April 10, 2018
By Louis Zatzman
James Park, co-owner of the Los Angeles Aviators, is honest about his team’s goals in 2018.
“We always want to improve on the season prior, and last year we played in the game to go to championship weekend,” Park said.
The team expects to represent the hallowed Western division at Championship Weekend in Madison. They have the players, the structure, and the opportunity. After a 30-17 trouncing of their closest rival, the San Diego Growlers, in Los Angeles, the Aviators know that 2018 could be their year.
“Actually playing against an opponent and beating them like we did definitely makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves and more confident about the rest of the season,” said Aviators handler Tim Beatty.
Beatty is one of the engineers behind the Aviators’ title chances. For all the talent in Los Angeles, his skills and decision making from the lead handler position are the most important assets in determining the team’s future.
Originally cut from the inaugural Los Angeles roster in 2015, Beatty hasn’t always been in the middle of the Aviators. He had a herniated disc in his back when he was 23, and he re-injured himself snowboarding only a week before tryouts. Having studied aerospace engineering in grad school at University of Colorado in Boulder, Beatty had no California reputation on which he could rely for tryouts. He played poorly and was cut, despite begging for a spot on the practice squad to prove his abilities. The relationship between team and player has since been restored.
In 2016, Beatty played fantastically in tryouts and made the squad, earning an important role on the offense. When he did play, Beatty was an effective player, but injury again hampered his season. Beatty suffered a seriously sprained ankle that limited his ability to run for 10-12 weeks, and much of the season was lost to rehabilitation. Mark Elbogen also dominated the 2016 season for the Aviators, racking up 46 assists and 49 goals en route to All-AUDL First Team honours.
Beatty came into 2017 healthy for the first time in years, and opportunity quickly allowed him to showcase his abilities. Elbogen tore his ACL a few weeks into another productive season, which opened a hole for the Aviators. Park describes Elbogen as “the ultimate pro and Mr. Aviator.” With him on the sidelines, someone else needed to be the team’s heart on the field. Star offensive players Tom Doi and Eli Friedman were limited in their availability. Allen Lai - the team’s leader in completions and usage as a thrower in 2016 - was lost for much of the second half of the 2017 season because of an ankle injury. Much of the Aviators’ offensive talent – particularly the throwing talent – were unavailable in 2017. There were several games in which Beatty was the only starting offensive handler dressed to play.
Through unexpected circumstance, the team’s losses gave Beatty a chance to shine.
“I felt like I had a platform to be able to finally show what I was capable of [in 2017],” Beatty remembered.
“It had been a while since I had been able to play to my full potential.”
Beatty dominated. His patient, calm throwing style combined with the ability to throw from any distance meshed perfectly with the Aviators’ offensive principles and personnel. He racked up 47 assists and a franchise-record 670 completions, compared to only 16 throwaways on the season.
“I'm not a look-at-the-endzone-first kind of handler,” Beatty said. “It’s more of a scan the field, find the open guy, hit the open guy, and then go try to get the disc back and keep the disc moving up the field. I really credit [my low turnover numbers] to my decision making,”
He admits that he hasn’t mastered every throw. But he doesn’t overextend himself, which is why he rarely turns the disc over—he simply doesn’t attempt plays that he knows have a chance at failure.
That doesn’t mean Beatty is highlight adverse. His favourite throw is a hammer, which he believes resulted from his youth baseball career.
“I was a catcher,” Beatty said. “The overhand throw kind of just came a little more naturally to me, like the short-arm version of it.”
In fact, Beatty’s hammer is already drawing astronomy references.
Hammer? This is a comet ☄️— AUDL (@theAUDL) April 9, 2018
60 yards on a rope from Tim Beatty! pic.twitter.com/nWYH42sOnt
Much of Beatty’s dominance is new. He hasn’t been a primary handler for most of his ultimate career, and his natural position until recently was more of a hybrid cutter, who received throws under and turned to fire to deeper cutters. That position has now been filled capably by Friedman. In fact, the Aviators’ offense fits together perfectly, with Beatty as the nucleus, and the other stars’ skillsets perfectly complementing Beatty’s own.
Elbogen is a talented and athletic downfield cutter. In a month or two, when healthy, Elbogen’s return won’t take any touches away from Beatty. Beatty to Elbogen will be the Aviators’ version of Cam Harris to Andrew Carroll for the Toronto Rush, or Jonathan Nethercutt to Jacob Fairfax for the Raleigh Flyers. The two have rarely been healthy at the same time, and the Aviators are excited about the opportunity. Elbogen will catch anything in his vicinity.
Friedman is another elusive cutter, but his throwing skills rival anyone’s on the Aviators.
“He's really quick, he's got great cutting ability, and he has some of the best throws on the team and in the league,” said Beatty of Friedman. “He's a great guy to get the disc moving. A lot of the pull plays will be someone getting the disc to me and then Eli being that first cutter, and someone going [down the field for the huck.”
Doi is quick and explosive, perhaps most capable of the Aviators players at navigating tight spaces around the disc. His speed and continuation throwing provide important oxygen for Los Angeles’ patient offense. Eric Lissner is another dominant thrower who can stretch the defense deep when necessary.
Former San Diego standout Jesse Cohen is replacing last year’s top cutter on the team Bryan Nguyen as the fastest man for the Aviators. Beatty mourns the loss of one of his favourite targets in Nguyen, to whom he attributes his massive completion percentage in 2017.
“There were some not great throws that Bryan was able to come down with. I do think you'll probably see my turnover rate go up a bit without him bringing down all of my swill,” Beatty laughed.
The loss of Nguyen’s talents will hurt, but Cohen capably plugs into the position. He has a slightly more diverse skillset, and is a better thrower and defender. His four assists in the Aviators opening game against San Diego demonstrate he’s an immediate asset.
Everyone on the Aviators’ offense is multi-faceted, able to make plays in tight spaces, air the disc out deep, or be the player chasing down hucks. But it starts with Beatty. His poise and decision making is the engine that drives the Aviators’ success. With Beatty at the helm, as well as Elbogen healthy and Cohen in Los Angeles, the Aviators’ offense should improve on its good-but-not-great 66 percent offensive conversion rate in 2017.
The Los Angeles defense will be spearheaded by former Dallas Roughneck Chris Mazur. Mazur generally played offense for Dallas, but he switched to the D-Line in the 2017 playoffs to great effect.
Mazur is a consummate veteran, and players listen when he speaks. Just weeks into his tenure with the Los Angeles franchise, he is already an alternate captain. He’s vocal and experienced, having won an AUDL championship in Dallas in and a gold medal for Team USA mixed, both in 2016. Mazur will be the defensive quarterback, and Beatty is already jealous of his throws.
“[Against San Diego, he made] throws that I couldn't make,” Beatty said of his new teammate Mazur. “He's got a really big backhand, can air it out in front of our fast guys and let them catch up to it.”
Mazur will decidedly not receive the rookie treatment, such as having to carry bags onto the bus. In fact, the Aviators have only one true rookie this year in Ryan Lepore. The team’s core has played together for several years, and they have chemistry, experience, and talent. Almost 20 guys have had three years’ worth of AUDL games together. 2018 feels like the best opportunity yet for success.
Los Angeles’ 2018 roster will decidedly be the most talented in Aviators short history. I asked Beatty about the starting seven on offense for a universe point, and he said that it was more difficult to choose than ever before. Elbogen is healthy and working his way back into All-AUDL shape. There is a veritable stable of deep cutters, throwers, and all-around athletes. Starting defenders Jeff Silverman and Tyler Bacon are back in Los Angeles after 2017 sojourns in San Diego. Cohen and Mazur have arrived, hungry and ready to contribute.
Most important of all, Beatty is back in the cockpit. His play will determine the success of the Aviators. The West Division is more wide-open than it has been since its inception. No longer will superteams in the San Jose Spiders or 2017 champion San Francisco FlameThrowers dominate their opponents. San Francisco lost to San Jose to open the 2018 season, and the division feels completely up in the air. Who is the favourite? Who will represent the West at 2018 Championship Weekend, which has included a West team in the championship game every year since the creation of the division in 2014?
Los Angeles is stronger and healthier than ever, and Beatty is ready to hammer the Aviators’ name into championship contention.