May 22, 2018
By Evan Lepler
Eight weeks into the 2018 regular season journey and the divisional playoff races are becoming clearer. Each of the four divisions has a clear frontrunner, but the battle for the other postseason positions looks like a congested free-for-all.
In the East and Midwest, the undefeated Toronto Rush and Madison Radicals are the obvious favorites. Not only are they each 6-0, but eight of their 12 combined wins have come away from home. Having already secured road victories over their closest contenders, the Rush and Radicals look poised to enter the playoffs as the top seeds. Right now, the biggest question is: can either finish the season undefeated? Personally, I think each will suffer at least one loss, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Trailing Toronto, all five other East Division teams are still in the mix, within one game in the loss column of third place. The New York Empire’s convincing victory over the Philadelphia Phoenix put the Empire at 3-1 and solidly in second place, but it’s worth mentioning that all four New York results have come in New Rochelle, NY. The Empire still have all seven of their road games on their schedule, tops in the league. Behind them, the Montreal Royal (3-3), Philly (2-3-1), DC Breeze (2-4-1), and Ottawa Outlaws (1-4) are all frisky, fun, and flawed. It’s doubtful any of them will contend for a league championship in 2018, but they are all capable of winning any game they play, which should make the East especially entertaining down the stretch.
In the Midwest, the Indianapolis AlleyCats (6-1), Minnesota Wind Chill (4-2), and Chicago Wildfire (2-3) are three teams scrapping for two spots, with the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds (1-7) and Detroit Mechanix (0-7) hoping to play spoiler. The AlleyCats have been impressive but relatively untested, the Wind Chill have looked inconsistent but steadily improving, while the Wildfire possess the biggest stars but lack the experienced complementary depth. Of the three, Chicago may have the tallest ceiling, but at the moment they are missing the flight of stairs to reach that top floor. All three of these Midwest contenders have two games remaining against the others in the trio, one at home and one on the road. We’ll learn more soon, as Indy hosts Chicago and travels to Minnesota on the next two Saturdays. By the way, the AlleyCats, Wind Chill, and Wildfire each have two more games against first-place Madison too.
The leaders in the South and West are not quite as disconnected from their respected packs, but the Dallas Roughnecks (5-1) and Los Angeles Aviators (5-2) still look like very good bets to win their regular season races, respectively. The Roughnecks are two losses clear of the four teams behind them, and each of their competitors will be battling one another in the coming months. Even if Dallas loses a couple games, it feels unlikely, based on the inconsistency we have witnessed, that one of the Roughnecks’ rivals will run the table. The best race—maybe throughout the entire league—could develop between the Raleigh Flyers (5-3), Austin Sol (4-3), and Atlanta Hustle (4-3) in pursuit of the two remaining South Division slots. After this past weekend, though, things are looking bleaker for the Hustle. They’ve already been swept in two meetings with the Sol, which could be a key potential tiebreaker, but they still have two chances against Raleigh. Meanwhile, the Nashville NightWatch also sit at 2-3 after winning two straight, so they are mathematically very much in the mix. The NightWatch are probably not playoff-caliber, but they still have a chance to prove this author’s assertion wrong.
Out West, the Aviators are only one game up on the San Diego Growlers (4-3), but LA has gone 5-0 against the West Division, including two wins by a combined 18 goals against the Growlers. The San Francisco FlameThrowers/San Jose Spiders/Seattle Cascades triumvirate all can be enjoyable teams with potential to rock the boat via a potential postseason upset, but it’s hard to fathom any of them finding the consistency to catch Los Angeles in the regular season, unless the Aviators fly through some unexpected turbulence.
To recap, 20 of 23 franchises are still in the thick of the playoff chase (if you include Nashville) heading into Memorial Day Weekend. And while the divisional leaders may look somewhat secure in their pursuits of the top seeds, I truly believe that none are invincible and immune from a possible postseason upset. The quartet of first-place clubs have played a combined eight games decided by three or less so far against divisional opponents, winning them all. Unquestionably, there are lurking contenders that confidently believe they can knock off one of the top seeds with a trip to Championship Weekend on the line.
The march to Madison continues with a smaller seven-game slate this weekend, and every team that takes the field will do so with the belief that they can make a postseason run. It is pretty cool how that’s still true at the midway point of the season.
The Full-Field Layout
Over the past few seasons, one of the unspoken rules of the AUDL dictated that Atlanta and Austin would always go down to the wire. In six meetings between the Hustle and Sol, half of which went to overtime, the results were decided by a total of nine goals. This included a one-goal game, the fourth in the series, in Atlanta on May 5, won by the Sol 23-22.
But in the rematch this past Saturday, Austin quickly seized control. The Hustle’s O-line held to start the game, but then was broken three times in a row on a 4-0 Sol rally that set the tone for the night, and Atlanta never led again in a 28-19 Austin rout, the nine-goal difference matching the combined margins of victory from the previous six meetings.
“Our D was incredible,” said Austin’s Kyle Henke, who led the Sol with seven goals. “Atlanta had a run of self-inflicted turns late in the third and in the fourth that put us up 4-5 more than what we worked for, but our D did a great job converting a huge percentage of the break opportunities they gave us.”
After leading 13-10 at the half, Austin won the third quarter 6-3 and extended the lead with a 9-6 fourth. Nine different Sol players dished multiple assists, with Chase Cunningham, Ethan Pollack, Max Cook, and Mike Natenberg all registering three apiece. Jerrod Wolfe, with five goals, two assists, and two Ds, paced the squad in plus/minus (+8) to help snap the team’s two game losing skid.
“It felt like [we were] getting back on track,” remarked Henke. “Those last couple losses just felt like a bad dream. Offensively, we’re figuring out how to play around a constantly changing roster, and I think/hope we’ve got it out of our system. I’m excited to see how dangerous we’ll be when we get Matt and Mitch Bennett back and have our full O line. It’s going to be scary.”
Meanwhile, the Hustle had to look for answers quickly, with another game against Dallas looming about 16 hours later.
“Not sure what happened against Austin,” wondered Atlanta’s Matt Smith. “I do think the wind and heat had something to do with it; we’ve had some hot weather in Atlanta, but I think the travel to Texas and the 90+ degree weather took more of a toll on us than we were expecting. The wind was also surprisingly gusty at the stadium. It made for an ugly game: We had 21 throwaways and six drops; Austin had 18 throwaways, two drops. I can’t imagine many teams would think they’d win a game by nine with 20 turnovers, but that’s the kind of game it was.”
On Sunday against the Roughnecks, the Hustle never let the game get out of hand, but they never led at any point either. Dallas began the game with consecutive breaks to jump to a 2-0 lead and held quarterly advantages of 5-3, 14-9, and 19-16 before securing a 26-21 triumph at the final buzzer.
“The weather was threatening storms and Atlanta had a flight to catch, so we knew we had to come out fast and take the early lead in case the game was called at halftime,” remarked Dallas’ Brandon Malecek, who completed all 50 of his throws in the Roughnecks’ win. “The field was pretty muddy and the heat/humidity had to be taking a toll on Atlanta after their Saturday night game vs. Austin.”
Several key Roughnecks had strong games, including Kai Marshall (three goals, six assists), Jay Froude (five goals, three assists), and Matt Jackson (one goal, four assists, 59 completions in 60 attempts). The Hustle kept it competitive and inched within two in the third quarter, but could not get over the hump on the second day of a back-to-back, as their record dropped from 4-1 to 4-3 as a result of the tough Texas weekend.
“Obviously, not the weekend we were hoping for, but that’s why it was so valuable to win those early games,” mentioned Smith. “We still have a great chance at the playoffs and none of the teams appear unbeatable…We’re looking forward to regrouping on this bye week and refocusing for the road ahead. We weren’t sure what to expect going into the season, but 4-3 halfway through isn’t so bad and leadership feels good about our chances.”
Ironically, perhaps the most fascinating 48 minutes from Week 8 occurred between two teams with minimal playoff hopes. The Tampa Bay Cannons, 0-6 in games decided by three or less and 1-7 overall, have already come to grips with the rebuilding nature of their season, while the Nashville NightWatch had dropped 17 of their previous 18 games heading into Saturday night’s showdown in the Music City.
Though the stakes were not gigantic, the two teams competed with tremendous intensity and passion, despite a slew of adverse, bizarre, and unprecedented circumstances that arose throughout the lengthy evening. Initially, it appeared to be an innocent delay, prompted by inaugural Nashville Women’s Pro Cup running a little bit late. Those four consecutive women’s contests pushed the Cannons-NightWatch start time back about 30 minutes, a seemingly harmless shift until the storm clouds began a-gathering.
The score was 5-5 in the opening quarter was play was halted. The skies looked nasty, the wind speeds were picking up, the distant lightning was nearing, and it was obvious that dangerous weather was coming. Since the game had already begun late, the two teams had a smaller window of time to complete the battle before the lights would automatically turn off around 10:00 PM, and with the ominous radar, it was unclear if the teams would be able to get back on the field.
“The leadership of the teams talked about alternatives and the idea of playing at the indoor Vanderbilt football/track facility—a very nice facility with a good turf field—where we had warmed up before the game, was discussed,” explained Tampa Bay Captain Adam Carr. “Rather than rescheduling the game for another date or trying to wait out the weather and risk ending up not being able to resume, both teams agreed to give playing inside a shot.”
The indoor field was actually ideal, except for one important factor. An oval track circled the field and cut off the turf before the end zones, so instead of having a full 120-yard pitch, they only had 90 yards to work with. It was not perfect, but it was better than nothing, and the sides agreed to amend the dimensions of the playing field in the middle of the game. They set up the pylons to create two 15-yard end zones (five yards shy of the standard 20) and a 60-yard playing field proper (20 yards short of the usual 80). The width of the field remained normal, however, at 53.3 yards.
“Strategically, we knew that pulls could be covered much more effectively and that initiating plays could be more difficult to run with the defense able to set up more quickly,” remembered Carr. “We also discussed how the short field would impact things, needing to control big throws and how smaller end zones would impact red-zone looks.”
The teams were deadlocked at 16-all at the half, and after a significantly abbreviated halftime of about five minutes, the third quarter commenced. Nashville immediately bolted on a 4-1 run and would not trail again in their high scoring 32-30 triumph, but tempers flared during the early stages of the competitive second half.
“Upon restarting the game, I think it was clear that all parties involved, the teams, staff, and officials, were on edge,” acknowledged Carr. “A variety of factors—a late start, condensed field, multiple instances of the game stopping and starting, etc.—likely contributed, but the game got physical and chippy pretty quickly. Both sides could have behaved better, but the referees took issue with the actions of Billy [O’Bryan] and Coach [Andrew] Roca and made the decision to eject them.”
O’Bryan, who had seven assists in the first half and assumed massive responsibility for the Cannons’ offense that was missing Bobby Ley, Andrew Roney, Tyler Kunsa, and Nathan Vickroy, got tossed after arguing a call midway through the third. Shortly thereafter, following the conclusion of the point, Roca conversed with officials in the middle of the field and also earned the heave-ho, after which he calmly walked off the field and out of the fieldhouse.
“We ended up going on a little run after that, as the atmosphere got a little crazy,” recalled Nashville’s Stephen Poulos, who tallied eight assists on the night. “To their credit, the Cannons kept the intensity up the entire game, getting a couple breaks back to make it close in the end.”
Despite the pair of early departures, Tampa still had a chance in the final minutes, but a huck to get within one went astray, and the NightWatch proceeded to run out the clock on maybe the wackiest win of the season. From Nashville’s perspective, of course, the craziness did not matter nearly as much as the fact that they had won two straight games and, in doing so, matched their win total from April, May, and June over the past three seasons combined.
It’s a small sample size, sure, but after winning just five of the first 45 games in franchise history, the NightWatch are now riding a two-game winning streak and have their next three games at home. Admittedly, they should still be underdog in all three games (vs. Austin, Dallas, and Atlanta), but there still is reason for hope, now more than ever.
“One of our goals this season is to create a culture of winning, which starts with a positive mindset and a confidence that we can compete against whoever we play,” said Poulos. “Obviously, it is very early for us in the season as we have only played five games, but we are trying to build on the early motivation we’ve created so far and just trying to get better each and every week. We know every team in the South is really good, so the onus is on us to give maximum effort every time we step on the field.”
Following a signature win over Raleigh in Week 7, the DC Breeze journeyed to Canada hoping the momentum would propel them against Toronto and Montreal. In two games, however, the Breeze played 94 points and only held a lead during seven of them, none of which were in the second half.
On Saturday, the Breeze quickly were broken twice by the Rush, but rebounded to find themselves up 6-5 at the end of the opening quarter, a 12-minute segment where five of the 11 scores were breaks.
“We were up 4-2 and then D.C. went hold, break, break, break to all of a sudden take a two-goal lead, and [they] had a chance a fourth consecutive break,” remembered Toronto Coach Sachin Raina. “They used a timeout to get their O-line on the field, but we managed to force a turn and score with seven seconds left. Izzy [Masek-Kelly] then skied the pile on the ensuing buzzer beater to end the quarter only trailing 6-5, but it very easily could have been 7-4 and who knows what would have happened then? In the second quarter, we were able to retake and stretch the lead by scoring quickly off their turnovers, and that’s where Jeremy [Norden] racked up four assists. It just seemed like every time he got the disc someone was going and he was able to put the disc in a spot where his receivers could make a play. Sometimes it was an easy pancake and other times it was a massive sky, specifically by [Nick] Dacquisto.”
Despite playing 16 of his 17 points on defense, Jeremy Norden led the Rush with seven assists and Toronto poured it on in the second half. The Rush dominated the second quarter 12-5, won the third quarter 6-5, and extended the lead further with a 10-4 fourth to prevail 33-20. Ben Oort, the 18-year-old rookie, paced the Rush with six goals, while Isaiah Masek-Kelly recorded five Ds. Mike MacKenzie’s balanced line of three goals, three assists, three Ds, and no turnovers produced a game-best +9. From D.C.’s perspective, Rowan McDonnell completed all 35 of his throws and totaled three goals and three assists, but the Breeze’s next three completion leaders also accumulated 13 throwaways.
Both teams were back to work on Sunday, with the Breeze at Montreal and the Rush hosting Ottawa. Each game went down to the wire, coincidentally finishing with nearly identical scores.
In Quebec, the Royal benefited from the return of their 2017 leading scorer Quentin Bonnaud, who had not played since suffering a thumb injury on April 21.
“Quentin took the first half of the game to find his rhythm, but found it,” remarked relieved Royal Captain Kevin Quinlan. “Man, he is good.”
Bonnaud led the Royal with four goals, Quinlan paced the squad with five assists, and the Royal hung on for the narrow 21-20 victory to win in regulation for the first time since April 7. The Breeze scored the final three goals of the game after trailing 21-17, but only three seconds remained when D.C. inched within one. A single Royal completion on the game’s last point secured a Montreal victory.
“We have had a huge focus on integrating everyone and finding the roles that suit the team best,” explained Quinlan. “This hasn’t been easy. Finally, it felt like we are moving in the right direction…Our depth stepped up and won us that game. Seeing a lot of the rookies have such an impact was awesome. Also, getting our best player back was nice.”
DC’s McDonnell continued to look like an MVP candidate on Sunday, compiling four goals, six assists, and 44 completions in 45 attempts. Like Saturday, however, the next two completion leaders combined for 11 throwaways, and the Breeze still fell short, dropping to 2-4-1 at the midway point of their season.
Meanwhile, Toronto struggled to shake Ottawa despite bolting to a 5-1 lead early. Up 8-4 at the end of the first, the Rush surrendered a significant rally, and the Outlaws tied it up 10-all at the half.
“We definitely looked a bit tired and didn’t have the same killer instinct,” reflected Toronto Captain Thomson McKnight. “Ottawa was also playing well and working harder than we were. We had to show some mental toughness and fight through errors to come up with the second W this weekend.”
In the second half, Toronto used a pivotal 3-0 run late in the third quarter to transform a 15-13 deficit into a 16-15 lead heading into the fourth. The Rush then opened the final period with a 3-1 burst to stretch the lead to 19-16, yet the Outlaws would not die, scoring three in a row to tie the game at 19 with about three minutes remaining.
“The main thing that made this game such a game of runs was the wind,” commented Ottawa’s Nick Boucher. “It was extremely swirly, one minute you would be going heavily downwind, and three passes later you would find yourself going upwind…It was a very basketball-esque game in terms of the runs.”
Tied at 19, the Rush calmly executed seven straight completions and delivered a turnover-free hold, with Ben Burelle connecting with Andrew Carroll to put Toronto ahead by one. Then, after the Outlaws turned it over, Toronto put the game away with a Norden to Masek-Kelly break, cementing the 21-19 victory to remain undefeated. The Rush were buoyed late by a trio of rookies, all of whom used fresh legs to make an impact defensively.
“Rookie Drew Wilson was actually the spark plug who helped generate [two critical second-half] breaks by applying a bunch of pressure on the throwers.,” said Raina. “Down the stretch, rookies Dan LaFrance and Phil Turner both got big Ds in the air, which led to breaks. None of those guys played Saturday, so they were fresh late in the game on Sunday to make those plays.”
The Outlaws were undoubtedly encouraged by playing the Rush so close, but still were left wondering when they might be able to topple Toronto for the first time in franchise history.
“Toronto has forever been uncrackable for the Outlaws,” lamented Boucher. “We’ve had close halves, close games, but never been able to get over the hump. So while I’m definitely proud of our team for how they fought, there are only so many times we can take silver linings from losses to Toronto. With the East having so much parity this season, whichever team can steal a game off Toronto might just find the golden ticket to the playoffs come July.”
Perhaps I missed a release about the signing, but until I watched the film from New York’s comfortable 23-15 victory over Philadelphia on Monday, I had not realized that the Empire had signed Lexi Zalk to their roster. Recognized as a First-Team All-Club performer by Ultiworld in 2016, Zalk was an instrumental cog in her team’s run to a national title in USA Ultimate’s Mixed Division. And in her first ever AUDL game, she looked like she belonged.
“She’s played in plenty of big club games before, so it wasn’t surprising to see her bring the same game we’ve seen her show at practice the past couple months,” remarked New York’s Mike Drost.
Zalk’s most impressive sequence came in the final moments of the first half, when she caught a disc near the sideline with just a few seconds left. An open cutter was streaking up the line into the end zone, but she wisely noticed a poaching defender that was anticipating that vertical throw. Instead, she launched a cross-field blading flick over the defense, where Jeff Babbitt caught yet another contested buzzer-beater for the Empire. Unfortunately, Babbitt injured his ankle on the landing and did not play in the second half, however Zalk’s throw and overall awareness in the last-second situation still turned heads.
Overall, Zalk played 13 points in the Empire’s eight-goal win, registering one goal and one assist herself.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Does anyone have more fun than Seattle’s resident Joker, Alex Duffel?
@SeattleCascades finally has a #FullHouse. Being on this team is a true joy! #butterNjam #Scades #powpow #lotraces pic.twitter.com/YuLW99VAUG— Alex Duffel (@Duffoe) May 21, 2018
Even during a tough 0-2 weekend, the Cascades still look like they enjoyed their journey together. Those positive vibes absolutely can pay dividends later in the season.
After six straight flights departing Friday and returning Sunday, my steady travel schedule shifts this week for an excellent and exhilarating reason. Over the past half-decade, Memorial Day Weekend has traditionally become one of the most thrilling experiences on the ultimate calendar, an emotional roller-coaster that will ramp up in less than three days.
On Thursday, I plan to fly to Milwaukee, where the 40 best collegiate men’s and women’s ultimate teams will convene for the annual National Championships. On Friday and Saturday, I will spend the day moseying from one field to another while trying to avoid sunburns and blowouts. The constant action—hopefully littered with layouts and universe points—will serve to entertain and prepare for the climactic coverage on Sunday and Monday, which I’ll be honored to anchor alongside the spectacularly talented and knowledgeable duo of Ian Toner and Megan Tormey on ESPN3 and ESPNU.
College Nationals is usually a breathtaking experience, in itself, but wait, there’s more. On Saturday evening, we plan to also scoot about 75 minutes down the Wisconsin road to see the Madison Radicals host the Raleigh Flyers at Breese Stevens Field, a matchup which we’ve been looking forward to for months as one of the most anticipated games of the season. Remember, the undefeated Radicals have gone just 1-6 against teams from outside of their division, though that one victory came against Raleigh at Championship Weekend in 2015.
By the time I return back home on Tuesday, I’ll be just three days away from hitting the skies again, with a Twin Cities trip beckoning for the critical AlleyCats-Wind Chill clash on June 2.
It’s a hectic lifestyle that has its challenges, but please don’t mistake any of this summary as me complaining. I realize how fortunate I am, and I’m having a blast riding the wave. (I’ll probably never actually learn how to surf, but covering the greatest ultimate in the world every weekend is fine consolation.)
Hope to see you in Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, or another ultimate destination in the coming months.
If you see me, please say hi!
Seven On The Line
- San Francisco’s Lior Givol set a FlameThrowers record and delivered a new 2018 league-wide mark by scoring 13 goals on Friday night in his team’s 32-29 victory over Seattle.
“Lior is probably one of the most underrated players in the West Division,” remarked Antoine Davis, who also added three goals and 10 assists to San Francisco’s second straight win. “[He is athletic and has a very high IQ of where he needs to be on the field. Like Marcelo [Sanchez], I am always aware of his position when I get the disc.” Collectively, the FlameThrowers entered the game with the expressed purpose of having as much fun as possible. Consequently, Givol punctuated many of his scores with a Fortnite-inspired celebration. “Eli [Kerns], Elliott [Chartock], Greg [Cohen], Sam [Swink], and I all play [Fortnite] somewhat frequently,” explained Givol, who scored four goals in the first, two in the second, four in the third, and three in the fourth. “During the Spiders game last week, Elliott did a celebration dance from the video game that spurred the idea to do that a lot more next game. It was tons of fun, so we’ll surely have to run some of those back.” Though San Francisco never led Seattle by more than four, the multi-goal lead was constant throughout the entire second half of the high-scoring shootout.
- A day later in San Jose, the Spiders stepped up and the Cascades ran out of gas. Up 4-3 after one, San Jose scored five in a row to start the second and cruised to a 24-14 victory. “San Jose played really aggressive on the unders and made the pays in the air,” said Seattle’s Mark Burton, who had 12 goals and 11 assists on the weekend, but also endured 13 throwaways. “We made plays on Friday night against SF and didn’t on Saturday. We never got into a groove like we normally have as an O-line. San Jose was very aggressive on the marks, jumped earlier in the air, and layed out [for] blocks on unders all night due to fatigue in [our] legs. Props to San Jose for bringing everything they got.” Zach Sabin led the Spiders with six assists in just 13 points played, giving him 11 goals and nine assists in his last three games. “Zach’s been awesome, extremely consistent and a great teammate,” commented teammate Steven Chang, who completed all 32 of his passes in the Spiders’ double-digit win. “Ethan [Falat] has also been playing extremely well, especially since moving him over to the O-line. He moves the disc really well, makes smart decisions, and plays great defense if we turn it, so he has been crucial to us getting our stuff together on offense.”
- In Southern California, San Diego gave Los Angeles a tough battle, but the Aviators won the second quarter 6-3 and the fourth 7-5 to emerge victorious 25-20, taking sole possession of first place in the West Division.
“The difference in the game was we had three or four first-throw turnovers after LA turnovers,” commented Growlers veteran Dom Leggio. “In a close game, that made all the difference and really hurt our momentum. In the first half, our offense was trying to throw 60-70 yard hucks, and unfortunately that’s a little outside our range. LA has athletes all over the place and when we put ourselves in jump ball situations, we usually get beat.” San Diego’s Wes Groth won a few 50-50s for his team and led the way with four goals, but it was not enough against the surging Aviators, whose five wins over West foes have come by an average of nearly seven goals per game. “It feels great to be in first place,” admitted LA’s Mark Elbogen. “We are really hitting our stride and feel confident going into every game. Our D-line continues to put pressure on teams and force turns, and our O-line has been pretty calm and collected for the most part. Our O-line does need to improve coming out with fire out of the gates. I think we have a bad track record of getting broken the first O-point in many games. Got to work on that.” The Aviators and Growlers will reunite again this weekend in Los Angeles.
- When Chicago took an 8-6 lead over Madison 30 seconds into the second quarter, it felt like the Wildfire were poised to seriously threaten the Radicals’ dominance in the series. Pawel Janas already had five assists, Kurt Gibson’s hamstring looked ok, and Chicago seemed in control.
And then, almost instantaneously, the Wildfire were easily extinguished. Madison scored the game’s next five goals and nine of the next 10, part of a 15-5 run that spanned three quarters. Three straight Chicago goals in the fourth quarter inched the game to a slightly more respectable looking final, but Madison’s 24-16 victory, the Radicals’ 12 straight win over the Wildfire, remained convincing. “They’ve got a system that they do very well,” said Gibson, “and our guys are just very young and haven’t played in big games like that before where the expectations are a little bit higher. Honestly, we were plagued by getting in the moment and making stupid decisions. Guys were just not ready to handle the challenge of getting punched in the mouth a little bit...I don’t think we’re nearly as bad as what we portrayed.” The Wildfire dropped to 2-3 and know that their season is on the line in the next few weeks, starting with a trip to Indianapolis this weekend. “We’ve got a lot of youth that we’re still working through, and it’s just gonna take time,” said Gibson. “We will be significantly improved by the end of the season. The hope is that we’re still in playoff contention. But we are at the pivotal point of the season where we gotta start winning these games against Indy and Minnesota.”
- From the Radicals perspective, they felt the game swung dramatically when Logan Pruess got three Ds in the second quarter, all as a mid in the Madison zone. “I don’t think we played any zone in the first, so maybe that helped out, kinda changing the pace they had to play at to keep them off rhythm,” said Pruess, whose experience and anticipation in the center of the Radicals’ defense helped change the game. “My goal in the middle of the zone is to clog things up and force them to make quick choices. The zone can’t shut everything down, but if I jump a lane when I feel you don’t know I’m there, it might surprise you and you might double-clutch a throw or get flustered for a second, just enough to stop the flow and allow the huge double-team to get on you. Anticipating where someone is gonna throw is easiest in the first second after they catch the disc. You can generally tell where the momentum wants to take them and this is generally where they want to throw the disc. Especially when it’s not a main handler, people want to get rid of the disc fast back to a main handler. This means they are looking for someone generally coming from behind them. Those leading dishies, when you’re not looking up field, are really easy to just jump in front of. It takes a lot of time to get good at. The first year I was a mid, it felt like I was just spinning around in the middle of the field, always behind people. After a while, you get a feel for where people try to attack the zone. It’s so fast in the middle that you don’t have time to think, you just have to feel it.”
- After going 2-1 on a three-game homestand following their one-goal loss to open the season in Seattle, the Minnesota Wind Chill earned a pair of double-digit victories on the road this past weekend, cruising over Pittsburgh 33-21 on Saturday before surviving a somewhat shaky start in their 34-24 triumph in Detroit on Sunday. “Yea, we took care of business as we should have,” said Josh Klane, who completed 65 of his 68 throws in the two games. “There was definitely a feeling going into the weekend that we would come out of it 2-0, but that was not our focus. We wanted to play the right way and get better so that when we face Chicago, Indy, and Madison again, then we are properly prepared and ready to go…Our attack was incredibly balanced all weekend. Greg Cousins dominated on the defensive side against Pitt and then rested against Detroit. Colin Berry was also a stud all weekend on the defensive side.” After a bye this weekend, Minnesota will host Indy on June 2 and travel to Madison on June 8.
- New York’s victory over Philadelphia on a drizzly Saturday night—As an aside, what do the Phoenix have to do to play in some decent weather?—was particularly impressive because of who the Empire were missing. With primary handler Harper Garvey, steady cutter Jibran Mieser, and superb defender Marques Brownlee all unavailable, the Empire had other contributors step up. Josh Alorro led the team in completions and assists, while Elliot Lee and Matt Weintraub went 48-for-48, finishing second and third on the team in completions. Veteran mainstays Beau Kittredge, Ben Jagt, Matt Auletta, and Ben Katz all scored three goals, and defensively, the Empire’s entire roster made scoring tough for the Phoenix, who were also missing their leading passer, Ethan Peck. “It felt like we made them work for every pass and every score,” said Mike Drost. “I think we did a great job limiting their quick holds and putting pressure on their offense to reset the disc multiples times and go to their secondary options. We set the tone on the first point, where they had to make multiple layouts on dump throws to save possession before we forced a turn and eventually scored the break.”
Long before the Tuesday Toss was a thing, I wrote the “Friday Morning Point Guard,” a column that covered high school hoops and other local odds and ends in my hometown of Sharon, Massachusetts. The “FMPG” musings appeared weekly in The Sharon Advocate in 2002 and 2003, primarily during my senior year of high school.
Most football fans have probably already realized that my monikers for these columns were inspired by Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback, which I loyally devoured each week from the moment I discovered them on the internet at some point in the mid-late 90s. King’s elaborate and lengthy writings were always enlightening and humorous, traits that I have tried to emulate, with intermittent success.
This week, King wrote his final MMQB column for Sports Illustrated, his primary home for the past 30 years.
He still will produce content for NBC’s Digital platforms, but his heartwarming tome of thank you’s culminated his SI.com career. Truly, it is the end of an era.
Without King—along with many, many other influencers—I have no clue what I would be doing today. I have never met him and he certainly does not know who I am, but reading his work made me smarter in so many ways and motivated me to try and write in a similar style, with a mix of detailed reporting and extraneous but hopefully entertaining minutiae.
I am certainly not the writer nor reporter that he is, but I believe he started writing his MMQB column when he was 32. That’s how old I am now. I’ve still got time.
It’s often said that “imitation is the finest form of flattery,” and while I will continue to try and carve my own niche, King’s influence on me will always be evident, as I aim to emulate his professionalism, work ethic, and quirkiness.
With several shared interests, like beer, the Red Sox, and writing verbose columns in the wee hours of the morning, I think Peter and I would get along well. I hope I can meet him one day.
As always, thank you for reading, and buckle up for one heckuva ultimate weekend that’s on tap.
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