By Evan Lepler
Though ultimate is often considered the quintessential team sport, it is individual greatness that more often takes our breath away. Excellent teams can strive to play fundamental, basic, and even boring ultimate, but spectacular individuals regularly wow their teammates, delight their fans, and do things on the field that make the rest of us jealous.
On Saturday night in our nation’s capital, Raleigh’s Jonathan Nethercutt and DC’s Rowan McDonnell each put their team on his back during a dynamic and dramatic duel. The former recorded 11 assists, the latter scored 10 goals, and spectators were mesmerized by the interdivisional spectacle that went down to the wire.
WATCH: AUDL Game of the Week Archive
Beyond the silly behind-the-back buzzer beater and ridiculous leaping Callahan, Nethercutt and McDonnell both brought a commanding presence to the field, leaving no doubt as to who the teams’ top options were in crunch time. The Flyers and Breeze each scored seven goals in the intense fourth quarter, with Nethercutt and McDonnell directly involved in all but one for their respective teams. Over the final 12 minutes, Nethercutt dished five assists and scored a goal, while McDonnell scored four goals and dished two assists.
Nethercutt’s final dime of the night doubled as Mischa Freystaetter’s fifth goal and inched the Flyers within one with 46 seconds left. But calm offense from the Breeze closed the door, and 12 consecutive completions, half involving McDonnell, enabled DC to finish off Raleigh 25-24, giving the Breeze a gigantic victory and leaving the Flyers frustrated after suffering their third loss.
The Nethercutt/McDonnell duel highlighted the evening, but there were many other intriguing twists, turns, and subplots on Saturday night in D.C, providing plenty of storylines to dissect.
The Full Field Layout
The second meeting in as many seasons between the DC Breeze and Raleigh Flyers unfolded with uncanny symmetry to last year’s 23-21 Raleigh overtime triumph. Once again, DC took the field as an underdog and stormed to a 5-1 lead in the first quarter, maintaining the four-goal edge into the second half, an advantage that ultimately would disappear. Last year, Raleigh required a 7-2 burst in the final nine minutes of regulation to force an additional five minutes. This time, the Flyers took their first lead early in the fourth quarter, the culmination of an 8-3 run.
“When they started making their run in the third, I bet [last year’s collapse] crossed some peoples’ minds,” admitted McDonnell. “But what we did this time, the D-line stepped up and got a few critical blocks.”
Trailing 22-21 midway through the fourth, the Breeze scored three in a row to seize control, a sequence that included a goal and an assist for McDonnell. Tied 22-all with McDonnell getting a breather, Marcus Thaw hit Brad Scott for the break, capitalizing on a drop from Brett Matzuka to take the lead with 4:49 left. Then, McDonnell scored his ninth and tenth goals of the night in the last two minutes, each of which gave the Breeze a two-goal lead, and Raleigh could not re-create the last second miracle that got them the equalizer in Austin two weeks earlier.
Aside from McDonnell’s wizardry, DC received great play from Austin Bartenstein, who tossed three of his game-high four assists in the fourth quarter after getting switched on to the O-line for the home stretch. Jeff Wodatch contributed three goals and three assists, while Delrico Johnson registered three blocks, along with a goal and an assist.
The narrow win over the favored Flyers renewed DC’s belief that it can contend in the East. At 2-2-1 and currently tied with Philly for third place, the Breeze know that they are on the verge of a potentially make-or-break part of their season. This weekend, they play at 4-0 Toronto on Saturday and at 2-3 Montreal on Sunday. A week later, they will host New York, who currently sits in second place at 2-1.
“I’ve never won in Toronto, so that’s an exciting challenge,” said McDonnell. “I also had the worst game of my life at Montreal last year. I think I got benched from the O-line, so hopefully we’ll have a better game.”
Meanwhile, the Flyers—specifically Nethercutt—made the play that everyone was talking about after the game. With two seconds left in the first half, he picked up the disc after a timeout, facing a daunting double-team on the sideline. The hammer seemed to be the likely option, but Nethercutt decided to fling a behind-the-back flick to the end-zone that supernaturally deflected off a couple defenders and found a bidding Shane Sisco for the diabolical score.
After the game, I asked Nethercutt if he knew immediately when he was picking up the disc that this behind-the-back release was coming.
“Not initially, actually,” replied Nethercutt. “I picked it up and was kinda scanning the field, and actually Tristan Green was on the sideline behind me and kinda called my name. And I turned around and he gave me the signal, like semi-jokingly, to throw it behind the back, because it’s one I play around with at practice. And then we kinda looked at how the double team was sitting and how they were playing that corner of the end zone, and I didn’t really have good options on the other side of the field. I kinda just looked back at him and said ‘yea, this actually could be a good spot for it.’ There were not a lot of great options, so you might as well try and put something to the right space. So I didn’t know before [I picked up the disc,] but I knew pretty quickly. It was right in Jack [Williams’] area, which is usually a good spot to throw it, but Shane [Sisco] did his normal Shane thing and cleaned up the trash and found it, so it worked out.”
Despite this unlikely halftime buzzer beater, the Flyers still fell short at the end of the fourth, and they were left wondering why they did not play to their potential for the full game.
“I think we’re frustrated with how we played as a group,” stated Nethercutt. “We didn’t start the game well. Well, we got a D to start, but then we gave it right back. We went down early and didn’t play a super clean game in the first half, and I think, energy-wise too, we were a little bit low. I think we’re all a little bit frustrated because we lost and we all realized we could have played much better.”
At 5-3, the Flyers, who went a league-best 13-1 in the regular season last year, currently sit in the third position in the South. They are off this week and will return to the field on May 26 in another interdivisional road challenge at Madison.
After winning defensive struggles by scores of 17-15 and 19-18, the Atlanta Hustle’s third meeting of the season with the Tampa Bay Cannons opened up the offensive fireworks. The Hustle continued to primarily utilize their zone defense, but the Cannons calmly adapted to put up points relatively quickly, and midway through the fourth quarter, Tampa led 24-22.
“I remember thinking that this was yet another great test to see how our team responds under pressure, and sure enough, we responded with a heightened level of intensity and focus,” shared Hustle Captain Christian Olsen.
With 4:36 remaining, the Hustle capitalized on an overthrown swing to register the game-tying break on a deep shot to Matt Smith that he snagged just shy of the goal line. A quick flip to Jacques Perivier evened the score at 24. Then, 61 seconds later, after Tampa Bay’s deep hammer intended for Nathan Vickroy fell incomplete, Allan Laviolette boomed one for Kelvin Williams, who raced it down to regain the lead.
Still, the Hustle needed some last-second luck to put them over the top. Tampa Bay had tied the game at 26-all with 37 seconds left, and Atlanta looked to manage the clock and deliver the game-winner.
“As for the final sequence, it was a little science and a little magic,” said Hustle Coach Miranda Knowles. “The point before the last point—us pulling up one—started with over two minutes left. They called a timeout to set their O, and we used it to set our zone D with players we knew weren’t going to need to play the last O point. Those seven players worked really hard and made them take over a minute and a half to score, so then we had about 35 seconds to score our last goal; this is actually a perfect setup because that’s a pretty normal length of time for an O-point, so we felt pretty good.
“We worked the disc well on O but, credit to them, time was running out. Now, we’re actually bigger than them this season, and we were finally able to use it to our advantage for end of quarter plays on defense in the other quarters. This is about where the science stops and the magic happens—Christian put up a nice floaty pass just before time expired, but both Matt Smith and Parker Bray went up a little too early and missed it. However, Tampa Bay defender [Billy O’Bryan] would have caught the D without them going up strong in front of him and instead tipped it in a perfect way that it gently drifted into the hands of our trash collector, Sam Gainer. My reaction was of course joy as we all rushed the field. We fought hard that game, and I’m glad that Lady Luck smiles on us in that last moment.”
Gainer’s dramatic buzzer-beating game-winner gave the Hustle a 27-26 victory and was eerily reminiscent of Atlanta’s last second equalizer against Raleigh from back in 2015. In that game, Jay Clark hauled in a deflected huck as time expired following the infamous “Snake in the Grass” play that the Hustle successfully executed. Three years ago, it forced overtime, where the Hustle prevailed. This time, the game was over, and the celebration, the Hustle’s third straight against the Cannons, quickly commenced.
“As Player Pierce mentioned in our closing circle, Tampa Bay has gotten better since the first time we played them, so even though we’ve beaten them by narrow margins every time, it’s a good measuring stick for us to see that we, too have improved,” explained Knowles. “Obviously, we’ll have to keep improving to best them in our final matchup in late June.”
While the Hustle are 4-1 and the Cannons 1-6, the two teams have played three nailbiters, with neither team leading by more than three at any point in the three games. On Saturday, Tampa’s hope to turn the tide again came up short. Barely.
“It is what it is,” said Tampa’s Bobby Ley, who completed 99 of his 100 throws on Saturday in Atlanta; Ley leads the league with an astronomical 607 completions so far in 2018. “It’s a growth year. A lot of the young guys are really hungry. Now, we’re gonna find the people who are gonna buy into the growth of our team for the next season or two. We’re gonna learn who these people are and we’re gonna figure out who’s gonna be a good teammate going down the road.”
While the Cannons are thinking about the future, the Hustle are locked into the present. At 4-1 with a two-game trip to Texas on tap, Atlanta is hopeful to keep it rolling.
“We had a three hour practice the next day [after beating Tampa on Saturday] to simulate what next weekend would be like,” explained Olsen, who finished Saturday’s game with four goals and two assists, including the game-winning dime at the buzzer. “And we did not take it lightly. Lots of competitive scrimmaging made for a sore Monday. We have a lot to prove still and I’m exited to see our team rise to the occasion in Texas.”
Neither Robyn Wiseman nor the rest of the Madison Radicals knew exactly what the moment of her first AUDL game would be like. Frankly, her presence felt like a natural fit when she became the first female player to make Madison’s pro roster, given her distinguished track record in the sport. Wiseman has already cultivated a reputation as a pillar in the ultimate world as a player, coach, and organizer. It was a tribute to the respect she already commanded in the community that it felt totally normal to have her on the team.
But when the moment arrived, there was nothing ordinary about it.
“I was not ready for how emotional I was gonna be on Sunday,” said Wiseman on Tuesday morning. “For me, it was just a frisbee game; that was kinda how I prepared for it. And when I pull up to Breese [Stevens Field] on Sunday, I’m like ‘holy (expletive)!’ Why do I feel this way? What are these emotions? I don’t know what this is. I’d been going to practice for how long; it’s not like I get emotional every time I go to a practice. It’s just playing frisbee. But, I dunno know. There was something about—I was just not prepared for how I was going to feel all morning on Sunday and during the game, and after the game was so overwhelming. I was mauled by kids for 45 straight minutes. It was pretty crazy. It was really cool.”
Robyn had learned a few weeks ago that the Radicals tentatively planned to activate her for this past Sunday’s game, and it became official early last week that she would suit up alongside her husband, Dave, and the rest of the five-time defending Midwest Champs.
“There was an added layer of feelings on gameday,” said Dave. “It was a very healthy mix of emotions: anxiousness, excitement, nervousness, joy, gratitude. I mean, this is my sixth year in the league, and I was nervous. To ultimate players, Robyn has played in many games with much higher stakes than the game we played [on Sunday]. On the other hand, this was Robyn’s first ‘professional’ game. Whether we like it or not, eyes were on that game, on Robyn, with more scrutiny than most of us have or will ever experience. More than anything, I wanted Robyn to have a great experience.”
It helped that the Radicals’ opponent was completely overmatched. The Detroit Mechanix struggled mightily as Madison led 9-3 after one, 16-5 at half, and 26-6 at the end of the third en route to a 37-8 rout. Candidly, the Radicals’ O-line, on which both Wiseman’s resided, did not have a ton of high-pressure responsibility on the afternoon.
Early in the fourth, though, after the Mechanix had scored to make it 29-8, the Radicals offense was back on the field. Robyn launched an errant huck, her only turnover of the game, but Dave recorded a block to deny Detroit a break. Since Robyn was marking a Mechanix handler, she was naturally in the deep space after the turn.
“We were moving fast down the field and everyone was pushing,” said Dave. “As it bounced back towards the middle of the field, I gave Pat [Shriwise] a small window as I was moving to clear out of the middle. He hit me. I turned and saw Robyn. Reading her movement and defender, a little pump to the open-side, and she moves to one of my favorite spots on the field—cross-field flick, not [Coach’s] favorite, but the range was good. As soon as I’d released it, all I could think was, ‘You better not have messed this up.’ And when she caught it, engage feels.”
❤️Wiseman to Wiseman❤️#HoneyPass pic.twitter.com/1tOXFkc18v— Madison Radicals (@MadisonRadicals) May 13, 2018
The Wiseman-to-Wiseman score gave the Radicals a 22-goal lead. But the powerful emotions of the moment quickly hit everybody.
“The minute that I caught the disc, pretty much half of the team, their eyes were watering,” said Robyn. They might deny it, but Dave and I were very overwhelmed. I mean, [Coach] Tim [DeByl even teared up. It was crazy. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. That’s the kind of stuff that happens in movies.”
Immediately after the score, as fans roared and teammates celebrated, Robyn and Dave hugged. She had played college softball before discovering ultimate, while his college career had begun on the University of Wisconsin “C” team. Now, they were sharing this amazing moment together on what of the sport’s biggest stages.
“It was really special to get to walk off the field with her,” said Dave. “Our family cheering. The fans roaring. Our teammates rallying around and celebrating. It’s not like she hasn’t scored a goal…but this was a special moment, one we get to cherish.”
Beyond the marital moment or providing an unprecedented Mother’s Day memory to her mom, Karen, who was in attendance, the most poignant part of her experience was probably conversing with all the kids after the game.
“I tried to interact with all the kids as I was signing things,” said Robyn. “Like ‘hey, do you play ultimate? Maybe some day I’ll get to play with you.’”
It was an inspiring, emotional afternoon in Madison, one that will be remembered for a very long time.
Meanwhile, the Radicals still have company in the realm of the unbeaten.
The Toronto Rush bolted to a 4-1 lead and never trailed in their 21-18 victory against the Montreal Royal, the Rush’s fourth straight road win to start their season. Ben Burelle registered six goals, twice as many as anyone else in the game, giving him 11 scores in his two games played on the season.
“We came out with a couple quick breaks to start the game and really felt in control the whole time despite a late push from Montreal,” said Toronto Captain Thomson McKnight, who led the squad with 32 completions. “Burelle continues to show why he is a top player in the league. He has great speed and is fearless cutting deep even when he has a taller defender on him. I think we saw it a bit last year, but it has continued this year that no matter who they put on him he will score, and that is demoralizing teams as they are unable to slow him down.”
The Rush felt fortunate to prevail in a place that has given them trouble, especially considering Toronto was coming off a three-week layoff since winning in San Francisco on April 21. They are excited to open their home schedule, though they are wary about the track record so far this season in the East.
“Someone was saying that every team in our division has lost their home opener,” remarked McKnight. “We also lost our home opener last year, so we can’t sit back and take this weekend lightly.”
If Toronto can beat DC this weekend, they will in fact be the only East Division squad to win their 2018 home opener. The Rush spoiled the first home game for both New York and Toronto, while the Royal prevailed at D.C. and Ottawa’s first home game of the year. Philadelphia knocked off Montreal on May 5, the Royal’s disappointing home debut. Montreal has now dropped back-to-back home games after starting the season 2-1 on the road.
“I think we are still trying to find our rhythm in a season where every game is close and can be decided by a couple of plays,” said Montreal’s Yoland Cabot, who led his team with five assists in Sunday’s setback. “We need to find chemistry and start winning games really soon or it’s going to be too late. I’m sure the return to action of Quentin Bonnaud this weekend will make a big difference for us.”
Bonnaud, who led the Royal with 55 goals and a +85 in 2017, has missed the last three games with a dislocated thumb.
DC Coach Darryl Stanley knew that his 2018 roster would have a different look from a year ago. The offense, he thought, would not be as polished or experienced, but the defense could be significantly faster and more explosive. Part of his plan revolved around having two full lines of super speedy defenders, capable of wreaking havoc against all opponents.
The fact that the Breeze edged Raleigh on Saturday night was impressive, but it also signaled that DC could become a true contender again when their core of college kids complete their seasons.
Stanley, who helped coached the University of Maryland to College Nationals, is partially responsible for his pro team not having its full stable of talent. At Atlantic Coast Regionals, Maryland, Georgetown, and William & Mary all qualified for Nationals, forcing the Breeze to go a few more weeks without the services of many of the top players on those teams who had also signed to play in the AUDL this year. And aside from that trio of schools, Mary Washington is headed to D-III Nationals, and the “Mother of George” pipeline has been kind to the Breeze in recent years.
Here’s a glimpse at the names that DC expects to add after College Nationals conclude:
Chris Bernard, Maryland
Christian Boxley, Georgetown
Alex Liu, Maryland
Johnny Malks, William & Mary
Zach Norrbom, Mary Washington
Joe Richards, Mary Washington
John Walden, Maryland
While an injury to Malks has made his status for the coming weeks and months uncertain, the others—plus Virginia Tech’s Rhys Bergeron, another Breeze signee—should significantly bolster the DC cause down the stretch. Stanley won’t have them available this weekend, but he’s hopeful the Breeze can remain within striking distance in the East, knowing that reinforcements are coming.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
It’s an easy choice this week.
This is just cool, a moment that will live forever in AUDL history.
When your life partner throws you an assist for your first ever score on a professional ultimate field.— Robyn Wiseman (@wi_statebird) May 13, 2018
No one had a better day than me today.
I also loved what Robyn’s mom said after watching her daughter make her Radicals debut on Mother’s Day.
Robyn Wiseman takes the opening pull for the match & breaks the gender barrier for the @MadisonRadicals in the @theAUDL. @isthmus @WORTnews pic.twitter.com/7nZW99NabI— AlejandroAlonsoGalva (@AleVidaLIVE) May 13, 2018
I am biased, having worked with Robyn in the broadcast booth and gotten to know her and Dave over the past few years. But I’d happily wear a ‘Wiseman/Wiseman 2024’ campaign button.
For the second time in three weeks on the AUDL road, the highlight of my journey unquestionably revolved around meeting the newborn baby of my college ultimate teammate. On April 29 in Dallas, I got to see seven-week old Hattie, and this past Friday in D.C., I was privileged to hold seven-day old Mallory. As the babies alternatively slept and squawked, we rehashed old memories from our glory days on the field from over a decade ago and chatted about the new lives we all have created since.
A note to all those college ultimate players gearing up for Nationals in the coming weeks: cherish the moments as best you can. They are fleeting and will not last forever.
Cherish your teammates even more. If you’re lucky, those friendships can last forever.
Seven On The Line
- The Austin Sol’s aspiration to defeat the Dallas Roughnecks for the first time in franchise history will have to wait until June, at least, as the Roughnecks surpassed the Sol for the tenth consecutive meeting on Saturday night. While the Sol led 7-6 after one, Dallas dominated in the second to lead 16-12 at half. From there, the Roughnecks held on for the impressed 27-23 road victory. “Although Austin broke early, we felt ‘in-control’ for the entire game,’ explained Dallas Captain Matt Jackson. “During the bye week, the leadership got together to discuss a few on-field and mental adjustments that we executed against the Sol. Offensively, we fixed our spacing issues and re-tooled our pull plays. Defensively, we adjusted by playing tight handler defense and guarding underneath downfield. Also, we shuffled around matchups and had a strong roster. It felt great to get a decisive win.” The victory allowed Dallas to keep pace with Atlanta at 4-1 in the South, while the Sol fell to 3-3, even with the 5-3 Flyers in the loss column. “Austin is still a really good team,” remarked Dallas’ Jay Froude, who led the Roughnecks with six assists. “Kyle Henke played well in the air and was their go-to on offense in muddied situations. [Max] Cook played well in the handler position and was a rock for their O-line. On Dallas, Kevin Richardson had a game. He was amazing at generating space and complementary cutting off our other guys. I think he had like five goals and played much more aggressive against his defender. Noah Chambers played very well in the defensive set. I remember him getting a couple blocks on one point and our sidelines going nuts.” The Sol will have two more chances to beat the Roughnecks this year, on June 9 in Austin and on June 30 in Dallas.
- In chapter three of the Bay Area series, the San Francisco FlameThrowers bounced back from a three-game losing streak to soar past San Jose Spiders 26-23, the FlameThrowers second win in three games against the Spiders this season. After trailing 6-3 early in the second quarter, the FlameThrowers used a 4-0 run to take their first lead at 7-6. While San Jose crept ahead 12-11 on the first score of the second half, San Francisco rallied with another 3-0 run and led the rest of the way.
“San Francisco relies on their stars as much as any team, and we weren’t able to take them out of the game,” said San Jose’s Jackson Stearns. “[Marcelo] Sanchez, Byron [Liu], Antoine [Davis], Greg [Cohen], and Eli [Kerns] all had great games and we just haven’t found a way to consistently get other guys to beat us. In the second half, every time we got a little momentum, one of those guys would make a play, whether it was Byron or Greg laying out or Antoine just out-running us. It gets frustrating.” Liu, with six assists and Davis, with five goals, were San Francisco’s statistical leaders. Jacob Greenberg added three Ds, one of the six FlameThrowers to record multiple blocks. San Jose’s Joe Thompson recorded a game-high seven assists, but the Spiders suffered their fifth loss in six games, four of which have been by three goals or less. “The West is still wide open and wild,” said Stearns, who remained optimistic that the Spiders can surge from the cellar back into the playoff conversation. “San Francisco has the top-end talent to compete with anybody, and if they don’t beat themselves with poor decisions, they’re still in the hunt. [Seattle’s Mark] Burton is the LeBron of the west coast, and the rest of Seattle is the Celtics—full of young guns that nobody knows about—so who knows what they’ll do. Los Angeles and San Diego are clicking right now, as long as they don’t get comfortable at the top, they’re in great position to pull away from the pack.”
- The Los Angeles Aviators improved to 4-0 against West Division opponents with a 30-26 victory at the Seattle Cascades on Sunday afternoon, a game that Los Angeles led by as many as nine before the Cascades fought back to within two in the second half. “The game was an interesting conglomerate of moderately successful offense for three quarters and pretty tenacious defense from both teams,” summarized LA’s Chris Mazur. “Both team’s defensive units scored very efficiently, punishing any offensive errors. LA just happened to make less errors over three quarters, and that was mainly the difference.” Though the Cascades would have preferred a different result, Seattle was encouraged by the growing ability of its defense to convert breaks, something that has been the team’s Achilles heel through the first month and a half of the season. “This game, we got the blocks and converted with fast-break offense and were able to get some quick shots for streaking goals,” said Seattle’s Brad Houser, who registered six goals to lead the Cascades in scoring for the second straight game. “A big game for Shane Worthington, who gets especially challenging matchups and is performing admirably, and Cameron Baker, who was one of our streaking targets for deep looks.” Mark Burton led Seattle in assists for the fifth consecutive game, dishing 12 more dimes to give him a league-best 50 on the season. “He’s so unassuming,” Mazur said about Burton. “He’s never running blistering fast, but he’s constantly finding ways to get open. He has amazing body positioning on seemingly every 50/50 disc thrown near him. And then his cross-field vision, changing the angle of attack with the disc in his hands is really something special. I haven’t seen someone attack cross-field while in the red zone as effectively as him this past Sunday. Force our team to play honest defense all over the field. What makes Mark truly special, though, is his leadership. The game got chippy, more chippy than any of us would have liked. The two teams got together postgame to talk, and it was Mark’s voice that led this conversation. He spoke about the greater purpose beyond just playing a game, spoke to respecting each other as we know we are capable of doing, and implored both teams to come out in a few weeks to fight in a cleaner way that we can all look back upon with pride. Mark’s stats are secondary to his character and his league-wide leadership.”
- It’s also worth noting that Los Angeles became the fifth team in the league this season to have a female player among the active 20, joining Madison, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Stephanie Pritchard and Ronnie Eder, practice players since the start of the preseason, both contributed to the team’s four-goal win in Seattle. “I found out Tuesday before the game [that I would be making the trip to play at Seattle],” said Pritchard, who scored a goal late in the first half of her AUDL debut. “It was my birthday [on Tuesday when I got the news], so my first thought was, ‘What a great birthday present!’ And then I spent the week fluctuating between excitement and nervousness. Overall, I feel pretty good about the game. I had a couple turns that I certainly wish I’d held onto, but scoring that goal was an incredible feeling and you can’t beat bringing home the win.” Pritchard’s ultimate career began 10 years ago at UCLA, and over the past decade, she has developed her skills to be able to contribute to the Aviators’ strong O-line on the road. “Stephanie played nearly every O-point and Roni played half of the D points,” explained Mazur. “A typical set for us in terms of playing time distribution. Both of the practice player call-ups have been at all our team functions from day one. They both crushed at tryouts and made their teammates better through preseason practices. Stephanie in particular has been at all of our west side pod workouts, pushing us to run harder and build chemistry. On Sunday, the vast majority of our pull plays utilized her as the fill cut following a decoy cut. We expected some sort of poaching, and Stephanie’s great field awareness resulted in easy yardage gains to start offensive possessions. On the defensive side of things, we asked Roni to play one of the selfless positions on the field—marking in a 2-3-2 scheme. I asked her after the game how she felt in that spot, and [she] was enthusiastic that it’s her favorite position in any zone regardless of what version of the game she’s playing. So we found a great way to utilize her length and vision to limit throwing lanes throughout the game.”
- Ho hum, the Indianapolis AlleyCats won again, becoming the first team in the league to reach six wins with their 27-24 triumph over Pittsburgh on Sunday. Indy’s O-line held on 22 of its 25 opportunities, with the regular stable of AlleyCat stars piling up the stats. Travis Carpenter scored six goals, Keenan Plew dished eight assists while completing all 53 of his throws, and Rick Gross registered a season-best +13, with four goals, seven assists, and three Ds. “Our offense has been on a new level this year,” said Gross, who’s +49 is tied with Burton for the league lead. “We’ve been clicking all year long. We all trust each other with the disc and believe in everyone’s ability on the line. No one is trying to be that ‘hero’ player and do too much to stand out. Just seven players who have been filling their role perfectly and it’s awesome to see as we get further into the season. I know the stats show Keenan, Travis, and I having huge games, but it wouldn’t be possible without everyone on our O-line.” On Sunday, the rest of the AlleyCats O-line consisted of Cameron Brock (four goals, one assist), Sam Sohn (four goals), Aaron Schwartz (two goals, one assist), and Kyle Cox (one goal, one assist). The 6-1 AlleyCats have a week off before commencing a critical three-game stretch of their schedule, vs. Chicago, at Minnesota, and vs. Madison.
- Before the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds fell by three on Sunday in Indy, the Chicago Wildfire also bested Pittsburgh on Saturday, as the Wildfire led wire-to-wire and snapped a two-game skid with a 21-16 victory. Chicago led 7-4 after one, 13-10 at the break, and 18-12 through three. “We got an early lead,” said Wildfire Coach Adrian King, “which always helps players stay engaged and emotionally positive. We kept the heat on Pittsburgh and avoided complacency despite our edge. Pitt was successful in slowing down our offense with their zone look. Fortunately, our O was patient enough to find gaps.” Pawel Janas led the Wildfire with seven assists, the 12th straight game and 17th team in the team’s last 18 games that Janas has been tops on the squad in helpers. And for the first time this season, Michael Pardo, who led the Wildfire with 70 goals last year, paced the team in scores with six strikes against Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds, while disappointed with the pair of losses, were pleased by the way they competed, yielding closer results than their previous four losses. “This weekend we were able to hold consistently on O and provide defensive pressure early in the first quarter,” said Thunderbirds Coach Pat Hammonds. “We found ourselves within striking distance late in the second half of both games, but unfortunately we didn’t quite execute well enough to turn the tides. My standout player recognitions from the weekend go to Owen Watt and Alex Thomas. Owen is a great teammate who fits in great with our offense schemes and has really provided a steady presence on that side of the disc. Alex ‘AT’ Thomas is a relentless defender who consistently smothers his matchups and dominates downfield touches on a turn. These two guys have been vocal leaders who inspire by example, and this past weekend gives me confidence that we are going to finish the season a very different team from how we started it.”
- Like the Radicals on Sunday, the Minnesota Wind Chill quickly built a convincing lead against Detroit on Saturday. Minnesota began the game with four consecutive breaks and led 19-10 by halftime. A modest 5-3 third quarter made it 24-13 heading into the fourth, where the Wind Chill poured it on with another 10-4 period to prevail 24-17 over the still winless Mechanix. Everyone contributed for Minnesota, as all 20 players had either a goal, assist, or block. Seven members of the Wind Chill finished with multiple goals and multiple assists, led by Ryan Osgar (five assists, two goals) and Jason Tschida (four goals, two assists). At 2-2 on the season, Minnesota will look to rise to 4-2 this weekend with road games at Pittsburgh and Detroit. After that, the Wind Chill will enjoy a bye week before starting June with tough challenges vs. 6-1 Indianapolis and 5-0 Madison.
With 13 games on tap in Week 8, this upcoming weekend is the busiest of the season thus far. And it’s not just quantity; it is also high quality.
In the West and South, the top two teams meet, with Los Angeles (4-2) traveling to San Diego (4-2) and Atlanta (4-1) visiting Dallas (4-1). Of course, before the Hustle can worry about the Roughnecks on Sunday, they first have to tangle with sliding Austin Sol (3-3) on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in the East and Midwest, the two undefeated teams both face stiff challenges on Saturday evening. For the first time this season, the Madison Radicals (5-0) meet the Chicago Wildfire (2-2) and the Toronto Rush (4-0) host the D.C. Breeze (2-2-1). The Radicals-Wildfire game will air live on Stadium, and Chicago’s Kurt Gibson is hopeful to return from his hamstring injury for this critical Midwest matchup.
Like Nethercutt or McDonnell last weekend, a healthy Gibson is always a candidate to take over a game by himself. With two AUDL championships and several other world titles to his name, Gibson’s individual ultimate resume shines above the rest of the Radicals. But as good as one player might be, he still needs his teammates to serve as worthy sidekicks. Chicago also has a few other playmakers who are capable of dominating, though Madison’s track record of stingy defense and composed offense cannot be ignored
It will be fascinating to see how the Radicals strive to contain Gibson, and it will be just as compelling to watch the rest of the Wildfire endeavor to rise up in their biggest moment of the season. Madison’s won 11 straight games over Chicago, but the Wildfire are determined to squash that streak.
On Saturday night, we will see if Chicago’s individuals—stars and youth together—can coalesce as a team that’s worthy of challenging the perennial juggernaut. A Wildfire win would not change the balance of power completely, but it would send a strong message that Madison’s road back to Championship Weekend is not a given.
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