him consistently beat his man.”
Considering that the AUDL has averaged between 11 and 12 games per week over the past five weekends, the upcoming Week 9 schedule looks a bit bare with just eight games on the docket. There are just single games in the South and West Divisions, while the East and Midwest are a bit busier.
The highlights of the slate are certainly rematches between D.C.-New York and Jacksonville-Atlanta. The first meetings in each of those series were decided by one and two, respectively. Of course, the last four regular season meetings between the Breeze and Empire have all been decided by one, with D.C. winning them all.
Beyond the eight-game AUDL slate, it’s a special weekend in the realm of college ultimate. Nationals, the annual Memorial Day marquee showcasing program pride, returns to Cincinnati from Friday through Monday.
Personally, I am honored to have the opportunity to return to College Nationals to broadcast for ESPN3 and ESPNU for the fifth consecutive year. It is truly a weekend unlike any other in ultimate, full of energy, passion, and desperation. Plus, it’s especially cool to see a handful of current AUDL stars, not to mention many more future pros, representing their schools on the big stage.
Hopefully the weather’s good, the games are close, and the trombone is loud.
See you in Cincy!
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