The Tuesday Toss: Top 50 MVP Candidates, Part One
March 28, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
After 33 weeks without pro ultimate, the march to Montreal officially begins on Saturday. Fourteen of the league’s 24 franchises are set for their 2017 debuts this weekend, including three of the four division winners from last year—the Madison Radicals (Midwest), Dallas Roughnecks (South), and San Francisco FlameThrowers (West).
If you go back and read last year’s MVP column, I think you will find it full of reasonable perspective and informed insight. It carefully integrated most of the league’s significant stars into a speculative hierarchy. It may even have introduced you to a few names that you did not know before. Yet in almost 10,000 words, the only mention of 2016 MVP Dylan Tunnell of the Atlanta Hustle came in a section about the Hustle’s defensive stalwart, Robert Runner, confidently declaring that “Runner’s value to Atlanta’s D-line exceeded Tunnell’s value as the Hustle’s offensive QB.”
Retrospectively and obviously: That was a big swing and a miss.
So here we go for 2017, with a few reminders about my thought process in constructing this list. Throughout the past several years, I’ve had countless conversations with ultimate players, coaches, and fans. I always try to glean perspective where I can, and I’m smart enough to know that there’s a ton that I don’t know. But these rankings are formed from my opinions alone, and I’ll be eager to hear feedback from the community, even if that commentary tears my takes apart. Discussion is welcome.
Furthermore, take note that this is not an exercise in ranking the 50 best players in the league. It is a list ranking the 50 players who are most likely to be named the 2016 MVP. With all due respect to the Chicago Wildfire’s Pawel Janas, I think Jonathan Helton, who’s now with the Raleigh Flyers, is a better all-around ultimate player at the moment. It’s close, but I’d give Goose the edge. With that said, I have Janas ranked higher in the MVP conversation because I am presuming that his role on the Wildfire will give him more of an opportunity to gain some traction as a possible MVP candidate should his squad exceed expectations. Helton, on the other hand, will be competing for highlight reel clippings with several other veteran North Carolina studs.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are a lot of players in this league, including many who have yet to make names for themselves. For instance, a year ago, who had ever heard of Jakeem Polk? Aside from diehard Wingate University football fans and the rest of the Polk family, not too many. Now, we wonder how Polk’s next-level athleticism will translate into year two of his professional career.
Remember, he has even more talent around him now that he has joined the Jacksonville Cannons.
Like Polk in 2016, there will inevitably be some off-the-radar talents—remember the name Marquis Mason—who could insert themselves into the discussion with spectacular moments of brilliance (See: Babbitt, Jeff) or steady production (See: Harris, Cameron). This list is much more of a jumping-off point than a final verdict. As I wrote last year, "today’s opinions can change tomorrow."
Enough suspense. Let’s get to it with part one.
50. Jonathan “Goose” Helton, Raleigh Flyers: I have too much respect for the two-time AUDL MVP, and Team USA gold medalist, to not include him in the conversation. An AUDL original, Helton is set to suit up for his fourth franchise in six seasons. He was an Indianapolis AlleyCat in 2012, and then joined the Chicago Wildfire from 2013 to 2015. Last year, Helton signed on with the DC Breeze—with mixed results—and his nomadic lifestyle brings him to the Tar Heel State for this upcoming season. While he may be entering the tail-end of his prime at age 33, Helton still has the tools and savvy to be a grinding cutter, with quality throws that very easily could extend his career, like the rebirth of Vince Carter as an effective off-the-bench three-point threat. Helton would be higher on this list if not for a few big questions. Like how will he mesh as a new teammate with a bunch of Raleigh regulars? And will he even be counted upon for major production when Jonathan Nethercutt and Dave Snoke are so used to looking for Justin Allen, Ben Dieter, and Terrence Mitchell? Helton’s abilities will likely warrant more responsibility than he may get, but the possibility of a vintage Goose campaign would make it foolish not to include him on this list.
49. Pawel Janas, Chicago Wildfire: It’s a bit of a gut feeling, but I believe that Janas could have a big season making his AUDL debut as a captain for the new look Wildfire. If Chicago is going to be at all competitive with teams like Madison, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota, he’ll have to assume a vast array of responsibilities. But from watching him grow as a player over the past few years, rising from college into club and now into pro, he possesses a style of fearlessness and confidence that bodes well. Overshadowed by highlight stars like Jimmy Mickle and Stanley Peterson while playing for the University of Colorado, Janas is poised to start getting more credit for his steady production. The fact that he was named a captain in his first season with the Wildfire indicates that his abilities have already commanded respect from his teammates. The Wildfire are truly a wild card in the Midwest, but Janas could assume a “king” role in the team’s new offense immediately. It hurts to have A.J. Nelson coaching instead of playing, but Janas will have a bunch of young and underrated athletes around him. He could be the galvanizing presence to help Chicago contend for a playoff berth again after missing the postseason for the first time last year.
48. Matt Jackson, Dallas Roughnecks: As the only player who took the field in each of Dallas’ 17 victories last season, Jackson enjoyed a transformative experience. Playing with a posse of superstars, the fairly accomplished college player but still relative unknown quickly became a household name. His appeal was twofold; the highlight-level plays spoke for themselves, and his top teammates could not stop gushing about his speed, his throws, and his hair. By the end of the Roughnecks championship run, Jackson, who earned All-Defense honors, had cemented himself as a versatile centerpiece. He could do the dirty work as the first person down on the pull to disrupt a simple centering pass.
Just as naturally, he took charge on the O-line as an unguardable handling engine. In 2017, Jackson’s MVP credentials will likely grow, considering the loss of Beau Kittredge and Cassidy Rasmussen and the increased playing time that comes with it. Newcomers to the team Jay Froude and Abe Coffin each have experience playing alongside Jackson, giving him more license to improvise alongside his talented buddies. I think that Dallas will lose at least one or two games this season, but knowing that Jackson is back makes me want to hedge that bet.
47. Ben Lohre, Dallas Roughnecks: Spoiler alert: There will be many Roughnecks on this list. Despite losing Beau and Cassidy, along with other departures like Jeremy Langdon, Brodie Smith, and Ted Barnett, Dallas still remains remarkably deep in 2017, with guys that can absolutely take over and dominate for quarters at a time. You would see that for stretches last year with Lohre. A devil’s advocate might argue that he had the advantage of being guarded by the opposing team’s sixth or seventh best defender, but I don’t buy it. To me, it felt like Lohre was always open, and he would always make the catch. Next, he would always make a good throw. The stats back this up, as his 97 percent completion percentage matched Kurt Gibson for tops on the team. Like Jackson, Lohre adapted seamlessly to any circumstance. If Dallas needed him to be aggressive in the middle of the field, he would do it. Similarly, he could be purposefully passive to open up avenues for everyone else. At the end of the perfect season, he was just another supremely valuable role player who showed that he was capable of even more. Just entering his prime, presumably his best is yet to come.
46. Jay Drescher, Minnesota Wild Chill: Since his promising 2015 season was derailed by a shoulder injury and he did not play in 2016, it may be easy to forget just how fantastic Jay Drescher had become as a dominant defender for three AUDL seasons. In that time, Drescher collected 72 blocks, which still stands as eighth most in the history of league. The seven players ahead of him have played an average of 1,068 points; Drescher has played in just 662 points. With an aggressive, hard-nosed style, Drescher may not be the most fun guy to play against. But he’s certainly someone that any coach would love to have launching pulls for his D-line. Although his completion percentage and decision making after forcing a turnover have left something to be desired in past years, it’s reasonable to think both could improve after a year away, not to mention the better overall talent around him. It’s hard to imagine Minnesota dethroning Madison in the Midwest, but it’s at least a conversation heading into the season. After their first postseason berth in the franchise’s four-year history in 2016, the Wind Chill are looking to take the next step. The return of Drescher as a signature defender is definitely a jolt in the right direction.
Jay Drescher snares the bailout throw and then sends a backhand 80 yards for the score.
45. Joel Schlachet, San Francisco FlameThrowers: Schlachet’s stock may have dropped a bit after his team got drilled by Seattle in the playoffs last year, but one subpar game should not overshadow a body of work that has consistently seen him shine magnificently alongside many of the sport’s best individual players. After leading the greatest USA ultimate team ever assembled in goals last summer in London, the soft-spoken Schlachet has continued to prove that the past international success is not a fluke. Currently, he’s enjoyed a pretty good month of March. He turned 30 on the 4th, and shortly thereafter, he earned one of the 10 coveted male slots on the USA World Games team. While he can be accused of lacking flash, he remains a deadly quick cutter in small spaces, with hands of Velcro to secure any blistering disc zipped through a tight window into his grasp. The FlameThrowers look stacked overall, and it’s easy to imagine Schlachet catching more scores than anyone else on the team. Heck, if he plays enough games, he could lead the league in that category, too. Schlachet reminds me a little bit of Klay Thompson; he’s often overshadowed by his teammates, but he can still deliver a sizzling, dominant performance that’s vastly superior to most other players in the league. He leaves me wondering how he always makes it look so easy.
Joel Schlachet getting open in a hurry for the FlameThrowers goal.
44. Keenan Plew, Indianapolis AlleyCats: We’re still at a point where ultimate statistics only tell part of the story. When using stats to shape an argument, it’s important to provide appropriate context. In regards to Keenan Plew, he’s currently sixth in AUDL history in both completions and attempts. The top five individuals in each of those categories—Michael Ames, Andrew Brown, Austin Lien, Bob Liu, and Thomson McKnight—all have enjoyed distinguished careers, but as high usage throwers, their plus/minus rankings have never been enormous. (As a refresher, plus/minus is the number of goals, assists, and blocks all added together, minus the number of turnovers (throwaways and drops). Collectively, the top five has an aggregate plus/minus of +136. By himself, Plew’s is +196. That’s nearly 50 percent better than the top five busiest throwers combined in AUDL history. Among the top 100 individual completion totals in the history of the league, only two players have higher/plus minuses than Plew. One is his teammate, Cameron Brock, who has been a great beneficiary of Plew’s all-around brilliance. The other is Beau Kittredge, the two-time league MVP and three-time AUDL champion. Considering all of these numbers, it’s safe to say that Plew, who will turn 31 in May, remains massively underrated. Everyone in the Midwest knows that he’s the force driving the AlleyCats, and he still produces with the consistency of an All-AUDL player. As a team, Indy is far from being the favorite to win its division, but a return to the postseason—where they haven’t been since 2014—would almost certainly be anchored by Plew, as steady and productive a player that the league has seen in its five year history.
43. Stanley Peterson, Dallas Roughnecks: For a young guy—Peterson won’t turn 24 until August—his career highlight reel is stunning. At times, his freakish athleticism makes him look like a cartoon character, and that the tenets of gravity treat him a little differently. Last year, in just eight games, he registered 23 goals, 13 assists, and 12 blocks. I’m not certain if he could put up Keenan Plew-like numbers if Dallas utilized him as a primary initiation cutter, but anyone who loves ultimate would enjoy watching him try. Even though Peterson has been efficient, the highlights tell the story way more than the numbers.
There are still five more Dallas players on the list, and I understand if you think it’s too many. But here’s the deal: I expect the defending champs to be very, very good again. And while that is predictable, it remains uncertain who will be the team’s anchors throughout the season, especially when Jimmy, Dylan, and Kurt are away with Team USA. Peterson’s extreme playmaking ability compels his inclusion as a prospective MVP candidate.
42. Jeff Loskorn, Austin Sol: There’s a tinge of mystery to the 2017 Sol, considering that they have a new head coach and several new players. Last year, the Sol deserved to be in the playoffs based off of their talent. But Austin was victimized by their schedule, which included four games—all losses—against Dallas, not to mention a trio of razor-thin losses to Charlotte, Raleigh, and Atlanta. On a fairly balanced roster, Loskorn stands out. He’s a superb thrower who finished in the top 15 in completions league-wide last year despite missing more than a quarter of the season. He possesses the explosiveness to surprise—his 16 blocks in 2016 were tied for third most on the team—but the lefty does most of his damage with his wily throws. A leader on the USA Mixed Team that breezed to a gold medal in London, Loskorn, who will be 30 this July, was often the guy entrusted with picking up the disc and initiating play. Even if he probably wouldn’t win a footrace or jump-off with a guy like Stanley Peterson, Loskorn’s abilities and anticipated responsibilities make him an MVP candidate once again.
Jeff Loskorn drops the disc in perfectly on the opposite side of the field for the score.
41. Mac Taylor, San Francisco FlameThrowers: A teammate of Loskorn’s at the World Ultimate and Guts Championships in London last summer, Taylor is poised to make his AUDL debut at age 31. Even for team like the FlameThrowers, Taylor’s quite an impact addition. Tall, thin, and with yard sticks for arms, it’s like San Francisco found another Nathan White, perhaps with even a little more high level experience. Since being the runner-up for the Callahan Award in 2009, Taylor has remained one of the top defensive players in the sport, thanks to both his terrifying mark and his aerial presence. The FlameThrowers were a strong defensive team last year, led by guys like Greg Cohen, Andrew Hagen, and Marcelo Sanchez. But adding Taylor—not to mention Kittredge—give the San Francisco defense a vertical dimension it has not had before.
40. Jay Froude, Dallas Roughnecks: Talk about the rich getting richer. I’m not sure there’s a better fit to join the champs than Froude, who made a name for himself by making so many plays the past two years in Madison. His per-point-production is among the best in AUDL history, with a plus/minus of +73 in just 298 points played. No one except for Seattle’s Mark Burton, who you’ll find in the top 10 on this list, has accumulated anywhere close to that kind of resume over the past couple seasons, with so many scores in so few points played. Beyond the numbers, Froude can also be a glue guy. It’s not hard to imagine him and Dylan Freechild teaming up with a barrage of blocks and goals during a Roughnecks defensive run. Coach Patrick Eberle could also pair him with Kurt Gibson in the middle of a horizontal stack, utilizing his versatility to read Kurt’s matchup and be the cutting yang to Kurt’s handling yin. He’s also played with Matt Jackson before, and they made a pretty dominant duo, too. I’ll be fascinated to see how Froude is used with the Roughnecks, and to observe how he grows by stepping outside of the Radicals’ steady system.
Highlights from Jay Froude's 2016 season with the Madison Radicals.
39. Ryan Osgar, Minnesota Wind Chill: Much like Austin in the South, Minnesota brings mysteriousness to the Midwest. Whereas the Sol narrowly missed the playoffs last year, the Wind Chill made it in the weaker division. But like Austin, Minnesota has a new coach for 2017 and several new playmakers. Fresh off a college championship last year with University of Minnesota Grey Duck, Osgar makes the impressive ascent, not just into the pro ranks, but immediately into a leadership position as a Wind Chill captain. In talking with several Minnesota players, it’s obvious that Osgar is already incredibly well respected. One Wind Chill veteran said that Osgar is currently the best player in the state of Minnesota, a high level of praise for a guy who has not yet played a point in the AUDL. But with a versatile skillset and athletic frame, Osgar is likely to make a huge impact as a rookie.
Ryan Osgar going upline for the score for the University of Minnesota.
38. Dylan Tunnell, Atlanta Hustle: If not for 37 other guys, Dylan Tunnell would be the favorite to win the MVP for the second straight season. But in order to join Helton and Kittredge as two-time MVP winners, Tunnell will have to defy the odds. Obviously, he’s done that before. The now 33-year-old veteran is unlikely to match his absurd 2016 season, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be 95% as good and still be a dynamic quarterback for a hungry Hustle team. Atlanta’s young core benefits greatly from having Tunnell as the conductor, and the quarterback has a bevy of speedy button-men to make plays down the field. Adding Nashville’s Paul Lally and a healthy Parker Bray into the mix give Tunnell another pair of dangerous targets to employ. When he won the award last year, he gave all the credit to his teammates. If he contends again, it probably will mean that Atlanta has had a pretty special season.
Highlights from Dylan Tunnell's MVP season in 2016.
37. Mark Fedorenko, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds: When it became clear that Tyler DeGirolamo’s injured knee would not let him play in 2016, the Thunderbirds needed someone to step up. To add some size to the O-line, they flipped Fedorenko, a D-line stalwart, onto the offense. The move quickly paid off, as the University of Dayton alum showed off his throws and smarts to complement his size and speed. Now 25 years old, Fedorenko has established himself as an all-around threat. With Alex Thorne studying in London and not expected to play this year, Fedorenko is the team’s leading returner in the assist department. Last year, he dished 31 scores and caught 39 more. He should be in a position, if he can stay healthy, to better those stats in 2017. And with plenty of repetitions going against the Radicals under his belt—Fedorenko spent two seasons playing for Cincinnati before joining Pittsburgh in 2015—his experience will be invaluable as the Thunderbirds try to dethrone the kings of the Midwest. For Pittsburgh, maybe the third try will be the charm.
36. Brett Matzuka, Raleigh Flyers: Two years ago, playing with Chicago, Matzuka earned All-AUDL First Team honors and entered the MVP conversation. Last season, back with D.C., he struggled to find his niche in the Breeze offense that largely relied on Alan Kolick, Markham Shofner, and Jonathan Neeley to initiate the flow. Whereas Matzuka registered 419 completions with the Breeze in 2014 and an absurd 721 with the Wildfire in 2015, the crafty righty only tossed 166 last year. In 2017, he returns to Raleigh, where he attended grad school and played with many of the top players in the North Carolina Triangle area when he was at North Carolina State. It’s easy to raise many of the same questions that dogged him last season. Mainly, how will he fit in with other great handlers like Jonathan Nethercutt, Dave Snoke, and Brian Casey already established in their roles? Despite these legitimate concerns, Matzuka’s pure creative wizardry as a thrower compels his inclusion as an MVP candidate. There just aren’t too many—if any—innovative distributors like him. He must be maddening to guard, because you can be determined to not let him get off his junky high-release flick, and he still squeaks it past you. Matzuka may not be as versatile as many of the players on this list, but his herky-jerky quickness and ingenious throwing abilities are too good to ignore.
35. Khalif El-Salaam, Seattle Cascades: There are plenty of reasons to doubt whether El-Salaam can step into his first AUDL season and be an immediate star. He’s still playing with the University of Washington and a recent injury prevented him from trying out for the World Games earlier this month, just to mention a couple. But the Seattle product also has a bunch of things going for him, mainly his electric playmaking and his intense desire to be a star in the sport. This is more of an observation than a critique, because I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but El-Salaam is always thinking big. The big put, the bigger sky, the thrilling celebration to punctuate it all. With much of the Cascades core from 2016 not returning this season, El-Salaam, if he’s available and healthy, should have plenty of opportunities to become one of the squad’s go-to-guys. On a mission to be great, El-Salaam is already a significant fish in Seattle’s sizable ultimate community. He’s still learning how to harness his athletic gifts, suggesting that every time he takes the field, he can be a little more threatening than the game before.
Khalif El-Salaam floats a perfect high-release flick for the score during the 2015 club championships.
34. Chris Kocher, New York Empire: Few players’ stock have risen more in the past year than Kocher, who may have been the biggest surprise among the 10 men recently chosen for the USA World Games squad. In retrospect, one wonders whether the Empire might have surpassed D.C. or Toronto last year had Kocher been more available and healthy. But the 25-year-old George Washington alum is now entering his prime as an all-around threat. His coaches and teammates rave about his all-around game, a testimony that’s bolstered by Team USA coaches Alex Ghesquiere and Matty Tsang selecting him from a pool of so many incredible players. I must admit, when I learned that Kocher had made the USA team, I wondered whether Empire Coach Tom Gibbons might be slightly disappointed. Imagine if Kocher had been cut; then perhaps he would have had more time for the Empire, not to mention the added chip on his shoulder. Surely he’ll still be a difference-maker when he plays, but the perspective on his upcoming AUDL season has understandably been tweaked. I have a hunch that Kocher may be ranked higher on this list in 2018. Even though his stock is booming, I’m still not selling quite yet.
33. Tim Tsang, Vancouver Riptide It’s not an accident that Tsang checks in side-by-side with Kocher. They are very similar players. Elite quickness, marvelous field sense, and the throwing vision to be the initiation cutter and then make the split-second decision to fire short, deep, or somewhere in between. Last year, the Canadian National Team realized that Tsang was an instrumental O-line cog, leaning on the youngster’s shoulders a great deal throughout the tournament in London. When available, he likewise became a crutch for the Riptide, able fill any position on the field with confident poise. Vancouver’s 2017 outlook is intriguing, as the squad has more overall talent than last year. But the international obligations like Beach Worlds in June and the World Games in July are going to hamper the team’s quest for cohesion. Tsang is one of seven members of the Riptide among the 10 men who are on Canada’s preliminary World Games roster, so Vancouver will be dealing with that challenge. When he’s available, though, the young McGill University alum will continue to illustrate why he’s one of the premier young hybrids in his nation, and really the world.
32. Sean Ham, San Diego Growlers: As one of many newcomers on the Growlers, Ham might take a few games to find his footing. But over the past two seasons with San Jose—including a championship in 2015—he illustrated a special ability to make plays downfield. Now, he brings his speed and knack for making tough catches to SoCal, where he joins ex-Spiders teammate Kevin Smith, a handful of solid former Aviators, and perhaps the top 70 percent of the Growlers team from 2016 that endured a tough and injury riddled 2-12 season. The team’s leadership is hopeful that the added skill and depth will congeal quickly to transform last year’s close calls into satisfying revenge. If that’s going to happen, Ham will need to be at his best and work alongside Steven Milardovich, Jesse Cohen, and Dom Leggio. Last year with the Spiders, he proved he could still score goals in bunches as the number one downfield threat. Overall, Ham caught 97 goals over the past two seasons. He’ll turn 26 in May, and he’ll likely need to score twice his age in 2017 for the Growlers to surge back into the mix out West.
Sean Ham's goal scoring numbers are impressive, but he also didn't drop a single disc in 2016.
31. Kevin Quinlan, Montreal Royal: A revelation in his first season with the Royal, Quinlan returns to Quebec as a captain in 2017. With a year of Canadian camaraderie under his belt, along with a handful of new talented teammates, one wonders how much better can Quinlan be this season after earning Second Team All-AUDL honors in 2016? And can he help the Royal win enough games so he’s not simply the big stats guy on a mediocre team? His numbers were jaw-dropping at times last year, like his Week 10 performance against Ottawa that set an AUDL record. On that day, Quinlan registered a +19, highest-ever in a single game in the history of the league. He scored 10 goals, dished nine assists, and collected a pair of blocks, but the Royal still fell short in a 30-27 loss to the Outlaws. In the NBA right now, Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, but his team’s middling record will probably prevent him from being the MVP. Quinlan’s not exactly Westbrook-level, but he’ll need his team to rally around him if he wants solidify his place in the MVP debate this summer.
Highlights of all of Kevin Quinlan's record-setting 19 scores from June 4, 2016 against Ottawa.
30. Nathan White, San Francisco FlameThrowers: Like several players on this list, White’s ceiling as a player feels limitless. As a younger, maybe even slightly lankier version of Mac Taylor, it’s hard to watch White play and think that his potential is anything short of one of the top 10-15 players in the league. With that said, his MVP candidacy in 2016 came crashing down since he only saw action in five games for the FlameThrowers. He finished the season with one goal, eight assists, and three blocks. Of course, he also won a gold medal with the national team in London, so last summer was far from a total failure. And try as he might, he shall not throw me off the scent of his inevitable emergence as a go-to-guy on the loaded San Francisco squad. If White plays in most of the games and new Coach Ryo Kawaoka goes out of his way to try and feature his abilities, there’s no question that the UC-Davis and Georgia Tech alum can fulfill the lofty expectations set forth here.
29. Justin Allen, Raleigh Flyers: A legitimate MVP candidate after his breakout 52-goal, 58-assist season in 2015, Allen’s overall production regressed in 2016. It wasn’t like he had a bad season—far from it. He was still a very solid player. But with Dallas and Austin entering the division, along with the statistical seasons put together by Mischa Freystaetter and Cole Sullivan, Allen’s efforts could not compare. With his slightly diminished production combined with the Flyers’ surprising postseason exit in the opening round at home, it’s reasonable to believe that Allen, who turned 26 last week, will be attacking this year’s slate with a renewed vigor. Maybe the Appalachian State alum could use an extra couple inches of height or 10-15 pounds of muscle, but as is, he still has shown a propensity to make the big play. He plays the game with flare, which occasionally has cost him dearly, but like El-Salaam, Allen brings an ambitious desire to stand out and be great. Two years ago, he put up a +92, fourth all-time in a single season behind Freystaetter, DeGirolamo, and Kittredge. I’m not doubting Allen’s ability to do something like that again.
Highlights from Justin Allen's first two years on the Raleigh Flyers.
28. Tyler DeGirolamo, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds: I know what you’re thinking. These may be the best odds on the board. Tyler D at 28? Are you kidding me?! Well, the counterpoint is that DeGirolamo has not yet proven that he is recovered from the knee injury that shelved him for most of 2016. Back in the fall, he shared that the rehab was going well and he expected to be able to play for the Thunderbirds again. In April and beyond, we’ll see if that’s true. For the record, it would be awesome if he’s truly back. His 2015 season was unbelievable, with an AUDL record +105 (surpassed in 2016 by Freystaetter’s +121) along with a 95.5 percent completion rate on 420 attempts, many of them advantageous hucks. He had all the tools, and then some. His towering hammers sliced through Madison’s usually dominant D, and his athleticism, going back to his pair of college championships at Pitt, was characterized as Beau-like. He was faster, stronger, and better than seemingly everyone else. Now, the question is about whether he can rekindle those gifts going forward. At 27 years old, he’s got plenty of time to add to his legacy. But after surgery, nothing is a given. Obviously, the Thunderbirds are counting on him. The rest of us ultimate fans, we just selfishly want to see that greatness again.
27. Derek Alexander, Ottawa Outlaws: Two years removed from a Second Team All-AUDL performance, Alexander will be 34 in September and may be on the downslope of his incredible ultimate career. If you don’t remember, Alexander was an O-line starter for the best club team in the world at age 19. A decade and a half later, there are a lot of miles on his wheels, but his cannon arm and craftiness are still going strong. His game can still speak for itself, but his MVP candidacy will largely be about the success the Outlaws can muster as a team. Alexander has tutored teenager Kinley Gee the past couple of years, and Gee’s benefited from that mentorship. Ottawa has several other pieces that you’d look at as solid role players on other teams. Karl Loiseau is a dynamic cutter, Mike Lee has caught a ton of goals, and adding David Hochhalter should give the Outlaws an important third handler option. When it comes down to it, though, Alexander is the star, and his MVP hopes, like Kevin Quinlan’s in Montreal, will be dependent upon the team surprising the league with some wins against Toronto, D.C., or New York. Even in his mid-30s, I’m guessing that Alexander remains on the top of the every opposing team’s scouting report. He’s still that good.
26. Andrew Meshnick, Madison Radicals: Over the last three seasons, few players in the league have been as consistently solid as Madison’s ironman, Andrew Meshnick. His commitment is unrivaled, having led the Radicals in games played three years in a row. He did not miss any games in either 2015 or 2016. Furthermore, he’s a productive vessel on a regular basis, racking up numbers and making a difference in a variety of different ways. Over the last three years, he’s averaged 28 goals, 30 assists, and 28 blocks per season for a team that’s gone 39-3 in the regular season. Pretty darn impressive. Odds are, he’ll author another strong effort in 2017, likely echoing his performance for the fourth year in a row and continue to be one of the most valuable members of the Madison juggernaut. The Radicals are in an interesting place heading into this season, considering they’ve been to four consecutive Championship Weekends without tasting the title. With two losses in the finals (2013 and 2015), along with last year’s semifinal heartbreaker in the game of the year against Seattle. Their story can’t be defined until if/when they make it to Montreal. That’s a heavy burden to bear, with pressure mounting toward the games that matter most. Without a guy like Meshnick, Head Coach Tim DeByl would certainly be more concerned about his team faltering. But with Meshnick, the Radicals are as confident as always.
Andrew Meshnick makes SportsCenter's nightly Top 10 with a second effort goal in 2015.
Part Two with nos. 25-1 will run on Thursday, March 30.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly during the AUDL regular season and will be monthly staple during the offseason. Got a comment or question about the AUDL or the current state of ultimate? E-mail Evan Lepler at AUDLMailbag@gmail.com. Feedback can also be levied on twitter: @EvanLepler