The Tuesday Toss: Familiar Faces Back in the Final Four
August 15, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
After a season full of exciting surprises, the clock finally struck midnight for all AUDL underdogs. Tantalizing upstarts like San Jose, Montreal, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh were vanquished by more powerful postseason foes, and, consequently, we are left with four teams who exude experience, a Quebec-bound quartet of perennial powers.
The remaining heavyweights—Madison, Dallas, Toronto, and San Francisco—have been dominant hubs of success throughout their tenures in the league. The Radicals are 71-12 (.856) over five seasons, including the playoffs. The Roughnecks, champs in their inaugural campaign, are 32-3 (.914) since the team’s 2016 inception. The Rush are a ridiculous 72-10 (.878), a Jordan-esque journey that began with their own perfect season in 2013.
Compared to the other three, the 41-19 (.683) FlameThrowers are vastly inferior chumps. Of course, nine members of San Francisco’s current squad have already hoisted the AUDL championship trophy with the league’s other Bay Area franchise, providing the current edition of the FlameThrowers with an understandable swagger.
Collectively, these four organizations have 216 wins in 260 games at the pro level, yielding a staggering winning percentage of .831, including the playoffs. Among the 80 players who were on the active rosters of these four teams this past weekend, 54 have previous Championship Weekend experience.
These impeccable track records should lead to widespread confidence entering Championship Weekend in Montreal, though plenty of questions still remain. The Radicals may officially be the #1 seed, but Madison is the only member of the Final Four without a single former AUDL champion on its roster. The Roughnecks may be the reigning champs, but the first two players they ever signed as cornerstones of their franchise, Beau Kittredge and Cassidy Rasmussen, are now suiting up for San Francisco and eager to dethrone their old team. Betting against Beau has largely been a perilous choice throughout his personal ultimate Odyssey.
In 11 days, the contenders will collide in Montreal: Madison vs. San Francisco at 4:00 PM (eastern) and Dallas vs. Toronto at 7:00 PM. One day after that, the Saturday survivors will determine our 2017 champ.
Before we dive into the intricacies of each semifinal matchup, though, we must review how each of these ambitious teams reached this pivotal plateau. Unlike each of the past two seasons, no overtime was necessary. Across all four divisions, 48 minutes were all that these clubs needed to illustrate their worthiness of belonging on the league’s premier stage.
The Full Field Layout
In the regular season, the Dallas Roughnecks went just 1-3 against Jacksonville and Raleigh, raising questions about the Roughnecks’ ability to represent the South at Championship Weekend for the second year in a row. Over the course of two impressive playoff performances, however, they answered all these questions with an often dazzling and dominant brand of ultimate.
On Saturday afternoon in Raleigh, Dallas played with purpose and desire, proving that they again deserve to be considered the favorites heading into the Final Four.
Full game footage of the 2017 AUDL South Division Championship.
“This might have been the best game we’ve played all year,” said Roughnecks Co-Captain Matt Jackson.
Raleigh did have chances to break Dallas on three of the Roughnecks’ first four O-points, but failed to convert these precious and coveted opportunities early in the game. Dallas only got broken once in the first half—on the 20th point of the half—while the Roughnecks’ D-line was considerably more effective about translating turnovers into goals.
“In the first [quarter], we didn’t do anything really spectacular, but collectively, we played fantastic team defense, winning each matchup, and really worked on shutting down key role players,” explained Dallas’ Jay Froude, whose +7 led the Roughnecks on the day.
Dallas led by four at the end of the first quarter and maintained a 13-9 lead at halftime. By the end of the third, the Roughnecks were up 21-15, and the advantage swelled to eight early in the fourth before Raleigh used an 8-3 onslaught to close within three. By this point, time was short, and the Flyers never got closer than that as Dallas prevailed 27-24.
Highlights from August 12 between Dallas and Raleigh.
“On Saturday, Dallas was the better team,” admitted Raleigh’s Jonathan Nethercutt. “I was happy with the pressure that our defense applied all game; I think we were excellent about generating turns and forcing Dallas’ O-line to work up the field. However, Dallas’ defense did a fantastic job of applying pressure throughout the game and was extremely stingy with the disc once they forced a turnover. In my opinion, their D-line’s ability to play consistent, stingy offense was a critical difference-maker.”
Like Dallas’ win over Jacksonville, Dylan Freechild and Chris Mazur led the D-line’s offense, with Freechild registering four assists and 29 completions with just one turnover. Over the course of 48 minutes, Froude, Dan Emmons, Stanley Peterson, and Kai Marshall took turns flustering the Flyers’ top cutters. The Roughnecks’ depth was on display as 15 different players scored goals, paced by four scores apiece from Froude and Jackson.
From Raleigh’s perspective, Nethercutt was highly involved in almost everything, either throwing or catching 15 of the team’s 24 goals. He topped the Flyers’ stat charts with 10 assists and five goals, but also led the squad with six turnovers. No other member of the Flyers had more than three goals or four assists, and collectively, they felt like several early execution errors prevented them from playing their best game.
“The moment seemed to get a bit too big for us,” said Raleigh Assistant Coach David Allison. “Many of our players have enjoyed success in big moments, but this is still a relatively young team. As a result, I think we focused a little bit more on avoiding errors instead of attaching opportunities. His led to inconsistent cutting, errant throws, and some atypical decisions, particularly early in the game. Dallas, on the other hand, seemed focused and played as a cohesive unit. All credit to them for carrying a calm and confident mindset throughout the game. By the time we found our feet, we found ourselves at the bottom of a big hill.”
Raleigh’s 13-1 regular season record was #1 in the league, but the Flyers’ championship dreams ended with a playoff loss on their home field for the second consecutive year. A year ago, the Roughnecks took down Atlanta, the team that dethroned Raleigh. This season, they had to surpass the first-place Flyers themselves.
“To win was a huge relief,” acknowledged Froude. “Raleigh was a big roadblock, and we knew that it was going to be a gritty game for both sides. It’s exciting to be heading back to Championship Weekend and contend for another shot at a title. But I don’t think anyone will be satisfied until we hoist the trophy in Montreal.”
With the first half clock winding down, the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds were seemingly seconds away from another equalizer, which almost certainly would have created a halftime draw in Madison. The Radicals had taken a 13-12 lead on Dave Wiseman’s goal with 39 seconds left in the quarter, but the Thunderbirds had marched down the field and into the red-zone with around 15 seconds remaining, looking to punch it in for the 11th tie of the half. Ever since a couple of early miscues, Pitt’s offense had looked incredibly smooth, and another goal here felt inevitable.
But suddenly—and stunningly—the best home field advantage in the AUDL intervened.
Highlights from August 12 between Pittsburgh and Madison.
The Radicals’ electric crowd of more than 2,000 people commenced an early countdown. “Five. Four. Three. Two. One!” When it ended, there were still 10ish seconds on the clock, but the boisterous Breese Stevens brigade had made a difference.
Pittsburgh’s Thomas Edmonds, who had the disc as the phony countdown culminated, and whose back was to the actual stadium scoreboard, fired a desperation blade across the field. Mark Fedorenko nearly adjusted to make an unlikely catch, but the plastic deflected off his hand, and Madison’s Sterling Knoche also helped usher it to the turf. On a second-effort bid, Fedorenko was shaken up, which also stopped the clock and gave the Radicals a free timeout when they were out of timeouts themselves.
If they had had a timeout remaining, they almost certainly would have subbed out several members of the D-line. Instead, all they could do was diagram an 80-yard sequence to be completed in less than 10 seconds, explained Knoche.
“Basically, [Radicals Coach] Tim [Debyl] just assigned who would tap the disc in—Jadon [Scullion]—and then three looks to move the disc a little further downfield to someone who has the throws to reach the end zone: [Peter] Graffy, Kevin Brown, and Logan Pruess. [Andrew] Meshnick, [Chris] Wilen, and myself each took a third of the field as the deep look and were told to make a play.
“Pitt didn’t mark Jadon and he immediately threw it upfield to Graffy, who was basically unmarked as well. As soon as Graffy caught the disc, I took off for the end-zone. Peter made a great throw. High enough to get to the end-zone without getting blocked, but still on a line where it was easy to track with no float or S-curve. Having been on the defensive side of these ‘hail marys’ all season, I knew that the players in the pile hardly ever come down with the disc. So even though I was on the other side of the field, I just kept chasing it, hoping to get there in time.”
By the time the disc soared to the crowd, the buzzer had already sounded. Pittsburgh’s Ethan Beardsley was in good position, but a shoulder shove from Madison’s Wilen appeared to remove the Thunderbird from the play. With the refs missing a possible foul, Wilen looked in good position to elevate for the buzzer beater, only to have Knoche enter the fray at the full speed.
“Peter’s throw, without float, arrived just as I did,” said Knoche. “It was one of those lucky times in ultimate where I didn’t have to break stride to time my jump for the disc.”
With no time left, Knoche made the flying catch for the dramatic score, crashing into his teammate, Wilen, in the process. While an argument could definitely be made that the refs should have nullified the goal because of the undeniable contact in the battle for position, the score stood, and the damage was done.
“I don’t think I full realized I had caught the disc in the end-zone until I heard the deafening roar from the crowd,” remembered Knoche.
Indeed, Radical Nation roared in approval as their team went into halftime up 14-12, matching the largest lead of the game. Madison then opened the third quarter with three scores in a row, widening the gap to five and paving the way for a 27-22 triumph that sent the Radicals to Championship Weekend for the fifth consecutive season. Their faithful fans have been a significant part of the team’s success since the franchise started, but never had they impacted the game quite like this.
“Nobody had told me that Madison fans do a fake countdown,” Edmonds, who was playing his first game at Breese Stevens Field, admitted after the game. “Pat [Earles] told us that we wanted to score with 10 seconds or less so I was just focusing on my role of keeping the disc alive and moving. Once we got outside the endzone, I thought I had Jimmy [Towle] on a little pass, but one of their guys cut that window off and I had to throw that blade. In hindsight, I probably should have hit Jimmy with a scoober or something…My biggest thought from this sequence was after I threw that turnover, I looked at the clock and saw seven seconds left, and I was just disappointed in myself for letting the team down.”
In the second half, Madison’s D simply wore down Pittsburgh’s O, as Knoche, Graffy, Pruess, Seth Meyer, and Kevin Pettit-Scantling all made plays that helped the Radicals break away. It’s certainly possible that this string of defense would have unfolded regardless of the events to close out the first half, though it was hard not to view that pivotal play as a major turningpoint.
“The game was tight while our team figured out how to beat them,” said Pettit-Scantling. “I know our D-line can play better near the end of the game for a few reasons. Any one of us could have a game, we all elevate slightly as we learn our matchup, [and] Peter Graffy [can] decide he wants to be the best player on the field that day.”
By the end of the third quarter, the Radicals lead had grown to seven. Madison outscored Pittsburgh 8-3 during the critical stretch, and it had really been a 10-3 run dating back to the end of the first half.
“The third quarter was our breakdown,” said Fedorenko, who returned to the game after getting the wind knocked out of him while lunging for Edmonds’ blade. “We couldn’t get the disc back on O after our drops/throwaways. A couple bad decisions with fundamental cutting breakdowns crushed us. Similarly, when they brought their zone, we struggled to execute our strategy of switching the field and following our throws. We would do great until the end-zone, then someone would get impatient or tired and we would force a throw.”
After building their lead, the Radicals decision to throw their patented zone at Pittsburgh dramatically slowed the Thunderbirds comeback. In Madison’s mind, if they could force Pittsburgh to take at least 90 seconds before scoring, it was a win. On several occasions, the Thunderbirds would patiently work it down the field only to make a critical error near the goal line, resulting in a bunch of demoralizing moments for the frustrated visitors.
Overall, the Thunderbirds felt like they played pretty well, but were undone by a handful of mistakes, while Madison, as usual, refused to beat itself.
“We probably played three of our best quarters of the season,” said Pittsburgh Coach David Hogan. “It really was a question of consistency. We had the talent and strategy to win that game, but had far too many unforced errors. That’s something Madison has very few of. Our second-to-last regular season game against Detroit, we had 22 throwaways. That same weekend, in a similarly meaningless game against Chicago, Madison had six throwaways. I don’t know how to describe that difference as a quality, but it’s there and it’s stark.”
Fedorenko scored seven goals and Earles racked up seven assists to lead Pitt’s offense, while Madison’s Kevin Brown, who had managed to score just four goals during the entirety of his injury-plagued season, erupted for seven strikes to lead the Radicals on Saturday night.
“It felt great to be back and contributing,” said Brown. “I think every game it’s a toss up who will have the most goals or assists, and it just happened to be me on Saturday. As far as my heel goes, I don’t think it has any impact on my play, but it is feeling a little sore this week. My conditioning needs a little more work, but overall I felt pretty close to 100%.”
All things considered, the Radicals may be the hungriest team heading into the Final Four. Over the last four seasons, the saw their title dreams disappear with two semifinal losses and two championship game losses. But they do head to Montreal riding an eight-game winning streak, currently the longest active streak in the league.
“We are all hungry to get another shot at a Bay Area team and the chance to prove we can compete and beat them,” said Brown. Three years ago, it was a little frustrating playing them so close in Toronto and then watching them beat Toronto relatively easily. Then, two years ago in San Jose, we were right there with a good chance to win that game, but came out on the wrong side. Madison’s luck has to turn around at some point for Championship Weekend, right? Regardless of rosters on paper and the hype San Francisco and Dallas gets over us, we know we are right there with them.”
After outlasting a nearly three-hour lightning delay and overcoming the elements to storm past Montreal late Friday night, the DC Breeze boarded their team bus early Saturday morning with confidence. Despite the long journey north, they arrived in Toronto rested, ready, and eager for their Sunday showdown against the Rush.
Playing at home, though, Toronto was just as determined. Eight members of the Rush’s active 20 were looking to make it to their first Championship Weekend, and the veteran core was set on maintaining the franchise’s stature atop their division.
The first half was wacky. Toronto raced to a 3-1 lead, then DC bolted ahead 7-5, only to watch the Rush rampage back in front 10-8. A Tyler Monroe-to-Max Cassel buzzer beater brought the Breeze back level at 13-all heading into halftime. And that came after DC had also gotten a miraculous first quarter buzzer-beating boost when Delrico Johnson caught a crazily deflected hammer in the end-zone as time expired.
“I kind of laughed with their buzzer beaters,” said Toronto’s Mark Lloyd. “Even though we practice those situations, we don’t seem to really be all that good at them. But when the clock wasn’t a factor, we were able to push the tempo we wanted, and thankfully the game wasn’t all buzzer beaters.”
When the second half started, Toronto seized control. DC received the disc first, but the Rush converted back-to-back breaks to lead 15-13. Incredibly, after such a topsy-turvy first half, the Breeze would never again hold the disc with the chance to tie.
“When we came out in the third, we encountered an aggressive Toronto D-line,” remembered DC’s Rowan McDonnell. “They ran a great junk set and transitioned into an active, high pressure person to person defense. They jumped out to a six-goal lead, and if not for a couple late breaks by our D, and a crazy goal we scored pulling with 15 seconds left, it could have been over.”
Mike MacKenzie and Geoff Powell both made big plays defensively that led to scores early in the third, helping to create some separation on the scoreboard. Toronto led 21-15, but DC closed the quarter with three consecutive goals, including another virtual buzzer-beater, and then opened the fourth with another hold to get within two at 21-19.
A couple points later, the Breeze were back within one at 22-21, but a turnover-free hold from Toronto’s D-line personnel increased the lead back to two. The Rush followed it up with another quick break, capitalizing on a Breeze throwaway when Jonathan Martin found MacKenzie, who made a great skying grab to halt DC’s momentum.
“It was a D-line heavy battle,” said Breeze Coach Darryl Stanley. “I think their D-line did a nice job of double teaming at opportune times, restricting our flow. They used downfield poaching, using Mark Lloyd or Isaiah Masek-Kelly, and a lot of lane clogging, switching, force middle, etc. It was a complete defensive commitment to playing team defense and reduce our cutters’ ability to go one-on-one downfield. The winds in that Toronto stadium are also a bit less consistent than other fields we play at, and Toronto knows them intimately.”
Stanley felt strongly that the fatigue of the busy weekend was not an explanation for the loss, stating instead that the Rush had simply outplayed them with an effective game plan that Toronto executed to near perfection. On multiple occasions, the Rush felt like their offensive errors opened the door to a DC comeback, but the team’s defense, anchored by stalwarts like Lloyd, Masek-Kelly, Martin, and Jeremy Norden, repeatedly bailed them out. While Toronto’s O had been shaky for several stretches, late in the fourth quarter they maintained possession to close out the game.
“I think everyone was still on edge with DC receiving down three and about two minutes left on the clock,” said Rush Coach Sachin Raina. “Recall that we were in a similar position last year and they tied it up, and they had already run off three points in the last two minutes of the third quarter. We came down in a bit of a junk to slow them down, and a pass up the line carried a bit too far that Lloyd was able to get to first. He promptly launched a hammer across the field to Bomber [aka Geoff Powell] and we scored pretty shortly after that. Therefore, with about 75 seconds left, we felt we could finally exhale.
“For me, it was probably more [feeling] relief than [being] pumped. But when I saw how pumped the young guys were, I became more pumped for them, and that includes guys like Darren [Wu] and Ben [Burelle], who have been playing in this league for a few years but have never made the playoffs, let alone Championship Weekend.”
The Rush will face Dallas in the semifinals for the second consecutive season, hoping to avenge their 27-20 setback from 2016. While the Roughnecks will certainly be a popular pick, the Rush are definitely better equipped to challenge Dallas this time around in Montreal.
“We feel we have our best team ever and can compete with anyone,” said Toronto’s Thomson McKnight. “With our defense playing so well, we are going to be coming into this game with a lot more confidence than I think we had last year when Dallas hadn’t lost and seemed untouchable. We look forward to our rematch with a big, loud, hopefully pro-Canada crowd.”
By late Sunday afternoon, only one spot in the Final Four remained unclear. But it did not take long for the FlameThrowers to resolve the cloudiness.
Los Angeles had impressively clobbered San Jose on Saturday night, but the Aviators were fighting out of their weight class a day later against San Francisco. They sparred honorably in the first quarter, overcoming an early 2-0 deficit to lead 7-5. The FlameThrowers knotted the score at seven-up to finish the first, however, and then continued its barrage in the second, closing the half on an 8-2 run to lead 15-10 at the break.
“For our D-lines, we had some really good O possessions, and you can see a level of confidence amongst the line that 14+ games together provides,” said San Francisco Coach Ryo Kawaoka. “We had a lot of good play from Greg Cohen and Byron Liu. It seemed like they were in the middle of everything, often at the same time! Great defensive and offensive game from the both of them.”
Offensively, the FlameThrowers were only broken one time after the first quarter, as Joel Schlachet collected eight goals while Ashlin Joye and Eli Kerns each dished five assists. Beau Kittredge tallied three goals, four assists, and one D, improving to 10-0 in AUDL playoff games and advancing to his fourth consecutive Championship Weekend as the FlameThrowers rolled 33-22.
“During quarters 2-4, San Francisco raised their game and their depth and ability to handle the disc on both O and D made it really difficult for us to claw back,” said Aviators’ Coach Franklin Rho. “They executed extremely well.”
Eli Friedman recorded 13 assists over the two playoff games for the Aviators, while Sean McDougall scored 10 times on the weekend, including seven of LA’s 22 goals on Sunday. But the Aviators were also beat up and shorthanded. Already missing Mark Elbogen and Eric Lissner, leading scorer Bryan Nguyen only played one point on Sunday after injuring his heel at the outset.
“We had a couple people with injuries and fatigue, but I would say we mostly just had a lot of execution errors,” said Nguyen, who finished his season with 55 goals. “With a team like San Francisco, you can’t have too may errors or else they will punish you. It was a good, spirited game, and the better team won.”
While the FlameThrowers have been in the playoffs all four years of their existence, Sunday marked their first ever postseason victory. With a couple more wins in Montreal, San Francisco could give the Bay Area its third AUDL title in the last four years.
“It’s surprising that the FlameThrowers haven’t yet been to Championship Weekend,” reflected Kawaoka, who was a player on the franchise’s inaugural team in 2014. “Sometimes, it just takes the right combination of games, and for us, it was the last four games to put us in a position for home-field advantage and allow us to play to our potential.”
While Kai Marshall’s incredible over-the-shoulder D against Raleigh’s Jack Williams may have been the play of the day for the Dallas Roughnecks, members of both squads could not stop talking about the impact that Ben Lewis had throughout Saturday afternoon’s action. As one of the two members of the Roughnecks without Championship Weekend experience—Joel Clutton, featured in this space two weeks ago, is the other—Lewis’ emergence as a gamechanger is just another reason to view Dallas as a fierce favorite heading into Montreal.
“Ben Lewis was a beast in the air, recording three huge Ds and eating up the deep space on floaty hucks,” shared Brandon Malecek.
Lewis played in nine games in 2016 for the Austin Sol, registering 14 goals, five assists, and seven Ds. After joining the Roughnecks prior to the start of this season, he saw action in 12 games, primarily contributing as a defender. While he only mustered six goals and one assist, he now has 14 Ds, three of which came against the Flyers on Saturday.
“Ben Lewis showed the athleticism that makes him a standout at Texas A&M,” said Raleigh Head Coach Mike Denardis.
On a team with Jimmy Mickle and Kurt Gibson—a duo that combined for 92 completions (with nine throwaways) in the Roughnecks win—it speaks volumes that Lewis’s performance was what had everyone chirping after the game.
“Ben Lewis is just an all-around solid player,” said Mickle. “Farm boy, built like an ox. Plays like one too. One of those guys who you might not notice but is always doing the right thing. He isn’t over-committing to try and get blocks, he’s just focused on his matchup.”
Dallas’ superstars are undeniably the foundation for the team’s success, but the complementary role players ascending in their confidence and production were a huge reason why the Roughnecks roared to an undefeated 2016 season. That core of secondary contributors has not been as healthy or consistent in 2017, but they seem to be hitting their stride at the right time, with Lewis giving the Dallas D an important boost on Saturday.
“We’re certainly peaking at the right time,” said Jackson.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Sawyer Thompson has had a very solid rookie year in the AUDL, with 19 goals, five assists, and 12 Ds over 11 games played for the FlameThrowers. But it seems like he never quite fired his team up with his play the same way he did with his pregame and halftime antics on Sunday afternoon.
Literally never been more fired up in my life https://t.co/41PyOmMXeD— Lucas Dallmann (@whataboutlucas) August 14, 2017
“The guys were egging Sawyer on for a pump-up speech before the game,” explained Lucas Dallmann. “Sawyer capitulated and did his ‘interpretive pump speech.’ A couple guys were missing, so we made him do it again. Then, we made him do it a third time. We just thought it was hilarious. So we had him do it for halftime as well. It was a great way to keep the team loose and having fun.
“Sawyer—the kid is such a character. Always quick with a smile and laugh, he is a constant stream of positive energy. The team made him do that cheer probably five times before the game. It’s one of those things where you have to be there. I watch it every morning on my way to work to get pumped for the day.”
As our AUDL postseason schedule crystalized about a month ago, a nice perk of our August 12 trip to Madison would be that I could finagle an appearance at an August 11th wedding in Chicago. While I did not know either the bride or the groom that well, it was a welcome opportunity to attend a fun weekend event with my wife, which obviously is a rarity during the run of the season.
When you attend a wedding where you don’t know that many people, you never really know what to expect. Thankfully, I had an amazing ultimate conversation to break the ice.
After the ceremony and during the cocktail hour, I learned that the groom’s sister-in-law happens to be a twin. And her twin brother happens to play in the AUDL!
It turns out that I was chatting with the sister of the Austin Sol’s Ryan Bigley, who played in half a dozen games for the Sol over the past couple years. And according to her, Ryan only started playing college ultimate at the University of Kansas because she had begun playing first at TCU.
It’s always a delight when you feel like you’re surrounded my ultimate muggles, and then suddenly you realize that there are others present who actually understand. As our community grows, this dynamic is experienced more and more, which is awesome.
Seven on the Line
1. Before falling to San Francisco, the Los Angeles Aviators did enjoy a landmark moment on Saturday night in winning their first postseason game in franchise history, 33-24 over San Jose. The Aviators fell behind 4-1, but then fired up a 9-3 rally of their own to take a lead they would not relinquish. Up 17-12 at the half, the advantage gradually grew throughout the final two quarters. “The win against the Spiders was the most complete game that we’ve played as a team,” said LA Captain Allen Lai, who completed 33 passes without any turnovers in the victory. “Besides a rocky start, our offense was crisp and Eli [Friedman] in particular was unstoppable.” It was an unfortunate ending for the Spiders, who began their season 8-3 but then lost four games in a row to finish their season. “We got a few early breaks, and it felt like we were ready to roll, but LA responded by converting our miscues quickly and tightening up their offensive possessions,” explained San Jose’s Jackson Stearns. “For the rest of the game, you could tell that LA was hungrier, more focused, and prepared to capitalize on any mistakes we made—and we made a lot of them…To LA’s credit, their offense was very smooth. Having [Tom] Doi and Friedman back was huge for them, as both guys were able to consistently get the disc whenever they wanted and made life easier for everyone else on their O.” While neither San Jose nor Los Angeles advanced to the Final Four, it could be easily argued that both teams greatly overachieved. Neither was a popular preseason playoff pick. “On the whole, we’re feeling great about the season and this organization’s growth,” said Aviators Coach Franklin Rho. “We came into the season with a lot of question marks, and most on the outside had discounted our chances. Inside the organization, we had a lot of confidence, believing in our core contingent and really liking the new players we picked up, but of course, we weren’t positive on how things would shake out. We lost some great players and the West has been, and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future, a wild and deep division.”
Highlights from August 12 between San Jose and Los Angeles.
2. Friday night’s matchup between Montreal and DC also was surprisingly one-sided by the second half. Perhaps it didn’t help that the second half started about four hours after the game did. Less than 30 seconds into the first quarter, after the Royal had taken a 1-0 lead and the flickering lightning overhead had gotten too close to the stadium, forcing a delay that would last almost three hours. When the game resumed, the Breeze O-line was immediately broken to give the Royal a 2-0 lead. But then DC’s offense found its rhythm. Despite playing through steady rain for most of the night, the Breeze offense would not be broken again in their 28-16 triumph. “Our O-line moved the disc at a rapid pace, so their D just never got to settle in,” said DC’s Jonathan Neeley. “They also made some crazy throws and grabs that were super impressive given how wet the disc was—Lloyd [Blake’s] hammer to Alan [Kolick], and Alan’s grab, come to mind.” Montreal, meanwhile, struggled to maintain possession and complete deep shots consistently in the wet conditions. The Royal were also missing Steve Bonneau and Antoine Genest, two guys who had been anchors of their team for much of the season. “The game itself came down to us having execution errors on both sides of the ball that only got worse as the game went on,” said Montreal’s Kevin Quinlan. While the Royal did make the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons, their visions of being a home team at Championship Weekend were officially dashed. “The rain absolutely affected Montreal more than us,” said DC’s Max Cassell. “They tend to throw some cheeky throws, lots of hammers, lots of insides, and hucks. The wet conditions make that kind of style so much harder.”
Highlights from August 11 between Montreal and DC.
3. When the Royal and Breeze took the field on Friday night, most players did realize that a delay was inevitable. “I’ve never seen lightning like that,” said Rowan McDonnell. “Every three or four minutes there was another strke.” But no one expected the weather or the delay to last quite as long as it did. “We had some bets going on [about] when the first delay was going to start,” said Cassell, “but we didn’t think it was going to be one point into the game. The delay was miserably long. Both teams were in the hallway outside the locker rooms, really just trying to kill time.” As has become somewhat common in ultimate during weather delays, many players from both teams began playing “Mafia,” with Breeze Head Coach Darryl Stanley orchestrating the action. “Big shout out to Tom McAlear, Nate Dandurand, and Joe Genest for playing with us,” remarked Stanley. “Let me tell you this: Tom McAlear is very good at Mafia.”
4. The Madison Radicals have always had a great University of Wisconsin pipeline, with the Hodags feeding talent into the AUDL every season. But over the past few years, the Radicals did not have a habit of taking that many college players onto their roster during the same season that they competed at College Nationals. As several members of the Radicals said to me on Saturday night, “having the Hodags as backups has been a luxury, but we haven’t had to rely on them. This year, we don’t win the Midwest without them.” Hit by more injuries than ever before, the Radicals became dependent on a core of college players that really committed to the pro season as soon as College Nationals concluded. That group was certainly on display on Saturday. Ross Barker, Avery Johnson, Sterling Knoche, Chris Wilen, and Jeff Maskalunas combined to play 77 points, with eight goals, seven assists, and two Ds. The Radicals expect all five to be on the roster for Championship Weekend as well.
5. While the Flyers season came to an abrupt ending on their home field, the players still expressed an enthusiastic appreciation to their fans. Since a stadium conflict prevented Raleigh from hosting a night game, they were left playing at 1 PM in the afternoon. Still, the fans showed up. “The crowd was great,” said Jonathan Nethercutt. “It was a really lively and vocal crowd, and having fans close to the field at WakeMed makes a big difference in how much crowd energy you can feel.” Multiple members of the Roughnecks also remarked that they were impressed with the scene. “The crowd was huge for an afternoon game and Raleigh’s presentation was awesome, with a children’s water balloon competition/battle during halftime,” said Brandon Malecek.
6. At the top of the Toss, I mentioned how 54 players who competed this weekend are making their returns to Championship Weekend. The Roughnecks had 18 of their active 20 with Final Four experience, while the Radicals had 15, the Rush had 12, and the FlameThrowers with nine. Additionally, nine guys on the Radicals and five members of the Rush are expected to be on the field at Championship Weekend for the fifth year in a row. Overall, if you add up all of the individual Championship Weekend appearances among the players who competed for their victorious teams this weekend, Madison players have 48 Final Fours among them, while Toronto has 34, Dallas has 20, and San Francisco has 16.
7. But how many championships have the individuals on the Final Four teams won? Dallas’ roster has 16 titles on its ledger, all from last year. San Francisco has 16 titles from nine different players, with Kittredge owning three, while Ashlin Joye, Marcelo Sanchez, Cassidy Rasmussen, Greg Cohen, and Kevin Cocks each have two apiece. Seven members of the Rush have won a title, all coming in 2013, while the entire Radicals roster is still searching for the elusive prize at Championship Weekend.
There have been 32 weekends so far in 2017.
I attended my first ultimate captain’s wedding on the first one, then spent the next nine broadcasting basketball. When my hoops schedule concluded, I enjoyed one Saturday calling college baseball at Clemson before taking a weekend off to get married.
That brings us to the beginning of April.
An amazing Italian honeymoon monopolized the next weekend, but after that, the ultimate journey began. Over the past 19 weekends, 18 have involved watching and broadcasting ultimate. Personally, my lone bye week was spent vacationing in New England.
I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I remind myself every day that I am unbelievably fortunate to be able to do what I love, and the travel schedule, while grueling at times, is usually a fun part of the experience.
But the fact remains that we are in mid-August and I have not spent a single weekend completely at home in 2017. That changes this weekend. I barely know what do with myself.
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