The Tuesday Toss: Who Is Number One?
May 16, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
While enjoying a postgame beverage at the Backyard Bistro in Raleigh on Saturday night, a couple different people asked me the same question: “Who’s number one in next week’s AUDL Power Rankings?”
I quickly asserted the important truth: I have no editorial control over who is ranked where. Occasionally, I share an opinion or two, but the order of teams and the accompanying captions—generally written with captivating style and substance that leaves me envious I didn’t think of it first—are not my creations.
Alas, I pondered the topic that was posed and immediately struggled with an answer. It obviously depends on what characteristics one uses as the foundation for the rankings.
Is it "who simply has the best resume of wins right now?" Or is it Peter King’s Fine Fifteen philosophy of ‘who would win between Team X and Team Y on a neutral field in Wichita?’ It also could theoretically be a projection of whom you expect to win the title, and ranking the team’s sequentially in terms of their true championship probability as it fluctuates week by week.
Frankly, at the moment, regardless of which criteria one weights the most, it still is historically tight at the top. Here’s a quick break down of the teams that could make their case to be number one in this week’s Power Rankings, with the official decision coming from the stat-crunching, video-munching AUDL guru Adam Ruffner at early on Friday.
- Toronto Rush (4-2)
- Pros: First place in their division; Riding a three-game winning streak, including two on the road; Mark Lloyd just made his season debut; Wins over DC and at New York; Talented youth is improving
- Cons: Blown out by DC, albeit on the second day of a back-to-back; Looked like a middle-of-the-road team in a sloppy performance at home against Montreal
- DC Breeze (3-2)
- Pros: Good wins vs. Toronto and NY; Three great quarters at Raleigh in the Cross Coast Challenge; Near-perfect performance vs. the Rush set the standard for a spectacular 48 minute effort against a top team
- Cons: Zero road wins so far loom large; Collapsed at Raleigh, losing five-goal fourth-quarter lead
- Raleigh Flyers (6-1)
- Pros: Won handily at Jacksonville in first meeting with the Cannons; Added nice resume victory in OT comeback vs. DC; Took care of business in cruising past bruised and fatigued Dallas squad on Saturday
- Cons: Blasted by 15 in their road loss to the Roughnecks; Still suffer bouts of inconsistent play, like during the first three quarters vs. DC
- Jacksonville Cannons (5-1)
- Pros: Four-game winning streak; Handed the Dallas Roughnecks their first loss in franchise history on the first game of a weekend, which is more impressive than beating a team playing for the second time in as many days; Eked out a road win at underrated Atlanta; Higher overall point differential than Raleigh
- Cons: Two of their wins have been vs. 0-7 Nashville (compared to none of Raleigh’s six wins); Humbled by Flyers in first meeting at home
- Dallas Roughnecks (6-2)
- Pros: Defending champs; Clobbered Raleigh at home; At full strength, still the favorites to repeat; One could argue that losses this past weekend were not that important and even understandable considering their traveling roster and circumstantial lack of depth
- Cons: Obviously, coming off back-to-back losses; Brutalized by injuries (Kurt Gibson, Matt Jackson, Dan Emmons, Jake Anderson, and now Stanley Peterson), not to mention an additional handful of guys playing through other ailments at less than 100 percent
- Minnesota Wind Chill (5-0)
- Pros: Only remaining undefeated team in the league; Handed the Madison Radicals their first regular season loss in about 600 days on April 29
- Cons: Beyond the Madison win, all other victories vs. teams w/ combined record of 2-11; Strengthened resume with two road wins this weekend, but majority of success has been at home; Despite unblemished record, questionable whether they pass the ‘eye-test’ as number one team in the league
- San Jose Spiders (5-1)
- Pros: Riding impressive five-game winning streak, including three wins vs. teams above .500; Won at Seattle (who just won at San Francisco); Excellent offense and underrated defense
- Cons: Though they’ve exceeded expectations, still not clear if they belong in the conversation for number one; Fair or not, majority of ultimate fans/prognosticators would predict San Francisco to win the next matchup between the two Bay Area squads
- Seattle Cascades (4-1)
- Pros: Only loss was one-point buzzer-beater vs. San Jose; One-point road win at San Francisco; Home win vs. Pittsburgh in the Cross Coast Challenge
- Cons: Hard to rank them ahead of San Jose because of head-to-head result; Aside from opening weekend victory, last three wins have come by total three, two, and one goals, respectively, suggesting this team is either amazingly clutch or quite fortunate to be 4-1 instead of 2-3
- San Francisco FlameThrowers (4-2)
- Pros: Offense scored 34 goals vs. San Jose in win vs. Spiders; impressive road win at Los Angeles; At full strength, roster has overwhelming amount of talent; Their losses have been by one and two goals, respectively, suggesting they are very close to being 6-0
- Cons: Even close losses are still losses; With so many players also representing USA, who knows if they will ever be at full strength?
So who does deserve the number one nod?
Honestly, I don’t know.
I’m guessing that Raleigh will get the nod, though I think that Dallas and San Jose are just about as deserving. Again, it depends on the standards you’re relying upon.
The Flyers deserve credit for their wins, and they definitely have the easiest remaining schedule of any contender, with three games against Nashville and two of their final three meetings with Jacksonville at home.
Meanwhile, the Roughnecks simply get the benefit of the doubt from me, despite their recent road woes. On a neutral field, with a full roster, Dallas is still the scariest team to face. Through the years, every team in the league has suffered road setbacks with shorthanded rosters. Joining this club means the Roughnecks are indeed mortal, but they still might be the best.
The perception of San Jose is certainly shaded by their preseason ranking and the minimal expectations the outside world had for them. If Dallas is Duke, with a ton of hype leading to an inflated ranking, San Jose is Gonzaga, where skepticism remains despite the telling results.
I apologize to Minnesota. I’m sorry, but I just can’t contemplate a team that has played a mostly mid-major schedule as the number one team quite yet. I’m very intrigued, and the victory over Madison was a great start, but I need to see more before I’d vote the Wind Chill number one.
But again, my opinion is pretty meaningless, as I don’t vote in the official AUDL Power Rankings. Regardless of who ends up number one now, I think we can all agree on a couple things.
Firstly, it’s fantastically fun that everything is so wide open, with as many as a nine teams able to make a case for number one and probably a dozen clubs that could argue they deserve to be top five. All four divisions have at least three contenders that are truly viable threats to make it to Montreal. Beyond that, there are plenty of spoilers looming to redefine the race.
Secondly, thank goodness we don’t have a committee to decide the final four playoff teams! We get to play this thing out. Top three in each division make the postseason, and the regular season definitely matters because the first-place finisher earns a critical bye and home-field advantage for the right to advance to Championship Weekend in Montreal.
The uncertain madness is a natural byproduct of a topsy-turvy first month and half of the season, exemplified by a particularly dramatic and emotional Week 7. Two teams needed overtime to pick up their first wins of the season, a pair of last year’s semifinalists each rallied for pivotal road victories, and a player in the West Division made his return to the field for the first time after defeating cancer.
The Full Field Layout
Dallas had been living dangerously for a while.
Like several previous road trips, this past weekend’s roster was quite thin. Sure, they had their typical array of superstars: Dylan Freechild, Jimmy Mickle, Chris Mazur, Abe Coffin, Dalton Smith, and others. But when you are permitted 20 active sets of fresh legs and forego that full allotment, you are asking for trouble.
The Roughnecks traveled with 18 players, including two promoted practice players, injured Captain Matt Jackson, and player/coach Patrick Eberle. When Stanley Peterson dislocated his shoulder early in Friday night’s Jacksonville game, it zapped Dallas of another much-needed weapon.
“The story could be that we had two practice players, the coach, and a guy with a broken arm playing on the most challenging road trip in the AUDL to supplement losing the best player in the world (Kurt Gibson), one of the best all around young stars (Stanley Peterson), all-AUDL D team star Dan Emmons, and so on, leaving us with essentially 12 healthy rostered players trying to gut it out against very hungry teams that are tired of hearing about the Dallas team that they can’t beat,” explained Roughnecks Captain Chris Mazur. “Yes, that could be the story. Or, the story could be about how well our opponents played.”
The reality is that during their 23-0 run over the past 14 months, Dallas had won with a diminished roster before. What changed this time? Jacksonville and Raleigh were both ready to capitalize.
“We came out with a clear game plan, putting constant pressure on their main handlers, trying to make them thing twice on each throw, and having our offense maintain composure with the disc,” said Cannons’ standout Mischa Freystaetter, who, along with Mike Hickson and Michael Fairley, brought great length and pestered the Dallas handlers for the improved Jacksonville D-line. “We came out focused and with a sense of urgency unlike our prior matchups. The turning point came just after half as we had a few strong defensive stands in the third quarter, which was just enough to hold on to the lead in the fourth.”
The teams were tied at 12 at halftime, but Jacksonville led 19-16 after their strong start to the second half. Though the Roughnecks earned a break in the fourth that inched them within striking distance, the Cannons’ offense played with focus and poise, securing the 24-22 victory.
Game highlights from May 12.
“It was definitely the composure down the stretch,” said Cole Sullivan, who finished with 41 completions in 42 throws. “I had the turn [when we were up 22-21], and it was my only turnover of the game. Thank God that wasn’t the deciding factor because it would have been soul crushing. After that, we just went back to being chilly, took care of the disc, and got the W.”
Jordan Huston led the Cannons with seven goals, while Bobby Ley anchored the distributing duties with seven assists in what was obviously a great overall team win for Jacksonville.
“Our player of the game was Jeremy Langdon,” said Cannons Assistant Coach Beth Vavrica. “It was really difficult to choose because there was a high quality of play across the team on O and D, but Jeremy had some critical layout grabs for scores in the fourth quarter and the last assist of the game that kept the lead. He played smart and aggressive. On D, I have to mention Mike ‘The Dragon’ Hickson. He had three Ds in the second half. His energy and focus helped his teammates play better too.”
From a strategic standpoint, the Cannons strove to take very few deep shots, despite constantly threatening with cutters breaking deep. On defense, they challenged the Roughnecks’ handlers and used a variety of poaching and switching downfield to limit Dallas’ quick-strike ability. Together, these two tenets helped slow the game down and forced the Roughnecks to run more. Through the full 48 minutes, the grind caught up to them.
“[It was a] really well-crafted strategy on both sides of the disc, coupled with the highest level of execution I’ve seen out of Jacksonville in any game during the last few seasons,” said Mazur. “Hats off to them for sticking to a plan and executing as a team. How they only beat us by two points is the more remarkable thing to me.”
The writing was on the wall as Dallas got ready in the Cardinal Gibbons High School gymnasium one night later. The Roughnecks found a couple basketballs, played some knockout, and kept things loose. At gametime, they registered an early break for a 2-0 lead, but it quickly became apparent that the Roughnecks were in trouble again. Whereas Dallas had clobbered Raleigh by 15 on a viciously windy April afternoon, the Flyers were a completely different team at home on a tranquil May evening. Led by their bearded handler, Raleigh seized control.
Full game footage from May 13.
“I think ‘in the zone’ is the simplest way to describe it,” said Jonathan Nethercutt, when asked to assess how he felt throughout his 13-assist performance. “But more specifically, it was a combination of being very relaxed, excited about the challenge of the game, and having a lot of fun. I definitely felt like things were clicking for me, but maybe more importantly—and maybe it was the prerequisite to my performance—is I felt like our offense and all the individuals within it were moving well as a single unit.”
Highlights from Jonathan Nethercutt's AUDL single-game season high 13 assists on Saturday.
Jacob Fairfax scored six times to lead a pack of nine Flyers with multiple goals. Jonathan “Goose” Helton scored three times and dished six assists, helping Raleigh earn its first ever win over the Roughnecks.
The play of the night came when Helton lofted a backhand toward Nethercutt near the front pylon of the end zone. When it began to fade out of bounds, Nethercutt delivered a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy greatest.
“To be honest, it wasn’t until the disc was about halfway to [Nethercutt] that I knew it wasn’t going to curl in,” said Helton. “The disc was very wet from dew, so it slipped out a tad prematurely. Even then, it’s hard to know immediately. Literally all of our team practice discs are old and under-stable. So, with backhands, they always die to the right at the end of flight. The fresh disc we play with during games is stable and doesn’t do this; it flies more true. But that means that when I let it go, even though it slipped a bit, I kinda thought it might tail in.”
The disc faded out of bounds, but as you surely know already, it only made the highlight more spectacular.
“When Goose released it, I knew it was going to be a close play,” said Nethercutt. “I initially thought I was going to be able to toe the line, as the disc was holding its angle for most of its flight. In the last 15-20 yards of the throw though, the angle started to shift as the disc slowed down and the chances of making a toe-the-line play was less likely than I had initially thought. I thought I was going to have a chance to toe the line down to about the last seven yards, at which time I thought it was past the point of pulling that play off, and I started thinking about a greatest attempt.
“As far as the throw, I knew I had my defender and a trailing, help defender close to me. I also knew I had passed one of our cutters earlier in my cut. I knew my best chance was throwing the disc to the middle of the field, farthest from the defenders closest to me, so that’s what I did. And after that, it was just a little luck and a lot of Justin [Allen] making a great reaction and play on the disc.”
The greatest capped Raleigh’s biggest run of the night, a 6-0 burst from the middle of the third to the start of the fourth that transformed a close 20-19 Flyers lead into a much more comfortable 26-19 score.
Game highlights from May 13.
“That was my first ever greatest in a game, at any level, including league games,” said Nethercutt. “Like every player, I’ve ‘practiced’ some when throwing around with teammates in college, but never actually pulled one off in a game.”
Once again, Dallas’ shorthanded roster competed hard, but by the end of the night, the Roughnecks were thoroughly beaten. Raleigh won all four quarters, 9-8, 9-8, 7-3, and 7-6, which added up to a 32-25 triumph. Interestingly, the Roughnecks saw something of themselves in the Flyers’ dominant performance.
“Raleigh applied the kind of relentless, selfless energy that Dallas has been applying to teams for two seasons,” said Mazur, who finished the weekend with three goals and six assists. “I know they won’t give credit to Dallas as if they borrowed the idea from us, but somehow they managed to completely buy into it. Besides [Nethercutt] playing completely lights out, they spread out the scoring really well, took turns running as hard as possible, and completely wore us down by the middle of the third quarter. Physical fatigue turned into mental fatigue and, ultimately, lazy execution. We had lackluster marks throughout the weekend, and Raleigh really took advantage of that.
“I would say both teams are really looking forward to playing each other at full strength in a single-game situation. Each side recognizes they didn’t give their best efforts while on the second day of a road trip, and if we get another matchup with them in the playoffs, it will, without a doubt, be the game of the year.”
While an early August rubber match between Raleigh and Dallas is indeed a tantalizing thought, the more immediate showdown to note is the upcoming Flyers jaunt to Jacksonville, scheduled for this Saturday at 7 PM. Given AUDL Game of the Week status in the preseason, the stage has been set for this contest to carry massive implications for the South Division.
Including this weekend, the Cannons still have three games against Raleigh and a July trip to Texas remaining on their schedule, but Jacksonville enters this weekend knowing that a win at home would elevate them into first place for the first time ever this deep into the season.
The Roughnecks, dealing with the adversity of their first losses ever, will return to the field on Sunday against Atlanta before a week off precedes their much-anticipated trip to Madison on June 3.
“We obviously learned we aren’t invincible,” Dallas Coach Patrick Eberle remarked. “We learned we will have to do more than put great players out on the field and expect good things to happen.”
As players on Dallas and Raleigh enjoyed their postgame meals and libations on Saturday evening, a pair of high-stakes West Division showdowns were unfolding in the Bay Area. Four teams—Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle—had all entered the weekend with just one loss on the season, setting the table for an incredibly meaningful night of ultimate.
In the North Bay, the FlameThrowers hosted the Cascades in Oakland, and the renewal of the San Francisco-Seattle rivalry lived up to the lofty billing. The two teams combined for 55 goals, and the outcome remained in doubt until the very last seconds.
Full game footage from May 13.
With 1:11 remaining in the fourth, Seattle’s Khalif El-Salaam capped an endless point with a dramatic bookends, scoring the goal to make it 28-27 after his layout D regained possession back for his team.
“This was really the story of the game,” said San Francisco’s Lucas Dallmann. “Both teams fought hard for this point. Both teams took timeouts, I believe, during this multi-turnover point. We unfortunately could not punch our shot in, and they could.
“This left us down by one with a little over a minute left. We played the point out pretty regularly, knowing that we don’t really want to score off two throws—we can work it and take time off. I had the disc in the red zone and two black jerseys going break side for my backhand. I threw it into space, and it sailed over both receivers’ hands. Ball game.”
In dramatic fashion, Seattle had secured a one-goal win on the road, two weeks after dropping a one-goal game at home against San Jose. These results, which have been mirrored around the league, are illustrating just how close most of the top teams are. The Cascades, harnessing their competitive passion, were understandably fired up.
“We proved we belong in the talks,” said Seattle’s Mark Burton, who dished nine assists and scored two goals in the slim win over the FlameThrowers. “Our goal was to make the playoffs this year, and we will; if we can keep the hunger and strong-willed determination, we can do it.
“Reed Hendrickson had a great game with a couple of big Ds and some goals, Doc [John Doherty] showed up on a bookend, we opened up John Randolph after I had a talk with him at halftime about forgetting his past and early turns, and Donnie [Clark] turned into the retriever we all know, scoring goal after goal.”
Considering the score was tied at ever number from 17 to 27, it was an especially painful loss for San Francisco to swallow. The FlameThrowers’ two setbacks have come by a total of three goals.
“Very tough game, for sure,” said San Francisco’s Greg Cohen. “It was a great fight though. We all agree that [our] mental mistakes proved too much to overcome. We had a lot of uncharacteristic turns and decisions.”
Game highlights from May 13.
The FlameThrowers also lost two-time AUDL MVP and three-time champion Beau Kittredge to a back injury in the first half. Kittredge played just 13 points and sat out the dramatic second half after he strained a joint in his back.
“I’ve been playing with nerve problems from my lower back into my left leg for about three months, which means I’ve only been able to go about 80% speed,” Kittredge explained. “Finally realized it wasn’t going to go away by itself. Got worked on a bunch last week; turned out to be too much. Finally going to make me fix this problem.”
When asked if there was any timeline regarding his situation, he replied, “couple weeks maybe, don’t know. Never had nerve problem before. It’s stupid. Being as slow as everyone else sucks, though it is fun to learn how to play at a different speed.”
Kittredge, who will be 35 in June, has also been competing for one of the coveted final seven male slots on the USA World Games roster that’s heading to Poland, a team that he made in both 2009 and 2013.
“Every injury is difficult,” acknowledged Cohen, who registered two goals and three assists in the one-goal loss. “We have had a string of injuries as of late, but I’m confident that each player knows what is best to get themselves back to 100%. Beau is obviously a leader on the field and will do what is best for the team and him.
“In the end, I had a great time during this game. I love playing Seattle. I have always loved defending their system and guarding the top talent. Obviously, I would have enjoyed winning more, but we have a great opportunity to learn from this game and use it to fuel the fire for the rest of the season.”
Similarly, the Cascades knew they were fortunate to escape with the win.
“Nothing is promised,” said Seattle’s Adam Simon. “Any team really can lose any game. But sitting on a one-loss record after a road trip to San Francisco feels really good. And we know our one loss really was a game that could have gone either way. I think, if we are going to have continued success, we need to have a good record in close games. I think, despite our record, we should still be considering the underdog when playing San Francisco, but beyond that, there is some parity shaping up in the league, and I have no idea how that will shake out.”
While the FlameThrowers could not hold serve at home in Oakland, their Bay Area brothers took care of business with an excellent performance in their cozy stadium in Los Altos Hills. The San Jose Spiders seized first place in the West with a 28-22 victory over Los Angeles, flustering the Aviators offense with its army of eight-legged defenders.
“The story of the game was definitely the defense,” said San Jose’s Steven Chang, who matched teammates Jackson Stearns and Evan Brydon with a Spiders-best +6. “We were able to create a lot of pressure and generate forced throws. We got four breaks in two different quarters, which was huge for us. I think one thing we really focused on was making the dump passes difficult and to not let them easily reset the stall. Our defense really showed the energy the entire game, from the opening pull to the last point.”
Game highlights from May 13.
While LA was disappointed with its performance overall, the Aviators were overjoyed to get Zach Schakner, one of their captains from a year ago, back onto the field. Last week, the Aviators shared that Schakner, who’s in his early 30s, had been undergoing treatment for colo-rectal cancer since being diagnosed in late January. Recently declared cancer free after successful surgery, his journey back has been as uplifting a story as any in the AUDL this year.
“Getting back to the field felt great,” said Schakner, “especially because over the past several months my outlook had shifted from never playing again to missing the entire season to getting cleared to play this season. Physically, I don’t feel like midseason form, but I feel faster and stronger every day. I lost quite a bit of weight from the surgery, so my workouts have been a mix of strength training to get that mass back and conditioning to play four quarters of hard ultimate.”
Understandably, Schakner’s ordeal has touched many in the Los Angeles ultimate community, and beyond.
“Schakner’s story is indeed remarkable and still very much in the process of being written,” explained Aviators’ Coach Franklin Rho. “From day one, Schak has been a big part of this team and forming its identity. He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ever met, both physically and mentally, and getting the news about the cancer really floored me. It floored all of us. For anyone who knows him, he’s a fitness freak, and for someone so committed to health getting sick—it’s a reminder how random and truly pernicious cancer is.
“Thankfully, they caught it early and things are looking good, but undoubtedly, it’s a very scary thing to be living with. That he’s been able to take the field so shortly after surgery is a direct reflection of his strength, his work ethic, and his love for the game. He’s not yet where he was before the surgery, but having his toughness and leadership sooner than expected is something that we believe will benefit us during the stretch run. Most importantly, all of this brings valuable perspective—within the context of this game we all love, it’s so easy to make mountains of molehills and lose sight of what truly matters.”
The Spiders improved to 5-1, the Aviators dropped to 3-2, and Schakner’s return makes the records seem a little less important. Of course, Los Angeles will still be focused on bouncing back after a week off. LA will host San Diego on May 27 before heading back to the Bay for a mighty challenging San Jose/San Francisco doubleheader weekend on June 3 and 4, a weekend that could determine whether the Aviators are truly a contender in the West.
Without question, Madison, Minnesota, and Toronto all secured meaningful victories to help reset their bar of expectations for each of their seasons. The Radicals overcame a significant deficit to beat Indianapolis, the Wind Chill showed that they can also get the job done on the road, and the Rush demonstrated that forecasting their demise after a 1-2 start was wildly premature.
As the season progresses, there will be plenty of time to analyze this trio of Final Four hopefuls. But in Week 7, with a duo of defeateds finally breaking through in unforgettable fashion, we will wrap up the Layout with this pair of teams who experienced overtime joy for their first wins of 2017.
For Philadelphia, the cathartic result was a long time in the making. When they took the field on Sunday in Montreal, the Phoenix had last tasted victory 672 days prior, on July 12, 2015. Their only wins in 2014 and 2015 were against the now-contracted Rochester Dragons, and Philly slogged through a 0-14 season a year ago.
In their 2017 opener against Montreal, the Phoenix had the disc in their hands several times with a chance to clinch the game, only to fall in double overtime 24-23. Twenty-two days later, Philadelphia overcame a three-goal second half deficit on the Royal’s home field to send the game to overtime. With clutch offense, stingy defense, and a little good fortune, the Phoenix completed their 26-25 triumph to snap a 19-game losing streak.
“The emotion was pure happiness,” said Philly’s Nicky Spiva, who led the way with 10 assists and 70 completions in Sunday’s dramatic victory. “A lot of guys hadn’t won an AUDL game since 2014 and definitely felt like we could beat any team this year, but folks, I think, felt like we had played beneath our potential so far.
“Huge win. Big monkey off a lot of guys’ backs.”
Though Philadelphia’s win was the headline, the afternoon itself was full of extraordinary excitement. As Montreal’s Antoine Genest said afterwards, “It was an insane game.”
Full game footage from May 14.
The teams played even through the first quarter, while the Royal won the second and third quarters by one goal apiece. Philly scored three straight goals to take a 22-21 lead, including a tremendous layout Callahan from Greg Martin to tie it at 21 late in the fourth quarter.
Down the stretch, the Phoenix’s D-line ratcheted up the intensity, making the Royal work for every under and reset. Montreal had a chance to win at the end of regulation and a chance to tie in the final 30 seconds of overtime, but it would be Philadelphia’s day.
“During the fourth quarter and overtime, Spiva really took over,” said Montreal’s Kevin Quinlan, who scored four goals and added three assists. “I think he got the ball every other. Also, I do give credit to Philly’s cutters. They weren’t forcing anything; played really smart towards the end.”
Will Hoehne led all scorers with seven goals, while Sean Mott and Dustin Sullivan each found the end zone four times for Philly. Martin and Scottie Xu were singled out as being difference makers for the Phoenix’s D-line.
Game highlights from May 14.
Despite a bizarre timeout that Philly called with just one second remaining, delaying their celebration, the Phoenix released a powerful exhale when the clock finally hit zeroes in the extra session.
“I think it was a pretty special moment for everyone,” said Philadelphia’s Oak Nelson. “The team is pretty new this year in general, and we’ve struggled with figuring out how to win games. This game was a big affirmation and tension release, and I think it will drive up the intensity at practice and on future fields. So one was surprised that we won either—I think we all knew we could do it and expected to do it, and so finally getting that W was more like the first sign of payoff rather than some big achievement all on its own.”
The Vancouver Riptide had won way more recently than the Phoenix, but a frustrating 0-6 start to 2017 had left the Riptide desperately hoping that Saturday’s home game vs. San Diego would produce they reckoning they’ve been seeking. Early, it felt unlikely, as the visiting Growlers scored seven of the first 10 goals.
“Again, we started out slow,” said Vancouver’s Morgan Hibbert. “We fall behind in almost every first quarter. I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is. But we come out playing stupidly. Making stupid choices, playing lazy. I don’t really understand it. We then had an amazing second quarter. I don’t know what changed. He game was so weird. I never felt like there was an obvious reason to any of the runs; they just happened.”
From down 7-3, the Riptide led 13-12 at the half. San Diego controlled the third quarter to lead 19-17 heading into the fourth, only to immediately surrender the lead.
“Whenever each team would create a small lead, the other team would storm back and get a couple breaks to tie it up,” said Vancouver’s Edward Guo, one of five members of the squad whose played in all seven games so far this year. “There was incredible resilience from both teams not to give up.”
From 21 to 26, the teams were tied at every integer, and with just a little time left on the clock, Vancouver had possession and took a timeout with a chance to win it.
“We called a timeout with four seconds left, gave Tim [Tsang] the disc, and said ‘just make something up and give us a chance downfield,’” Hibbert remembered. “When it got tapped in, he noticed that the people on Will Vu’s side weren’t paying attention so he quickly threw it. I could see that if Will were to catch it, he wouldn’t be in the end zone and that he would need to throw it right away. I also knew that the Growlers would naturally gravitate towards the disc and that Will’s favorite throw is that cross-field IO scoober—he throws it a lot! So with all that, as Will was making the catch, I was starting to drift to that far side and was expecting that exact throw from Will.”
Vu came back toward the disc for the sky and immediately lofted the anticipated scoober, which calmly floated into Hibbert’s grasp at the buzzer, commencing a raucous celebration. Even Hibbert, a veteran who has played in countless big games on the international stage, raised his arms to the air and sprinted around like he had won a world championship.
Considering the longevity and breadth of his career, one might think that this was just another game. But when asked about it, he shared the emotions running through his mind down the stretch.
“The moment itself becomes so isolated from the stakes surrounding it,” Hibbert explained. “You are probably right that, in retrospect, that [game-winner] doesn’t crack the top 10 of frisbee moments in my life, but I can tell you that in that moment, the elation I was feeling at catching the game-winning goal is as high as any other euphoric moment I have felt. Part of it was knowing how much it meant to the rest of the team to win that game. My attentions are divided this season with Team Canada, but there are players who have played all seven games, and this is the biggest stage they are going to play on this season. So losing six in a row is tough. For some players, this was their first ever pro victory! I definitely feel a sense of moment from those players, and I was so excited to be able to help bring them that joy, and I think that is what you see on my face.”
With two tough games in the Bay Area on tap this weekend, the Riptide will look to carry the magical feeling of an overtime buzzer-beater with them on the road. They will certainly be underdogs in both contests, but considering how three of the top five teams in the AUDL Power Rankings lost this past weekend, it is anyone’s guess what upset we will see next.
The San Jose Spiders are packed with players that, despite the team’s sterling 5-1 record, are still residing under the radar. This is especially true regarding the team’s defensive unit, which has registered a plethora of clutch breaks throughout their five-game winning streak.
On Saturday against Los Angeles, Andrew Moore and Ian Meyer each recorded three Ds, many of which served as critical turning points. Though neither Moore nor Meyer is a household name, they each were instrumental in the team’s victory against the Aviators.
“It was huge getting back Andrew Moore on D,” said Steven Chang, recognizing that Moore had missed the previous four games before Saturday. “He was able to match up with their very athletic receivers and get three crucial Ds. Ian Meyer also stepped up in a big way, getting multiple layout Ds, which really helped cement the momentum in our favor.”
Ian Meyer (#23) and Andrew Moore (#7) were instrumental in the Spiders fifth straight win on Saturday night.
Moore is an Iowa State alum who moved to the Bay Area a year ago and finished tied for fourth on the Spiders with 10 Ds in just six games in 2016. Quickly, he established himself as the ‘fastest player on the team,’ according to Chang. He added a pair of goals to his three-D effort on Saturday.
“His first block showed off his vertical and body control as the disc was trailing over his head,” remembered San Jose Coach Tyler Grant. “It was a tough read, but he was able to get a fingertip on it and keep it away from Brian Nguyen. Later in the game, he was able to get a great block in the one when a pass floated to the sideline. It was great to see his awareness to challenge that pass.”
Meanwhile, Meyer is making his AUDL debut, but is a veteran in the sport. He played for the UC-Santa Barbara Black tide in college and spent some time in the MLU with the San Francisco Dogfish before the league folded this past winter.
“I was very impressed with the two big layout Ds that [Meyer] got this weekend,” added Grant.
“Normally, he’s getting blocks on deep balls, but this time he made it happen on underneath cuts. I’m very happy to see how our defensive pressure can create opportunities for guys to make a play.”
Justin Norden, with another five assists, two goals, and two Ds, is the member of the Spiders most likely to be in the MVP conversation after San Jose’s surprising start. For the year, his league-best 37 assists while quarterbacking the O-line have been staggering, not to mention his 13 goals and six Ds.
But he surely knows that without his brigade of D-line worker bees getting a bunch of breaks, the Spiders would probably be a .500 team and Norden’s spectacular season would be held in a very different context.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
On Saturday night, Dallas Owner Jim Gerencser was coming to grips with the Roughnecks’ 0-2 weekend. Furthermore, Gerencser is a minority owner of the Philadelphia Phoenix, who lost in Ottawa on Saturday to drop to 0-4 on their season.
Following Philly’s thrilling win on Sunday in Montreal, the legendary ultimate blogger Sludge Brown tweeted about the comparative streaks that both the Roughnecks and Phoenix had ended.
Gerencser, emotionally and financially invested in both franchises, saw the tweet and replied.
@sludgebrown the bad and good of my weekend
— Jim Gerencser (@jimgerencser3) May 15, 2017
Via text, Gerencser added that the Phoenix’s victory was a nice consolation to an otherwise rough weekend.
“Yes. Smile on my face,” he said.
When AUDL road trips include a passage through customs, another wrinkle of difficulty is created. The Philadelphia Phoenix experienced this in excruciating fashion as their bus attempted to cross the Canadian border on their way to Ottawa on Saturday.
“It was very frustrating,” said Spiva. “We basically got stuck at the border for three hours when randomly getting the full background check of the whole team. Had to leave a guy behind. Stupid [stuff] from 7-8 years ago: misdemeanors that were dismissed, bounced checks, other times stopped at the border. Five or six people got flagged and had to fight for an hour to get cleared to cross—including the driver, who had crossed hundreds of times without issue. Eventually, all but one got cleared.”
The delay certainly impacted the team’s warmup once they arrived to Ottawa. They basically did most of their stretching on the bus before falling to the Outlaws 25-21.
“It wasn’t super stressful; just uncontrollables,” said Nelson, reflecting on the experience. There was nothing to get upset or worry about because there was no way to alleviate the situation in a more timely manner, and I think everyone knew that. We took the extra time to get to know each other better.”
Certainly, the ride home, after a win, was even more enjoyable.
“Great team bonding on the ride back after the win,” said Spiva. “Five Guys made us 35 hamburgers and fries when we called ahead, and the worker’s Facebook livestreamed us as we devoured them.”
Seven On The Line
1. The depth and drama of the league overall has relegated a matchup of two title contenders to around the 7,000 word mark, but that should not minimize the importance of Toronto’s 26-20 win over DC this past Saturday. The victory featured the 2017 debut of Mark Lloyd (one goal, two assists, two Ds while playing mostly on defense) and continued excellence from Cam Harris (four goals, three assists) and Andrew Carroll (three goals, one assist). “Cam looked so composed all game,” said Lloyd. “He was picking the right time to push the tempo of the offense while also understanding when it was a good time to just swing the disc and let the cutters reset into positions. I was really impressed by him the whole game, as he really controlled the offense. In terms of other players, I feel there isn’t enough time before Tuesday’s Toss will be written for me to fully talk about how Andrew Carroll is playing right now. So I’ll just say this, he is good. Personally, I felt good out there. I was just trying to focus on not disrupting what the team had going on the weekend before. I wanted to focus on playing good defense, hopefully generate some turns, and then taking care of the disc so we could convert some breaks.” Lloyd expects to be back on the field this Saturday against Philadelphia and on June 17 against San Francisco, but the rest of his AUDL schedule is up in the air because of Team Canada commitments. At 4-2, the Rush moved back into first place, a half-game ahead of the 3-2 Breeze, and the teams’ regular season rubber match will be in DC on June 11.
Game highlights from May 13.
2. Madison’s turning point after a sluggish first half at Indy came with 30 seconds remaining before the break. The AlleyCats already led by four and were looking to punch in another. “We managed to hold them until two seconds left, then Andrew Meshnick got a hand block,” said Radicals Coach Tim DeByl. “We talked about the important of that hold at halftime, and we basically came out in the second half and played man. Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Meshnick, and Brian Hart really led on the field making big plays. KPS had a great layout in the last six minutes or so that really made us feel like we put it away.” After trailing 13-9 at the half, Madison won the second stanza 14-7 to prevail 23-20 at Indianapolis, an important win for the 3-1 Radicals and another heartbreaking loss for the 1-5 AlleyCats. “We have a mentally weak roster from top to bottom, and when we can put seven people on the O-line that want to win more than they want to be scared, we will win games,” said a blunt Cameron Brock, who led the AlleyCats with six goals and three assists. “Until then, expect more of the same. We have almost three weeks to get mentally stronger. I hope we can do it.” Indy’s Keenan Plew added, “I constantly see that people say the AlleyCats are snakebitten, but we dig our own grave with decision making late in games. It’s definitely something Coach [Eric] Leonard has focused on us to work on in practice.” While the AlleyCats don’t play again until June 3, the Radicals return home to face Pittsburgh in a huge game this Saturday. “We will have a few guys back from injury—Tom Annen, Pat Shriwise, and Sterling Knoche—but also will be missing some guys,” explained DeByl. “Pretty much every game is must win right now. We have some really hard games coming and we can’t afford to lose any if we want to win the division.”
Game highlights from May 13.
3. Minnesota was far from dominant, but remained unbeaten with a pair of three-goal victories, taking down Chicago 20-17 on Saturday before dispatching Detroit 22-19 on Sunday. “We didn’t play anywhere near the level of our home games, but it was enough to get the job done on the road,” said the Wind Chill’s Jay Drescher, who recorded five Ds on the weekend. Minnesota was led offensively by Josh Klane and Greg Cousins, who paced the team in assists and goals, respectively, over the two games. Klane registered 13 assists, giving him 27 for the season, tied for fourth-most in the league, while Cousins caught nine scores, giving him 22 on the year, just outside the top five. Jason Tschida remained a rock in the backfield, completing 92 of 95 throws on the weekend, despite not recording a single scoring toss. “We played just good enough to get the two wins,” Klane remarked. “Chicago and Detroit are both scrappy and talented teams, but there was a strong sense within our team that only we could beat ourselves this weekend. Luckily, that didn’t happen.” The Wind Chill have single games against Detroit and Chicago, one in each of the next two weeks, and then a week off before a rematch with Madison.
4. The humorous highlight of the weekend came courtesy of Minnesota’s Drescher, who stumbled on the turf while trying to launch a pull. Understandably, the veteran was the butt of several jokes after the miscue, and perhaps a couple wins made it even easier for everyone to laugh about it by Sunday night. “I think the fail pull thing is hilarious,” Drescher said. “I’ve done a lot of pulling in my ultimate career, and this is one of the worst ones I can remember. I’m glad it is cemented for all to see. As for how it happened, Fulcrum Media Group captured it best. During my run up, my toe cleat snags the turf, and at that point there is no hope. During the fall, I knew I had two options, either try to throw a miserable pull for 30 yards maximum or fall over and take the offsides. I took the offsides for 50 yards, and we ended up scoring the D-point upwind, so I’ll call it a win! For the rest of the game, I managed to keep my feet underneath me and got all of my pulls past the 50. I’m sure if you talk to various AUDL players, they have their own turf monster moment, but this one, I’ll admit, is one of the more hilarious ones. As for the teammate ridicule, it was mainly a full 10 minutes of replaying the clip and belly laughing/wiping away tears, myself included.”
Monday mornings pic.twitter.com/4NBFLitwmu
— AUDL (@theAUDL) May 15, 2017
5. The Ottawa Outlaws, who didn’t debut until Week 5, were the last team to take the field in 2017. After watching them for three weeks and four games, they remain something of a mysterious wild card in the East. Their 25-21 triumph over Philly on Saturday gave the Outlaws their second win, while all four of their games—two wins vs. the Phoenix and losses to the Breeze and Rush—have been decided by five goals or fewer. Kinley Gee and Tyler Sadler each recorded five assists in the most recent victory over the Phoenix, while Alec Arsenault continued his goal-scoring onslaught with seven more strikes. “The main story of the game was our D-line doing what it does best, forcing their O into tough spots and converting once the disc is in their hands. One of the major points that really solidified our win was, after a sequence of Philadelphia breaks and a long O point, we called a timeout and subbed in our D-line. They worked the disc up the field and punched it in for the hold, an important one late in the game.” Despite just beginning their season, the quirky AUDL schedule gives the Outlaws another extended stretch without a game. Ottawa will be off the next two weekends before playing a Friday/Saturday doubleheader vs. Montreal and at Toronto on June 2 and 3, which will commence a busy six-game June for the Outlaws. “Over the break, we will continue to work hard both inside and outside of practice, making sure that our fitness and skills don’t dwindle so we are ready to go when we take the field again in a few weeks,” explained Gee. “We are happy, but not satisfied. Our two losses have come to Toronto and DC, two of the best teams in the league. We also feel that we can beat those teams, and that we lost those games rather than they won them. We are excited to get back onto the field to pump out some W’s.”
Game highlights from May 13.
6. While Ottawa has played just four games in seven weeks, one team has actually seen the field even less. The Detroit Mechanix, who opened their season back in Week 2, have only experienced three games thus far. Despite the most recent defeat, they played undefeated Minnesota tough on Sunday, and with a 1-2 record, it’s hard to know exactly how improved the Mechanix are. Of course, this is a team that went 0-14 in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015 before winning four games last year. “We are definitely moving in the right direction,” said Mechanix Captain Ryan Mariouw, whose +8 was tops on the squad on Sunday afternoon. “We have a great mix of old and young guys that mesh well together. I think, from last year to this year, we have added depth and talent to our roster that will help us be more competitive. In order for us to get over that hump and win games against high quality opponents, we have to become more consistent.” The Mechanix will play their fourth and fifth games of the season this weekend, at Chicago and Minnesota.
7. Have you seen how the Chicago Wildfire plan to roll into their future road games? Check out the new Wildfire Wagon:
— AUDL (@theAUDL) May 15, 2017
While the league owns an AUDL-wrapped vehicle and Dallas/Philadelphia owner Jim Gerencser has created an ERIC-themed bus, this is the first team specific wrapped transportation vessel in the league. League commissioner and Wildfire Managing Partner Steve Gordon explains how it came to be: “While a bus is something I’ve thought a lot about since 2015, it wasn’t until CJ O’Brien joined the ownership group and really pushed for it that we got it, so all credit goes to him. He did the research, and the more we looked at it, the more we liked the idea. Being in Chicago, indoor practice time is expensive, so we haven’t had a lot of preseason practices in past years, and as a result, not many bonding opportunities. In addition, taking two vans was another ‘miss’ for bonding. While the first priority with the bus was more comfortable transportation for the players, the possibility that it could provide valuable bonding time was a strong consideration. It also provides great marketing and exposure opportunities and a revenue stream through ad and activation opportunities. There were just so many positives, and in the end, we determined that for us it was a cost-efficient investment.” The Wildfire will be looking for their first win of the season at home against Detroit this Sunday, and they will ride their new bus up to Madison and Minnesota the following for a tough road trip to wrap up their month of May.
In two meetings, Philadelphia and Montreal have enjoyed three overtimes and two one-goal results. The games have been gripping and gut-wrenching, full of effort and enthusiasm.
And if you did not realize, they were the first two games in the history of the league that pitted female head coaches at the helm of both teams!
— Royal de Montréal (@MontrealRoyal) May 15, 2017
While Guylaine Girard has recovered from a concussion, Caroline Cadotte has taken over for Montreal and gone head-to-head with Philly’s Eileen Murray.
Around the league, female coaches are becoming more and more common. Austin is led by Edith Teng, Vancouver by Tasia Balding, and assistants like Beth Vavrica and Miranda Roth Knowles in Jacksonville and Atlanta have added additional wisdom from the female perspective.
Overall, coaching in ultimate is still very much evolving. For a sport that will be just 50 years old next year, coaches really did not proliferate widely until the past decade. And notably, two current teams in the AUDL, Seattle and Ottawa, do not have designated head coaches the moment.
The development of strategy, mindset, and understanding gradually march on, with a diverse group of voices leading the way. There are 10 more games in the AUDL on tap this coming weekend, and who knows what new things we might see then?
While ultimate thinkers keep innovating, the games must go on. They are full of surprises, mistakes, and jaw-dropping moments.
Who knows who will be #1 next week?
The answer, of course, is no one.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly on theAUDL.com during the season. 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