The Tuesday Toss: Spiders’ Scintillating Saturday Overshadows Ashlin’s Return
June 27, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
The Tuesday Toss Archive
Here’s one relatively simple lesson I have learned from my past half-decade covering ultimate: If you are a very good frisbee player and your friends are also very good frisbee players, it’s very hard to not continue playing frisbee. Even if you have made the choice to ‘retire’ or take a season off, you don’t fully abandon your friends, who are still serving as a gradual gravitational force, slowly pulling you back in. Sooner or later, you will likely be re-absorbed into the ultimate orbit, in some form or another.
For Ashlin Joye, whose last appearance in the AUDL was the 2015 Championship game at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium, medical school has been his top priority over the past couple years. It is hard to fault him for making this life choice, even if plenty of fans were bummed to be missing out on a year or two of his playing prime. When Joye would then reappear as the center handler on the US National Team, it would remind everyone who may have forgotten that he was still one of the greatest throwers in the world.
Ashlin Joye won back-to-back championships with the San Jose Spiders in 2014 and 2015.
So it was not totally surprising to see Joye appear on the San Francisco FlameThrowers active roster on Saturday for their first-place tilt with San Jose. Rejoining many of his old teammates, the now 29-year-old handler returned to the stadium where he initially became an AUDL star. Before the game, it was easy to embrace the idea that his presence would tip the scale and the FlameThrowers would strengthen their grasp on the top spot in the West Division.
Of course, as you almost surely know by now, Joye’s return was way bumpier than expected, a reminder that there are no shortcuts to greatness. The San Jose Spiders took a 3-0 lead and never trailed for a single second in their tremendous 29-26 victory over the FlameThrowers on Saturday night at Foothill College, reclaiming first place in the West.
With four wild weekends remaining in the AUDL regular season, all four divisions are set to crescendo in July. As this past weekend illustrated, we have no idea what will happen.
The Full Field Layout
Beau Kittredge, the only three-time champion in AUDL history, celebrated his 35th birthday this past Friday. That was the backdrop for his buddy’s return, which he and fellow FlameThrower Captain Lucas Dullmann had been talking about with Joye for a few weeks.
“[The FlameThrowers] were gonna be down some good players and short on numbers, so I was considering helping them out,” Joye explained. “Plus, it was going to be a fun game. Then, it was Beau’s birthday, and I figured what better birthday present than to play with him on a huge field and throw him a bunch of hucks?”
It was a great idea in principle, but the early payoff was poor.
“Yea, I think he threw five turns in his first seven throws,” said Kittredge, his words coated in his own personal brand of truthful sarcasm. “Pretty good birthday present.”
Ironically, Joye, Kittredge, and Dallmann all had throwaways during the FlameThrowers very shaky start, in which San Jose ran off three consecutive breaks to take a 3-0 lead even before many of the lively crowd of around 750 had found their seats.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played worse, unfortunately,” Joye offered in an honest self-assessment. “I think I had four or five relatively unforced turnovers in our first seven offensive possessions—Happy Birthday Beau! After that, I was able to tighten it up and didn’t throw any the rest of the game, but I never really felt like I got into a rhythm. I could make a lot of excuses as to why I didn’t play well, but I do have to credit the Spiders. They played smart, energetic defense and took away a lot of my downfield looks with double teams, sagging handlers, and poaches.”
San Francisco did stabilize late in the first quarter to tie the score at four. Both offenses were much smoother in the second, and the game remained deadlocked at the half, 12-all. The Spiders D registered an impressive string of breaks in the third, though, catapulting San Jose on a 7-2 rally that built the lead as large as five. The FlameThrowers inched back within two on a couple occasions over the final 12 minutes, but never got closer than that.
“I think this was really a great team effort, but obviously Sonny Zaccaro and Andrew Berry had huge games for us on offense,” said San Jose’s Steven Chang. “Sonny had a few awesome grabs in traffic for goals, and Berry had a bunch of nice deep shots for easy goals. Defensively, Ethan Falat continued to get jawdropping Ds, and Matt Jaffe and the D-line handling crew kept the disc constantly moving, which was crucial to their success.”
Highlights from June 24 between San Francisco and San Jose.
While it’s easy to point out the caliber of players that the FlameThrowers were missing—superstars like Cassidy Rasmussen, Grant Lindsley, Joel Schlachet, Mac Taylor, Nathan White, Byron Liu, etc.—the Spiders were not at full strength either. San Jose was without its own MVP candidate, Justin Norden, and key cogs like Evan Boucher and Kelly Van Arsdale were also absent.
“On offense, I’ve been surprised with how consistent we’ve been with Norden out,” admitted San Jose O-line cutter Jackson Stearns. “We’ve stopped taking as many 50/50 shots and really focused on just hitting the open guy quickly. That trend continued this week with Andrew Berry and Sonny Z stepping up in particular. Berry has been hitting the track and weight room all year, and you can really tell the difference. While Sonny is always effective, in this game in particular he recognized he had a mismatch a few times and capitalized by going deep.”
Every week across the league, almost every team is missing someone who would make them better. The reality is that the best teams are deep and malleable and able to figure out lots of different ways to win. The Spiders, after dropping two straight, have responded by beating San Diego on the road and San Francisco at home, re-establishing themselves as legitimate contenders.
“I think this win was about taking back some respect,” Stearns said bluntly. “After the two-game losing streak, we could feel the rest of the league start to count us out again. In San Diego, we knew we’d have excuses to lose—no coach, Norden and Chang out, on the road, etc.—so we really wanted to stop the bleeding, which we did. This game was more about proving to everyone else that we are a team to be taken seriously. Everyone makes excuses for San Francisco based on who they’re missing one week to the next, but I think we wanted to win to show them and everyone else that we don’t care who is across from us. We’re going to play hard. We did that. We beat them, and now we want to keep that momentum going down the stretch.”
After a couple weekends off, the Spiders (8-3) are back in action at home against Seattle on Friday night, July 14, and a road doubleheader at San Diego and Los Angeles caps their regular season a week later. Meanwhile, the FlameThrowers (7-4) get the Cascades on the second night of a back-to-back on July 15 before heading to the Pacific Northwest for matchups with Seattle and Vancouver on July 22-23.
“After a couple losses to snap our 6-0 streak, this game proved that we are just as good as we were at the beginning of the season,” said Spiders Coach Tyler Grant. “We trained hard early, and a long season can take its toll on players. This game proved that our ability to maintain focus and improve during the season is real. It shows that we’re fully capable of both making the playoffs and possibly winning the West.”
Will the FlameThrowers have Joye in their lineup down the stretch? He says he has not decided yet, but reading the tea leaves suggests he will seriously consider it. His teammates will probably keep chirping about wanting him there, and his presence is a wild card to the championship conversation.
“I can’t wait to play [the Spiders] in the playoffs with a full roster,” said Kittredge.
When Los Angeles travels to Vancouver, madness usually ensues.
“For the past three years, we’ve had one point nail-biters in that stadium,” said LA’s Bryan Nguyen. “Year one was when we launched the disc with the hope of killing time and then Vancouver got the disc and launched it right back into the end zone and a huge sky to force OT, where we eventually lost. Year two was when we did basically the same thing, except when Vancouver got the disc, their huck sailed out of bounds and we squeaked by with a win. Then this year…basically, I’ve lost a year of my life in the last few points of these games from the stress.”
In 2015, the Riptide beat the Aviators on a miraculous sequence at the buzzer.
The Aviators’ current circumstances only added to the tension, knowing that their playoff positioning and perhaps their postseason survival were very much at stake. Plus, the 1-10 Riptide were not ready to just roll over. Vancouver fell behind 8-4 in the first half, but forged a 9-3 response to take a 13-11 lead early in the third.
Tied at 16-all heading into the fourth, the Riptide D-line generated multiple turns on a marathon point which they eventually punched in for a go-ahead score. The feisty Aviators battled back with their own 4-0 rally, registering three consecutive breaks to seemingly seize control. Of course, the Riptide would continue the topsy-turvy story, inching back within one at 20-19.
Highlights from June 24 between Los Angeles and Vancouver.
Nguyen can pick up the story from there.
“We were up by one with just a handful of seconds left,” he said. “We received the pull and just had to swing the disc a few times to kill the time remaining on the clock. We were about one throw away when Vancouver got a hug poach layout D with something like four seconds left, about 20 yards outside the end zone. They picked up and launched a hammer to the break-side end zone. Brent George read the play and the disc pretty perfectly and had a jumping layout block to prevent OT. I had a first row view of the D and gave him a huge hug after and sighed with relief.”
The dramatic triumph improved the Aviators to 6-4, but they were still on the fringe of dropping out of the West Division’s final playoff spot heading into their Sunday contest at 5-4 Seattle. Conditions were brutal, in the mid-upper 90s on the steaming hurt, and the Cascades were theoretically the fresher club.
But the circumstances of Seattle’s SoCal road trip repeated themselves when the Cascades crumbled in the second half. After building a four-goal lead in the second quarter, the Cascades coughed up their advantage early in the third.
“The game was ups and downs, an emotional roller coaster,” said Seattle’s Mark Burton. “Really tough to preach about grit and grind in those [90-degree] conditions. We showed fight and again showed what kind of team we can be, but there was definitely a different energy.”
In the final seconds of the third quarter, Seattle thought they had tied the game again when Reid Hendrickson elevated for a big catch as the buzzer sounded. But the referees ruled that the throw had not been released before the clock hit zeroes, and the Aviators led 21-20 after three.
Over the final 12 minutes, Los Angeles hung on, building and maintaining a multi-goal lead throughout the rest of their 29-27 triumph to complete a magnificent 2-0 road trip. And the Cascades lost again after leading at the half, the third time in the last four games that this has happened to Seattle.
“The second half was when our D-line took over,” said Nguyen. “Andrew Padula, Mitchell Steiner, Andrew Johl, and Brandon Severson had really big games. They all played solid defense and were very chilly with the disc when we got the turn.”
Seattle had begun the game with 17 players, but injuries to Aldous Root and Tommy Li whittled the Cascades down to 15 bodies at the end. The lack of depth has caught up to them on many occasions, even as they continue to battle with everything they’ve got.
“They demonstrated a ton of resolve,” said Aviators Coach Franklin Rho. “We were never truly comfortable until there was about a minute left.
“I think most of the Aviators would agree that Bryan Nguyen aka Stig was the player of the weekend. He made a number of highlight plays, including the sick second chance grab that’s populating social media. Also, Zac Schakner had a great weekend. He’s really close to the form he was at before his cancer surgery—so remarkable!”
At 7-4, the Aviators are tied with the FlameThrowers for second place in the West, though San Francisco owns the tiebreaker between the two clubs. Los Angeles is off this weekend, at San Diego on July 8, then home for its final two games on July 15 and July 22, against San Diego and San Jose, respectively.
Winning a pair on the road while missing three pivotal O-line starters like Eli Friedman, Tom Doi, or Allen Lai illustrates how the Aviators have to be taken seriously down the stretch. With a little help, Los Angeles could still win the regular season title too!
“I think the primary takeaway for the weekend is that when we play as a team we an hang with anyone in the division,” said Nguyen. “There were times when we were down a few breaks, but we didn’t get flustered because we knew the D-line could pull it off.”
At 5-5, the Cascades are within striking distance of a playoff spot, but are saddled with a very daunting schedule. After they play at home against Vancouver on Friday, the Cascades will travel to San Jose and San Francisco before hosting the FlameThrowers in the finale.
“As a captain and leader of this team, I need to do a better job to keep the fire and energy for all four [remaining games,]” said Burton. “You know I look forward to these upcoming games and that is what I am going to preache. We get to be the Green Bay Packers of last year and ‘run the table.’ I think we are capable of doing it and we have proven that we can beat San Francisco and should have beaten San Jose. It is time to run the table, and I believe that we can.”
Like every LA-Vancouver game, Atlanta and Austin have experienced a series of thrilling and often bizarre heartstopping finishes as well. After the Hustle had fallen by two in Dallas on Saturday, Atlanta would encounter an even closer conclusion on Sunday against the Sol.
“Another ridiculous game against Atlanta,” said Austin’s Jeff Loskorn. “It’s remarkable how every game, even going back to last season, has been decided by fewer than a couple points. And probably half have gone to OT. It’s crazy how well-matched we are.”
Throughout the first three quarters of regulation, neither the Sol nor Hustle ever led by more than two. At 18-17 heading into the fourth, Austin began to create some separation. The Sol’s 3-1 run to open the final frame stretched the advantage to 21-18, yet they could not put the game away. Like the gravitational pull that brought Ashlin Joye back to the AUDL, it’s almost like there’s a magnetic force in Austin-Atlanta games that boosts the energy and ability of the trailing team.
A 4-1 run in the final minutes of regulation knotted the score at 22, and after the Sol could not convert the game-winner in the final 12 seconds, overtime beckoned for the third time in five all-time meetings between these two franchises.
Highlights from June 25 between Atlanta and Austin.
In the first 3:52 of overtime, each team scored three times. Then, with 26 seconds left, Jeff Loskorn’s fifth assist handed Doug Richardson his sixth goal, giving the Sol a 26-25 lead. And that’s when the chaos really commenced!
“We were up by one with like 15 seconds left,” explained Loskorn. “We fouled on the mark, they walked it up 10 yards and tapped it in, made one pass, and threw a jump ball, which got point blocked by [Andrew] Walch. Game over. It was like we won the Super Bowl! The crowd was jumping, probably rushing the field, we were popping bottles, it was awesome. We start shaking hands when we were told to clear the field. It had been raining on and off and we assumed it was due to lightning or something. Turns out they didn’t stop the clock with the foul at the 15 second mark and six seconds ran off unintentionally. So, they put nine seconds back on the clock and get the seven from each team back on the field. Atlanta was getting the disc back about 30 yards outside the end zone, and we have to replay from there.”
On the field, it was a mix of hope, frustration, and amusement, as if all the players recognized they were simply pawns being shuffled by the chuckling whims of the frisbee Gods.
“We were just looking at each other smiling,” Loskorn remembered, “like this is exactly how this game should go. Double OT, here we come. Atlanta ended up getting a good look to [Josh] Bush, but luckily Chase [Cunningham] made a great play to knock it down. Re-rush the field, re-pop the bottles, celebration #2 commence!”
Though it was just their third victory of the season, the 3-8 Sol cherished the moment. Aside from being just another bafflingly close chapter against the Hustle, they looked at it as an important building block for the long road ahead.
“Doug Richardson stepped up big for us, with six goals and three assists,” said Loskorn. “[Matthew] Bierschenk was solid cutting. Mick Walter continues to be in the right place at the right time. Michael Hays made some nice deep Ds. [Michael] Matthis did a great job at least slowing down Vickroy, and high school standout Elliott Moore had another sweet layout under D. Kyle Henke, another 18-year-old, scored in his first AUDL game. Gives some good perspective on the future of the franchise.”
In the East Division, the bottom two teams, Philly and Ottawa each had doubleheaders this past weekend. While the Outlaws battled New York tough on Saturday and the Phoenix earned their first win over Ottawa on Sunday, the main story from Week 13 in the East was that the Empire and Breeze both survived.
On Saturday, New York did its best to make things interesting against the undermanned Outlaws.
“We were missing seven players to Beach Worlds, along with a few others to prior commitments,” said Ottawa’s Nick Boucher. “We ended up going down with 20 players, [including] two who were signed earlier that week from the practice roster.”
One might think that the Empire would feast on this particular Ottawa squad, much like they did in their 27-14 rout over Philadelphia the previous weekend. Unfortunately, many of New York’s early-season offensive struggles resurfaced.
Highlights from June 24 between Ottawa and New York.
“We only allowed three breaks in that [Philly] game, and none of them were in a row,” said New York Coach CJ Ouellette. “Against the Outlaws, we gave up four breaks in just the second quarter alone. It feels like half our turns were after someone made a great cut or grab and just rushed their next throw.”
After leading 6-3 early, the Empire found themselves down 11-8 at the half. They stormed back ahead with a 9-4 third quarter to lead 17-15 heading into the fourth, but again struggled to finish on their homefield.
“We were playing fearlessly, throwing the disc, and all of our throws were paying off, said Boucher, who recorded eight assists against New York. “This led to us jumping out to an early lead, but it also led to us ultimately losing the game. As New York adjusted, and the upwind/downwind continued, our deep shots ended up leading to turnovers in the second half, with [Ben] Jagt, [Mike] Drost, and Jeff [Babbitt] anticipating throws. Their ability to generate blocks on the 50/50s were what ultimately got them back in the game. In the fourth quarter, Jagt had two bookend jump-ball blocks followed by jump-ball goals, which really turned the game for them.”
The Outlaws created ties at 17, 18, and 20, before the Empire finally took the lead for good.
“The most critical moment mentally probably came on one of our Captains, Ian Guerin’s, huge layout goal for a break and the 20-18 lead,” said Ouellette. “Even though we gave up another break after that to tie the game up, I think I felt the mentality change and the guys relaxed a bit. After getting broken, the offense went back out and worked it patiently up the field to score easily. Then the defense came out again and forced them to make a bad decision huck into coverage that [Jeff] Babbitt grabbed and went deep for an easy huck from [Ben] Jagt. After trading a couple more points, the defense came out and played a long point, forcing a turn, but not being able to capitalize. Thankfully, though, this effort took a lot of time off the clock, and we were able to just hold the disc for the win after working the disc around.”
While not necessarily the inspiring dominance that announces their determined roar into the playoff picture, the Empire’s narrow 23-22 victory over the Outlaws did include some clutch playmaking that could bode well as they embark on a five-game road trip to conclude their regular season. At 4-5, the Empire only trail 7-4 Montreal by one game in the loss column. Plus, if the Empire can beat the Royal in Montreal this weekend, they can seize the critical head-to-head tiebreaker.
“At this point, it’s do or die against Montreal on Saturday, so we have to bring everything we have in that game,” said Ouellette candidly. “We’re going to work hard on strategy during practice this week and go into that game as prepared as possible. In the end, it will come down to whether or not we can play our game for the full 48 minutes. If we do that, I like our chances.”
While New York was surviving against Ottawa, DC proffered a strong statement against Philadelphia. The Breeze had dropped their last game against the Phoenix, a surprising 22-21 setback on June 3, but they clinched a playoff spot for the second straight season by avenging that loss at home on Saturday, leading wire-to-wire in their 25-17 triumph over Philly.
Highlights from June 24 between Philadelphia and DC.
“It was a perfect night in DC, a little bit of wind in the high 70s,” said DC’s Max Cassell, who would score a team-best four goals in the victory. “The game started off pretty ugly; one of the first points of the game had seven turnovers, and it was just really sloppy. From that point on, though, DC had control the whole way. We took a few goal, first quarter lead and slowly built on it throughout the game. The O-line did a good job of getting our defense back out on the field. We are starting to nail down our offensive chemistry, with Nate Prior getting more responsibility and Joe Freund being another huge downfield threat ever since he joined the team.”
At 9-4, the Breeze have nearly a month off before they travel to Philly for their regular season finale on July 22. Between now and then, they can spectate a few pivotal matchups in the East, like New York at Montreal this weekend and Montreal at Toronto next weekend. If the chips fell the right way, DC could rise back into the #1 spot and enjoy home field advantage in the East Division final.
Every week, we learn more about the Philadelphia Phoenix.
This past Sunday, after both the Phoenix and Outlaws had lost on the road the day before, Philly outplayed Ottawa in a 22-14 victory that improved the Phoenix to 3-9 on the season. It was an important stride for a franchise that had gone 1-27 over the past two years and had never knocked off the Outlaws before.
“On Sunday, we were in a close game until a long point in the third quarter where they came off the field straight gassed and we were still ready to go,” said Philly’s Sean Mott, who registered six assists and three goals in the eight-goal win. “After the third quarter, we knew they were gassed and honestly it’s the first time this season I saw our D-line take absolute control of a game. We were up three or four going into the fourth, then boom, were up six or seven and I’m walking out to the line for D just cause they don’t want me to get cold.”
While a playoff run won’t be in the cards for Philly this year, the Phoenix are instituting a culture that will lay the foundation for the future. Ironically, their oldest player has a big role in setting the standard for the future.
On Friday, 46-year-old Trey Katzenbach was winning a gold medal with the USA Mixed Masters team at Beach Worlds in France. After a long trek home on Saturday, Katzenbach was back on the field for the Phoenix on Sunday, sending an important message to all of the younger guys on the team.
“Honestly, Trey is like a dad to me, and frankly he’s old enough to be,” Mott said. “He reels us all in when we are getting too huck-happy, and he basically commands the offense and tells me, Nicky [Spiva], and all the studs who have an ego from being pretty decent to just chill out because none of us will ever be on his level, being 46 straight schooling 20-year-olds.”
The Phoenix will seek to play spoiler in their final two regular season games, both at home. Philly hosts New York on June 15 and DC on June 22.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
As the clock wound down on Saturday night at Foothill College, the energized Spiders crowd relished the scene. With about 20 seconds left, the San Jose fans proudly counted down to the team’s official ascendance back into first place.
Amidst the Spiders faithful were a pair of Ashlin Joye’s relatives.
“My aunt and uncle from Palo Alto, staunch Spiders fans, showed up to the game wearing their Spiders jerseys,” said Joye, who wore Cassidy Rasmussen’s #9 FlameThrower jersey in his impromptu debut with San Francisco. “They were still willing to hug me.
“It was definitely a little weird going back to Foothill with an orange and white Rasmussen jersey on, especially yelling ‘Flame-on!’ during huddles. I felt a little bit like I was betraying some fans that had cheered me on in previous years, but there were no weird interactions with fans, and it was great chatting with [Spiders Owner Andrew] Zill after the game.”
On this day, at least, Zill and the dedicated Spiders fans had the last laugh.
After six quick days in France broadcasting Beach Worlds, it was time to return home on Sunday. Unfortunately, a freak injury on Saturday would make this pretty daunting experience.
A couple weeks shy of 32, I’m far from being in the greatest shape of my life. However, I felt perfectly fine throughout most of my time in Royan. On Thursday, I ran a mile-plus down the beach on a whim to catch the USA men’s team beat Spain on universe point. On Friday, I tossed a disc with my commentating companions late into the night, laying out into the sand on more than one occasion in my short-sleeved button-down shirt. So on Saturday, I had absolutely no suspicions that I was on the verge of a tidal wave of pain.
All of the championship games and award ceremonies were over, so obviously I was one of many barefooted spectators on the show pitch enjoying the first-hand flight of the disc. At one point, the frisbee was sailing over my head, and I went to leap for it. Unfortunately, my push-off foot kinda sank into sand, and my upper-body did not rise as smoothly as I subconsciously planned. Instantaneously, I felt a painful twinge in my lower back. Uh-oh.
Hoping it would be a minor tweak that I could ‘play through,’ I continued tossing for a few more minutes before I realized that I had to stop. Suddenly, my mobility was minimized and every step became a challenge.
Over the course of the evening, it became clear that this was not a minor thing. I had never experienced substantial back pain before, but it was all seemingly catching up to me. Simple actions like walking slowly would result in excruciating spasms, which frankly were very scary since I was such a novice in this type of ordeal.
Saturday night, despite some medication for the pain, was brutal. Sleep was minimal, and I was staring ahead at a three-flight, approximately 21-hour journey back home. If not for the comfort that I would be traveling with two other close friends/colleagues, I probably would not have embarked on the journey myself.
Thankfully, a couple serendipitous encounters at the Bordeaux Airport proved to be amazingly beneficial. First, a physio from Germany saw me and offered to help. Immediately, I accepted. Then, as she was examining and tweaking my lower back at the gate for our flight, I saw Ben Dieter in the distance. Then, I remembered that the gold medalist of the USA Men’s Master’s beach team and the Raleigh Flyers’ veteran cutter also happened to be a doctor. Ya know, in his spare time.
After getting his attention, he also generously took a look at my beleaguered condition and provided invaluable assistance. Out of his own traveling backpack, like he was prepared for this exact situation, he pulled out three different medications—perhaps he assumed he’d need them for some of his old Master’s teammates—and they all proved to be gamechangers in hastening my recovery and making me more comfortable throughout my long day of flying.
As I sit here on Tuesday, I am far from 100%, but the muscle strain I experienced is feeling lightyears better than it was just 60 hours ago. I am enormously grateful for all who helped me along the way, especially Luke Johnson and Ian Lunger, who patiently and calmly enabled me to travel alongside them back to the States.
Patrick van der Valk, the president of BULA (Beach Ultimate Lovers Association), and his wife, Sofia, were also otherworldly in their kindness and assistance in helping me deal with this experience on Saturday night in France.
Aside from much of this Tuesday Toss being written while leaning back against a large ice pack, everything is mostly normal. And after another week or two of rest and some increased stretching, I’m confident that I’ll soon be very ready to toss again on the beach with anyone who asks.
Seven on the Line
1. Did you see what the Raleigh Flyers did to the Jacksonville Cannons in the third quarter on Saturday night? Well, let’s just say that the Cannons scored first and last. In between, the Flyers went on a little bit of a run. Raleigh only led 10-9 early in the third when everything began to click and the Flyers scored 10 consecutive goals! Unsurprisingly, the Cannons never recovered, as Raleigh won 27-13. “To be perfectly honest, Jacksonville was missing several of their top players,” said Raleigh Assistant Coach David Allison. “So while we were playing without some of our top players, our depth really allowed us to have an overall advantage in talent. We opened the game with two straight breaks and a hold. I think the team mentally relaxed after the opening few points, which allowed Jacksonville to hang around in the first half. We wasted several chances to break on poor offensive discipline. Moreover, Jacksonville caught a buzzer beater at the end of the first and second quarter, which also kept the score closer than you might expect if you looked at the lineups. At halftime, [Head Coach] Mike Denardis spoke plainly about the mentality we needed to adopt in the second half. His comments were enough to alter the team’s mindset, and we came out significantly more focused on playing our game. We executed our stuff, and Jacksonville didn’t have enough talent to keep up. The breaks then started piling up.” The win improved Raleigh to 11-1, and the Flyers are a couple victories over Nashville away from being 13-1 and sealing homefield advantage for the South Division title game.
Highlights from June 24 between Jacksonville and Raleigh.
2. Perhaps representing a microcosm of Raleigh’s advantage over Jacksonville this season, while both teams were missing a bunch of regulars, the Flyers’ deadly depth was on display as former UNC-Wilmington star Jack Williams made his 2017 AUDL debut on Saturday night. In 15 points, mostly playing offense, Williams accumulated one goal and three assists as Raleigh rolled. “It was nice to have a chance to get Jack Williams out there to start working him into our offensive schemes,” acknowledged Allison. “He definitely adds another dimension that opponents have to consider when scouting the Flyers O.”
3. While they did not deliver as dominant a performance as Raleigh, the Dallas Roughnecks kept pace, staying within a game of the Flyers by hanging on against Atlanta. The Roughnecks built an early 4-0 lead and looked like they may run away with it, but the Hustle stayed within striking distance and inched within one score early in the fourth quarter. At 16-15, the Roughnecks used a 15-throw, turnover-free possession to make the score 17-15. Then, at 17-16, Casey Hogg registered an important D to prevent the Hustle from tying the game for the first time. After a four-turnover point, Dallas scored to go back up by two, then broke to go up by three. Atlanta never again had the disc with the chance to tie, as the Roughnecks prevailed 21-19. “Dalton Smith and Matt Bennett were huge for getting us back on track,” said Roughnecks Captain Jimmy Mickle. “Those guys keep the disc moving so quickly and do a great job of not staring at receivers downfield, instead moving the disc horizontally, which opened up our cutters. After our offense was broken a few times, we had both Bennett and Dalton play O points which helped us get back on track.” At 10-2, the Roughnecks will host Jacksonville and travel to Austin over their final team games. Winning at least one will lock up the second spot, and if the Flyers falter against Nashville, the Roughnecks could still be in position to steal home field from Raleigh. “I think the takeaway [from Saturday’s narrow victory] is that even with all our talent, we have a very high variance to our play right now,” Mickle admitted. “The good thing is that we don’t feel like we have played to our potential, so there is more room for growth, but it is frustrating at times to not be there yet. Our focus for the next couple weeks will be closing the gap between our potential and our play heading into the playoffs. We are definitely feeling energized and confident in our ability to do that.”
Highlights from June 24 between Atlanta and Dallas.
4. Dallas firmed up its final 28-man postseason roster last week, and the list indicated that the Roughnecks will be receiving some major reinforcements over the course of the next month. Specifically, Dillon Larberg and Kurt Gibson, both key contributors to last year’s perfect season who have not yet seen the field in 2017, are expected to make an impact for Dallas down the stretch. Larberg, who got married 10 days ago, is expected to make his 2017 debut against Jacksonville on July 7. A year ago, Larberg played in 14 games for Dallas, contributing 23 goals and 17 assists. He also registered 27 Ds, second-most on the championship squad behind Dan Emmons. Meanwhile, the Roughnecks are doubtful that Gibson will play in their final two regular season games, but they are confident he will be ready for the team’s first playoff game. Widely considered one of the top players in the world, Gibson will represent a gigantic addition for Dallas’ postseason title hopes. Last year, in just nine games, Gibson registered 23 goals and 35 assists.
5. There were three games involving the Midwest Division this past weekend, but none of them yielded results that were particularly surprising. Madison clobbered Detroit 21-9, while Indianapolis blew another lead against Pittsburgh, falling to the Thunderbirds 18-16. The Mechanix also lost to the Wildfire 23-16 on Sunday.
Highlights from June 24 between Detroit and Madison.
6. With eight more assists, Chicago’s Pawel Janas now has 57 for the season, moving within two of Raleigh’s Jonathan Nethercutt for the league lead in that category. By necessity, in most instances, Janas’ gun-slinging style has also caused his throwaways to add up. With 55 turnovers, he’s got 16 more than the second-highest total in the league. By the end of July, it’s entirely possible that Janas will lead the league in both assists and turnovers for the Wildfire.
7. While the final weekend of June did not mean much in the Midwest race, the first weekend of July will very likely reveal the division’s regular season champ. While both teams will have a handful of games remaining after this weekend, the rubber match between Minnesota (8-1) and Madison (9-2) feels like it will decide home field advantage. The Wind Chill beat the Radicals back in April by two, while the Radicals edged the Wind Chill by one (in overtime) in June. The winner on Saturday night (7 PM ET on the AUDL Game of the Week) will not only be alone in first place, but the victor will also gain the tiebreaker. While Madison will be at home on Saturday, the Radicals will be missing several of their mainstay contributors. While they will have regulars like Peter Graffy, Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Brian Hart, and Pat Shriwise, the Radicals will be without Andrew Meshnick, Colin Camp, Dave Wiseman, and Andrew Brown.
Highlights from the last Madison and Minnesota matchup.
If you missed it, there was certainly way more important news from France than my personal lower back issues. Over the course of the tournament, the seven American teams went 83-3, winning gold medals in six of the seven divisions. It was nearly a seven-for-seven sweep, but the USA Women’s team coughed up a 10-6 lead and fell to Russia 11-10 in the Women’s final on Saturday.
The incredible finish to the Women's Division gold medal game at the 2017 WFDF & BULA World Championships of Beach Ultimate (WCBU) in Royan, France.
It is clear and obvious that the USA is deserving of #1 status in the international hierarchy, but some of the most interesting developments are the rising relative growths of some other countries. India, for example, enjoyed its best international tournament ever, as its Mixed team finished 5th out of 32 countries in that division. It was also cool to see France advance to the semifinals in the Men’s division, emotionally winning bronze on the home sand by beating The Philippines in the third-place game.
The USA’s ultimate infrastructure is built in such a way that the Americans have a huge advantage in the player development arms race. Along with the historical edge in terms of the length of time playing the sport, the USA is well positioned to remain at the top of the world for many years to come.
At the same time, though, these international events are fantastic cultural exchanges, giving lesser-developed nations a chance to see how the best goes about their business. Relationships are built, lessons are learned, and the pathway toward future competitions is forged.
Yes, the glory of a gold medal can last forever, yet it feels almost insignificant compared to the process of sowing the seeds for the future. There are amazing ultimate players—including plenty of future AUDL personnel—all around the world, and seeing the sport grow as a worldwide phenomenon will one day make us look back at WCBU 2017 as just another small step along that fun, important journey.
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