The Tuesday Toss: Two Games, Many Lessons
April 18, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
On a quiet holiday weekend full of basketball and hockey, the ultimate remained wildly educational. In the South Division—the only division to hold games this past weekend—both road teams rolled. Everywhere else, anticipation grew.
Over the first three weeks of the season, there were 16 games across the league. Over the next thee weeks, there will be 36.
This past weekend, only four teams played, while 20 others prepared. There are six teams who still have yet to play their first game of the season, and for five of the six that changes this weekend.
The prologue is over, and the primary plots will be unveiled over the course of the next month. Though the march to Montreal is a winding journey, every pull along the way leads to stories, frustrations, and layouts.
The entertaining quest continued this past Saturday, with a couple of last year’s South Division playoff teams looking postseason worthy again.
The Full Field Layout
Despite a blowout loss nine days ago to the reigning champs, the Raleigh Flyers very much look for real. With three wins in three weeks, including two decisive victories on the road, the Flyers have displayed their depth, savvy, and overall skill, which is considerably higher than a year ago. It remains to be seen whether we will look back at the Dallas Roughnecks rout as a meaningful data point or a circumstantial blip—it's difficult to assign much judgement to a game with winds exceeding 35 miles per hour—but for now the Flyers have clearly established themselves as Dallas’ top contender.
On Saturday in Jacksonville, the Flyers were without handling anchors Jonathan Nethercutt and Dave Snoke. They were also missing a cavalcade of standout defenders: Hunter Taylor, David Richardson, Micah Hood, and Mark Lin. College stars like Jack Williams and JD Hastings were busy getting ready for the Carolina Conference Championships, which will be held this coming weekend in Advance, NC. Brett Matzuka took another weekend off, recuperating his injured knee with the hopes of returning soon.
That’s basically half of a playoff-worthy gameday roster, and none of them even made the trip to the Sunshine State. It would have been understandable, even expected, for the Jacksonville Cannons to make their own early season statement.
Game highlights from Saturday night.
But after 48 minutes of high-level ultimate, it was the Flyers that had issued a convincing proclamation. Raleigh’s sizzling deep throws and relentlessly stingy defense sent a powerful message to everyone in the South Division. DC, their upcoming interdivisional opponent, along with the rest of the league, would be wise to take notice too.
“We believe that we are an incredibly talented team,” said Raleigh’s Charlie Muniz, “and that if we stick to our guns and play the way we are supposed to, that no one can stop us.”
The Flyers broke Jacksonville early and led throughout the first quarter, but the Cannons stabilized and surged in front midway through the second. With the score even at 6-6, the Cannons persevered through a seven-turnover point to punch in the go-ahead goal, taking their first lead of the game.
It did not last long.
Raleigh responded with a smooth O-point to knot the score again, and Nate Goff registered Ds on each of the following two points, both leading to Flyers’ breaks. Then, with 3:21 remaining in the first half, 18-year-old wunderkind Liam Searles-Bohs released a gorgeous outside-in flick around the intimidating reach of Mischa Freystaetter, connecting with Mike Pannone to cap the Flyers 4-0 run to make it 10-7.
Justin Allen gets the swat block before teenage sensation Liam Searles-Bohs capitalizes with the assist for the Flyers break score.
The Flyers led 11-8 at halftime, and Jacksonville never got closer than that the rest of the way. With nine minutes left in the fourth, the Cannons had a chance to get back within two, but Freystaetter narrowly overthrew Jakeem Polk in the end zone. Moments later, the Flyers firmed up their lead and created significant separation down the stretch.
“Raleigh played a great game, no doubt about it,” said Jacksonville Assistant Coach Beth Vavrica. “They showed up and played well on both sides of the disc. They played loose and relaxed. We also had more than our share of mistakes.
“Raleigh showed they wanted that W more than we did.”
The Flyers’ desire manifested itself on defense. Mixing junky zone looks to slow down the Cannons quick-strike abilities, Raleigh also counted on first-year Flyers like Goff and Pannone to try and contain Freystaetter. Jacksonville’s giant managed only two goals, while Goff and Pannone were two of the five Flyers to record multiple Ds in the game. Jacksonville only had five Ds as a team, and amazingly, did not muster any blocks after the first quarter.
“There were moments when they applied pressure or when we were impatient, but for the majority of the game our offense was efficient,” said Noah Saul, who quarterbacked the Flyers with a team high 36 completions and three assists. “And there’s no denying that our defense played great. Not only did they get a lot of blocks, but they also converted those chances into breaks at a high rate.”
Justin Allen bounced back and forth between O and D, finishing the game with a team high +6, with three Ds, three assists, and one goal (with one drop). Jacob Fairfax, who leads the squad in plus/minus for the season, chipped in with three assists and no turnovers, while Jonathan “Goose” Helton led all scorers with four goals and added a pair of assists, including a picture perfect flick-huck that found Allen in stride to make it 17-13 late in the third.
Jonathan Helton rips an absolutely monster flick huck to a streaking Justin Allen for the third quarter score.
The Flyers are feeling good at 3-1 with five of their next six games at home, while the Cannons have a two-game road trip beckoning this weekend. Jacksonville will learn a lot about itself over the next five days after matching up with Atlanta and Nashville this Saturday and Sunday.
The Cannons had a quiet, somber locker room following their home loss this past weekend, and the team’s leadership immediately looked to set a new tone.
“We were focused on addressing the disappointment and on the actions that are going to continue the growth of individuals and the team,” said Vavrica. “No one thinks that kind of game is acceptable, and we expect to work even harder to be ready for the next battle. It’s a long season, and there are going to be ups and downs to weather.”
Everyone likes to say that it’s a long season, and in terms of days and months, it is. Both the Flyers and Cannons opened on April 1, and the schedule will span more than 100 days. There’s still plenty of time to right the ship.
But with only 14 games guaranteed, things can change quickly. Teams will always be judged by their full résumés, but the recency effect naturally inspires us to give a little more heft to a squad’s most frequent impression.
In this light, the Atlanta Hustle charted a new course for their 2017 expedition by setting a new franchise record with 37 goals in their comfortable victory against the Nashville NightWatch on Saturday night. Last year’s MVP Dylan Tunnell made his season debut by brilliantly piloting the Hustle offense, and the Atlanta defense finally broke through late in the first half to establish a lead that would not be relinquished.
Game highlights from Saturday night.
“I was not feeling particularly confident going in,” said Tunnell. “My knee is banged up and I haven’t been really been able to play much since tryouts. It held up well for the game, and I was thankful.”
If you just looked at the final margin of 37-27, you might think that Nashville had been routed from the opening pull. In reality, that was hardly the case. There were 14 ties in the first half, from 1s to 14s, before either offense got broken. It was the 30th point of the game before the Atlanta D-line delivered. Christian Olsen’s D led to an eight-throw sequence that culminated with Taylor Goforth finding Kelvin Williams to make it 16-14.
“The first quarter was a heavy upwind/downwind game that made upwind breaks a prayer,” said Atlanta Coach Greg Swanson. “None were answered. Once the wind started dying down in the second quarter, break opportunities became viable and our D-line took control of the game. We started 0/3 on break opportunities and went 9/9 the rest of the game.”
The first break opened the floodgates, and two D-points later it was 18-14. Even when Nashville stabilized its offense again, it was too late. The Hustle’s O-line, led by Tunnell’s 51 completions and eight assists, was too good.
“We didn’t plan to score 37 goals, but the offense was flowing well and the conditions were making it easy for both teams to score downwind,” Swanson added.
The NightWatch did not break Atlanta’s offense until the game’s 60th point, when Nashville’s D-line score made it 34-26. By then, it was too little, too late.
“Early in the first quarter, our D had a chance to take the lead, worked it all the way to their goal line, but couldn’t convert,” explained Nashville’s Jake Wright. “And of course Dylan rips a full field flick for a score.”
Wright led the NightWatch with a game-high eight goals, but eight members of the Hustle scored multiple times, led by Josh Bush, with seven. Tunnell complemented his eight assists by scoring six goals, while Matt Smith also found the end zone six times.
“Overall, our offense did a good job of getting each other open as downfield cutters,” said Smith. “We created space and forced defenders to either switch or get punished deep for not switching. We’ve got a good combination of deadly deep throwers, very solid deep cutters, and a couple facilitators to keep the disc moving."
Dylan Tunnell rockets the disc to Matt Smith who tracks it down for the duo's first scoring connection of 2017.
“I think this game proved that when we play well, we’re a real threat to anyone in the South. Our D has some playmakers and I think will be especially deadly when we get some of our college kids back after their college seasons are over.”
At 1-1, the Hustle have their next three games at home, beginning with Jacksonville this Saturday. Meanwhile, Nashville will be probably be rooting double overtime in that Saturday tilt, theoretically leaving the Cannons exhausted for their matchup in the Music City on Sunday afternoon.
Even after a pair of double-digit losses, the NightWatch are not wavering from a determination that they can figure out how to compete and win in the daunting South Division.
“Overall, the main thing I reflect on is how much I love and believe in this team,” said Nashville Coach Ryan Balch. “There are a lot of new pieces to find the right fit for, but the talent and skill level to start the season is as high as it’s ever been regardless of whether the end results have yet reflected that improvement. We will build in some additional defensive looks, a stronger commitment to defensive fundamentals, and continue to foster a team-wider culture of respect, grit, and team-first mentality.”
Want to feel old? Think about this: It’s possible that, next year, there might be an AUDL player who was born in the year 2000.
The rules state that you need to be 18 to be eligible, and it seems like every year there are a handful of teenagers that are worthy of a roster spot. It’s humbling for many, including myself, who barely knew that ultimate existed before going to college.
For example, on my 18th birthday, in July of 2003, not only had I never successfully thrown a flick, I’m not sure I even knew the throw was a thing. It was a month later, during my freshman orientation, that the smooth forehand release first caught my eye, and I fell in love. Six months later, I could actually throw a respectable not-too-wobbly flick in a game.
As youth ultimate continues to grow, more and more kids are finding the game earlier. That has created an intriguing feeder system, primarily for colleges, but also for pro teams. Each year, a small batch of top prospects earn their way into the AUDL even before they enroll on a college campus.
If you’ve watched the Raleigh Flyers thus far in 2017, you have certainly seen the latest teenage phenom, 18-year-old Liam Searles-Bohs, who’s currently a senior at the Carolina Friends School in Durham. A gold medalist with the USA Junior Worlds team that went to Poland last summer, the UNC-bound Searles-Bohs has quickly shown how capable he already is at the pro level.
In two games, Searles-Bohs has played 31 points, primarily on defense. So far, he’s completed 31 passes, with zero turnovers. Four of his throws have gone for scores, including a pair of difficult flicks against Jacksonville on Saturday.
As mentioned in “The Full-Field Layout,” Searles-Bohs flick around Freystaetter was a critical moment Raleigh’s late first-half run. In the second half, the kid carefully lofted a cross-field forehand over tons of traffic to find Tim McAllister for another backbreaking goal, giving the Flyers an 18-13 lead with a minute remaining in the third quarter.
It was the type of throw that we’ve admired a marksman like Jonathan Nethercutt making countless times, but the vision and execution of the teenage rookie was stunning.
“We know Liam well and followed his progression through the Triangle youth scene,” commented Raleigh Coach Mike DeNardis. “I was excited to see him play against all the top players in the area at tryouts, but I knew from watching him play on [the youth club team] Triforce and [local development club team] Cash Crop that he was perfectly capable of handling himself. In both games he’s played, he’s shown that he can not only hold his own, but add value to the team.”
We’ve already covered the incredible depth of Raleigh’s talent, and if everyone is available, one wonders whether any of the more established veterans may find themselves sidelined by the emergence of Searles-Bohs.
“Liam’s gaining more and more confidence as the season moves forward,” said Raleigh’s Shane Sisco, who’s scored eight goals in his two games alongside Searles-Bohs on the Flyers D-line. “As a high school senior, he continues to impress me with his disc skills and overall abilities as an ultimate player.
“He played incredibly well against Jacksonville.”
At this time, it’s unclear whether Searles-Bohs will be active for Raleigh’s Cross Coast Challenge battle with the DC Breeze this Saturday at 7:00 PM/ET. But the Flyers will be prominently featured on the AUDL’s Game of the Week package over the next month, and it’s only a matter of time before more and more people have seen him play.
That’s good news for everyone, except perhaps all of Raleigh’s South Division opponents.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Hitting the snooze button like pic.twitter.com/kMHFCOnqAT
— AUDL (@theAUDL) April 17, 2017
Hard to believe that this spectacular D from Jakeem Polk, his second of the quarter, was Jacksonville’s final D of the day. Raleigh throws occasionally hit the ground during the final 36 minutes, but no Cannon registered an official block during the last three quarters.
I can’t remember seeing that before.
Seven On The Line
1. Atlanta’s Paul Lally enjoyed a solid three-goal, two-D night on Saturday in his return to Nashville, primarily playing on the Hustle’s D-line. It was his first game against his old team, and he said it was a challenge to compete against his old friends. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough to go out and compete against a bunch of guys I want to see do well, but was still certainly able to hold nothing back,” Lally explained. “It was weird walking past the NightWatch locker room and hearing my old coach talking to the team and not having the crowd cheer when I did something cool.” Players from both teams said that the spirit was high throughout the game, and the Hustle even went out of their way to praise the Nashville-based referee crew on Twitter. After the game, as often occurs in ultimate, members from both teams enjoyed each other’s company. For Lally, who’s seen both sides of the Atlanta-Nashville rivalry, this was perhaps the highlight of the weekend. “I think both communities get along very well and were able to have a great time together after going at it for 48 minutes.”
2. When you compare Jacksonville’s two games thus far, it’s a bit bewildering. The Cannons scored 40 goals against Nashville on April 1, the most any team has scored so far this year, and then they tallied just 18 on Saturday against Raleigh, a number that only three teams have failed to reach in 16 total games league-wide. The opponent, obviously, makes a big difference. Raleigh did a great job at forcing the Cannons to dink and dunk their way down the field. Believe it or not, Jacksonville had 51 more completions against Raleigh than they did against Nashville, but scored 22 fewer goals. The Flyers, wary of Jakeem Polk’s ability to beat them deep, basically played six-on-seven after several turnovers, with Polk’s defender simply serving as a deep-deep free safety. The Flyers were content with letting Polk, still a relative ultimate novice, catch the disc on any under he wanted. Polk’s inexperienced disc skills yielded three throwaways on just nine tosses.
3. Meanwhile, it’s also necessary to point out that Nashville has surrendered an absurd 77 goals in two games, a 38.5 goals allowed per game mark that would easily be the worst in league history if it sustained itself for the season. It’s easy to simply put the blame on Nashville’s D-line, but the reality is that the offense has been broken a ton too, leading to the big numbers. “All of us need work,” said Nashville’s Tom Radcliffe, “so there is no shifting blame either way for these losses. The O-line must score when the disc in in their hands, and the D-line must get and convert some breaks throughout the game. The ‘league’ would have you believe that our D-line needs work, and I’m not going to disagree that there is work to be done, but my faith hasn’t wavered with our guys. They are under a system this year with D-line Coach Kyle Welch and Assistant Coach John Carden that will pay out once they begin to execute. A lot of new faces, a lot of missed switches, help-D, and mistakes that are easy to clean up. Guys like Javier Ortiz, Zach Avello, Phil Dougherty, and new addition standouts Ben Breault and Danny On will get theirs.” The rested NightWatch D will take on the fatigued Cannons O on Sunday. Will that make a difference?
4. The Raleigh Flyers are not going to change their name, but we really should start referring to them, or at least a small faction of them, as the Flyers Express. It has been incredible how influential former members of the Charlotte franchise have been so far this season. This includes a guy like Nate Goff, who only played just 12 points in the AUDL last year because of injury. The 6’4” 22-year-old has five Ds already this season, three of which came on Saturday against Jacksonville. “Nate is a very strong player for the University of South Carolina,” said Denardis. “He has the tools to be a great player, and he’s performed when given a chance.” Overall, eight guys who played for the Express last year have contributed for the Flyers so far in 2017, including four—Goff, Jacob Fairfax, Evan Howey, and Jeff Nordgren—who have been on Raleigh’s 20-man roster for all four games.
5. Though only an exhibition, Friday night’s Cascades Cup, a mixed-gender showcase of some of Seattle and San Francisco’s top ultimate talent, was still entertaining to watch. The windy conditions and lack of cohesiveness between new teammates made for a somewhat sloppy back-and-forth, but it remained close to the very end, with Seattle’s squad inching within one in the final minutes before falling short. The game’s MVP was unquestionably San Francisco’s Antoine Davis. The Virginia Tech-alum had recorded four Ds in the FlameThrowers first two regular season games against San Jose, and it felt like he had 40 of them on Friday night in Seattle. Active and athletic, Davis repeatedly made plays to help the mixed San Francisco squad prevail. Davis and the FlameThrowers resume their regular season with a home game against San Diego on Saturday, while Seattle hits the road to Vancouver for the Cascades first road game of the season.
Full game footage from Friday night.
6. Heading into Week 4, there are 11 remaining undefeated teams. Of course, the majority of them are 0-0. Five teams who have already seen the field are still perfect: Dallas (2-0), DC (1-0), Los Angeles (2-0), Madison (1-0), and Seattle (1-0). Three members of that quintet have tough road games this weekend, as Dallas goes to Austin, DC visits Raleigh, and Seattle treks to Vancouver. LA and Madison are both off this weekend, but each has a tough battle on tap on April 29, when the Aviators host San Francisco and the Radicals visit Minnesota. A season ago, both Dallas and Madison made it through the season a perfect 14-0. Currently, the Radicals have won 21-straight regular season games, dating back to a loss in Pittsburgh on June 6, 2015. Dallas’ regular season winning streak stands at 16, and the third-longest active regular season winning streak belongs to LA, who has won eight straight.
7. As Dallas begins a three-game road trip, keep your eyes on their game at Atlanta a week from Sunday. On April 30, the Roughnecks will face the Hustle on the second day of a back-to-back. Furthermore, Dallas will be without Jimmy Mickle and Dylan Freechild, who will be playing with the USA World Games roster at a practice tournament in Colombia. They will also be without Kurt Gibson and Matt Jackson, who are both injured. Throughout the Roughnecks 19-0 run—16 in the regular season and three in the playoffs—they have always answered the bell even when missing some of their stalwarts. And perhaps Chris Mazur, Jay Froude, Ben Lohre, Brandon Malecek, Matt Bennett, Dalton Smith, Kai Marshall, Dan Emmons, Stanley Peterson, Abe Coffin, and the rest of the Roughnecks still have enough firepower to prevail. But Atlanta will be at home and hungry in front of a national television audience. If Dallas can win in Austin and Nashville on the next two Saturdays, the Roughnecks would put their 21-0 record on the line against the Hustle. They would still be the favorites, but they would also be more vulnerable than perhaps any other game in franchise history. Ultimate’s not blackjack, but maybe, just maybe, Dallas’ first bust will be at 22.
Over the next three weeks, almost half of the league—11 of the 24 franchises, to be exact—will experience arguably the toughest thing the AUDL schedule can throw at you: road games in two different cities on consecutive days.
So far this year, only Toronto and Raleigh have had multiple games in a weekend, and both of those elite teams earned a hard-fought road win on Saturday before getting belted by double-digits on Sunday; the two teams lost by the combined score of 65-39.
It may surprise you a bit to realize that, a season ago, 10 different franchises successfully went 2-0 on a two-game weekend road trip. Dallas did it twice, while Austin, Indy, LA, Madison, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, and Toronto each did it once. Eight of those 10 teams made the playoffs; while Atlanta, DC, New York, and Raleigh were the four playoff teams that never pulled off the two-game sweep in 2016.
In 2015, there were eight examples of teams winning twice on the road in the same weekend: Jacksonville, Madison, Minnesota, Montreal, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, and Toronto. Six of those eight teams made the playoffs.
Overall, over the past two years, 14 of the 18 teams (77.8 percent) to earn multiple road wins in the same weekend made the postseason. In the same time span, if a team failed to win multiple road games in the same weekend, nearly three-quarters (72.7 percent) of those clubs missed the playoffs.
Entering this weekend where San Diego, Montreal, and Jacksonville each have a pair on the road, my hunch is that we won’t reach double-digit road sweeps this season like we did a year ago. When you combine the improved depth of the league with the reality that the top teams inevitably don’t travel with 100 percent full rosters, it becomes a next to impossible challenge, even for the best teams in the league.
But this will be something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and throughout the season. If anyone pulls it off, it seems like a pretty safe bet to pencil that squad into the playoffs.
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