2018 AUDL Preview: West Division


April 4, 2018
Adam Ruffner

The AUDL champion has come from the West Division in three of the past four seasons, so there's no doubt about the competitiveness in this region. But with San Francisco's roster experiencing massive changes after their title in 2017, the top spot out west is up for grabs once again. 

Los Angeles Aviators

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
9-5 24.0 (11) 23.1 (12) 21.1 (T-4) 11.6 (16)

Returners: Mark ElbogenEric Lissner, Eli Friedman 
Additions: Jesse Cohen, Chris Mazur
Losses: Bryan NguyenJacob Bartholomew
Two Points:

  • The Aviators offense could be a top five unit in the league in 2018. Tim Beatty quietly had one of the best seasons ever as a handler last season, earning him a second team All-AUDL nomination. Friedman and Tom Doi are as dangerous a run-and-gun combo as there is in the league. Lissner is averaging 46 assists and 22 goals per season over the past two years. And the team returns 2016 All-AUDL member Elbogen after losing him midway through last year. The loss of Nguyen will hurt, but Cohen could plug into his role almost seamlessly with his skillset. 
  • The Texas road trip in just over a week will be a huge barometer for LA. You're basically guaranteed to lose one game on the weekend — only the Cannons in Week 15 of 2017 have come out from the Texas two-step unscathed — and with the improvement of Austin, this travel challenge has become even more difficult. If the Aviators are serious about being title contenders in 2018, they will need to show it in Week 3, especially on Saturday night in the Game of the Week. 

One Stat: In three seasons as a franchise, the Aviators have scored 30 goals just four times, but they are 4-0 in such contests. Mazur's big throws will certain help increase the likelihood of reaching that number, as well as another season together—Los Angeles has improved their scoring output every year. 


Outlook: With the FlameThrowers experiencing significant departures, the 2017 divisional runner up Aviators seem (on papaer) prime to reign supreme in the West this season. They have playmakers at all of the skill positions, a stable of throwers, and athletes in spades. But with the divisional standings always being separated by razor thin margins, and the unique obstacle posed by their Texas road trip, Los Angeles has a lot to take care of between now and a possible Champoinship Weekend berth in August.

 

San Diego Growlers

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
7-7 22.7 (15) 23.6 (15) 21.6 (7) 12.0 (14)

Returners: Sean Ham, Dom Leggio, Steven Milardovich
Additions: Wes Groth
Losses: Hunter Corbett, Jesse Cohen
Two Points:

  • San Diego's offense will continue to be efficient. Ham, Leggio, Travis Dunn, and Zeke Ivers play like an uptempo version of the AlleyCats: Everyone knows their role, and they are very good at engaging downfield looks in rhythm. Leggio continues to be one of the most unheralded center handlers in the league, averaging 490 assists at a 97%+ rate over the past three seasons, and a large part of why San Diego perennially ranks among the league's best in turnover rate. 
  • If the Growlers defense can be good—not great—this team will make the playoffs. Milardovich is one of the most dynamic individuals in coverage on the West coast, and San Diego as a team are effective at forcing their opponents out of first option looks. But for a team that has finished in the bottom third of the league in each of the past three season defensively, this may be a large ask. 

One Stat: One of the most prolific, pure receivers in the league since he came into the league in 2015, Ham is as reliable as he is productive. For his career, his goal-to-drop ratio is 20:1, and he has yet to commit double digit turnovers (throwaways + drops + stalls) in a single season. In 2016 he caught 56 goals with zero drops, but only played in nine games; last season he played in every game, earning him a Steel Spirit Award. There's almost no flaws in Ham's game.

 

Outlook: The Growlers were much improved by the end of 2017, but their offseason losses will smart as they head into the new season. The core still remains and will keep them in games, but who can step up? For all of the known performers on this San Diego roster, there's little talk of who might be "next". If a younger player can succeed in a larger role in 2018, the Growlers will be back in the playoff race.

 

San Francisco FlameThrowers

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
10-4 27.7 (1) 23.9 (17) 30.6 (23) 13.9 (8)

Returners: Marcelo Sanchez, Antoine Davis, Greg Cohen
Additions: Hunter Corbett, Andrew Berry
Losses: Beau Kittredge, Cassidy Rasmussen
Two Points:

  • San Francisco can become the second franchise to repeat as champions in 2018. Not saying it's a given, or even probable, as their losses are as big as they come. But the Bay has a seemingly endless talent pool, there's still tons of veterans remaining from last year's title team, and the new additions will be a factor on the field immediately. 
  • Sanchez is the most consistent and versatile performer in the AUDL. Period. Other than the 2016 Dallas squad, he's been on every championship roster since 2014, contributing to both the highlight reel and the margins. He was San Francisco's alpha defender in 2016, then switched to offense in 2017 as easily as someone walking from one room to the next. Over the past three years, Sanchez has averaged 33 assists, 29 goals, 14 blocks per season. 


 

One Stat: Before 2017 and the title run, the FlameThrowers had zero playoff wins in three season's worth of appearances as a franchise. The luster of a trophy makes that all feel like a different era altogether. But if the FlameThrowers aren't vigilant in the ever ruthless West, they could easily find their aspirations dampened come playoff time. 

 


Outlook: San Francisco has a lot of questions heading into 2018. Can they win without the bulk of playmakers that helped them to their title a season ago? Who is the spiritual leader on this team in the absence of do-everything smile lord Lucas Dallmann? Are the FlameThrowers still the best team in the Bay, let alone the West? Corbett is a great add, and Davis is only starting to tap his potential as a playmaker. SF looks likely to return to the postseason in 2018, but beyond that, it's anyone's guess as to how the FlameThrowers will follow up their championship. 

San Jose Spiders

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
8-6 24.7 (7) 24.3 (18) 21.4 (6) 11.4 (17)

Returners: Justin Norden, Jackson Stearns, Brandon Fein
Additions: Gabe Hernandez, Lucas Young
Losses: Chuck Cao, Evan Brydon
Two Points:

  • The Spiders were one of the five most efficient offenses in 2017. They run perhaps the most handler-centric offense of any team in the league, relying on Norden, Steven Chang, and the now-departed Chuck Cao to bounce and blade throws to every corner of the field. The trust this team has in its throwers allows for their downfield cutting lanes to remain very disciplined; rarely would you see opponents help defense, as San Jose spread out their receivers too well for teams to take advantage of lanes with poaching techniques. 
  • San Jose will need a third handler to step up alongside Justin Norden and Steven Chang. Cao was one of the best throwers in the division the past two seasons, and his particular ability to play smallball and carve blades into tight spaces made him like a Bobby Ley of the West—indispensible. Who can fit that role for the Spiders in 2018?

One Stat: The Spiders completed 4236 passes (94.32 percent) as a team in 2017, the most of any team in the AUDL last season and 1417 throws more than the last place NightWatch. San Jose is confident in their system, and the patience their throwers display in letting looks develop pays off with a lot of easy goal catches and uncontested discs.


Outlook: San Jose was the surprise team of 2017, so it will be interesting to see how their identity evolves now that there is an expectation to win. They lost two of their top goal scorers from a year ago, but have added a platoon of athletic youth to the back end of their roster. If San Jose can start as hot as they did last season, they will likely be playoff bound. 

Seattle Cascades

Record Goals Per Game Goals Per Game Against Turnovers Per Game Blocks Per Game
7-7 24.8 (6) 23.1 (14) 22.3 (8) 9.6 (23)

Returners: Mark Burton, Brad Houser, John Randolph
Additions: Kodi Smart, Charlie Eide
Losses: Khalif El-Salaam, Adam Simon
Two Points:

  • The Cascades will once again be exciting to watch in 2018. For a team that didn't qualify for the playoffs in 2017, Seattle was always worth admission price. Having Burton on your roster assures a lot of high scoring matches, and Houser and Randolph emerged as two of the more high octane offensive players in the division last year.
  • Seattle improved defensively, but will need some fine tuning on offense. The team lost a few veteran handlers, and in their place are young kids looking to prove themselves. Given Seattle's youth pipeline and the disc skills of younger generations, the Cascades look to be developing for a very bright future. But in the short term, they may have to endure growing pains.

One Stat: Nobody has thrown more assists over the last two years — or over any two-year stretch in AUDL history — as Burton. To put his 141 assists into context: If Burton keeps his current pace of throwing scores, he'll replicate Montreal star Kevin Quinlan's six-year career assist numbers somewhere around July of this year; this is Burton's third year as a pro. 


Outlook: Nearly two years removed from their title game appearance in 2016, Seattle is still on the rebuild. There are lots of pieces to like on this team, but there's not really anything resembling a whole. Yet. The Cascades brought on a lot of youth, which could inject a considerable amount of energy into a team with yet-to-be-determined goals beyond making the playoffs for the third time as a franchise.