April 3, 2018
By Evan Lepler
Nethercutt threw it far. Brock caught goals. The Cannons had the league’s best-dressed coach. The Mechanix struggled to maintain consistent possession.
Obviously, none of these truths are groundbreaking. In fact, all are merely continuations of what we have already known from past years. Raleigh’s Jonathan Nethercutt still has a cannon (which he’s largely used to own the Cannons). Indy’s Cameron Brock remains the most prolific scorer in the league’s seven-year history. First-year Tampa Bay Coach Andrew Roca brought a strong, Ditka-esque wardrobe that one-upped the always-dapper Tuba Benson-Jaja. And Detroit, despite the usual preseason optimism, lacked cohesiveness in the Midwest’s typical early-spring blustery conditions.
Of course, the two-game Week One schedule still featured a few revelations. The Raleigh Flyers (1-0) and Tampa Bay Cannons (0-1) were both led in scoring by 21-year-old collegiate wunderkinds. Raleigh looks deeper than ever before, while Tampa revealed that several rookie contributors should keep the Cannons in the conversation amongst the South’s upper-echelon. Elsewhere, the Indianapolis AlleyCats (1-0) are wondering if their road rout in Michigan of the Detroit Mechanix (0-1) could represent a critical confidence-building tune-up heading into their home opener against Madison this Saturday. Remember, while they have come close a bunch of times, the Cats have never beaten the Radicals.
Four teams have a game under their belts, while 13 more will make their 2018 debuts this weekend. Among other things, coming up in today’s Toss: first impressions from March 31, a dive into what’s ahead, and a glimpse at the seven females who are currently listed on AUDL rosters.
The Full-Field Layout
How does an athlete develop the confidence to battle and win matchups against older, more experienced, and arguably more talented players? Having a couple older brothers that have put you in your athletic place a bunch of times growing up certainly does not hurt.
Raleigh’s Jacob Fairfax, a high school baseball player who discovered competitive ultimate at UNC-Charlotte, has been seasoned by brotherly battles. He’s got three brothers, two of whom are older, and he has competed against them since he could walk.
“Losing a lot to them definitely helped me learn how to compete against people that might be better than me,” Fairfax shared, “so now I am always trying to improve so that I can compete with anyone.”
As a 20-year-old at the start of the 2017 season, Fairfax proved himself to be a weapon far beyond his years, leading the Flyers in goals for the season and pacing Raleigh in scoring in six different games. Now 21, the kid appears ready to take his game to an even higher level.
Fairfax’s eight goals, including several scintillating skies on deep shots, headlined Raleigh’s 27-22 opening weekend victory over Tampa Bay. Entering the night, the conversation was primarily about Mischa Freystaetter making his Flyers debut, or Nethercutt building on his MVP season, or Jack Williams assuming a larger role. Instead, Fairfax, who’s just in his fourth year playing ultimate, stole the show.
“Jacob has grown into whatever the ultimate equivalent is of a five-tool baseball player,” said Flyers’ cutter Shane Sisco, who added four scores in Raleigh’s Week One triumph and has helped coach Fairfax at UNC-Charlotte over the past few years.
“He can really do just about anything on the field now. I see teams in our college games get trounced early by his deep game, and he will just as easily adjust and become a distributor for the rest of the offense without skipping a beat. From a coaches standpoint, he’s one of the easiest types of players to have on your team.”
Assistant coach David Allison echoes Sisco regarding Fairfax’s versatility, declaring that the youngster’s trajectory is definitely pointed upward.
“The great thing is he’s still figuring out how to use his body to get open or out-position opponents,” explained Allison. “He has a huge catch radius and the increased understanding of position and space has increased a thrower’s margin of error. I’d also say he has a highly undervalued throwing skillset that also continues to grow. He could very easily be racking up assists instead of goals if the opportunity presents itself.”
The opportunity could certainly beckon throughout the season, considering the depth of talent that Fairfax has around him. The story of the Flyers win against the Cannons probably boils down to this: 14 Flyers scored a goal and 14 Flyers dished an assist on Saturday evening. On the flip-side, only nine Cannons caught a goal, while just six registered an assist.
“I think the most satisfying thing about the win was that we didn’t rely too heavily on anyone in particular,” said Fairfax, who fell one score shy of his career high, a nine-goal eruption vs. Nashville last July. “We have such a talented team from top to bottom, so even if we are missing some of our ‘stars,’ we still have some great players to fill in and perform at a high level. The ability to share the wealth was definitely something Coach Allison talked about after the game.”
Jonathan “Goose” Helton led the Flyers with five assists, while Nethercutt and Williams each contributed four. Also noteworthy was O-line handler Bob Liu, who did not throw any scores but led Raleigh in completions while playing mistake-free. The former Chicago and DC handler went 41-for-41 distributing in his first game as a Flyer.
Bob Liu shows off the wheels as he releases for the deep cut.
Freystaetter found the end zone before anyone in his Raleigh debut, but his goal on the game’s opening point would be his only strike, along with a couple of fourth-quarter assists. Despite the relatively modest statistical showing, his new teammates and coaches were still thrilled to have the 6’7” former Cannon on their side.
“I think Mischa played great in his debut,” Allison stated directly. “He made space and attacked space really well, and I can’t think of a time where he clogged the offensive flow. We did miss on a few shots to him, and I think there were a few plays he felt he should have made. So we definitely weren’t synced up as well as we hope to be, but that’s to be expected since he’s a new player for us. Despite the missed connections, he continued to work just as hard to get others open as he did to get the disc himself. That approach speaks volumes to who Mischa is as a teammate.”
Meanwhile, Freystaetter’s former teammates were far from demoralized after the loss. They understood the matchup and indicated before the game that the result would not define them. Consequently, the Cannons took great solace in the way they competed for 48 minutes, keeping the score within two until early in the fourth quarter. At the end of the night, Roca told his team that he had never been happier about a loss in his entire coaching career.
“The resiliency of our O-line was pretty exciting,” said Tampa’s Bobby Ley, who led the Cannons with 82 completions, four of which went for assists. “We haven’t had many reps together at all, we were missing one of our mainstay cutters in J-Bo [Jordan Huston], and four of the seven of the O-line guys were new to the O-line. That’s a recipe for disaster, which at times was very clear, but there was never a collapse or mental breaking point. We went into the game with our goals and came out better for it. I’ve never felt this good about losing by five.”
Andrew Roney and Nathan Vickroy each had seven assists for the Cannons, while John Taylor delivered seven goals in his pro debut. As a team, however, Tampa recorded just five Ds, less than half of Raleigh’s number of blocks (12).
The Flyers were far from perfect in their opening performance. The talent is obvious, but it’s not like the rest of the league watched the game and collectively thought, ‘this season is pointless; Raleigh is unbeatable.’ After one week, though, the preseason favorites deserve to remain atop the league-wide power rankings. And the challengers from Florida, despite the many offseason questions, may be worthy of elevated respect too.
When the AUDL schedule revealed an outdoor game in Detroit on March 31, the AlleyCats and Mechanix both knew what they would likely get. It was not a recipe for crisp, clean ultimate.
“The conditions were pretty rough,” Indy’s Travis Carpenter explained, “but I still did have a lot of fun. All about having the right preparation, clothing, and mindset. The temperature was about mid-40s, and it was raining for most of the game. Worst part was the wind. Not only was it a gusting wind, but also was consistently over 20 miles per hour.”
The AlleyCats persevered through the stormy afternoon to emerge with a satisfying victory to kick off their season, a comfortable 22-12 result over the Mechanix. Despite the vicious winds, Indy’s O-line refused to get broken over the first three quarters, giving up only one relatively meaningless break in the entire game. The teams traded downwind holds the first two points, but the only tie of the game was at 1-all, as the AlleyCats broke twice in the first to lead 5-3, and then extended the edge to 13-6 by halftime.
With plenty of veterans on the roster, the AlleyCats kept their composure and relied on their experience. Cameron Brock, the league’s all-time leading scorer, paced the AlleyCats with five goals and three assists. Defensively, Jake Fella recorded four Ds, while Carpenter and Rick Gross each had three. Detroit’s Noah Fisher led the Mechanix with four assists and 43 completions in his AUDL debut, but also endured 10 throwaways, about a quarter of Detroit’s 39 total throwing turnovers.
“The game was not what we hoped for, but we are not going to let one game dictate the season,” said Mechanix Captain Ryan Mariouw. “I think our inexperience played a role in the outcome. At times, the game seemed really fast paced to a point it was almost rushed. All three of our O-line handlers were playing in their first ever AUDL game. In the end, though, the game came down to who could convert upwind breaks, and I think the total was nine or 10 for the AlleyCats and one for us.”
Detroit’s Brendan McCann, a 21-year-old out of Michigan Tech, finished an impressive +5 on the blustery afternoon, with one goal, one assist, four Ds, and no throwaways in 23 completions. (The lone blemish on his ledger was a stall.) The Mechanix also witnessed exciting athleticism from Dutch rookie Basten de Jongh, who registered three blocks and several chest high layouts that had everyone talking postgame.
“I will be shocked if [Basten] does not make an appearance on the AUDL Top 10 at some point this season,” said Mariouw, about his new teammate from The Netherlands.
While Detroit hits the road to face the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds this Saturday, Indy returns home to host the Madison Radicals, the perennial power in the division and a team the AlleyCats have never beaten before. The Radicals have surpassed the ‘Cats in 15 consecutive games, a streak that Indy’s veterans are tired of hearing about and eager to extinguish.
“I don’t want to say it hangs in the air all the time because I don’t incessantly think about it, but going into a game, if you [claim you] didn’t think, ‘oh, they’ve beaten us 1,000 times in a row’ or whatever it is, I would be a liar because it definitely [lingers in the mind] the week of a game that we play them,” Indy veteran Keenan Plew acknowledged last week. “Odds are, it has to eventually happen. We’ve seen the zone enough. We know what to expect with it. We know who they bring to the table each year. Would I be surprised if we broke it this year? Not at all.”
Last year, Indy built a four-goal lead against Madison on May 13 and thought it might be the day. Of course, the Radicals rallied in the second half to survive and prevail by three. In July, another nailbiter yielded a 22-21 double overtime result for the Radicals.
“That’s why they are an awesome team,” said Plew. “They play the same way all four quarters. You can’t let your foot off the gas. Maybe this is the year, but it’s gonna take four quarters of the smartest ultimate we’ve played and the best ultimate we’ve played. We have to play an entire game, which has sometimes been our bugaboo.”
While four AUDL teams made their debuts, a four-time AUDL champion packed his bags and journeyed east across the country, abandoning his Bay Area home that he had known for around a decade. As of Sunday, Beau Kittredge officially has a new address in Greenwich, Connecticut.
It did not take long for him to feel very much out of his comfort zone. Despite his Alaskan roots, 35-year-old Beau don’t know snow.
Greenwich, he said, is not like Fairbanks at all, saying, “The snow doesn’t even look the same.” When asked how he felt about his new hometown, Kittredge replied, “There’s snow everywhere. It’s cold. My socks are wet. The first order of business is getting boots.”
As for the second order of business, there are several items on the agenda. He still needs to sign a contract with the New York Empire, something he plans to work on this week. He also will be booking train tickets to Boston, about a three-hour ride away, where he expects to trek at least once or twice a week to continue and monitor his other passion project, a video-game development company that was the main motivation for switching coasts.
“It’s gonna be interesting to try and figure everything out, that’s for sure,” he said on Monday. “It’s my first 24 hours here, so it’s all kinda getting put together to make a new life for myself out here.”
Living in—as Kittredge described it—the most normal looking establishment you’ve ever seen, the only guy in the league to win four championships in a row also expects to regularly commute to the Big Apple this spring, where he will strive to help the Empire return to the playoffs after the franchise finished fourth in the East in 2017. Although he has not talked to many of his new teammates yet, he expects to do some training this week. Assuming he can complete his contract, it’s likely that he’ll be on the field when the Empire launch their season against Toronto on April 14.
Kittredge did admit that he tweaked his calf while playing recently in the Philippines, but did not sound overly concerned.
“The thing is, I’ve always been hurt,” he explained. “I’ve been hurt since I was like 19, just one injury after another. When you’re going as hard as you can at all possible times, things are gonna break. Have you ever seen those old muscle cars that just blow valves and stuff? That’s like me.”
Kittredge does have a track record of playing through various maladies, both minor and major, throughout his career. Remember during the Dallas Roughnecks’ unbeaten 2016 season, an MCL sprain in May limited his availability for about six weeks, but he returned to the field relatively quickly to compete at the World Championships in June and win the third of his four AUDL titles in August. The year before that, he battled through Championship Weekend after sustaining a painful rib injury in the season finale. Point being, it’s doubtful that the calf will keep Kittredge away from competition.
It remains to be seen how the Empire will utilize Kittredge or what his presence will mean for New York, but it should be fascinating to watch it all unfold.
Once he buys some boots, then maybe he can unpack his cleats.
Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing. Without the pushing of his USF teammates, John Taylor probably would not be in the AUDL right now.
“I was actually apprehensive about trying out for the team and playing for the Cannons, but after peer pressure from my teammates, I finally gave in, and I don’t regret committing to this team,” said Taylor, who won’t even be 22 years old until June.
Prior to Taylor’s AUDL debut, Tampa Assistant Coach Pete Masone suggested that Taylor had the potential to be a future star. But he could not have possibly expected that future to perhaps also be the present.
All of the Cannons, including Taylor, were looking a little nervy in the opening minutes on Saturday night. Midway through the quarter, Raleigh led 3-0 and the Tampa offense was struggling to find any rhythm. Then, with 5:46 left, the 21-year-old’s full extension layout goal got his team on the board. It was the first of six goals they would score in the final 5:46 of the quarter to inch back within one, and Taylor’s clutch snag was the turning point.
“I just kind of focused in on the disc, understood that it was out of reach, and dove for the catch,” Taylor explained, describing the first of his team-high seven goals. “The moment was surprising and exciting at the same time. After the layout grab, I realized that my game was really no different from college play style, and I began to feel comfort in my role, make hard cuts, and find the open space.”
Add Taylor to the list of guys, like Fairfax, Williams, and others, with limitless potential who are just scratching their athletic surface. A runner in high school, he was unaware about existence of high-level college ultimate until he went to a USF Club Sports meeting. Next thing he knew, he was trying out and making the school’s A team, the Scallywags. Now, with the task of helping to replace several key cutters that left the Cannons in the offseason, Taylor is hopeful he can fill a role and help Tampa reach its potential.
“The Cannons surprised the AUDL community with our performance against Raleigh, and I think the community is beginning to recognize our potential,” Taylor said. “Even thought we started the season off with a loss, Roca and leaders such as Bobby Ley, Roney, and Ryan Chard were thoroughly impressed with the overall performance.”
Arguably, Taylor’s performance was most impressive of all. It was just one game, but it appears his future is now.
When Saturday’s game ended in Raleigh, Megan Tormey and I did what we often do after broadcasts conclude. We pursued food.
Upon learning that the Flyers new official postgame spot was Clouds Brewing, I punched it into Google Maps, and off we went, hopeful of beating the crowd to a table first because, again, we were hungry!
When we arrived around 9:45ish—it was halftime of the Kansas-Villanova game, to be precise—we saw a busy but not overwhelming scene and were thankful to get one of the maybe half-a-dozen open tables. We did not see any other obvious ultimate people, but we just assumed that our swiftness is bolting from the venue (not to mention Megan’s dazzling parallel-parking skills) had enabled us to get our orders in before the rush.
A few minutes later, a kind gentleman walked over and informed us of our goof. He was a friend of several Flyers, and he had realized before us that there were multiple branches of Clouds Brewing. Like him, we had landed at a perfectly acceptable establishment, but not the rollicking Raleigh postgame party.
Alas, drinks had already been ordered and the menu sufficed, so we simply stayed put, regretfully missing out on the Flyers’ victory bash. But this should serve as a heads up to anyone else attending a Flyers’ extravaganza this season. Before you hastily head to the destination, make sure you’ve got the right one!
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
With one emoji, Cannons Coach Andrew Roca suggested that there was no forthcoming public explanation as to the meaning of the squad’s new sideline signage.
Well, it turns out that Roca actually did not keep his lip zipped, as Ultiworld published Roca’s explanations within Monday’s AUDL Throwaround.
One wonders if Tampa will be the only team in the AUDL creating these unique and occasionally humorous placards or if this could become as commonplace league-wide as it already is in college football.
Seven on the Line
Before this season, two women had seen action in an official AUDL game. It seems that number could multiply significantly this spring. Jessi Jones played in one game for Raleigh in 2015, while Jesse Shofner made 12 appearances for Nashville in 2017.
Here’s a quick look at the seven talented women (listed alphabetically) who are currently on AUDL rosters around the league:
- Lauren Doyle, New York - A veteran of a bunch of nationally competitive club teams, the 28-year-old Doyle is the first female to make the Empire’s roster. An Ohio State alum, Doyle helped lead her Mixed team, Connecticut Metro North, to a silver medal at USA Ultimate’s Club Championships in 2016. “LD fills an important role [for us],” said Empire Coach Eileen Murray. “She is a savvy handler. She is smart and has great instincts. We look forward to her contributing to the team.”
- Charlie Eide, Seattle - Described by some of her teammates as one of the hardest workers they have ever seen, Eide has established herself as a key playmaker on her club team, Seattle Riot. Now, the Humboldt State alum who turns 30 next Monday will look to make an impact on a Cascades team that is full of unknowns.
- Maddy Frey, Atlanta - An All-Region Scholar-Athlete as a soccer player at Smith College back in 2000, Frey started playing ultimate competitively after moving to Seattle in her mid-20s. Aside from contributing to top women’s teams in Seattle, DC, and Atlanta, Frey was also an underrated star of the Medellin (Colombia) Revolution women’s squad that shocked everyone by winning gold at last summer’s US Open. In addition to the team’s success, Frey also led the tournament in goals in Minnesota last August.
- Stephanie Lim, Seattle - Lim captained Stanford Superfly to the 2015 women’s title at College Nationals and has been a versatile contributor for every team she’s been on at the club level. After making the move from the Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest last year, the 25-year-old Lim is one of three female players joining the Cascades open roster in 2018.
- Jackelyne Nguyen, San Francisco - The 22-year-old senior at Cal Berkeley has led her college team to Nationals each of the past two seasons. In 2017, she paced her college club in both goals and assists at Nationals. With a pension for making athletic highlight-reel plays, “Kobe” will attempt to take her talents to the next level as the first female to play for the FlameThrowers.
- Qxhna Titcomb, Seattle - The youngest of the five Titcomb siblings, Qxhna (pronounced Chee-nuh) joins brother Xtehn on the active Cascades roster this season. A gifted thrower, the 24-year-old founded the women’s ultimate All-Star Tour that barnstormed around the nation in 2015 and 2016, inspiring the EuroStars Tour that formed in 2017 and will partner with the AUDL this season.
- Robyn Wiseman, Madison - After conversing with hundreds of ultimate players over the past decade, I will confidently say this: there might not be a bigger ultimate junkie than Wiseman, who has probably watched more film and forgotten more about the sport than most of us will ever know. A captain of the USA Mixed team at the World Ultimate and Guts Championships in 2016, Wiseman was unable to compete because of a torn ACL, but still left a lasting impact on her teammates and opponents. A couple years after the injury, Wiseman will bring her powerful arsenal of throws to the Radicals, where she could possibly join husband, Dave, on the team’s O-line. (For the record, Dave has insisted for years that Robyn is better than him at frisbee.)
With nine games on the schedule, Week Two is shaping up to be a very exciting and educational couple of days. Saturday’s slate includes the first interdivisional game of the season, with Minnesota visiting Seattle. It also features the first West Division games—intriguing rivalry matchups between San Diego-Los Angeles and San Jose-San Francisco—and the premier East Division action, as Montreal and DC will tangle at 6:30 PM in the AUDL Game of the Week on Stadium.
Also on Saturday, the Cannons and Flyers, each with a game already under their belt, will host divisional games against opponents making their season debuts. Raleigh welcomes Dallas to town in the first meeting since last August’s South Division title match, won the Roughnecks 27-24. Concurrently, Tampa Bay will take on Atlanta in the first game at the Cannons’ new home.
In the Midwest, Madison-Indy is certainly the game of the night, while Detroit will be looking to avenge its Week One loss in a visit to Pittsburgh against a Thunderbirds team that is eager to prove it can remain in the playoff conversation.
On Sunday, the Royal will experience the culmination of the first twin-bill weekend of the 2018 AUDL season, as Montreal stops by Philadelphia on its way back north. It will be the first game for the Phoenix under new direction, as Trey Katzenbach will serve as Player/Coach for Philly.
While Week One finished in relatively predictable fashion, it would be wise to expect the unexpected going forward. Remember last year? The second weekend of the 2017 season included the eventual AUDL finalists both going down, as DC smacked Toronto and San Jose shocked San Francisco.
Could Week Two in 2018 be just as chaotic? The Toss returns next Tuesday, hopefully with answers.
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