By Hugo Sowder
Coming into this Saturday Raleigh and DC find themselves 0-1. Both teams had tight losses in their season debuts and will be hungry to improve their standings this weekend. For many fans, eyes will be on Raleigh’s offense that showed signs of it’s fast moving former self but didn’t quite play with its familiar consistency in Atlanta. Offensive troubles the Flyers early while Atlanta was able to settle in after a very lethargic start in the first half. Raleigh’s offensive motor seemed to start and stutter throughout the length of the game but the team did seem to settle into a rhythm in the second half. Part of this can be attributed to Atlanta’s defense; the Hustle ran a lot of their diamond zone and slowed down the pace of the game specifically in the first half. There were a flurry of errors (18 turnovers!) for Raleigh. Atlanta was not immune from its own 16 turnovers performance but the Hustle were able to capitalize faster on Raleigh’s mistakes in the first half and remained in control of a precarious lead throughout the game.
Flyers Captain Noah Saul makes a key interception against Atlanta late in the 4th quarter.
Even with a slow start Raleigh’s twenty person roster still clung on and never let the game slip out of reach. Raleigh’s defense had a solid opening night. Elijah Long marshalled Raleigh’s D line offense with 3 assists alongside Connor Russell who displayed great pulls and solid matchup defense on Antoine Davis. The Flyers’ defense propped up the team late in the game alongside a more consistent offensive showing. With around 20 seconds and the game tied at 17s, a late game interception set up the Flyers to potentially win. Jacob Fairfax was able to get a step open up line on Jakeem Polk but the disc bounced out of Fairfax’s extended hand and the Hustle stayed on serve into overtime, ultimately winning 19-18 after a final interception by Brett Hulsmeyer.
Antoine Davis goes up against Flyers defender Connor Russell. Russell succesfuly limited Davis to a single goal in the game.
Of all the notable Flyers performances from opening night, Anders Juengst made a statement on the Flyers offense with two assists and three goals. His movement within Raleigh’s offensive system was great. Eric Taylor also had a solid opening night notching 4 assists of his own. If the Flyers can dial in and improve possession on O they’ll be in better shape. There’s plenty of room for growth and a distinctive need for a consistent offensive identity from Raleigh right now. The game against DC offers a chance for the Flyers to continue growing into themselves and get a needed win on the board.
“I have really enjoyed our team atmosphere and how players responded to the bumps of the first game back in a while,” said Flyers head coach Mike DeNardis. “We have such an amazing and diverse skill set on this team on both the offensive and defensive side, I cannot wait until we put it all together.”
DC presents an excellent test for a full strength Flyers team.
DC Breeze head coach Darryl Stanley speaks to fans after a game.
Raleigh and DC had nearly identical start to the season 19-18 losses in games that came down to the wire. DC also had a chance to cement a clear 24-10 win over Tampa Bay the following day, propelling the Breeze to 1-1 for the season so far. Unlike Raleigh, DC is integrating fewer offensive pieces in 2021 and instead looking to a strong returning class of players to carry them forward this season. A key player who will be a critical matchup for Raleigh is Zach Norrbom, a swift lefty thrower who has steadily increased the throwing load he can take on for DC’s offense. He led the Breeze with 4 assists and 4 goals against New York, while longtime DC receiver Jeff Wodatch and Joe Richards (a former teammates of Norrbom’s from the University of Mary Washington) landed 4 and 3 goals a piece.
Zach Norrbom had a statement opening night for DC and has gradually grown into a key throwing role for the team.
Whatever the advantages of playing at home are, past matchups against DC have always proven to be a challenge for the Flyers. Disrupting DC’s offensive unit and playing a better possession oriented game will be keys to Raleigh’s success this Saturday. In past cross-divisional meetings against DC, it was the Breeze’s downfield players who presented the biggest matchup challenges to the Flyers. 2018 AUDL MVP Rowan McDonnell (who let’s be honest, can play well almost anywhere), Jeff Wodatch, and Joe Richards, make up a great crew of receivers with big throws to boot.
Jeff Wodatch throws upfield against the New York Empire.
Containing those receivers, and putting real pressure on Norrbom, and Jonny Malks who also thrived as a thrower last Saturday, will be key elements of successfully taking down DC. The showing from Raleigh’s defense against Atlanta is an encouraging sign of what the Flyers can accomplish tactically against DC’s solid offensive unit. Elijah Long has been a thriving handler defender over the years and would not be surpising to see him and Ethan Bloodworth take on the Norrbom matchup. At full strength at home the Flyers will also have personnel advantages they didn’t have last Saturday. Returners like Flyers defensive ace David Richardson will be cleating up for their first game this season and his downfield presence alongside Russell will significantly bolster Raleigh's downfield defense.
David Richardson rises up for a break.
This is a familiar story to anyone who has seen Raleigh and DC match up in the past. In 2017 the Flyers were able to rally around the performance of their defense in the second and third quarters while in 2018 the Flyers found themselves struggling to contain McDonnell and Wodatch downfield and ultimately lost, despite another late game rally in the final quarters. There is a very competitive history that accompanies the Raleigh/DC matchup and there will almost certainly be a detectable hunger by both teams to get a crucial early season win. For Raleigh the game will mark a return to Durham County Stadium for the first time since the end of July 2019.
By The Numbers
3: The combined number of greatests, callahans, and behind the back flicks that have been scored in a Flyers-Breeze game. Wild.
10: The number of goals Rowan McDonnell scored in the last meeting between Raleigh and DC in 2018.
19.8: The average number of blocks made by David Richardson in the past five Flyers seasons.
40: The number of goals Jeff Wodatch scored in 2018.
52: The number of assists Rowan McDonnell threw in his MVP season in 2018.
Sold out: Not a number but Atlanta sold out tickets at their home opener last Saturday against Raleigh. You love to see a crowd like that.
Give it a Listen
Flyers captain Josh Hartzog had a different path onto elite Raleigh teams from the younger players on the roster. From playing at Elon University to working his way into important defensive roles on the Flyers, Zog has had a great ultimate career so far. Be sure to check out Luke Meade's interview with Zog!