April 16, 2019
By Evan Lepler
A dozen meetings, and a dozen losses; that was the Austin Sol’s loser legacy against the Dallas Roughnecks in three seasons in the AUDL prior to Saturday night. Several showdowns in recent years were quite competitive, but the end result was always the same, with the Roughnecks celebrating and the Sol serving the role of pesky little brother, good enough to be annoying but always unable to get over the hump.
With 18 seconds left on Saturday night, it felt like loss #13 was imminent. The Sol trailed by one, and it looked like it was going to be yet another heartbreaker at the hands of their northern rival. This one would be especially painful, considering Austin had transformed an 8-4 halftime deficit into a 13-11 lead by the eight minute mark of the fourth. Of course, down by two, Dallas displayed its championship mettle with a 5-2 burst in the heart of the final quarter, inching ahead 16-15 on Abe Coffin’s goal with fewer than 20 ticks remaining.
The vicious and swirling crosswind that gusted between 25 and 35 miles per hour and often shifted directions all night long left the Sol in a precarious upwind situation, and Dallas needed just one D to satisfyingly swat down their little bro one more time. A couple short throws put the disc in Mitchell Bennett’s hands, and the veteran lefty uncorked a powerful, hopeful backhand into the biting breeze.
Bennett, who has been on the Sol since the franchise’s inception, had to know immediately that the huck would not make it to the end zone. Thankfully, Ethan Pollack, another fourth-year Sol vet, realized it too, making the adjustment to come back toward the disc. Making the catch with just a few seconds left outside the end zone, Pollack turned and zipped an inside flick to an open Kyle Henke for the game-tying score with just one second left, and suddenly, the game was tied at 16-all and headed for overtime.
In the five-minute OT, Dallas’ decision to start on defense backfired, as the Sol scored first, second, and third to lead 19-16 with 1:51 left. The Roughnecks only goal in the bonus session came with two seconds left, and by that point, the Sol celebration was already set in motion.
“Of course our team was jacked up,” said first-year Sol head coach and former Roughneck Steven Darroh, “and the crowd was fantastic. We had the best sideline presence I’ve seen the Sol have; I know that contributed to our win.”
Jeff Loskorn, another fourth-year Sol star, added, “It does feel like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders.”
Considering all the important pieces that Austin was missing, combined with the fact that the Sol only mustered four goals in the entire first half, the 19-17 overtime victory was fairly shocking. Important Sol absent from the active 20-man roster included Chase Cunningham, Andrew Walch, Jerrod Wolfe, Jason Holleran, and Carter Hollo, but others stepped up and everyone raved about the team’s depth.
“With those injuries and absences, we definitely had to shift things around,” acknowledged Matt Bennett, who paced the Sol with five assists. “[Kyle] Henke had a great second half as part of our comeback, and having Mitch [Bennett] back was nice as he was so consistent all game. On D-line, two players absolutely went nuts and that was Mick Walter and Mason Wuensch. Mick had to guard Jay [Froude] and really did a good job, and Mason also did a great job on Carson Wilder. They were instrumental all game and made so many great plays.”
The torturous wind led to 76 combined throwaways in the 53-minute affair, 37 from Austin and 39 from Dallas. (For perspective, the Sol and Roughnecks had 12 and 16 throwaways, respectively, in their opening weekend games against Raleigh.) Frequently, the 175-gram plastic disc hovered only at the mercy of Mother Nature’s fickle whims, popping up and darting down with little regard for the thrower’s intent. And over the course of the game, Austin somehow snagged more of the 50/50 toss-ups.
“It helps when you have the best player on the field,” stated Pollack. “Saturday night, that was Mick Walter. Multiple Ds. Coming down with all the swill. Absolute game-changer.”
Walter finished with three goals and three blocks, while Josh Zdrodowski also used his size to help squeeze a game-high five scores. Collectively, the intense wind left carnage of the handling stats, as the Sol’s top four in completions combined for 23 throwaways. It wreaked havoc on the Roughnecks as well, as 10 different Dallas distributors suffered multiple throwing turnovers throughout the game.
Still, no matter how ugly it may have been, the Sol were ecstatic to escape.
“It was definitely a huge load off our team’s back,” said Matt Bennett. “[We] were so excited to finally get that win, especially early in the season. With this win, we can play Dallas three more times without this cloud hanging over us going late into games with a close score. While we were all pumped, Darroh did. Good job of keeping us grounded. The first thing he said was, ‘congratulations on the win, but remember our first and foremost goal is to win the division, not get one W against Dallas. We have a lot to improve still.”
The idea of the Sol winning the South, a posit that felt relatively absurd following a week one home loss to a fatigued Flyers squad, suddenly seems far less outrageous. Austin’s far from the favorite, of course, but just toppling Dallas once absolutely redefines the team’s potential. Several Sol players pointed out that Dallas was also without a handful of their key playmakers, guys like Brandon Malecek, Dillon Larberg, Thomas Slack, and Connor Olson, tempering their excitement slightly and trying to remember that it was just one very windy game. Narratives can shift quickly, especially considering that Austin has a road trip to Dallas on tap this coming weekend as well.
From the Roughnecks perspective, it was just their fifth regular season loss in 44 games. And while many players on the two teams are friendly on and off the field, no one on the Roughnecks felt particularly happy for their friends on the other side immediately after the game.
“Having played many years against and with many of the Sol guys, I always want to see them be successful, however not against us,” asserted Roughnecks Captain Dan Emmons. “I take losses personally and I know a lot of the guys on our roster do as well. I’ll just say I’m very much looking forward to hosting them this Saturday to get some much needed payback!”
Dallas Head Coach Wes Nemec offered a similar reply when asked if there was any part of him that could appreciate the Sol’s surge, saying that “they are genuinely great guys, but on gameday we set that aside completely. They are another faceless opponent and it’s our job to prepare for and beat them…I can give them credit for a stronger second half performance and winning the game, but I wouldn’t say I’m happy for them. I’m thinking more about where we fell short, what we did do well, and how to have a better result next time.”
The Roughnecks don’t have to wait long. Next time is just four days away, as the two franchises will square off in perhaps their spiciest meeting yet on Saturday at 8:00 PM Eastern, live on Stadium.
The Full Field Layout
Another weekend, and another slate of down-to-the-wire results, all settled by four goals or fewer. In two weeks of AUDL action, the league is 11-for-11 in producing close, compelling action into the fourth quarter. Amazingly, the largest lead any team has had so far is seven, and the team that held that advantage eventually lost it, as Seattle coughed up its 17-10 second-half edge before falling 28-27 in overtime against San Jose on April 6. Aside from that, no team has even led by more than five.
Dating back to last year’s postseason, 20 of the last 21 AUDL games have been decided by five goals or less, a rather remarkable stretch of constantly competitive ultimate across the league.
In Week 2, aside from Austin’s historic overtime triumph over Dallas, we witnessed a stunning buzzer beater in San Diego and thrilling second half turnarounds in New York, Atlanta, and Indianapolis. Of course, the weekend began on Friday night out West, with the Los Angeles Aviators sending a message to the rest of the West.
The Los Angeles Aviators may have lost five of their top eight goal scorers from last year’s squad that advanced to Championship Weekend, but the cupboard of Los Angeles talent is far from bare. Not only have returners like Sean McDougall, Tim Beatty, Zach Theodore, and Michael Kiyoi raised their games, but newcomers have emerged to contribute immediately. On Saturday, two AUDL rookies, one (Joc Jimenez) playing his second game in the league and another (Danny Landesman) making his pro debut, led the Aviators in goals, combining for nine of their 22 scores in a 22-18 victory over the San Jose Spiders, the team that most forecasted as the preseason favorite to supplant Los Angeles atop the West in 2019.
“Four minutes into the third quarter, we were up by five goals,” explained Beatty, who paced the Aviators with four assists and 31 completions. “But then we started giving the disc away with a lot of unforced turns, allowing them to come back to within two goals by the end of the third. In previous seasons, this team may have been nervous and let the issues continue into the fourth quarter. And knowing that the Spiders had come back from seven goals down the previous week, the story for the rest of the game could have written itself. But, we all collectively hit the reset button, got our confidence back, and finished the game out strong.”
Early in the fourth, the Spiders had an opportunity with the disc to inch within one, but a multi-turnover point ended with Jeff Silverman finding player/coach Tyler Bacon for the goal to increase the lead to three. The Aviators eventually re-established a five-goal edge before prevailing by four to pick up their first win and hand the Spiders their first loss of the season.
“We were still figuring out how to integrate our offense,” acknowledged San Jose Head Coach Tyler Grant. “We had to swap in a few new pieces on the road trip because Shane [Earley] and Lior [Givol] couldn’t attend on Friday. Defensively, we struggled to move the disc because I had to pull some of our more offensive players over to the other line. We got turnovers, but couldn’t get breaks.
A day later, the Spiders were staring an 0-2 weekend in the face against the Growlers, but bolted to a hot start and led 7-5 at the end of the first quarter. San Diego quickly swung the game in the second, however, outscoring San Jose 9-5 to lead 14-12 at the half.
The Growlers led by between one and three for virtually the entire second half until the Spiders evened the score at 24-all on Justin Norden’s dish to Antoine Davis with less than a minute remaining. Davis’ bookends gave San Jose the equalizing break, but unfortunately for the Spiders, it simply set the stage for the wildest finish of the weekend.
There was little easy about San Diego’s 13-throw possession that led to the game-winning score, as multiple deflections and fortuitous bounces left the Growlers feeling lucky, thankful, and relieved to avoid overtime.
“That was a pretty crazy way to end that game,” said San Diego’s Travis Dunn, putting it mildly. “When Goose [Helton] released the swing pass, I thought we were headed to OT for sure, but luckily [San Jose’s] Brandon [Fein] couldn’t quite snag it. Once I made the grab, I was facing the clock on the far end of the field, so I was able to take a look and see that I did have time to stand up and throw it. At that point, I just wanted to pop up and throw a floater into a pile. As I let it go toward the center of the end zone, I noticed we had a numbers advantage, and I actually thought we were going to catch it clean. After a touch by us and a bat by them, I could see Max [Hume] still had a chance at it, but I couldn’t tell if his dive would keep him in bounds. Once I saw him come down with the disc in bounds, I was pumped.”
Amazingly, Dunn’s floaty throw found the bidding Hume after it was twice deflected by San Jose’s Skylohr Taylor in the end zone. Just Hume’s second goal of the season, the fluky ricochet sent the Growlers sideline storming onto the field with a euphoric 25-24 buzzer-beating win. On the other side of the field, the Spiders were left in a shocked state of disbelief.
“It was pretty rough watching it,” admitted Grant, whose team dipped to 1-2 on the season following the 0-2 SoCal trip. “I couldn’t believe it for a few minutes afterward.”
The Growlers got eight assists and two goals from Jonathan "Goose" Helton, while Dunn chipped in three goals and four assists, including the miraculous game-winner. Through two weeks, San Diego has two home wins by a total of three goals, a refreshing experience for a team that went 3-5 a year ago in games decided by three or less.
“It was a relief [to prevail] because we felt like we really allowed them back in when we should have closed the door,” explained Dunn. “We had stretches of good and stretches of bad, for sure. We definitely need to improve on our consistency and we need to keep the pressure on for 48 minutes. It’s awesome to be sitting at 2-0, and it’s exciting to know that we can still be a lot better.”
Like the Roughnecks, the Spiders won’t have to wait long to avenge their heartbreaking loss. San Jose hosts San Diego in the Spiders’ home opener this Saturday.
The much anticipated debut of the new look New York Empire offered exciting sequences, spectacular individual play, and overall, considerable room for improvement. The Empire may not have rolled past their overmatched opponent like most would expect of a preseason #1, but they handled the early adversity, found a rhythm as the game progressed, and closed on a decisive 10-5 burst to surpass the DC Breeze 21-18.
“Some of it was raising the intensity, but a lot of it was built off of using our depth,” said new Empire Head Coach Bryan Jones. “We changed strategy a little bit in the fourth quarter to disrupt DC’s rhythm.”
While Jeff Babbitt scored five goals and Ben Jagt, Jack Williams, and Grant Lindsley all had their strong moments for the New York offense, the greatest revelation of the night was the fact that DC’s young athletes could hang in there against the Empire’s lofty starpower. MVP Rowan McDonnell did his thing, throwing or catching half of the Breeze’s 18 goals, but rookies like AJ Merriman, Matt Cullom, and Ray Mendoza all had their own moments too, showing off their athleticism, playmaking ability, and swagger.
“The first three quarters were almost perfectly executed on our part,” stated Max Cassell, who, along with fellow O-line handlers Nate Prior and Cody Johnston, completed 111 of 112 throws on the night. “We knew we didn’t win the one-on-one matchups from a defensive perspective. I’m not sure anyone does against New York. We wanted to stop pull plays and make them score without the one-throw points. We knew we had to be close to perfect on offense, but I think we found our identity quickly and it worked for us. I think the amount of fresh faces on the team brought a ton of energy.”
One of the game’s potential turning points occurred as the third quarter expired, when Cullom, a 2018 Georgetown alum, snagged a buzzer beater in traffic to tie the game at 14. As Cullom landed, New York’s Beau Kittredge was still clawing at the disc from the ground, an action that appeared to irk the Breeze’s rookie as he chirped at the four-time AUDL champ while standing over him. Immediately, New York’s Ryan Drost ran in to confront Cullom, and the drama fizzled fairly quickly. But it still was somewhat striking to see someone who had just caught his second AUDL goal perched in a taunting pose over the 36-year-old Kittredge.
“To be completely honest, the adrenaline was flowing the whole night, especially after the grab, so my memory is a little hazy,” Cullom said, when asked about the sequence. “I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder, and unfortunately, sometimes that can get the better of me in heated moments. Add in a debut matchup against Beau and New York, and well, you get the idea.
“After I had caught the disc and was coming back down, I saw Beau reach back up and try to strip it away. This is what prompted by immediate reaction. I couldn’t tell you what I said to him because, to be honest, I don’t really remember. That being said, I will say my reaction was really out of anger at the attempted strip and not meant to be any sign of intimidation or projection of dominance—I don’t think Beau is going to be intimidated by some no-name DC rookie. Nor would I ever try to get in an aggressive or physical altercation with another player.”
After the game, Kittredge acknowledged that he was not certain that the disc had been secured, so he continued to scrap for the plastic and snatch it out of Cullom’s grasp, an action that constitutes a strip and is against the rules. So Cullom certainly had reason to be perturbed. And Kittredge, to his credit, said he enjoyed the sequence.
“He thought I was trying to strip him, which technically I was trying to strip him,” said Kittredge. “Anytime you have the emotions raging and people talking trash, it makes the environment more fun, at least from my perspective. It gets me more interested in playing defense; it makes the matchup more fun. It’s rare that people are gonna trash talk to me at this point in my career.”
Later in the game, Cullom did attempt to apologize to Beau, who seemed delighted by the whole thing. “He said ‘sorry about that, but I thought you were trying to strip me,’ and I said I was trying to strip you and I gave him a little wink,” explained Kittredge. “It was a wonderful exchange; now I know who he is. It’s all a part of the game, all a part of creating a nice little rivalry.”
Similarly, Cullom had no ill will toward Drost’s immediate reaction, saying that it was totally fair for him to step up and de-escalate the situation.
“Rowan let me know right away that that type of reaction isn’t what DC Breeze is about,” added Cullom. “As for [DC Coach] Darryl [Stanley], he trusted me to remain calm and keep focused on trying to get the win. As a rookie, it was really awesome to get that level of trust from a coach and get to play out the fourth. I certainly hope it wasn’t a turningpoint in the game. That being said, New York came out hot in the fourth and I did drop the very next pass, so who knows?”
After the game, the Breeze were certainly more displeased by their lack of fourth quarter execution than any particular emotional outburst or interaction. Because of karma or coincidence—either way—the Empire outscored DC 7-4 in the final 12 minutes to cap their season opening triumph.
“We had some silly turns, and New York capitalized,” remarked Cassell. “That stuff happens and it’s frustrating to have it happen late in a close game.”
Added Stanley, “ While I’m sure a game like that makes New York stronger, I think it makes us more confident that we are a team that should still be considered near the top of this division.”
The Breeze were without key contributors like Jeff Wodatch, Joe Richards, and John Walden, three guys who will be critical to DC’s playoff push, along with youngsters like Cullom, who certainly had a memorable, educational AUDL debut. To his credit, he handled the sequence with great maturity afterwards, expressing remorse for the way he his energy came across.
“I definitely regret the reaction because it sets a bad example to those fans/younger players watching and doesn’t reflect the true spirit of the game,” he said. “It also reflects poorly on DC ultimate, which I think has one of the best, most spirited ultimate scenes in the country. The funny part is that, overall, I think the game was pretty spirited. I love hearing Beau’s reaction too. The guy is the definition of a competitor and it’s awesome to hear that he doesn’t take it personally. I had a ton of fun playing at that high of a level and on that big of a stage for the first time.”
The Breeze will retake the field for their home opener against the Philadelphia Phoenix this Saturday, while the Empire are back in action with a pair of games on April 27 and 28, when they will travel to Philly and host the Montreal Royal on back-to-back days.
Just like the Empire, the Raleigh Flyers endured a bunch of a twists and turns en route to their eventual Saturday night success. After trailing the Atlanta Hustle 14-10 late in the second quarter, Raleigh rallied with an 9-4 burst to take the lead early in the fourth. The Flyers used smooth offense to close out their 24-21 road win, refusing to be broken in the entire second half after the Hustle had recorded four breaks in the first half.
“I think early on we fell into the trap that zone defenses want you to fall into of being lazy and switching the field, skipping the dump and trying to throw long swings or big hammers that give them a chance to make plays,” assessed Raleigh captain Noah Saul. “A couple of those mistakes put us in a hole, and our defense wasn’t able to really generate much first half pressure in either our man or junk looks. At the half, we talked about how we knew this game would be a mental challenge, but if we believe in ourselves, keep attacking, and don’t get down about our mistakes, we’ll get right back in it.”
For the full game, the Flyers had just 10 throwaways, none of which came from Saul, who remarkably completed all 85 of his throws, five of which went for scores. Jacob Fairfax led Raleigh with five goals, several of which came after halftime when the Flyers shifted Fairfax to the D-line in order to help create more pressure.
At the end of the night, a few turningpoint plays stood out.
“First was Mischa [Freystaetter’s] layout D near our own end zone,” remembered Saul. “That was an O-point and they had a chance to break to go up four, but Mischa read the play and got a nice block to bail us out. We scored, and on either the next point or one shortly after, Justin Allen ran down and got a huge layout block on an under. We then scored that point, which I think brought us within one. Soon after that, our D got a block, and we used a timeout to get the O on the field. Their zone had us pretty well contained in our own end zone, and Allan [Laviolette] unleashed a huge backhand for Terrence [Mitchell], who made a monster sky over two defenders and then threw the goal that tied the game.”
The Flyers now sit at 2-1 despite not having played a home game yet, while the Hustle fell to 0-2 despite being right there in both of their games, a one-point road loss to Tampa and Saturday’s blown halftime lead against the Flyers.
“I think the main difference between us winning and losing that game came down to two simple things: fitness and fundamentals,” explained Atlanta’s Christian Olsen. “When we get tired, our fundamentals degrade and we take riskier shots that are not in our progressions. We like to keep things simple, but it’s hard when you’re dead tired. Fitness and mental focus is something that we’ll work on for future games. I’m feeling good about our squad. Starting 0-2 really doesn’t help, but we know what we need to work on and what we need to do to get back into it.”
The Hustle hope to save their season with a critical upcoming three-week stretch, at the Tampa Bay Cannons this Saturday, hosting Raleigh (on Stadium) on April 27, and then hosting Austin on May 4. With road trips to Indianapolis and Raleigh plus a two-game voyage to Texas on the agenda after that, it feels imperative that the Hustle stag at least two of their next three if they’re going to remain in the mix in the daunting South Division.
After dramatically winning an AUDL championship last August, the Madison Radicals don’t have a ridiculous amount of unfinished business. However, on Sunday night they were determined to do something they have never done before.
“Our pregame conversation was about how we’re winless at Grand Park, [the AlleyCats’ new indoor venue in Indianapolis,] and that was unacceptable,” remarked Radicals self-appointed captain Kevin Pettit-Scantling. “We were compelled to remove that smudge from our record.”
In fairness, the Radicals only trip to Grand Park occurred last June, when the Indianapolis AlleyCats snapped their 16-game losing streak against Madison with a narrow one-goal win. In that game, Indy overcame a 16-14 deficit to prevail 22-20. On Sunday night, though, the AlleyCats dug themselves a much bigger hole.
Madison looked sharp in building a 9-4 lead, breaking Indy’s O-line five times in nine tries to start the game. The Radicals led 12-7 at the half, and the AlleyCats felt fortunate to not be down by even more.
“The game was definitely a tale of two halves,” remarked Indy Head Coach Eric Leonard. “We couldn’t seem to find our stride on offense at all; we took uncharacteristically risky shots, had some miscommunication errors, and just missed routine plays. Madison played throwing lanes really well, like they always do, but we were just impatient and forced too many cross field looks. Defensively, we lacked energy and aggression during the first half. When we had break opportunities, we squandered them with unforced errors. Point blank, we couldn’t do the simple stuff. I felt lucky we were only down five at the half.”
Madison Head Coach Tim DeByl admitted that he felt lucky too. Going into the week, the Radicals knew the they would be without Peter Graffy, but it did not help when two more O-line anchors, Ben Nelson and Tarik Akyuz, became under the weather and unable to play. Consequently, some fresh faces were inserted into the lineup, roles changed, and the Radicals knew they were vulnerable against the improved AlleyCat squad.
“Yea, we had some young dudes out there,” said DeByl. “It was probably some bad coaching [on my part], not realizing how tired our O-line was getting.”
In the second half, Indy took charge, ensuring that the AUDL would continue to see nothing but dramatic finishes throughout the weekend.
“The second half was a 180-degree change,” said Leonard. “When we brought it back within one, I felt confident. We were winning the energy battle and had the momentum on our side, but the Radicals are champs for a reason. KPS completely snuffed our momentum with a huge hand block on the goal line. They converted the break, and it felt like the knockout blow.”
The AlleyCats won the second half 13-10, but the Radicals took the game 22-20, their sixth straight win overall (including the playoffs) since falling to Indy last June 17.
“To Indy’s credit, they were relentless and pushed our offense to an uncomfortable threshold,” said Pettit-Scantling, who registered three blocks in the Radicals’ victory. “[Spencer] Loscar and [Keegan] North were incredible. They’ve really stepped their game up.”
With a very solid road win under their belts, the Radicals hope to get healthy as they return back to Breese Stevens Field, site of last summer’s title, for their 2019 home opener this Saturday against the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds. Meanwhile, the AlleyCats look to get back on track with games against the Detroit Mechanix who went winless in 2018, each of the next two Saturdays.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the ultimate generation before everyone played in high school, but I am fascinated by the teenagers that are able to make an impact in the AUDL. When I was 18, I was learning the basics of a flick, a stack, and a force. Danny Landesman, a 5’11” high school senior who just turned 18 during Los Angeles Aviators’ tryouts in February, made his pro debut and led his squad in goals on Friday night.
“The kid is good,” Aviators player/coach Tyler Bacon said, frankly. “I’ve been watching Danny play for a while now. He comes from an ultimate family, has had great coaching and mentorship throughout his youth, and he plays with a winning attitude. During training camp, he picked out matchups that would challenge him and he impressed in the opportunities he was given.”
Against the Spiders, Landesman served as one of LA’s primary downfield threats. Though he played in just 13 points, he finished with five goals and one assist, completing all 10 of his throws with no turnovers.
“Landesman was turning a lot of heads this entire preseason,” remarked veteran Aviators handler Tim Beatty. “After the first tryout, Coach Bacon was ready to offer him a spot…His AUDL debut was nothing short of awesome. He was open all day! The Aviators have been trending older these last few years, which is why we lost so many players this offseason to retirement. He adds a much needed boost of youthful energy to the team and will be a huge asset on offense. He is going to be a lot of fun to play with and I am excited to get to throw to him.”
From Original Sixers like Travis Carpenter and Kevin Quinlan in 2012, to Seattle’s John Randolph and Toronto’s Ben Oort in more recent years, a small handful of 18-year-old ultimate prodigies keep finding a way to impact the pro ultimate scene, giving hope to every middle schooler who watches the league and dealing regret to the rest of us 30-something wannabes who wish we had the fortune of finding this great sport sooner. The Aviators are indeed fortunate to have signed Danny Landesman, and they will need him in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Gradually, day by day, the American Ultimate Disc League is helping the world see the sport of ultimate. For every few kids that witnesses our majestic game for the first time, one is bound to be hooked.
There are many great ambassadors for the sport and the league, but few have made fan engagement as active a part of their personal lives as Beau Kittredge. A dozen years after college Beau jumped over a guy and went viral for the first time, Kittredge continues his mission to succeed on the field and inspire the next generation off of it.
One of my favorite things about @theaudl is the youth engagement. After the game this kid runs up and wants to throw. After proving his skills we go our separate ways. 2 hours later the father sends me this picture. The accessibility of our athletes combined with kids unabashed excitement is beautiful thing. #empireultimate ❤️
A post shared by Beau Kittredge (@beau_show) on Apr 13, 2019 at 7:22pm PDT
The kid in that instagram photo is the son of a former major league baseball player, a retired athlete that Beau befriended when they were working out at the same gym. Kittredge invited his friend to bring his son to the game, and a few hours later the youngster was sleeping with a frisbee.
This certainly does not guarantee that the boy will join a youth team, play in college, and love ultimate forever. But there’s a much better chance of all those things after his experience on Saturday, and that’s pretty cool.
Truthfully, this past weekend’s travels were an epic saga, with a Dickensian ‘best of times, worst of times’ feel. To keep it brief, in the span of 24 hours, I witnessed Augusta National Golf Club and Yankee Stadium with my own eyes for the first time. Regardless of my Boston-inspired Yankee-disdain, these are two landmarks of American sports, a couple sites that I was grateful and humbled to be able to see. Exploring The Masters course was particularly magical on what obviously turned out to be an especially significant weekend in golf history.
If Augusta was a thin slice of heaven, then perhaps the world demanded I reach equilibrium with the relative taste of travel hell late Saturday night and Sunday. When I arrived at my Queens hotel with a reservation and confirmation number in hand, the gentlemen at the front desk said they were overbooked and did not have a room for me anymore. Dismayed, I asked him if he was familiar with the Seinfeld scene about holding onto a reservation. He was not.
After thirty minutes of twiddling my thumbs in frustration at the front desk, they finally got me a room at another hotel nearby, capping the unpleasant experience that I hoped would be the lowlight of the weekend. Unfortunately, there was more to come.
On Sunday, right as arrived at LaGuardia Airport—I know, I deserve misery for flying through this wretched facility—I received an e-mail saying my flight was cancelled because of, as I later learned, air traffic control congestion issues. The cancellation enabled me to watch Tiger’s triumph at a hotel bar, however I missed out on some precious pre-planned family and friends’ time that afternoon and evening. Plus, I needed to carefully avoid Game of Thrones spoilers until I got home, which I did about 12 hours after initially showing up at the airport.
These types of travel troubles greet everyone on occasion, and there’s not much you can do aside from wear it the best you can. Overbooking, however, is a disgraceful practice that airlines and hotels utilize with disturbing frequency. When I run for office one day, I guarantee a small part of my platform will be a firm commitment to outlawing overbooking.
Seven On The Line
- One of the cool dynamics of the DC-New York matchup was the battle between the two head coaches, third-year Breeze leader Darryl Stanley and first-year Empire czar Bryan Jones, who have struck up a cool friendship in recent years after bonding over their mutual love of team-building and dissecting ultimate strategy. They text frequently and have developed an honorable mutual respect, which is what so many longstanding rivalries are built upon. Of course, they still take pride in beating the other. After Saturday, Jones considers their rivalry completely even at five wins apiece. This includes five games at the club level (Jones leads 3-2), three games at the college level (Stanley leads 2-1), and now one pro matchup too, where Jones’ Empire edged out Stanley’s Breeze on Saturday. That’s only nine games on the field, but their personal series, according to Jones, is tied 5-5 because both Stanley and Jones interviewed for the same position as Team USA U-24 Assistant Coach, ultimately a job that Stanley was offered and accepted. So the rivalry remains even, and the two friends will meet again several more times this spring. The Breeze and Empire reunite on May 11 in New York and June 1 in DC, and both coaches hope that they’re college teams—Stanley coaches Maryland and Jones leads UConn—might intersect at Nationals over Memorial Day weekend as well.
- Jack Williams and Grant Lindsley were both exceptionally solid in their New York Empire debuts, delivering the rare ‘wow’ highlight along with tremendous steadiness. Between the two of them, their only turnover was Lindsley’s cross-field end-of-quarter flick into a crowded end zone that DC denied. Aside from that, they completed all 65 of their throws, with each tossing three assists, and utilized their similarly slippery styles to find spaces and escape their defenders. Though DC’s defense prevented the New York offense from really humming at midseason form, Williams and Lindsley still looked very much like the impactful free agent acquisitions they were expected to be.
- Pat Shriwise and Kevin Brown were another duo that shined over the weekend while serving as Madison’s primary O-line handlers. It’s a role that both are eminently capable of, but fans have grown used to seeing Shriwise and Brown put more pressure on the opposing defense with their downfield dynamic, compared to being the initiators behind the stack. On Sunday against Indy, however, Shriwise and Brown combined for a gargantuan 131 completions in 134 throws, nine of which went for goals. Both were instrumental in the Radicals narrowly hanging on down the stretch against the Cats. “Pat caught a hammer in traffic with [approximately] 20 seconds left, up one, then threw the score,” said a relieved DeByl. “And he was all cramped up. He is such an underrated player.”
- Another player expanding his game is LA’s Sean McDougall, who tossed four assists on Friday night against San Jose, including a pair of impressively ambitious deep shots. “McDougall learned how to throw!” remarked Tim Beatty. “He had an amazing season last year as a cutter and defender. But on Friday he had two beautiful flick hucks for 50+ yards that I don’t think were in his arsenal last year. He is going to be very dangerous.” The numbers don’t lie, and McDougall has gotten more comfortable throwing to the end zone in recent games. In fact, McDougall has dished 16 assists in his last four regular season games. Before that, he thrown just 15 assists in his previous 12 games.
- The Dallas Roughnecks don’t have much experience losing, and before this past Saturday, they had absolutely no history of ever succumbing to the Sol. Yet after the game, Austin Coach Steven Darroh went out of his way to praise the way the Roughnecks dealt with defeat after the final buzzer sounded. “Dallas handled the loss graciously,” said Darroh. “With all the mixed club blood between the teams, their camaraderie still impressed me. They were shaking our hands and slapping our backs, telling us how they couldn’t wait to get a chance for revenge next week. I’ve seen Dallas win many times with aplomb; to see them lose with the same attitude speaks volumes to the leadership on that squad.”
- The Sol’s overtime victory over the Roughnecks joins a couple of other recent results where long winless streaks were snapped in cathartic fashion. On June 17 last year, the Indianapolis AlleyCats snapped an ignominious 0-16 skid against the Madison Radicals, 21-20. And in a game with even more meaning, the New York Empire, previously 0-16 against Toronto, edged the Rush 18-17 in the East Division final to earn a bid to championship weekend. Now, after Austin got off its 0-12 schneid against, there are only four current franchises remaining who have never beaten a particular divisional opponent. Philadelphia and Ottawa have never beaten Toronto, as the Phoenix are 0-13 against the Rush since 2013 and the Outlaws are are 0-12 against the Rush since 2015. In the Midwest, the Detroit Mechanix have never knocked off Pittsburgh, going 0-12 all-time against the Thunderbirds. And in the South Division, Atlanta has never defeated Dallas; the Hustle are 0-9 all-time against the Roughnecks.
- On Saturday, leading at halftime was a curse, as three of the four teams who led at the half were unable to hang on. DC’s 10-9 halftime edge became a 21-18 loss. Atlanta’s 14-11 advantage evolved into a 24-21 setback. Dallas coughed up the largest lead of anyone, up 8-4 midway through before falling 19-17 in overtime. And in the fourth game on Saturday evening, the San Jose Spiders won the second half by one, but San Diego’s buzzer beater created the dramatic one-point Growlers win.
We’re four days away from Week 3, a rare spot on the AUDL calendar that features zero doubleheaders and no games on Friday or Sunday. Instead, we have a jam-packed eight-game Saturday that includes five teams making their 2019 season debuts. (Week 6 on May 11 is the only other weekend in the regular season that does not include any Friday or Sunday games.)
Interestingly, of the quintet of teams set to take the field for the first time this season, only two of them will face one another. That’s Chicago and Minnesota, which will square off in St. Paul in a pivotal early statement contest for both franchises. The winner will immediately be viewed as a playoff contender alongside Madison and Indianapolis in the Midwest, while the loser will be climbing uphill in the weeks ahead. Elsewhere, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Philadelphia all begin their seasons on the road against teams that went to the postseason in 2018. Pittsburgh’s at Madison, Detroit’s at Indy, and Philly visits DC. Frankly, it would be a surprise if any among this trio of road teams started 1-0, but as the Austin Sol proved this past Saturday, anything can happen on any given weekend.
After the Sol’s surge, bright minds can all reach different conclusions while pondering the same question: what comes next?
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