April 18, 2023
By Evan Lepler
Just 10 more days. The wait is almost over.
The 2023 AUDL regular season commences a week from Friday with 144 regular season games paving the wild road to Championship Weekend, scheduled for August 25-26 in Minnesota. From coast-to-coast, there is no shortage of significant storylines, many of which have been chronicled here on theaudl.com over the past month.
But beyond all the chatter and hype, there’s still plenty of news waiting to break.
Pretty tall. Central Florida guy. Dynamic difference-maker throughout his time playing previously for the Cannons and the Flyers. Indeed, the big fella’s back.
We’re about to see Freystaetter suit up for the third different South Division team in his career. After a four-year absence from professional ultimate, Mischa is taking his talents to Atlanta. He’ll be just a part-time player for the Atlanta Hustle, but a fascinating free agent addition nonetheless.
He’s hopeful to play in around half of the team’s regular season games and any potential postseason action. He attended a Hustle minicamp weekend earlier this month, and despite not participating in much ultimate over the past few years, the 6’7” tower remained a game-changing presence.
“He came out and he was dominant,” said Atlanta Head Coach Tuba Benson-Jaja. “He won everything under, everything in the air, was getting blocks. He was everywhere.”
Astonishingly, Freystaetter fit right in despite having not played in the AUDL since 2019. Since then, he’s become a father and played competitive beach volleyball, traveling to compete in dozens of tournaments across the country. On the Monday after the minicamp, Benson-Jaja asked for each member of the Hustle to share their top highlight from the weekend on the team’s Slack, and many marveled at Mischa’s impact, wondering how he could not play ultimate for multiple years and still be such a force.
“It was so amazing to see him come into the minicamp weekend and win everybody’s hearts with just how great a teammate he is,” said Benson-Jaja. “I think we’re trying to look at it like we don’t have him, but it’s an extra added sauce when we do. He’s so cerebral. He’s coachable. People think it’s the athleticism, but he’s one of the most humble players I’ve ever coached.”
Indeed, it was the past relationship between Benson-Jaja and Freystaetter, established during their three seasons together on the Cannons, that helped bring the big man back. Freystaetter set the AUDL record for single-season goals by catching 95 in the 2016 campaign, a mark that still stands today. Furthermore, his all-time plus/minus per game (6.27) ranks best in AUDL history among players who’ve appeared in at least 30 games.
So how does his part-time presence shift the Hustle’s championship chances? It’d be hyperbolic to imply that there was simply a Freystaetter-sized hole on Atlanta’s roster and he’ll absolutely be the missing link. But this is a team that definitely lacked size, explosiveness, and depth among its O-line cutters last year. Even as an occasional contributor, he should provide a powerful downfield target who can also fit within the system, not to mention his value as another vital buzzer-beating behemoth.
At the same time, this signing also carries a little bit of risk. As a team that’s missed the playoffs in four of their previous five seasons, the Atlanta Hustle have a core group of veteran leaders that understand something had to change heading into 2023. The battle for buy-in has been a real factor in recent years, and the vast majority of Atlanta’s cornerstones have committed to prioritizing the Hustle this season, doubling down their focus and passion towards the AUDL.
With that in mind, will it matter that a potentially key contributor is only capable of competing half the time?
Certainly, this is an issue that’s not unique to Atlanta. Virtually every team has to make difficult decisions regarding the availability vs. ability debate. Do you roster a great player who will be on the field for six games or a good player who’s guaranteed to be an option for all 12?
In the end, there’s no question that rare talent is tantalizing. And it’d be foolish to fault the Hustle for making this move. I would guess that all 23 other teams would do it too.
This also adds another thrilling layer to the long-standing Atlanta-Carolina rivalry, considering that the last time we saw Mischa was in a Flyers jersey. Despite Freystaetter’s all-around dominance—he’s got 14 goals, 13 assists, five blocks, and a 98.6 percent completion rate in five career playoff games—his playmaking was never quite enough to get either the Cannons or Flyers all the way to Championship Weekend. This is not meant to say he was personally responsible for any of those losses, of course, rather a reminder that success is never guaranteed. One bad game, one bad quarter, or one bad call can all alter the course of history.
But here’s the bottom line: I think I speak for all fans when I say it will be super exciting to see Freystaetter return to the league as an imposing new weapon for Atlanta, a team that continues to knock on the door of ultimate excellence. So far, the key to truly unlocking the Hustle’s permanent place amongst the AUDL’s elite has remained elusive.
With Freystaetter on board, Atlanta might finally break down that barrier.