Thursday Thoughts: Week 2

April 13, 2017 — By Evan Lepler

For the small handful of readers that are still thirsty for AUDL content after Tuesday’s lengthy Toss, here are a few thoughts looking ahead to upcoming weekend. Over the course of the season, these “Three Thursday Thoughts” may take on different forms, like perhaps video, podcast, or smoke signal.

Without further adieu.

1. The AUDL's best rivalry returns on Saturday.

Rivalries are usually built upon familiarity, and as you may have heard, that dynamic often breeds contempt. In the AUDL, with four divisions of six teams, we have seen a slew of notable rivalries grow over the past several seasons. Some are based around geography; others are more about history. And with respect to the myriad of exciting rivalry matchups around the league, the Raleigh Flyers and Jacksonville Cannons are currently number one.

Game highlights from the last time the two teams met in Jacksonville.

These are two cities—really regions, North Carolina and Florida—that have established a track record for dramatic action under intense circumstances. The Flyers and Cannons each have plenty of starpower, and a bunch of notable players have seen both sides of the rivalry. This weekend, Chris LaRocque and Jordan Huston, who were Flyers a season ago, suit up for Jacksonville. Conversely, Matt Bode, a Cannon two years ago, will now rep Raleigh. Furthermore, Jacksonville Coach Tuba Benson-Jaja spent many years playing for North Carolina teams before the AUDL South came to be. Consequently, he has played with and against many members of Raleigh’s core in the past.

On Saturday, we will see another chapter of the Flyers and Cannons. It’s the first of four regular season meetings—the squads reunite in Jacksonville on May 20, then play on June 3 and June 24 in Raleigh. Whoever falls short this weekend will have plenty of time for redemption. And on paper, these teams’ talent is close enough that I would be shocked if they don’t counterpunch a good bit. I don’t see either squad sweeping the series 4-0, but if one of the teams can take three out of four, that could be the difference in a playoff berth.

2. If Nashville’s going to win a game, this Saturday may be its best opportunity.

The Nashville NightWatch have plenty of good players. The Jesse Shofner headlines aside, there are plenty of playmakers—Blake Waldron, Tyler Conger, Jake Wright, Tom Radcliffe, etc.—that have proven to be productive pros. If Nashville could switch into the Midwest, I think they’d have legit chances to snag wins from the Indianapolis AlleyCats, Detroit Mechanix, and Chicago Wildfire, perhaps even stealing a game against the Minnesota Wind Chill or Pittsburgh Thunderbirds on the right day. But the reality is: Nashville is in the South Division, which, in my opinion, is the deepest division in the league. They have enough talent to compete and hang tough with any team they play, except maybe at Dallas. But competing and winning are two very different things, and while perception can certainly evolve, at this point the NightWatch will likely be an underdog in every single game they play.

Game highlights from the NightWatch's buzzer-beating win against the Hustle in Atlanta in 2016.

That brings us to this Saturday, when the NightWatch are at home against the Atlanta Hustle. Sure, the Hustle made it all the way to the South title game last year, but at this point, Atlanta would probably be number five in most South power rankings. And unlike Raleigh and Jacksonville, who face each other four times, two at each location, the NightWatch and Hustle only are playing three times, with the last two meetings scheduled for May 13 and July 14, both in Atlanta. This is Nashville’s only shot against Atlanta in Tennessee.

Saturday’s an important game for the Hustle too, obviously. At 0-1 after an eight-goal loss in Raleigh, the Hustle’s playoff hopes might depend on the franchise’s ability to avoid falling to 0-2. With a win, the Hustle could suddenly be 1-1 with a three-game homestand on tap. Atlanta’s next three after this weekend are against Jacksonville, Dallas, and Nashville, all in the Hustle’s backyard.

The bar of expectations is different for Nashville. They aren’t necessarily being measured in the context of ‘can they make the playoffs?’ The NightWatch are 5-24 as a franchise thus far, with two of those wins against Charlotte, a team that no longer exists. At the same time, Nashville has been close several times, with 11 losses by six scores or less. Last year, Nashville’s first victory came against Atlanta, at home and in overtime. Can the NightWatch do it again?

3. The league’s partnership with Eleven Sports Network is a significant development.

It’s impossible to tell right now what the true effects of the AUDL’s new cable deal will be, but the first showings have been very positive.

On Monday evening, I was at one of my favorite neighborhood bar/restaurant spots for dinner. Since it was a gorgeous evening in North Carolina, we sat outdoors on their comfortable patio.

Inside, at the bar, there was a panel of four big screen TVs, which I was not paying much attention to, but had in my field of vision. At one point, I noticed the bartender changing the channel. He scrolled through his DirecTV guide, eventually settling on an international hockey game—Monday was not a killer sports night, obviously. But it was notable that the hockey game was airing on the Eleven Sports Network, channel 623 on DirecTV, a station that the bartender, seemingly unprompted by a customer, had in mind to flip to.

This fired me up for a multiple reasons. Firstly, that was the channel that the Toronto Rush-DC Breeze game had aired on the day before. Secondly, an establishment around the corner from my house not only got the channel, but also had the instinct to put it on. Thirdly, maybe this meant that other bartenders around the country would occasionally put this channel on, and more and more people would get exposed to professional ultimate.

Furthermore, the AUDL airing on Eleven Sports was not a one-time thing! After the Toronto-DC game was live on Sunday afternoon, it re-aired again that night at 11:00 PM. It was also shown on Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM, Tuesday evening at 6:00 PM, and will be showcased another time on Saturday morning at 10:30 AM (all times eastern).

Who knows if the network will re-air every one of our 18 Game of the Week telecasts multiple times? If it does, that would be fantastic! But, more importantly, we have crossed a threshold of distribution beyond anything the sport has seen before, and honestly, beyond I expected the AUDL to be at this point.

For that, I am very encouraged. It’s tremendously exciting to be able to introduce and share the AUDL with a brand new group of people, and we’ll be back live on the Eleven Sports Network on April 22, when DC travels to Raleigh for the inaugural game of the Cross Coast Challenge.