August 14, 2018
By Evan Lepler
At the team’s final practice before Championship Weekend, the Madison Radicals’ self-described self-appointed leader told his teammates that one of his annual cries was coming up.
Semifinal: New York Empire vs Dallas Roughnecks
Semifinal: Los Angeles Aviators vs Madison Radicals
Championship: Madison Radicals vs Dallas Roughnecks
“I can count on two cries [per year],” Kevin Pettit-Scantling, better known as KPS, reminded everyone. “One is a random time in my life, and the second one is Championship Weekend.”
For the previous five seasons, KPS’ Radicals-related sob session had been triggered by disappointment. He loved his team, and they had fallen short of their ultimate goal every year. But this time, he told his friends at practice last Wednesday, it would be different, and he confidently insisted that the tears would be joyous, celebratory, and cathartic.
He was right.
On Sunday afternoon at Breese Stevens Field, the Madison Radicals finally realized the glory they had long pursued since joining the AUDL in 2013. Even though they were playing at home, the Radicals were widely considered an underdog against the Dallas Roughnecks, who were 15-1 this year, 45-5 all-time, and in search of their second title since joining the league in 2016. But with depth, defense, and desire, the Radicals flustered and outlasted the Roughnecks 20-16, avenging a half-decade of heartbreak in winning their first championship.
The final score on Sunday even evoked memories of that devastating Seattle game from two years ago, vanquishing the nightmares of when the Radicals coughed up a 20-13 third-quarter lead in the semifinals on their homefield.
“Ya know, the score was 20-16, which was sort of ironic,” contemplated Tim DeByl, Madison’s owner and head coach. “That was the game we wanted, in 2016, [against the Cascades.] We really felt like we had a great opportunity to play that game. This wasn’t the same game; it was a different game. It’s a different team. But it did feel good, and we were really happy to win.”
Several Madison players mentioned the Seattle game over the course of the weekend, a reminder of just how haunting that night has been for the franchise over the past couple of years. They admitted it, dealt with it, and, most importantly, learned from it. As the final seconds of the 2018 title game ticked away, the Radicals stormed the field in delirious and unbridled ecstasy, commencing a celebration that would continue deep into the night.
The party started at Breese with thousands of their fans, giving the Radicals their longest postgame high-five lap they had ever experienced. Euphoric hugs were plentiful as they received the towering trophy and absorbed the emotional moment.
From there, many players and fans progressed to The Brass Ring, the Radicals’ primary postgame hangout throughout the past few seasons. Located just a few blocks down the road toward the Capitol, the champions would intermittently arrive over the next few hours, each receiving a raucous ovation from their teammates and other patrons when they casually strolled through the entrance.
By the early evening, most everyone transported to the Memorial Union Terrace, the iconic outdoor pavilion overlooking Lake Mendota on the University of Wisconsin campus. On the short drive over, DeByl rode shotgun with the trophy, clutching it tightly in the cramped front passenger seat. With his window rolled down, he calmly said three words to most everyone on the adjoining sidewalks.
“Hey, we won.”
Some passers-by were confused, but many others saw the massive trophy and cheered. On the Terrace, several fans approached the large group of Radicals to congratulate them, often taking pictures of the trophy and sharing their memories from the weekend, the season, and the past five years.
“Every obstacle we overcame helped us get to this point,” said Kevin Brown, one of the 10 Radicals who saw action this weekend that had been on the team since 2013. “And I think those losses really made us the team we are and they got us to where we are today. If we didn’t have that, maybe we wouldn’t have pushed as hard throughout the season.”
For five seasons, the Madison Radicals had dominated their local competition but struggled to surpass their best national brethren. Entering this year’s final four, they had gone a sparkling 83-8 against the Midwest, but just 1-7 versus the other three divisions.
In two days this past weekend, however, the Radicals redefined their legacy for the era, winning over Los Angeles and Dallas in front of their rabidly dedicated fans. For the first time, they became champions of the American Ultimate Disc League, representing for their city, their ultimate community, and, most importantly, for themselves.
The tears indeed flowed, and for Madison, it was a beautiful thing.
The Full-Field Layout
How did the Radicals do it?
Well, as previously emphasized, it was a mix of depth, defense, and desire, among other things, like smart coaching, big-game experience, and amazing athleticism. All of these traits were on display as Madison opened the weekend by exploding for four consecutive breaks against the Los Angeles Aviators on Saturday night. The Radicals led 4-0 less than four minutes into the game, then extended the edge to 9-3 by the end of the opening quarter. The Aviators, despite many opportunities during an epic and lengthy back-and-forth sequence at the end of the third, never got within three the rest of the way.
In arguably the most memorable play of the semifinal game, Madison’s Thomas Coolidge elevated to jaw-dropping height to prevent Los Angeles’ star receiver Sean McDougall from snagging a momentum-swinging score, which would have tightened the game to 17-14 and summoned even more ghostly Seattle vibes heading toward the fourth. But Coolidge’s insane leaping block electrified the crowd and ultimately helped trigger a 4-0 run that basically put the game away.
For Coolidge, the magical sky’s significance was magnified by the fact that, a few days prior, he suffered an injury that made him question whether he would even be able to play.
“Coming into the weekend, I actually suffered a hamstring injury on Wednesday at practice,” acknowledged Coolidge, who still played in both games, registering four blocks to share the team lead in Ds. “I was extremely disappointed. I didn’t think I was going to play this weekend. And up until the two and a half minute mark before the game started on Saturday, that was the deciding factor. But at that point, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to get through this.’"
“When that disc went up to McDougall, my only thought was, ‘can I actually get there?’ And then once I got there, I was actually pretty confident because all week I knew I could jump; it was, can I actually sprint the distance to get there? And once I got there, I just decided, I’m gonna go up early, I’m gonna go up high. I know I have good jumping ability, and I’m just trying to make a play, and it worked out.”
Astoundingly, Coolidge was also playing through physical issues beyond his hamstring. Over the past couple years, he’s been dealing with a recurring shoulder issue. On Sunday against Dallas, in fact, his shoulder popped out of its socket twice!
“Thankfully, there was no impact injury,” he explained. “However, every once in a while as I rotate too far and don’t keep control of my shoulder, I’m liable to knock it out. At this point, I’ve done it enough where if I concentrate, I can kinda roll it back in. And although it sounds extremely painful and it’s not the most comfortable, there are worse things I’ve suffered than that.”
With a penchant for making huge plays for his team at Championship Weekend, Coolidge claimed he simply tried to compete the same way he always does, bringing the same intensity, effort, and desire as he would for any game. His teammates and coaches, however, were left raving about how much he stepped up when his team needed him in critical moments.
“No player on our team outplayed expectations more than Thomas Coolidge,” expressed Radicals Assistant Coach Jake Spiro, who interjected during my conversation with Coolidge to praise his performance. “It was the absolute pinnacle of his game. In every way. This guy’s relocating his shoulder on the field and was either 4-0 or 5-0 deep; anytime they put anyone deep on Coolidge, he got it. And then when we needed a play and we needed someone to grind when everyone’s tired, Coolidge was open every time.”
Just like Saturday, the signature moment of Sunday’s game against Dallas came in the closing seconds of the third quarter. With three seconds left, the Roughnecks scored to inch within two at 14-12. In retrospect, they left the Radicals too much time.
Pat Shriwise received the pull and quickly tossed a diagonal 10-yard gainer to Kevin Brown, who uncorked a backhand the length of the field toward the awaiting pack in the end zone. With the clock showing all zeros, Colin Camp timed his jump best, but was unable to make the clean grab, simply deflecting the disc with his fingertips. It then, almost magically, fluttered downward into the single hand of fan favorite Kevin Pettit-Scantling, who snagged the breathtaking buzzer-beater on one knee as the Radicals’ crowd erupted in pandemonium and KPS pantomimed giving CPR to the disc, something he had never done before to celebrate a score.
“My roommate did it like four years ago at a pickup tournament,” shared Pettit-Scantling, describing the inspiration for the creative celebration. “It felt natural. That’s the first time I’ve done it.”
Everything about Pettit-Scantling’s performance felt natural, much like his ascension as a team leader and fan favorite.
As Kevin Brown explained, “I told Colin after the point, ‘the crowd didn’t wanna see you catch it, they wanted KPS to catch it.’ Everyone wanted KPS to catch it.”
That was the fourth goal of the weekend for the 27-year-old Pettit-Scantling, who was an unknown 21-year-old in April of 2013 when he made his Radicals debut. Over the course of his tenure, he gradually grew from just being a guy who tried to avoid making mistakes to a guy that everyone counted on for defense, athleticism, and most importantly, leadership.
“He’s such a good human being, and you wanna help him, you wanna listen to him,” remarked DeByl, who signed KPS in 2013 despite the fact that he was living two hours away in Racine and was uncertain how much he would be able to commit to the team. “I always remember that D he got on Brodie [Smith] and then ripped his shirt over his head like we had just won the championship. We’d won our first game ever, and he’s like ‘did we just win a championship?’ No, we had just beaten Chicago in our first game ever. That’s how he is. He’s been a huge part in keeping everyone engaged in this. That’s the biggest thing. You can look at our team and see how much it matters to people.”
As he started to earn more and more playing time, Pettit-Scantling’s infectious energy transformed him into a leader. Often, it was just hyping everyone up and exemplifying effort through his passionate play. This year, however, he took on more vocal responsibilities, a dynamic that he initiated almost entirely on his own.
“Tim has historically been really bad at huddles,” divulged Pettit-Scantling. “Really bad. So in January, he gave his first huddle [at tryouts], and I called him immediately after at like 1:00 AM, and I was like ‘Tim, I’m gonna start talking in huddles,’ and he was like ‘ok.’ And so I started talking in huddles, I started taking a bunch of responsibilities on this year. Like the first game, when they called the captains to flip the coin and I walked out there. No one told me to. It’s a funny joke, but like, I’m self-appointed captain. No one voted for me, but I’ve done these things because I felt they needed to be done.”
Very quickly, Pettit-Scantling’s huddle speeches became a regular part of practice and gameday. His teammates embraced it, and it became a part of the 2018 Radicals’ identity. And inevitably, his verbal messages were amplified by his play on the field.
“That man gets better every year is the easiest way to say it,” said Peter Graffy, who led the Radicals with eight goals and three assists during Championship Weekend, about KPS’s evolution as a player. “When I first started, in 2014, he was good at defense, but he wasn’t a standout offensive player, and he didn’t have a high ultimate IQ. But man, he’s good now. He is super good. I don’t know how he became our leader; he just kinda became it. But he’s always kinda been the hype guy for us, and it’s great. He always knows how to say the right thing at the right time, and he gets us going.”
After Pettit-Scantling’s buzzer-beating grab against the Roughnecks, the Radicals won another marathon point to begin the fourth quarter, taking their largest lead yet at 16-12 with 6:42 remaining. The lead swelled to five on another break with 3:09 to go, when Pettit-Scantling ran down a deep shot from Graffy, then flipped it to Chase Marty for the score to make it 19-14.
“I think with about three minutes left in the game, it kinda dawned on me like, ‘I think we’re actually gonna win this game,’” acknowledged the 35-year-old Scott Richgels, who came out of retirement for the opportunity to potentially win a championship at Breese Stevens Field with the Radicals. “I wouldn’t say at the beginning of the season that I knew we were going to win. I thought we could, but I’ve thought that for six straight years, and it’s always been something where we just haven’t put it all together on Championship Weekend. We’ve played well, but not well enough. It was great to finally punch through that.”
Along with Richgels, who said that Sunday’s 20-15 triumph was definitely his last game, 37-year-old Andrew Brown, who is also contemplating retirement, was similarly relieved and overjoyed to experience the thrill of victory.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” said Brown, who was inactive on Saturday but took banged up Tom Annen’s spot in the lineup for Sunday’s final. “To win and win with this team after a six-year journey of coming to this event and coming up short, it’s pure elation. It’s a validation of all the work we’ve been putting in for all that time. And to win on the same field as my brother [Kevin] and getting to play with him, I mean that just makes it all the more special. I think our shortcomings at this event in the past have sort of galvanized us, knowing that we had the championship in Madison again, and having experienced the letdown of two years ago when we fell to Seattle. I think that propelled us to really go all-in on this season and this year. It’s a credit to our leadership, our captains, especially Kevin Pettit-Scantling, and the hard work of our coaches, Tim and Spiro.”
Over the course of the two Championship Weekend victories, the Radicals had 16 different goal-scorers and 16 different players with assists. Graffy’s +11 paced the team in plus/minus, while Sterling Knoche finished +8. Not only did Knoche register a handful of spectacular plays in recording four blocks, three goals, and two assists, but his defensive wizardry often stymied his covers from making a substantial impact. On Sunday, his teammates raved about the effort he put forth in keeping Roughnecks (and former Radicals) star Jay Froude off the stat sheet.
“Defensively, we put Jay on ‘Sterling Knoche Island,’” remarked Graffy. “And that worked out pretty well for us. I don’t know exactly what his stat-line was against us, but it probably wasn’t that fantastic. Sterling is phenomenal.”
As for his actual stat-line, Froude led the Roughnecks with a +9 in Dallas’ 32-30 shootout victory over New York on Saturday, but on Sunday, he mustered just +4, with two goals, one assist, and a couple of blocks (along with one throwaway). Chris LaRocque paced the Roughnecks with a +5 on Sunday, along with dishing 10 assists and scoring three goals for the weekend overall, but Dallas clearly showed signs of fatigue against the Radicals, especially without injured big men Kevin Richardson and Dan Emmons, who both suffered left ankle injuries in Saturday’s semifinal.
“We got worked,” said Froude, matter-of-factly, after Sunday’s loss. “We just got outplayed. Madison brought it to us. They got energy early and kept it the entire game. We were tired and fatigued and they took advantage of us. They’re relentless. They never give up. They’re always in your back pocket. Every throw has to be pristine. Every catch. Every thought that you’re having needs to be perfect, and if it’s not, that D-line will eat it up. So kudos to them. They did very well.”
Throughout the season, the Roughnecks have occasionally given one of their players the honor and responsibility of tweeting from the team’s primary account. On Friday, with the entire team traveling to Madison, that obligation fell to Connor Olson.
Hey everyone, someone decided to give me the password to this account so here I am; your favorite Roughnecks bench-warmer, Connor Olson (@duane_connor) ! I will be talking a bit about myself and taking yall through my first ever championship weekend experience!!— Dallas Roughnecks (@DRoughnecks) August 10, 2018
You would be forgiven for not knowing Olson before Championship Weekend, as the 19-year-old Oklahoma State University sophomore had mustered just seven goals and eight assists in a—to use his words—bench-warming role during his 12 games played this season.
But when Richardson went down, suddenly Olson was thrust in a much bigger spot, enabling a breakout performance that helped carry Dallas past New York and into Sunday’s final.
Against the New York Empire, Olson finished with five goals, several of which required heroic athleticism, easily worthy of SportsCenter Top 10 status.
Apparently, others with access to the Roughnecks twitter took it upon themselves to share Olson’s brilliance. According to him, at least, that was the case.
Hey it's Connor again. I didn't retweet my own highlights on this Twitter account, I'm not THAT cocky. ANYWAY WE WON!!!!!!!— Dallas Roughnecks (@DRoughnecks) August 12, 2018
On Sunday morning, I asked several members of the Roughnecks if they were surprised by Olson’s clutch performance against New York. All of them replied, ‘no.’ They believed he had just fulfilled his potential and taken advantage of the opportunity, something he continued to do by scoring three more goals in the final.
While the result did not go the Roughnecks’ way, the performance from young players like Olson, who will turn 20 this Friday, give them plenty of optimism for the future, a sentiment that was clearly portrayed in his final tweet.
Sitting at the back of the airplane sweaty and defeated, but feeling optimistic. It’s been a great season but I’m already thinking about the next one. Thanks for following along and for the support this season! This is Connor Olson signing off ❤️— Dallas Roughnecks (@DRoughnecks) August 13, 2018
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Obviously, tons of great content to navigate through from Championship Weekend. Here, I shall share two posts that I particularly enjoyed.
First, here’s Jeff Babbitt and Brandon “Muffin” Malecek sharing a moment in appreciation (or mockery) of the other person’s pose that became stadium signage at Breese Stevens Field.
Nailed it pic.twitter.com/qW7eOZhx1A— AUDL (@theAUDL) August 12, 2018
Second, it looks like the unrelated Bacon bros finally enjoyed connecting and exchanging jerseys. Unless you’re a vegetarian, extra Bacon is almost always a good thing.
@laaviators @DRoughnecks Mission accomplished pic.twitter.com/GV307peGrI— Tyler Bacon (@bacon_lv) August 12, 2018
To be totally honest, the past couple months have been a bit of a blur.
Championship Weekend was my 20th consecutive weekend on the road broadcasting ultimate, an incredible string of fun and, to be frank, fatigue. As I’ve said many times, I am extraordinary grateful for these opportunities to travel to amazing ultimate towns and help narrate the action to the world. It would be considered a dream come true, except I really never fantasized that this type of “work” would ever be possible as I envisioned pursuing broadcasting as a young kid.
Alas, it has been a privilege and an honor, and I’m thankful that my travel to and from Madison went smoothly to cap my 20-week odyssey. Looking back on the season, I suppose I should feel fortunate that, despite a brutal three-week stretch in June, the travel gods mostly smiled at me.
It was an eerie feeling on Monday after landing back in North Carolina, when, for the first time in a very long time, I did not have any future flights booked. Of course, this feeling did not last long. On Tuesday, another employer officially scheduled my travel for my first mid-September football broadcast, which has me headed to Louisville, Kentucky.
I’m slated to leave a month from today, and I will treasure being home between now and then.
Seven On The Line
- Thank you, Fulcrum Media Group. The Luke Johnson/Josh Havens-led company produces all of the AUDL Game of the Week broadcasts, and along with Ian Lunger, Eddie Chan, Sarah Edwards, and several other recurring friendly faces, they beam the pictures your way each week. Live television can be an intense, unforgiving grind, especially when travel is hard and resources aren’t infinite. And while we can all get on each other’s nerves at times over the course of a five-month season, I remain grateful for Fulcrum’s continued effort and purpose. Together, we will all aim to keep getting better in the future.
- Thank you, Megan Tormey. In her sixth season broadcasting for the AUDL, Meagles continues to bring unflinching dedication and commitment to the craft. Stunningly, she was on the air with us on Saturday, less than two weeks removed from giving birth to her amazing new daughter, Rowan, whom she intermittently held and fed while simultaneously calling the Aviators-Radicals game. It was incredible and inspirational multi-tasking. Of course, we would have obviously understood if she could not have been there. But it was awesome to have her with us.
- Thank you, Chuck Kindred. Chuck is a tremendously clever guy, who has carved out a unique style that others might easily aspire for but rarely reach. He entertains with his spontaneous words and differing inflections, and he’s as much fun to talk to on the phone as he is to work with on the air.
Name a more prolific duo pic.twitter.com/MpI1wstP25— AUDL (@theAUDL) July 19, 2017
- Thank you, Bryan Jones. I met Bryan when he was coaching the Rochester Dragons in 2014, and I quickly respected his commanding knowledge of the sport, something I have been grateful to resource over the past several seasons. I’ve said that he sees the game like Neo sees the world at the end of The Matrix—which, by the way, was produced by one of the founding fathers of ultimate, Joel Silver. In other words, Bryan observes things that are not immediately recognizable, but transforms them into easily understood analysis that makes the viewer smarter.
- Thank you, Ian Toner. While his days as an elite player prevented him from broadcasting extensively until a couple years ago, Ian brings a professional brand of preparation and poise with a serious but easygoing style. Through the grind of College Nationals, Worlds, and Championship Weekend, Ian continued to provide insightful analysis along with his pleasant demeanor. I would enjoy watching him play again, but frankly, I’m much more pleased that he’s my teammate now.
- Thank you, Charlie Eisenhood and Erin Mirocha. Charlie is obviously well-known and well-respected as the czar of Ultiworld, and I have been grateful to have him along for the ride at the past few Championship Weekends. His words carry a gravitas that has been gained from grinding on the oft-unappreciated realm of ultimate journalism. His contributions to the world of ultimate are incalculable, and his presence at Championship Weekend the past few years has been invaluable. Erin coached the Minnesota Wind Chill this season and offered a refreshing and informed perspective to our “Gameday live” set. She certainly has a bright future in coaching, and if she wants to continue broadcasting, she’s got great potential there too.
- Thank you, Adam Ruffner. Perhaps you don’t know Adam’s name, but trust me when I tell you, he is the unsung hero of the AUDL. Aside from editing this column each week and brilliantly formatting it with plenty of captivating video, Adam also orchestrates a massive amount of other content on a daily and weekly basis. From extensive video highlights to crafty special features and witty social media postings, Adam frequently makes both me and the league look better than we otherwise deserve. I’m still not convinced he doesn’t operate on 25 or 26-hour days.
I’m sorry, but the thank yous are not done yet.
Thank you to all of the AUDL owners, who continue to believe and work to make professional ultimate a reality, despite difficult odds, long hours, and significant financial expense. I feel so privileged to be involved in this journey, and I will be forever grateful to Rob Lloyd, Steve Gordon, and the rest of the league’s leadership and ownership for trusting in me over the course of the last five seasons. I know we still have a bunch of work to do, but I’m proud of the progress that has been made and hopeful to remain involved for a long time.
Writing the Tuesday Toss each week is genuinely an enjoyable grind. Certainly, there’s a sense of satisfaction when it’s done and sent every Tuesday, but it remains a labor of love and I appreciate the opportunity to publish this weekly anthology of disc drama. Obviously, this process would ring hollow if not for the loyal readership of people like you. Words cannot fully describe how much I cherish the growing legion of ultimate fans who devour and digest the broadcasts, podcasts, and writings that I strive to create each week during the season.
Without you, I would not be able to do this. Without you, I really don’t know what I would be doing instead. Without you, I might sleep more on Monday nights, but it’s a very small price to pay to be trusted to create reliable and hopefully informative ultimate content on a regular basis.
Thank you for reading, watching, and listening. Thank you to those of you who have e-mailed or tweeted or stopped to introduce yourselves at AUDL games and other ultimate events around the world. Even if I occasionally seem flustered when you say hey, I promise you that meeting new ultimate fans is one of the great highlights of each season. Whether you are eight or 80 or anywhere in between, please take a moment to connect the next time our paths cross. Or shoot me an e-mail at AUDLMailbag@gmail.com.
The last and probably most important thank you goes to my wife, Caleigh, who has tolerated my unforgiving travel and writing schedule throughout the past 20+ weeks with nothing but love and support. As I casually and cryptically alluded to a couple of times on the air over the weekend, we are together currently bracing for the most important and hopefully rewarding challenge of our lives: parenthood. I was grateful and relieved that our baby—officially due on August 29—did not arrive too early, allowing me to finish the broadcasting season in Madison. I trust this means that baby will always accommodate my schedule, right?
Congratulations to the Madison Radicals, and may we all shed more tears of joy in the coming weeks, months, and years.
Thank you, as always, for reading.
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