April 25, 2019
By Adam Ruffner
With a fifth of the season already over, the shape of the league standings are starting to become more clear—except in the East, with their delayed scheduling start due to weather. Madison continues to chop down any obstacles they face in the Midwest, while the San Diego and Tampa Bay lead their respective divisions in the West and South. But with the competitive balance at an all-time high, the next few weeks will really begin to suss out the contenders from the pretenders.
21. Detroit Mechanix (21)
It is only one game, but there appears to be a changing of the guard for the Mechanix after an impressive showing in Indy. Both Mark Whitton and Andrew Sjogren finished with eight goals apiece, their downfield playmaking aided by the smoother-than-ever handler unit of David Innis and Joe Cubitt. Though undersized—and, it deserves mentioning, playing indoors—the two AUDL rookies combined for eight assists and 119 completions, shouldering an immense workload against a defense that was ranked in the top five last season. Unfortunately for Detroit, the end result was the same as all of last season: A loss.
20. Pittsburgh Thunderbirds (20)
For three quarters, the Thunderbirds held within four goals of the reigning champs in Madison, playing conservatively and seizing opportunities where they could before a 9-3 Radicals defensive run in the fourth quarter decimated Pittsburgh's chance at a momentous upset. The Thunderbirds showed they have one of the best backfield throwing units in the division despite missing bomber Sam VanDusen. Jonathan Mast and Dylan Best were very efficient, completing 101-of-104 total throws. But it was Thomas Edmonds who really put on a show, almost equaling their combined numbers on his own: He finished with a league season-high of 99 completions on 102 throws, tossing five assists and showing a full repertoire of deep and crafty throws against the league's best defense.
19. Atlanta Hustle (18)
Winless after three games and facing a long road ahead in the South Division, the Hustle are in a hole. They're in the bottom three in the AUDL in completions per game, while completing only a league average on those throws at 93.80 percent. Simply put: Atlanta lacks pop, scoring only 52 goals in their three losses to Tampa Bay (twice) and Raleigh (once).
18. Ottawa Outlaws (19)
Ottawa finally gets their first test of 2019 by playing host to Toronto, a franchise that the Outlaws have never beaten since their founding in 2015. I've said it before, and I'll repeat it again: The biggest obstacle Ottawa will face is engineering more defensive pressure, as they've finished in the bottom third of the league in takeaways in each of the past two seasons. The last time the Outlaws were in playoff contention in 2016, they were eighth in blocks per game at just over 14 a game.
17. Seattle Cascades (17)
The Cascades were without Mark Burton and Khalif El-Salaam, and still put up a tough test for the Aviators before earning their second straight loss at home. Though the Los Angeles defense definitely did their job in terms of making things difficult, many of Seattle's 23 turnovers were because of miscommunication. In Burton's absence, however, Steph Lim stepped up to provide a great pivot handling option alongside Kodi Smart, initiating many of the 'Scades drives off the pull.
16. San Jose Spiders (12)
The Spiders backslide continued with a home opener loss to the Growlers on Saturday, putting them at 1-3 with a third of their 2019 schedule finished. And were it not for a tremendous second half rally in Seattle in Week 1, San Jose could easily be winless after starting the season as darkhorse championship contenders. The team has had troubles with roster consistency in the first three weeks due to injuries and absences, and they could still see a big rebound in the standings if they find cohesion. But it has to be immediate for them to still have a chance at the playoffs.
15. Philadelphia Phoenix (14)
Philadelphia looked perfectly matched with DC in their Week 3 loss, but the Breeze had the advantage of having played a game already, and DC persevered down the stretch by grinding it out in the wind. Through little fault of their own and largely owing to the conditions, the Phoenix's top four throwers each committed at least three throwaways apiece, completing 123-of-138 (89 percent) on their throws combined; Philly as a team completed 221 passes at a 92 percent clip for the game. The Phoenix's throwers like the longball, and being limited in range adversely affected their rhythm.
14. Tampa Bay Cannons (16)
With two wins at home over Atlanta, it's hard to gauge this Cannons team properly despite their sudden perch atop the South Division standings. Andrew Roney is clearly the driving force behind this team's success so far this season, putting in another big throwing effort by tossing a team-high six assists on 53-of-55 throws. But credit needs to go to a Tampa Bay defense that has been relentless in their first two games. They're giving up a league-best 15.5 goals per game, and despite just 17 takeaways so far in 2019, are doing a great job of taking away the deep space.
13. Montreal Royal (13)
The Royal have a very intriguing opportunity on the road this Sunday in New York to start their season. The Empire will have already played a game the day prior in Philadelphia before turning around and hosting Montreal on April 28. The Royal have been touting all offseason that they were 2-1 against New York in 2018, and this is a terrific time to make good on their word.
12. DC Breeze (15)
Rowan McDonnell looks to be in MVP form once again in 2019, leading the Breeze in assists (7), goals (8), and points played (53) as the team split its first two games. Anthony McLean and Cody Johnston have been productive additions, but DC has been feisty thanks to their young and largely unheralded defense. Head Coach Darryl Stanley had to start the season with an entirely new unit, and they've responded with gumption, holding the high-powered Empire to just 21 goals before limiting a good Philly team to just 18 goals this past Saturday.
11. Minnesota Wind Chill (11)
A furious finish couldn't overcome a slow start as the Wind Chill had their home opener hopes blocked from reach in the waning seconds of regulation. Led by Cam Burden's 4-assist, 4-goal, 53-completion effort, Minnesota's Canadian imports looked very good in their debut. But it was veteran handler Josh Klane who led the comeback effort against the Wildfire, throwing an AUDL season-high 10 assists and completing 66-of-69 throws. When he gets back his handling buddy Jason Tschida, the Wind Chill offense could continue their trend from last season of being the highest scoring offense in the league.
10. Los Angeles Aviators (10)
I gotta eat some crow with this Los Angeles Aviators team. Seeing their personnel losses from the offseason, I assumed that Los Angeles would not just experience a talent dropoff, but enter 2019 with diminished energy following last year's Championship Weekend appearance. I was very wrong. Never stellar, the Aviators are solid on both sides of the disc, running a boring-but-very-efficient offensive system through Tyler Bacon and Tim Beatty, while the defense is third in the league through three weeks of play in takeaways, averaging just under 12 per game. And after finishing last season as an All-AUDL First Team member and leading the league in goals, Sean McDougall is even better in 2019, showing off an improved throwing arsenal while playing on both offensive and defensive lines where needed.
9. Indianapolis AlleyCats (8)
Tied at 16s with Detroit in the third quarter, the Indianapolis AlleyCats locked in down the stretch to close out their first win of the season. Indy's defense was able to get some clutch blocks late, but struggled to contain a lot of the Mechanix attack. Offensively, though, the 'Cats might have their best unit ever. Cameron Brock and Keenan Plew still produce, but it's the younger players who have really taken over as Travis Carpenter, Rick Gross, Alex Henderson, Levi Jacobs, and Keegan North have all taken on larger roles so far in 2019. Gross and Jacobs love the run-and-huck game, but the others balance them nicely with a frenzied smallball attack when the team needs to convert a particular drive.
8. Austin Sol (7)
After a historic high following their first-ever win against Dallas in Week 2, the Austin Sol settled back into their normal hierarchical groove in Week 3 by dropping a road game to the Roughnecks in the Game of the Week. Austin appears to be the third best team in the South at this point in the season, and are on the path towards their second straight playoff appearance. Raleigh and Dallas both have top-five defenses in the AUDL, so it's somewhat understandable that the Sol have yet to score 20 in a game through three contests. But they'll have to pick up the scoring clip and reverse a trend that goes back to last season; Austin finished fifth to last in scoring in 2018.
7. Chicago Wildfire (9)
The new look Chicago Wildfire sprinted out to a big early lead and held on for a thrilling win thanks to some clutch defensive playmaking. The team is visibly larger than in years past, with first year Chicago players Matt Rehder, Jack Shanahan, and Drew Swanson all contributing in big ways in their debuts. And yet, for all his time downplaying his individual importance, it was Pawel Janas who once again had a terrific 6-assist, 2-goal, 1-block, 74-completion performance for the Wildfire, which included throwing the 50-yard game-winner dime to Seth Weaver to seal the road win.
6. San Diego Growlers (6)
At 3-0 and atop the West Division, the San Diego Growlers are feeding off of their own self-generated energy. San Diego is clearly a team that likes playing together, and that camaraderie is paying off on both sides of the disc. In Week 3 in San Jose, the defense got numerous layout blocks from the likes of Will Turner, Marcel Osborne, and Scott Radlauer, while Travis Dunn continues to play like the best player in the division. Like a West coast Jack Williams, Dunn seems to excel equally and easily with and without the disc, collecting a team-high 13 assists on 72 completions (95 percent), and tying for second in goals with seven. Even without Jonathan Helton and Sean Ham, the Growlers looked supremely confident with Dunn distributing the rock
5. Toronto Rush (5)
You can't really say the Toronto Rush "coasted" last season, given their 13-1 league-best regular season record and league-best margin of victory. But they certainly looked unprepared to deal with New York's energy in the divisional championship game, and suffered the consequences. So Saturday's matchup in Ottawa will be a big opportunity for the Rush to set the tone for their 2019 season. Toronto has never lost a season opener in six seasons of play.
4. Raleigh Flyers (3)
After playing three road games in the first two weeks, the Raleigh Flyers earned a bye week before they face off against Atlanta in the Game of the Week this Saturday night. Even without former MVP Jonathan Nethercutt, the Flyers look like a championship contender in 2019 with their new talent, depth, and veteran leadership. And though he's not new to the team after joining late in 2018, Allen Laviolette seems to have found a perfect role playing as a balanced faciliator on offense and defense. He's shown full-field range with both forehands and backhands while completing 69-of-72 throws, and his hucks have been great outlet passes in starting the Flyers fastbreak.
3. Dallas Roughnecks (4)
Austin may have made the bigger plays last Saturday night, but it was once again the Dallas Roughnecks and their determined defense that got the win. Though stacked with talent, Dallas doesn't always play the prettiest ultimate, opting for brute force over flair—but it works. A lot. Against the Sol, there was a particularly long and contentious point during the third quarter that had all the Roughnecks hallmarks: trading hucks to gain field position, team defense, and winning position in the margins. The point concluded with a Dallas break, as Dan Emmons intercepted a floater before the disc found a skying Connor Olson for a momentum swinging score.
2. Madison Radicals (2)
Defense has always been synonymous with the Madison Radicals and their six-plus seasons of Midwest dominance, but in the first two weeks of the 2019 season, it's been the Madison offense that has been the ballast for the team. Pat Shriwise has been near flawless distributing the disc, and is playing some of the best ultimate of his career. Peter Graffy made his 2019 debut last weekend and didn't miss a beat from his MVP-ish 2018 trend. But it's Colin Camp who has been a galvanizing force for the Radicals O-line, picking up two monstrous skies in double coverage in each week so far this season, and playing more time as a handler/initiator with the disc; he has six assists on 38-of-38 throws through two games.
1. New York Empire (1)
Long considered a hulking defensive playmaker, Jeff Babbitt has grown his game in every direction since his 40-goal, 40-block campaign in 2017 for the New York Empire. Yes, he still can play lockdown defense when called upon. Yes, he's still capable of eclipsing portions of a game single-handedly with his playmaking. But Babbitt has transitioned into one of the more efficient offensive contributors over the past 12-or-so months, able to produce while working more and more within the flow of the Empire offense.