January 31, 2023
By Adam Ruffner
After multiple weeks of big headline signings and unanticipated player movement, the past several days have been more standard vet re-signings and roster construction. Atlanta, Austin, Colorado, Indy, LA, and Philly have returned significant parts of their starting rotations, with all six teams expected to be thoroughly involved in their respective divisional playoff races. And even outside of the expected contenders, there is next generation talent being added throughout the league on the daily.
Burns, Olsen, Seuntjens, Smith Set To Captain Hustle
Most teams in most years would consider an 8-4 record a rousing success, and an easy ticket for the playoffs. But for the 2022 Atlanta Hustle—a team that had signed a full starting lineup’s worth of big-name additions during the offseason, and had built up championship aspirations—their efforts came up short of the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons, as the lone two South Division playoff seeds were claimed by Carolina and Austin; the Sol mounted a four-goal, fourth quarter comeback at home in Week 11 to effectively knock the Hustle out.
Not only was it an especially bitter pill to swallow for a team as talented as the Hustle, but Atlanta was playing like a top flight squad throughout 2022. Atlanta finished the season as a top 10 team in both offensive and defensive efficiency stats, and committed the fourth fewest turnovers per game (14.5) in 2022, over a full turnover less than the league runner-up Chicago Union.
Now the franchise has named veterans JP Burns, Christian Olsen, Matt Smith, and Bradley Seuntjens as a quartet of captains for the 2023 season. The four players have almost 30 seasons of AUDL experience combined, with Olsen and Smith having played with the Hustle since the franchise’s founding in 2015. Last year the team fielded its most talented roster to date, but lineups were inconsistent from week-to-week. This new leadership could provide more structure, which would quickly catapult the Hustle back up into the ranks of the truly elite.
Smith has been a face of the franchise since his first season with Atlanta. The eight-year AUDL playmaker is second all-time in league history in goals, and has over 7,000 yards of offense and less than 10 total turnovers the past two seasons. A highlight waiting to happen, Smith actually does a lot of his damage in the midrange, able to exploit matchups with his quick and decisive play.
Since coming into the league, Olsen has been a premier two-way player, able to anchor both offensive and defensive possessions as a mobile thrower. He had career highs in usage rate (358 completions) and efficiency (96.5 percent completion rate) in 2022, and completed 30 or more passes in eight of his 10 starts. Olsen excels at moving the disc quickly, and has a knack for flowing through tight spaces, making him a dual threat in the red zone; the seven-year vet has 112 goals in 67 career appearances.
Burns was the Hustle’s All-Star Game representative in 2022, and operated as one of the team’s top defenders as well as its primary thrower on the counterattack. Not one known for his throws, Burns excelled in the fastbreak, connecting on 12-of-14 hucks and showcasing one of the better backhands in the division.
And despite it being his first season with the team, Seuntjens was one of just four Hustle players to play in every game of 2022. In his first five starts on offense, Seuntjens averaged two goals and over 200 receiving yards per game. In the middle of June, Seuntjens was switched into a more defensive role, and tallied six takeaways in his final five games of the season.
Oscar Stonehouse and James Lewis Cast Bright Future For Toronto
Amid a franchise overhaul and a 1-5 start to the 2022 season, it may have been easy to miss the talent the Toronto Rush have been developing over the last 12 or so months. The team named their three captains for the 2023 season last week—Luc Comiré, Kevin Jay, and 2022 AUDL blocks leader Phil Turner—and followed it up by returning their two young offensive stars in James Lewis and Oscar Stonehouse. Toronto is still rebuilding after a mass retirement of AUDL legends, but they may become challengers sooner than their divisional opponents would like with the young and exciting core they’re constructing.
The 23-year-old Lewis had a breakout 50-goal year in his second season with the Rush, and finished in the league’s top ten in goals per game (4.2) and receiving yards per game (297). At 6’4” Lewis isn’t just a big target but has also shown a high level of skill for coming down with contested discs in heavy coverage. And excluding one five-throwaway performance against the league’s best defense from New York, Lewis only had one other multi-throwaway game in 2022, and showed a very good transition throwing repertoire. Most importantly: Lewis played big at big moments, including finishing the season with a 10-goal, 514 receiving yards barnburner against Philly.
Stonehouse won’t turn 20 until December. All business upfront, the mulleted teenager averaged 250 receiving yards per game and had multiple goals in nine of his 10 starts as a rookie last year. But for as consistent as his production was on a weekly basis—homework, really—what made Stonehouse standout was his burst of speed and ability to close on the disc in space; from his first game, Stonehouse knew how to use his tools to pressure defenses, particularly near the endzone. Not the biggest thrower, Stonehouse is effective with the disc, registering just five throwaways in 10 starts and tossing an assist on nearly 14 percent of his total throws.
With Core Re-Signed, Can Colorado Be Stopped Out West?
After last year’s 12-1 run through West Division competition en route to a semifinals appearance, the Colorado Summit have announced a bundle of re-signings, including 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Cody Spicer, as well as 2022 All-AUDL selections Jonathan Nethercutt and Quinn Finer—the full list is below.
Colorado was already one of the best offenses in the league in their first season, and now they add the club Breakout Player of the Year Calvin Stoughton alongside Finer and Jay Froude as primary receiving options. Like his college teammates Finer and Alex Atkins, Stoughton is a jaw-dropping athlete whose open field playmaking sometimes obscures his diverse set of technical skills; Stoughton is equal parts fluid receiver and able distributor, and his amplified pace of play keeps offenses uptempo.
Nethercutt led the league in passing yards and huck completions in his first season in Colorado. And with another All-AUDL caliber receiver in the mix, he should be the odds-on favorite to lead both categories in 2023, too.
Full list of announced signings for 2023 season
^ New addition/did not play for team in 2022
Italics means the player signed within the last week
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