May 29, 2018
By Evan Lepler
Deceptively, the final score was 24-16. It wasn’t that close.
On Saturday night at Breese Stevens Field, 1,200 of the best fans in ultimate were dealt a powerful punch in the gut, and the hometown team they cheered for was left looking for answers, humbled by the speed, precision, and overall brilliance of a dynamic opponent finally hitting its stride.
The Raleigh Flyers’ rollicking rout over the Madison Radicals was the rare concurrence of surprising and inevitable. The visiting Flyers had been hyped as a SuperTeam throughout the season, but had struggled to fulfill the lofty expectations. The Radicals entered the evening undefeated but relatively untested, leaving them vulnerable and unprepared for their biggest game of the year.
Even if Raleigh possessed more talent, the thinking went, the combination of Flyer inconsistency and Radical home-field prowess would lead to a competitive interdivisional showdown. Instead, the Flyers overwhelmed the Radicals immediately, dealing them their largest deficit and worst loss in franchise history. Raleigh scored 12 of the game’s first 15 goals, at times toying with a Radicals’ roster that could not match up.
From Raleigh’s perspective, it was refreshing. It was a glimpse at what the Flyers thought they could be. Even without Jonathan Helton, the offense was dominant. Jonathan Nethercutt and Jack Williams dazzled with their versatile, unstoppable two-man game, combining for six goals and 12 assists. Mischa Freystaetter and Jacob Fairfax commanded respect as towering downfield targets, totaling seven goals between them. Bob Liu and Brett Matzuka were crafty, squirrelly, and patient, calmly and relentlessly connecting with the open guy. Together, Liu and Matzuka completed 103 passes with zero throwaways. Kiron Allen, Terrance Mitchell, and Jacob Mouw continued to excel as solid and reliable role players, capable of moving the disc and feeding the stars.
Defensively, Raleigh pressured Madison into a tornado of turnovers. Noah Saul, Shane Sisco, and Joey Cretella flexed their speed and experience. Hunter Taylor, David Richardson, and Mike Pannone simultaneously patrolled the deep space and pressured the unders. Matt Ellis and Johnnie Lynch added youthful spunk, mixing exuberance, hustle, and fearlessness to make plays against the veteran-laden Radicals.
By the end of the night, Raleigh had reaffirmed why it had been so highly regarded, and that despite losses to the Dallas Roughnecks (by three), Austin Sol (by two), and DC Breeze (by one), the Flyers remain a daunting championship contender. At 6-3, with four of their final five games at home, the Flyers are almost certainly assured of a playoff berth. While they trail first-place Dallas by a game and a half, they have already proven they can win on the Roughnecks’ home field.
Meanwhile, Madison—and the entire Midwest Division by proxy—endured a painful and alarming wake-up call. The Radicals, who have gone 76-7 against their divisional foes, fell to 1-7 vs. teams from outside their division. Similarly, the Midwest Division dropped to 0-4 in regular season interdivisional play, which was introduced to the AUDL in 2017.
The sample size and eye test have reached a breaking point where ignoring the evidence is irresponsible; the Midwest Division needs to step up. Obviously, this starts with the Radicals, who, despite Saturday’s shellacking, remain the heavy favorite to emerge from this region. They have 10 weeks to build, tweak, and improves themselves in anticipation of a return trip to Championship Weekend, which they will once again be hosting.
Perhaps Madison’s worst loss ever will be looked at as a blessing in disguise. Maybe this is exactly the humbling experience that the Radicals need to take a hard, honest look at everything they are doing. And while upcoming games against the Indianapolis AlleyCats, Minnesota Wind Chill, and Chicago Wildfire are not guaranteed victories by any means, the Radicals’ should have the flexibility to tinker and experiment throughout the next couple months. Their goal, which has been articulated here in the past, has to be bigger than simply winning Midwest games. They need to foster a new explosiveness that will allow them to handle the speed and talent from elsewhere around the league. Otherwise, the Final Four struggles will emerge again, spoiling another promising opportunity.
The Radicals were missing a few key O-line cogs on Saturday, as Kevin Brown, Avery Johnson, and Thomas Coolidge were absent due to injury or illness. With the college season now concluded, Madison expects to welcome former Radicals’ Chris Wilen and Jeff Maskalunas back from the University of Wisconsin roster in the coming weeks. This quintet could certainly increase the team’s collective quickness and straight-line speed.
But will it be enough? And if not, what else can the Radicals do?
This is a team that has prided itself on creating a system where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But they have also relied on standout performers to elevate their games in key moments. Now, they no longer have Jay Froude, Abe Coffin, or Brian Hart, all who were able to change games with their athleticism. Their aging O-line, with five guys in their thirties, has lacked sizzle. Peter Graffy may simply be a very good player and not the superstar that can singlehandedly carry a team for quarters at a time. New additions like Tarik Akyuz, Kyle Weigand, and Anson Reppermund have been decent role players but nowhere near the All-AUDL conversation. The strategies that have repeatedly stifled Indy and Chicago have not worked nearly as well against Dallas, San Francisco, or Raleigh.
The Radicals have reached an intersection. One way or another, Saturday’s embarrassing loss will serve as a turning point. Remember how Toronto got destroyed by DC early last season? The Rush’s 32-21 loss prompted an introspective organizational review, and the team rallied back from a 1-2 start to win 12 of their next 13 games, including an epic performance against the same Dallas team that had beaten them handily the year before at Championship Weekend. Toronto earned buckets of praise for the tremendously clutch and high-level play, culminating with a narrow 30-29 loss to the loaded San Francisco FlameThrowers in the finals.
That’s the roadmap for Madison to try and emulate. Maybe the Radicals can add a key free agent or two to bolster the roster, a la Toronto picking up Darren Wu and Justin Foord in years past. More likely, the Rads simply need to focus on maximizing their considerable potential. To do that, changes to the status quo may be required. Individual roles should shift or evolve. Some players simply have to raise their game.
In 75 days, an AUDL champion will be crowned at Breese Stevens Field. If the Radicals can learn from the Raleigh game and make some dramatic adjustments, it could be them. Otherwise, it will be another long Wisconsin winter for the loyal Radical fans who dream of seeing their small-town team hoist ultimate’s greatest prize.
The Full-Field Layout
Writing while traveling is always a challenge, and this particular Tuesday after College Nationals finds the author in transit following an ultimate-filled Memorial Day Weekend. After an exhilarating and exhausting four days under the sun in Milwaukee and Madison, here’s an abbreviated look at what else transpired throughout a seven-game Week 9 in the AUDL:
Keenan Plew and Keegan North were too much for Chicago, as they combined for six goals and 11 assists in Indy’s 26-21 victory over the Wildfire. Rick Gross added seven goals, Cameron Brock and Levi Jacobs each scored three times, and the AlleyCats improved to 7-1 to leapfrog the Radicals in the Midwest Division.
Chicago managed only two breaks in 48 minutes, and Indy led wire-to-wire to win its sixth game in a row. The AlleyCats will try to keep it rolling in their first meeting of the season with the 4-2 Wind Chill, which is scheduled for this Saturday in Minnesota and will be broadcast live on Stadium.
Are the Nashville NightWatch actually contenders to challenge Atlanta and Austin for the third South Division playoff spot? It appears so, after the NightWatch overcame an early 2-0 deficit to dominate the Sol 27-21 on Saturday night for Nashville’s third consecutive victory. The NightWatch led by as many as eight and used a 12-6 rally in the middle quarters to create separation from the Sol, who disappointingly could not build upon their strong home win over Atlanta from last week. Nashville’s surge is certainly related to improved depth, as the NightWatch had eight players with multiple goals and eight players with multiple assists despite a pair of offensive anchors not even being availabe to play. Tyler Conger and Stephen Poulos were the team’s top two completion leaders in last week’s win over Tampa Bay. Without either of themagainst Austin, Mac McClellan and Jacob Flowers stepped in and completed 99 of 100 throws.
It turns out that New York’s buzzer-beating win over D.C. on May 5 did not signify that the Empire’s struggles with the Breeze are over.
DC jumped out to a 6-1 lead in Saturday’s rematch, setting the tone for a 29-21 pounding to snap New York’s three-game winning streak. It was a mighty impressive showing for the Breeze, who won handily despite missing their Coach Darryl Stanley, who was leading the University of Maryland team at College Nationals. DC employed a balanced attack, with nine different players registering multiple goals and five distributors sharing the team lead with three assists apiece. Joe Richards, playing his first AUDL game since April 7, led the defense with three blocks to go with two goals and two assists. Both teams lost key players during the game. D.C.’s Rowan McDonnell played just one point in the second half after pulling his hamstring, and New York’s Beau Kittredge only played eight points before pulling his calf muscle in the first quarter. McDonnell says he's 50/50 for this coming weekend, while Kittredge thinks he'll be out 'probably a few weeks.' The Empire were also without Jeff Babbitt, who hurt his ankle at the end of the first half against Philadelphia on May 19. The loss dropped New York to 3-2 and tightened up the East Division race for second place behind Toronto.
The Rush remained perfect, and thanks to Raleigh’s win over Madison, left Toronto as the last undefeated AUDL squad in 2018.
One week after leading the Rush with six goals against the Breeze, 18-year-old Dutch rookie Ben Oort paced Toronto with seven scores against the Phoenix, a quarter of the team’s offense in a 28-23 victory. Philly kept it close and was within two early in the fourth quarter, but Toronto’s 6-2 run secured the five-goal win. O-line mainstays Cam Harris and Andrew Carroll combined for five goals and 10 assists, while Philly’s Sean Mott and Mike Arcata answered the Rush duo by totaling 10 goals and 11 assists together. The Phoenix had to be pleased that they were competitive in Toronto, but still suffered their third consecutive setback.
Unfortunately for Philly, the losing streak swelled to four on Sunday afternoon as Ottawa pummeled them 30-18. Philadelphia actually led 3-1 early and only trailed by three at the half, but the Phoenix fuel tank looked empty as the Outlaws cruised 17-8 in the final two quarters, including an 6-0 run that transformed a 17-15 nailbiter into a 23-15 rout. Derek Alexander dished six assists, while the Loiseau brothers, Karl and Laurent, each contributed four goals. Alec Arsenault offered a strong all-around performance, with three goals, two assists, and three blocks, accumulating a team-best +7. Ottawa sits at 2-4 in the thick of a five-way clump of East Division teams who all have two or three wins heading into June.
Out West, the Los Angeles Aviators overcame a four-goal third-quarter deficit to improve to 6-0 against division opponents, surpassing San Diego 25-23, the Aviators third win over the Growlers on the season.
Late in the fourth, San Diego had the disc with a chance to tie the game at 24, but Jeff Silverman’s third D of the game helped set up Tim Beatty’s fifth assist, which gave LA a two-goal cushion and helped the Aviators escape. For the fourth time in the team’s last six games, Sean McDougall led the squad in plus/minus (+7), while Zach Theodore tallied six goals despite playing most of his points on D. Sean Ham and Travis Dunn led the Growlers with five goals and five assists, respectively, but the Growlers dipped to 4-4 on the year, with 6-2 LA responsible for three of their four defeats. Both the Growlers and Aviators will face 3-4 San Francisco at home this weekend in a pivotal road trip for the FlameThrowers.
The North Carolina ultimate community need not go holiday shopping anytime soon. They earned their fair share of sweet memories and gold medals this past weekend.
As Raleigh Coach Mike DeNardis said on Twitter, “Not gonna lie, this weekend was straight up frisbee Christmas.”
After Mike DeNardis, David Allison, and Jonathan Nethercutt coached the University of North Carolina to three pool play wins on Friday and Saturday and then walloped the Radicals on Saturday night, the multitasking masterminds helped engineer three more victories on Sunday and Monday, as UNC surpassed Washington 15-11 in quarters, Oregon 14-13 in semis, and Pittsburgh 14-10 in the final to win their second college title in the last four years.
Now it’s up to Denardis and the Flyers to make Christmas last all year long.
Considering the success of North Carolina youth ultimate (three YCC titles in the past four years) and UNC’s college program, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before it translates to the professional level too. The pipeline of talent continues to churn out skill and athleticism, and the Raleigh Flyers will look to capitalize on their resources in the coming months and years ahead.
As we sit here in late May 2018, no local community has created youth feeder system as strong as the North Carolina Triangle under DeNardis, Nethercutt, and others. As DarkSide showed all weekend in Milwaukee and the Flyers displayed on Saturday in Madison, their ceiling is mighty high.
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