September 21, 2015
By Steven Wartinbee
Highlight reels are often filled with huge skies, massive layout grabs, and diving blocks. Less often recognized are the players who prevent the necessity of those impressive moments by often placing throws perfectly over or around defenders. Here are some of the best in the AUDL, sorted by playing style.
Ashlin Joye — #27, San Jose Spiders
2015 Stats: 45 assists, 15 goals, 36 hockey assists (throw before the assist), 490 completions, 94% completion rate
Yes, he's supported by the top offensive line in the nation. But it first takes an incredible level of skill to earn the privilege of having Beau Kittredge, Simon Higgins, Sean Ham, Cassidy Rasmussen and Christian Johnson cutting downfield. You also don't just luck into having nine assists in the final of the AUDL Championship against the league’s best defense — Joye did against the Radicals — no matter the caliber of your receivers. He’s now totaled 16 assists in two consecutive championship appearances, earning game MVP honors in both contests. Joye is a master of putting the disc where only the receiver can get to it. He calibrates his releases based on the specific player more so than anyone else: lasers for Kittredge & Johnson, floaters to space for Higgins, angled fades for Rasmussen and Ham. His confidence and ability to consistently put flat or touch throws to space past any mark in any conditions, especially in big games against top competition, make him the alpha and omega of throwers in the AUDL.
In the second clip, you can see that while there are three defenders in the area, Joye puts a slight edge on the disc such that it fades over the top of the Rush defenders toward both Rasmussen and Ham; even if Rasmussen had missed the catch, Ham would have been left open for the easy goal due to the trajectory of the throw.
Brett Matzuka — #45, Chicago Wildfire
2015 Stats: 40A, 5G, 47HA, 721 completions, 96% completion rate
Scoobers, high and low release flicks and backhands, blades…you name it, he's got it. Primarily a short-range artist with the disc, "death by a thousand resets" appears to be his motto. Despite only infrequently taking shots deep, he remains one of the most dangerous handlers in the AUDL thanks to his intelligent, agile movement off the disc and arsenal of quick-release break throws. If he doesn't break you, he's going to take the open side throw and burn you upline to get the disc right back, as shown in the clip below.
Matzuka is one of the very best in the league at initiating momentum at the same time he’s releasing the disc. He also does so in such a manner that he is almost never called for travels; this type of throw-and-go movement makes him almost more difficult to guard with the disc than without it. When he does have the disc, any fakes the mark fails to respect have the potential to turn into a break (watch at the 0:24 second mark above).
What is arguably most impressive about Matzuka is his incredible patience from a game’s start to its finish despite playing a high number of points. Most players, even the best, will suffer some level of increased risk-taking toward the end of games with the onset of physical and/or mental fatigue. Not Matzuka. He was one of only two players1 to surpass 700 completions in 2015, most of which were short, whip-quick passes that could dissolve any defense. It’s quite rare that Matzuka attempts to squeeze a dangerous throw into a small window; he opts for the safe pass almost every time. Almost. Matzuka deploys alternative throws and creative angles — the upside-down looks, the break throws, the blades, the no-look — with the quick execution and sly grin of a thief drawing a blade. He executes these throws with a certain kind of ruthless precision and glee. One flick of the wrist and he can unlock the entire defense.
Tyler Degirolamo — #81, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
2015 Stats: 86A, 28G, 37HA, 403 completions, 95% completion rate
The player you should arguably be most frightened of with the disc in his hands on this list is also hands down the most dangerous without it. Degirolamo has turned most high risk, high reward throws (notably the hammer) into low-risk, expected reward ones. Assisting the score in more than a quarter of the points he played last season, Degirolamo is constantly eyeing the endzone no matter his location on the field. Since his rookie season in the AUDL in 2014, Degirolamo is one of only two players to earn All-AUDL honors in back-to-back seasons2. During that time he’s become the league’s most prolific offensive force, compiling the most goals+assists (207) in the league, including a single-season record 86 assists last year.
While playing for the DC Breeze in 2014, Degirolamo usually both initiated and ended the offense. After his first cut, he would usually bide his time in the stack, expending as little energy as possible until the vital moment he exploded into the endzone for the goal. For the 2015 Thunderbirds, Degirolamo was regularly seen in the handler set, dropping into the backfield, especially against zones. While he used to render deep defenders useless with his superior athleticism, his throws have advanced such that he usually accomplishes the same feat by dropping unguardable hammers and slicing forehands from 40+ yards.
Both of these throws render the defense essentially nonexistent. Most coaches will instruct defenders to sit under their players once they’re in the deep space, because the only viable routes are in cuts. Not when Degirolamo has the disc. Front your man by 5 yards when he’s that deep, and expect the last thing you hear to be a brief “UP!” before you watch the disc land in his hands. There’s only so much one can do against a player with a hammer that accurate over such a distance.
Also, Degirolamo is incredibly underrated when it comes to getting open on resets. Just watch the moves he puts on a very good defender (Mike Swain) in the second clip to create separation.
Derek Alexander — #9, Ottawa Outlaws
2015 Stats: 44A, 12G, 43HA, 602 completions, 95% completion rate
Completing almost twice as many passes as the next player on the Ottawa roster, Derek Alexander was the heart and soul of the Outlaws' offense in 2015, and for good reason. He seems to be one of the throwers who has adapted best to the AUDL's expansive field, and is absolutely lethal in calm conditions. When the wind picks up, it's he who Ottawa look to to steadily advance the disc. His scoober may be his favorite break throw, as shown in this video, but if markers try to take that away, he'll only break you in any of several other equally dangerous ways. He coldly and ruthlessly analyzes the best way to break down a defense with his arsenal of release points. Alexander also signals his cutters downfield the spaces to which they should be cutting against a confusing or clogging defense.
It’s this leadership and field vision that make him invaluable for the Outlaws’ offense. Alexander's understanding of spacing and pace — both as it concerns players in motion and the disc itself — is second to none. Just watch the confidence cutters have in engaging all areas of the field when the disc is in Alexander's hands.
Throughout this highlight reel, Alexander demonstrates his excellent fundamentals time and again: the lock-and-load rhythm in his hucking form; his squirrely knack for getting open in the smallest of areas; a kind of premeditated "knowing" and being able to see the throw before the throw. But maybe the most dangerous part of Alexander's game is his exceptional balance on fakes allow him to effectively disable his marks for brief moments, giving him frequent opportunities to shred a defense with break throws.
Andrew Brown — #11, Madison Radicals
2015 Stats: 24A, 8G, 55HA, 586 completions, 98% completion rate
Watching Andrew Brown pace and control the Radicals offense, and you sometimes forget the fast-paced, intense game that ultimate frequently is. Able to methodically slow the game to a comfortable level, Brown is the master of swinging the disc and moving upfield slowly but surely. Never one to take a risky shot or grow impatient, Brown's completion rate of 98 percent demonstrates just how critical he is to the Radicals offense. The fact that he completed 586 throws compared against only 14 throwaways speaks to how easy he often makes catches for his receivers. While players like Brian Hart, Colin Camp, and Pat Shriwise usually steal the spotlight for their creative throws and athletic plays, Brown supervises the line and properly executes the safe, correct decision 98 out of 100 times.
Here, Brown demonstrates his constant presence in the backfield. Despite seeming uninterested in attacking upline, he earns the disc several times, softly floating backhands into each receiver’s bread basket. Where other players would step out and attempt a forehand to hit Shriwise in stride, Brown calmly and in rhythm chooses the backhand to the breakspace where only Shriwise has an angle of attack. The gentle-but-driving buoyancy of throws like this — a craftsman's air bounce — have become a trademark of Brown.
Kurt Gibson - #7, San Diego Growlers
2015 Stats: 24A, 16G, 20HA, 252 completions, 94% completion rate
Watch Kurt Gibson trudge his way to the line for almost any given point, and you'll see the image of a disinterested, almost world-weary traveler resigning himself to yet another battle for 80 yards. Watch him after the pull goes up, and the man transforms into one of the most intelligent, wily, and experienced players to feature in the AUDL. As quoted in his player profile, Gibson believes in being the total teammate, and that type of selfless belief is featured in his style of play. He constantly bounces around the disc, offering endless resets and the sort of presence few others can provide. If he strays from his usual abode near the handler set, it's often to torch his defender to the endzone for the easy huck goal. If poached, you'll frequently see him with his hands in the air, as if to ask "Why wouldn't you throw to me?" It's rarely a poor decision, as Gibson was one of the leading contributors to the San Jose Spiders’ 2014 AUDL Championship and brings an elite caliber of play to any team.
In the above point, Gibson expertly draws a foul — like a basketball player initiating contact on a shot to earn free throws — with only a few seconds remaining in the quarter of a tight game. The foul not only gains him 10 yards, but allows him a stoppage of play with which to analyze the field. A quick fake convinces the two nearest defenders, and Gibson perfectly blades a forehand to the front of the endzone. A younger, less experienced player would likely have shot a hospital pass into the endzone from 10 yards farther out and hoped for the best.
Patrick Earles — #3, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
2015 Stats: 61A, 9G, 28 HA, 412 completions, 92% completion rate
Few left-handed players take advantage of their unique skill set in the way that Earles does. His signature throw is his lightning-quick breakside flick huck when teams force "forehand," that few defenders are able to contain despite expecting the shot. The primary knock against Earles is that he is responsible for more turnovers than most top throwers, but that's near inevitable when you're your team's primary creative and hucking handler. The increased number of turnovers is counterbalanced by the number of assists and successful break hucks Earles is able to regularly complete. Despite only playing in nine of the Thunderbirds' 16 games in 2015 (he missed the beginning of the season while helping lead Pittsburgh to the national collegiate quarterfinal), he still finished the season with second most assists on the team, only behind the record-smashing Degirolamo.
Earles’ impressive amount of experience at the elite level shows itself in the first sequence; he operates as a patient every-other reset through the Madison zone, while comfortable when forced to throw the short hammer dump over the double team. He initially looks off Pitts (#22) in the back of the endzone, but a couple of throws later is quick to punish the poach when it becomes careless. The second clip highlights his dangerous range; give his cutter a step and he’s able to take the shot, usually with enough accuracy and velocity that the defender has little chance of recovery.