The Tuesday Toss: More and More, We Know Less and Less
April 11, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
It was a wonderful weekend of firsts in the AUDL.
The Toronto Rush picked up a big win on Saturday against the New York Empire, but tasted defeat in the second game of their opening road trip of the season. In the four years prior to Sunday’s loss to the DC Breeze, the Rush had never lost in April, let alone in their first weekend of play.
The San Jose Spiders—the team that most thought would sink to the cellar out West—knocked off the San Francisco FlameThrowers, the squad that, in the eyes of many, had already made hotel reservations for an August adventure to Montreal for Championship Weekend. The Spiders had not beaten their Bay Area rivals since before Beau Kittredge bolted to Texas after the 2015 title, losing seven straight games in the series before Saturday’s redemptive outcome.
Meanwhile, the AUDL Game of the Week in Washington, D.C. was beamed around the country via cable and satellite providers at an unprecedented distribution rate, thanks to the league’s sparkling new partnership with the Eleven Sports Network.
Even the Dallas Roughnecks' historic string of perfection came to an abrupt...err, actually the undefeated Roughnecks still did their thing, delivering a dominant 33-goal smackdown of the visiting Raleigh Flyers. So, I suppose not everything that happened was brand new.
New York’s calamitous fourth quarter against the Rush, too, was frankly vintage Empire.
But after an opening weekend which saw a slew of familiar results—Madison Radicals over the Indianapolis AlleyCats; the Seattle Cascades and Los Angeles Aviators again reigned supreme over their rivals the Vancouver Riptide and San Diego Growlers; the Jacksonville Cannons clobbering the Nashville NightWatch—the second weekend of April battles yielded far more unpredictable outcomes.
Ironically, on Sunday morning, I think there was a sentiment around the league that perhaps this was the day that Dallas’ 19-game winning streak would end. While that did not come to fruition this weekend, there’s definitely a growing feeling that it’s coming sometime in the next few weeks.
Overall, after 14 games over the course of a two weekends, maybe the only reasonable conclusion we can draw is that a new era has begun in this league. Every year has been a little bit different, with a little bit more balance. But in 2017, it feels like the talent gap between teams is as small as it’s ever been. Parity has arrived.
“I think Sunday’s game speaks to how far the East Division and this league have come,” said Toronto Assistant Coach Sachin Raina. “In past years, we might have been able to get away with a win without playing our best. We’ve scraped by four times in past opening weekend trips: Philly 2013, DC and New York 2014, and DC 2016. But it was made quite clear on Sunday that if you’re not firing on all cylinders, you’re going to get smoked.”
Toronto’s Jonathan Martin echoed these sentiments, giving all of his teammates a talk on Sunday evening about how the competitive balance has changed over the past five years.
“Gone are the days of easy wins and being able to claw back from a slow start,” said Martin. “The league has evolved into a very competitive parity, and any team is capable of beating us unless we bring our best effort. I think it’s great; it’s why we play.”
We’ve only just begun the exposition. There are 154 regular season games remaining in the 2017 journey, and ultimate fans can only wonder what wild upset or fantastic first we will see next.
Right now, nobody knows.
The Full Field Layout
After falling to San Francisco in Week One, new San Jose Spiders Coach Tyler Grant still remained very encouraged by his team’s performance.
Game highlights from Week 1.
“We were able to maintain possession of the disc against a very strong and athletic defense,” Grant said, reflecting on his team’s 34-29 setback on April 1. “Despite a brief lapse in the second quarter, we generally scored smoothly and put up 29 points against them. On defense, I could see us making a few mistakes in the first half that I thought we could correct, so I was encouraged to see our team reach and adjust in the second half. That set the stage for the win on Saturday.”
In order to have a chance against the FlameThrowers in round two of the season series, the Spiders knew they would have to slow them down. San Francisco had registered 34 goals in the first meeting, scoring a bevy of them in a blink of an eye with their quick strike offense. This rhythm left little time for the San Jose’s offense to rest, led to the string of errors, and basically cost them the game.
As the AUDL has grown and players have gained more and more experience, defenses have been forced to alter their mindsets. With such a large field and so many skilled players handling the disc, it can be really difficult to create blocks. Consequently, sometimes a defensive unit has to reshape the idea of success. For many teams, simply forcing the opponent to take 90 seconds to score instead of 30 seconds can be a small victory and change the flow of the game. Over the course of a long 48-minute battle, that style of making the other team’s offense be a little more patient can be a critical factor in the road to success.
“Keeping their offense on the field for longer stretches of time was key,” San Jose’s Steven Chang added, “since this would make them more tired, and more importantly, slightly more prone to mistakes, which they very rarely make by default.”
In the rematch, the FlameThrowers offense still had 15 first-half goals, but that was three fewer than the 18 they had scored in the opening stanza the previous week. In the second half, the Spiders defense really clamped down, limiting San Francisco’s explosive offense to just seven scores.
Game highlights from Saturday's rematch.
The FlameThrowers had scored 18, 16, and 15 times in their first three halves of the year, and all of a sudden, they had been held to seven. The Spiders’ clearly had started to figure something out.
“Their offense stayed on the field longer and ended up not connecting on a few long passes,” Grant said. “That gave us enough rest to push through a full game. We were there to grind and managed to pull it off.”
Despite trailing by two at the half, the Spiders took a lead heading into the fourth quarter on a dramatic buzzer beater. With the score tied at 18-all, it looked like the FlameThrowers were about to register the go-ahead goal in the final seconds, only to have an error near the end zone. San Jose’s transition break capitalized, taking advantage of a little luck. San Francisco’s Beau Kittredge deflected Kelly Van Arsdale’s throw to the end zone, but Sam Adamson’s layout snag grabbed the ricochet just before time expired to give the Spiders their first lead of the second half.
A ridiculous, seesaw final minute in the third quarter ended with a miraculous Spiders buzzer beater.
Sometimes, you need a little good fortune, and the Spiders got a couple key bounces along the way. At one point, Matt Crawford made an incredible grab on a fluttering disc that San Francisco’s Lucas Dallmann had deflected on a swing.
“It reminded me of Julian Edelman’s catch in the Super Bowl!” Grant exclaimed.
San Jose’s offense, anchored by Justin Norden, Sonny Zaccaro, Steven Chang, Evan Boucher, and Jackson Stearns, gave the Spiders a two-point lead with a hold to begin the fourth. The game was in the Spiders’ grasp, and the offense would not be broken a single time in the final 12 minutes, as San Jose secured a 24-22 triumph over the division favorite.
“It really just came down to effort,” said FlameThrowers star Cassidy Rasmussen. “The Spiders just tried harder than us right out of the gate. I wouldn’t say we took them lightly at any specific point, but we certainly played like we expected them to give the game to us. When that didn’t happen early, I expected us to flip a switch, but it never really happened across the board. Their offense is pretty stingy when it wants to be, and our defense has yet to show that it can consistently take the disc away.”
Rasmussen led the FlameThrowers with six assists and four goals, while Kittredge registered five goals and three assists. But that firepower was not enough, as the Spiders illustrated their ability to remain very relevant in the West Division race.
Perhaps the greatest revelation of the first couple weeks of the season, league-wide, has been San Jose’s Jackson Stearns, whose seven-goal effort on Saturday followed up a four-goal, five-assist performance in the first matchup. Standing 6’4”, Stearns, a lefty who played his college ultimate at San Diego State, has given the FlameThrowers fits.
“He’s very quick for a big guy,” said Chang, who scored four goals and added four assists himself on Saturday. “Not many people out there match up well with [Stearns]. He can do it all—great in the air, solid hucks, and often times he’s the one coming in to bail out the handlers if we’re ever in a sticky situation. He’s someone I know I can trust to get the disc and make big plays.”
With a 1-1 record, the Spiders will be back in action on Friday, April 21 with a home game against San Diego.
“I think many people outside of San Jose might be recalibrating their preseason predictions, but I don’t think we are,” said Chang. “We’ve known from the start that we can be competitive in the West, and we know we have the ability to beat any team in our division. We still have a lot to improve on—one win over San Francisco doesn’t mean much—we’re only 1-1, and Coach Tyler has been doing a good job of keeping us focused on the task at hand. If each one of us just does our job, we’ll be difficult to beat.”
Before the Rush got rocked on Sunday, Toronto tantalized New York yet again, a common scene in the AUDL over the past half-decade. On a blustery day at Randall’s Island, the Empire pressured Toronto early, forcing a bunch of first-half turnovers. For long stretches of time, it felt like New York was in control of the game, but at halftime, the Empire only led by one.
Game highlights from Saturday's Rush and Empire matchup.
Watching from afar, I felt that New York had significantly outplayed Toronto in the first half and should have led by a margin of four or five goals. To only be ahead 10-9 was an ominous harbinger of things to come for the Empire.
“We felt that in the first half we were allowing New York to throw pretty much whatever they wanted, especially downwind,” remembered Rush Assistant Coach Sachin Raina. “The adjustment at halftime was to try to make their handlers a little uncomfortable and put more pressure on the disc. I think this change was just enough to force some turnovers, which we were able to convert into breaks.”
In the second half, the Rush quickly seized control with back-to-back breaks, surging ahead 11-10. At the end of the third quarter, however, New York’s Isaiah Bryant caught a miraculous buzzer beater to tie the score at 15-all.
Each team held on their first couple offensive points in the fourth, and at 17-17, the Empire’s Jeff Babbitt soared through the air to get a clutch D on Rush underneath cut, giving New York a chance to break for the lead. Unfortunately, Ruo Ye carelessly dropped an uncontested swing pass, and Toronto punched it in for an 18-17 edge. One point later, Connor Kline’s huck soared too far and out the back of the end zone, and the Rush doubled their lead when, after a timeout, Thomson McKnight connected with Andrew Carroll, who scored one of his team-high eight goals on the weekend.
The avalanche of momentum had begun, and New York would not score again, as Toronto closed the game on a 5-0 run to prevail 22-17. The result improved the Rush to 13-0 all-time against the Empire.
“The most exciting part for us in the New York game was the phenomenal play of our young talent,” said McKnight, the 29-year-old veteran QB who led the squad in completions. “We had several young guys making their debuts, and they played outstanding.
The new guard of Toronto talent was indeed impressive, as Connor Armstrong, Mike MacKenzie, and Paul Tatulea all made big plays in their first real big game with the Rush. Armstrong played on the O-line and finished with just one fewer completion than McKnight, while McKenzie dished a pair of assists to go with his relentless defensive pressure and Tatulea completed all 10 of his throws, no small task considering the gusty conditions.
“Obviously, the rookies made some clutch plays for us down the stretch and were a big reason we were able to leave with the victory,” said Toronto’s Cam Harris. “Those plays are what we expect from them, and we know they are capable of more as they get more comfortable and adjusted to the larger field.”
Connor Armstrong—one of the Rush's exciting new additions—gets a point block before completing the break conversation with a big outside-in backhand assist.
One day later, the Rush rolled into DC, hopeful to continue their preposterous string of winning to begin the season. Prior to Sunday, Toronto had never lost on their annual season-opening road trip, and the Rush’s regular season record after four years (plus one game) in the AUDL sat at 55-4.
Meanwhile, the DC Breeze were debuting without many of the big names that led their roster a season ago: Tom Doi (now with LA), Jonathan “Goose” Helton and Brett Matzuka (now with Raleigh), Nicky Spiva (now with Philly), Nate Castine and Brad Scott (injured) all had been major contributors, and they were all gone or unavailable. Plus, the Breeze had a brand new coaching staff, as Alex “Dutchy” Ghesquiere has taken a step back into more of an advisory role and Darryl Stanley had taken over as the new Head Coach.
There were plenty of reasonable questions about DC heading into the season, but for at least one day, the Breeze had every single answer. After an opening point hold, featuring spectacular layouts from both Tyler Monroe and Alan Kolick, the Breeze registered a pair of prompt breaks, taking a 3-0 lead less than five minutes into the first quarter. It set the tone for a dominant performance, as DC never let up from there.
The Breeze led by three after one, by four at the half, by nine through three, and prevailed by an astounding 32-21 final margin, handing the Rush not only their first defeat ever on their season-opening trip, but far and away their worst setback in five years of competing in the AUDL.
“DC was a whole different animal this year,” said Toronto’s Jonathan Martin. “It would be too easy to use the obvious excuses: long travel, no sleep, back-to-back road games against the toughest opponents in the East, lots of new players on the team, early season rust, the list goes on. The bottom line is that we ran into a great DC team who outplayed us from start to finish. We joke around Toronto about the Maple Leafs and Coach [Mike] Babcock and his famous saying ‘start the game on time,’ and we really didn’t do that on Sunday.”
At the half, the four-point deficit at 16-12 was far from insurmountable, but DC was clicking on all cylinders and the Rush’s legs looked tired. The Breeze went on a blistering 4-0 run, doubling the lead to eight with four scores in less than two and a half minutes. For much of the game, it felt like everything the Breeze tried worked.
“DC may have played a perfect game,” said McKnight. “They had maybe 5-10 hucks that were right at the back of the end zone where only they could get them.”
The Breeze were locked in with their throws on Sunday.
Over the course of 48 minutes, it felt like everyone on the Breeze made several plays. On the O-line, young guns like Tyler Monroe and Max Cassell, each just 22-years-old, may have been the most notable, connecting with each other several times for impressive scores.
“Yea, they were doing a lot of the stuff you saw Sunday in the intrasquad scrimmages,” said Stanley. “It is what gave me the confidence to put them in the positions I asked them to be in. It really helps that the two of them played on this team last year and were already familiar with the systems, roles, and teammates they had on the O-line with them. Tyler directly, as he was an O-line contributor last season. And Max made a seamless transition to the offensive side from the D-line last year.”
Game highlights from Sunday.
Monroe finished with a game-high +11, with seven goals and four assists, while Cassell added four goals and four assists. Alan Kolick made his fair share of highlights in his three goal, five-assist performance, and Jeff Wodatch added three goals and four assists.
On the D-line, Rowan McDonnell piloted the troops with three assists and three goals, while Brian Marshall, Chuck Cantone, Delrico Johnson, and Marcus Thaw all registered multiple Ds. For the Breeze, it was a great team effort that gradually demoralized their talented opponent.
“I believe there was this long point toward the end of the third quarter where I just saw [Toronto’s] O-line out on the field and they looked exhausted,” said McDonnell. “And I thought to myself that we won the energy game and they weren’t going to be able to put together a run to bring them back. Our offense was scoring so quick all game that their offense had no time to rest. Not to mention the long road trip and playing a semi-physical New York team the night before had taken its toll.”
The Rush did their best to look back at their weekend positively, with a big road win at New York as the highlight. With a more difficult schedule than ever before—Toronto has another game at DC in June, not to mention their home game against San Francisco in the inaugural Cross Coast Challenge—the Rush know that this season will feature challenges unlike any they have experienced before in the AUDL. With that said, they still feel pretty good about what’s ahead, especially with seven of their final 12 games at home.
They traveled this weekend without Mark Lloyd, Remi Ojo, Gord Harrison, and Ben Burelle, all players who should make significant impacts before the season is over. And they expect their young crop of teenage talent to grow into bigger roles as the season progresses.
“We confidently sit at the top of the East,” Martin declared, “as we have since the inception of the franchise five years ago, despite a poor performance on Sunday, and we will remain there until proven otherwise in the conference finals.”
Similarly, the Breeze realized that their seemingly perfect performance was not totally without flaw, and more importantly, it only counted for one win with a long season still ahead.
“Jonathan Neeley did a great job of reminding us that even though we played so well, it was our first game and we are going to continue to improve as a team,” McDonnell relayed. “He made a great point, in which he said our goal moving forward was to make that our worst game of the season.”
Toronto has the next two weekends off before taking on Montreal in the Rush’s home opener, while D.C. has one week off prior to the first game of the Cross Coast Challenge, when the Breeze will visit Raleigh in the premiere interdivisional regular season game in AUDL history.
Speaking of Raleigh, the Flyers’ early-season schedule—the busiest in the league—saw them split a pair in Texas this past weekend. A strong defensive effort allowed Raleigh to follow their comfortable opening weekend victory against Atlanta with a similar 26-19 triumph in Austin on Saturday night. One day later, the Flyers surrendered a few early upwind breaks on a blustery day in Dallas, and the Roughnecks ran away from Raleigh in a lopsided 33-18 setback.
Game highlights from Saturday.
“The overall theme of the Austin game was that our relentlessness on defense early led to several key mistakes later in the game,” said Flyers Head Coach Mike DeNardis. “ We were also very consistent on offense through all four quarters and never yielded a large run. I don’t think we were overly worn going into the Dallas game, but the combination of not being 100% physically, the travel, and the elements made the ability to focus a bit more difficult once the game started.”
Stanley Peterson (five goals, three assists), Jimmy Mickle (three goals, five assists), Dylan Freechild (one goal, six assists), Dan Emmons (four goals, four Ds), and Roughnecks newcomer Abe Coffin (six goals, two assists) all had big games for Dallas, as the team improved to 2-0 this season and 18-0 in franchise history.
Game highlights from Sunday.
“A ton of credit goes to Dallas,” added Raleigh Assistant Coach David Allison. “Despite the impact of the wind, they committed to a gameplan at the start of the game and focused on the execution of that plan. As a result, they were doing all of the little things right, like picking the disc up off a turnover and getting the first throw off before the mark could set, spreading their offensive formations well so that they could make throws that were amenable in that wind, piling up underneath any disc that was popped up. They carried intensity throughout the game.”
Raleigh sits at 2-1 with a big game to think about before the Flyers can turn their attention to the interdivisional battle with D.C. They will be either 2-2 or 3-1 heading into their April 22 date with the Breeze, depending on how they fare against the rested and hungry Jacksonville Cannons in the Sunshine State this Saturday.
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Aviators improved to 2-0 for the first time in franchise history with a hard-fought 21-18 home triumph over Vancouver, while the Indianapolis AlleyCats picked up their first win of the season, leveling their season record at 1-1 with a 25-15 rout of the Detroit Mechanix.
On Sunday in LA, multiple Aviators characterized it as a “weird game,” with an inconsistent yet occasionally gusty wind that wreaked havoc on both teams’ typical smooth offense.
“The story of the game was the strange swirling wind and heat that affects our day games,” said LA’s Eric Lissner, who led the Aviators with four assists. “We started out the game with two fierce breaks and then handed the disc back to them twice in a row for two breaks against. The game’s low score was caused by a few marathon points, particularly in the second half. This was not the shootout that we normally experience when playing the Riptide.”
Bryan Nguyen made a fair share of nice grabs, finishing with a game-high seven goals, one-third of his team’s total scoring output. Eli Friedman and Tim Beatty brought surehandedness to the handling core, completing 104 throws with five assists and only two incompletions between them. And for the second game in a row, the former DC cutter, Tom Doi, led the LA D-line in blocks. In two games, playing primarily defense, Doi has two goals, three assists, and five blocks.
If the disc is in the endzone, Bryan Nguyen is likely to come up with it.
“Tom Doi has been a great addition,” said LA’s Mark Elbogen, who leads the squad with a dozen goals through two weeks. “He adds both tangible skill—tough defense, hucks, etc.—and also adds a sense of confidence to our D-line, which has been great. His presence just boosts the confidence of every other man on the field.”
Elbogen also went on to praise the defensive efforts of Jacob Bartholomew, Brandon Severson, and Andrew Padula. “These young guns are killing it on the D-line, generating Ds left and right,” he said. “Expect to hear their names a lot this year.”
The first-place Aviators have a couple weeks off before welcoming preseason favorite San Francisco to LA on April 29, a matchup that could end up being one of the top games in the first month of the season across the league.
Meanwhile, the AlleyCats’ defense limited Detroit to just 15 goals in Indy’s easy home win on Saturday night. Keenan Plew (two goals, seven assists) and Rick Gross (five goals, two assists, four Ds) each had strong games as new Head Coach Eric Leonard picked up his first win.
Game highlights from Saturday.
“Keenan is as fundamentally sound of a player as you’ll find in this league,” Leonard remarked. “He’s been consistently playing at a high level for five seasons and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He is fitting in this season more as a distributor than a deep threat—he leads the team in assists—and we really like what he brings to our offensive attack.
“Rick is an extremely dynamic player and is developing into a true triple threat. He can beat you deep with his speed and athleticism, but can also make you pay with his throws should you give him space underneath. Not to mention, Rick is one of our team’s best defenders; he leads the team in blocks.”
The next month should give a decent indication of what kind of noise the AlleyCats can actually make in the Midwest this season. Their next three games are all on the road against playoff teams from last year, as they play at Minnesota on April 22 and May 6 and they visit Pittsburgh on April 29. Indy’s next home game isn’t until May 13, and that’s against Madison, the Midwest’s standard-bearer whom the AlleyCats have never beaten.
Back in Week One, Indy had the disc with a chance to tie it up against the Radicals midway through the fourth quarter. One bad overthrow and the ensuing Pat Shriwise sky later, Madison had regained momentum and proceeded to put the game away. Over the next 4-5 weeks, we will find out if that’s who the AlleyCats are—a solid team that can play good teams close without getting over the hump—or if Indy is ready to make the sizable jump back into the playoff picture.
“The team has really committed to being in the best shape possible,” said Leonard, “and we have had an extremely productive preseason in the gym. The result is that I was confidently sending players one through 20 out on the field on any given point, and we were pretty fresh going into the fourth quarter. Having that fitness advantage down the stretch makes everything a little easier, as our guys were able to consistently get separation.”
Time will tell if Indy can create that similar separation against teams like Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and, of course, Madison.
Every sport has a small handful of guys who mastered the craft in relative obscurity and rose to high-level prominence against the odds. In the NBA, the Portland Trail Blazers star backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum played their college ball at Weber State and Lehigh, respectively, neither of which is a traditional basketball blueblood. In the NFL, Super Bowl 49 MVP Malcolm Butler came to the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of D-III University of West Alabama. In baseball, even more guys make it coming from small schools; I just watched Detroit’s Jordan Zimmermann, a product of D-III Wisconsin-Stevens Point, help lead the Tigers past my Red Sox over the weekend.
“The Outside-In” aims to shine light on some of these lesser-known players in ultimate, along with guys who came into the pros without much of a profile.
While there are several good candidates this week, New York’s Harper Garvey deserves the mention. He may not be a complete unknown to diehard ultimate fans, but Garvey, in his AUDL debut, put on a throwing display that the league’s social media team could not showcase quickly enough on Monday.
Highlights from Harper Garvey's pro debut with the Empire.
Fighting through the windy conditions, Garvey served as the Empire’s primary center handler through most of Saturday’s game against Toronto, completing a team-high 44 passes through the breeze, with six assists. While some of his throws were short resets or unders, he also launched several ambitious tosses, forcing the defense to respect his ability to land that 175-gram disc anywhere.
Garvey signed with New York after graduating last year from D-III Knox College in Illinois, where he helped lead the River Rats to a fifth-place finish at D-III College Nationals in their first-ever trip to the event. Originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, Garvey won a gold medal back in 2012 with the USA Junior Worlds team that beat Colombia in the finals in Dublin, Ireland.
I must admit, I was a little surprised when the Empire centered the disc to Garvey on their first offensive point on Saturday, thinking the roster had plenty of other throwers with more pro experience to assume that role. The 23-year-old rookie was far from perfect, with six throwaways and several decisions that he may have wanted back. But overall, it was a very impressive display from one of New York’s many offseason additions.
The Empire have a plethora of talented pieces. Now, they just need to put them together correctly. It’s a puzzle that should not be impossible to figure out, but it’s not a simple task either.
Who knows if Garvey will excel in the primary quarterback role throughout the season or if he will transition into different responsibilities? Either way, the Empire know they have a young gunslinger who’s capable of some pretty special stuff on the field.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
DC Breeze Co-Captain Jonathan Neeley was thinking about many different things on Saturday morning, one day prior to his team’s season opener against Toronto. He was in a good mood, as his younger brother was moving to DC and had arrived with his mom on Friday night.
Meanwhile, his father was currently in the hospital in Seattle. Surely, his dad would be interested in watching the Breeze’s game from afar, but he did not have the proper technology in his hospital room. On a whim, Neeley decided to see if any in the ultimate community could help.
Seattle fris: my pop is in the hospital there and I'd like to get a laptop in front of him tomorrow to watch me play. 11am pst. can u help?— Jonathan Neeley (@neeleyjd) April 8, 2017
He didn’t know what to expect, but he also knew that the ultimate community is full of a lot of supportive, caring people.
Shortly thereafter, he received a couple texts from Seattle area folk, offering to help make it happen. Jesse Shofner, the sister of Neeley’s Breeze teammate, Markham, and the first female to score an AUDL goal when she debuted for the Nashville NightWatch in Week One, was one of the people who texted. She happened to be in Seattle and, though she would be tied up and unable to bring the computer herself, she connected Neeley with Callie Mah, another talented player in the Seattle ultimate community. Mah also was busy, but she said that her boyfriend could help!
Consequently, through the long chain of kindness, Mah’s boyfriend brought Neeley’s dad a laptop, and he was able to watch his son’s team play nearly a perfect game against the four-time defending East Division champs.
Neeley didn’t actually know that the arrangement had come to fruition until maybe an hour after his game was over. But he got a text from his father, who had certainly gotten a lift in spirits from being able to watch his son play ultimate from about 3,000 miles away, confirming the mission’s success.
Obviously, that lifted Neeley’s spirits, which already were pretty high after the win, as well. He was delighted to have his mother, sister, and brother at the game, and he was grateful that his father was able to watch him from afar.
“It was just a good day,” he said.
In light of recent and horrifying airplane news, I’m very humbled by the relative inconvenience of my travel experiences. There’s always apprehension at the airport.
Sitting for a three-hour length of time on a plane that’s not moving can be an agonizing experience. All you want to do is to go! But the mechanical issues I encountered on Saturday did have one perk: I was able to watch the second half of the Toronto-New York game on my iPhone, something that would not have been possible if my flight had departed on time. Thankfully, I had plenty of carryover data remaining from my previous month, justifying my multiple hours of 4G video streaming.
Once we finally took off, the quick flight progressed smoothly and safely, and I was a step ahead in my prep for Sunday’s matinee broadcast.
This past weekend kicked off a 21-week stretch where I’m expecting to embark on ultimate-related travels at least 19 times. Here’s hoping for few delays, minimal turbulence, and no overbooking situations.
The road ahead will be exhilarating and occasionally exhausting. But as I discussed at the beginning of Monday’s AUDL Podcast with Alex Ghesquiere, it’s an amazing privilege to be back on the ultimate journey.
Seven on the Line
1. Dallas’ dominant win over Raleigh on Sunday came at a cost, as standout defender Matt Jackson fractured both bones in his forearm on a freak play. In releasing a backhand huck, Jackson’s follow-thru clanged into Raleigh’s lunging defender, Tim McAllister, who was trying to impact the throw. Sadly, Jackson said he expects to be out for an extended period of time, but he felt fortunate to begin the recovery process about as quickly as possible. “Luckily, Dr. Chris Miller, the orthopedic surgeon that fixed Beau’s knee [last year] was at the game,” Jackson explained. “I left the field and went straight to the operating room, and now my radius and ulna are splinted with metal plates. Surgery went very smoothly, and I have a follow-up appointment with Dr. Miller in two weeks. Hopefully, he’ll let me begin the rehab process after the evaluation. I’m very motivated to get back on the field, but it might be [the postseason or beyond] before I can suit up again.”
2. There was some chatter in ultimate circles about whether McAllister’s play was dirty and perhaps merited a suspension. I watched it for the first time on Monday night, and my first reaction was that the outrage was a bit misplaced. Now, McAllister is a very aggressive player, whose physical style I have personally called out before during a live broadcast. But to me, this looked like a very reasonable ultimate play, as a defender simply tried to make up ground on the mark. The end result was obviously unfortunate, but the action did not strike me as vicious or damning. And for what it’s worth, Jackson, whose season may be over, agreed. “I definitely don’t think it was malicious,” Jackson said. “It was just a freak accident. Tim McAllister reached out to me on Facebook and extended his sincerest apologies and genuine willingness to help if I need anything.”
3. When the Dallas Roughnecks take the field in Austin on April 22, it will mark the first time they’ll ever go into battle without Matt Jackson. The University of Arkansas alum is the only member of club to have appeared in all 18 games in the franchise’s short history, all of which, of course, have been wins. He has recorded at least one D in 14 of his 18 games played, no small task considering how difficult it can be to get Ds consistently at the pro level. Overall, he collected 22 Ds in 18 games, along with 30 goals and 22 assists, basically becoming one of the best role players this league has ever seen. Not bad for someone that not too many ultimate fans were familiar before he tried out for the Roughnecks, made the team, and immediately started making big plays on a regular basis. Even though he’s out for a while, he remarked that he felt fortunate that he’d still be able to run during the coming months. “Luckily, it’s just my arm, so I absolutely intend on staying in shape,” he said. “I’d love to be back for the playoffs and hopefully help Dallas make it back to Championship Weekend.”
4. In the lead-up to the season, I wondered whether New York’s Jeff Babbitt could become the first player in AUDL history to register 40 Ds and 40 goals in the same season. So far, he’s on pace! With four Ds and three goals in Saturday’s setback against Toronto, the former UMass Monster set himself on the right track for this inconsequential but cool milestone. If he had these exact numbers in all 14 games, he’d finish the season with 56 Ds and 42 goals. Now, it’s worth mentioning that no AUDL player has ever had 50 blocks in a season before—Madison’s Peter Graffy had 49, the current single-season record, back in 2014. There’s no question that the windy conditions in New York on Saturday contributed to some sloppy play, creating opportunities for Ds that may not ordinarily arise. In order to possibly break Graffy’s record or complete a 40/40 season, he will have to generate deflections on days when Mother Nature isn’t necessarily serving as an eighth defender. But Babbitt is uniquely suited for the challenge, and if he can stay healthy and play all 14 games for the Empire, keep an eye on this statistical pursuit. I think it has a legit chance to happen.
Just Babbitt things.
5. Prior to his performance on Sunday afternoon, there weren’t many doubters of Alan Kolick’s overall abilities. But it was still interesting to see his role change a little bit from what he’s specialized on in the past. Since the Breeze O-line had six capable handlers, Kolick was often pushed downfield into a cutting role. This allowed him to catch several 15-25 yard unders and then launch the disc long, and it also gave him the chance to show his springy hops. In one of DC’s many plays of the day, Kolick rose above a pack of a half-dozen bodies in the end zone to pluck the disc away for a sensational score. Since I did not recall many instances of Kolick rising up to sky a pack of defenders before, it genuinely surprised me when he snared the disc. His teammates, on the other hand, were far from shocked. “Not a surprise,” said Markham Shofner, though it was a sweet play. “He’s lengthy, springy, and has a good sense of timing and positioning.” Rowan McDonnell added, “I’ve seen him do that many times. He read well and does have some hops. He’s good in the air.”
Alan Kolick was in full beast mode for DC on Sunday.
6. Considering I was a political science major in college and have seen every episode of The West Wing at least a dozen times, I was pretty giddy about the opportunity I had to interview the Mayor of Washington D.C., the honorable Muriel Bowser, during Sunday’s telecast in our nation’s capital. We certainly live in times where politics are exceedingly divisive, painfully excruciating, and often downright demoralizing, but it still was a special moment for me, and it spoke to the magnitude of the event that the leader of a major city came to be a part of a pro ultimate showcase. In fact, Bowser was the second Mayor I’ve had the privilege of interviewing on TV in the past couple months. In early March, during a women’s basketball game at Miami, I got to chat with Tamara James, who had recently been elected Mayor of Dania Beach, Florida. James also happens to be the all-time leading scorer in Miami women’s basketball history, and she went into politics after a nine-year pro basketball career. I hope I’m fortunate enough to cross paths with both Bowser and James again sometime down the road. Two very sharp women.
7. A quick shout-out to the newest member of the Austin Sol family: Alford Henry Loskorn, who entered the world last Friday and supposedly already has a pretty sweet flick. The Sol were understandably missing new daddy, Jeff Loskorn, at their game against Raleigh on Saturday. But some things—not many, but definitely some—are more important than ultimate. Congrats to Jeff and his wife Shelby on the birth of their first child. Let the 2038 "Ford Loskorn for Callahan" campaign begin!
There are only two official regular season games lined up for a quiet Week Three, but there are plenty of other fascinating ultimate developments coming up this weekend.
First of all, the inaugural Cascades Cup, a mixed-gender exhibition game, will take place in Seattle, as top players from San Francisco’s men and women’s ultimate scene will journey northward to battle Seattle’s co-ed squad. It should be an interesting glimpse into what the mixed game looks like on the AUDL field, and obviously, the talent in those two ultimate cities needs little introduction.
At the same time, those two mixed teams are probably the third and fourth most talented mixed teams getting together this weekend. With the World Games scheduled to begin in exactly 100 days, the rosters of Team USA and Team Canada each will come together this weekend for their first minicamps since selecting their 20-person rosters.
The USA team, led by Alex Ghesquiere and Matty Tsang, will meet in Colorado Springs, while the Canadian squad, led by Scott Hastie and Tasia Balding, will practice in Vancouver.
On Saturday, the Canadian team will scrimmage against Seattle’s Cascades Cup roster, which should be a fun and competitive test for both of those teams.
The two national teams, who will compete along with Australia, Colombia, Japan, and Poland at the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland this July, might go head-to-head for the first time when they both travel down to the Colombia for the popular Torneo Eterna Primavera, better known as TEP, in Medellin on April 28-29.
The Fulcrum Media-led AUDL Game of the Week crew will be back in action for the first game of the Cross Coast Challenge in Raleigh on April 22, but this weekend make sure you catch the first of Ultiworld’s series of AUDL coverage, as Charlie and his crew will be down in Jacksonville to showcase the Flyers and the Cannons.
There’s plenty of intriguing ultimate ahead, and that is good.
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