June 14, 2022
By Evan Lepler
We’re halfway there.
After starting in late April with 150 regular season contests on the schedule, we’ve seen precisely 75 games over the past seven weeks, with 75 still upcoming in the next seven. Currently, 88 percent of the league has played somewhere between five and seven games of their 12-game schedules, the outliers being 8-0 New York, 4-4 Montreal, and 4-0 Chicago.
Along with the Empire and Union, the Colorado Summit (6-0) are the third AUDL team still unbeaten after their second 2-0 road trip of the year this past weekend, while four franchises remain winless—Dallas (0-5), Detroit (0-6), Oakland (0-5), and Tampa Bay (0-6). Overall, 15 of the league’s 25 teams are .500 or better. This is possible because among the other 10 teams, none are even within two games of the .500 mark as we sit here in mid-June.
As a reminder, 11 teams will qualify from the playoffs, three apiece from the Central, East, and West Divisions, and just two from the South. No one has mathematically clinched their postseason spot yet, though the Empire could do so this weekend with a home win against Ottawa. Every team in the league—yes, technically even the Detroit Mechanix and their 56-game losing streak—is still alive in the 2022 playoff chase.
Buoyed by an 8-3 surge in Week 7, home teams are now 39-36 on the season. Only six squads across the league are undefeated at home: Chicago, Colorado, and New York, obviously, along with the South Division’s triumvirate of contenders: Atlanta, Austin, and Carolina. Aside from the Union, Summit, and Empire, Minnesota and San Diego are the only two other teams that are also perfect on the road thus far, though the Wind Chill and Growlers are just 2-0 and 1-0, respectively, in contests away from home.
So that’s the quick snapshot of where we are at the midway point. Looking forward, there are many more opportunities for achievement and significant questions to be answered. All in due time.
But now we’ll dive into another riveting weekend, a ledger that included three one-goal games and five others decided by five or less.
The Full Field Layout
The best Friday night lineup of the season delivered plenty of drama, though the West’s marquee matchup fizzled in intensity just a bit because Colorado was virtually perfect and Salt Lake struggled to keep pace. While DC-New York, Madison-Chicago, and Portland-Los Angeles all were within one or two scores in the fourth quarter, the Summit stunned the Shred by building a double-digit lead through their dominant first three quarters at Salt Lake.
“Colorado outmatched us basically everywhere: coaching, game plan, hustle, catches, throws, hucks, red zone, resets,” said Shred Head Coach Bryce Merrill. “We just weren’t mentally ready for the possibility that we’d play so poorly in that first quarter. So when we did, it got worse quickly.”
The Summit’s defensive pressure, bolstered by the additions that they were missing in the first matchup against Salt Lake two weeks earlier, held the Shred O-line to just five scores in the first three quarters. Colorado produced 11 breaks in those 36 minutes, including five in a row that helped transform a still manageable 14-10 score into a 20-10 rout. Salt Lake finally found a rhythm and outscored the Summit 10-5 over the final 13 minutes, but Colorado comfortably prevailed 25-20 to sweep the season series over the Shred.
“Daniel Brunker’s layout D near the end zone on one of [Jordan] Kerr’s inside throws and Nate Buchholz’s double D in the second half [were two moments that really stuck out],” said Colorado’s Cody Spicer, who recorded three assists, one goal, and one block on Friday night. “We didn’t have those two guys on defense the first time we played the Shred, and they really made their presence felt all game.”
Offensively, the Summit were equally locked in. The deep shots, in particular, were sizzling, as Colorado completed 17 of 19 hucks, including their first 11. That’s more completed hucks than any other team has converted in an outdoor game since the tracking began in 2021. The Shred had some chances to make plays on floaty discs, but Summit receivers won the vast majority of the 50/50s, including some absolutely sensational skies.
“We had a couple moments where it felt like we might be able to claw our way back into it, specifically the last three or four minutes of the first half,” said Merrill. “We talked about taking it into half with a manageable amount of work ahead of us. But when we had a chance to get the D and pull within two or three, [Danny] Landesman made a great play over [Joe] Merrill, and a point later [Jay] Froude made an incredible grab over [Joel] Clutton. All credit to Colorado for having a great game plan and executing better than us in those big moments.”
Jonathan Nethercutt anchored the Summit offense with 52 completions for 627 throwing yards and seven assists, while Froude and Quinn Finer each compiled 300-yard receiving games, along with four goals apiece. Thomas Brewster only had 10 catches, but five of them were in the end zone. Alex Atkins went 46-for-46, accumulating 515 total yards on the night. Meanwhile, Salt Lake O-line standouts like Kerr, Merrill, Alec Benton, and Jacob Miller, all finished with negative plus/minuses. Kerr had been averaging nearly eight assists and over 500 yards per game, was held to just three assists and 219 total yards.
“A combination of nerves, bad decisions, and lack of mental toughness,” said Kerr.
While the Shred dipped to 4-2 after their second loss to the Summit, Colorado improved to 6-0 after also dispatching the Oakland Spiders by another five-goal margin, 29-24, on Saturday. With their next three games at home, the Summit are in an enviable spot atop the West, a byproduct of both the skill and mentality that the organization has fostered in its inaugural season.
“Being able to really compact all the talent in Colorado into one team led to us all thinking we had the potential to be a contender,” said Spicer. “What really has been a wonderful surprise, though, is the buy-in that every single player on our team has. They have fully committed to the scheme, and it has been a large contributor to our success.”
The Summit host Seattle this Saturday before their first ever meeting with San Diego on June 25.
The three other Friday matchups all went down to the wire, with each carrying significant consequence in its divisional race.
The New York Empire were broken early, but ultimately outplayed DC by a considerable margin in their 25-21 victory to sweep the season series over the Breeze. Each team converted a pair of breaks in the first 12 minutes, but New York created four more in the second quarter to lead 12-9 at halftime. The advantage grew to four by the end of the third, though DC did fight back and had the disc with a chance to get within one with less than four minutes left. The Breeze D-line offense stalled out, though, and Ryan Osgar hit Jeff Babbitt with 3:03 remaining, increasing the lead to three and basically wrapping up the Empire’s eighth straight win.
“I was happy with our ability to handle the DC pressure,” said Osgar, who completed 100 percent of his throws for the fifth consecutive game. “They had a solid game plan and made us adjust multiple times throughout the game. We weren’t able to execute our game plan perfectly, and that forced us to problem solve on the fly. We did a decent job at that [...] The real takeaway is how well our defense played. We proved that we don’t have to play a perfect game on offense to beat an elite team like DC.”
Osgar went 36-for-36 with six assists and a goal, while Babbitt added six goals and two assists, along with 318 receiving yards. Ben Jagt, again playing the majority of his points on D-line, produced five goals and one block, while Antoine Davis and Ryan Drost each tallied two blocks and a pair of scores. Rowan McDonnell paced the Breeze with 532 total yards, five assists, and three goals, but the Breeze still slipped to 4-2 at their midway mark, with both losses against the Empire.
The Chicago Union also escaped their tricky home contest on Friday evening, scoring the go-ahead goal with 28 seconds left against Madison. Previously, they allowed their four-goal lead entering the fourth to completely disappear, but the Union regrouped on the final possession, a three-pass, 13 second strike, with Jeff Weis connecting with Ross Barker on the 54-yard shot. Up 22-21, the Union defense stymied Madison one final time, as the Radicals failed to launch a potential game-tying prayer before time expired.
“I don’t want to give away too much of our playbook, but I’ll at least say that I was 100 percent not where I was supposed to be on the last O-point,” said Weis, who finished with three assists, one goal, 452 yards, and no turns on 26 throws. “I was preparing for another roller pull and was caught off guard when it didn’t come. I just happened to find a pocket of space. Ross got really open and I saw the help defender on the left, so I knew if I kept it slightly to Ross’s right, the defenders would only have a play through him. I’d have loved to leave it a little lower, but my receiver is also Ross Barker, so that margin for error factors into the calculus of how open he is.”
The Union would have endured their first loss if not for their end of quarter prowess. They scored the final goal in all four frames, which enabled them to survive despite finishing the game with one fewer break than the Radicals.
“Considering that we were missing our best defensive player and our best offensive player, I think we played phenomenally,” said Pawel Janas, referring to Nate Goff and Paul Arters, who were both absent from Friday’s contest. “We generated 13 opportunities to break, which is a lot. The one issue is we didn’t convert many of those chances, but the O kept us in the game.”
Janas totaled 585 yards, six assists, and two goals, with Barker tallying four goals, three assists, and 482 total yards. Madison’s Victor Luo produced a 400/300 game, with 752 total yards along with five assists and three goals, but the Radicals late comeback was all for naught.
“They won all four end of quarters,” said Madison Coach Tim DeByl. “That was the difference.”
Both the Union and Radicals will host the Austin Sol in a pair of highly-anticipated interdivisional clashes in Week 8.
Meanwhile, the Portland-LA tilt capped the exciting Friday evening, spanning into Saturday morning for east coast viewers.
It was far from the prettiest game of the weekend, considering each team finished with 23 turnovers, but it was tight the whole way. In fact, the Aviators never led by more than one, but that was enough for LA to escape with the 17-16 victory. The Nitro were actually up 16-15 with 7:30 left, but the Aviators scored the final two goals and played keep away in the closing seconds to salt away their third win of the season, all of which have come by exactly one goal.
Brandon Van Deusen led Los Angeles with eight assists, two goals, and 737 total yards, while Everest Shapiro snagged seven goals, dished two assists, and churned for 435 yards. Frequently enough, Van Deusen’s deep shots for Shapiro connected. The Aviators went 7-for-13 on their hucks, which is far from excellent, but completely outpaced the Nitro, who completed just one of their nine hucks on the night.
“In the first matchup [against the Nitro], Portland caught on quick to our lack of deep shots and started to front our cutters,” said Van Deusen. “This game, we really made them respect our cutters more by hitting away shots, forcing them to play us more honest [...] It felt like every time I caught the disc and turned, [Everest] was beating his guy deep. Even when he wasn’t cutting, we just made eye contact and were on the same page. He’s the kinda cutter that makes a handlers job easy.”
Leandro Marx led Portland with seven assists, but the Nitro’s top scorer was kept out of the end zone for the first time all season. Brian Stout and Ke'ali McCarter each registered three blocks for Portland, but LA’s Mitchell Steiner, apparently after making a pregame proclamation that he would get four Ds, indeed set a career-high with four blocks on the night.
At 3-3, the Aviators are just a game out of the West’s last playoff spot, with opportunities against all three top teams in the division on tap in the coming weeks.
“We are only halfway through the season,” said Van Deusen, “and there is a lot of time left to make some noise and upset some threats. We have lots of tape to watch on Colorado, Salt Lake, and San Diego, so we will be making some adjustments to get ready for them…While the media side of ultimate continues to underestimate the Aviators, all that matters is we are confident we can make the playoffs. We like proving people wrong.”
Seven On The Line
Unfortunately for the Nitro, there was little respite in the second game of their weekend, a matchup between two teams seemingly moving in opposite directions. San Diego Growlers edged Portland 20-18 to win their fourth straight, while the Nitro suffered their fourth consecutive defeat. Both teams have been involved in a slew of close games, but San Diego improved to 3-1 in games decided by two or less, while Portland now sits at 0-4 in those same type of down-to-the-wire affairs.
“I felt like we played our best defensive game of the year,” said San Diego Coach Kevin Stuart. “Prior to Saturday, we have been inconsistent on the defensive side from the perspective of executing the game plan, but we tweaked a few things at practice and the team focused in and got the job done.” Portland’s McCarter and Stout each contributed multiple blocks for the second straight day, but yet again, the Nitro saw one of their opponents accrue four blocks in the game. San Diego’s Trevor Purdy produced four Ds in a contest for the third time in his career, but the first time since 2015. Offensively, Goose Helton finished with five assists and four goals to pace the Growlers, who will venture on the road for their next three games, a Week 8 rivalry clash at LA and then a massive doubleheader weekend through Salt Lake and Colorado. “The back half of our schedule is going to be difficult, and we knew that once the schedules got released,” said Stuart. Both Colorado and Salt Lake are playing at a very high level, and we need to bring our best game to have a chance on that road trip. But first we have to take care of LA, and they have been playing very well of late too.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Week 7 unfolded on Saturday evening in Montreal, with the Toronto Rush defeating the Royal for the first time since June 2, 2019. The Rush had lost by seven against Montreal in Week 1, their seventh consecutive setback against the Royal, and they were coming off a 17-point destruction against New York last week. Montreal was understandably the popular pick, but Toronto flipped the script and overcame a two-goal fourth quarter deficit to prevail 21-20 for their second win of the season. “The team definitely used the loss against New York as motivation,” said Rush rookie Oscar Stonehouse, who finished with three goals and three assists. “We were upset with the way we played the week prior and wanted to show people how good we can be. I think the main story of the game was for sure the entire team stepping up and playing to their potential [...] Another key story was how we played in the air. In the season opener against Montreal, they seemed to dominate us in the airspace and has been a point of emphasis for us since.” Indeed, the Royal had a final heave in the closing seconds, but the Rush defense stood tall to preserve the one-goal win, as Zach Armstrong recorded his third block of the game on Jacob Brissette’s desperation shot. “When the disc hit the ground, it was pure joy,” said Stonehouse. Eli Park and Travis Puckrin also had three blocks for the Rush. No member of the Royal had more than one. “The whole team really needed to reset after that New York game, and I think we did a good job of coming into Montreal confident in ourselves and what we can do as players and as a team.” With a one apiece over their fellow Canadian clubs, the Rush will seek their first triumph over an American opponent when they travel to Philadelphia and DC this coming weekend.
It’s still jarring to look at the final box score for Pittsburgh-Minnesota a few days later. The Wind Chill led 6-4 after one, but then the Thunderbirds won the second quarter 7-3. Trailing 11-9 at halftime, Minnesota dominated the final 24 minutes, bludgeoning the T-Birds 11-3 over the final two quarters to prevail 20-14. Like the Growlers, the Wind Chill have now won four straight since dropping their season opener. “The second quarter was definitely a bit of a head-scratcher,” said Minnesota’s Brandon Matis.
“We all could sense some things needed to change. We’ve been riding this ‘all about us’ mentality this year, and that was the message that stood out most going into half…I think the defensive pressure we were able to administer for 48 minutes, and our ability to convert when we get the ball back is what propels us on these big second-half runs.” Matis finished with two blocks for the Wind Chill, as did Abe Coffin, Isaac Leonard, and Bryan Vohnoutka, while the Thunderbirds, playing without their two top throwers, Clint McSherry and Ian Engler, went just 9-for-18 in the red zone. “Mentally, we’re frustrated because we have shown at moments that we can be an excellent team,” said Pittsburgh’s Anson Reppermund. “Our philosophies and players are good enough to win us games. What’s going wrong? We are not adhering to the game plan enough to pull it through when it matters.” Having dropped five straight divisional games, perhaps the panacea for Pittsburgh’s woes will be the Detroit Mechanix, as the team that has not won a game in the last half-decade makes the trip to the Steel City this Saturday. Minnesota’s idle in Week 7, but the Wind Chill will wrap their current three-game homestand against Madison on June 25.
For the first time in franchise history, the Carolina Flyers swept the season series over the Dallas Legion by leading wire-to-wire in Saturday’s 23-15 victory. It was far from the Flyers’ prettiest game of the season, but they still finished with fewer than 20 turnovers for the 23rd straight game, the longest streak in the league. “Offensively, we didn’t get to run all the sick pull plays that we love to hit, but we really didn’t give it away that many times in our flow,” said Flyers handler Sol Yanuck. Seven different Carolina contributors scored multiple goals, led by Terrence Mitchell and Alex Davis, who each caught four goals apiece. Andrew Li caught three goals while playing 14 D-points in his Flyers debut, while Charlie McCutcheon and Justin Allen were other D-liners who caught two goals apiece. At 6-1, the Flyers have a monster matchup with the Atlanta Hustle this Friday night down in Georgia, with first place in the South Division up for grabs.
As for the Hustle, their lone loss this year remained the two-goal setback on opening night at Carolina, and Atlanta improved to 4-1 with Saturday afternoon’s 23-18 triumph over Tampa Bay.
The Cannons played them even through the first 12 minutes, but the Hustle won the final three quarters to gradually pull away with their fourth straight victory. Austin Taylor led the way with 549 total yards and four assists, while Elijah Jaime snared a season-best six goals, along with two assists. The Hustle now have three wins over Tampa to go with their headlining victory against Austin, but they know that this Friday’s showdown with the Flyers could very well be the season-shifter. “This is definitely our biggest game of the season thus far and could end up being our biggest one of the entire season by the end,” said Atlanta’s Kelvin Williams. “Everyone knows what’s on the line. It’s time for us to rise to that championship standard we’ve set as we enter into the thick of the regular season.
There were plenty of gaudy offensive numbers in the league’s lone indoor venue on Saturday. Six different players—three AlleyCats and three Mechanix—finished with over 300 receiving yards. In contrast, there were only 10 other 300-yard receiving yard performances across the other 10 games in the league this past weekend. Of course, the outcome was never in doubt as Indy rolled to a 32-18 blowout victory over Detroit, the Mechanix’s 56th straight loss. Kudos to the AlleyCats D-line as they converted 15 of 17 break chances, led by Xavier Payne’s eight assists. Keegan North compiled six assists and four goals while leading the Indy O-line to goals on all but two of their 19 O-points. The 4-2 AlleyCats are currently even with Madison in pursuit of the Central’s final playoff spot, but the schedule down the stretch will be a gauntlet, as five of the Cats’ last six games are against Chicago, Madison, Minnesota, and Atlanta.
Philadelphia was idle in Week 7, but star Phoenix receiver Greg Martin maintained his number one perch league-wide in goals per game at the midway point of the season. Martin’s averaged 5.2 goals in five games played, while Carolina’s Alex Davis is second with 4.9 (among players with at least three games played). Despite his subpar game against the Summit, Salt Lake’s Jordan Kerr remains atop the assist/game chart (among players with at least three games played. Kerr’s 6.8 assists/game gives him a decent lead over Chicago’s Pawel Janas, Seattle’s Adam Simon, and Indy’s Keegan North, who each are averaging 6.0 assists/game. In terms of total yardage, Ottawa’s Geoff Bevan leads the league with 794.2 total yards/game, while Seattle’s Declan Miller is second with 739 yards per game. Portland’s Leandro Marx is tops in receiving yards per game, with 392.1.
Can the Radicals reinvigorate their Breese Stevens mystique?
The road to Championship Weekend in Madison continues with a pivotal pit-stop in the “Capital City of Ultimate” this Saturday, where the Austin Sol will journey for the first time in their franchise history on the second night of their Central Division back-to-back. There was a time when Radicals’ home games were almost guaranteed losses for an overwhelmed visitor, but in recent years that has shifted drastically.
Since winning 46 home games in a row against their divisional foes, a streak that was snapped by Minnesota on May 11, 2019, the Radicals have gone just 7-6 in their last 13 opportunities at Breese. Before this stretch, Madison had gone 49-4 at their precious home haven.
Considering the scene and the stakes, it should be an epic Game of the Week showcase, one of the many meaningful matchups on the schedule as we launch the second half of the 2022 regular season.