April 9, 2019
By Louis Zatzman
1. Madison Defending Crown
For years, the Madison Radicals have felt underestimated by the rest of the league. Winning the 2018 AUDL Championship, as you might expect, put a lot of those questions to bed.
“We feel like we have the targets on our backs,” said offensive cutter Colin Camp. “We still have the trophy, and that's something that we want to protect and keep in Madison. We've always felt that we're kind of the backseat team. People don't think big about us or players on our team, in general. Teams around the league now, they understand that we're a threat.”
“I don't think we’re going to play the underdog card as much as we have in the past.”
Peter Graffy will remain the fulcrum of much of the offense, where he thrived after switching from defense midway through the year in 2018. He set a career-high with 35 goals in 2018, winning All-AUDL Second Team honors in the process.
For the fifth time in the last seven years, the Radicals will start their season against the rival Indianapolis AlleyCats. Last year, the AlleyCats won their first ever game against Madison in Indianapolis in Week 12. This year, Indy is looking to go all the way and dethrone the champs in the Midwest Division. To that end, the AlleyCats have imported veteran handler Brett Matzuka. Matzuka played for the Chicago Wildfire in 2015, so he has experience against the Radicals’ defense. In three games against Madison in 2015, he averaged 80.3 completions, 3.3 assists, and only 1.7 turnovers per game.
2. New York’s Cutters
The pieces are starting to come together in the Big Apple. Jack Williams, who has played with the Raleigh Flyers since 2015, has been in New York for weeks. Grant Lindsley arrived in the city last week, and he’ll practice for the first time with the New York Empire this week. They’ll join one of the league’s most vertically dominant cutting cores, alongside 6’6” Ben Jagt and 6’2” Jeff Babbitt, the latter of whom joined the team’s offense late in 2018.
Babbitt was named to the All-AUDL First Team in 2017 with 50 goals and 41 blocks as a defender, and Jagt was named to the All-AUDL First Team in 2018 with 51 assists and 41 goals. With Lindsley’s speed, and Williams’ versatility, the four will leave opposing defenders in impossible situations.
“I'm definitely used to having some firepower, especially downfield with the cutters,” said Williams. “Making room for other guys, and knowing that if I'm not open on a certain cut, if I just clear out of the space, there's no way that we'll cut shut down two cuts in a row, because we have so much power down there.”
“I was trying to compare, I was like, Raleigh's cutters are no jokes either,” Williams continued. “I was trying to compare it myself, I don't know who has more firepower downfield. I've been blessed to be on two extremely, extremely talented offenses. I'm sure it's made the transition a little easier [for me.]”
The Empire will play their first game against the DC Breeze this Saturday in the AUDL Game of the Week. DC Head Coach Darryl Stanley and his defense will need a brilliant game to slow the foursome of Williams, Lindsley, Jagt, and Babbitt.
3. Creative Coaching in Dallas
The Dallas Roughnecks won their first game over the Raleigh Flyers in impressive fashion. Down 12-9 with only a few minutes left in the first half, Head Coach Wes Nemec decided to throw offensive cutter Kai Marshall onto the D-Line to slow Henry Fisher. Marshall contributed three blocks. After the matchup change, Fisher still collected four more goals – all thrown by Jacob Fairfax – but Raleigh’s offense was far less effective. With Marshall choking off the deep space, Dallas broke Raleigh four times after Marshall made the switch. Dallas won 19-17.
“Henry's a very talented player, very athletic, definitely impressive guy,” said Nemec. “For anyone to completely shut him down is hard, but Kai did a great job and got a couple of crucial blocks.”
The move was indicative of Dallas’ versatile team identity. The Roughnecks have several players who can play anywhere on the field, either offensively or defensively.
“You can pretty much take a majority of our roster and say, they're versatile, they're talented, they're dangerous, they're smart,” said Nemec. “This weekend was a good character win for the team. These come-from-behind wins are massively stressful for the coach, and they're fun when you pull them off, but it just kind of showed that we still have a lot of the grit that we had from last year. It shows the strength of our culture that guys are bought in and want to play hard no matter where the score is.”
“I think we've got a really good shot at at least achieving Championship Weekend again, a really good shot at achieving a better shot in the final again, but it's game by game at this point, so we're just making sure we're doing the right things along the way.”
4. San Jose Comeback
The San Jose Spiders’ season opening overtime win over the Seattle Cascades was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Spiders were disconnected, trying to force-feed their new acquisitions the disc in unfavorable situations. Multiple times, Spiders overthrew Antoine Davis, which is a difficult task. Seattle’s Shane Worthington swallowed any hucks sent in his direction. The Cascades jumped out to a 17-10 lead, but it would be all Spiders from there.
Several Spiders discovered new roles to help the team fight back into the game. Davis, usually an offensive deep cutter, switched to the defense for a stretch. In the late third and early fourth quarters, Davis played five consecutive points, as his legs and forehand throws helped the Spiders gain and keep possessions. He finished with only one goal – his lowest total since June of 2018 – but his contributions extended far beyond the scoreboard.
Rookie Keenan Laurence had two emphatic blocks which otherwise would have been Cascade scores. Jacob Greenberg had a few blocks of his own, as well as the game-tying goal in regulation. Marcelo Sanchez thrived as San Jose’s primary deep cutter, catching five goals, three of which were thrown from 50 yards or further.
San Jose is back in action this weekend with the league’s only double-header. The Spiders did well to claw back against the Cascades, but they’ll be hoping for more consistent performances early against the Los Angeles Aviators and San Diego Growlers. After the road trip, they’ll return home for three games, so a strong performance here would situate the Spiders as early favorites to lead the division.