April 17, 2018
By Evan Lepler
Before Kyle Henke could make an epic game-winning, buzzer-beating grab on national television For the Austin Sol, he first had to convince his coach to let him play.
WATCH: AUDL Game of the Week Archive
“I’d been thinking about the conflicting schedule ever since the Sol schedule came out,” Henke explained, “knowing there was going to be little to no hope for playing [College Conferences and an AUDL game on the same day.]”
Henke spent weeks making his case to Austin’s first-year Coach Ryan Bigley, believing that he was fully capable of competing at Conferences in the morning and afternoon while still contributing to the Sol in their much-anticipated Saturday night opener. But up until Austin’s final minicamp on April 7-8, despite Henke’s arguments, Bigley had held firm that Henke would not be on the active roster. Understandably, he thought the 19-year-old sophomore should focus on his college team, Texas Tech Tumbleweed, and Bigley did not want to throw a fatigued player onto the field against a very good Los Angeles Aviators squad.
Throughout the minicamp, however, Henke persevered with his persuasion. And by the end of the day on Sunday, his words—or perhaps his on-field abilities—won Bigley over. With Henke’s pledge to play only a limited number of points at Conferences, Bigley finally relented and said he would tentatively include him among the active 20. With no logistical hiccups, Henke would be on the field for Austin’s 2018 opener.
Consequently, on Saturday, his last college game ended just shy of 4:30 PM local time, and Henke rode shotgun as Sol teammate Alex Brouwer, who also plays at Baylor, drove the 90-minute route from Waco to House Park Stadium in Austin, getting him there right as warm-ups were starting at 6:00 PM.
“There was never a firm ‘go’ until I gave Bigley a high five and he didn’t say anything about me not playing,” Henke said. “That got me pumped.”
A little more than three hours later, with the score tied at 22 in the final seconds of regulation, Henke gave his grueling day—and the Austin Sol—a stunning fairy-tale finish. As time expired, he leapt in front of two Aviators to snare Jeff Loskorn’s desperation “Hail Mary” backhand, propelling the Sol to an exhilarating 23-22 triumph over the visiting Aviators. The Austin sideline stormed the field euphorically, the hometown crowd erupted, and the Aviators absorbed the shellshock of a devastating defeat, capping a wild couple hours packed with breathtaking athleticism and palpable intensity.
“It sounds cliché, but it was all just so surreal,” said Henke.
The Full Field Layout
With four one-goal games and four others decided by 3-5 scores, Week 3 of the 2018 AUDL season contained a handful of unlikely heroes and even more unexpected outcomes. Consider that in the official AUDL picks contest—Join the fun at AUDLpicks.com—five different teams received less than 20 percent of public support, yet found a way to either win or cover the spread, rendering more than 80 percent of the picking public as losers.
The Tampa Bay Cannons (+4.5) were picked by only 19.9 percent of the prognosticators. Only nine percent picked the San Diego Growlers (+3.5). Just 8.4 percent took the Philadelphia Phoenix (+5.5). The Nashville NightWatch (+4.5) was chosen by 12.1 percent, while only 13.6 percent selected LA (+3.5) in its second game of the weekend.
There’s no money at stake in this friendly frisbee prediction contest, but it is a pretty good illustration of why you don’t hear about Las Vegas Sports Books declaring bankruptcy very often. Picking games against the spread is incredibly difficult, and while ultimate has battled against being overly predictable at times, the 2018 AUDL has reached a new level of captivating weekly chaos.
On the field, of course, no Aviator was consoled by the fact that their team narrowly covered the spread (On AUDLpicks.com, LA was +1.5 at Austin on Saturday). Henke’s heroics had handed Los Angeles a heartbreaking loss, and the flow of the game made it even tougher for the Aviators to swallow.
LA fell behind 5-1 early in the opening quarter, but then battled back and seemed on the brink of taking the lead all night long. Aaron Weaver’s defense helped to swing the momentum, and Brent George’s unbelievable dueling layouts score—bidding side-by-side with Henke—was just one of the collection of difficult plays that various Aviators made to surge back into the game. Meanwhile, Austin showed its mettle by refusing to relinquish its lead. Mike “Tank” Natenberg, Kiran Thomas, and Max Cook, who could all be paradoxically considered as ‘veteran rookies,’ were important contributors, relying on their collective decades of past ultimate experiences to guide them in their first AUDL game. Fellow vet Jerrod Wolfe, who teammates characterize as the heart and soul of any team he plays for, came up with an amazing layout D in the closing seconds of the third quarter, which Austin quickly converted into another buzzer-beating goal.
But when LA’s Eli Friedman, after doinking the initial catch attempt, made a crazy second-effort grab to tie the game at 22 with a minute to play, it felt like the Aviators might steal the road result. LA’s best pull of the day forced Austin to start its possession from the back corner of the end zone, and with the clock ticking toward 10 seconds remaining, the Sol had barely made it to midfield. Chase Cunningham, who led the Sol with five assists on the night, fired a flick to Loskorn to gain about 15 yards, leaving Austin’s veteran lefty near the sideline, about 35 yards from the end zone, with less than five seconds left.
“I didn’t realize we were down to 10 seconds until I heard it from the sideline,” remembered Loskorn. “Luckily, I was able to find some space in between the defense and knew I had to get it off pretty much immediately. My first option was to throw it up the sideline to Ethan [Pollack] in the corner, but the mark cut that off, so I had to go to my second option: throw it at four Aviator players in the middle of the end zone. Fortunately, it didn’t float that much, and Henke was able to make an insane bid on it.”
When the plastic was soaring toward the goal line, it did indeed look like one of the Aviators would make a play on it first. But Henke snuck in and attacked it best to create the signature moment of the night, and probably of the AUDL season thus far.
“With six seconds left and the disc in Jeff’s hand, I thought he was going to throw his left flick on the skinny side to Pollack, since he’s not hard to find, but when I saw him wind up the backhand, I stayed wide. It took me awhile to really read the disc because it came out so low and flat and there were a lot of players that were in my line of sight to Jeff,” Henke said.
“I knew that I jump a lot higher when I get a running start, so I milked it, but maybe a split second too long, because I had to lay out forward for it. I think it worked out better, though, because if I had sat in [Chris] Mazur’s peripheral, I’m sure he would have tried to high-point it. Anyways, I snagged it, gripped that thing tight, and said hello to the ground once more. I never heard the buzzer go off. I thought there might be one or two seconds left on the clock after the grab, but almost instantly I figured out that that was it.”
To add to the mythic and legendary nature of Henke’s heroics, it’s possible he might not have been on the field if not for Matt Bennett suffering a foot injury late in the first half. Henke had only played sparingly in the first two quarters, but when Bennett went down, the Sol’s lines shuffled a little bit, and Henke felt he had fresh enough legs to make a difference. On the final point of the game, he ran to the line, and alongside a few guys who were nearly twice his age, delivered one of the most dramatic conclusions in AUDL history.
“Showing out at the ‘Game of the Week’ was what I’d been dreaming about since the schedule got released,” he admitted. “Now that I’ve had the opportunity, it’s cool, but I realize how much more there is to frisbee and life. There’s always more to be done, so I’m going to put my head down and focus on beating Dallas.”
Coincidentally, the Aviators had the same exact mission as they mentally recovered and strived to turn the page from Saturday night’s drama. They drove to Dallas, arriving around 3:00 AM, and by noon they were at The Colony Five Star Sports Complex warming up for the Dallas Roughnecks home opener. Los Angeles opened the game with impressive intensity, breaking Dallas’ O-line on back-to-back points to take a 2-0 lead. The opening point saw Mazur, the former Roughneck, connect on an impressive upwind flick huck and then chirp some words of confidence toward the Dallas sideline.
Unfortunately for Mazur, it was the Roughnecks who would have the last laugh. The early 2-0 advantage vanished quickly as Dallas scored four straight goals and never trailed again. While the Roughnecks were playing without key handlers like Dalton Smith (hamstring) and Chris LaRocque (broken nose), other guys stepped up. Matt Jackson, Brandon Malecek, and Jay Froude did the heavy lifting for the O-line, while Dillon Larberg, Ben Lewis, and Zach Marbach all made a slew of plays for the D-line. The best Roughneck of all might have been Carson Wilder, who a year ago was Henke’s teammate on both Texas Tech and the Sol. Wilder finished with a team-high six goals, though his most impressive play may have been a gorgeous high-release downwind flick huck that seemed to sit on a soft shelf for Froude to chase down, making the score 18-15 with 4:07 to go.
“I think that’s just the kind of player [Carson] is,” said Jackson, who finished with four assists and 42 completions himself. “He can do the really difficult things, but he’s not looking to do them. He is just everywhere. He’s in the right place always. I love that we are teammates this year.”
Much like the Austin game, Los Angeles left a slew of opportunities on the table in their pursuit of a comeback. When the clock expired on a 20-17 setback in Dallas and an 0-2 weekend in Texas, the Aviators confronted the adversity while remaining optimistic about their season ahead.
“I think all three teams, [us, Austin, and Dallas, all] had a fairly similar offensive game plan for the conditions,” said Aviators Captain Tyler Bacon. “We were just the worst at sticking to it and executing this weekend. When Dallas and Austin got a clean look deep in the wind, they took their shot. Which is a difficult throw at times, but so was every other throw [in the gusty conditions.] We often passed on the clean deep look in favor of an extra swing pass, and that actually led to trouble more times than not. The two teams that generated the most short-field possessions got wins this weekend. The losses are frustrating, but I think the team is confident about how we match up with other squads and our potential for the remainder of the season.”
Acting Head Coach Steve Dugan echoed the positive outlook, saying that he was impressed with how the Aviators handled adversity over the course of the weekend.
“They responded with confidence, grit, and support for each other,” Dugan remarked. “Very challenging to do when facing an uphill battle the entire weekend in windy conditions that we’re not used to playing in and playing on a less than adequate sleep schedule. Both games could have ended in blowouts after the slow starts, but we battled to get back into each game.”
The 2-0 Roughnecks and 1-0 Sol meet in Dallas this weekend, while the Aviators return to the wide open West, the only division in the league where every team already has at least one loss.
As if their opening matchup left any doubt, Saturday’s Bay Area rematch in Los Altos Hills served as further evidence that the San Francisco FlameThrowers and San Jose Spiders are closer than ever. One week after the Spiders snuck away from the FlameThrowers’ home digs with a one-point win, the ‘Throwers returned the favor by escaping Foothill College with a 28-27 triumph.
While the two teams combined to score 14 more goals in the second meeting than in the 21-20 Spiders’ victory from seven days earlier, San Jose’s jumping out to a four-goal lead in the first half was a similar storyline. Trailing 7-3 in the opening quarter and struggling to be consistently cohesive on offense, the FlameThrowers looked to loosen things up.
“Last game, I saw nothing but tense faces around the huddle, which made us overthink things and not rely on our abilities and skills,” said FlameThrowers Captain Antoine Davis. “So our biggest adjustments were to make sure that our sidelines were a constant source of energy and to make sure we were having fun. Their early lead was simply growing pains for our offense since we did not have Eli [Kerns] to control the offense and Greg [Cohen] to anchor the downfield.”
With mainstays like Kerns and Cohen unavailable, Davis’s role increased, as did rookie handler Elliott Chartock’s. Collectively, the Davis/Chartock duo combined for seven goals, 11 assists, and 87 completions in 89 throws. Marcelo Sanchez (four goals, six assists) and Lior Givol (six goals, two assists) also did some heavy-lifting for the San Francisco offense. But the play of the game, from an emotional standpoint at least, involved two players who only touched the disc sparingly.
“The biggest moment for our team was when Cody [Kirkland] let heave a 60+ yards backhand huck to Skylohr [Taylor] for a break,” remembered Davis. “It was what we needed the entire time because we kept getting Ds but could not convert them into points.”
After falling behind 7-3, Kirkland’s deep shot to Taylor, the only assist for the former and lone goal for the latter, knotted the score at 10-all. The FlameThrowers sideline erupted and San Francisco rode the energy wave for another break to take its first lead at 11-10. The battle arrived at halftime deadlocked at 13s.
In the second half, both offenses found a new gear, and, remarkably, 28 of the 29 goals were O-line holds over the final 24 minutes. The lone break came late in the third, with Givol finding Jacob Greenberg to give the FlameThrowers a 20-19 edge. San Francisco led 21-20 heading into the fourth and received to start the quarter, doubling the lead to 22-20 when Chartock hit Greenberg. The Spiders’ offense inched back within one seven times in the final frame, but never mustered a break for the equalizer. With about 45 seconds remaining, the FlameThrowers received the pull up 28-27 and calmly completed enough throws to close out the game. Davis connected with Chartock to clinch it, the FlameThrowers sideline yelled for Chartock to simply hold the disc, and the clock expired to ensure San Francisco’s first win since last year’s championship.
“I think the overall feeling is this was in our control,” said San Jose’s Justin Norden after the loss. “We had some chances but didn’t convert on D. We didn’t stop Antoine from doing a whole lot. We didn’t adjust to their game plan and we paid for it.”
Norden racked up five goals and 11 assists, primarily playing offense one week after he mainly anchored the D-line. Jackson Stearns added seven goals, four assists, and three blocks, but the Spiders’ record evened at 1-1 after the narrow setback.
San Jose and San Francisco will reunite again in Los Altos Hills on May 12, while their final meeting of the regular season is slated for June 16 in Oakland. More immediately, the Spiders hit the road to battle the angry Aviators, while the FlameThrowers welcome Toronto out West for an interdivisional showdown this weekend. It’s the first-ever regular season rematch of the previous year’s championship game, and it will air live on Stadium at 9:30 PMET, 6:30 PM/PT this Saturday night.
Speaking of the Toronto Rush, the 2017 silver medalists opened their 2018 journey this past weekend, delivering a performance that could be simply characterized as ‘typically Toronto.’ First, the Rush overcame a three-goal third quarter deficit against New York to remain perfect all-time against the Empire. One day later, they held off a fierce rally from Philadelphia to cap another 2-0 road trip to kickoff their season. It’s the fifth time in the last six years that the Rush opened their season with two road wins, and the fourth time in that stretch where the trip included a victory by the slimmest of margins.
On Saturday night in New York, the Rush started slowly, trailing 4-2 after one, 8-7 at the half, and 10-7 with 9:50 remaining in the third. For much of the game, it felt as if Beau Kittredge’s debut with the Empire would help them finally best Toronto, something they had never done in 15 previous meetings. But the Rush defended a pair of hucks launched by Kittredge in the second half, and Toronto’s playmaking delivered the goods down the stretch.
The Mackenzie brothers—Iain and Mike—each made a bunch of pivotal plays, with Iain bidding beyond Jeff Babbitt for an amazing score and Mike registering several Ds during the team’s second half run. But the most significant momentum-shifting sequence was probably an early fourth quarter point that ended with Toronto taking its first multi-goal lead of the game.
Remi Ojo recorded three Ds during a marathon point, catching the final one for a gigantic Callahan score. This gave the Rush a 13-11 edge and might have been the signature moment to Toronto’s 11-4 rally to ultimately win the game 18-14.
“First, he blocked a hammer, then he cleaned up the mack after Mikey’s layout D, and then came the Callahan,” said Toronto Head Coach Sachin Raina, recalling Ojo’s epic defensive sequence. “The Callahan will be what people remember, but it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t get the first two blocks and if he didn’t have the gas left in the tank to make one more spectacular play. He’s coming off an injury-plagued season and worked harder than anyone this winter, so we were all thrilled to see him get off to a flying start.”
In fact, the three Ds that Ojo registered on that one point surpassed his block total from all of last season, a campaign that was limited to just seven games and 76 points, the fewest of any of his four seasons in the AUDL. His return to form gave the Rush a much-needed boost.
On Sunday afternoon, the Rush built a five-goal lead in miserably rainy and windy conditions, but Philadelphia refused to fold. Toronto never trailed in building a 12-7 advantage, but Philly responded with three straight scores to close the first half and added the first two goals in the third quarter to even things at 12-all. Toronto answered with three straight to go ahead 15-12, however Philly again battled back, inching within one at 17-16.
“We certainly didn’t play our best game—three drops in the end zone, a bunch of uncharacteristic turns—but I’m sure Philly will tell you they didn’t play their best game either,” remarked Raina. “I think Philly made a couple smart adjustments, such as bringing some of their O-handlers to the D-line to work upwind. Those moves worked and allowed them to erase all of our upwind breaks. I think Philly is going to surprise teams this year. We’ve had some lopsided scores against the Phoenix in the past not because we were doing anything spectacular, but because they made a bunch of mistakes. But I didn’t see any of that on Sunday. They made us work for every turnover and made us work on every offensive possession. So while some might think the score-line was only close because of the weather or the back-to-back situation, I would argue that this game would’ve been just as close in perfect conditions.”
In the end, the Rush survived 19-18, completing a few throws to run out the clock after the Phoenix had scored late to inch back within one. While none of the stats are all that pretty because of the ugly conditions, the Phoenix did get six assists from Scott Xu and four goals from Ethan Peck, while Himalaya Mehta registered a Philly-best +6.
“Scott Xu was our best player on offense,” said Philadelphia Player/Coach Trey Katzenbach. “He had some great deep assists, kept possessions alive with his handler cuts, and really managed the wind well. “Ethan did a great job with his deep shots and his cutting. He is going to have a big year for us as an offensive initiator that can turn and fire deep shots. Himalaya was our best downfield cutter. His motor is so strong, and it is hard for defenders to keep up with him.”
While the Phoenix would have obviously loved to win the game, Katzenbach stressed that the team was moving in the right direction.
“We are happy with our effort, and the atmosphere in the locker room after the game was very upbeat, very different from last year when we blew a late lead to Montreal in our home opener,” explained Katzenbach, who played a team-high 24 points himself while completing 24 of 25 passes. “That being said, a play here or there and we would have won the game. All of the elements were there for us to have a huge win...We know that we can compete against anyone in the league.”
Toronto’s Jay Boychuk paced the Rush with a +9 on the weekend (no one else on the team was better than +5), while Isaiah Masek-Kelly registered five Ds in the two-game trip. Though the wins were not always dominant or convincing, the Rush rode for home grateful to be 2-0.
“Last year, we went 1-1 [on the opening trip] and were chasing the whole year to get the number one seed,” remembered Thomson McKnight. “All in all, it was a fun, tough weekend that has us excited to head over to San Fran next weekend for a rematch of Championship Weekend with the FlameThrowers. Hopefully, it will be warm and sunny.”
Good news for the Rush: though the current Bay Area forecast is far from tropical, it is expected to be in the upper 60s and mostly sunny over the weekend in northern California.
This section of the Toss is usually meant to give some hype to a player who may be on the outside edge of the public’s awareness. Today, that nod goes to a full team.
The San Diego Growlers were only picked by 9 percent of the prognosticating audience this past weekend against Seattle, and the Growlers were receiving three and a half points in the pick-em spread. But after a 22-16 triumph on a chilly, rainy night in Seattle, the perception of San Diego’s place in the West Division hierarchy should shift dramatically.
“It was great to come away with a win this weekend,” said San Diego’s Sean Ham, whose game-high +7 helped the Growlers bounce back from a 30-17 loss in LA the previous week. “They were ahead at the half, and I think the biggest adjustment we made was to overcommit defensively on easy throws. Basic defense, but as a team we made sure to not give up easy under throws in our zone and our person D. The defensive effort allowed us to get our breaks back in the third. Max Hume was a big part of the push. We switched him to defense and I think our first break in the second half was a play where Max had a huge layout D in the opposing end-zone, cut his lip open on the play, but made it all the way down to score the bookend goal.”
For the game, Hume contributed two goals, two assists, and two Ds. Sam Fontaine, who only had three assists in just two games in 2017 for the Growlers, dished six scores and matched Ham in plus/minus at +7.
Seattle’s Mark Burton, one week after a sterling +16 against Minnesota, was a more pedestrian +4 against San Diego, with seven assists, no goals, and four throwaways. Reed Hendrickson, whose athletic exploits against the Wind Chill dominated the highlight reel, did not play against the Growlers.
The Cascades were within one as the game moved into the fourth quarter, but the Growlers outscored them 6-1 in the final 12 minutes to create separation and secure the victory, giving every team in the West Division at least one win.
“Unfortunately, our D-line couldn’t earn the breaks that we needed in the second half,” said Seattle’s Xtehn Titcomb. “As a D-line captain, I’m looking forward to putting in the work at practices in order to set our team up for success in every game this season, rain or shine.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy element of the game was the Cascades including three females on their active roster for the first time. Charlie Eide, Stephanie Lim, and Qhxna Titcomb (Xtehn’s sister) all played 11 points each, with Eide primarily playing D and Lim and Titcomb usually taking the field on O. Statistically, they each held their own, with Eide going 6-for-6, Lim completing 13-for-13, and Titcomb finishing 9-for-12 with one assist.
“They’ve been practicing with the team all season and have gotten to know their strengths and weaknesses in the same way that our other AUDL rookies have done,” said Xtehn. “Almost everyone on the O-line had a bad fourth quarter, though I think Slim performed better than most and led the way with some much needed mental toughness as the minutes winded down at the end of the game.”
After Saturday’s contest, the three Cascades females joined Raleigh’s Jessi Jones (one game in 2015) and Nashville’s Jesse Shofner (12 games in 2017) as the five women who have taken the field in an official AUDL game. Atlanta, Madison, New York, and San Francisco all have one female player on their 2018 rosters, though none have appeared yet on the season.
Despite the conditions and the result, all three Cascades females appeared to enjoy their first AUDL playing experience.
“It was fun,” said Eide. “The timing, the spacing, the rain, the lights, the Space Needle, the refs—so much to get used to. But it’s all just my favorite game with my teammates against a strong opponent who is there to make us better.”
Added Qxhna, “It was exciting! Under the lights and in the rain—how much more epic can it get?”
We did a thing! We are here, paving the way for more #womeninpro! @SeattleCascades @theAUDL @SeattleRiot pic.twitter.com/HjPxtH4H4m— qxhnz (@qxhnz) April 16, 2018
Asked about the roles they assumed and whether they found any part of the experience to be humbling and/or frustrating, they shared some interesting insights.
“I was a D-line handler,” said Eide. “Playing about every other D-point. In every ultimate game, figuring out how to get my body in the most advantageous place is my priority on defense and that was especially the case guarding the Growlers. I felt like I was able to take something away on D, while switching with my teammates when I needed to. I felt like we created some small windows and forced a few turns. That was awesome. There was at least one instance where I felt like I should have done better getting my body more to the around on the mark, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve ever been broken for a score. I’m sure it won’t be the last.”
They also each talked about the growing pains of playing the first AUDL game with refs and a slightly different rule-set than they are used to, a refrain often echoed by first-year pros, male and female alike.
“Steph and I handled on the O-line and each played half of the O-points,” said Qxhna. The team would often center to one of us and we would get the O sated out of a set play. As the game progressed and the Growlers started playing more junk/double-teams, I found myself often being a release valve and finding holes in the junk, either to get the disc or to draw defenders towards me. I think it’s humbling to be a rookie on a new team. Regardless of gender, there’s a ton of work that needs to be put in to develop chemistry and trust with teammates.”
Eide, Lim, and Qxhna are all unsure exactly how many more games they will play for the Cascades this season, but they spoke positively about the experience and are hopeful to be able to contribute again.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Kudos to Tim Vo, who shared the latest and greatest in AUDL coaching imitation fashion.
Honestly @theAUDL i think Jim Harbaugh is imitating @RocaDoke #RocBaugh #WhoWoreItBetter @TampaBayCannons pic.twitter.com/HQc0o98MwY— Tim Vo (@tivo713) April 15, 2018
After sporting attire that resembled Mike Ditka in Week 1 and Bill Belichick in Week 2, Roca went into the college football world for his Week 3 ensemble, embracing the khaki-look of Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh. Before the season, he secretly plotted his outfits for these first three weeks. Now, it’s back to the drawing board.
“I’ll have to get more creative as the season moves on,” said Roca, following the Cannons 20-17 loss to Raleigh. “There’s only so many coaches that have recognizable fashion. I’m going to have to start pulling from other sports. Could get pretty interesting.”
A few recommendations to Roca: if he wants to branch into college basketball, he could boldly deliver the two opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum in consecutive games. First, he could wear his finest threads and embody Villanova’s Jay Wright, the debonair leader of the reigning national champs. Next, he could go with the more casual Bob Huggins sweatsuit, popularized during his past tenure at Cincinnati and now continued at West Virginia. Notre Dame’s Mike Brey could inspire Roca to sport the turtleneck, while a bunch of coaches have successfully pulled off the brightly-colored single-tone sports coat. Through the years, several NC State or Illinois head coaches have gone with the loud red or orange blazer. If his wardrobe budget permitted, he could certainly rock a Cannons’ yellow sports-jacket.
While the Cannons probably feel like they could be 2-1, having coughed up second half leads each of the past two weeks, they are mired at 0-3. Still, Roca’s fashion has been an amusing and enjoyable addition to the first month of the season, and this writer is absolutely intrigued to see where this goes next.
After back-to-back drives to Raleigh, I hit the skies this past weekend for the first time this season. Having only been to Austin once before, I was particularly excited to land in and explore the Texas capital.
Like most everyone else in the league, Saturday was breezy, but unlike many other AUDL sites, it was dry and sunny. In the morning, I strolled over to the Sol’s stadium, then walked to the state-house. From a distance, I saw Darrell K. Royal Stadium, home of the Texas Longhorns football program, and my passion for looking around big-time venues prompted me to walk that way next. By the end of my two and half hour trek, I saw much of Austin and most of the University of Texas.
There are plenty of excellent locations in the AUDL, and after just one visit, I can confidently say that Austin is up there near the top. Over the course of the next four months, I will have the privilege of visiting many others too. Unless the decision is made to cover a playoff game in Raleigh, I will likely have flights booked for 18 consecutive weekends to visit some of the nation’s greatest ultimate locales. This Friday, I soar across the country to San Francisco for another marquee interdivisional matchup.
Yea, I’ve got a pretty amazing job.
Seven On The Line
- The scariest moment of the AUDL weekend occurred in the third quarter of the Los Angeles-Dallas game. Jeff Silverman sprinted in pursuit of a huck, laid out the same way he’s done a thousand times, and came up just short as only his finger-tip touched the disc. “It felt just like any other bid,” Silverman said. “I can’t believe I dropped it. I got up and started playing defense and realized I couldn’t breathe about 30 seconds later. And then I started coughing up blood.” Silverman went down on the field and players from both teams frantically waived the trainers to hurry. They could tell something was wrong. Silverman sat up but did not stand up for several minutes, as players from both teams looked on nervously. “Definitely scary,” said long-time teammate Tyler Bacon. “I’m not used to seeing Jeff appear vulnerable in any way.” Though he walked off the field under his power, it was a slow and tentative stroll. A few minutes later, the EMT’s arrived, put Silverman on a stretcher, and rolled him into an ambulance. He was soon diagnosed with a pulmonary contusion, or a lung bruise. A CT scan and X-ray revealed bleeding in the lung, but no fractures or other issues. “Doc said he had never seen that kind of bleeding without a broken rib or a gun shot wound,” relayed Silverman. “If there is nothing torn, than it’s just a bruised lung an it should heal on its own in five to seven days. They did want me to have a follow-up CT scan since it might not show 24 hours after the injury.” While the rest of the Aviators flew home on Sunday night, Silverman remained in Dallas. Barring any further complications, he expects to fly home tonight.
- Perhaps the most heartwarming moment of the AUDL weekend occurred at halftime of Saturday night’s Toronto-Empire game, where it became official that no New York player would ever wear number 19 again. If not for injury, Ben Ivers would have been the seventh member of what I have referred to as the Original Six club, the group of players who have competed in the AUDL every season from 2012 to 2018. Ivers suited up for Indy in 2012 and then became a key organizational leader in New York, earning significant respect from his teammates for his work ethic and dedication from 2013 to 2017. Unfortunately, on May 21 last year, Ivers suffered a brutal concussion against Montreal, the lasting effects of which he felt more three months afterwards. “It was not fun, I’ll tell ya that. I have had a couple concussions in the past, the last one in 2013. But this one was particularly bad, and as you get more concussions, your body cannot recover from them as well. So my neurologist and I decided it was too unsafe for me to have another concussion. Instead of three months, it might be a year next time, if I recover at all. So I had to step away.” Last November, when the Empire announced new ownership, they decided that they wanted to honor Ivers’ career by retiring his number.
This led to his former teammate Isaiah “Izzy” Bryant, now an Empire assistant coach, presenting Ivers with a framed replica jersey at halftime on Saturday night and declaring that no member of the Empire would ever wear #19 again. Obviously, it was a special moment for Ivers, who started a high school team a Cardinal Ritter High in Indianapolis when he was in seventh grade (the school is grades 7-12) and played collegiately at the University of Indiana. “It felt great,” he said, about the ceremony. “I’ve been playing ultimate now for 16 years, and ultimate was really my life through that time, so having it abruptly ended was very challenging to say the least. I always invested a lot of time in the Empire. I’ve worn many hats for the team through the years: captain, operations, social media guru, photographer, a little bit of everything. So it really meant a lot to me to see that the players and ownership felt that I had been a big contributor to the team and its character.” Though not confirmed, it is believed that Ivers is the first player in AUDL history to have his number retired by a franchise.
- Elsewhere around the league, Atlanta now sits at 2-0—with two wins by a total of three goals—after surviving 18-17 at Nashville on Sunday, a game that was originally scheduled to be played on Saturday night but got postponed due to weather. The Hustle led by as many as five and never trailed in the second half, but the NightWatch battled to the very end in their season opener, using a 3-0 run to tie the score at 17 with around a minute left in regulation. “I think that people were kind of looking at the clock and thinking that ‘all we had to do was run the clock out,’ said Hustle Captain Matthew Knowles, remembering the near collapse late in the game. He emphasized that they fell into a trap of playing not to lose rather than playing to win. In the final minute, the NightWatch had a chance with the disc to take their first lead since 1-0, but Atlanta’s Taylor Minch D’d a Nashville swing attempt, and Knowles quickly picked up the disc to find Minch in the end-zone for the bookends that proved to be the game-winner. On Nashville’s last chance, Atlanta’s Kelvin Wiliams recorded his sixth D of day, eating up a NightWatch prayer to close out the win. Williams finished the game with six blocks and four goals, good for a turnover-free +10. Nashville, who went winless in 2017, felt good about being right there at the end of the game, but, like Philadelphia, was left wondering how things could have been different. “They played an awesome first half and executed well enough down the stretch to pull it out,” said Nashville’s Paul Lally, who played on Atlanta last year. “Xavier Payne made some huge throws [for us] in the wind. [Robert] Alongi came up clutch several times. Overall, we’re a good team in the toughest division. We showed that in the preseason tourney where we matched about evenly with Chicago and beat Indy twice. There are only very specific points to improve on, whereas in some years past, it’s felt like there were way bigger themes to address. The young talent in Nashville learns quick and have completely bought in to a new mentality and brand set by the leadership and owner, David Trett. I don’t wanna sit here and say to look out for all these wins coming up, but no one should be surprised to see Nashville competing very strongly in 14 games this year.” In the upcoming weekend ahead, Nashville will host Raleigh, while Atlanta will host Tampa Bay.
- Speaking of the Flyers, Raleigh successfully bounced back from its loss to Dallas by winning on the road without many of its key players.
The 20-17 triumph in Tampa both showed off the Flyers’ depth and gave newcomer Mischa Freystaetter a chance to do more within the offense. With one goal, four assists, one D, and no turns, Freystaetter’s +6 was his best of the season thus far and tops on Raleigh’s roster on Saturday night. Jonathan Nethercutt, Jack Williams, and Jacob Fairfax were all absent, but Bob Liu orchestrated the offense with five assists and 52 completions in 55 throws. Brett Matzuka and Matt Bode also contributed in their 2018 debuts. From the Tampa perspective, the Cannons once again let a lead slip away late, as the offense only mustered six goals in the second half. Over the last two weeks, Tampa’s one-goal fourth vs. Atlanta and two-goal third vs. Raleigh were crippling to the Cannons’ cause. “Consistency and expenditure of effort is probably the biggest lesson we’ve tried to emphasize together as a team,” said Roca. “We are consistently adding new components to our O-line, and we’ll be adding out biggest one yet this weekend; so it’s gonna take some time for our offense to find its rhythm. We are going out Saturday to give Atlanta the hardest game we can possibly play. Simple as that. If we win, we win. If we lose, at least we put it all out there.”
- The Chicago Wildfire got off to a scintillating start to their season on Saturday night, bolting to a early 4-0 lead against Pittsburgh in the opening quarter. From there, the Wildfire led 6-2 after one, 9-6 at half, 14-9 through three, and cruised to a 20-15 victory on the road.
As expected, the three headlining newcomers all were difference-makers. Kurt Gibson went 47-for-48 with two goals and two assists, Ross Barker contributed three goals and three assists, and Nate Goff compiled five Ds to lead the defense, while also chipping in a goal and two assists. Gibson, an AUDL champ with San Jose in 2014 and Dallas in 2016, acknowledged that the feel of his current team is significantly different than any he’s been on in the past. At the same time, he likes the situation he finds himself in, as he has quickly learned that his new teammates are playing with a purpose. “I’m enjoying it,” said Gibson. “I think the leadership team is very solid. [Coach] Adrian [King] is doing a great job. Pawel [Janas] and the gang are trying to run a pretty tight ship, which is good. I’d say it’s much tighter than most teams I’ve ever—actually, probably the most regimented that I’ve ever played on. So it’s good from a culture standpoint, just building a solid culture and buy-in from all the players. I think it’s kinda cool that they are taking it very seriously. I like that. I like the professionalism with which they treat it because that’s the way I like to treat it, basically like a job.” After securing one solid road win at Pittsburgh, Chicago seek another this weekend at Minnesota.
- Like Gibson, Beau Kittredge is another established AUDL star on a new team. Unlike Kurt, Beau’s 2018 debut did not go nearly as smoothly, though the opponent may have had a large responsibility for that. Still, Kittredge left the Empire’s 18-14 loss with energy and optimism for the franchise that he recently signed on with for the next two seasons. “Once we figure out how to play together, we’ll be pretty good,” said Kittredge. “I think, in general, the team was more enthusiastic, more skilled, and just in general more into the idea of winning than I expected. It’s a hard learning curve to step on the field for the first time with a team and play against the Rush. In general, I’m happy where we’re at, and I think the rest of the team is equally fired up to see what we can do this season.” The Empire will need to gel quickly because of their schedule, which has them playing Ottawa, DC, and Philadelphia twice each in the next six games, four of which are at home. By the time they reach mid-June, New York will have five of the seven games on the road, including two trips to Montreal and others to Toronto and DC.
- Though not AUDL-related, I wanted to give a shout-out to one of the most inspiring stories that the ultimate world has seen over the past couple of years. Elana Schwam, who won national titles with her women’s club team, Boston Brute Squad, in 2015 and 2016, has continued her athletic career despite simultaneously battling Stage 3B Malignant Melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, which was first diagnosed in June of 2016. She endured a complex array of treatments and surgeries (outlined in detail on her graphic, emotional, and well-done blog, and nearly two years later, she appears to better than ever. On Monday, she ran the Boston Marathon, an event near and dear to my heart because of my New England roots. My mother ran the race 25 years ago, and I was working in the Red Sox organization in 2013, when the bombings impacted so many people and also served as a tragic backdrop for Boston’s World Series later than fall. Schwam ran the race with Team Running for Cover, an organization that aimed to raise money in support of IMPACT Melanoma, a national non-profit dedicated to reducing melanoma through education, prevention, and support. She raised over $13,000 (donate here) and finished the race in well under five hours. I don’t know Elana, but just following her story, spirit, passion, and will from afar has been incredible. After conquering cancer, winning national titles, and running the Boston Marathon, her pursuit of a World Ultimate Club Championship in ultimate this summer seems like a noble but incidental goal. Feels more likely that she’ll blog about hiking Mount Everest or landing on the moon. I would not count her out for anything.
After seeing just two, eight, and then nine games on the schedule over the past few weeks, the AUDL regular season reaches its top gear in Week 4. Every team in the league will take the field, with the only team that is still currently 0-0, the Ottawa Outlaws, slated for battle twice.
Among the highlights, there’s a championship rematch in San Francisco, a Texas throwdown in Dallas, and a critical clash in LA with the Aviators looking to avoid a three-game skid as they host the Spiders. Meanwhile, in the Midwest, Madison and Chicago, both 1-0, will look to prevail on the road at Detroit and Minnesota, respectively.
Odds are, there are more unlikely heroes and unexpected outcomes on tap.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the ultimate!
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