May 8, 2018
By Evan Lepler
Six weeks into the 2018 AUDL season, the number of nail-biters is absolutely unprecedented. After another weekend full of close calls, nearly 60 percent of all games have been decided by three goals or less. That’s almost twice as many as we’ve seen through six weeks over the past five years.
We are 52 games into the 2018 campaign. Since 2013, here are the number of games that have been decided by one, two, or three through 52 contests:
2013: 15 (28.9%)
2014: 13 (25.0%)
2015: 18 (34.6%)
2016: 17 (32.7%)
2017: 18 (34.6%)
2018: 30 (57.7%)
Time will tell whether this is the new normal or simply a mega-entertaining outlier, but the current situation has led to a fascinating landscape full of exhilarating finishes and compelling divisional drama. With so many games decided in crunch time, the values of clutch and composure are more important than ever.
This past weekend, the Indianapolis AlleyCats were the only team in the league to prevail comfortably. They won by nine twice in their road journey through Detroit and Pittsburgh, while the other 10 games on the schedule all concluded with a margin of three or fewer.
At the moment, the Toronto Rush and Madison Radicals—the only undefeateds remaining—are arguably the top two in the AUDL power structure. Even more obviously, the present résumés of the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds and Detroit Mechanix are clearly at the bottom. In between those two pairs, every other franchise will continue to jockey for position in the gripping grind that is the 2018 AUDL season, where anyone can win on a given afternoon or evening.
Let’s delve into Week 6, starting with the three games decided by the slimmest of margins.
The Full Field Layout
The above data about close games would look even more extreme if every single week included matchups between the DC Breeze and New York Empire or Austin Sol and Atlanta Hustle. Over the past two regular seasons, all 11 meetings between these squads had been decided by three or less, with the Breeze and Empire playing five one-goal games and the Sol and Hustle having four contests either decided by one or settled by two in OT.
Of course these trends continued this past weekend.
But while the Sol and Hustle have each experienced triumph and heartbreak in their contentious rivalry, the past two years of Breeze-Empire have yielded nothing but painful, one-sided despair for New York. Entering Saturday’s showdown in New Rochelle, the Breeze had beaten the Empire in seven consecutive games, a streak long enough to reinforce the mental expectations of each side.
“We were pretty confident that if we could keep the game close, one or two points in either direction, we would be in a great spot come the fourth quarter to grab a win,” explained DC’s Lloyd Blake. “We executed that plan well. They maintained a one or two goal lead for the majority of the second half, and then stretched that to three or four, before we made our late push.”
After trailing 16-12, the Breeze used a 6-2 run to even the score at 18, tying the game for the first time since the first half when Rowan McDonnell hit Ryan Swift in the end zone with 22 seconds left. The Empire would receive a pull with a chance to win, but the Breeze were fired up with all the momentum.
Standing on the line, the Empire refocused. After a couple years of excruciating outcomes against DC, they were determined to change the trend.
“We recognized that there was plenty of time to advance the disc, so our goal was to get past half before looking to the end zone,” explained New York’s Jeff Babbitt.
After a few short throws, Harper Garvey gained some yards to Ben Katz, and Katz fired near midfield to Ben Jagt.
“I knew there would be plenty of space in the middle, so I didn’t go deep right away, and once I saw Ben Katz get the blade from Harper, I cut across the field for a 20+ yard gainer,” remembered Jaft. “I could see the clock right behind him from my perspective and knew I’d have a second or two to make the throw.”
With time winding down, Jagt fired a cross-field flick toward the end zone, where Babbitt prepared to pounce.
“I told myself I was attacking it with two hands aggressively and knew I would be the first to it,” Babbitt said. “I got hit pretty hard by a DC player as I caught it, but was able to hold on, and that got me even more fired up.”
Babbitt’s leaping two-handed snag came just moments after the buzzer sounded, giving the Empire a thrilling 19-18 victory to snap their skid against DC, It was their first win over the Breeze in 1,049 days.
“When the throw went up from Jagt, I knew we had won,” said New York’s Matt Auletta. “The spacing, the float of the disc, everything just seemed perfect for a gigantic Babbitt sky, and he obviously didn’t disappoint. There probably could have been seven D.C. players around Jeff and he still would have come down with that one.”
By his standards, Babbitt’s game-winning grab overshadowed an uncharacteristically quiet night. He finished the game with just one goal, no assists, and no Ds, snapping a streak of 17 straight games played with at least one block. But none of his teammates had any doubt he would deliver in crunch time. The Breeze weren’t too surprised either.
“New York played the final point really well, using the clock to get into a position to make that last throw,” said Blake, who led the Breeze with four assists. “Babbitt went up and made a tough catch in traffic. We had all the momentum going into that last point, so it was a deflating moment for us.”
Jagt’s perfect put capped a huge statistical night for the former Minnesota star, as he finished with five goals and five assists. Twin brothers Mike and Ryan Drost each registered three blocks to lead the Empire D-line.
“In some ways, it was just another typical game between us and D.C., but it was different too,” explained Ryan Drost. “We really felt like we controlled the game for the first three and a half quarters, which is kind of the opposite of the past narrative in these games…That last play made all the difference. I really felt only one thing [when Babbitt’s buzzer-beater secured victory,] and that was relief. For those of us who had been through all the OT and double OT and one-point losses the last couple years, I think it was enormous, not just in the standings, but for our mental state.”
While the Empire were celebrating in New York, the Sol and Hustle were again battling to the final seconds in Atlanta. In fact, neither side in this South showdown ever led by more than two the entire night. It had been even at 5-all after one, Atlanta led 11-10 at the half, and Austin surged in front 17-16 through three.
“Almost seems like fate that it’ll be close between us and Austin,” said Atlanta’s Matt Smith. “No matter the location or roster, neither team ever seems able to pull away from the other. We got a couple breaks early in the game as they were still getting used to our zone, but ended up giving them back right away. From there on out, it felt back and forth the whole way.”
The Hustle continued to employ the primarily zone defensive look that had helped them win their previous three games. And against Austin, like in the wins over Tampa and Nashville, the zone unquestionably took the Sol out of their comfort zone.
“Saturday was a different look for the offense than we’d seen all season,” said Austin’s Chase Cunningham. “We’d seen zones as a change-of-pace look, but Atlanta pretty much ran their zone exclusively for the first three quarters against our O. The difference from other zones was how fluid it was; sometimes they used it to break up the pull play and then transitioned to person; other times they stayed in it until we scored. They changed how aggressive they played on our resets, among other tweaks—all designed to make us think. It’s a good zone, and a great clock drainer if they are playing ahead.”
In the fourth quarter, Atlanta broke once to take the lead at 19-18, but then, with the game tied at 20, Tyler French’s throw was intercepted by Doug Richardson in the end zone for an Austin Callahan, giving the Sol a 21-20 advantage. A couple points later, after holds from each side, Austin’s Mick Walter delivered a huge block to deny a game-tying score, and the Sol subbed in the O-line to march down the field and double their lead, 23-21.
“One of the key plays of the game was Austin’s Callahan in the fourth quarter, which shifted the emotion of the game in Austin’s favor,” said Atlanta’s Allan Laviolette. “We played with a lot of energy from that point on to fight our way back, but Austin’s veterans were able to close out the game.”
After Atlanta scored with around 50 seconds remaining to inch within one, the Sol had to be thinking about coughing up a one-goal edge in a similar situation the week before. This time, they took care of the disc and sealed the deal.
“[Atlanta] came out going for everything,” said Cunningham, who finished the game with five goals and five assists. “Our O-line was smart, didn’t rush anything, and we were able to possess until the game ended. There were a couple of close calls. Paul Starkel caught a short under at nearly the same time as a bidding Laviolette, and Ethan Pollack made a diving catch that he was able to hold to the buzzer.”
Austin’s 23-22 triumph handed Atlanta its first loss, and after the game, both the Sol and Hustle sat at 3-1, even with Dallas in a three-way tie atop the South Division standings. A Sunday triumph in Nashville would push the Sol into first place by themselves for the first time in franchise history.
But the NightWatch had other ideas, and in a tribute to the strength of the South Division, Nashville spoiled the Sol’s Sunday.
“The main story of our game was our defense,” said NightWatch captain Paul Lally. “It’s never been our strong suit, but we applied person defensive pressure better than I’ve ever seen from any Tennessee team. Hunting blocks against an efficient Sol squad was a primary goal in the game for us, and we tailored the practice the night before towards this a bit. We also brought out the eye black for the first time with these guys. What happens is you have to earn eye black by getting a layout D. Everyone who gets one becomes a member of the EBS, or Eye Black Squad, for that game. It’s a fun concept that people seem to rally behind.”
How did Nashville’s defensive intensity manifest itself? Well, the Sol were coming off a game on Saturday where they completed 202/210 passes, a 96.2 percent rate. On Sunday, the NightWatch helped force 23 throwaways, as Austin’s throwers went 206/229, a 90.0 percent clip. The fact that they were missing center handler Jeff Loskorn on Sunday contributed to the drop-off, but the Sol were still disappointed in their ability to adapt and take care of the disc.
“We played a very mediocre game against Nashville,” said Cunningham. “Our O made some mental errors and never seemed to get a good flow going, and our D looked a little fatigued and out of position. Credit to Nashville; they didn’t play an incredibly lean game, but they outworked us. There are a lot of things I wish had gone differently leading up to and during the game, but it just comes down to mental toughness and grit that we didn’t have in that game.”
The Sol did rally from a 13-11 halftime deficit to lead 16-15 through three quarters, but the NightWatch were better down the stretch. Nashville opened the final quarter on a 4-1 run and never trailed again in their 22-20 triumph.
“Austin forced a couple turns from our O-line late in the game on one point and called a timeout to put their O on,” remembered Lally. “That was their chance to narrow the margin, but on the first throw Philip Dougherty got our sixth and final layout block of the game in the handler set on one of their top players. He’s an excellent and underrated defender, and swiss army knife on a turn. Our defensive unit calmly marched to the end zone and scored off a strike cut from Garrett Wilson.”
Nashville’s victory was its first in 666 days since winning in their 2016 regular season finale. Their best chance to build some momentum comes in the next month, as Sunday’s matinee was the first of five consecutive home games between now and June 9. After that, the NightWatch will close their season with a grueling schedule of six straight on the road.
The league’s other Week 6 heart-stopping, last-second finish unfolded in Minneapolis, where the Minnesota Wind Chill were hosting the Madison Radicals at TCF Bank Stadium, home of Minnesota’s MLS franchise, not to mention the 50,000-seat venue for the University of Minnesota football program. Though the logistics of the day were tricky—the two teams had to warm-up off-site and then delay their start until after the Vancouver Whitecaps had finished their lengthy postgame cool down on the field—it was still a cool spectacle for both teams, and they delivered a suspenseful and intense 48 minutes of ultimate.
“It was a great game,” said Madison’s Kevin Pettit-Scantling. “I’m glad that our two teams were able to give a memorable performance on that stage.”
Wind Chill GM Ben Feldman was responsible for pursuing and organizing this opportunity for the franchise, and seeing it come to fruition was special.
“The exposure/marketing value and résumé building associated with the opportunity is huge,” said Feldman, who also played in the game. “The more we can build relationships with established local professional organizations, the better. It sets us apart from other blossoming organizations, sports, and leagues. It makes us relevant and visible. It is also a credibility boost for the AUDL as a whole.”
As for the flow of the game, neither side led by more than one at any point in the first half, and the Wind Chill were up 11-10 at the break. Minnesota added to its lead by breaking Madison on the first point of the second half, but then the Radicals reeled off the game’s biggest run, a 5-0 burst that put them ahead 15-12.
“As a player, I never thought we weren’t going to win that game,” said Pettit-Scantling, who contributed two goals to the Radicals’ cause. “I was never afraid. Down by two, I was smiling. And the general attitude on the team was the same. We are a much, much, much stronger willed team than the team we were in the past. Our O-line held against a very tenacious defense; our zone took minutes off the clock that were as good as points, and our man defense pushed their O-line into positions of high risk throws and cuts. It was truly our team demonstrating their resolve.”
Minnesota trailed by multiple goals until the very end, when Bryan Vohnoutka’s team-leading fifth score brought the Wind Chill within one at 20-19 with 1:02 remaining. Trying to bleed the clock, the Radicals completed 11 consecutive throws before the Wind Chill forced a turnover with three seconds left. They called timeout, with the length of the field in front of them, searching for a miraculous equalizer.
Josh Klane’s prayer soared into the end zone, but Madison’s defensive pack won the jump-ball, with Matt Weber appearing to deflect the disc downwards and into the ground to secure the 20-19 victory for the Radicals.
“We’ve had a number of years to perfect a type of zone used to put us in a position to win buzzer-beater moments,” said Pettit-Scantling. “Weber certainly played a large role, but it was the team that generated that defensive hold.”
As the Radicals moved to 4-0 with by far their closest game of the season, the Wind Chill slipped to 1-2, with all three of their decisions coming by just a single goal.
“We got a little impatient and had a few miscommunications,” Wind Chill Coach Erin Mirocha, who was promoted to the team’s Head Coaching position last week, told Tanner Jurek. “Madison got some momentum going in the third and capitalized. We left some breaks on the table and took some unnecessary risks. There are definitely some moments I’d like back, but we’ll take those lessons and use them to drive us forward.”
The Wind Chill and Radicals both host last-place Detroit this weekend, as the Mechanix travel to Minneapolis and Madison for a challenging two games in two days.
Another weekend in the wide-open West Division left us with few definitive answers but plenty of exhilarating highlights.
On Friday night in San Diego, San Jose’s Brandon Fein authored a spectacular in-field greatest, reminiscent of Mark Lloyd’s Championship Weekend buzzer-beating score from 2016. Unfortunately for the Spiders, that was the final goal of the game and only transformed a four-goal loss into a three-goal setback, as the Spiders fell to the Growlers 31-28.
“It was a mirror image of the previous week’s game, but the exact opposite,” Spiders Coach Tyler Grant told me on Saturday.
Compared to the previous week when the Growlers took an early lead before the Spiders settled in to win the game late, the rematch saw San Jose bolt out to a 3-0 advantage. San Jose led 7-4 after one and 13-12 at the half, but the Growlers seized control after the break, using a 9-6 third quarter to take the lead before scoring 10 more times in the fourth.
Five different Growers finished at +5 (Nate Bridges, Travis Dunn, Wes Groth) or +6 (Sean Ham, Scott Radlauer) to pace San Diego’s balanced attack—nine different Growlers scored multiple goals—while Ethan Falat threw seven assists for the Spiders, part of a game-high +8.
The Spiders looked to quickly turn the page on Saturday night in Los Angeles, and they knew it would not be easy. Fein would not be available to duplicate his end-of-game magic, and Justin Norden, who dinged his shoulder in his three-goal, three-assist performance on Friday, also was held out as a precaution after trying to get loose during warmups.
With a shorthanded squad, the Spiders collectively stepped up, bolting to a quick 2-0 lead that became a 16-14 halftime advantage. In the third quarter, however, the Aviators made their move using a 6-3 burst to take their first lead, and LA was up 22-21 heading into the fourth.
The final period saw both teams score many goals quickly, as the squads combined for 21 strikes in 12 minutes. After the game had been tied at every integer from 24 to 30, the Aviators finally broke on Eric Lissner’s great grab to take a 32-30 lead with 37 seconds left. Los Angeles had hoped this would seal the victory, but the Spiders connected on a deep goal just 17 seconds later, bringing San Jose within one with 20 seconds left. The Spiders intentionally pulled it short, tossing the disc around 12 yards and forcing the Aviators to race downfield to initiate possession on the sideline.
“We knew something creative was coming from San Jose and we told our line that if we got into any trouble we would just burn a timeout rather than put up something risky,” said LA’s Tyler Bacon. “But their defense definitely had us flustered, and we obviously completely forgot about the timeout strategy.”
With time winding down, LA’s Steven Brooks had the disc on the sideline, needing one more completion to virtually ice the game. A fadeaway cross-field hammer looked destined to scratch the turf, but Bacon got low and scooped the disc for a dramatic grab right before it found the ground. Although he had lost track of where he was on the field, his teammates pointed out that he was in the end zone, and the score was now 33-31 with five seconds left. For all intents and purposes, Bacon’s grab ended the game.
Understandably, there were a bunch of impressive statistical nights emerging from the 64-goal, almost three-hour battle. LA’s Chris Mazur registered a +12 with nine assists and five goals, while Sean McDougall added six goals and three assists for a +9. San Jose’s Zach Sabin scored seven goals with two assists, while Ethan Falat added four goals and five assists for the Spiders, who played well in their SoCal trip with little to show for it.
The pair of losses dropped San Jose to 2-4 heading into their Week 7 showdown with San Francisco. Meanwhile, the FlameThrowers are mired at 1-4 in the West’s cellar after they suffered another hard-fought setback in Seattle this past weekend.
The Cascades used a quick hold and early break to jump to a 2-0 lead and never trailed at any point in their slim 27-25 victory on Saturday night under the Space Needle. Five times in the second half the FlameThrowers inched within one, but Seattle always had the answer to deny San Francisco the equalizer.
“Our O-line played well again,” said Mark Burton, who, with 12 assists and three goals, was directly involved in 15 of the 27 Seattle scores. “Steph Lim and Kodi Smart had great games. Slim is one of the anchors in the handler sets and brings such a desire to compete and a positive, calm demeanor on the O-line, and we are starting to open up Kodi more and more.”
Lim was one of four female players who competed in the game, along with Seattle’s Charlie Eide and San Francisco’s Natasha Won and Gina Schumacher, both of whom made their AUDL debuts. It was the first time in AUDL history where each team had multiple active female players.
“Gina took on some great defensive matchups and caught a hammer for a break in our second half run that was pivotal to getting us in striking range,” remembered San Francisco’s Eli Kerns. “Natasha had no turns the entire game, played around 80 percent of our O-points, and broke multiple double-team attempts. Additionally, I believe she had somewhere in the range of six hockey assists on the day. She distributed super well and we trust both of them with the disc in high pressure situations.”
These contributions aside, the game was largely an entertaining duel between Burton and Kerns, the two gunslingers who orchestrated the offense for their respective teams. Over the course of 48 minutes, the Cascades narrowly generated a few more scores with their D-line, proving to be the difference.
“I think a big theme to the game was just seeing whose defense could play offense better,” said Kerns, who finished with nine assists and three goals. “We generated a lot of turns and struggled to put them in. It’s a tough balance to walk with a younger team of trying to put out an O-line that will score most of the time and also have the firepower on defense to pull away in a game.”
San Francisco and San Jose both enter their Week 7 matchup losers of four of their last five games, unfamiliar territory for Bay Area teams in the AUDL. Meanwhile, at 2-2, Seattle is even with 4-2 San Diego and 3-2 Los Angeles in the loss column, and the Cascades will host the Aviators on Sunday.
Of all the players who suited up this past weekend, only two registered five blocks apiece. And unless you’re related to them, you’ll be forgiven for not being too familiar with Seattle’s Shane Worthington and Indianapolis’ John Jones.
Worthington, a 23-year-old product of the Seattle youth ultimate scene, recorded five blocks in his first three AUDL games, a total he matched on Saturday in the Cascades 27-25 victory over San Francisco. No one else on Seattle had more than two.
“Shane is incredible and is only getting better,” commented Burton. “His drive to get Ds and eagerness to make an impact is contagious and desirable for the team. He did not play college, but did play high school. He is such a great teammate and is going to make big plays down the road.”
Meanwhile, Jones, a 27-year-old University of Indiana product, is in his third year with the AlleyCats and recorded 16 blocks in 16 games over the past two seasons. He had four in the first five games this year before erupting for five against Pittsburgh on Sunday in Indy’s 27-18 victory.
“Hands down, John Jones was the player of the game at Pitt,” said Indy’s Keenan Plew. “He had [five] Ds, and it wasn’t really all that windy. John had some incredible blocks because of his hustle.”
While no one approached the eight Ds that Madison’s Andrew Meshnick recorded the previous week—Meshnick tied the AUDL record on April 28 against Pittsburgh—both Worthington and Jones shared the honor of accumulating the most blocks of the weekend. More importantly, they each contributed to their teams picking up important wins.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Although the Dallas Roughnecks were idle this past weekend, their team twitter account was still far more active than many of their fellow franchises who actually had games to cover. Carson Wilder, who leads the squad in goals and plus/minus, took over the tweeting responsibilities and sparked a few different interesting conversations.
His most worthwhile messages were centered on the advice he would give to young players trying out for the AUDL in the future. Here’s what he wrote:
“I’m sure a lot of (sic) have been or will be trying out for AUDL teams eventually. Here are my tips to have a successful tryout: ‘1) walk in with the mindset that you are there to grow as a player and get better. Don’t hinge your success in making the team or not. 2) walk in relaxed! Ultimate is fun! There’s no reason to get nervous and uptight, the best players play relaxed and with confidence. You will play your best if you are relaxed and level-headed. 3) walk into the tryout with a chip on your shoulder. It’s okay to be a little selfish, you are fighting for a spot. Put yourself in positions to be seen by the coaches and current players. Showcase your talent! Moral of the story: a successful tryout (high school, club, pro, whatever) isn’t whether or not you make the team. If you grow as a player gain more tools to take into your future playing the game, that’s a win.”
Wilder’s only 22, but that’s important perspective for any player, young or old, to possess.
Aside from getting to watch and broadcast incredible ultimate, the best part of traveling every week for the AUDL is when ‘work’ takes me to the hometowns of family and friends for a little chicken soup for the soul. This past Friday night, for instance, I was fortunate to get to spend an evening with my nephews and niece, who live in Los Angeles.
I have not gotten my adorable three-year-old niece, Tate, to throw a scoober quite yet, but her natural athleticism is apparent when you see her run around. She’ll be laying out for greatests any day now.
This coming weekend, a trip to Washington D.C. is timely too. As I mentioned on the broadcast on Saturday evening, my co-captain at Wake Forest helped welcome his first child into the world last week. His wife did most of the work, but still.
Since they reside in the District, I am very excited to be able to meet their one-week old daughter on Friday. A couple days ago, I asked him if she had registered any hand-blocks yet.
He replied, “She is quite long and lanky. It won’t be long.”
Seven on the Line
- For the second time this season, the Philadelphia Phoenix surpassed the Montreal Royal, this time a 17-14 triumph on Saturday afternoon at Claude-Robillard Stadium in Quebec. “The Wind was a huge factor,” said Montreal’s Kevin Quinlan, who registered five of the Royal’s 14 assists in his first game back returning from a hamstring injury.
“It was very inconsistent. The disc would float for a couple seconds longer or just drop on a dime. Both teams struggled with it.” Combined, the two teams scored 16 fewer goals than in their previous matchup, a 26-21 Philly victory on April 21. It was 8-all at the half, the Phoenix led 14-13 after three, and the Phoenix won the fourth quarter 3-1, the second straight game they won the low-scoring final frame by exactly that number. “Philly has really benefitted from some consistency at the cutter position,” commented Quinlan. “[Himalaya] Mehta and [Ethan] Peck have brought Philly’s offense to a different level. I think that is the biggest difference from last year. You could always anticipate a couple of throwaways with them, but this year they have taken a big step forward. I give them a lot of credit.” Mehta was involved in more than half of Philadelphia’s Saturday scores, registering seven goals and two assists. Peck chipped in with two goals and five assists, and the Phoenix trekked to Ottawa hopeful for the weekend sweep.
- On Sunday, however, the Ottawa Outlaws led 5-4 after the first and never trailed again, never leading by more than three in a hard-fought 22-19 victory over the Phoenix. “In the first half, our offense was creating some challenges for Philly by using the deep space well,” remarked Ottawa’s Derek Alexander, who led the Outlaws with five assists and 39 completions. “Philly made some adjustments and we countered with some of our own that seemed to make Karl [Loiseau] open often and all over the field. We stuck with what was working, and Karl earned a well-deserved Player of the Game honor.” Mehta scored seven more goals for the Phoenix on Sunday, but Loiseau matched him with seven scores too. Karl’s brother, Laurent, was Ottawa’s second-highest goal scorer with four. “Our O-line is filled with talented cutters and any one of them are able to dominate a game,” said Alexander. “It just depends on who’s winning the matchups on that day. Alec [Arsenault] scored nine against Montreal. Karl scored seven against Philly. We have confidence in the group and are not depending on individuals to have heroic games.” While Philly returned home at 2-2-1, the Outlaws were fired up to earn their first win of the season, a result that they hope will be a harbinger of things to come. “The 2018 Outlaws roster may look similar to rosters of the past if you’re solely focusing on the names on the back of the jersey, but we are four years in and we’re tired of not playing to our potential,” explained Alexander. “It’s a different vibe around the guys this year, and it’s starting to show with the team’s play in the past two games. The team’s confidence is growing, and I feel like we are just getting started. We have the potential to create waves in our division.”
- Aside from 4-0 Madison and 3-0 Toronto, no team in the league has a higher winning percentage than the Indianapolis AlleyCats, who took leads of 6-1 and 6-0 to open their two games at Detroit and Pittsburgh this past weekend. With wins in five of their first six games, the AlleyCats are looking like a playoff team for the first time since 2014. “It felt great taking care of business this past weekend,” said Indy’s Keenan Plew. “The common goal during the weekend was to get off to a fast start. In our game against Detroit, we had a few offensive sets that Detroit didn’t seem like they had an answer for. We primarily utilized two or three plays for most of the game.” Cameron Brock padded his lead on the league’s all-time scoring chart by scoring 12 goals along with five assists in the two games, while Rick Gross registered a +16 on the weekend with five goals, seven assists, and six blocks. “Rick and Cam are like machines,” said Plew. “Each game they go out onto the field and you know exactly what you’re going to get from both of them, and they know what their job is to help the team win.” The AlleyCats will host Pittsburgh and Chicago in their final two games of May before June road trips to Minnesota and Madison really illustrate just how good the 2018 Indy squad can be.
- After watching a bunch of the film on Monday evening, it was apparent that the Raleigh Flyers and Tampa Bay Cannons competed in another exciting 48 minutes of ultimate, full of impressive layouts and skies that could fill up a highlight reel. On the scoreboard, however, the game unfolded somewhat similarly to the previous two meetings, with Raleigh leading most of the way and prevailing by a small margin. While the Cannons led the Flyers at the half on April 14 in Florida, Raleigh bolted to a 2-0 lead and never trailed once in a 23-20 triumph on Saturday night at Wake Med Soccer Park. After missing the Flyers’ previous two games, Jacob Fairfax led the way with five goals in his return to the lineup. Noah Saul and Jack Williams each tallied four assists, but the Flyers were still disappointed by what they considered a lackluster offensive performance. “On our end, the main story was the inconsistency that comes with playing with a rotating roster week after week, especially offensively,” said Flyers Coach Mike DeNardis. “I’m impressed that we can play at a high level no matter who is rostered, but at some point, we have to whittle down our top rotations and have them gel. As far as the Cannons side, it really is amazing how much juice they are squeezing out of their top two or three players. Bobby [Ley] and [Andrew] Roney played thirtyish points each and were just as hard to stop in the fourth quarter as they were in the first. I know Tampa has had a rough start, but that team has some elite talent and can win a bunch of games in the second half of the season.” Roney, Ley, and Tyler Kunsa combined for 14 assists and 160 completions; the rest of the team had six assists and 117 completions, 66 of which were throws to Roney, Ley, Kunsa. The Cannons only completed 51 passes that did not involve their big three. “Outmanned and outnumbered at an away game, we played admirably,” said Tampa Coach Andrew Roca. “I’m very proud to say [we] gave Raleigh a scare. We had seven players with at least two goals; and of those seven, three were on defensive lines.”
- On the Roca wardrobe watch, the Cannons’ Coach sported attire to imitate former Jets and Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan on Saturday night in Raleigh, continuing his amusing habit of resembling a famous football coach on the sidelines. In six games, Roca has worn gear resembling Mike Ditka, Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Derek Dooley, and now Ryan.
- Through six weeks, the Madison Radicals don’t have anybody with more than 10 goals. Tarik Akyuz and Sterling Knoche each have 10, while no one else has more than six. This is not meant to point out a lack of production. To the contrary, it’s a tribute to the team’s depth and balance. In their first four games, the Radicals have had 27 different goal-scorers, the most of any team in the league. Raleigh and Indianapolis—who have already played in seven and six games, respectively—have had 26 different players score goals, while four other teams have had 25. Madison’s even distribution was especially on display in the assist department this past weekend, as 15 different players recorded at least one, and no player had more than two in the team’s slim win over the Wind Chill.
- Have you noticed what Austin’s Rory Orloff has done lately? After catching just one goal in the Sol’s first two games, he has caught 18 in the last three, including nine in Saturday’s narrow victory over Atlanta. Last year, Orloff recorded just 10 goals in 10 games. With 19 total goals so far in 2018, Orloff is just outside of the league’s top five. Indy’s Cameron Brock, a familiar face at the top of the scoring chart, is #1 with 29.
As the season continues to unfold, it’s reasonable to expect that close games will continue to outnumber blowouts. Consequently, playoff berths will be determined based largely upon how teams fare in critical late-game moments.
Here’s a look at every team’s record so far this season in games decided by three or less:
Tampa Bay 0-4
New York 1-0
San Diego 2-1
San Jose 2-3
Los Angeles 1-2
San Francisco 1-2
This weekend features another tantalizing schedule, with rivalry matchups between Dallas and Austin, San Francisco and San Jose, and Toronto and Montreal. Plus, interdivisional play returns, as Raleigh visits D.C. in a rematch of an overtime game from a season ago.
May we all be so fortunate to see the close calls continue…
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