The Tuesday Toss: The Crowd, The Comeback, And The Coronation
August 9, 2016 — By Evan Lepler
The Tuesday Toss Archive
In a world where instant gratification is demanded and attention spans are short, hyperbole can be troublesome. Even in this written cave of ultimate conversation—The Tuesday Toss is meant to be a safe place to talk about these things—it is risky to offer bold, declarative proclamations that elevate our sport to lofty heights previously unforeseen. Hype, no matter how cathartic it may feel, should never supplant truth.
When you witness a scene like what we saw on Saturday night, though, it leaves you lunging toward the pursuit of context. What just happened? Have we seen it before? Will we see it again? Is Donnie Clark even human?
Is Donnie Clark human? No.
As someone who has seen championship ultimate played at all different levels around the world over the past few years, I can say this: this past weekend felt like a phenomenon. It was a chill-inducing, awe-inspiring symphony of effort, passion, heartbreak, and victory. It featured countless unforgettable moments and one unstoppable team. It offered greatness, both on and off the field. Between Madison’s crowd, Seattle’s comeback, and Dallas’s dominance, these were the three pillars of prominence, all of which will linger as the weekend fades into our ocean of memories.
It seems an unlikely confluence of events, but perhaps we were that lucky, and the liveliest ultimate atmosphere ever coincided with the most thrilling comeback ever, all unfolding adjacent to the superior performance of the best team ever.
The Full Field Layout
Last week, as Madison Radicals staffers tried to keep up with the online ticket requests, they began to realize what was brewing. By Friday night, they had easily cleared 2,000 pre-sold passes for the weekend, and it was tough to know exactly what Saturday would be like a Breese Stevens Field.
The weather was perfect, the stage was set, and the fans arrived in droves. There was a buzz during Dallas-Toronto, but there’s no doubt it felt softer, with energy building toward the main event. As the sun set, the crowd rose, and when Colin Camp scored 28 seconds into the second semifinal of the day, there was powerful roar.
Fans were packed in the stands and stuffed into the beer garden perfectly situated just beyond the South end zone. They overflowed into the corners and onto the sidelines in front of the VIP Pizza Bus. There were a handful of Seattle fans, some were simply ultimate fans, and the vast majority were rabid Radicals fans, giving the proceedings a partisan atmosphere that ultimate really has not seen.
Madison fueled the fans’ fire by scoring four of the game’s first five goals, and as the evening grew later, the crowd continued its gradual crescendo. The Radicals’ performance ebbed and flowed, but the accompanying energy supplied by the spectators refused to wane until the clock struck zero.
Pat Shriwise crushing a backhand to an in-stride Dave Wiseman for the early Madison score.
When it did, most fans entered a surreal state of shock. The Radicals had not trailed the entire game until Duncan Linn’s go-ahead goal with 36 seconds left. And when Madison was receiving the pull down by one with the entire season on the line, the atmosphere reached its zenith, as fans looked to inspire another dramatic effort.
In a way, they did.
As much as Madison’s roster cherished its chance to compete in front of the Radicals’ loyal fan base, the visiting team refused to be intimidated by its rowdy surroundings. When the Cascades were behind by seven scores with less than 18 minutes of game time remaining, they could have disintegrated down the stretch in the hostile environment. But they stayed together, kept grinding, and put together some of the most stunning sequences of ultimate any of us had ever seen.
Nick Stuart and the Seattle Cascades continued to find new gears on Saturday night.
There were several signature moments during Seattle’s epic 13-5 rally, and a couple of them immediately became iconic as we realized what had just happened. Regardless of what happens over the next decade or two, Will Chen’s throw and Donnie Clark’s block will go down in history as two of the greatest efforts in the history of the AUDL.
In the closing seconds of the third quarter, Madison was on the verge of a four-goal lead. The Radicals patiently moved the disc in the red-zone, as the Cascades tightened up their goal-line D. With around 10 seconds left, Husayn Carnegie displayed impeccable instinct, swatting Andrew Brown’s cross-field throw into a Radicals turnover. It was a missed opportunity for Madison, but at least they would take a three-goal edge into the fourth. Right?
Will Chen had other ideas. As the veteran handler collected the disc, pivoted, he launched a majestic backhand huck that narrowly squeezed past two diving marks as it found airspace. As the clock expired, the 175 grams of plastic drove through the night sky. Its high RPM pace defied gravity as it crossed midfield, remaining stable through its whole flight towards the South end zone. To the disbelief of everyone jammed into the stands, the 80+ yard, buzzer-beating backhand bomb settled smoothly into Seattle's Matt Russell with the clock nothing but zeros.
The play that changed the game.
It was unreal and absurd. Instead of being up by four, or even three, the Radicals only led by two, and Seattle would receive the disc to begin the fourth.
Madison’s D-line broke the Cascades to start the final quarter, but the wave of Seattle momentum was not obstructed much. With 3:11 remaining, Mark Burton hit Simon Montague to tie the score at 24.
It was the game’s first tie since it was 1-all, 56 seconds into the game. Both offenses held once over the next 71 seconds, and it was 25-all as the Radicals received with two minutes left.
Madison worked it across midfield, but the offense that had been crisp and collected for much of the night had often grown stagnant down the stretch. And with just over a minute to play, Brian Hart held the disc for a nanosecond too long, resulting in a season-changing stall call. Seattle punched it in for the 26-25 lead, and Madison had 36 seconds to find the equalizer.
The Cascades gifted the Radicals half of the field, with Andrew Meshnick easily gaining a chunk of yards as a result of a blown assignment. And when Meshnick sent a good-looking flick toward the end zone, Thomas Coolidge had several steps on Donnie Clark. It looked like it would be a game-tying delivery.
Clark accelerated, as if his turbo button was hit by lightning, closing the gap and propelling himself toward the greatest D of the weekend. He left his feet with purpose and prayer, desperately lunging his momentum toward that spinning plastic.
Just when it looked like Coolidge would get both hands on the disc, Clark’s outstretched fingertip grazed the rim. Clark crashed to the ground as the disc, redirected by the slight, yet monumentally significant touch, angled away from the receiver and flew out the back of the end zone.
Clark was down. Coolidge looked crushed. The Seattle sideline erupted. The Madison fans were stunned beyond belief. The situation gradually sunk in. As it did, it became even harder to believe. Clark had made the play of the season, an incomprehensible clutch layout block that lifted his team into delirium and led thousands of spectators into despair.
The Radicals had one final chance, but Seattle’s Sam Harkness defended the final huck that was intended for Kevin Pettit-Scantling. As the final seconds disappeared, the Cascades stormed the field euphorically, as the Radicals struggled to grasp this new, painful reality.
Saturday night was unquestionably the most memorable part of the weekend, as Seattle’s comeback stole the show. But could they follow up their historic rally with an even more impressive victory over the heavy favorites from Dallas?
Early on, it felt like the Cascades might be able to do it. They carried over at least some momentum into Sunday, as they stormed ahead to a 11-8 first quarter lead. Amazingly, the three-goal margin was Dallas’ largest deficit of season, and it felt like the undefeated Roughnecks were being tested.
Zane Rankin going to the top floor for the Cascades first break.
Unfortunately, even though Seattle did not play poorly over the final three quarters, the Cascades could not keep the pace. A clock snafu forced a bizarre re-pull with 12 seconds to go in the quarter, and Danny Karlinsky’s uncharacteristic drop gave the Roughnecks a gigantic gift. The Cascades still led 11-10 after one, but the edge would not last much longer.
Dylan Freechild caught Matt Bennett’s blading flick huck with 9:48 remaining in the second quarter, vaulting Dallas into a 13-12 lead, the Roughncks first advantage of the game. They would not trail again.
The Roughnecks were untouchable in 2016.
The overall brilliance of the Roughnecks, as they cruised to a 33-27 championship triumph, was based upon the complement of their superstars and their ‘role players.’ With six members of the USA national teams from the recent World Championships, their leaders were always available to seize command. But the contributions of guys like Brandon Malacek, Kai Marshall, Dan Emmons, and the Larbergs might have been even more important.
The Larberg brothers were critical during the Roughnecks' championship run.
Matt Bennett and Dalton Smith, guys who were used to being disc dominant as college teammates, gradually carved out their own effective niches on the all-star squad. Jeremy Langdon and Ben Lohre served as selfless defenders, trusted implicitly when the disc would find them after a turn.
Dalton Smith elevating along the sideline before tossing the assist.
It is hard to imagine Dallas Coach Patrick Eberle envisioning the Roughnecks puzzle coming together as smoothly as it did. In the preseason, it may have looked like all of the talent would need time to coalesce. But very quickly, that perspective changed. Whether they simply got lucky or they benefitted from the great leadership of a core of veterans along with the complete buy-in of some younger guys, the pieces just fit.
It was a team with no weaknesses, and it felt like each player had his own premier skill that could be maximized. Jimmy Mickle could have been his team’s top deep threat, but his powerful throws and commanding presence often planted him in the backfield. Dylan Freechild could have led the cutting core as the initiation man on the O-line, but his endlessly confident and emotional personality found a home anchoring the team’s defense. Kurt Gibson bounced back and forth from O to D, but his velcro hands sustained so many possessions that could have gone astray, and that, combined with the fact that he’s virtually impossible to guard one-on-one, might have made him the squad’s best overall player.
Kurt Gibson was ceaseless in his consistency in making plays over the weekend.
And of course there was Beau Kittredge, whose quirky and competitive personality certainly inspired a good deal of the collective buy-in. At age 34, he can still hack it, as evidenced by his steady string of goals, including a vintage full extension layout in the opening quarter. Just a few months after a serious injury, the greatest winner of the era still looked as strong as ever.
Beau showed that extra gear throughout Championship Weekend V.
With three straight AUDL titles, along with four club championships, two World Games golds, and three additional wins at Worlds, Kittredge’s trophy case is overflowing. It is an appalling stretch of success, and the more we wait for him to falter, the more we realize that it is not likely to happen. Would you count out a 42-year-old Beau who was determined to make the 2024 Olympic team? Sure, it is a long ways away, but I’m not betting against him.
From an outsider’s perspective, the 2016 Dallas Roughnecks were quite the conundrum. They were full of dominant athletes, special throwers, and had a bunch of polarizing personalities. They were often breathtaking to watch, but they could also be boring to watch. Sometimes, it felt like there was too little suspense with this team.
They never trailed in any of their first eight games, and they led wire-to-wire in 11 of their 14 regular season contests, never falling behind by more than one score.
In the playoffs, they trailed Atlanta by two in the first half, but ran away from the Hustle with a steamrolling fourth quarter. Against Toronto, the Roughnecks cruised, capitalizing on Rush mistakes in a game where they were never seriously threatened. There were plenty of what-ifs from the Toronto perspective, but it was still an overwhelming display from the Texas juggernaut.
On Sunday, for just the fifth time in 17 total games, the Roughnecks fell behind. The three-goal margin, first at 6-3 and then again at 7-4 and 11-8, still felt tiny in the conversation of whether Dallas was really in trouble. The haymaker felt inevitable, illustrated by their 13-4 run that stretched their lead to six on the first point of the second half.
The Roughnecks were a shining example of excellence, winning all 17 games by at least four goals. The franchise set a mission to win a title in its first season, and Dallas conquered that goal in dazzling fashion.
Along with the Madison crowd and the Seattle comeback, the 2016 season’s culminating weekend was defined by Dallas’s greatness.
It’s time to start wondering what Jim Gerencser has planned for an encore.
On Sunday night, I asked Beau Kittredge, ‘when did you realize the Larbergs were this good?”
“Today,” he replied.
This response struck me as a bit foolish, but then he elaborated, saying that he always judges players for how they play on the biggest stage. The regular season, according to Beau, is not where you prove yourself.
With all the marbles up for grabs, Chris and Dillon Larberg delivered the goods. The brothers each made their fair share of game-changing plays individually, and they teamed up for a pair of goals in the first half, both breaks that helped the Roughnecks set their tone.
Really, these two players excelled all season long, collecting 40 Ds, 47 goals, and 25 assists between them. Whenever one of the Roughnecks’ stars was asked to name the team’s top unsung hero, the usual answer was twofold. “The Larbergs,” Jimmy or Dylan or Kurt would reply.
Where there were big plays, there were Larbergs.
One of the largest momentum swings certainly came when Dillon registered a poach D late in the second quarter, then took off for the end zone, but abruptly halted. As if he were telekinetically tied into his brother Chris' wishes, Dillon collected the disc and fired to the end zone, where Chris easily corralled the disc.
The Cascades scored 27 goals, five more than Dallas had allowed in any game all season, but the Roughnecks still never led by any fewer than five in the second half.
Moving forward, the Larbergs should never be considered unsung. Their melodies from the biggest game will reverberate for a long time.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Ever since giving birth to her son back in January, my broadcasting teammate and good friend, Megan Tormey, has often raved that she has the cutest kid in the world. While this is something that most all mothers would say, it is hard to argue with her after seeing this photo of Weston James grasping the AUDL trophy on Sunday afternoon in Madison.
— Meagles Tormey (@Meagles000) August 7, 2016
It’s easy to imagine that lad developing a killer flick huck.
Seven On The Line
1. In the aftermath of Seattle’s crazy comeback, adrenaline was running high. As the Cascades circled up, captain Matt Rehder flexed his left bicep, and used his right hand to pound the message tattooed on his muscular left arm. The tattoo reads, “Anything is Possible,” and the story of its origin might be almost as bonkers as Seattle’s unlikely victory. “A couple days before I graduated, I was finishing up an online nutrition course that I wanted to make up to get a better grade,” Rehder explained. “I was in the library ‘studying hard’ as I usually did, spending more time watching sports than I actually did studying. I found the Kevin Garnett 30 for 30, and over the course of the video, I started feeling connected with Kevin’s path to winning a championship with the Celtics, i.e. coming into the league at a young age, playing for a team that had a lot of promise but wasn’t doing well at the time, losing a close friend along the way, etc. After the video ended, I remember in 2008-09, my teammate at the time, Jimmy Chu, constantly quoting Kevin during games and at practice, yelling ‘anything is possible!’ and at that moment, I decided to leave the library and get it tattooed on my body.” The spontaneous decision became a story that has been told several times since then, but the message was perhaps never more poignant than Saturday night. “I use it as a reminder that no matter the circumstances, that anything I really put my mind too is possible of accomplishing. It helps me overcome things I would never thought I would do in life, like playing a professional sport, graduating from college, providing for myself financially, traveling the world, and helping grow the sport of ultimate frisbee. I wouldn’t ever suggest getting a tattoo so spur of the moment, but it’s hard to say I regret something that actually drives me to be who I am today and also who I strive to be down the line.”
Anything is possible when you have Matt Rehder's speed.
2. So what the heck happened with that attempted timeout call near the end of regulation on Saturday night? After Rehder’s huck landed out of Zane Rankin’s reach, the disc bounced out of bounds. Madison Coach Tim DeByl was clearly trying to call timeout, but the referees missed it. They blew a whistle, but it was meant to stop the clock because the disc was out of bounds, not because a timeout was granted. When play resumed, the Radicals were confused and frazzled, but DeByl saw the disc moving and moved away from the field to allow the play to continue. “I felt a little relief when Rehder’s huck missed,” explained Madison’s Scott Richgels. “I messed up the double team before than and allowed a backhand up the line. I was so worried about them trying to split the double, I failed to cover the around. I got bailed out slightly as the huck immediately went up and didn’t have enough float. Once I saw the disc on the ground, I looked at the clock to see how much time we had. I noticed Tim on the field calling for a timeout, and it looked to me like it had been granted, so I started to walk to the sideline. I then realized the play was still going.” Madison’s Andrew Meshnick added, “The atmosphere at Breese on Saturday night was unlike any ultimate game I’ve ever played in before. Several players mentioned how difficult it was to hear the offensive play being called when they were on the line and the teammates speaking were literally just a few feet away.” The referees’ failure to grant the timeout is unfortunate and painful, but with Meshnick’s explanation of the noise in the stadium, it is also understandable. Obviously, it adds to the heartbreak for the Radicals and their fans.
The final moments from Saturday night's epic thriller.
3.One wonders how we would remember the Seattle-Madison game differently if the timeout had been granted earlier or if the Radicals had been able to convert the desperation huck at the end. It would not have ended the game, but it would likely have extended it. Madison’s Kevin Pettit-Scantling shared how he will feel haunted by that missed opportunity for a long time. “I can see the game tying disc above me still, like when you look at the light and it’s turned off suddenly,” KPS said. “I see myself getting position, then jumping flat-footed and falling too soon as the disc floats out of reach. I mistimed my jump, and the Seattle’s defenders crushed the space underneath the disc, leaving no room for a second effort.” It would have been another legendary moment in the unforgettable game, but it didn’t work out, and the tears began to flow. “How am I feeling now?” KPS asked rhetorically. “Heartbroken. Every time I think about Saturday, or even Sunday watching the Seattle game, my stomach aches. And I hardly go an hour without thinking about it. Friends and family have reached out to support, but it’s different than it was in previous years. This truly hurt. It seemed like every time I hugged one of my teammates or family, I had fresh tears in my eyes.” These emotions are obviously powerful and illustrate how much Pettit-Scantling and the Radicals had invested in their AUDL journey. As a player or a fan, you often head into a big game bracing for an incredible high or a brutal suffering, with little in between. It’s the power of sports, and the pain that Madison is experiencing now will soften over time. More importantly, the eventual glory is even greater if it’s achieved following an excruciating outcome like Saturday night.
4.While Seattle did not fall in heartbreaking fashion on Sunday, it was a maddening moment at the end of the first quarter that massively impacted the Cascades’ momentum. Every viewer could feel things shift when the pull clanked off Karlinsky’s hands. While Dallas quickly capitalized, Karlinsky’s reaction left an indelible impression. He exited the field with a guilty, humble smile, and his teammates promptly embraced him like he has scored the game winner. “I think that’s my fourth or fifth dropped pull in my career, but certainly the biggest in terms of stage,” shared Karlinsky. “I was acutally really excited for the pull as it came in because I saw we’d get some good yardage off the centering pass. Oops. The best part of that was the reaction my teammates had. I actually felt more supported after I dropped that than I can remember feeling in years. Everyone came up and gave me a high-five, looked me in the eyes, and got me ready to move forward. You just gotta let things like that go, or you’ll always kill yourself; I’ll live.” Mistakes happen, and dealing with them the right way make you stronger. Karlinsky’s demeanor and message in the aftermath of his error are exemplary.
The true spirit of the Cascades was on constant display this past weekend.
5.The pace of Sunday’s championship game was kinda nuts. Though it slowed down a bit after the blackjack opening quarter, there were still 60 goals scored in 48 minutes, a season-high for both the Roughnecks and the Cascades. With 4:39 remaining in the second quarter, Kurt Gibson found Jimmy Mickle to make it 17-15, matching the score from last year’s finals exactly. In 2015, the Spiders and Radicals scored as many goals in 48 minutes as the Roughnecks and Cascades did in 19 minutes, 21 seconds this past Sunday. As I told the video crew on Sunday night, the league could probably produce Top 10 reels from each Championship Weekend game, as opposed to the typical Championship Weekend Top 10 with plays from all three games. Remember the in-field greatest from Mark Lloyd or the full extension layout from Ben Snell? Those plays have been overshadowed by everything else that happened. Someone could also probably make a Top 10 Nick Stuart highlight reel, just using clips from his four playoff games, and still have some noteworthy moments that would not fit. It was a great weekend for many of the sport’s top playmakers.
Mark Lloyd's in-field, buzzer-beating greatest had shades of Derek Jeter.
6.At some point in the next week or two, the league will officially announce All-AUDL teams and declare a 2016 MVP. In the interest of full disclosure, I share my opinions with a few other dignitaries as a part of the small committee of decision-makers. All of the conversations are difficult because there will always be worthy players that get left out. But the choice for MVP is particularly vexing this season, as evidenced by the postgame conversation that I had with the four analysts on our Facebook Live studio show on Sunday afternoon. There were five people on the set, and we came up with five different MVPs. If you missed it, the five names mentioned were LA’s Mark Elbogen, Madison’s Peter Graffy, Jacksonville’s Mischa Freystaetter, Seattle’s Mark Burton, and Dallas’s Jimmy Mickle. Atlanta’s Dylan Tunnell did not receive a mention on Sunday, but I know there are some vouching for his MVP credentials as well. By a narrow margin, I think I support Mickle’s candidacy the most, but I am very open to being convinced why I am wrong. And I may be wrong.
7. Seattle could have won the AUDL Championship on Sunday, but it still would not have been the highlight of the week for the owners of the Cascades. Last Wednesday, the Five Ultimate family welcomed a joyous new addition, as Vehro Titcomb’s wife Diane Garvey gave birth to their first child, an 8 lbs, 1.2 oz. girl named Phylamena. It is the first child for any of the five Titcomb siblings, and the new aunts and uncles were understandably quite excited. Congratulations to all! I hope I can broadcast Phylamena Garvey’s college semifinal in 20 years.
Not including the audio Toss recorded from London this past June, this is the 41st Tuesday Toss over the past 16 months, dating back to the premiere effort from April 14, 2015. This column began as an attempt to emulate Peter King’s excellent Monday Morning Quarterback column that he has written over the past couple decades, and it has evolved into a labor of love, full of gratifying challenges and satisfying Wednesdays.
I am extraordinarily grateful to so many people in the ultimate community, especially the leaders of the AUDL who allow me to devote my life to sharing their stories. From the owners around the league that see value in the things I create to the coaches who selflessly give their time and minds to making me smarter, I obviously could not cover the pro ultimate landscape without their support. Furthermore, they give me a platform to say what I believe, even if is not the most positive story or flattering fact.
Around the league, there are hundreds of players that have millions of stories to share. Uncovering and revealing just a small handful of these stories is quite simply an honor. There are so many special people in this community, and their willingness to open their lives to my weekly investigations is appreciated beyond understanding.
Traveling from city to city for the ESPN3 Game of the Week, I am humbled when people tell me that they look forward to reading the Tuesday Toss every week. I know that its length and depth is not for everyone, but I am amazed by the number of folks who claim they genuinely enjoy it.
Like last year, I will take a short break from the weekly grind over the next month. But I will be back in the offseason as news dictates. As the league builds off the momentum of the greatest weekend it has ever seen, I would bet there will be plenty of interesting developments to be written about in the near future.
Thank you for reading, and please stay in touch!
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