After an exhilarating weekend in Montreal, the heart-pounding twists and turns led to a familiar finish, with Beau Kittredge holding the championship trophy, another title for the ultimate enigma.
“I did it with my friends, the people that I’m constantly grinding with,” said the 35-year-old Kittredge upon securing his fourth consecutive AUDL championship. “It’s been a big deal for me, maybe as I get older, to do things with people that you love.”
Back in 2014 and 2015, he won with several of his current San Francisco FlameThrowers teammates while playing for the San Jose Spiders, then bolted for the big bucks and bright lights of the Dallas Roughnecks in 2016. The Roughnecks were determined to make a splash in their inaugural campaign, and making the sport’s top star their first ever signing got the ball rolling on a historic perfect season.
But Kittredge’s time in Texas, while satisfying via team success, remained personally unfulfilling. Plagued by a knee injury that limited his availability and effectiveness, he also felt the pangs of his heart, tugging him back to the place that’s become his home.
Kittredge grew up in Alaska and attended college in Colorado, but his time in California’s Bay Area has refined him into his current self. He discovered an ultimate culture that believed in him in a different way, compelling him to think about the sport in a new light. He developed friendships with several others who possessed the passion and raw potential to become superstars, creating a symbiotic system of training and commitment that bettered them all. This process kept him surrounded by hungry, youthful talent, fueling his own personal motivation. Whereas the Tuesday Toss chronicled ‘Beau’s burnout’ just eight months ago, the 2017 spring and summer brought a satisfying rebirth. It may seem bizarre to talk about redemption when a guy is coming off three championships in a row, but his determination to rise again with the FlameThrowers was anchored by, among other things, his healthy return to form.
“I feel a lot better now just because I’m not injured,” explained Kittredge. “When you’re injured, you feel like giving up a little bit because you can’t do what you’re used to doing and your body’s not really where it should be. It’s like all that hard work’s not paying off. But this year, I was able to really put in a lot of work, and that work was able to pay off, so that’s a lot better feeling.”
Though Kittredge remains capable of simply out-running his opponent, his game has unquestionably evolved. In San Francisco’s narrow 30-29 triumph over the Toronto Rush in Sunday’s AUDL Championship game, Kittredge’s decision-making stood out. With one more mistake perhaps being the difference, the veteran valuably kept possessions alive with smart spacing and effective throwing. After a decade of making jawdropping highlights, he now focuses even more on always making the right reset. Facing aggressive defensive pressure throughout the weekend, he did not have a turnover in the semis or the finals.
By Sunday night, Kittredge was out and about in Montreal, enjoying another victory. While most of his teammates had flights home that evening, Kittredge decided to stay and lengthen the experience, for the experience is primarily what he cares about. One guarantee is that others can catalogue his accomplishments better than he can. He rarely remembers where his gold medals are located, and the memorable losses stick out way more than the wins. Throughout his career, he has found glory by simply staying in the moment, and then moving on to the next thing soon thereafter, regardless of the result.
Ultimately, legacies are more about how we are remembered by others than necessarily how we remember ourselves. And while he may not care about the past, his legacy is built upon an unprecedented foundation. By winning again, Kittredge has added another supporting argument to his case for being the best ever. With AUDL titles in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, club titles in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2015, and world titles in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017, he has clearly owned the last decade in the sport, stringing together a résumé that no one else can match in the modern era of ultimate.
As his age climbs toward 40, he has no plans to quit. Odds are he will stay with his Bay Area friends, though another new adventure cannot be ruled out.
“I’m open to pretty much anything,” he said on Sunday, when asked about his future and whether he could be lured to another AUDL city.
Later that night, members of the Royal began to make their friendly pitches on why he should spend the next chapter of his ultimate career playing in a place like Montreal. Obviously, it was done over drinks and in a joking manner, but ultimate decisions have been born in these types of settings before.
As Sunday night progressed into Monday morning, and the celebration gradually became the offseason, we gained more distance from another entertaining AUDL Championship Weekend, filled with tantalizing storylines and enthusiastic fans. Meanwhile, Beau Kittredge boarded a flight back home, a champion again, for the fourth straight season.
This time it was with San Francisco. Where will it be next?
The Full Field Layout
While winning was old habit for Beau, the FlameThrowers organization captured their first championship to cap off four years of building something from scratch. While their Bay Area rivals had gone back-to-back when they joined the league together in 2014, San Francisco kept on grinding, with a half-dozen co-owners working together to produce a culture and roster that could yield sustained results. Aside from ownership, one player was a constant in this development.
“The real MVP of this process was Lucas Dallmann,” said San Francisco Co-Owner and Founding Partner Josh Langenthal, after Sunday’s victory. “Lucas has been on the FlameThrowers four years, the only player who has stuck four years, and he’s really been the fire at the core of it all the way. Everyone else has been critical, but Lucas feels like the keystone of it.”
A co-captain alongside Kittredge and Greg Cohen in 2017, Dallmann’s energy, both on the field and from a recruiting standpoint, helped carry San Francisco to the top.
“These owners and this organization believed in me from the beginning, from when I was a no name—I think I still am a no-name—but they let me explore being a leader my second year when a lot of people were playing [with the] Spiders,” acknowledged Dallmann. “And that was something I wanted to work on, and they allowed me that venue, that platform.
“Being able to convince the other guys that this team is a lot of fun to play for, that was big. Last year, getting Greg, getting Marcelo [Sanchez], getting a lot of those guys to jump over was really big in terms of what we were building here. It took a while, but it feels sweet.”
Aside from Kittredge, only four other guys went back-to-back with the Spiders and were part of the FlameThrowers title on Sunday too. Cohen, Sanchez, and Kevin Cocks were on the squad since last year, while Ashlin Joye jumped aboard this June, adding his unparalleled skillset to the FlameThrowers already standout roster. While their roles and regularity varied, the trio of Eli Kerns, Mac Taylor, and Grant Lindsley also all were vital additions for the FlameThrowers. Without any of them, they may not have eked out a narrow win over the Rush.
“We all say, when Ashlin gets the disc, people feel pretty comfortable, and there’s an air of confidence he has with the frisbee,” said Cohen. “Grant, the guy’s unbelievable, he’s probably the best initiation cutter I’ve ever seen. They also bring a veteran attitude that is necessary for a lot of the younger guys we have on the team. Guys like Antoine [Davis], Sawyer [Thompson], Lior [Givol], even myself, who really look up to those players. They always bring the intensity, they always bring the focus, and it was illustrated today.”
Beginning the game on defense, Dallmann hit Kerns just 35 seconds in for the game’s opening score, and that initial break set the tone for San Francisco. The FlameThrowers never trailed in the first half, leading by as many as three. But after leading 14-11 with 5:44 left in the second quarter, the Rush ran off three straight scores to even the score, using a pair of timeouts to substitute their O-line, which was gaining confidence, into the game. With time winding down, Mark Lloyd’s unconventional wobbling scoober hit Geoff Powell with two seconds left to send the game into the half tied. The Rush were seemingly executing the same script they had written the day before, when they overcame an early four-goal gap en route to their incredible 24-21 upset over Dallas. With Sunday’s halftime score even at 16, San Francisco knew that it needed to regroup.
Highlights from championship Sunday between San Francisco and Toronto.
“Everyone was pretty frustrated at each other, everyone was a little bit down, and [Coach] Ryo [Kawaoka] actually gave a pretty great speech,” remembered Cohen.
Kawaoka, the first-year coach who was a FlameThrowers Captain as a player during the team’s first season in 2014, stressed that they were still in good shape. They just had to tighten up and play together. Their talent would do the rest.
The third quarter was a roller coaster ride, with the Rush taking their first lead of the game just 31 seconds in, then San Francisco scoring the next two to inch right back in front. Lindsley’s third goal of the quarter—one from Taylor, two from Cassidy Rasmussen—made the score 21-19, only to see the Rush roar back with three in a row to lead again at 22-21, with Lloyd assisting on both Toronto breaks.
Lindsley found Kittredge for the 22-all equalizer with 2:47 left in the third, and Dallmann dished to Byron Liu for another break 81 seconds later to put the FlameThrowers ahead again. This time, the lead would not be relinquished.
San Francisco received to start the fourth, and a breakdown from Toronto’s D-line allowed the FlameThrowers to strike in just 13 seconds, with Taylor hitting Jordan Marcy to double the lead to 24-22. The teams traded two more quick goals in the next 31 seconds, but then Cohen hauled in a hammer from Sawyer Thompson for another break with 9:05 left to go ahead 26-23. It was not an insurmountable lead, but San Francisco was in a good spot.
Over the last nine minutes, the Rush only touched the disc one time with a chance to tie. With about four minutes left and the FlameThrowers in the red-zone trying to increase their lead to two, Toronto’s Mike MacKenzie laid out past Rasmussen and got a D to give the Rush a chance. They completed four short throws, and Powell, seeing an opening downfield, wound up for a big backhand huck. But he launched it way too low, and Kerns, while attempting to position himself to put a mark on from about 10 yards away, completely swallowed it up.
Seconds later, Kerns fired an ambitious flick to the end zone. It floated toward the back line, and Taylor raced full speed in pursuit. He left his feet, soared horizontally, and swept his right arm around to make a sensational one-handed grab, slamming his body into the ground. The 32-year-old vet, with a bright orange cap still placed backwards on his head, was stung by the shoulder pain from the abrupt landing, but he had heroically made the play, giving San Francisco a 29-27 lead with 3:29 to go.
At 29-28, San Francisco completed 30 consecutive passes over a minute and 51 seconds before the 31st throw, a flick from Rasmussen to Sanchez, made the score 30-28. Then, after the Rush answered with 38 seconds left, the FlameThrowers remained mistake-free, calmly converting 10 more completions to whittle the final seconds away. Joye hit Lindsley with about six seconds left, and the game was over. As the buzzer sounded, Lindsley dumped it back to Kittredge, who had brilliantly made a home in the handler space throughout the fourth quarter. Kittredge put the disc down, briefly consoled Lloyd, and then began celebrating with the rest of his teammates.
As always, the contrasting emotions were powerful, with San Francisco having reached its goal and Toronto falling just short. Even with the FlameThrowers taking the title, the top story of the weekend in Montreal may have been the Rush’s remarkable surge, earning buckets of respect for their performances against Dallas and San Francisco.
“I knew they were gonna give us a good game,” said Dallmann. “I think what impressed me most was in the third quarter, they still had a lot in the tank. You look at guys like Andy Carroll, Cam Harris, those guys were ready to keep running and running and running. That impressed me a lot. That was a lot of fun to take those matchups over and over. They took the punches me threw at them, and they bobbed and weaved, and they scored a lot. They played with class. Total hats off to them.”
The Rush, with their sizzling second half against the Roughnecks, probably did transform many fans’ perspectives about how good they can be. They played pretty great on Sunday too, but simply made one too many mistakes. Between both games, Lloyd felt like the Rush had delivered the top two overall team performances the franchise had ever had, including their championship in 2013. Saturday was #1, Sunday was #2, and the latter just fell one or two plays short of being good enough to hoist the trophy again.
For the third time in four years, the tall, shiny Championship Cup has returned to the Bay Area, an ultimate haven that continues to set the sport’s standard for excellence. The chaotic and thrilling season, culminating in a dramatic Championship Weekend, taught us that the gap has dramatically narrowed between the best and the rest. But, at least for 2017, the Bay Area, with Beau back, has retaken the throne.
Seven on the Line
1. Bizarrely, the very first point of the entire weekend was the longest by far, lasting nearly five minutes. At the outset of their Saturday semifinal, neither San Francisco nor Madison could convert. Each team turned it over three different times before Tim DeByl finally took a timeout, subbing his defensive unit in for the O-line. With 7:05 left in the first quarter, after four minutes and 55 seconds, the Radicals finally took a 1-0 lead when Logan Pruess found Chris Wilen. Hard as it may be to believe, there would not be another point lasting longer than two and a half minutes over the rest of the weekend. Obviously, it took the FlameThrowers a little while to get going, but after scoring just twice in the first quarter, they scored 51 goals in their next seven quarters.
2. The Madison Radicals were up by one after one, tied at the half, and within one through three quarters on Saturday against San Francisco, but saw their championship dreams slip away down the stretch. Whereas the FlameThrowers had given the Radicals several gifts by going 0-for-8 in break chances in the first half, San Francisco seized every opportunity down the stretch, capitalizing on all five of their break opportunities after halftime. It was still just a two-goal game with 3:49 left in the fourth, but a quick hold from Sanchez to Lindsley upped the lead back to three, and Joye’s shot to Kerns after and turnover and San Francisco’s final timeout widened the gap to four for the first time, virtually putting the game away with 2:24 to go. The 23-19 final was just the third time in the Radicals’ five-year history that they lost by more than three, as 10 of the team’s 13 losses all-time, including all of their playoff setbacks before Saturday, have been by three goals or less.
Higlights from Saturday's first semifinal.
3. The Dallas Roughnecks arrived to Montreal widely regarded as the favorite. They stormed to a 6-2 lead in the first nine minutes against Toronto, looking very much like the juggernaut that cruised past the Rush in the 2016 semifinals. But as some realized prior to the weekend, and others are more certain about now, the Rush were a far superior team in 2017. Aside from the bump in talent and growing confidence of the squad’s youth, Coach Sachin Raina had gone out of his way to try and mentally prepare his team for the inevitable Dallas onslaught. When the Roughnecks went ahead 6-2, the Rush did not panic. They kept on valuing every possession and gradually swung the momentum. It was 7-4 at the end of the first, and the Roughnecks had missed a chance to go ahead 8-4 by failing to execute in the final seconds. Suddenly, a hold to being the second quarter put the Rush back within two. Just over four minutes later, the Rush tied it at eight when Isaiah Masek-Kelly found Lloyd for the equalizer. At halftime, like every game waged in Montreal this weekend, the score was tied. Toronto took its first lead when Jonathan Martin’s buzzer-beater found Bretton Tan with no time left in the third, and the Rush consolidated the break with a hold to begin the fourth, taking an 18-16 lead. Dallas scored two straight to even things at 18, but Toronto responded with a pair to go back up 20-18, and the Rush would maintain their lead the rest of the way, securing arguably the best victory in franchise history.
Highlights from the Saturday night semifinal between Toronto and Dallas.
4. Ironically, the Rush have often been a team that has struggled in end of quarter situations. At Championship Weekend in Montreal, their clutchness with time expiring very nearly became the legendary sub-heading to an unlikely title. In seven of their eight quarters over the two days, the Rush scored the final goal. Four of those seven scores came with two or fewer seconds remaining, including two with no time left. On Saturday, several members of the Roughnecks bemoaned the fact that Toronto had scored the final goal in every quarter, resulting in a three-point loss. On Sunday, the Rush converted at the end of the first, second, and fourth, but failed to strike after the FlameThrowers had taken a 23-22 lead with 1:26 left in the third. This was critical, considering San Francisco received, held to start the fourth, and did not trail again.
5. Among all the players that competed this past weekend, no one wowed the crowd more than Toronto’s Mark Lloyd. This is not necessarily to say he was the best player—though he may have been—but over and over again, Lloyd was in the mix making thrilling plays, both offensively and defensively. In both games, Lloyd exhibited a potent awareness for the moment, using his ultimate IQ and timely anticipation to steal the disc mid-flight and immediately convert into a goal. On Saturday, his consistent marking against Dallas’ Jimmy Mickle subtly helped induce a handful of turnovers, another example of Lloyd doing a bunch of little things that may not necessarily show up in the stat sheet. It was an exemplary performance that confirmed to the ultimate world that the 27-year-old has fully recovered from his knee injury from two seasons ago. Back in 2014, Lloyd was easily considered among the top-five all-around players in the world. After a grinding journey, he absolutely has returned to that conversation again.
Mark Lloyd has always demonstrated an incredible presence of mind in big moments.
6. Back in the preseason, in my “17 Questions That Will Define the 2017 AUDL Season” column, I asked “Will Toronto’s rookies be game-changers?” The answer, unequivocally, is absolutely. On offense, Ben Burelle was the Rush’s MVP at Championship Weekend, playing off the movements of Cam Harris, Andrew Carroll, Jeff Lindquist, and Adrian Yearwood to take over critical points and make a slew of spectacular plays downfield. Defensively, Bretton Tan, who will turn 20 on Thursday, got Ds on multiple All-AUDL stars, while Mike MacKenzie’s layout block in the fourth quarter on Sunday gave the Rush a chance to tie the game. Jeremy Norden had a quieter weekend, though he served as a steady hand after the Rush got a turnover. Darren Wu, a midseason addition, gave the Rush a major boost. Twenty-year-olds Connor Armstrong and Jason Huynh also came up with a handful of timely plays in critical moments, like Armstrong laying out for a grab to keep possession alive after it appeared Dallmann had a D early in the title game. All things considered, the Rush rookies were a gigantic factor in the team’s ascendance to the brink of a championship, perhaps second only to Lloyd’s return to top health. Their collective emergence throughout the season, along with their shining play on the league’s biggest stage, make the Rush a very scary team heading into 2018 and beyond.
7. Last, though certainly not least, in this edition of “Seven on the Line”, is the props that must be shouted out for the city of Montreal, the ownership of the Royal, and the great ultimate fans of Quebec that helped create the electric atmosphere and backdrop for three tremendous games. From discussing it with many different people throughout the season, I can definitely say that the trip to Montreal was major motivating factor for so many players around the league, and countless athletes commented positively about their experiences in the French Canadian city this weekend. “This is it,” declared Beau Kittredge, when asked about the setting for the weekend. “This is the dream. This is pretty much ideal as far as what I would consider a pro ultimate game. Great field, great fans, a lot of funs, they understand the game. They’re cheering and into it the whole time.” Greg Cohen added, “I would say this was probably the best crowd I’ve played in.” Of course, the FlameThrowers appreciated the crowd even though it was largely rooting on their opponent, especially on Sunday. Kudos to the Rush for their idea to wear Montreal Expos gear while warming up and on the sideline.
While it’s been 13 years since the Expos last played in Montreal, their logo remains an iconic and beloved brand, and Toronto’s decision to embrace it bridged any rivalry animus that may have lingered from the Rush-Royal series over the past few years. All things considered, the Montreal ultimate scene deserves great commendation for their efforts in building such a vibrant community and creating the infrastructure for a magical Championship Weekend.
To cap off my third year of crafting the Tuesday Toss, I am, as usual, not at a loss for words. I realize that this column can be a bit of a bear during the season, but it is always meaningful and gratifying to hear from ultimate fans, both here in North America and around the world, that tell me they look forward to reading it every week.
Trust me when I tell you, the real heroes are the players, coaches, and owners around the AUDL. They are the people that give their resources, time, and energy to help this league, now six years old, continue to rise and take hold all around the continent. They are the dedicated grinders whom I badger on a regular basis to get their perspectives, insights, and recollections.
I am unbelievably fortunate to be able to jettison myself, either physically or via phone/e-mail, into so many different ultimate communities on a weekly basis from April to August. There are so many good people in the ultimate world, and interacting with many of them is a genuine pleasure.
My primary goal is to tell stories and hopefully put the results into a context that can one day be looked back upon as a snapshot of the league in its elementary years. There are so many compelling tales to be told, and I am eternally grateful to everyone around the league for opening their doors and graciously letting me in. I cannot begin to accurately describe how detailed and forthcoming ultimate people are in answering my questions and proactively sharing their stories. It is an amazing responsibility to help be the messenger, both here and on the air, in bringing many of these anecdotes to life.
I would not be involved in the AUDL if not for the efforts of Tim DeByl, Steve Gordon, and Rob Lloyd, all of whom have granted me a tremendous license to cover the league honestly and independently. I am exceptionally thankful for their confidence and for giving me the platform to help build this institution.
Adam Ruffner continues to have arguably the toughest job in the AUDL, serving as the league’s primary content czar and more specifically as my Tuesday Toss editor. Each week, Ruffner transforms a gazillion words into an interactive online experience full of video, captions, and links. His electronic savvy and general creativity have been a godsend for the league and for me, and I am so appreciative to have him as a guide and resource.
Lastly, whether you have been a regular reader or just glimpsed the column for the first time, I thank you for caring enough to have clicked. I would love to hear from you! Please don’t hesitate to send me a message with feedback, suggestions, or simply your own ultimate observations via e-mail or on Twitter.
I hope you have enjoyed the 2017 AUDL season. Opening Day 2018 is just about seven months away.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly on theAUDL.com during the season. Got a comment or question about the AUDL or the current state of ultimate? E-mail Evan Lepler at AUDLMailbag@gmail.com. Feedback can also be levied on twitter: @EvanLepler