The Tuesday Toss: How Will the West Be Won?
July 18, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
We will remember Week 16.
Home favorites were toppled in San Jose and LA, Minnesota and Indy battled beyond the final buzzer yet again, and Philadelphia created its first winning streak since 2013.
Oh, and by the way, Jacksonville’s Jordan Huston scored a ridiculous 22 goals for the Cannons in a single game, absolutely obliterating the previous AUDL record.
All of these events will be discussed in depth, but first let’s run down the complex array of scenarios that we could witness out West this coming weekend.
With one week left in the regular season, here’s a look at the Top Four in the West, with their remaining schedules:
San Francisco FlameThrowers: 8-4, @Seattle, @Vancouver
San Jose Spiders: 8-4, @San Diego, @Los Angeles
Los Angeles Aviators: 8-5, vs. San Jose
Seattle Cascades: 7-6, vs. San Francisco
Let’s deal with the simplest facts first:
• San Francisco clinches a playoff spot with one win and clinches the top seed with two wins.
• San Jose clinches a playoff spot one win.
• Bizarrely, despite currently being in third place, Los Angeles has already clinched a playoff spot.
• For Seattle to make the playoffs, the Cascades need a win over San Francisco and they will need at least one of the Bay Area teams to go 0-2 on their road trip. It’s an unlikely path for Seattle, though it’s not impossible.
The multiple team tiebreakers can be a little confusing. Thankfully, for the sanity of the league office, there will mercifully not be four teams even in the standings at the end of the season. However, there are several three-team scenarios.
If San Francisco splits its two games and San Jose also goes 1-1 with a win vs. San Diego and a loss to Los Angeles, then we would have a three-way tie for first at 9-5. In this scenario, we would look at the three teams’ records against each other. San Francisco (2-2 vs. SJ, 2-0 vs. LA) would be 4-2, Los Angeles (2-0 vs. SJ, 0-2 vs. SF) would be 2-2, and San Jose (2-2 vs. SF, 0-2 vs. LA) would be 2-4.
Consequently, in this three-way logjam, the order would go San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then San Jose. All three teams would still make the playoffs.
The more treacherous three-way tiebreakers involve either San Francisco or San Jose losing both their games this weekend.
• If the Bay Area combined to go 0-4, then Los Angeles would take the top spot at 9-5, while the other three would be 8-6. In this unlikely event, San Francisco would miss the playoffs.
• If San Francisco goes 0-2 but San Jose beats LA, then San Jose would be #1 with the other three at 8-6. In this scenario, a three-way tiebreaker between San Francisco, LA, and Seattle, the Cascades would miss the playoffs.
Every other outcome would create two-way ties, and these are a little easier to decipher.
• San Francisco owns the head-to-head breakers vs. San Jose and Los Angeles, but not against Seattle (assuming the FlameThrowers lost to the Cascades on Friday and the head-to-head tiebreaker became relevant).
• Los Angeles, with a win against San Jose, would own the head-to-head vs. the Spiders and the Cascades, but not against the FlameThrowers.
• San Jose loses a head-to-head tiebreaker with everyone.
• Seattle, with a win over San Francisco, would win the head-to-head with both Bay Area teams, but not against Los Angeles.
It may seem odd that the Aviators have seemingly already clinched a playoff spot despite being in third place at the moment, but it is accurate since any two-way or three-way tie involving an elimination situation would include Seattle, and LA’s 2-0 mark against Seattle would give them the edge in any head-to-head situation, even if you mix a third team in.
Easy as pi, right?
Complexity aside, it’s pretty incredible that things are this uncertain heading into the last week of the regular season, and it’s cool that San Diego and Vancouver, the two teams already eliminated from the playoffs, both will have a say in the final seeding depending upon how they compete in their season finales.
Now, let’s dive into a memorable Week 16, starting with a booming individual performance from perhaps the most humble Cannon.
The Full Field Layout
In their first four games of the 2017 season, the Jacksonville Cannons scored 99 goals. Mischa Freystaetter and Jeremy Langdon registered 20 apiece, while Cole Sullivan had 13.
Jordan Huston, better known to his teammates as “J-Bo,” only had three.
Who would have ever imagined that, three months later, he would be not only the top scorer on his team, but also the #1 goal catcher in the entire league?
On Saturday night in Jacksonville, Huston scored 22 times in the Cannons’ 33-24 victory over Nashville, smashing the AUDL’s single-game scoring record by eight goals. The NightWatch attempted to double-team Huston downfield during portions of the second half, but the Cannons’ continued their quest to feed the 27-year-cutter around the end zone.
All 22 of Jordan Huston's record-setting goals from Saturday.
“Before the game started, our O-line wanted to see if I could become the league leader in scores,” said Huston, who entered the night with 58 goals on the season. “I was eight goals behind the lead, so we figured we could go for it and try to get as much of a buffer as we could. At halftime, I was at 10 goals, so we decided to see how high we could take that.”
Though Huston only tallied two of his team’s first six scores, he became the target for eight of the Cannons’ next nine goals as Jacksonville built a 16-10 halftime lead. In the third quarter, he delivered nine of the team’s 11 strikes in the period, before adding three more in fourth.
Highlights from July 15 between Nashville and Jacksonville.
“At some point in the second quarter, we realized that he was very much on pace for beating the record,” said Jacksonville’s Andrew Roney, who had the assist on three of Huston’s scores. “But al of his goals to that point were wide open looks; he made good cuts and lost his man. The mindset at the beginning of the game was to stay sharp before the playoffs, so creating space with cuts, dump swing, etc. But after Jordan’s first half, the offense was excited about continuing to get him looks so that he could score. From there on out, we wanted to give Jordan priority around the end zone to cut and get open, especially on the break side. We set up a lot of break throws to him so that he could cut out from the stack to a wide open space. Our handling core had some creative throws to open spaces that allowed Jordan to really boost his numbers as well.”
By the end of the game, Huston had set an absurd new standard. Prior to Saturday, Pittsburgh’s Ethan Beardsley and Toronto’s Steve Armitage had both scored 14 goals in a game. If a Cannon was going to break this record, it would have made sense to bet on Freystaetter or Langdon. But perhaps it’s poetic, as a capper to a chaotic and unpredictable season across the league, that Huston now holds the mark.
Consider that a year ago Huston had just 18 goals in seven games as a member of the Raleigh Flyers. Consider also that every single team in the AUDL has had a game this year when it has scored fewer than 22 goals as a full squad. Accumulating that many individually is unforeseen and, frankly, bonkers. Just like so much of what we have witnessed across the league throughout the season.
“I normally just try to take what the defender is giving me,” said Huston, when asked about his cutting strategy for this particular game. “As the game went on, they tried harder to stop me from scoring and put some double teams on me, but when you’re cutting for handlers like Chris LaRocque, Andrew Roney, Bobby Ley, and Tyler Kunsa, it makes your job easier. All I had to do was find open space and I knew they could get the disc there…I can’t stress enough how much credit the other six guys on the line deserve in achieving this accomplishment. They did all the hard work and made my job easy.”
While Huston was eager to deflect praise onto his teammates, they were collectively thrilled for him to experience the glory. Cole Sullivan, who missed his fifth straight game with a lower back injury but expects to be back for the playoffs, tweeted after the game that Huston “is the humblest man on our team and deserves every bit of recognition.” Several other Cannons concurred.
“Honestly, there isn’t anyone else that I would rather see break the record,” said Roney, whose ultimate career was partly born when Huston convinced him to join the FSU team as a freshman. “He has always led by example and been a great teammate and friend. Seeing Jordan get the recognition that he deserves was great for all of us that have played with him for years and know the work that he has put in but has never gotten any outside praise.”
Along with the historic individual effort, the Cannons reached double-digit victories for the second time in three years, improving to 10-4. Meanwhile, they awaited the result from Texas, knowing that if Austin could edge Dallas, then Jacksonville would host the Roughnecks in the opening round of the playoffs.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Sol and Roughnecks were deadlocked at 21, and Austin looked like they had a great chance to down the defending champs. But Dallas, bolstered by return of Kurt Gibson, closed on a 6-2 rally to prevail 27-23 and secure the #2 seed in the South. Gibson, who suffered a torn pectoral muscle while ‘jumping off a cliff in the Philippines’ before the AUDL season began, showed a dash of rust in his 2017 debut, but also distributed a game-high eight assists and caught a pair of goals.
Highlights from July 15 between Dallas and Austin.
“The first quarter I think I had three turnovers,” said Gibson, who is seeking his third AUDL title after winning with the Spiders in 2014 and the Roughnecks a season ago. “I turfed like three flicks right into the ground. But it was great getting out there and playing. Running was actually pretty good because I had been running for a month. But my throwing for sure was not where I wanted it to be.”
The injury occurred in early March while attending the Boon Rock Star Cup, an ultimate event in the Philippines that Gibson attended along with Jimmy Mickle. During a day excursion in Boracay, there were several people jumping off platforms of different heights into the ocean. Multiple times, Gibson leapt off an elevated diving board that was about eight meters high. Fearful of getting injured, he chose not to attempt the highest board. When he jumped off the same rock platform and into the water for a fourth and final time, he ‘landed really weird.’
“As soon as I hit the water,” he explains, “my body went down and my arm got caught on the surface and it pulled my arm up when I was kind of flexing, I guess; so that tore my tendon off the bone, and they had to sew it back on the bone. It wasn’t too fun.”
He barely touched a disc for five months and could not even run for four months after surgery, but throughout the season his return to the field was always lingering as a fascinating wild card in the South Division race. With an ultimate résumé that commands respect, Dallas is hopeful that Gibson can help the team return to Championship Weekend.
“We are super excited to have Kurt back in the lineup,” Brandon Malecek remarked, “and it was good to get him rolling before the playoffs. We tried to feed him the rock early on so he could get his timing back and some chemistry flowing.”
The Sol, despite playing the Roughnecks much tougher in 2017, went 0-4 against their Texas rivals for the second year in a row.
“It was a close game until it wasn’t, which tends to be the story for us against Dallas,” offered Austin’s Ethan Pollack. “It wasn’t an especially clean game on either side. I’d say the difference was they took better advantage of our mistakes than we did of theirs, especially in the fourth. I don’t remember one guy really killing us. That’s what makes them such a dangerous team: they’re deep enough to hurt you in a lot of different ways.”
When Jacksonville and Dallas intersect again in a week and a half, each team will be determined and focused, with the survivor advancing to Raleigh and the loser’s season ending. The Cannons will try and stop Kurt and company—perhaps Jacksonville’s Chris Gibson will have some familial insight—while the Roughnecks will seek to stifle the league’s leading goal scorer, who’s coming off the most prolific scoring Saturday in AUDL history.
Without a doubt, this will be the most hyped and anticipated first-round playoff game the league has ever seen.
After that review of the contentious South, let’s return to the confusing West.
The drama commenced on Friday evening as San Jose hosted Seattle. Entering the night, the surprising Spiders were at the top of the crowded race and very much in control of their own destiny to be the #1 seed and grab that coveted bye into the West Division finals.
It would be an overreaction to suggest that the Cascades completely transformed the Cinderella Spiders into harmless pumpkins, but San Jose did indeed struggle against Seattle. When John Randolph skied for a thrilling buzzer beater at the end of the second quarter, the Cascades took a 10-9 lead into the half, and a 4-1 rampage early in the third quarter helped keep Seattle in front the rest of the way in the 21-17 triumph.
Highlights from July 14 between Seattle and San Jose.
“We didn’t come in with the fire that we needed to in warmups,” said San Jose Coach Tyler Grant. “Our offense was looking good during warmups, but not because it was crisp. It was because we were behind on D.”
The Cascades offense was far from flawless, but Seattle did more than enough to possess the disc and maintain their lead in the second half. Whenever it looked like the Spiders might make a run, either Seattle’s pressure would lead to a D or San Jose would make a careless decision. Multiple ill-advised hammers near the end zone severely plagued the Spiders’ comeback bid, while the Cascades kept making plays in what was absolutely a must-win situation for them.
“I think we got fed up with the games where we’d play really well for two quarters or three quarters of a game and then kinda let our guard down,” said Cascades Captain Mark Burton, who led the squad with six assists on Friday night. “Our D-line just kept making them work, kept making them grind. Our O-line was confident. We knew that we could get what we wanted for the most part, and even though they did a really good job pressuring us, the handlers did a great job activating early and the cutters were cutting hard.”
Certainly the Spiders’ comeback cause was hampered by separate ankle injuries that O-line stalwarts Justin Norden and Evan Boucher both suffered in the second half.
“Both of them came down with decently bad ankle sprains,” acknowledged Grant. “That was certainly unfortunate.”
The Friday victory moved Seattle within a game of first place, with the opportunity to surpass the FlameThrowers and ascend into a playoff position on Saturday. During a fast-paced first quarter, the Cascades traded punches with San Fran, and it was 6-all after 12 points, with very few turnovers mixed into the goal-scoring spree.
But the FlameThrowers earned back-to-back breaks late in the first to build a lead that would gradually grow to as many as eight by the latter stages of the third. On the second day of a back-to-back, the Cascades looked fresh enough. Unfortunately, San Francisco was clicking on all cylinders, while Seattle could not maintain its mistake-free methods that allowed the Cascades to beat the FlameThrowers back in May.
Highlights from July 15 between Seattle and San Francisco.
“I think we had lot more execution errors in this game compared to the last time we played them,” said Seattle’s John Doherty. “Maybe they didn’t make as many mistakes as they did in the last game as well. I wouldn’t [attribute] it to legs; normally on the second game of a doubleheader, you’d [attribute] it to legs, but I think [on Saturday] they were just more clinical than we were.”
Late in the third quarter, though, the Cascades made a little run. After an offensive hold with 38 seconds left, Seattle capitalized on a Cassidy Rasmussen throwaway and punched in another goal at the buzzer. Suddenly, an eight-goal deficit had been trimmed to six, and the Cascades would be starting the fourth on offense.
“It was like the nut that let the bolt that let the gear that let the tire fall off,” explained the always loquacious Beau Kittredge when asked to describe what happened at the end of the third. “Then, we were there with no tire.”
Seattle held on their first O-point in the fourth and added two more breaks to inch within three with 7:06 remaining, advancing the dream if an amazing comeback. But then San Francisco stabilized itself, breaking back twice to increase the lead back to six.
“Luckily, we have like six other spare tires,” Kittredge mused, “so we put one of the spares on and kept driving.”
Kittredge’s quirkiness aside, Saturday did illustrate how the FlameThrowers have plenty of wheels to ride toward their intended destination. Against Seattle, Joel Schlachet scored nine goals along with four assists, while Mac Taylor contributed four goals and five assists. Ashlin Joye, playing in just his second AUDL game of the season, had five assists and only one turnover in 42 throws. Overall, the San Francisco O-line was in gear.
“That was fantastic,” said FlameThrowers Coach Ryo Kawaoka, commenting on the team’s offense performance immediately after their 31-26 victory. “I think [we] have great rhythm and chemistry right now, and it was great to see them connect over and over again both away and in the small ball game.”
Entering Week 17, San Francisco finds itself back in first place, exactly where most prognosticators expected the FlameThrowers to be before the season. With two road games up in the Pacific Northwest, they know that they can finish at the top by closing 2-0. A 1-1 weekend could secure their residency in the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Aviators began their Saturday night knowing that a home victory against San Diego would give them the first-place perch entering Week 17. Considering they had just clobbered the Growlers on the road the previous week, there was plenty of reason to believe that LA would be sitting pretty at 9-4.
Of course, that’s why they play the games.
Highlights from June 15 between San Diego and Los Angeles.
The Growlers followed the easy script early, falling behind 4-1 in the first quarter. But San Diego quickly found a groove and evened things at six. Late in the third, with the score tied at 15, the Growlers scored two in a row to enter the fourth with momentum. In the final 12 minutes, LA could not break San Diego’s offense, as the Growlers, playing without Hunter Corbett and Steven Milardovich, prevailed 22-18.
“The main rallying cry was ‘not on our watch,” said San Diego’s Will Griffin. “We knew they could secure a playoff spot with a win, but we weren’t going to let that be against us. We tweaked our marking strategy to take away the inside throw and force them to break the mark, which they don’t like to do. So they ended up swinging back and forth without being able to get an upfield throw. We really made their offense earn every point and it showed come the end of the game when we started to pull away.”
It was an interesting contrast for the Aviators offense, which had played so smoothly in winning their previous four games. By the end of the game, eight different Aviators had accumulated multiple throwaways, a high volume of errors to try and overcome.
“We got Eli [Friedman] and Tom [Doi] back, which was awesome, but since we had played so many games without them, the chemistry might have ben a tad bit off,” admitted LA’s Michael Kiyoi. “We turned it over on unforced errors. San Diego had a couple nice blocks, but we must have had four or five turns on easy dump looks or resets that we didn’t execute well. Give credit to San Diego for putting a little more pressure on and playing a clean game.”
Both the Growlers and Aviators will host the Spiders this coming weekend. San Diego looks to play spoiler, while LA hopes to advance its playoff position and avoid a two-game slide heading into the postseason.
“The San Diego loss was a tough one,” said Aviators Coach Franklin Rho. “We’re confident that we’ll bounce back vs. San Jose; it should be a very exciting weekend.”
Close games between Minnesota and Indianapolis are nothing new. In fact, Friday’s overtime thriller was the fourth time in the last six meetings that the Wind Chill and AlleyCats have been separated by just one goal.
Highlights from July 14 between Minnesota and Indianapolis.
The most recent showdown featured a handful of lead changes. Indy broke Minnesota’s O-line four times in the first quarter, but the AlleyCats never led by more than three. The Wind Chill scored five goals in a row to begin the second half, but their 18-15 lead would also be short-lived, as the AlleyCats roared back to send it the fourth even at 19-all.
In the final frame, Indy took a lead; then Minnesota went up one; the Indy surged in front again. But when Josh Klane hit Ryan Osgar for the equalizer with around 30 seconds left, overtime beckoned at 24-all.
In the bonus session, the Wind Chill took charge, beginning the five-minute period with a hold and a break to lead 26-24. Indy snuck back within one and induced a turnover to have a chance to tie in the last minute, but could not convert to force a dramatic universe point.
“Overall, I would say that Indy beat us on most of the individual matchups,” admitted Wind Chill Coach Phil Bowen narrowly prevailing 26-25 in OT. “They might have won every jump ball and had some legit Ds. But I think our depth finally showed up towards the end of the game, and we were just able to put fresher legs on the field. I thought that Caleb Denecour got faster throughout the game in comparison to his defenders. He was able to open up space and help our O efficiency later in the game.”
The triumph improved the Wind Chill to 10-3, giving Minnesota a double-digit win total for the first time in franchise history. Still, Minnesota will need to defeat Pittsburgh this Saturday to earn a home playoff game in the Midwest Division.
Meanwhile, the AlleyCats, haunted by six losses by three scores or less, dropped to 4-8 heading into their final weekend of the season. Several of Indy’s leaders had harped on the team’s lack of mental toughness throughout the season, however they did not blame the most recent slim setback on this particular factor.
“I honestly think we played a pretty good game mentally,” said Indy’s Cameron Brock, who collective five goals and four assists in the game. “I didn’t see the weakness in our team when things got tough. For once, when we got punched, we punched back…I think we are setting ourselves up for a good last weekend, and I’m hoping to end the season on a two-game win streak. I feel like we can do it.”
The AlleyCats will close their season at Chicago on Saturday and Madison on Sunday.
The Philadelphia Phoenix won’t be appearing in the 2017 postseason, but their recent momentum could very well be the spark to a playoff push a year from now. The franchise that won just three games over three seasons from 2014 to 2016 improved to 4-9 with a brilliant performance against the New York Empire on Saturday. Winners of back-to-back games for the first time since 2013, the Phoenix will aim to close their season with another upset against DC this coming weekend.
“We felt we had something to prove,” said Philly ultimate veteran Trey Katzenbach, when asked about the game against the Empire. “We came out loose, they had a lot of drops, but we were right on their backs when they had those drops.”
While the Phoenix came out on fire, the Empire delivered an absolute dud. New York’s O-line was broken three consecutive points to start the game and then three more times after finally punching it in once. Early in the second quarter, the Empire shockingly trailed 8-1.
“That first quarter was definitely the worst in Empire history,” said New York Coach C.J. Ouellette. “I think it was a combination of Philly playing hard defense and several mental and execution errors on our part. We had 12 turns and two drops, which is more than most of our halves this season. Missing guys like Chris Kocher, Sam Little, and Muk Kuzmowycz, who are usually our initiation cut, definitely didn’t help. It wasn’t until I moved Babbitt over from D-line and moved Sam Taylor up to the starting O-line in the second quarter that we actually started to move the disc properly.”
The stat-stuffing Babbitt finished the game with six goals, two assists, and four Ds, but by the time the Empire found their footing, the damage was done. The Phoenix led by eight at the half and New York never crept closer than five in Philly’s 30-23 triumph.
For the Phoenix, it was a great team effort.
“There was an early layout D by Paul Klimkowski near the goal line,” remembered Katzenbach. “Charles Cannon had a couple dump defensive plays, which were great. Sean Mott had another couple of posters.”
Nicky Spiva paced the Phoenix with seven assists and just one turnover in 47 throws, while Klimkowski and Cannon were two of the five Phoenix to each register multiple Ds. Eric Nardelli recorded three blocks in the victory, taking advantage of the Empire’s offensive strife.
“Our offensive unit was a revolving door week to week [throughout the season],” said New York’s Matt Auletta, when asked to assess the Empire’s season. “Only Taylor Brooks and I have played in every game; some of our top guys, Kocher, Little, Muk, [Sean] Keegan, and [Kevin] Norton have all missed a bunch of games because of injuries or different Worlds commitments. We have lost a lot of close ones, and if we had that consistency throughout the season I think we would be having a different conversation.”
The Empire dropped to 5-7 heading into their final weekend of the year, at Ottawa on Saturday and at Toronto, a team they have never beaten before, on Sunday. Ouellete says the Empire will have 25 guys making the road trip this weekend.
“I would love to be able to end the season on a high note,” Ouellete said. “Doing it against Toronto would just make it mean more, since we have never beaten them.”
The Outside In
It’s always interesting to watch players move from the college ranks to the AUDL. Several coaches have shared the belief that some players are more apt than others to excel quickly in the pro game. In other cases, the larger space, quicker stall count, and smaller margin of error can give some guys trouble making the adjustment.
The Growlers appear to have a keeper in Will Turner.
“Turner just graduated from UCSB and was their main guy last year,” explained Will Griffin. “Really good kid with great throws. He’s starting to become more confident on a more veteran team and we have done a good job trying to put him in a position to succeed. A few weeks ago, it was to focus in on a couple players defensively, and this past weekend, it was to be that second offensive handler with Leggio. We told him his job is to get it downfield to [Travis] Dunn, [Sean] Ham, and [Jesse] Cohen however he can, and he executed well.”
Against LA, in just his third game as a Growler, Turner scored twice, dished one assist, and played turnover free with 16 completions. Leggio, who completed 57 of his 58 throws, was grateful to have Turner by his side.
“Will Turner might not have lit up the stat sheet, but he had a really solid offensive game for us,” said Leggio, when asked about which individuals were key to the team’s road win. “He had a few possession saving grabs and consistently got the disc upfield into tight windows.”
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
I very much appreciate self-awareness and the sharing of interesting numerical nuggets. Nashville’s Corey Hardesty checks both boxes in this illuminating tweet.
I hope Hardesty plays in the AUDL in 2018. If he does, I’ll be rooting for him to snap that long and painful skid.
Seven On The Line
1. Here are few more nuggets on Jordan Huston’s historic Saturday night at the Bolles School. Firstly, the 22 goals were distributed by five different teammates. Chris LaRocque found Huston in the end zone seven times, five of which came in the second half, while Bobby Ley connected with him six times. Chris Gibson dished for four of Huston’s goals, while Andrew Roney had three and Tyler Kunsa had two. While Huston scored just two of the team’s first six goals and none of the final three, he was a monster in the middle, scoring 20 out of Jacksonville’s 24 goals in one extended stretch. Overall, he played all 26 O-points and six D-points, with three of his goals punctuating D-line appearances. Aside from Huston, seven other Cannons scored the team’s 11 other goals, with Jakeem Polk topping that group with three.
2. The Madison Radicals wrapped up the regular season Midwest title with a superb second half on Friday night in Chicago. Tied at 10s at the break, the Rads outscored the Wildfire 16-7 after halftime to improve to 11-2. “We had a run of three breaks early in the third quarter which helped open up the game for us and gave our offensive line a chance to play with more freedom,” said Madison’s Andrew Meshnick, who registered three Ds in the win. “Clinching the top spot in the Midwest is always one of our goals heading into the season, so it’s great to accomplish that.”
Highlights from June 14 between Madison and Chicago.
3. The Radicals tale of two halves on Friday in Chicago is somewhat representative of the team’s season overall, a fact that Madison’s official twitter account illustrated on Saturday.
Tale of two seasons.— Madison Radicals (@MadisonRadicals) July 16, 2017
1st half of season
5-2 +8 point diff
2nd half of season
6-0 +42 point diff
The Radicals clearly started the 2017 season in a bit of a funk after the heartbreaking finish to last year’s semifinal, but over the past six weeks they have re-established themselves as title contenders. A willingness to confront the lingering pain and identity questions that surfaced at the end of last year has gradually enabled the Radicals to grow past it. “I think the Seattle loss did a lot of psychological damage to us,” admitted Kevin Pettit-Scantling, who recorded four more Ds in the team’s Friday win over Chicago. “We spent the majority of the this season creating a new identity for ourselves because a loss at that level, in the way it happened, made us rethink what we were doing as a team. Is our current system broken? Was that loss a fluke and we’re really fine? We’re also a different team roster-wise. Take a look at our team from last year. We’re missing [Matt] Weber, [Mike] Swain, Jay [Froude], Abe [Coffin], and Scott [Richgels]. Kevin Brown has missed the majority of our games. We’ve had to replenish the ranks for the first time in four seasons. When was the last time you’ve seen the Radicals with this much variance in our roster from one year to the next? It’s not something we’re used to. Chemistry needs to be cultivated, plays taught, instincts disciplined. I think what you saw last season was a well-oiled machine with four years of chemistry put into it. Now, we’re building a new machine, bigger and better. But it takes time to get something like that moving. Especially in one season.”
4. Six different Pittsburgh Thunderbirds recorded multiple Ds as the T-Birds picked up their fifth consecutive win on Saturday, 28-24 over Detroit. After the game was tied at ones, the Thunderbirds recorded a break and led the rest of the way. The Mechanix hung tough and were within two at the end of the third, but a 4-1 run to start the final frame removed doubt that Pittsburgh would prevail. David Vatz recorded six goals while Jonathan Mast paced the handlers with five assists, as the Thunderbirds survived without the services of Tyler DeGirolamo, Pat Earles, Mark Fedorenko, Max Sheppard, or Sam VanDusen. At 9-4, Pittsburgh can surge past Minnesota and earn a playoff game with a win over the Wind Chill this Saturday. Detroit’s Anthony Davis concluded his second pro season six goals and six assists, boosting his 2017 plus/minus to a team-best +50. But with a 1-13 record, the Mechanix finished with just one win or fewer for the third time in four years.
5. The Toronto Rush reached the 30-goal plateau for the fifth time this year, improving to 10-3 with a 30-25 victory against Ottawa on Sunday afternoon. The victory puts the Rush one win away from officially securing the top spot in the East, which they can earn with a triumph against New York this weekend (or if DC falls at Philly). Back in the preseason, we wondered whether Toronto’s youth would give the franchise a significant boost in 2017. Sunday’s game was yet another example of the significance of the Rush’s roster reinforcements. “Ben Burelle and Jeff Woo were absolute terrors all game, scoring 10 goals between them and creating a ton of space for the rest of the O-line to work with. For two rookies to step in and dominate like that is amazing to see and a real testament to the system that our coaching staff has developed over the past five years.” Though the Rush were without veteran stalwarts like Mark Lloyd, Jonathan Martin, Cam Harris, Andrew Carroll, and Geoff Powell, they still had a few reliable and recognizable contributors. Isaiah Masek-Kelly dished six assists along with scoring twice, while Yearwood had four assists and three goals. Thomson McKnight completed 43 passes with just one throwaway. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to earn home field advantage and a first-round bye, but New York is another team that is much more dangerous than the standings indicate,” said Yearwood. “They consistently match up well against us and have given us tons of problems in the past.”
6. Atlanta’s Matt Smith added another +8 to his impressive statistical season as the Hustle surpassed the NightWatch 27-22 on Saturday, capping the seasons for both squads. Nashville actually opened up a 5-1 lead in the first quarter, but Atlanta rallied to tie it up at 13 by halftime. The Nightwatch scored first in the second half, but Atlanta would soon break multiple times, bolting on a 6-1 run to create some separation. For the full season, Smith’s +76 is good for fifth in the league behind Huston (+83), Indy’s Rick Gross (+83), Babbitt (+83), and Burton (+81). At 5-9, the Hustle concluded their 2017 campaign in fourth place in the South, but five games back of Jacksonville, who finished in third.
7. After recording two wins in 2015 and three in 2016, the Nashville NightWatch endured their first winless season in 2017, a journey featured 14 straight losses by an average of more than 10 goals per game. Their closest game of the season was a 14-11 loss against Jacksonville back on April 23—yes, the Cannons won with eight fewer goals than Jordan Huston scored against the NightWatch this past weekend. For the season, Ethan Downs paced Nashville’s offense with 33 goals, while Blake Waldron recorded 33 assists, tops on the squad. “Going into this year, I was incredibly pleased with our team and thought that we had some great potential,” reflected Waldron. “None of that has changed. The problem was that every other team in this division got better as well. You have Raleigh signing lots of the solid Charlotte guys. Oh, and throw in Goose [Helton] and [Brett] Matzuka. Jacksonville brings in Jakeem [Polk], [Jeremy] Langdon, and a ton of hype. Dallas didn’t really need any help. Atlanta signed one of our top guys, [Paul Lally], and Austin kept a strong core together. So, we had a tough road ahead of us. I am really proud of our team for pushing through and fighting hard till the last buzzer. It is really exhausting and hard to endure a 14-loss season, but I am very pleased with our grit throughout the season.”
On the final weekend of the regular season, eight of the 11 games remain meaningful from a seeding standpoint. All three spots in the East are still undecided, while the two/three homefield advantage in the Midwest will come down to Saturday’s result in Minnesota. And obviously, there are a plethora of possible permutations out West; by Sunday night, we’ll see some clarity.
With our Sunday afternoon telecast in Toronto, our Game of the Week crew will aim to both cover the Empire-Rush matchup and break down the postseason picture league-wide. For the first time since April, Bryan Jones will rejoin me up in the booth.
After this 11-game weekend, there will only be 11 elimination games remaining in the 2017 AUDL journey. By Sunday evening, the championship bracket will be set, and the march to Montreal will gradually crescendo over the next month.
I hope you’re as excited about it as I am.
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