2018 AUDL Preview: South Division

March 29, 2018
By Adam Ruffner

The South has at least two legit title contenders and a whole lot of divisional contenders entering the 2018 season. The move of Mischa Freystaetter from the Cannons to the Flyers to team up with 2017 MVP Jonathan Nethercutt stole the headlines of the offseason, but the Roughnecks - now two years removed from their perfect 2016 championship season - quietly retooled and reloaded for another deep playoff push. Add to it a Sol team on the rise and with a lot to prove, and this might be the most balanced and competitive South Division to date. 

Atlanta Hustle

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
5-9 24.6 (8) 24.9 (20) 21.1 (4) 11.8 (15)

Returners: Matt Smith, Josh Bush, Christian Olsen
Additions: Patrick Dougherty, Carter Rae
Losses: Dylan Tunnell, Nathan Vickroy
Two Points:

  • The Hustle swapped experience for youth, for better and for worse. Atlanta has struggled to generate turnovers, falling into the bottom half of teams in each of the past two seasons. Young legs will definitely help on the defensive side of the disc, but this team also lost four of its top six throwers from 2017. 
  • How good will Parker Bray be with a full season? I don't like to use the word "gifted" too often when it comes to sports, because everyone has worked for what they got. But there's always been something characteristically majestic in the second year handler Bray's throwing repertoire. He has full field power from both the flick and backhand sides, and an almost preternatural sense and vision for delivering timely discs to spaces only his teammates can access. 

 

One Stat: Matt Smith continues to hone himself into one of the most efficient offensive weapons the league has ever seen. Last season he averaged a throwaway on just 1.8 percent of his total touches, second overall in the league among players with 350 or more touches. He was sixth overall in individual offensive player efficiency, and first among the top 10 in that group in terms of total scores. In three seasons with Atlanta, he's averaged 58 goals per year. Currently, there is nobody in Smith's realm of efficiency plus production.


Outlook: After keeping relatively the same core for three years, the Hustle are dealing with their first serious roster turnover as a franchise. Gone is the 2016 MVP Dylan Tunnell, as well as the offensive talents of Nathan Vickroy, and in their places are a lot of fresh faces. A raft of former Nashville players have joined on, and all will contribute immediately on the field. But until Atlanta gets a few games under their belt as a team, it's hard to tell whether they can return to the playoffs for the first time in two seasons. 

 

Austin Sol

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
4-10 24.2 (9) 25.4 (22) 25.3 (14) 11.4 (18)

Returners: Ryan Purcell, Jeff Loskorn, Michael Matthis
Additions: Kiran Thomas, Matt Bennett
Losses: Michael Hays, Carson Wilder
Two Points:

  • Austin's youth can make the plays, but it's the veterans that will determine if this team can make the playoffs for the first time. Austin has been competitive in nearly every contest during their two years as a franchise, but they've struggled in pressure situations and close games. If their experienced-but-athletic additions can contribute as predicted, the Sol will be turning a lot of heads. 
  • The Bennett brothers playing together is a win for everyone. Both have a big, run-and-gun uptempo style to their throwing games, with Mitchell's catering towards an offensive skillset (25 assists, 31 goals in '17), while Matt is more of a defender (23 assists, 13 blocks). Both possess a surprising amount of bounce despite neither clearing 5'10", and they have both shown a capacity to excel in pressure moments. Most importantly, though, they are going to tease each other endlessly now that they share the same sideline for the first time. 

 

 

 

One Stat: Austin's offense has always had a good sense of balance in their attack between small ball and deep shots. Their 11.36 passes per scoring drive put them 10th overall in offensive pace in 2017, but only two teams — Raleigh and Dallas — had more team completions at a faster rate than the Sol. That's some good company to be in.  

 


Outlook: For the first time in three years, the Sol have the potential to emerge from the shadow of the Roughnecks, who have gone undefeated over Austin in their interstate rivalry series since the beginning of 2016. Their first mathcup is on April 21, and could determine the course of the Sol's season. A win would confirm that Austin is headed for new heights in 2018, with possibly their first playoff berth and a deep postseason push ahead of them. 

Dallas Roughnecks

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
11-3 26.4 (2) 21.4 (T-6) 24.3 (11) 14.3 (6)

Returners: Jay Froude, Brandon Malecek, Kai Marshall
Additions: Chris LaRocque, Kevin Richardson
Losses: Dylan Freechild, Chris Mazur
Two Points:

  • Dallas is less talented, but possibly more focused, than in previous seasons. After coming off the best single-season in league history as a team in 2016, the Roughnecks had a "down year" in 2017 with 11 wins and a semifinal loss to Toronto. Some big names have left the team since then, but in there place are more-than-capable players. With expectations of winning every single game slightly diminished, Dallas might shed some of the prestige that was both at once their source of power, and ultimately what undid the Roughnecks when the Rush matched their intensity at Championship Weekend.
  • Adding Chris LaRocque was the underrated signing of the offseason. He threw 47 assists and over 300 completions at a 97 percent clip for the Cannons last year, all while playing most of his points on defense. LaRocque is a star masquerading as a selfless utility player, always looking for the right play but capable of making the big one, similar to his new teammates Abe Coffin and Matt Jackson. You can plug him in anywhere and get results.

 

 

 

One Stat: Captain Dalton Smith improved his assist total by 26 from 2016 to 2017 as he took on a larger role in the Dallas offense. Not to be forgetten, he also upped his goals from 11 to 26 in the same span. This season will give Smith even more room to grow, and he continues to show an ability to rise to new levels. 

 


Outlook: For the first time since they arrived in the league, there's relatively little buzz about the Roughnecks heading into 2018. That's not good for their opponents in the South, as the Roughnecks are still very much a championship caliber team, And with all the attention and expectations now being placed on the Flyers, Dallas can sidestep some of the distractions of being The Team To Beat and focus more on the individual games. And even with Raleigh's impressive additions, Dallas always seems to hold an edge and a swagger in their matchups. 

Nashville NightWatch

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
0-14 19.5 (21) 29.5 (24) 29.5 (21) 8.8 (24)

Returners: Tyler Conger, Corey Hardesty, Jake Wright
Additions: Paul Lally, Stephen Poulos
Losses: Tom Radcliffe, Blake Waldron
Two Points:

  • Nashville will get better with a little more patience on offense. Often because they were trailing in games, the NightWatch would resort to a huck-and-hope strategy to try to get scores quickly. That results in them throwing the fewest completions at the second lowest rate in the league in 2017. Even just a little more confidence in their offensive drives will go a long way. 
  • Poulos is exactly the kind of thrower this NightWatch team needs. He played just one game in 2017, but had 46 assists and 16 goals, while completing nearly 400 passes for the Cannons two years ago. If Poulos and Conger can establsh a rhythm, Nashville will have a great foundation for a reliable offense as the season progresses. 

One Stat: The NightWatch have three different players with 50-goal seasons on their roster in Hardesty (2016 with Cincinnati), Wright (2016), and the recently returned Lally (2015). One big, one fast, and one versatile (respectively), all three present  receiving options for a team looking to cultivate more reliable roles.


 


Outlook: The NightWatch should break their winless streak that dates back to 2016, but there are no guarantees in the South. There are pieces all over this team to like, but the whole of this their identity still has yet to form. Nashville had a historically bad season defensively last year, and until they show an ability to slow opponents down, it will be hard for them to remain competitive against teams like Raleigh and Dallas.

 

Raleigh Flyers

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
13-1 25.9 (T-3) 21.3 (5) 20.5 (2) 13.5 (T-9)

Returners: Jonathan Nethercutt, Jonathan Helton, Justin Allen
Additions: Mischa Freystaetter, Jakeem Polk
Losses: Nate Goff, Micah Hood
Two Points:

  • Raleigh might have the deepest, most talented team in AUDL history this year. Nethercutt and Freystaetter could be considered the best and second best players in the league right now, and it's hard to choose which would supercede the other. It's impossible to overstate how deep this team is; a "role" player on the Flyers like (and I'm literally closing my eyes and pointing to their roster on the screen) Shane Sisco could lead the league in goals for almost any team if you gave him a starring role in the offense.
  • Can the Flyers manage expectations? That will be the true test for this team, arguably more than any opponent they will face this season. Talent alone does not win games. In each of the past three seasons they've been slightly favored in their final matchups, and each year they were eliminated short of their goal.

 

 

 

One Stat: If Noah Saul plays more than 10 games in a season, lookout. He's only done it twice in his four-year professional career, but in those two seasons he has averaged 41 assists, 18 goals, 10 blocks, and 396 completions at nearly a 94 percent rate. Those are All-AUDL numbers. 

 


Outlook: First impressions are important, so when the Flyers take the field on Saturday night in the first Game of the Week of 2018, it will be very interesting to see how Raleigh approaches their fiercest rival with all the new firepower and championship aspirations. Will the Flyers attempt to overwhelm the visiting Cannons from the opening pull and make a display of dominance? Or will Raleigh take each team, each week as a challenge to be dealt with seriously? It's easy to be number one in Week 1; much harder come August.

Tampa Bay Cannons

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
10-4 25.3 (5) 23.1 (T-13) 20.2 (1) 10.0 (22)

Returners: Bobby Ley, Andrew Roney, Cole Sullivan
Additions: Nathan Vickroy, Peter Van Brussel
Losses: Mischa Freystaetter, Chris LaRocque
Two Points:

 
  • Ley, Roney, and Sullivan compose one of the three best throwing units in the league. Yes, the Cannons sustained significant departures during the offseason. But if you can throw the disc with as much skill and versatility as the three guys leading the Tampa Bay offense, it mitigates a lot of problems. The Cannons have stated that they are switching to smallball in 2018, looking for quicker, more efficient passes than before; Ley might be the best handler in the league at that style of play.

  • Can the Cannons be better in Freystaetter's absence? Betteridge's Law seems to apply pretty heavily to that question, but there's always some opportunity to redfine - and improve - in the absence of a star. No team relied on a single player more heavily than the Cannons the past three seasons. But with just one playoff win to show for it, maybe it was time for a change for both parties. 

One Stat: Over the past three years, nobody has thrown more assists than Sullivan. His total of 179 is a single throw shy of giving him an average of 60 per season. For perspective, since the creation of the league in 2012 there have been just 18 total instances of players who have thrown 60 assists in one season.


Outlook: The Cannons are going to be a good team to watch evolve over the course of this season. In the past, it almost felt as if the best version of the Cannons was the one that started the season: fresh legged and hopeful for a title, but bound by weighty expectations to defeat Raleigh and Dallas. With a new coach and new system under Andrew Roca, we might not see what Tampa Bay is truly capable of come June. Hopefully by then, they will still be in the thick of the playoff race.