The Big 2023 South Division Schedule Preview

February 8, 2023
By Adam Ruffner

Jump to each team section.

Atlanta Hustle
2022 record: 8-4, Finished 3rd in South Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Disc discipline

If you just watched the highlights of this Hustle team—take their Week 4 shellacking of a good Austin defense, for example—you might think they always have the green light on their throws. Austin Taylor and Bobby Ley have some of the biggest arms around, and there’s a full rotation of athletic receivers, including the number two goal scorer all-time in Matt Smith, for them to wing it to. 

But in reality this is one of the best possession teams in the league. The Hustle averaged the fourth fewest turnovers per game last year, and even chuckers like Taylor and Ley both completed more than 72 percent of their deep throws. Christian Olsen has also been uber valuable  for this squad, operating as a high volume, change-of-pace thrower who is able to carve up defenses in the midrange while the two blonde bombers rip it downfield. 

Another important piece of the equation is that Atlanta tends to limit unnecessary mistakes. Even if they take a risky shot, it’s from a thrower that they trust; you will rarely if ever see a Hustle role player with the disc asked to do more than he is capable of; among 12 Hustle players in 2022 with 50 to 130 completions (read: secondary throwing options), only one finished with a completion rating below 90 percent.

2) Big defense

The Atlanta defense is not just big in terms of their performance, but they also employ a physically large lineup of defenders. It’s hard to get over the top of the Hustle as they forced the third most huck turnovers per game in the league last season. 

Brett Hulsmeyer has the size of a linebacker but the feet of a cornerback—think Fred Warner—which has allowed him to generate a team-leading 41 blocks over the past two seasons by reading and blitzing throwing lanes for interceptions. Still mostly known for his towering pulls, Dean Ramsey is coming off of a quiet breakout season where he tied Hulsmeyer for the third most blocks in the league (18); Ramsey registered a takeaway in all 10 starts in 2022, including seven multi-block games, and has been reported as looking evolved at this years tryout event. JP Burns is coming off an all-star season, and is still unheralded for his matchup defense against big receivers in the South. Justin Burnett may have been the team’s best one-on-one defender towards the end of his rookie season. And this team returns Jakeem Polk after missing all of last season with an achilles tear, giving them their best shutdown athlete back.

One big question: 

Can Atlanta transform talent into playoff wins?

Even with all of the hype from the past three offseasons and the talent this team has amassed, the Hustle have just one playoff win—from 2016—in franchise history.

One big stat:

Despite the city’s historical love affair with the deep ball, Atlanta averaged the fewest huck turnovers per game last year (2.83) while also completing the fourth most hucks per game (8.7). That comes out to a league-leading 75.4 percent huck completion rate, nearly seven full percentage points better than second place; the difference between the first place Hustle and second place AlleyCats is the same gap between the ‘Cats and the 12th-best hucking team. 

One big matchup:

May 5 versus Carolina

With one of the toughest schedules in the league, Atlanta faces a 2022 playoff team in each of their first four games of the season, and have to host New York in June. But their first of four matchups against their closest rivals from Carolina will be telltale for this Hustle team. Atlanta lost to the Flyers in Week 1 of last season, and never quite got their swagger back.

Austin Sol
2022 record: 9-3, Finished 2nd in South Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Swiatek-Henke-Evans striker dominance

Beyond New York and Colorado, Austin may have the best and most versatile set of strikers in the league in Evan Swiatek, Kyle Henke, and Mark Evans. The trio combined for 219 scores and nearly 15,000 yards of offense, and were equally effective making plays in the open field with their athleticism, or grinding through tight quarters in the red zone. 

Swiatek might be the biggest “wait until you watch him play” guy in the league. Listed at 5’10” and with a light frame, there’s nothing physically imposing about the 29-year-old receiver entering his third pro season. But his lightning-quick first step, infinite motor, and highlight-ready athleticism make him a nightmare to guard for a full four quarters—he simply wears defenders out by steps and points at a time.

After spending a season in Dallas, the 24-year-old Henke returned to Austin in 2022 and had a career year, earning All-AUDL Second Team honors and helping the Sol make their second playoff appearance as a franchise. The big plays remained, but there was refinement to almost every aspect of Henke’s game, most notably with his throws and edge as a competitor. In the South Division championship, Henke was a two-way madman in Austin’s two-goal loss and finished with an absurd 5-assist, 2-goal, 3-block, zero turnover stat line while contributing 491 total yards. 

Evans was the x-factor for the Sol offense last season. Whether as a thrower or receiver, Evans had the juice to make the play. His late fourth quarter sky in Week 6 helped set up the game-clinching score in Austin’s huge win over Carolina, and the team showed a lot of confidence in Evans as an on-field leader throughout his rookie campaign.

2) On point counterattack

The offense got the accolades, but the ever improving Sol defense was dangerous last season for their ability to convert breaks. Austin finished sixth in break efficiency, fifth in break rate, and fifth in breaks per game in 2022, and had two of their best performances against low-turnover offenses from Atlanta and Carolina; Sol were a combined 10-for-17 on break chances in their two big home wins against the Hustle and the Flyers. 

Not only are players like Matthew Armour, Joey Wylie, Eric Brodbeck, and Jake Reinhardt good-to-great in coverage, they can all quarterback full-field drives on the counterattack. The Sol like to use their playmaking and athletes beat O-lines in transition on the fastbreak, but they also know when to punch in patient scores and not just feed on the pure energy following a turnover.

One big question: 

Can the Sol hold the edge against Atlanta?

Make no mistake: The Sol were a top six team last season. But were they that much better than the Hustle? Austin’s defense was blown up by the Atlanta deep attack in Week 4, and the Sol needed a furious fourth quarter comeback in Week 11 to win by one and effectively end the Hustle’s season.

One big stat:

Mark Evans, Kyle Henke, and Jake Radack each finished with 43 assists last season, and were the only trio of teammates in the league to each register 40-plus assists.

One big matchup:

May 12 at Atlanta

In both matchups between these two teams last season, the road team lost on the second night of a back-to-back. In their first tilt this year, both Austin and Atlanta will be fresh and with a lot of questions to settle.

Carolina Flyers
2022 record: 11-1, Finished 1st in South Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Defensive versatility

For all their struggles to earn blocks—the Flyers were 19th in takeaways last year, and 16th when they won the title in 2021—this is one of the four best defenses in the league. Carolina loves to pressure teams at the point of attack and flatten them out, making even resets and swing passes into hotly contested throws. 

Defenders like Eric Taylor, Suraj Madiraju, Ethan Bloodworth, and Seth Weaver are great at communicating and handing off assignments, allowing the Flyers to interchange matchups without losing structure. With few coverage breakdowns, it becomes hard for most opposing offenses to maintain patience against the Flyers and their dogged rotations. 

And owing to their positional versatility, Carolina can still get into their counterattack quickly even when afforded few break opportunities. The Flyers did this to the Sol in their playoff meeting, and punished Austin for a careless turnover in the waning moments of the first quarter by converting before the buzzer sounded.

2) Throwing talent

Taylor, Sol Yanuck, and Matt Gouchoe-Hanas are the frontline star throwers of this team, but there’s distributors up and down both O-line and D-line rotations. Carolina has been a top two in team completion percentage in each of the past two seasons.

The Flyers are extremely good at making possession seem like pitch-and-catch between teammates—other than when they want to be fast, there is very little hurrying in the Carolina system. Patience and execution are the hallmarks of this team, even while they deploy one of the best hucking strategies in the league.

One big question: 

Who will start on the offense?

The Flyers were no worse for wear after losing two of their main offensive options for most of the 2022 season, plugging in their developing, young talent and finding success all the way to Championship Weekend. But with rumors about some significant losses to their rotation, who exactly is going to fill the starting seven spots for Carolina?

One big stat:

The Flyers offense allowed just 2.5 breaks per game to opponents last season, the second fewest in the AUDL. Jacob Fairfax, Alex Davis, and Matt Gouchoe-Hanas can all apply pressure and get takeaways in transition; Fairfax led the team in takeaways in 2022. 

One big matchup:

April 29 versus DC

The Flyers start their season hosting one of the most exciting and developing interdivisional rivalries over the past several years. Carolina ended the Breeze’s 2021 season in their last meeting, earning a come-from-behind win on the road that ignited the Flyers championship run. 

Dallas Legion
2022 record: 1-11, Finished 4th in the South Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) KRich kingdom

I’ve been as big of a Kevin Richardson fan as anyone since he joined the team in 2018, and I even had questions about the mid-30s workout warrior’s longevity after the 2021 season saw him compete in just three games. Because for as good as his production has been when he’s available, Richardson has had to work through injuries throughout his career. 

Richardson scored 42 goals in 11 appearances during his rookie season, but sat on the sideline during the championship watching Dallas finish runner-up to the Radicals after a mid-game injury ended his season prematurely in the semifinals the day before. KRich was slow to return in 2019, but finished the season strong with four goals and 175 receiving yards in another championship runner-up finish. In 2021, he played in just two regular season games before going off in, you guessed it, another playoff loss, this time to San Diego; Richardson put up three assists, two goals, and over 500 yards of total offense against the Growlers. 

Over his first three seasons, Richardson played in just 18 of a possible 36 regular season games. And then in 2022 he started in all 12 Legion matchups, looking more explosive and showing off a deeper passing arsenal than ever before at the pro level. He finished the season averaging five scores and over 400 yards of total offense, and nearly doubled his previous highs in usage rate as a thrower.

As a captain in 2023, it’s hard to see KRich slowing down.

2) Deep attack

With the Legion still in rebuild mode in a South Division that features multiple championship contenders, Dallas often has to strike deep to keep things competitive. And though their handler core is still taking shape, Richardson, Jason Hustad, and Tyler Reinhardt showed glimmers of how this offense can become potent again. 

Over a five-game stretch in midsummer last year, Reinhardt averaged nearly 44 completions and 300 passing yards per game as a primary thrower, able to produce for the team with a high workload. Hustad led the team in huck completions last year, and has repeatedly demonstrated one of the most impressive hammers in the league.

One big question: 

Can Dallas rebound after their one-win season?

Dallas as a franchise had one of the roughest downturns in league history last year, going from five straight playoff seasons between 2016 and 2021—including the 2016 league title—to just one win in 2022. The Legion have no intention of being cellar dwellers for long.

One big stat:

Eight out of the Legion’s 12 games (66 percent) will be against interstate competition from Austin and Houston.

One big matchup: 

May 13 versus Houston

Dallas opens the season with four straight games against their interstate rivals from Austin and Houston. But the first-ever matchup between the Legion and the Havoc will have particular importance, as being the lowest rung on the Texas ladder is something neither Houston nor Dallas wants. 

Houston Havoc
2022 record: N/A | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Head Coach Bex Forth

The former founder, captain, and de-facto coach of the EuroStars gets her first crack at leading a pro team, and I think there are few first year coaches better suited for a job than Bex Forth is with this expansion Houston squad. 

Similar to a Havoc team preparing for their first season of play, the EuroStars were tasked with getting up-to-speed against elite competition in a hurry. Forth has already shown an adept ability to both communicate strategies and implement them on the fly; the EuroStars defense, in particular, gelled much quicker than expected and thwarted some of the top club teams in the women’s division in 2019.

Forth figures to bring the same poise and confidence to an unknown Havoc team that wants to assert itself early.

2) Nothing to lose

With the teams at the top of the division angling for spots at 2023 Championship Weekend, and Dallas wanting to keep the Havoc firmly in a little brother role in their first season together, Houston has the luxury of simplicity and very few expectations. They just gotta compete.

One big question: 

Who will be Houston’s first star?

The Havoc expect to be a largely new roster, with Ben Lewis and Matt Bennett the only AUDL veterans the team has announced so far. The Lone Star State has a deep talent pool, and Houston needs their rookies to be impact players from Week 1. 

One big stat:

Since the beginning of the 2021 season, expansion teams have a 4-0 record in their franchise debuts. 

One big matchup:

April 29 versus Austin

It’s the Havoc’s first game ever. What’s not to anticipate?

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