June 18, 2019
By Evan Lepler
After a thrilling All-Star Game 10 days ago, this past weekend the regular action returned with added intensity and drama. Saturday especially felt like the reason AUDL.tv was invented, with five of the seven games decided by one or two.
Week 11 as a whole featured an added emphasis on the little things, the common catch-all term for focusing on fundamentals like simple throws and catches and more complex details like consistent marks and avoiding mental lapses. Each of these dynamics may be little on their own, but collectively they generally dictate results, both in terms of narrow victories or defeats and in transforming a close, competitive game into a no-doubt outcome.
“Dallas is a strong team, and if we want to beat them then we need to do the little things right,” commented Tampa Bay’s Adam Carr, following the Cannons 25-20 setback to open the weekend. “We also need to make some big plays and capitalize on any errors they make. We didn’t really accomplish any of those things [on Friday night].”
Across the country a night later, the San Diego Growlers were also bemoaning their minor mistakes as costly inhibitors preventing them from beating Los Angeles for the fourth straight time. Knowing that a postseason rematch between the two SoCal rivals is certain, the game-planning between the two familiar foes will only count for so much when they meet to decide who will compete at Championship Weekend.
“When it comes to the playoff rematch, it will likely come down to which team does the little things better,” remarked San Diego veteran Steven Milardovich. “We know we have a talented team, but hopefully this game will serve as a reminder that we still need to execute at a high level and play good ultimate.”
The ‘little things’ may be a bit cliche, but they also genuinely decide games when talent and athleticism are ubiquitous across both sides. With just four weeks and 39 regular season games remaining before the playoffs, the delicate details will dictate who moves on and who ends up disappointed.
In Week 11, even with their coach three-quarters of a continent away, a small handful of micro-adjustments helped the DC Breeze deliver the AUDL’s only 2-0 weekend, reframing the East Division landscape heading into the home stretch.
The Full Field Layout
Virtually everyone in this sport has multiple things on their plate, leading to the inevitable conflicts that impact availability for big games. For DC Head Coach Darryl Stanley, being named assistant coach for the USA U-24 men’s team was an exciting honor, but it also threw another challenge at the widely respected frisbee mind. This past weekend, Stanley joined several top young AUDL players who missed being at important pro games because of a U-24 training weekend in Colorado. While the players were rendered to just rooting from afar, Stanley still figured out a way to tangibly impact his team’s success.
“We were joking around, wondering if he was watching in Colorado with the binoculars on the screen,” shared DC’s Quinn Bergeron, poking fun at Stanley’s occasional propensity to literally zoom in on the opponent across the length of the field when analyzing personnel and matchups pre-pull.
Though acting head coach Peter Mancini did not keep his phone in his pocket for the entire game, Stanley messaged the Breeze’s team Slack group with instructions about shifting the defense’s force and tweaking the angles of their marks. Eventually, the message was delivered, and in a game where separation on the scoreboard was rare, the minute adjustment may have been a key differentiator in DC hanging on for a 23-22 triumph over Toronto.
Neither the Breeze nor the Rush ever led by more than one in the entire second half until Bergeron’s clutch bookends with 2:14 remaining gave DC a 23-21 edge. Toronto clawed back within one a minute later, but the Breeze orchestrated 17 straight completions over the game’s final 74 seconds to close out the slim victory.
“They just seemed to have a little bit more gas in the tank that pushed them over the edge,” commented Toronto Captain Thomson McKnight. “I also want to commend both teams on their respectful play. Sometimes after losses you have a bitter taste in your mouth towards the other team; maybe they played chippy or there was some chirping, however I didn’t get any of that. After this game, I just thought it was a hard-fought game that we came out of having made one more mistake than they did. It was quite refreshing.”
As Monday’s AUDL Honor Roll noted, multiple players across both teams enjoyed huge individual nights, as Rowan McDonnell (six assists, two goals, one block) and Max Cassell (nine goals) paced the DC attack and Cam Harris (five assists, four goals, one block) led the Rush playmakers with a slew of highlight-reel moments. The final result came down to just a few plays in the final quarter, and the Breeze were elated to succeed on Saturday where they had failed in the past.
“Rowan said at the start of the fourth quarter, ‘we need to finish games, and this is the first opportunity for the rest of the season going forward,’ remembered Bergeron, who scored four goals, the second-most on the team, including the game-winner. “I took that personally, and I think everyone on the team did. I was just excited I could make a play…I think it’s huge, being able to finally close out a game.”
One day later, while the Rush were back home in Toronto after just a single game on their Week 11 schedule, the Breeze hit the road to Philadelphia for a tough turnaround against a desperate Phoenix squad that had played DC within two on a windy and chilly afternoon back in April. Though the Breeze encountered adversity trailing 11-9 at the half, a huge third quarter rally would transform momentum and pave the way to the perfect weekend.
“Philly definitely made us work,” said Cassell, who snagged four goals with three assists on Sunday to give him 13 goals and three assists on the Breeze’s superb two-game weekend. “They are never a team to rollover. They put a lot of pressure on resets, and they have big athletic cutter defenders downfield. Our D-line forced a bunch of turns in the first half, but we weren’t able to punch in the goals. Wind was definitely a factor. We made some force adjustments at half, along with reminders about our D-line offense. I think both teams were feeling a bit fatigued by the second half, especially from the games on Saturday night. The third quarter was obviously huge for us, where we started converting on turnovers as we expect to. No massive changes, just a mental shift to keep our legs moving hard when we get the turn. Matt Neeley had a particularly awesome game, with a few huge blocks.”\
After opening Sunday’s second half with four straight scores, the Breeze rolled 12-5 in the final two quarters to secure the 21-16 win, a result that improved DC to 6-4 and kept them in the mix to potentially win out and host a playoff game.
“Obviously the weekend was huge for us,” added Cassell. “We are in a ‘control your own destiny’ situation. Winning out will get us home-field advantage for the first playoff game. This was the first step in that goal, but I feel like every single game we are getting better as a team. This weekend, we were able to work on closing out games, which we have struggled with—damn New York.”
The Breeze’s final two games will both be rematches of this past weekend; they host Philly this Saturday before traveling to Toronto, a place where DC has never won, on July 6.
While the East Division race appears relatively simple—New York’s one win away from locking up #1, while the winner of July’s DC/Toronto clash will be #2 with the other likely settling for #3—the Midwest Division remains a perplexing conundrum that will hopefully clear up on the field over the next four weeks. As the games unfold, each result will reshape the narrative and provide some new evidence about which of the five contenders might survive the gauntlet to advance to Championship Weekend.
In Week 11, with only one contest pitting a pair of Midwest contenders, two takeaways were relatively simple: the Minnesota Wind Chill handled their business in a critical, must-win home game, while the Madison Radicals again looked shockingly mediocre as the Radicals lost for the fourth time in their last six games.
“More of the same,” responded Madison Head Coach Tim DeByl, when asked if his team had made any positive strides despite the setback. “[We] can’t score.
Saturday’s sequences mimicked the struggles that the Radicals have endured through much of the past month, where any step forward would almost immediately be followed by two steps back. Against the Wind Chill, the Radicals trailed by a couple early in the second quarter, registered a break to even the score at 6-all, only to watch Minnesota erupt on a 5-0 run to lead 11-6 at halftime. Madison never recovered, only scoring the final three goals of the game to make the final score, 21-19, look a bit closer than it actually was.
Pressed on what were the team’s primary issues, DeByl mentioned a “lack of a consistent lineup, lack of trust, impatience, poor execution, and lack of focus. I am sure bad coaching is part of it.”
It’s reasonable to wonder if the defending champions, now 4-4 and in fifth place with four games remaining, will be able to rediscover their mojo over the last month of the season. Meanwhile, with two sides to every coin, the Wind Chill were elated about knocking off the Radicals for the second time this year, a fact that could be a crucial tiebreaker in Minnesota’s favor when the dust finally settles.
“The main story of the evening was depth and energy,” explained Dylan DeClerck, who returned to the Wind Chill’s lineup after breaking his collarbone in April. “Neither team had all of their top players—we were missing Quinn [Snider], Michael Jordan, Jordan Taylor, [Alan] Scarth, [and Matthew] Ladyman, so both teams were going to need to rely on their depth, and I feel like our team was better prepared to go 20 deep and that allowed us to bring a lot of energy to every point.”
DeClerk recorded two blocks in the opening period and three on the game, and Jimmy Kittlesen skied for a dramatic buzzer beater to punctuate the Wind Chill’s 5-0 run at the end of the first half. Josh Klane dished six assists, Bryan Vohnoutka caught five goals, and the Wind Chill’s relentlessness made everyone forget about some of the key players they were missing.
Among other things, getting DeClerk back was a shot in the arm for the Wind Chill, who improved to 5-4, just a half-game behind first-place Indy, whom Minnesota travels to this Saturday. On the same day, Madison will venture to Pittsburgh, as the Radicals look to avoid falling below .500 against a Thunderbirds team that’s currently riding a four-game winning streak.
“We aren’t playing with fire or intensity to go for a repeat,” veteran Radical Tom Annen said bluntly. “I remember 2018 and how we trained, practiced, and played. It was very different. We aren’t playing like we care to defend a title…Hopefully, things begin to shift this weekend in Pittsburgh because we are digging a hole quite deep. Word on the street is we need to win out for a chance at second in the division.
Remember, as bleak as things may look for Madison, the Radicals are still just one-game out of first place and certainly remain in control of their postseason destiny. At the same time, of course, the sirens are justifiably sounding for a reeling roster that desperately needs a tough road win to prevent a fifth loss in seven weeks. To put that in perspective, the perennial Midwest champs had suffered only five regular-season setbacks in their last four regular seasons combined prior to 2019.
Like Madison over the past several years, the Dallas Roughnecks have been similarly dominant in their division, entering this past weekend’s doubleheader road trip with a sterling 43-5 regular-season record since the franchise joined the AUDL with a perfect 2016. Journeying to Tampa Bay and Raleigh in Week 11, Dallas knew it could virtually guarantee another regular season title with a two-game sweep.
“For the Cannons game, our defense really set the tone—making Tampa grind out possessions and trying to limit [Andrew] Roney’s effectiveness—which allowed us to pull away in the second half,” explained Dallas’s Brandon “Muffin” Malecek. “We benefitted from a number of close calls that could have gone either way, which led to some hometown frustration and physical play from both sides.”
Big performances from Abe Coffin and Thomas Slack helped the Roughnecks extend a three-goal halftime lead to seven by the end of the third, and despite an AUDLpicks.com spread-covering Cannons score in the closing seconds, Dallas prevailed fairly comfortably, 25-20.
“It is clear that if we want to beat Dallas and Raleigh, we have to do the little things right and follow our game plan first, then try to make big plays and capitalize on any mistakes they make,” said Adam Carr after the Cannons’ record dipped to 4-4, but 0-3 against the Roughnecks and the Flyers. “We’re looking forward to more chances to continue to grow and improve against top competition. Every game is a new opportunity, and we want to continue battling and possibly be in contention to steal a playoff spot.”
Following a Saturday morning flight to Raleigh, the Roughnecks were hopeful they would have enough fuel in the tank to stun the Raleigh Flyers early and seize control of the South. But to the contrary, a sluggish warmup carried over into the opening quarter, and Dallas never could overcome an early 3-0 deficit, eventually succumbing to their fatigue and Raleigh’s all-around excellence 27-18.
“It felt like were just trying to get through it, instead of bringing the necessary energy and focus required to come out swinging,” commented Malecek, retrospectively, about the team’s inability to play its best at the outset. “Raleigh went deep early and often, hitting open receivers in stride. We laid an egg on offense, and Raleigh really took us out of our game—probably the worst performance for Dallas to date. We tried to adjust on defense to take away their deep game with some help D, but that kind of took us out of our bread and butter defensive pressure. Bobby Ley and Mischa [Freystaetter] were pretty unstoppable for Raleigh, with [Jacob] Fairfax dropping a couple nasty break-side hucks.”
Freystaetter finished +10, his first time reaching double digits in plus/minus as a Flyer (19 games, including the playoffs), while Ley and Noah Saul brilliantly conducted Raleigh’s offensive success, together combining for 98 completions in 98 attempts in their first official game every playing together in the backfield.
“I’ve played against him enough to know his skillset and what he likes to do, and he gets open pretty much at will behind the disc so that makes it easy,” asserted Saul, who improved his season-long completion percentage to 99.3 percent (273-for-275). “We’ve been practicing, but this was our first game together so that was fun. I have been looking forward to playing with him for a while. We both play a patient offense in which we are happy to dump swing back and forth and both get a lot of touches and not take too many risks, so it’s been pretty easy to play together.”
Demolishing Dallas when the Roughnecks were road-weary is hardly an indicator that Raleigh’s destined to return to Championship Weekend for the first time since 2015, but the convincing outcome is a dramatic 180 from the previous two meetings, both of which were heart-stopping—and heartbreaking, depending on your perspective—comebacks by the Roughnecks in last July’s playoffs and this April’s season opener. At the moment, the 7-1 Flyers sit a game above the 6-2 Roughnecks, with the two teams scheduled to meet again in Raleigh on July 5, a date that will likely determine the location of the matchup that will probably transpire three weeks after that to decide who from the South heads to San Jose for the AUDL final four.
While not an on-field development, one significant off-field story merits mention to close out this week’s Full-Field Layout. In the coming days, picking AUDL games could have entirely different stakes.
As of Tuesday afternoon, mybookie.com, a worldwide sports gambling website, is offering action on our league for the first time, meaning that folks around the world will be able to bet on AUDL games just like they would any other professional sports league. The spreads and odds will be created by the runners of the site without consulting anyone directly involved with the AUDL, and the league will not be benefitting financially by agreeing to have professional ultimate on the website’s ledger. But the results of every game will carry a new magnitude of importance that will ripple around the world.
In many ways, this is fascinating, potentially earth-shattering news, especially for the relatively small ultimate community. For better or worse, sports gambling fuels interest for hundreds of games and events across the world every week, and being approached by mybookie.com can absolutely be considered a landmark legitimizing moment for the AUDL’s continued growth. It could provoke more people both in North America and around the globe to follow the AUDL, and with that more scrutiny and focus on every point is inevitable. The league will obviously be tasked with ensuring that all games unfold fairly, a reality that certainly existed already but takes on a more complex and serious stature with more money on the line.
As we have discussed in this column all season long, the competitive balance of the league is tighter than ever, and looking at the opening lines that mybookie.com posted, it’s impossible to pick out any ‘sure things,’ especially at -120 (For gambling novices, -120 means you wager $120 to win $100, or any proportional amount, like betting $12 to win $10). I typically do not gamble on sports because I simply enjoy watching the games and studying the outcomes, but I have plenty of friends who do gamble regularly, and, admittedly, it’s kinda cool to see the AUDL rise into this new conversation.
Mark the date: Week 12 in 2019 officially begins a new era for the AUDL, and it has the potential to be a very positive development going forward.
Did you know that the youngest player in the AUDL has the league’s highest completion percentage? In fact, the two only two individuals who have no throwing turnovers on at least 55 completions are, insanely, both teenagers.
DC’s Jacques Nissen, who just turned 18 on May 20 and made his pro ultimate debut again New York a dozen days later, has gone 57-for-57 in three games for the Breeze after immediately being tossed onto the team’s O-line. San Jose’s Keenan Laurence, who also just finished his senior year of high school, is the only player in the league with a 100 percent rate and more completions, going 67-for-67 in nine games, albeit in more of a D-line role. And while Laurence has been turning heads on the Spiders all season, Nissen could not play until his 18th birthday officially made him eligible. Watching him, though, makes it seem like he’s been on the DC O-line forever.
“We’re all blown away,” said Bergeron. “He’s amazing. We couldn’t see him the first half of the season because he wasn’t 18 yet. And then when he turned 18, we were like, oh now we can finally see Jacques again, and it was an immediate ‘woh!’ He is skilled, he is talented, and he is calm.”
After debuting with four assists and a 28-for-28 throwing performance against the league’s only undefeated team on June 1, Nissen followed that up by scoring three goals and completing all 29 of his throws during the Breeze’s 2-0 weekend against Toronto and Philadelphia, showing no youthful jitters or tentativeness whatsoever.
“Jacques is an animal and honestly inspirational,” explained Cassell. “I’ve seen people in his position struggle to overcome the pressure. Turning 18 midseason, joining a highly efficient O-line without practicing with us, and not missing a beat is so much harder than you can imagine. Three games without a turn is a feat for any offensive player, but I can’t say I’m surprised by his success. He’s got a great head on his shoulders and he’s gained a fan in me this year.”
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Though the Spiders had a disappointing weekend on the field—more on that in Seven on the Line—the San Jose twitter account did share an interesting and true point that I had not really considered.
“All 4 division leaders have never won an AUDL title,” the Spiders account wrote, retweeting the standings following Week 11. “Will that remain the same come championship weekend?”
Another interesting conversation would be how many of the current division leaders do we expect to hold their ground and advance to Championship Weekend? A good over/under at the moment is probably 2.5, and I would lean toward the over, though it’s entirely possible that a regular season full of shockers and upheaval carries over into the playoffs with perhaps just one or two of the favorites surviving their divisional finals.
It is also worth noting that the AUDL has witnessed six different champions in the first seven seasons, with San Jose in 2014 and 2015 being the only repeat winner. While Toronto, Dallas, and yes, even Madison remain possible title contenders again, I would go out on a limb and say we will indeed have a new champion in 2019.
It very well might be the winner of this Saturday’s showdown in Raleigh.
What happens on road trips? Usually, teammates find ways to compete with each other.
On Saturday’s broadcast in DC, I told the story of the Toronto Rush inventing a parking lot game called “bottle,” where a plastic water bottle gets spiked onto the ground and a group of players stand around trying to catch it on the bounce. Rush Coach Sachin Raina credited Cam Harris’ stellar ‘bottle’ abilities as one of the reasons he was able to make the flat-footed buzzer-beating grab in the AUDL All-Star game.
While several games among teammates are solely for bragging rights, the Dallas Roughnecks had more on the line during their in-flight game on Saturday while traveling to North Carolina. There was not much to celebrate on the field against the Flyers, but one of Dallas’ lighthearted moments came as a result of a morning wager.
“The only highlights [from the Raleigh game] were Jay Froude losing a dice roll on the plane ride and being forced to celebrate every goal he scored by kneeling and shooting the defender with a bow and arrow,” remarked Malecek. “Jay didn’t score until the third quarter, when the game was already out of hand, but it was the first moment of life for us besides players yelling at each other on the sideline.”
Seven On The Line
- Ben Jagt caught eight more goals, Conor Kline snagged four scores and dished three assists, and Ben Katz went 36-for-36 in the New York Empire’s 19-14 triumph over Philadelphia on Saturday, improving the Empire to 8-0 on the season, the only unblemished record in the league.
The Phoenix kept it close throughout the first half and the game was tied at nine at the break before the Empire scored the opening four goals of the third quarter to create separation. From Philly’s perspective, it was a mirror image of what happened against the Breeze on Sunday. “The start of both third quarters was similar,” said Phoenix handler Ethan Fortin. “We gave up quick scores to both New York and DC and then proceeded to get broken three times. In both games, this put us in a mental whole we couldn’t completely dig ourselves out of. Specifically, in our first [second-half] O-point in the New York game, I remember working the disc the length of the field and then Jeff Babbitt chasing down and going up big to get a block. Later that point, Mike Drost got another chase-down block on one of our hucks.” The Empire finished the game with 17 total blocks, their second-highest total of the season, behind only the 19 Ds they recorded on April 27 in their nine-goal win over the Phoenix. Babbitt, Jagt, Katz, and Beau Kittredge all tallied two blocks apiece as the Empire finished their home regular-season slate 6-0. In order to run the table and become the first team since 2016 to close out a perfect regular season, New York will need to earn road wins at Raleigh, Montreal, Ottawa, and Philadelphia over the course of the next three weekends.
- The Phoenix entered the weekend in the thick of the chase for the East’s last playoff spot, but the combination of their 0-2 weekend and DC’s 2-0 journey conspired to almost completely thrash their postseason hopes. Especially disappointing was the realization that they could compete so closely with the Empire and Breeze in the first halves, outscoring their counterparts 20-18 in the two first halves only to crumble in the second stanzas. In the pair of second halves this past weekend, the Phoenix were beaten soundly by a combined score of 22-10. “While both games followed similar storylines, the DC game was especially tough,” commented Fortin, who completed 79 of his 84 throws across the two games. “Being up at home going into the half and then not being able to finish it out is frustrating. We are a very young team; the average age of our roster this weekend was 24. As you would expect with a team that young, consistency is hard. Things like capitalizing on momentum and fighting back against adversity are pieces of our mental game that we are all still working on. It was apparent that when we got tired or felt pressure we reverted back to our bad habits and stopped following the game plan that worked so well for us in the first half.”
While it’s looking like Ottawa and Montreal will both also land outside of the East Division’s top three, the Outlaws and Royal did deliver one of the wildest games of the weekend on Saturday night in Quebec City, grinding through some pretty brutal conditions to give the local fans a heckuva show. “The main story of the night was the weather,” declared Ottawa’s Jeremy Hill. “The relentless rain came down all night and made the game difficult but also very exciting.” The volatility cultivated by these rough weather conditions prevented the Outlaws from panicking when they fell behind 7-2 in the opening quarter, and by halftime they level again at 9-all. The Outlaws took their first lead of the game in the third quarter, bolting ahead 12-10 with a 3-0 run only to immediately surrender a 3-0 response from the Royal. Tied at 13 heading into the fourth, the two teams traded barbs all the way to the final buzzer, equalizing the score at every integer from 13 to 21 until Montreal’s game-tying attempt at the buzzer was denied. “I had just scored to take the lead [at 22-21] and I looked at the clock to see 22 seconds left,” remembered Hill, who’s +12 topped all AUDL players for a single game in Week 11. “I gave the ‘I’m tall and can jump’ signal to the bench and stayed on for D. Our guys went down and forced them to gain very few yards. [Kevin] Quinlan launches a backhand and I got the D to seal the win. For someone who is usually fairly reserved, I was seen giving high fives and chest bumping everyone. A great way to cap off a huge team win and personally one of, if not the best, games of my career.” Hill closed out the night with six goals, four assists, and three blocks, while Alec Arsenault and Geoff Bevan each registered five assists for an Outlaws team that was without Karl Loiseau and Nick Boucher, a pair of playmakers that usually leads the O-line. Other Outlaws also stepped up as Ottawa successfully spoiled the first of Montreal’s five straight home games—though, technically, the Royal hosted Saturday’s event in Quebec City—to close out the season. recalled Alec Arsenault, who paced the Outlaws with five assists. "And with games like this, momentum and team morale play a huge part in the outcome, especially in games where weather conditions are less than favorable.” Now, the Outlaws and Royal share identical 2-6 records, and Montreal was left bemoaning a missed opportunity. “We came out with a lot of energy and let our foot off the gas in the second quarter,” said Quinlan. “I really do feel like that quarter was the reason we lost. The weather was rough for both sides, but Ottawa gave us a lot of chances early in the game, which we didn’t fully capitalize on. They cleaned it up and played a great game. I give them a lot of credit.”
In the West Division, both matchups also went down to the wire and finished with a curious symmetry: in both games, the teams that entered the night 0-3 on the season against that particular opponent were able to get over the hump and prevail. “We knew coming into the season that it was going to be tough to beat any of our divisional opponents four times in a row,” said San Diego’s Steven Milardovich.
“All the teams are talented and it is unrealistic to expect to have your absolute A-game 12/12 times. While there are any number of reasons why we didn’t have our A-game on Saturday, we are making no excuses and LA flat out played better than us. Their young guys were flying around making plays, and our offense did not play with enough discipline and patience.” After trailing by as many as three early in the third quarter, Los Angeles soared on a 6-2 run to lead 14-13 heading into the fourth. KJ Koo’s huge layout block late in the game enabled Sean McDougall to hit Joc Jimenez for what became the game-winning score, as the Aviators surged ahead 18-16 with just a few minutes left. The Growlers tallied the last goal of the night to close within one, but the equalizer never materialized as Los Angeles hung on for the 18-17 triumph. “They’re O-line came out with about a minute left [following a timeout] and worked it to 15 yards out of the end zone,” LA’s Michael Kiyoi said, summarizing the Growlers’ final possession. “Nate Kirchoffer was guarding the dump and chased his [man] up-line, throwing his hand out at the same time. He got the block and we worked down the clock. This was great redemption for him because he had a couple poor throwaways earlier in the game. It also clinched it for us; we didn’t want to play overtime. This win does two things for us. It gives us confidence knowing that we can beat San Diego and finish the game strong, and it puts a little doubt and pressure on San Diego knowing that it’s still possible for them to lose, even at home.” With the win, the Aviators officially clinched the West’s second playoff spot, meaning that a fifth meeting between San Diego and LA at some point in July will decide which SoCal squad advances to Championship Weekend.
The two teams on the outside of the West’s playoff picture also engaged in a Saturday night thriller, as a shorthanded Seattle squad still outlasted San Jose in double overtime, prevailing with a turnover-free hold on the game’s universe point to win 26-25. It was a cathartic and exhilarating result for the Cascades’ core that endured three earlier losses to the Spiders this season. “The biggest difference between this game and our previous games against the Spiders is that we just played loose and had fun,” said Seattle’s Jay Boychuk, whose +8 paced his team in the dramatic road win. “Our first game against them we played well but collapsed in the second half and gave it away. A couple things went wrong early [in the second and third games against them], then we let it get to us and couldn’t pull it back together. Playing loose and fun [on Saturday] helped us avoid collapsing whenever stuff went wrong or when the pressure mounted. One particular point that stood out to me was the end of the first half. The Spiders were threatening in our red zone and Zach Sabin got a sneaky poach D with about five seconds left in the half, dished it off to Zhi Chen, who smartly turned it around and fired to Keegan Taggart streaking to the end zone for a goal. That momentum shift felt really important for us by helping us keep our energy levels up and helped us keep having fun.” Seattle led 14-13 at halftime after Taggart’s buzzer-beater, but the Cascades fell behind by multiple scores again late in the fourth. After trailing 22-20, Seattle converted back-to-back clutch scores to send it to overtime even at 22. Neither team recorded a break in overtime, and after a 3-3 stalemate through the five-minute period, the Cascades took care of business in double OT, with Jesse Bolton finding Zach Sabin for the clincher. “When we finally pulled off the win there was a lot of excitement,” said Boychuk. With such a short bench and missing our most important leaders in Mark [Burton], Brad [Houser], and Khalif [El-Salaam], pretty much everyone had to step up into a role they haven’t played before. I think that made the win a bit more meaningful and exciting for everyone because everyone felt and knew that they really helped contribute towards our success, maybe mores than usual. I think Zach [Sabin] was the unanimous MVP for us yesterday. He was coming into the game with a toe injury, not even sure if he would play but actually preparing to coach, then decided last minute to give it a shot after feeling okay in warmups. Then, he absolutely balled out. Late in the game, it felt like we went to an attitude of putting up trust throws in the end zone for Zach because we knew he was going to come down with pretty much anything and everything. In my opinion, he’s actually be our team MVP this season because he’s been doing this all year, relatively unnoticed.”
The Detroit Mechanix, losers of 32 consecutive games, hoped to bookend their long streak of futility with wins over the Chicago Wildfire. But 778 days after knocking off Chicago on April 29, 2017, the Mechanix suffered their 33rd straight setback on Sunday afternoon in the Windy City, succumbing to the Wildfire’s talent and precision in a 24-16 final. “The game was relatively tight until the big run we went on during the end of the third quarter that pretty much lasted until the end of the game,” said Chicago’s Drew Swanson, who led the Wildfire with four goals and five blocks for a season-best +9. “I thought that our D-line forced tough passes and it started with our marks. We continually forced Detroit into high stall counts where they had to put a disc up at stall-six that was not necessarily their first option.” The Mechanix were within two at 15-13 after Jon Gibson’s sensational layout snag midway through the third quarter, but Chicago closed on a 9-3 surge to create separation the rest of the way. With seven assists, Wildfire handler Pawel Janas increased his league-leading total to 51 for the season. Chicago also got a boost from the 2019 debut of Nate Goff, who contributed three goals and three assists in his first opportunity to be on the field this year. “Having Nate Goff back is a huge blessing to our team and me,” added Swanson. “He stepped up on the O-line in the absence of [Matt Rehder, Jack Shanahan, and Jeff Weis] and had a couple great skies. I am excited to see how leadership decides to use him for our end-of-season playoff push. He’s a guy that has taken time to mentor me, helping me adjust to the AUDL game…I am far from making decisions on playing time and lines, but it would definitely be a treat, for me and fans, to have Nate and I defending the deep space together sometime this season.” The eight-goal win lifted the Wildfire to 4-3 on the year with another game against the winless Mechanix on tap in Detroit this Saturday. Like three other teams, Chicago sits just a half-game behind first-place Indianapolis with four weeks left in the season. “If you can find someone that can explain the Midwest, please have them contact me,” plead Swanson. “Madison, who beat Chicago, who beat Indy, who beat Pittsburgh, who beat Minnesota, who beat Madison, and everything in between. I feel like these games coming down the stretch are going to be very intense because of all the implications and ways it can play out. It really is exciting for everyone.”
Through 11 weeks and 87 regular season games, almost three-quarters of all contests have been decided by five goals or less, a marked increase from a season ago. Overall, 65 of 87 games (74.7 perdent) this season have been decided by five or fewer. In 2018, including the postseason, 63.7 percent of all games were settled by these small margins. It is also worth noting, however, that despite the four one-goal games we witnessed in Week 11, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of games decided by a single score. A year ago, 36 contests ended as one-goal results; in 2019, it’s just 17 with four weeks of games remaining.
When the 126-game AUDL regular season schedule came out this winter, one particular contest stood out amongst the rest. Many months later, we are now just just four days away from the payoff, as New York and Raleigh are a combined 15-1 heading into their epic showdown this Saturday in North Carolina. This might very well be a preview of the AUDL championship game that will unfold in San Jose on August 11.
Adding spice into the already delectable matchup is the dynamic of Jack Williams making his return to Raleigh, the team he registered 86 goals and 86 assists for in just 28 games from 2015 to 2018. The Flyers also have a handful of players who formerly played for the Empire, including Justin Allen, Noah Saul, and Ross Ward.
The game might be slightly more important for the Flyers, who are still neck and neck with the Roughnecks for home-field advantage in the South Division playoffs, but New York will also be trying to measure themselves against one of the top franchises in the league. Furthermore, the Empire will seek to continue their undefeated regular season and virtually lock up the #1 overall seed in the final four, presuming they are able to advance through the East finals.
Honestly, I get excited for every game I cover, but this matchup brings added enthusiasm and anticipation. There are so many questions about matchups, strategies, and emotions, with a surplus of top players and premier coaches poised to battle under the bright lights before a national tv audience on Stadium. We will be on the air at 7:00 PM/ET this Saturday for the highly-anticipated interdivisional clash.
Talk to you then!
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