The Tuesday Toss: Jacksonville Stays Hot as South Race Tightens
By Evan Lepler — Week 11

The Tuesday Toss Archive

Jacksonville’s Mike Hickson did not sleep much on Friday night.

He remained awake, contemplating the absurdly athletic Saturday he had planned. Earlier in the evening, when he had been carbo-loading at dinner, his friends told him he was crazy.

Back in March, he had signed up to compete in his first triathlon. Then, when the official AUDL schedule was released, he immediately realized that June 20 would become one of the most exhausting days in his entire life.

He woke up early on Saturday morning in Orlando, hydrated and mentally ready for the adventure. The triathlon was scheduled to begin at 7:30 AM, commencing with a mile-long swim, followed by 26 miles of cycling and a five and a half mile run. This is known as an Olympic-style triathlon.

The race began, and his mind went blank. In the water and on the bike, he simply grinded through it, enjoying the moment. When he arrived to the third leg of the race, his rational brain flicked on, his legs began to feel heavy, and he started to wonder if he would have anything left in the tank for the Cannons’ mighty important contest scheduled for later that night.

Proudly, he crossed the finish in two hours and 58 minutes. Rather than find a buffet or a nap, he hopped in his truck and began the two-hour trek to Jacksonville. At this point, he says, the game was the only thing on his mind.

Driving on Florida’s I-4, he suddenly came to a halt. There was a huge eight-car pile up ahead, and traffic had stopped. He sat, motionless, for about two hours.

“This is when I started to get nervous,” Hickson said. “I started getting really tired and my body was starting to relax. I was thinking the whole trip if I’m going to be able to play this game.”

This game was essential to Jacksonville’s flickering postseason dreams and an opportunity to battle against one of the best teams in the league. The Cannons, winners of six of their previous seven, were hosting the first-place Atlanta Hustle with the understanding that a loss would basically squelch their playoff hopes. Through the first 11 contests this season, Hickson had ranked in the top three on his team in goals, assists, and Ds. Undeniably, his presence, not to mention his stature, would be a huge asset for his team and a major detriment if he were absent. His coach, Tuba Benson-Jaja, also questioned whether Hickson would have enough legs to be a factor against the Hustle.

“Finally, I got to the fields about two hours before game time,” said Hickson. “I walked in the locker room during the pregame meeting. I saw down and listened to my team and Coach Tuba discussing the game and how we were going to win it. Their determination to win this game showed during that meeting, and I knew then and there, I was playing this game.”

He cleated up, stretched, rolled his legs out, hydrated as much as possible, and prepared for the opening pull. Throughout this process, he admitted, his legs remained heavy and tired.

When the game finally began, Jacksonville bolted out to a strong start. Strategically, the Cannons ran some plays to hide Hickson’s fatigue on offense, but the dynamic cutter remained on the field for almost every offensive point. By halftime, Jacksonville had built an 18-13 lead.

They sustained the edge and added to it late in the third, but then the Hustle looked to rally. Down 25-19 late in the third, Atlanta mounted a 7-3 run to make it 28-26. With plenty of time left, it was anybody’s game.

Up by two at crunch time, Jacksonville turned it over, as Matt Bode’s layout in the end zone came up short. Injured on the play, Bode left the game. Meanwhile, during the stoppage, Hickson realized he was exhausted and not feeling great about playing defense when the game resumed.

“During the injury timeout, I was gassed,” he acknowledged. “I looked over to the sideline and located John Best. If know he is a shutdown defender and would get the job done, so I was yelling for him to take my spot for the substitution. Captain Brandon Perales came up to me and said that only Bode could take the sub.”

Hickson was stuck on the field, forced to defend, with the game on the line.

The Hustle situated into a vertical stack, with the Cannons forcing flick. Hickson chased Atlanta’s Ryan Archibald as he cut force side to open up space, as the Hustle sought to break the mark to the middle of the field with an inside/out flick.

“I saw the disc in the middle and my man clearing back into the vert stack,” said Hickson. “The player with the disc pump faked an around backhand to another player. When I saw this, I put my head down and ran with everything I had, because I knew my guy was the next continuation pass. Atlanta loves shooting the middle near the end zone, and sure enough, that’s where Archibald was going.”

The flick took flight, and so did Hickson.

About 12 hours after wrapping up his Olympic triathlon, he laid out for the magnificent D that regained momentum for his team.

Steven Poulos picked up the disc and immediately launched long for Cole Sullivan, who made the grab near the goal line and promptly found Mischa Freystatter for the score. Back up by three, the Cannons were comfortable again and held on for the 29-27 win.

“He made the layout D that potentially saved the game and our season,” said Benson-Jaja about Hickson’s effort.

Jacksonville’s gigantic victory sets up a marquee Independence Day showdown on ESPN3, as the Cannons will clash again with the Hustle in Atlanta on July 4. Considering that the 8-4 Cannons have won two out of three regular season meetings thus far with the 8-3 Hustle, the contest a week from Saturday should decide who joins Raleigh in the South division playoffs.

While the Cannons are idle this coming weekend, the Hustle have to venture to Charlotte and face the hungry Express, whom they only defeated by two in their first trip to North Carolina back in April. Suddenly, they are sitting in a bit of a precarious position.

“Our season hinges on us coming out and executing at a high level this Saturday,” said Atlanta’s Mark Poole. “We are ready for the challenge.”

From Jacksonville’s perspective, their bye could not come at a better time.

“We are bruised and battered after the last couple weeks,” said Benson-Jaja. “We are using part of this week to decompress and recover. The guys will be off for six days with no training and then get back to work. We will be spending a lot of time watching game film and working to improve in the areas we struggled. We will be doing mental strengthening exercises to prepare for the environment and emotions that come with playing on the road in a must-win situation. If we can control our emotions and exhibit mental discipline on the field, we will increase our chances of coming out on top.

“I do not expect a win in Atlanta to be easy to accomplish, but I am highly confident that my team has the personnel to make this a reality. The next two weeks of preparation will be the most important weeks to date of our season. [My players] get a chance to play a sport they love, to keep the season alive for a team they love, on the Independence Day celebration of a country we love. I can ask for no better scenario than that for the type of players I have on my team. They have warrior hearts and will be prepared to battle come July 4th! I can not wait!”

The Full Field Layout

Eleven weeks into the AUDL season, only two of the 11 playoff berths have been secured. San Jose has taken the top spot in the West and Madison has clinched a postseason position in the Midwest. In every other division, nothing is certain with only four remaining weekends in the regular season.

Interestingly, the two hottest teams in the league are both currently on the outside of playoff position. The Jacksonville Cannons, now winners of seven of their last eight games, are fortunate to control their own destiny in the South. The San Diego Growlers, victorious in five of their last six games following an 0-5 start to the season, are only a game out of second place in the league’s toughest division. But unlike Jacksonville, San Diego still needs help.

This past Saturday, the Growlers were missing stars like Kurt Gibson and Nick Lance, but played quality ultimate and made a bunch of important plays at crunch time to beat Vancouver in a high-scoring shootout, 32-28. The game was even after three quarters, but the Growlers offense brilliantly put together a turnover-free fourth to improve to 5-6 on the year.

“We knew that Vancouver has a pretty efficient offense, and with really no wind at our night games, they were able to knife throws all over the place,” said San Diego’s Will Griffin. “But [Coach] Kevin [Stuart] had a good game plan to play for getting breaks late in the game by staying close to the handlers and challenging them all game. We knew they couldn’t keep up that pace all game and we’d get our chances. And midway in the third, we got a couple breaks. Then, midway through the fourth, we got a couple more.”

The Riptide were battling without two of their top players in Kevin Underhill and Gagan Chatha. Derek Fenton scored eight goals and Joel Bellavance dished nine assists to lead Vancouver’s effort, but the Growlers defensive persistence gradually wore them down.

“I feel like our defense was fresh at the end of the third and through the fourth, and that’s when we started to break away,” explained Stuart. “As for our offense, we showed a little rust in the first quarter, but after that we seemed to settle in and be very efficient running mostly a vertical stack.”

Growlers cutter Casey Wu registered a career-best 10 goals (Check this week’s “Outside-In” for more on Wu’s big day), while Jimmy Mickle quarterbacked the O-line with seven assists.

While San Jose is sitting pretty in the West at 10-3, both San Francisco and Seattle are tied for second at 6-5. The Growlers, despite losing their first five games of the year, are now just one game back at 5-6. While the Cascades and FlameThrowers will face each other this weekend, San Diego will play Los Angeles (4-7) in each of its final three games, with two at home and one on the road. Although the Growlers do not have the head-to-head tiebreaker with either Seattle or San Francisco, they also know that their schedule, on paper at least, is easier than the two teams they are chasing.

When asked about the turnaround from the rough start, every leader on the Growlers expressed confidence that wins would eventually come. Now that the team has found its form, it might possibly be the scariest matchup of any team out West, aside from San Jose.

“We knew we were close and just needed to make those few adjustments,” said Griffin. “Start to win end of quarter situations and get a few breaks to go our way. That started in Seattle with our first win and continued in Vancouver. We had too much talent to keep losing the way we were losing. I watch some of those games from early in the season, and I’m amazed at how much better we are. We are a completely different team now.”

Griffin explained that the key moment when he felt the team had turned a corner actually occurred in a loss. When the Growlers hosted the then-unbeaten Spiders on May 2 and only fell by two, he learned something about his team, even as it dropped to 0-5.

“The week before, they crushed us in San Jose,” said Griffin. “We were shorthanded since it was Southwest College Regionals, so we were missing Kevin, our Arizona guys, and our two UCSD kids. But we put up a fight, made their offense struggle, and started to look better on offense ourselves. Alec Benton, who had not played a game yet, had a big layout D and subsequent assist to tie the game, and Steven Milardovich had a huge buzzer beater grab over Beau to take the half. Those were two big moments for us when we needed someone to make a play that everyone could rally around. We nearly beat the Spiders, and that’s when I felt the shift of confidence that carried over into the Seattle road game.”

During this run, San Diego has ridden its depth, one of its major question marks heading into the season. While the out-of-town free agents brought notoriety, credibility and strength, the most important factor might have simply been adding good players into the fold.

“I think one thing people fail to realize is that we have/had talented players that have held their own against the powerhouse clubs in the west,” said Stuart. “The problem has typically been that we haven’t had rosters deep enough to win consistently against those teams. Now, with the additions of Kurt, Nick, Jimmy, and Josh, along with Travis Dunn and Nate Bridges, we are deep enough to win those games. Our main issue has been the ability to mesh their talents with our system and personnel.”

Playing their best ultimate of the year, the Growlers will be fascinating to follow down the stretch.

“We still feel like we’re in a good spot,” said Mickle. “Having a decent shot at making the playoffs is about all we could ask for given our rough start.”

On Sunday afternoon, the two teams that San Diego is chasing out West shared one of the most exciting finishes to regulation I have ever witnessed.

In the final moments, Seattle’s Zane Rankin and Sam Lehman both elevated for sensational skies, enabling the Cascades to tie San Francisco at 21-all with 1.9 seconds remaining. Rankin soared for Reid Koss’s deep flick with perhaps four or five seconds on the clock, but his remarkable catch landed just outside the end zone. With little time to think, he lofted an airy flick toward Lehman, who climbed over the shorter Evan Boucher for the improbable goal.

Rankin’s throw was very iffy. After the game, he admitted to me that when he released it, he thought it would be knocked away. But Lehman, who just wrapped up an All-Freshman season at Brown University, launched himself above the pack for the dramatic snag.

“Zane’s throw to Sam Lehman in the final seconds was a prayer shot,” said Seattle veteran Danny Karlinsky, “but Lehman is a guy with a ton of heart and has been playing his hardest at every game and practice, and I think that helped him in that huge moment. We were obviously going bananas once he made that grab and we knew we had a shot in OT.”

Amidst the frenetic finish, San Francisco FlameThrowers found a way to regroup. Having led for almost the entire game, the FlameThrowers calmly punched in the first score of the overtime on offense, then capitalized on a few crucial unforced turnovers to put the game away.

Even though Seattle had stormed into overtime with all the momentum, the Cascades were flattened in the final five minutes, with San Francisco outscoring them 4-0 to earn the positive result, 25-21.

The victory, for at least a week, moved the FlameThrowers into a tie with the Cascades, with San Francisco owning the tiebreaker by virtue of the head-to-head win. Of course, two squads will meet again this weekend in Seattle. This time, it will be San Francisco on the second day of a back-to-back following the FlameThrowers’ Saturday test in Vancouver.

“I thought the biggest things we did [against Seattle], better than we have all year, were having high energy, staying positive, and supporting each other for all four quarters,” said San Francisco Captain Eli Janin. “Every time they came back to tie, we didn’t get down. When we play with that energy and togetherness, I think we’re hard to beat.”

The Cascades slipped from 6-3 to 6-5 with a pair of setbacks in the Bay Area, including a 35-28 loss in San Jose on Saturday. For the Spiders, it was their highest scoring output of the season, with Beau Kittredge and Sean Ham each scoring seven goals in the seven-score win that did not even feel that close.

Coming off their noteworthy victory over Pittsburgh, the Chicago Wildfire entered Week 11 looking at a daunting doubleheader, with the first-place Radicals set to visit the Windy City on Friday night and host Chicago the next day. Considering that the Radicals had not lost at home in more than two years, the Wildfire looked at the first game of the weekend as their chance to get a W.

Chicago fell behind 11-7 in the first half, but scrapped their way back to make it a one-goal game at the end of three quarters. Trailing 17-16 at the start of the fourth, the Wildfire scored two in a row to take their first lead since 5-4.

Up 18-17, Chicago pulled to Madison, and the Radicals quickly scored to tie it again. As the fourth continued to unfold, the game was tied at 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22. With 1:39 left, the Wildfire were receiving the pull with a timeout in a tie game.

“We talked on the line about how we don’t have to score, just move the disc, and if at any point you didn’t feel comfortable, use the timeout,” Chicago’s Brett Matzuka explained. “We work it down the field, get it to AJ on the sideline about 25 yards out, and he holds it a bit long, gets in trouble, and instead of calling timeout, rips a floaty hammer into the endzone. Given Madison’s sheer size, you know the outcome.

“They call timeout, we decide to go for broke; we front the cutters, push the dumps back, and expect a big huck. A defender screws up their assignment, we give up a 15-yard up-line dump for power position, which leads to a continue under cut down the line, and they work it down, with Pat Shriwise and Goose Helton toe-to-toe streaking into the endzone. Goose and Pat both bid as the open side flick goes up, Goose tips it while Pat catches it toeing the line, and Madison goes up by one with 30 seconds left.”

Chicago had one last chance to tie it again at 23, but the point did not go as planned. A couple bobbled catches early in the possession hampered the team’s timing. Bob Liu and Tim Fergus worked the disc around in the handler set, but with time winding down, the Wildfire did not gain enough yardage to get a decent look. The Hail Mary at the buzzer failed to reach the end zone, and Madison had prevailed, 23-22.

It was an excruciating home loss, and several of Chicago’s leaders were still distraught by it a couple days later.

“I thought our mental focus and intensity was there more on Friday,” said Nelson, who returned from a knee injury to lead Chicago with seven goals. “It also helped having an amazing Chicago crowd. The loss on Friday will hang heavily in my mind for a while. It could have been a very different outcome if I had had the composure to call timeout instead of trying to blast a 50-yard hammer. I think the excitement of being back hurt me in that regard, but I’ll have to live with that. I do want to say, I am extremely proud of how we played. I think that was one of the best performances we had and yet, we could have been even better. Our young guys really stepped up and executed.”

One day later, the Radicals returned home and improved to 11-1 by taking a 7-3 lead and cruising to a comfortable 24-16 victory. For Chicago, the one-score loss at home hurt much more.

“Honestly, it was probably one of the top 10 more disappointing and devastating losses of my career,” admitted Matzuka, who has played on numerous pro, club and national teams all around the world. “It would be naïve to blame AJ for his poor hammer choice in a crucial point of the game. He played amazing, basically flawless to that point. The truth is we fought together and everyone contributed to our success, and in this case, failure. It is just hard. I remember all the errors and just can’t forget the mistakes.

“I don’t think anyone within the Frisbee community, including our own team, would be surprised, upset, or offended for me to say that Madison is a severely more talented team than we are. It goes without saying that the pedigree, experience, and skill they possess far outweighs anything we can distill down to the playing field. We don’t play an elegant brand of disc. Our offense is far from high-powered, the technologies our team utilize are second-world in a contemporary sense. By no means am I embarrassed, ashamed, or downtrodden by this state of affairs; it’s just more the truth of our situation.

“We are scrappy. Period. Our game is based upon heart, dedication, determination, and drive. I recently spoke to a friend about how I perceive teammates; I look to see if they have the character to charge Omaha beach with me on D-Day, the kind of guy who will fight to the death by your side against all odds. That is inherently what the Chicago Wildfire team is about. Apart from Goose, we don’t have the name brand ultimate superstars that riddle Reddit, Ultiworld, or Skyd—Beau, Joye, Lance, Mickle, Gibson, Lloyd, Tyler D, Alex Thorne, Karlinsky, Rehder, etc.—but are a brotherhood of supporting cast happy to be the next man up. We have faced adversity, challenge, and difficulty in every form with overwhelming odds, but still find ways to fight for our wins. I told Goose that the Wildfire narrative is more of an 80s inspirational comedy or 90s sports movie. We are “The Mighty Ducks,” a hodgepodge of people coming together to try and beat the odds.”

Chicago’s now 6-4-1, trailing 7-3 Indianapolis in pursuit of the final playoff spot. The Wildfire know that, in order to have a chance at making the playoffs, it is imperative that they win at 8-2 Pittsburgh this weekend.

If they lose to the Thunderbirds, the best they could complete the regular season is 8-5-1, assuming a pair of victories over winless Detroit. Indy’s remaining schedule features Minnesota twice, Madison and Pittsburgh once. If Chicago cannot win at Pittsburgh, then Indy would only need to win two of its final four to get to 9-5 and surpass Chicago for the last playoff berth in the Midwest.

Aside from San Jose, no first-place AUDL team has created as much separation in the loss-column as the Toronto Rush, who improved to 9-1 and possesses a virtual three-game lead over their closest rivals by surpassing Montreal 24-18. Even though New York won a pair of games over DC to move to 8-3, the Rush defeated the Empire in both regular season matchups. Hence, the Rush would need to lose three more times to be in danger of falling beneath the Empire in pursuit of home-field in the playoffs.

Toronto’s lone loss of the year occurred back on April 26 in Montreal, a one-score setback that went down to the final buzzer. On Saturday, the Rush bolted out to a quick 3-0 lead and never felt seriously threatened by a Royal comeback.

“The guys were very amped up for this game,” said Toronto Head Coach Evan Phillips. “Maybe the most hype we have had in a couple years. Montreal came in a bit late after a long bus ride and we took full advantage.”

Behind the defense of Remy Ojo, Andrew Carroll, and Anatoly Vasilyev, the Rush set the tone with a slew of early breaks, erasing any idea that the injury to D-line leader Jonathan Martin would hamper Toronto’s overall explosiveness. Phillips stressed that assistant coach Scott “Shooter” Hastie and injured star Mark Lloyd were key in making adjustments to certain matchups that mitigated Montreal’s ability to attack quickly. Specifically, the Rush sought to contain Royal deep cutters like Antoine Genest and Kevin Groulx.

From the Royal perspective, it was a bumpy start to a busy weekend. Montreal was set to become the first AUDL team to play three games in a two-day span, a byproduct of their postponed game against Rochester from May 9. With a true doubleheader on tap for Sunday, the Royal flirted dangerously with disaster on a hot and humid afternoon.

For their second straight time against the Dragons, Montreal trailed by multiple scores in the fourth quarter. On June 6, the Royal used a 6-1 run to prevail 21-19 at home. This past Sunday, the Quebecois rolled off an identical 6-1 run to transform a 20-18 deficit into a 24-21 victory in overtime, with defender Philippe Thivierge shifting to guard and limit Rochester’s main handler late in the game to help the Royal snatch momentum.

About 90 minutes later, the teams met again. Up 10-9 at the half, the Royal fought off exhaustion to roll off a 4-0 run, eventually pulling away from the Dragons to sweep the twin-bill with a 23-17 triumph.

Montreal Coach Mikael Lacombe was relieved by his team’s victories on a day when he was displeased by the Royal’s conversion rate.

“The difference between club and pro is that in pro ultimate, you can’t afford losing a regular season game against a weaker opponent,” he said.

This Saturday, the 7-4 Royal will host the 6-4 Ottawa Outlaws, who put up 33 goals and routed Montreal in Quebec back on June 14. The Outlaws are 2-0 against the Royal on the season, and this weekend’s tilt, to be broadcast live on ESPN3 and TSN Go in Canada, should decide which of these Canadian clubs will join Toronto and New York in the East Division playoffs.

Back when Montreal knocked off Toronto earlier this year, Royal Captain Jean-Levy Champagne stressed how his team’s success was largely dependent on its collective confidence. With that in mind, I asked him if his team brings confidence into the game with the Outlaws, considering the 33-22 result in the last meeting.

He replied, “It’s not a question of confidence anymore, but more a question of pride. The last game is behind us.”

The Outside-In

When San Diego hosted Vancouver on Saturday, the most well-known Wu was undoubtedly the Riptide star named Darren. The young Canadian prospect is Vancouver’s second-leading scorer on the season and has made his fair share of spectacular plays. Among ultimate fans, he is certainly not on the outside of everyone’s radar.

But then there’s Casey Wu, San Diego’s 23-year-old cutter out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, who entered this past weekend’s action far from a household name. Unrelated to Vancouver’s Darren, Casey had only scored eight times in the season before Saturday.

Against the Riptide, on a must-win night for the Growlers, San Diego found Wu in the end zone on 10 different occasions, including five times in the final quarter alone. Thanks to their flawless fourth, the Growlers emerged victorious, with Casey Wu very much leading the way.

“He’s always been a solid offensive cutter for us,” said San Diego’s Will Griffin. “His role has been the same all year as an offensive cutter, but he is more of an ‘in flow’ cutter, rather than a big physical presence like Kurt or Jimmy. He picks his spots, finds the space, and continues the flow. He struggled at the beginning of the year getting on the field and being effective. Although our offense took awhile to get going this year, so his early ineffectiveness could be a product of a team-wide offensive struggle.”

Originally from New Jersey, Wu had not played much ultimate before moving to California. He messed around with pickup as a freshman and joined his college team as a sophomore. Aside from his post-college life working as a structural engineer, he appears to be flourishing late in San Diego’s season as the Growlers make their playoff push.

“He did start a few games early in the season,” said San Diego Coach Kevin Stuart, “but wasn’t able to hold onto his roster spot. He was given an opportunity in the last LA game because of injuries, I liked what I saw from him offensively, and he earned a spot for the Vancouver game. In both the LA game and the Vancouver game, Casey did a very good job attacking the deep space, which caused defenders to react to him and opened up the under. If defenders didn’t react, he was typically open for the score. In the Vancouver game, Casey was open deep only a few times, but I believe he scored most of his goals on shorter passes from inside the red zone. He was in good position and timed those cuts from our end zone set very well.”

Gradually becoming more cohesive and dangerous, San Diego has vastly improved in part because of guys like Wu, who has learned how to complement the other top players and execute an important role in the offense.

Out West, there’s now more than one Wu to keep an eye on.

The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)

As a sport, ultimate’s battle for greater exposure is a gradual climb. To some, it’s very frustrating when a spectacular, superhuman play gets little recognition or airtime. Generally, I think it’s mostly important for the true movers and shakers of the sport—players, coaches, writers, fans, etc.—to keep plugging away and not get too angry about perceived slights. Best thing we can do is to continue to expose this great sport to the ignorant and uninformed. Gradually, we will grow and notice a difference.

With all that said, it does make a difference when a highlight like AJ Nelson’s ridiculous layout against Madison goes viral. On Monday, Nelson was featured as the #2 play in SportsCenter’s Top 10. On Tuesday morning at 9:40 eastern time, the official SportsCenter twitter account, with 18.1 million followers, posted the clip.

Embedding the video in millions of timelines, the tweet read, “Ultimate Frisbee never fails to provide us with highlights. This catch is just absurd.”

“AJ’s catch was incredible,” declared Madison’s Andrew Meshnick, a guy who knows all about making SportsCenter Top 10 worthy plays. “I thought even as he was laying out that he wasn’t going to be able to get to the disc, but he closed the gap on the disc and made a spectacular grab.”

SB Nation, Bleacher Report, Deadspin, and a bunch of other outlets also posted this video. I particularly appreciated that many of the captions specifically mentioned that Nelson was the captain of the Chicago Wildfire in the American Ultimate Disc League. That creates context, and if 1% of the people who see it are intrigued to look up more information, that’s a good sign for both the league and probably increases the readership of “The Tuesday Toss!”

Amazing plays like this are absolutely key to our growth. If you are reading this, you certainly know that already, and you also know that thrilling layouts are common throughout our awesome sport.

We are moving in the right direction, and every play that goes viral is an exciting stop in the process of teaching the masses about ultimate and how special it is.

Well done, AJ.

Who’s next?

Traveling Tales

For the first time in my AUDL journey, I found myself flying JetBlue for my recent trek to the Bay Area. On Friday afternoon, after a few days visiting family on Cape Cod, I embarked on a six-hour non-stop jaunt from Boston to San Francisco.

Now, JetBlue is the sixth largest airline in the U.S., but I’ve gotten the sense that many people are not familiar with it. I think I had only flown on JetBlue once or twice before.

Over the course of time, you tend to hear traveling horror stories about most airlines, but to be honest, I have always heard pretty positive things about JetBlue. This past Friday, my six-hour flight could not have been more pleasant.

Here’s why: simple things that other airlines charge you for, JetBlue offered for free. In addition to my luggage getting checked free of charge, the amenities of the aircraft were far superior to the more popular airlines. The rows in coach were more spacious than I can ever remember seeing. It made a huge difference, and it was simply part of my normal ticket. It did not require an upgrade to “Comfort” or “EconomyPlus” for $99.

Aside from being more comfortable with plenty of legroom, JetBlue offers DirecTV in every seat. You don’t even have to swipe your credit card; it’s also free. Considering I was flying in the late afternoon into the evening on Friday, I was able to eavesdrop on the U.S. Open for the entirety of my flight. Even though it was just the second round and the weekend drama had not yet ramped up, it still made the time fly by much quicker.

If the free tv did not sell you, how about decent wifi? When it worked, the wireless internet on the plane was also absolutely free. It was not live for the first couple hours of my flight for some reason, but the stewardess made an announcement when the problem was corrected, and suddenly quality wifi was available for the final 3-4 hours of the journey!

Amazingly, the signal strength was powerful enough to stream video. At one point, to the delight of my multitasking mind, I was watching the Red Sox game on my iPad while still monitoring the U.S. Open on my seatback tv screen. Concurrently, via twitter, I actively followed the AUDL action unfolding in Chicago, as the Wildfire and Radicals went down to the wire.

When the beverage service rolled through, I asked for a Sprite and was handed a can of it, not a cup of it. It was another small thing that most airlines don’t do by default.

Really, the whole experience was way more enjoyable than the typical flight, where you are mostly willing to give up comfort in the desperate hope that you will arrive on time. This was very different.

Frankly, entering the trip, I was a tad disappointed that I would not accrue the cross-country miles on an airline I fly more often. When you travel every week, it’s hard not to become a little bit of a snob about your miles and status.

But trust me when I tell you, JetBlue is an airline that simply treats you better than most others. When I fly, I almost always book whatever is cheapest. I imagine you do the same.

That will undoubtedly remain the case, but there will also be a pang every time JetBlue pops up as an option. If you fly JetBlue, you are not simply gonna grind through the travel experience to arrive at your destination. You might actually enjoy the ride!

Seven On The Line

1) The previous 6,000 words of recapping, analyzing, and speculating about the eventual composition of the 2015 AUDL postseason were fun to write and hopefully interesting to read. But in terms of deciding the fourth AUDL championship, little of it will matter if San Jose’s offense can replicate it’s performance from this past Saturday. It was the Spiders fifth time scoring at least 35 goals in the franchise’s two-year history, but the first explosion of that caliber in 2015. “They executed at an astronomical rate on Saturday,” said Seattle’s Mario O’Brien. “I look at the game on Saturday like, when you play against the Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are hitting all their threes, it’s hard to win when they’re making all their long-balls. That’s what we saw on Saturday night. They have some of the best players in the world. Two great offenses were going at each other, and when one of the offenses just isn’t missing and is executing at a high rate, it’s tough to beat them.”

2) If Seattle felt a little bit like one of the Warriors’ Western Conference rivals getting bombarded by the Splash brothers, Chicago felt a little bit like the undermanned Cavaliers in the NBA finals. “I feel for LeBron,” explained Matzuka. “It is hard to lose a heartbreaker and then try to go out and make up for it the next day, knowing that a healthy Brodie Smith changes everything. Or Von Alanguilan. Or Patrick Kaufman.” Now, I don’t think Matzuka is comparing himself to LeBron, even though they each play with uncharacteristic vision and creativity. But his comparison is apt, since the Cavs basically ran out of gas without their second and third best players. For the Wildfire, the three injuries that Matzuka mentions all have severely handicapped Chicago throughout its 2015 AUDL journey.

3) Although Seattle did not register a win in its Bay Area road trip, the members of the Cascades still looked at their weekend as a very positive experience, mostly in terms of continuing their process of improvement and providing plenty of playing time for some of their younger players. Star deep cutter Matt Rehder missed Sunday’s game when his ankle felt mediocre during warmups, and the Cascades were also without several other key pieces like Donnie Clark and Ray Illian. Meanwhile, the young kids stepped up. Zane Rankin and Sam Lehman teamed up for the adventurous tying goal, while 18-year-old Sam Wood made the greatest play of the day earlier in the fourth quarter. With less than six minutes left, Wood authored a dynamite full-extension layout for a score that brought Seattle within one. “I had complete faith in Sam Cook as that disc went up,” said Karlinsky. “Just felt the energy of the game shifting our way at that point, and he wasn’t going to let that stop.” With all due respect to Karlinsky, from my vantage-point, I did not envision Cook making the grab. When he did, I was astounded. I have not seen everything in the league this week, but I will say this: If AJ is #1 and LA’s Jeff Silverman is #2, then Sam Cook probably deserves the bronze position in this week’s AUDL Top 10.

4) With San Francisco Coach Josh Greenough on the east coast for a wedding, the FlameThrowers coaching clipboard was grasped by Captain Lucas Dallmann, who was unable to play on Sunday because of a knee injury. When asked about what it was like to serve in that role, here’s what he had to say: “I had a lot of fun watching my teammates earn that win. I would rather be on the field with them than holding a clipboard. ‘Coaching’ is really stressful. You can’t control the game as you would when you are playing. And as a player that likes to emote a lot, you really have to temper your emptions with the crests and troughs of the game. Coach Greenough really does a great job of this, and I have a new appreciate for all that he does.” Perhaps the most daunting in-game responsibility for an AUDL coach is the power to call timeouts on the sidelines, specifically in cases when the stall count is rising on the field. On Sunday, Dallman called perhaps four timeouts. Immediately after the whistle blew for a couple of them, the high-stall desperation throw that ensued (but didn’t count) found a FlameThrowers target in the end zone, although it’s worth mentioning that generally the Cascades stopped playing defense upon the whistle. “The timeouts were interesting,” said Dallmann. I called all timeouts at stall 6ish. I’d rather keep possession in a windy game then flip a coin. I got plenty of friendly barbs from the guys for taking away a couple goals.”

5) Like Montreal and Rochester, New York and DC also met twice in Week 11. Unlike the former, the latter played their games over two days, squaring off in DC on Saturday and in Brooklyn on Sunday. But despite the schedule, the Empire and Breeze were far from playing a full 96 minutes. On Saturday, lightning halted the game early in the third quarter, with the Empire leading 8-7. The Breeze had scored the only goal of the second half to eke within one, but Mother Nature prevented the home team from a break chance at the tie. “There was an understanding between both teams that the game could be called early because of the storm system,” explained Empire Captain Izzy Bryant. “The referees made the decision to call the game early in the third after seeing lightning.” On Sunday, the Empire stormed away from DC in the second half to prevail 21-13, but New York leadership was far from happy with the team’s performance or current position. “We had a season-high 35 turnovers [on Sunday],” said Bryant. “Not one player is satisfied with where we currently stand in the East.”

6) Although Pittsburgh did not light up the scoreboard with the same efficiency as recent weeks, the Thunderbirds steady 25-19 victory over Cincinnati improved them to 8-2 and remained a statistical celebration for newcomer Pat Earles. The University of Pittsburgh product (who, by the way still has one more year of college eligibility) delivered eight assists against the Revolution, raising his total to 24 in just three games, an average of eight per game. His teammate, fellow star Tyler DeGirolamo, still leads the league with 56 assists in his eight games played, an average of seven per contest. DeGirolamo’s total is certainly boosted by his 15-assist performance from back in May at Minnesota, which tied an AUDL single-game record. It’s likely that DeGirolamo will surpass last year’s assist leader this weekend. Vancouver’s Derek Fenton recorded 59 assists in 10 games last year to top the circuit.

7) An interesting comment from ever-insightful Jacksonville Coach Tuba Benson-Jaja on his team’s schedule and how the road-heavy April worked out well for them: “We went on the road for our first four games and came out 1-3. I was planning to come out of that stretch at 2-2, but Nashville spoiled the party. The thing that I thought of after I saw how hard it was for other teams to win on the road was that we were fortunate to come out 1-3. We could have easily been 0-4 and would not be in the race for 2nd today. We also could have easily been 1-3 even if our first four games were at home. We got a slow start this season and it took a little time for us to get going, as well as have all of our players available. Once we started to make our stand during our home games, I realized that we really had a chance to carry that momentum into the end of the season. A couple breaks went our way in our last Raleigh and Charlotte trip and we are still alive.” Our ESPN3 schedule for the next two weeks could not be better, with de facto elimination games between Ottawa/Montreal and then Jacksonville/Atlanta on the docket.

The Hammer

This past Sunday, I embarked on the intriguing challenge of the first AUDL radio broadcast. Overall, without a ton of prior publicity or promotion, there were 187 unique listeners, although the streaming device never indicated if the average tune-in length was 20 minutes or seven seconds.

It was fun.

Seattle and San Francisco collaborated to provide a dramatic battle, and my play-by-play chops were tested in a way they had never been before.

You may not think about this if you have never attempted to broadcast a game before, but I will let you in on a little secret. Compared to radio, TV is really easy. When I’m on ESPN3, I can say next-to-nothing and still deliver a pleasant viewing experience thanks to the occasional witty comment and a delightfully intelligent color commentator. On TV, it’s fun to emote when a great play occurs, but it’s much more about the conversation with the analyst, and I’m fortunate to work alongside some good ones.

On the radio this past Sunday, it was an adventure trying to describe the direction, distance, and destination of each throw. With teams like the Cascades and the FlameThrowers, who each enjoy a plethora of dump-swings and resets, it necessitates a mountain of immediate language and quick explanation. If you take too much time describing something, though, three more throws might alter the complexion of the point entirely before you can catch your breath.

It’s a little bit like broadcasting football, except that usually ultimate points last far longer that football plays and football teams do not tend to go voluntarily backwards very often. Plus, there are many more ways to throw a disc than a football.

But in terms of having an array of complex moving pieces, aiming to watch it all, absorb and digest everything, and then attempt to translate the chaos into words that make sense, it’s a bit like the gridiron.

More than anything, it was a cool experience and a tantalizing experiment. Hope to handle some more old school AUDL radio broadcasts down the road.

Agree? Disagree? Got a comment or question about the AUDL or the current state of ultimate? E-mail Evan Lepler at If your query is thought provoking, clever, or both, you’ll have an excellent chance of being featured in future columns on Feedback can also be levied on twitter: @EvanLepler

Published: June 23, 2015