August 8, 2018
By Evan Lepler
While plenty of great players around the league fell short of the final four, the divisional winners that are set to collide in Madison this weekend have no shortage of standout performers, though the teams are built in different ways. New York and Dallas are definitely more reliant on their blue chips at the top of the roster, while Madison and Los Angeles possess deeper, more balanced 20-man squads but may lack the multiple superstars needed to match up with the greatest players.
Here’s a look at the top 20 players that are expected to compete at Championship Weekend, as chosen by yours truly. Stats listed are from the 2018 regular season.
20. Mike Drost, New York Empire
10 assists / 15 goals / 17 blocks / +34 / 12 games played
Reliable and consistent, Drost has remained a very important playmaker on the Empire D-line. “He’s my favorite leader because he’s so smart and also a really good listener,” said New York Head Coach Eileen Murray. “He’s one of those leaders who I just trust, and everyone respects him.”
19. Sterling Knoche, Madison Radicals
6 assists / 23 goals / 19 blocks / +41 / 11 games played
Usually good for a couple remarkable layout blocks every game he plays, Knoche is the type of guy who can energize the crowd and transform the momentum with one electric bid. He led the Radicals with five Ds in Madison’s playoff game against Indy, giving him nine career postseason blocks in just three games.
18. Harper Garvey, New York Empire
40 assists / 4 goals / 1 block / +5 / 12 games played
Although he can throw his team out of a game, Garvey’s arsenal of release points and angles makes him a weapon that opponents have to fear. When the disc is in his hands, no spot on the field is safe. Inevitably, a towering 65-yard hammer will mesmerize the Breese Stevens Field fans at some point on Saturday.
17. Kevin Brown, Madison Radicals
13 assists / 14 goals / 1 block / +11 / 7 games played
Hampered by various injuries over the past couple years, Brown continues to prove his worth, when healthy, as one of the dynamic dual-threat players in the sport. He has big throws to match his big frame, and his presence on the Radicals’ O-line gives Madison an important edge.
16. Chris LaRocque, Dallas Roughnecks
13 assists / 6 goals / 3 blocks / +12 / 7 games played
Limited by a broken nose that cost him half the season, LaRocque still has fit in well with his third South Division team in as many seasons. After falling short of Championship Weekend with the Flyers and Cannons, he has reached the final four with the Roughnecks, giving Dallas an authoritative and athletic big-play handler who can change the game in a number of ways.
15. Ben Katz, New York Empire
28 assists / 35 goals / 14 blocks / +60 / 13 games played
It may seem crazy, but one could make a pretty compelling case that Katz has been New York’s MVP this season. As a stabilizing and consistent presence, the 27-year-old UMass alum has been a swiss-army knife for the Empire, giving them exactly what they need when they need it. Lately, he’s shared the primary handling roles with Garvey, making everyone around him better with good decision-making and imperviousness to the elements or magnitude of the moment.
14. Mark Elbogen, Los Angeles Aviators
14 assists / 12 goals / 1 block / +15 / 9 games played
After missing most of 2017 with a torn ACL, Elbogen started to recapture the magic that made him an All-AUDL force in 2016, when he finished with 49 goals and 46 assists, over the past couple of months. In the West Division final, he led the Aviators with five goals and completed all 27 of his passes. With Championship Weekend experience as a member of the 2014 Spiders, Elbogen should be poised to seize an even larger role for Los Angeles this weekend in Madison.
13. Beau Kittredge, New York Empire
15 assists / 19 goals / 10 blocks / +31 / 12 games played
The statistical numbers certainly aren’t overwhelming, but he actually has had a stronger numerical season this year with the Empire than either of his past two years with San Francisco and Dallas. Much more importantly, his unreal 14-0 record in AUDL playoff games over the past five seasons provides a stature that no one else on this list can come close to approaching. He may not take over a game this weekend, but his presence provides immense value, and his teammates know they can count on him.
12. Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Madison Radicals
21 assists / 15 goals / 20 blocks / +44 / 14 games played
Often, “energy” guys are inconsistent and unreliable, but KPS is the rare fulcrum that relentlessly brings the passion and production. Widely regarded as one of the top man-to-man defenders in the league, Pettit-Scantling is also a master in Madison’s zone, capable of quickly stealing a swing and calmly converting it into a break. He’s unquestionably motivated by what happened two years ago against Seattle, when the game-tying prayer narrowly evaded his grasp at the buzzer in the Radicals’ heartbreaking semifinal loss.
11. Matt Jackson, Dallas Roughnecks
31 assists / 12 goals / 3 blocks / +22 / 11 games played
Two years ago, Jackson was a relative unknown, an insanely quick dude with a man-bun who led the Roughnecks’ arsenal of accompanying role players that perfectly sang backup harmonies behind the team’s lead singing superstars. Now, he’s become one of the O-line’s primary disc distributors, always available for the reset with a modest decision-making trigger, which often compels his teammates to similarly value possession. His leadership, steady like his playing style, has been a foundational force for a franchise that has won 89.6 percent (43-of-48) of its games over the past three seasons.
10. Pat Shriwise, Madison Radicals
34 assists / 16 goals / 4 blocks / +41 / 11 games played
Often underrated through the years, Shriwise remains Madison’s versatile gamer, whom the Radicals would be wise to feed early and often on Saturday. Serving more as a handler in 2018 than years past, the 30-year-old set career highs in assists and completion percentage, accurately dealing 96.6 percent of this throws, with 315 completions and just 11 turns. While Madison may need him to stay behind the disc a bunch, Shriwise is still extremely capable of being a dynamic downfield presence, something that could present problems for a Los Angeles team that is not absurdly tall on defense.
9. Dalton Smith, Dallas Roughnecks
27 assists / 34 goals / 11 blocks / +45 / 9 games played
His throwing arsenal is strong and his defensive intensity is fierce, but Smith’s Roughnecks résumé is mainly about clutch and grit. Against the Flyers in the South final, he made several timely plays to propel his team to the dramatic comeback win, including the goal-line block with 30 seconds left that preserved the one-goal lead. As a leader, he’s basically been a co-coach alongside Wes Nemec, helping to orchestrate game plans and institute adjustments on the fly. He registered a +9 as a role player in his first ever Championship Weekend game in 2016, and he’ll undoubtedly have more weight on his sturdy shoulders in his return to Breese Stevens Field, where he and the Roughnecks are 3-0 all-time.
8. Sean McDougall, Los Angeles Aviators
24 assists / 58 goals / 23 blocks / +88 / 14 games played
Arguably the least well-known player on this list, McDougall put together a remarkable season for the Aviators, gaining confidence and assuming considerable responsibility for a team that won its division by a large four-game margin. Perhaps the most notable thing about McDougall is his knack for making huge plays, like his buzzer-beating grab in San Francisco that basically locked up the West for Los Angeles. He led the league in plus/minus despite also finishing in the top five in drops, a small fly-in-the-ointment fact that probably kept him from being a few spots higher on this list.
7. Kevin Richardson, Dallas Roughnecks
11 assists / 34 goals / 8 blocks / +45 / 9 games played
Quite simply, the Roughnecks don’t make it back to Championship Weekend without Richardson. He averaged almost four goals per game in the regular season and then erupted for seven critical strikes against Raleigh in the South final on a windy night when scoring was at a premium. He’s an AUDL rookie, but an ultimate veteran, having contributed to several memorable Texas club teams earlier in the decade. Tall, savvy, and competitive, Richardson will again be a critical playmaker for Dallas in the semifinals, particularly against New York’s top-of-the-roster size and athleticism.
6. Eli Friedman, Los Angeles Aviators
12 assists / 17 goals / 3 blocks / +17 / 6 games played
The only player on this list who played less than half of his team’s games, it’s worth mentioning that this is a hierarchy of players that you would most want on your team this weekend, not just a tribute to regular season success. And every team still alive would want Friedman on the field for them, considering his lethal combination of speed, poise, and precision. The Aviators may still be uncertain how best to use the former University of Oregon star, as they don’t want to necessarily tinker with the O-line’s chemistry that sizzled in the West final. But odds are Friedman sees plenty of points as a hybrid insert on both O and D. If he’s on offense, he could have Knoche shadowing him everywhere he goes.
5. Chris Mazur, Los Angeles Aviators
44 assists / 18 goals / 4 blocks / +37 / 10 games played
Along with Beau and the handful of Roughnecks who have been on the Dallas roster for all three years, Mazur is also bracing for his third consecutive trip to Championship Weekend, this time as a member of the Aviators, for whom he served as a captain during his first year with the team. The Los Angeles franchise was certainly rising even before Mazur arrived, but the 32-year-old veteran added his winning attitude into the mix and helped ignite a new competitive fire for the Aviators, who will be looking to make a splash in their first final four experience. Adding into the intrigue, Mazur is the only player at 2018 Championship Weekend who has played for three of the four teams that are present. Along with parts of two seasons with the Roughnecks, he also began the 2016 season as a member of the Empire before relocating to Texas.
4. Peter Graffy, Madison Radicals
34 assists / 35 goals / 10 blocks / +62 / 12 games played
After twice leading the AUDL in blocks, Graffy focused more on offense in 2018 because that’s what the Radicals needed him to do. Since he joined the O-line on a more regular basis after Madison got walloped by Raleigh on May 26, Graffy has registered 32 goals and 28 assists in just eight games, in which he’s played by far the most points on the team, with 180. (KPS has played 167 points over the last eight games; no one else has played more than 146.) He cannot play every point this weekend, but he usually makes the Radicals much better whenever he’s on the field, whether he’s anchoring the offense as an initiating cutter with elite hucking capabilities or piloting the defense by roaming the deep space and going every/other on a turn.
3. Jeff Babbitt, New York Empire
7 assists / 17 goals / 16 blocks / +34 / 12 games played
Compared to last year, when Babbitt registered an insane 50 goals and 41 blocks, his 2018 season was comparatively unimpressive. Frankly, opponents were much smarter about how they attacked the Empire to prevent Babbitt from wreaking total havoc. But factoring in the last two years combined along with his terrifying playmaking ability, it’s still easy to understand why he’s one of the top players to watch in Madison this weekend. Curiously, it’s not clear what his primary role will be. He’s most well known for his powerful and ferocious defending, but late in the year, the Empire utilized him more on offense to give themselves another attacking downfield threat. Inevitably, he’ll do a lot of everything for the Empire this weekend, who will be more reliant on their stars than any other team in Madison.
2. Jay Froude, Dallas Roughnecks
41 assists / 46 goals / 19 blocks / +80 / 13 games played
One could make a pretty compelling case for Froude to be number one. After all, what can’t he do? He combines sharply-honed, well-rounded skills with electric speed and athleticism, while also possessing killer instincts and an intuitive sense for the moment. Several times during the season, he made pivotal plays that literally swung results, like his buzzer-beating assist to send the first Austin game to overtime and his interception and dish for a critical goal to beat the third-quarter buzzer against Raleigh in the playoffs. He has buckets of big-game experience, though he’s never won the biggest game, having fallen short in the semis or finals in each of the past three years, with Madison in 2015 and 2016 before joining Dallas in 2017.
1. Ben Jagt, New York Empire
51 assists / 41 goals / 12 blocks / +73 / 13 games played
The most impressive aspect of Jagt’s season is probably is his 57 assists (including the postseason), a total that’s surpassed by only six players in the entire league (Pawel Janas, Mark Burton, Derek Alexander, Max Sheppard, Jonathan Nethercutt, and Sean Mott, none of whom are still alive in the race for the title). As a towering 6’6” presence who is slippery enough to burn defenders underneath or deep, Jagt combines downfield striking with precision throwing to become a virtually unguardable behemoth, whom the Empire have relied relentlessly throughout the season. While this will be his first AUDL Championship Weekend experience, his performance for the University of Minnesota at 2016 College Nationals should be an indication that the bright lights of the semifinals will enhance, rather than inhibit, his abilities. New York may not have enough depth to win the title even if Jagt erupts, but the former Grey Duck star gives the Empire the greatest individual firepower of any of the four remaining teams.
Note: Neither LA’s Tom Doi nor Dallas’s Kai Marshall have played since June as a result of their respective injuries, and they each are considered doubtful for this weekend. Hence, they were not included for consideration on this list.
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