The Tuesday Toss: Past The Midway Point Of 2017
May 30, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
Amidst the drama and splendor of College Nationals, the AUDL also offered a gripping Memorial Day holiday weekend slate, with a range of results, some telling, others perplexing. Frankly, that’s become the norm through the first two months of the 2017 journey.
The calendar flips to June in a couple days, and the urgency of professional postseason aspirations will intensify. More teams than ever consider Championship Weekend to be a realistic goal.
Consequently, the quest for Quebec will drive upcoming transactions and add an air of desperation to most every matchup. A dozen teams will make the playoffs, but only four will march on to Montreal.
As two relatively tiny colleges won national titles this Memorial Day—congrats to Carleton and Dartmouth—the pro landscape presented eight games that provided similar wonderment. Though the stakes for regular season skirmishes don’t equal Nationals hype, the feeling that anything can happen continues to pervade the current era of ultimate. Just like a pair of small liberal arts institutions can topple giant and powerful state schools, last-place teams remain incredibly dangerous threats to the expected order of AUDL results.
This past weekend, with a slew of meaningful games going down to the wire, exemplified this sense of ‘wow.’ In the Midwest, the clear top three all needed some clutch fourth-quarter playmaking to narrowly edge the bottom two. In the West, the SoCal rivalry rekindled itself with San Diego closing strong to make a significant statement. In the South, Jacksonville displayed an admirable amount of mental toughness, bouncing back from a devastating home loss and improving to 3-0 on the road. Meanwhile, the East saw a pair of familiar outcomes, with DC again outplaying New York in the most critical moments and Toronto walloping Philadelphia in the weekend’s only blowout. Aside from the Rush rout, the other seven contests were all decided by three points or fewer, including a pair of one-goal games.
This edition of the Toss won’t be as lengthy or in depth as you may be accustomed to—perhaps a welcome change—but there were plenty of compelling developments in Week 9 that merit some discussion.
The Full Field Layout
The Minnesota Wind Chill improved to 7-0 and remained the lone undefeated team in the league thanks to their 23-20 triumph over Chicago on Sunday. Perhaps most notably, they prevailed without their Head Coach Phil Bowen, who was busy leading Carleton to a national championship in Cincinnati. Could Bowen transfer that title touch to the Wind Chill?
Minnesota will sink or swim over its next seven games, which will dictate the true potential of this promising but still largely untested team. As it stands now, the perfect slate is a byproduct of an unquestionably improved roster and an indisputably soft schedule. Six of the Wind Chill’s seen wins have come against Indianapolis, Detroit, and Chicago, three times that are a combined 3-16 overall. The other victory was a home win over a very shorthanded Madison squad.
Though they missed their head coach, the Wind Chill had many of its familiar names making plays on Sunday against the Wildfire. Nick Simonelli, Colin Berry, Greg Cousins, Jay Drescher, Josh Klame, Tyler Latham, and Danny Collom all scored multiple goals, while new addition Caleb Denecour found the end zone three times in his Minnesota debut after moving north from Austin.
While Minnesota only won by three, it was a wire-to-wire victory for the Wind Chill, as the lead spread to as wide as eight before Chicago fought its way back in the fourth. The Wildfire went on a 12-6 rally to inch within two, but Minnesota scored the final goal to close out the game.
At 7-0, the Wind Chill can relax as spectators during Week 10 before hosting Madison on June 10. The Radicals are currently sitting at 5-1 after their own slim win over Chicago, and Madison’s resume would look a lot more daunting by protecting home field in the Cross Coast Challenge this weekend.
While the Wind Chill played mostly from ahead against Chicago, the Radicals spent most of their Wildfire game struggling to take charge. Madison never led in the first three quarters, falling behind 6-3 after one, 13-10 at the half, and 16-15 through three. In the fourth quarter, however, the Radicals rallied to avoid an embarrassing home loss. They took their first lead at 17-16, stretched it to two at 19-17, and maintained the lead with patient offense to run out the clock on a 21-20 victory.
Highlights between Chicago and Madison from May 27.
On one hand, the Radicals are fortunate to be 5-1. They’ve fought hard and prevailed despite not clicking on all cylinders. Since the start of the 2015, Madison has gone 32-2 in the regular season, a spectacular string of success.
But Madison also has to realize that the next few days represent a critical stretch of time to try and rediscover their collective A-game, with a strong Dallas roster arriving to Wisconsin this weekend. The Roughnecks will need a win to avoid potentially slipping into third place in the combative South, while Madison commences a stretch of Dallas, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh on three successive Saturdays, with the latter two coming on the road.
The Radicals expect to have most of their primary players, though standout defender Andrew Meshnick will likely miss his first game in several years due to an unavoidable work conflict. Madison’s Kevin Brown also suffered a bruised heal this past Saturday and, consequently, is probably not going to be available against the Roughnecks.
Elsewhere in the Midwest this past Saturday, Pittsburgh brought just enough firepower to Detroit to prevail by a slim 23-21 margin. Though the game was close most of the way, the Mechanix’s only lead came at 1-0. From there, the Thunderbirds led by a many as four and always delivered in the clutch when things got tight late. The Mechanix tied things up at 16, 17, 18, but Pittsburgh’s O-line refused to be broken in the fourth quarter.
Without Tyler DeGirolamo, Max Thorne, or Pat Earles, Joe Marmerstein, Jonathan Mast, and Xavier Maxstadt stepped up. Marmerstein led the way with 53 completions (in 55 attempts) and six assists, while newcomer Tariq Akyuz caught five scores in his Thunderbirds debut, sticking it to his old team. The Case Western-alum finished second on Detroit last year with 29 goals and proved to be a huge addition for Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The victory prevented Pittsburgh from falling below .500, and at 3-2, the Thunderbirds remain solidly positioned to contend with Madison and Minnesota. If they could steal two road wins this weekend in Chicago and Indy, then they’ll carry a three-game streak and some solid momentum into their home contest with the Radicals on June 17.
At the end of that June 17-18 weekend, we’ll know both the NBA Champion and have a much better sense of the actual hierarchy in the Midwest Division.
I still think that Jacksonville is more likely than not to finish in the third spot in the South, but I must admit, the Cannons surprised and impressed me with their response to the heartbreaking loss vs. Raleigh. Seven days after coughing up a lead and dropping a devastating outcome to the Flyers on their home field, Jacksonville rampaged onto the road and secured a 23-20 victory over Atlanta. Jeremy Langdon scored five goals in his return to the field after missing the Flyers game, while Cole Sullivan notched six assists and Bobby Ley led the way with a versatile +8, scoring four goals along with his five assists.
Highlights between Jacksonville and Atlanta from May 27.
If the result had gone the other way, Atlanta would have been within a game of Jacksonville in the standings. Instead, the Cannons triumph moved them to 6-2 and dropped the Hustle to 3-5. The three-game margin with six to play is not insurmountable, but Jacksonville is certainly in the driver’s seat, even with four of its remaining six games on the road.
Despite missing a game, Langdon still tops the league in goals with 36. Sullivan continues to throw scores in bunches, albeit not to the level of last year, when he led the league. Currently, Sullivan’s at 37 assists, fourth in the league behind Chicago’s Pawel Janas and San Jose’s Justin Norden, who each have 43, and San Francisco’s Cassidy Rasmussen, who has 38.
Perhaps most amazing about the Cannons’ campaign thus far is the fact that Mischa Freystaetter, who set the AUDL record with 95 goals last year, is just barely on pace to score half that many times in 2017. He has 28 goals thus far and is on pace for 49.
Allan Laviolette led Atlanta in both goals and assists on Saturday, with three and four, respectively, but five throwaways marred the otherwise impressive stat line. As a team, the Hustle managed only nine Ds in the game and never led after halftime.
In the East Division, somehow the DC Breeze won on the road with only six Ds in the entire game. In a high-scoring slugfest with New York, the Breeze completed over 96% of their passes and dropped 28 goals on the Empire, often considered one of the league’s best defensive units. Playing without Alan Kolick for the second straight week, the Breeze were paced by Chuck Cantone, Markham Shofner, and Tyler Monroe, who each registered four goals apiece. Rowan McDonnell added three goals and six assists, while Jeff Wodatch chipped in with three and three.
Highlights between DC and New York from May 27.
New York’s Jeff Babbitt scored a season-high six goals and the Empire were even with the Breeze at 23-all midway through the fourth quarter, but once again, they faltered down the stretch. DC outscored New York 5-2 over the final six minutes to send the Empire to 2-4. The Breeze improved to 5-2, keeping pace with Toronto, who clobbered Philadelphia 31-18 in the only lopsided score of the weekend across the league.
The Empire is in the midst of a truly stunning stretch, in which they’ve lost three times at home. Their only victories have come against Montreal and Philadelphia, and they still have six road games remaining on their schedule, the most in the entire league.
While Babbitt, with 22 goals and 22 Ds, is still on pace for a historic statistical season, the Empire as a team are in danger of seeing their preseason championship aspirations completely combust. They cannot win the regular season series with DC, but they absolutely must prevail in the U.S. capital this weekend to avoid tumbling into an even greater ditch.
There have been plenty of surprises around the league through nine weeks. San Jose and Minnesota are two and three on my list. New York, for reasons they wish weren’t the case, is the #1 shocker of the first half of the 2017 season.
It’s up to them to turn to re-write their story, and they’re running out of time.
Out West, the San Diego Growlers earned a win that they felt was a long time coming. Although they have a good deal of respect for their SoCal rival in LA, they also have entered every single matchup with the Aviators believing they could and perhaps should prevail. But in the five previous meetings before Saturday night, the Growlers had only earned one win, and it had been over a year since San Diego had bested Los Angeles.
For much of the first half on Saturday, it seemed like the Growlers would be edged by their adversaries again. Los Angeles went on a 9-4 run to take a 13-10 lead late in the second quarter, but San Diego responded with three straight to even the score. Although the Growlers trailed by one at the half, they took the lead at 16-15 and never trailed again, hanging on in the final seconds for the 24-23 victory.
Highlights between San Diego and Los Angeles from May 27.
San Diego’s Hunter Corbett—one of several Growlers who played for the Aviators last year—authored an all-around spectacular performance with six goals and five assists. Travis Dunn chipped in with five goals and three dimes for the Growlers, who improved to 2-5 with the win, dropping the Aviators to 3-3
The home loss was less than ideal for a Los Angeles squad that has to head north to the Bay Area this weekend for a daunting doubleheader. The Aviators will challenge 6-1 San Jose on Saturday before facing 5-2 San Francisco on Sunday. Splitting the pair would keep LA very much in the mix, but dropping both would put the Aviators in a precarious position with only six games remaining.
Week 9 went well for Canada. As previously mentioned, Toronto trounced Philly on Saturday. One day later, Montreal avoided overtime and beat the Phoenix for the second time in three meetings, 23-21. And in a co-ed AUDL exhibition, Vancouver also tasted triumph by surpassing Seattle 26-24 in a game that did not count in the standings but did get the Riptide’s Gagan Chatha on SportsCenter.
The Royal’s result came on the back of their three French imports. Steve Bonneau, Quentin Bonnaud, and Nasser Mbae Vogel all led Montreal in at least one statistical category in the victory. Bonneau dished four scores, sharing the lead with Antoine Genest. Meanwhile, Vogel scored six times and Bonnaud delivered two Ds to go along with three goals, and an assist.
The Phoenix suffered an 0-2 trip largely because of the three members of France’s National Team and the cavalcade of typical Toronto stars. Mark Lloyd paced the Rush with a healthy +9 (four Ds, three goals, two assists, and no turnovers), while Cam Harris’ five assists complemented Andrew Carroll’s four goals in the Rush’s fourth consecutive win.
Highlights between Philadelphia and Toronto from May 27.
Toronto has Ottawa at home this weekend before a road trek to Philly and DC on June 10-11. One week after that, the Rush will welcome San Francisco to town for the final matchup of the league’s Cross Coast Challenge, and a game that could very well define Toronto’s season.
I’ll wrap up this abbreviated Tuesday Toss with an important nugget of information, detailing one of the lesser-known rules in the league. As we travel into June and beyond, teams will have critical decisions to make regarding their rosters that will dictate who will hoist the trophy come August. Through the majority of the regular season, there is no limit to the number of players a team can suit up over the course of the season. Each week, every franchise has to declare a 20-person active roster for that particular game. But theoretically, a team could have dozens of guys in reserves, signed and ready to go in case of injury or absence.
On the Tuesday before the team’s 12th game, however, each team needs to designate 28 players as their final roster for the season. Over the course of the final three regular season games and the postseason, only those 28 will be eligible to compete.
This is exactly how final rosters were determined last year, though it went largely unpublicized. Two years ago, there was a specific date, I believe in mid-late June, when teams had to finalize their 28-person lineups.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense to have the deadline be before the team’s 12th game, rather than a specific date, because of the variable scheduling around the league. If the deadline was now, for example, South and West Division teams would be seriously advantaged because they played more of their games earlier in the season, compared to East and Midwest teams that still have the majority of their schedules remaining. By making the deadline the Tuesday before each team’s 12th game, it brings consistency and fairness across the board.
The upcoming Week 10 schedule features 15 games, matching Week 5 as the busiest of the season. Aside from Dallas-Madison and LA’s Bay Area doubleheader, we will also see Jacksonville strive for revenge at Raleigh and New York carry a sense of desperation into DC. Ottawa, whose currently tied for the third playoff spot in the East, also retakes the field for a pair of battles, Montreal on Friday and Toronto on Saturday.
College Nationals are over, a bunch of the sport’s best young players will trickle into the league over the next few weeks, and the AUDL pennant races that are already quite warm will likely heat to sizzling levels.
This past weekend was a blast, but it’s time to turn the page to the road ahead. There are certainly plenty of appetizing angles.
This feels like a golden age of ultimate, and I appreciate you being along for the ride.
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