June 6, 2023
By Shaggy Shragis
Saturday night was a seminal moment for the Philadelphia Phoenix as they defeated the Carolina Flyers 20-17 to improve to 2-4 on the season. It was the first time since Adam Ruffner started writing his power rankings that the Phoenix have defeated a top five team in the league. It was a massive upset for everyone except the Philly players—who believe they’re the best in the league—and Hotbird Huck readers, who know that I also predicted a Philadelphia win, because I too believe that Philly is the best in the league.
Everyone on the Phoenix played a spectacular game, but the defense carried the team yet again. Philadelphia scored on 9 of 14 break opportunities, a 64% rate that would make them the number one offense in the league. And they didn’t just force 14 turnovers, they took them by force. Of the Carolina offense’s 14 throwaways, 10 were Phoenix blocks, and several of those were on highlight reel plays. Add in a Nardelli D where he forced the Flyers player into a tough situation and went up with them, creating the drop, and you have a block percentage (the number of blocks per turnover) of 78%, an astounding mark for a league where as many as half of all turnovers never touch a defenders hands.
Max Trifillis cemented his status as the frontrunner for AUDL Defensive Player of the Year with 4 blocks. Max now leads the league in D’s with 13 through 6 games. Eric Witmer was a menace once again, with two blocks and some big “don’t test Philly deep” moments. Paul Owens, tasked with guarding one of the most formidable players in Ultimate in Joe White, played 23 points, and despite not having a block was 20 for 20 distributing on the turn, with a goal and an assist. Carolina was averaging 22.8 PPG over their previous four games and entered the game as the second best offense in the league. They scored 17 and left as the fourth.
Not only did Philly’s defensive stars shine bright, but the Hotbirds defensive depth was a crucial factor in the victory. In crunch time in the fourth quarter, after the Flyers got a break to tie the game at 14s, the defense rattled off three straight breaks to secure the game. That stretch saw a sensational Andres Rodriguez layout D, a spectacular diving goal from Eric Nardelli, and an incredible block from Gavin Abrahammson in his first game back for the Hotbirds. Justin Keller blanketed Anders Juengst, holding him to a career worst -2. It was a team performance from players like Campy, Matt Hanna, and Thomas Nye that held Matt Guchoe Hanas and Sol Yanuck, two of the most talented handlers in the league, to a negative plus minus as well.
This was also another big leap for the Phoenix offense. The much maligned (by me) Jordan Rhyne had his best game of the season, going 26-26 for 204 total yards. Jordan’s box score undersells how good a game he had. Jordan had several possession saving layout grabs on overthrown dumps, which go down as a 3-yard loss in the stat sheet, but are huge momentum-saving plays in the game. Calvin Trisolini also had a stellar performance, with 48 completions, 3 assists and 2 goals. This was a huge game for the handling duo, who have now put together consecutive wins through efficient distribution without backfield partner Alex Thorne, and they did it against one of the best handler defenses in the league. Just one night before, Carolina had stymied DC’s handler movement, yet Jordan and Calvin were nearly pristine against Flyer pressure.
Philly’s bigs balled out once again. After his drop plagued performance in Pittsburgh, CJ Colicchio rebounded with no drops, a 100% completion rate, and a colossal sky over all AUDL defensive team Suraj Madiraju. Greg Martin was more horizontal than vertical, with 2 of his 4 goals coming on layouts. James Pollard had another one for the highlight reel, including an “And One” huck through a double team, and a monster sky over two defenders in the fourth quarter that kicked off a 6-1 Philly run.
Other stalwarts on the O-line were Kainoa Chun-Moy, who had 200 throwing yards and two assists, and Sean Mott, who had his typical outstanding performance, with 541 total yards and a crucial play every time Philadelphia needed it.
The player of the game for Philly’s offense was Dmitry Suvorov. Time and time again, Suvorov came through in big spots, highlighted by a flick swing thrown across his body that traveled the full width of the field to set up the score. “They [Carolina] had nobody that could matchup with him,” said Sean Mott after the game, high praise for Dima. On a line full of big play makers, Suvorov’s consistency was a key factor in the big win.
Coming out of this six game stretch, it was hard to see the Phoenix doing much better than 2 - 4, with games against DC, Carolina, and two against New York. The end of season slate looks much easier, with just one team having made the playoffs in the last two seasons: the aforementioned DC Breeze. That game will be at home, where the Hotbirds have performed much better than on the road. If Philly can maintain the momentum from these last three games, and the offense can stay at least average, there is no ceiling on Hotbird summer.