The 2018 Indianapolis AlleyCats had a great season with some really big wins and exciting moments, but in the end they came up one game short of playing in Championship Weekend. But that was last year, and the Cats are hard at work to build on the best regular season they have had in franchise history. As the 'Cats return 21 of the players from the 2018 roster, a team that scored the second most points in the Midwest, things look to be starting on the right foot for 2019.
The Old and the New
The 2019 AlleyCats roster sees over 1200 points vacated by players who are not returning to the team. There are three players at the top of that list who all were on the field for 274 possessions or more. This leaves major opportunity for some of the new young players to have an impact early in the season. One player who should absorb a large share of the minutes is free agent acquisition Brett Matzuka. Matzuka is a naturally gifted player with a very smooth style of play that makes each throw look easy. As a guy who does not accumulate a lot of numbers in the stat book (30 goals, 39 blocks), he may come off as an underrated add for the 'Cats, but people who have seen him play, or played next to him, will tell you that he is a top tier talent, just ask Indy Head Coach Eric Leonard.
“He is such an incredible player with loads of high level experience, and he will bring a needed veteran presence and winning pedigree to the team," Leonard said of Matzuka. "His joy for the game is palpable.”
When discussing talent and where it comes from, you will hear most people talk about the talent pool, but Indianapolis has a grove. Center Grove High School will see three more of its graduates join the ranks in the AUDL this year for the AlleyCats. The school, already having seen the likes of Keenan Plew, Levi Jacobs, and Nick Hutton come through the ranks, will now send Alex Henderson, Jeremy Keusch, and Dustin Baird into the fold full time. These three players helped lead the Center Grove team to a second place finish in Nationals just one year ago. Now they get to help a team try to reach the coveted Championship Weekend.
A few AlleyCats who we haven’t seen for awhile should also be making an impact this year. David Hortemiller was last seen in the AUDL in 2016 for Indy and was a big part of the team in just eight games that season. During that season he averaged over 20 possessions per game with an assist and just under three goals. The other is Jake ‘Specs’ Fella who is returning to the field after a bad knee injury ended his season early. Fella had been selected for and competed on the U24 team just a few months before the start of the AUDL season, and his talent on the defensive side of the disc was one that everyone was excited for. That excitement has not been lost on the coaching staff, who can not wait to see him back this year, though we may have to wait just a little longer. “We are trying to be very cautious with his recovery and are looking to limit the risk of re-injury, so we are making absolutely sure he is 100% before he sees the field.” said Leonard, putting his availability for the first couple weeks in question.
The ‘Core Four’
Indianapolis has a group of players that have long been a part of the team. In fact, of the original six members of the league, four of them still play in the Circle City. Cameron Brock, Keenan Plew, Kyle Cox, and Travis Carpenter help to make up an important core for the team.
Carpenter was recently named to the “25 Under 25” list for the sport and was honored to see his efforts recognized, but according to him “I knew I had more to give”. He revealed that he had been playing through plantar fasciitis last year, and felt that his conditioning suffered because of it. If he can lead the team in points played while battling injury, it is exciting to think what he can do healthy.
Indianapolis is also returning All AUDL First-Team member Rick Gross, who over the last two season has been one of the most impactful players in the league. A true two way player, Rick has scored 117 goals over the past two season, but also put up 54 block to go with it. His high flying talents will be back on the field in 2019 to fill up the highlight reels once more.
In a sport that loves to see huge hucks and layout scores, the 2018 'Cats were one of the best at preventing that. The team finished the season third in the league on defense, giving up less than 21 points per game and recording more than 14 blocks per game. The good news for the AlleyCats is that most of the defensive side of the disc is returning intact, led in no short part by Nick Hutton. Hutton, who is known for his many well timed layout blocks, has put up double digits in the category every year of his career, and sits at 93 coming into the season. But Hutton is not the only one who will be looking to swat the disc, as both Carpenter and John Jones have set personal goals for themselves to increase their amount of blocks on the season.
When the 2019 schedule was released, one of the most exciting games for the AlleyCats came right away in the first game of the season, as they get to host the Madison Radicals and prove that last year’s win was no fluke. The hardest part of the schedule for the 'Cats this year though will come right before the All-Star break in weeks 7-9, when they have three straight road games and end the first half at Breese Stevens Field. The first game of the stretch, at Minnesota Wind Chill, is the only game the 'Cats lost last year to a non-Madison team.
As the league continues to broaden the exposure of the sport, the non-division games are a major part of that and this year Indy will play host to the Atlanta Hustle in Week 6. Last year the Hustle were 7-7 and third in the South Division.