June 26, 2018
By Evan Lepler
In the Friday Forecast podcast last week, I speculated that we were in store for the most educational weekend of the entire season. In so many ways, it delivered.
A trio of Final Four favorites confirmed their top-seed status, while the Indianapolis AlleyCats impressively erupted for 40—the most goals by one team in an AUDL game this year—to set the stage for Saturday’s Midwest showdown in Madison. Meanwhile, in the East’s four-way logjam, three of the teams impressed with critical performances under pressure, while New York endured a heartbreaking home setback, adding another devastating defeat to the Empire’s disappointing résumé.
We learned that Austin and San Diego were capable of exacting sweet revenge, revitalizing their postseason hopes. We witnessed Pittsburgh, despite a 1-10 record, displaying some legit grit. We noticed Atlanta jumping out 5-0 and smacking Raleigh by 10 to reframe the playoff race in the South. And we marveled at Montreal’s remarkable ability to raise its game late in a tough road environment.
Beyond the knowledge, Week 13 also brought the thrills, with an incredible six games decided by one. The Sol and Aviators, who together waged one of the most exhilarating games of 2018 against one another back in April, each offered another game-of-the-year candidate, as both walked off victorious by scoring dramatic game-winners with no time left. The Growlers also delivered a last second buzzer-beater to stun Seattle, while the Royal and Thunderbirds both overcame substantial fourth quarter deficits to earn shocking road upsets.
It was truly a special weekend around the league, and thanks to Austin’s Kyle Henke, it was also the greatest weekend.
The Full-Field Layout
A week ago, with the Austin Sol enjoying a bye, Kyle Henke was enjoying a break at the beach, where he tossed the disc with his family. For around 30 minutes one day, he casually practiced ‘stagnant greatests’ with his dad and brothers, where they all would continuously leap in the air when making a catch and throwing it to someone else before landing. Aside from being a good impromptu workout, it also, unbeknownst to Henke at the time, prepared him for one of the most jaw-dropping moments of the AUDL season.
With less than a minute remaining on the fourth quarter clock, the Sol and Nashville NightWatch were tied at 20 when Henke, who also happened to be celebrating his 20th birthday on Saturday, created a highlight that has since been seen by millions.
“Matt [Bennett] threw a good inside break, it just popped up a bit,” began Henke, when asked to share his memories of the play. “I was considering attacking the disc, but it was still rising and my defender had the inside track on me, so I put on a little jab move to try and get my defender to jump. It worked! I knew I was in a bad spot trying to read the disc directly above me as well as trying to find the sideline, and with the wind making the disc bob up and down I knew I wanted to take the earliest shot I could at grabbing it.”
In a breathtaking sequence, Henke completely reversed his direction, then accelerated and leapt, brilliantly recognizing his whereabouts on the field. He caught the floating disc with two hands, his right paw already positioned in the backhand grip, and unleashed a spinning throw toward the end zone.
“The throw was everything I wanted it to be,” he continued, “but when does a greatest ever work out like you think it will?” I just tried to put it where there would be a continuation if I had just toed the line. What a treat it was to have Crank [Matt Bierschenk] in a good spot to sit under it. I knew it looked pretty, but I was still sitting on the ground and I couldn’t tell if it was too far or not. The crowd’s cheer reassured it would be at least close.”
As you have undoubtedly already seen, it was not too far or too short. Instead, it was absolutely perfect, with the disc soaring over a pair of defenders and Bierschenk making the catch in stride to give the Sol the 21-20 lead with just 43 seconds left. It also happened to be the first successful in-game greatest in Henke’s life.
Of course, it would have been even more epic if the Sol had waited 43 extra seconds before doing it. With plenty of time left on the clock, Nashville patiently marched down the field and scored with one second remaining to send the game to overtime.
“It was definitely the most intense game that I’d ever played against Nashville,” remarked Austin’s Jerrod Wolfe, who led the Sol with six goals as they sought to avenge their two earlier losses to the NightWatch. “I think for Nashville, there was a level of wanting to prove that those previous two wins weren’t flukes and that they deserve the respect of being a solid AUDL team, which they do. I was extremely impressed with their team and their young core of very talented players. For us, we knew that we were fighting for our playoff lives and that a third loss to Nashville pretty much ends our season.”
While the Sol began the five-minute bonus period with a break on Bennett’s flick bomb to Chase Cunningham, the NightWatch again had the answer with 2:14 left to even the score at 22. Then, Henke caught his second goal of the game with 1:58 to go, but Nashville’s Jake Wright snagged the equalizer just 12 seconds later. When neither side could convert their opportunities on the next point, double overtime beckoned.
“On the line, it was Jeff [Loskorn] just letting us know that we were going to take as many throws as we needed in order to get the win,” explained Wolfe. “He’s such a calming presence that I think everyone felt confident we were going to score that point.”
Since Austin had pulled to begin the first overtime, the Sol lined up to receive the pull on universe point, in which they had to go 80 yards upwind. Fourteen smooth throws later, Wolfe skied for Paul Starkel’s rising backhand, hauling in the final goal of the night to give Austin the dramatic 24-23 triumph in double OT.
“Going upwind for the final point was a bit nerve-racking, but it was too long of a game to feel like it was anything different than what we’d been playing in all game,” remembered Henke. “Paul Starkel was a rock on O-line all game, and on the last point I think Paul touched the disc 10 times. As for the last throw, my heart definitely skipped a beat. Jerrod went up and got his vengeance against one of the Nashville players that skied him earlier. We were all toast; I didn’t have much in me to celebrate the ending, but it was nuts.”
In a game with a silly number of spectacular skies, brilliant bids, and magnificent highlights, Henke’s greatest was the play that still had members of both teams buzzing at the end of the night. Amazingly, it was Henke’s second iconic play of the year, along with his acrobatic buzzer-beating grab to beat LA back in April.
“[Henke’s greatest] was one of the most incredible plays I’ve ever witnessed,” remarked Bennett, who was playing just his third game of the season for the Sol after getting injured vs. LA on April 14. “Put together the clutchness of the moment, the fact that we were going upwind, and the nature of how he had to change direction, find the frisbee, and control his body. That play was just insane. I’ve easily watched it 50 times already.”
More important than the highlight reel was the fact that Austin moved to 6-6 and stayed within a half-game of the Atlanta Hustle, who now sit at 6-5 after routing the Raleigh Flyers on Saturday night. The Hustle flummoxed the Flyers early, bolting to leads of 5-0 and 8-1 in the opening quarter. While Raleigh crawled back within two at 12-10, Atlanta recovered and played its best overall game of the season to win 30-20.
“Going into the game, we knew we needed a W to keep our playoff hopes alive,” said Atlanta’s Parker Bray, who finished 11-for-11 passing with a team-high five assists despite primarily playing defense. “Couple that with our disappointing performance last week against Dallas, we came out with a fire and focus to go up 5-0…It felt good to get our first convincing win of the year—we had yet to beat a team other than Nashville and Tampa and hadn’t won a game by more than three.”
Certainly, part of the story was Raleigh missing many of its main rotation players due to injury. Noah Saul, Bob Liu, Matt Bode, and Zander Taylor were all inactive due to various ailments, and standouts like Jonathan Nethercutt, Jonathan Helton, and Justin Allen were unable to make trip for other reasons. The Flyers’ talent cupboard was far from bare, though. They still brought Jack Williams and Jacob Fairfax, both All-AUDL candidates, along with other anchors like Shane Sisco, Kiron Allen, Terrance Mitchell, Jacob Mouw, and David Richardson. In addition, former Hustle Allan Laviolette made his second straight appearance with the Flyers since relocating to North Carolina and joining the Raleigh roster earlier this month. Still, the Flyers struggled to contain Atlanta’s speed, and the Hustle’s zone caused plenty of confusion.
“We had good skill on the starting offense, but did not have good depth or experience together,” remarked Raleigh Head Coach Mike DeNardis. “When Atlanta’s junks flustered us early, we had to run largely the same lines out and by the time we got our legs under us and made adjustments, it was 8-1 and the O-line had been taxed. We battled back to make it 12-10, but couldn’t withstand a couple more Atlanta runs as tired legs early made for tired decisions late. Compliments to the seemingly army of quick players on the Hustle; we know Matt Smith, Draco [Austin Taylor], and Christian Olsen are going to be tough to stop, but players like Daniel Sperling, Danny On, and Sun Choi made matchups off a turn quite difficult.”
While Atlanta punished Raleigh with quickness, the Hustle also avoided having to face some of the top Flyers in one-on-one situations.
“We knew we didn’t want to get in 1v1 matchups with guys like Fairfax, [Jakeem] Polk, Williams, Sisco, and Mitchell all game long, so we clogged them up with our zone for chunks of it while working in some person-D sets as well,” explained Atlanta’s Smith, who led the Hustle with five goals and also dished three assists. “I really think this hurt their offensive flow.”
With three games remaining, the Hustle still have trips to Tampa Bay, Raleigh, and Nashville at home. Win out and they are in the playoffs. Another loss opens the door for Austin, who is at Dallas this weekend before hosting the Cannons on July 8.
“This win [over Raleigh] is nice, but we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” said Bray. “We started the season 4-0 and felt good about ourselves only to lose five games between Dallas and Austin. It’s not enough—there’s a lot of season left to be played, and we continue to have plenty of room for improvement.”
Similarly, the Sol are focused on the future, starting with Dallas on Saturday, a team that they are now 0-11 against all-time.
“Next week is something we want so bad,” said Bennett, who was a member of the Roughnecks for the first eight meetings in the rivalry before joining Austin this season. “We have played them close almost every time. We know them well, and we truly know we can beat those guys. It’s a great dynamic between us because we are all such good friends, but this time will be a little less friendly, I think. This is obviously a must-win for the playoffs for us and could be one of the most important games as far as the franchise is concerned. Every year matters more than the last, it feels. We are not the youngest roster, and time is creeping. We are ready, though. Dallas thinks they own us, and we are ready to put those thoughts to rest.”
The Montreal Royal and New York Empire both knew that their second meeting in as many weeks would unfold differently than the first. In fact, after an extremely sluggish offensive performance in Quebec, the Empire basically retooled their entire plan of attack for Saturday’s rematch in New Rochelle.
“A number of team leaders met and addressed some of the issues we felt on the offensive side of the ball and created a solution that we felt would help alleviate these issues,” explained New York handler Harper Garvey. “Most of our issues were structural. We feel we have talented enough players to keep up with any team, but have struggled to make things click. Last week, we struggled to generate any sort of consistent flow and our cutters were unable to string together more than a couple passes without stagnating…In preparation for [the rematch with] Montreal, we did not do any thinking about what they did to slow us down, but rather how we could make ourselves better.”
For three quarters on Saturday, the Empire indeed looked like a different team. They stacked their very first D-line of the game to break the Royal on the opening point, sending an early message. New York’s O-line, which was broken three times in its first four chances the week before, also found a groove, and the Royal D only registered three total breaks in the first three quarters on Saturday.
“Throughout the game, it looked like [the Empire] were more focused than last week,” acknowledged Montreal’s Mike Voelpel. “Less drops, less throwaways, just seemed like they were a much better team. I remember looking at the scoreboard before the final quarter thinking if we could beat them in the fourth by three goals we could force overtime, but pulling to them to start wasn’t going to help us out.”
In 58 seconds, New York began the fourth with a turnover-free hold, stretching their lead to 21-17 with 11:02 left. It felt like the Empire were in complete control, but the Royal were about to discover a new gear that very few, if anyone, realized they had.
Quentin Bonnaud delivered an epic sky on Kevin Quinlan’s flick huck, and the lead was cut back to three with 10:23 left. About two minutes later, after good team defensive pressure forced a turnover, Phillippe Bisson scored and suddenly the gap narrowed to two. A few points later, with 5:19 remaining, the Royal crept within one when Morgan Hibbert blocked one of Garvey’s cross-field hammers that floated a split-second too long, and Montreal’s hammer on the ensuing position found Francis Vallée in the end zone to make it 22-21.
Watching the fourth quarter back on Monday, it honestly felt less like an Empire collapse and more like the Royal simply elevating themselves to perhaps their highest level ever. They were like an NBA Jam team that was on fire, and they refused to relinquish the scorching momentum.
Chris Tremblay-Joncas easily intercepted a high-stall Ben Jagt laser, and Hibbert found Cam Burden bursting up the line with 4:27 left for the equalizer, punctuated by an emphatic spike that only added to Montreal’s contagious energy.
Less than a minute later, the Royal took their first lead of the game on perhaps the most electric sequence of the night, as André Arsenault rose up for a spectacular D on a huck intended for New York’s Marques Brownlee. A few throws later, Kevin Groulx launched long for Arsenault, who elevated for an even more scintillating grab just shy of the goal line. A quick flip to Voelpel put Montreal in front 23-22 with 3:30 remaining.
“That was definitely the biggest possession of the game,” said Voelpel. “Andre on defense and offense came up clutch and won us that game.”
Of course, there was still a ton of time left, and both teams missed chances in the chaotic final sequence. First, Jibran Mieser overthrew a bidding Beau Kittredge in the end zone with about three minutes left. A minute later, it looked like the Royal had scored to double their lead, but a timeout preceding the throw halted the momentum. Hibbert also thought he had a score after the timeout, but he was ruled shy of the end zone, took too long realizing it, and was whistled for a seven-second stall on the goal line.
Eventually, the Empire worked the disc downfield and called their own timeout with 22 seconds left, positioned in the middle of the field about 26 yards away from the end zone. But Jagt could not hang on to the first throw after the restart. Montreal took over, firing a desperation launch with about five seconds left. Jeff Babbitt intercepted it with two seconds to go, but he was now 62 yards from a score and did not realize how little time was left. He quickly fired short for Garvey, who caught the disc near midfield as time expired and the Royal sideline euphorically stormed onto the field.
“The boys had a lot of heart and we really never gave up,” said Voelpel. “We stayed calm and made plays when it mattered most.”
Contrastingly, the Empire was left to lick its wounds yet again.
“I spoke with Beau, Ben, and Jeff after the game and we realized that the offense slowed down a lot partly because we had run our cutters so much in the first three quarters, maybe a bit more than they were used it,” said Garvey. “We generally haven’t felt we had a lack of fitness on the team, but in the fourth I think the lack of a step on O and the new offense was enough for us to fall back onto some of our old not so good habits.
“Of course we were upset with the loss, but the general attitude had a lot of underlying positivity to it. We felt we played three good quarters against a good team and played far better than we did last week.”
The Empire fell below .500 at 4-5, although they still control their own destiny for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, four of their final five games are on the road, and they have not won a road game yet this year. But team leaders remained optimistic after Saturday’s setback.
“Everything is on course for success,” said Kittredge. “Made a new offense; taught it to the team on Thursday; they learn quick. The talent is there; just got to teach them how to win now.”
It remains to be seen whether New York’s continued confidence is merited or misplaced, as the Empire are in serious danger of falling tremendously short of their lofty preseason expectations. They head to Ottawa and Montreal this weekend seeking their first road victories of the season.
Meanwhile, the Royal were unable to build on the New York win and break away from the East’s quartet of wild card contenders, a byproduct of getting soundly beaten on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia. The Phoenix scored the first two points of the game and won all four quarters to roll past the Royal 27-19, winning the 12-minute segments by scores of 6-4, 8-4, 5-4, and 8-7.
“Philly played well, nothing amazing, but almost entirely mistake free,” assessed Hibbert. “Anytime a team wins by that much they should receive full credit. They are a good team. We were also trash. Just total garbage.”
Sean Mott and Ethan Peck combined for 10 assists, while Himalaya Mehta added five goals for a Philly team that now sits at 5-5-1 with three games left (at DC, at New York, and vs. New York). Montreal fell to at 6-5, still in second place in the division, but with plenty of work left to do. The Royal’s final three games are vs. New York, at Toronto, and vs. Ottawa. While Philly’s tie makes it highly unlikely that the Phoenix would finish the season with the same exact record as the Royal and require a two-team tiebreaker, they can still brag about going 3-0 against Montreal on the season.
As the Royal head back home, they hope they can rediscover Saturday’s effort in pursuit of an Empire sweep, something that was hard to focus on after getting humbled on Sunday.
“It was tough going from such a hard win on Saturday to completely crushed on Sunday,” admitted Voelpel. “A real rollercoaster of emotions this weekend.”
A multitude of factors have helped produce a dream season for the Los Angeles Aviators, a regular season campaign that climaxed with a dramatic walk-off on the defending champ’s homefield on Sunday afternoon. When Sean McDougall soared and scored as the buzzer sounded, the Aviators officially clinched the West Division’s top seed and became the first team ever to sweep a two-game Bay Area road trip.
“Sunday’s final point was a bit of a doozy,” began McDougall, when asked to describe the climactic sequence that led to his fifth and final goal of the game. “I remember us trying to set a play up, but the disc sailed to the wrong side and our stack didn’t adjust in time. Timmy [Beatty] looked downfield, didn’t see anything he liked, and wanted to swing it to [Chris] Mazur. Unfortunately, there was a little miscue, and Timmy threw it to the wrong space. Instantly, you get those emotions like, ‘how did that happen? You can’t be serious!’ But within that second, you have to decide that it didn’t matter anymore, your team needs you to play hard defense and to pick each other up like we have been doing all weekend. We mark up, and the play begins with [Eli] Kerns having the disc. A few throws later, [Marcelo] Sanchez had the disc a few yards out of the end zone. We all know the target he wanted, [Antoine] Davis, and he looked across the field, saw something he liked, and tried to put something over the length of the field. We saw the throw go up, and could see [Eli] Friedman putting pressure on the backside. Everyone misreads it, and it sails out the back. At this point, I glance at the clock and realized we could have a chance at one more goal. [Friedman] picks up the disc, throws a floaty hammer to Mazur, and I took off running. [Mazur] wound up his backhand, faked, and then released it with a lot of wrist snap. The second that he released, all I knew was that I needed to catch it, regardless of who was around it in the end. As I was chasing the disc, I actually originally thought it was going out of bounds and lost it for a second in the sun; then, it started waffling back onto the field. My next concern was that it was going to be short, and I was trying to get forward momentum to get a few extra yards. [Mazur] did an excellent job by giving it just enough distance, and as I jumped, I knew that I would come down with it.”
Time had expired while Mazur’s throw was airborne, and McDougall’s league-leading 49th goal of the season gave the Aviators the electrifying 25-24 victory over the FlameThrowers, capping an intense battle that was tight the entire way.
Kerns paced San Francisco with 10 assists while completing 74 of 75 passes, while Lior Givol caught six goals, giving him 47 on the season, second in the league behind McDougall. Still, the FlameThrowers missed an opportunity, as the Aviators narrowly won their 11th consecutive regular season game against the West, a streak that dates back to last season and is bookended by buzzer beaters over Bay Area opponents.
After the game, while the Aviators celebrated by, among other things, dumping the remaining liquid from their sideline Gatorade bucket onto the head of their Coach, Jamison Gorin, the FlameThrowers quickly regrouped before greeting their hometown fans.
“That’s the funny thing about AUDL games,” remarked Ryo Kawaoka, who led the FlameThrowers to the 2017 championship as Head Coach and filled in for Josh Greenough as a ‘guest coach’ for the second time this season on Sunday. “If you’re at home, there’s not a big debrief with the team. The team usually has media/social obligations, especially the leaders, and each player meets up with friends and family, and by then even if there’s a postgame activity, everyone’s moved on from the game. As a coach, you have 5-15 seconds after the game to frame the mindset/summarize the totality of the game with the team. My goal was to flip our disbelief/disappointment into ‘that was a great competition; let’s go congratulate the winners; we’ll get another chance and pay them back.’”
Despite the last-second loss, San Francisco remained in second place in the West, a half-game ahead of 5-7 San Jose, who lost all four quarters to Los Angeles on Saturday night in a 27-18 result at Foothill College. The FlameThrowers are in the driver’s seat thanks to owning the tiebreaker over the Spiders, however a third team could complicate the race for the two-spot in the West.
One week after a disappointing home loss to Seattle, the San Diego Growlers returned the favor against the Seattle Cascades, raising their record to 5-7 with their own dramatic buzzer-beater on the road. Having already overcome a three-goal gap late in the third quarter, the Growlers kept pace with the Cascades throughout the intense fourth, as the two teams experienced ties at every number from 17 to 22. There were more than two minutes left when the Growlers O-line converted to even things at 22-all, setting the stage for the wild finish.
“Seattle spent [about two minutes] swinging the disc and losing yards, which eventually led to a dump turnover with 15 seconds left,” recalled San Diego’s Dom Leggio, who led the Growlers with four goals and five assists on the night. “We called timeout, and after a few completions, Sam Fontaine had the disc about 15 yards outside the end zone with three seconds left. [Tim] Okita made a cut towards the back corner and received a really nice toss from Sam for the win. Tim had to tiptoe the back line, but Sam’s throw was right on the money. Really heads up and smart/controlled play by Sam to find Tim in that situation.”
Collectively, Leggio, Okita, and Michael Tran led the Growlers offense with nearly mistake-free disc, completing 144-of-145 passes with seven goals and nine assists. Seattle’s Mark Burton threw seven assists while Sam Cook added four goals and five assists, but the Cascades endured the home heartbreak, falling to 3-8 on the season.
“It was a well-matched game that we should have won, but just some unfortunate mishaps down the line,” said Burton. “We did a great job of using the whole field in this game, our D generated some Ds early to help cushion a little lead, but wasn’t quite enough down the line…We obviously can compete with teams, but it’s about closing it out.”
San Diego does have the benefit of playing its final two games at home, though the two contests are against the current top two in the division, San Francisco (this Saturday) and Los Angeles (on July 14). If the Growlers could win out to get to 7-7, they would need help from Seattle to make the playoffs, as the Spiders’ last two games are both against the Cascades.
At the moment, San Jose owns the tiebreaker over San Diego, but San Francisco holds the tiebreaker over San Jose. If the Growlers can beat the FlameThrowers at home this weekend, San Diego would take the tiebreaker over San Francisco.
The scenarios are admittedly complex, but the Growlers enter their final games with positive vibes after bouncing back this past weekend.
“Still on the outside looking in,” said Leggio, “but we’re confident heading into our next game.”
Amidst all the wild finishes in Week 13, the shock factor of the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds’ improbable 29-28 overtime triumph against the Minnesota Wind Chill was second to none. Entering on a 10-game losing streak, the Thunderbirds were listed as goal underdogs on audlpicks.com, as massive a spread as we have seen all season. Despite the minimal expectations, the Thunderbirds overcame a five-goal deficit in the fourth quarter to force OT, where they went on to pull off the mind-boggling result.
Trailing 22-17 early in the fourth, Pittsburgh scored four straight to inch within one. However, they could not complete the comeback until there was no time left. In fact, Minnesota held the disc with a two-goal lead and less than a minute to play in regulation, only to stunningly cough up the disc and their late advantage.
“The end of regulation was bizarre,” remarked Minnesota’s Colin Berry. “We were receiving with 40 seconds left and the lead. There was a questionable up/down disc that got called down late, and all of a sudden they were on offense with 20 yards to go to send it to OT. A throw went up as the buzzer sounded, and it was all tied up.”
At 28-all with less than a minute remaining, Sheppard, who finished a splendid +13, delivered amazingly clutch bookends, recording the D, initiating a quick string of six passes, and catching the go-ahead goal with just four seconds left. Minnesota was unable to unleash a prayer to the end zone as time ticked away, and Pittsburgh stormed the field after a cathartic victory.
“Everyone played great, but Max Sheppard stands out as our MVP on Saturday, with six goals, seven assists, and one block,” said Pittsburgh Coach Pat Hammonds. “We are fortunate to add some late-season talent, especially a guy like Noah ‘Big Cat’ Robinson, but we don’t challenge a super talented Minnesota team without a complete team effort. We’re excited about what we’re building in Pittsburgh, and we expect more marquee thrillers in the near future.”
Robinson added six goals in Minnesota, giving him 13 in two games. Jonathan Mast recorded a Callahan on the game’s very first point and finished with four assists and three Ds. Obviously, at 2-10, the Thunderbirds’ 2018 playoff hopes are long since extinguished. However, they do hope to use this surprising road win as a springboard into a better future.
“Saturday was a huge weekend for us,” added Hammonds. “Clearly, it has a limited impact on the outcome of the 2018 season, but we feel like it’s the product of all the hard work we’ve put into our rebuild. As a team that played this year with a lot of new faces and asked returning guys to step into new roles, we knew we had to be intentional about how we approached this season. We adopted ‘Trust the Process’ as our mantra because we believed in rebuilding the right way. We knew we needed to focus all the way down to building a new foundation rather than just try to patch holes along the way. The process is long, and we’ve taken our licks along the way, but we’ve never lost sight of our vision or the energy needed to sustain it long term. We’re very aware that we still have a lot of work to do in order to compete for a Midwest title, but this weekend was a positive affirmation that we are on the right track.”
All season long, the Atlanta Hustle have been a hard team to pinpoint because of their insisting reliance on depth and system over stars. In Saturday’s 10-goal triumph over Raleigh, Daniel Sperling became the eighth different member of the Hustle to lead the team in plus/minus in 11 games, and his teammates were raving about the 21-year-old Emory product’s performance afterwards.
“Daniel Sperling has been giving us great minutes since finishing his college season with Emory,” said Hustle Captain Matt Smith. “He led our team with +9 [against the Flyers] and is a very athletic and well-rounded players. He is one of our top defenders and also one of our more dynamic weapons on offense.”
Against Raleigh, Sperling accumulated four goals, four assists, and one D with no turnovers. In four games with the Hustle, Sperling has completed all 44 of his throws, with 13 goals, five assists, and four blocks.
“Sperling has been on a tear since joining us after the college season,” added Parker Bray. “He’s got a knack for getting plastic on D, flies around the field makes good decisions, and has a nose for the end zone.”
His job will only get tougher as opponents scout his abilities, but Sperling’s rise has given the Hustle a much-needed lift, one that they hope will help propel them back to the playoffs.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
After you get featured on SportsCenter, it’s natural to wonder if that moment will be your most publicized experience ever.
I’ve peaked. https://t.co/FR42LwULpg— Kyle Henke (@stinky_henke) June 25, 2018
Of course, back in April, Henke’s epic grab in the final seconds against Los Angeles felt like an unsurpassable feat.
It’s been said that bad things often come in threes, but perhaps season-changing plays do as well. The Sol, who are an AUDL-best 4-0 in games decided by one, have two critical contests coming up, which means there could be several more chances for Henke heroics before 2018 is done.
After chronicling two tough Sundays in the past couple Tosses, I’m thankful to not have anything all that eventful to share from Week 13’s cross-country journey. By comparison, a mere 45-minute delay while returning home felt like a gift.
Arriving into San Francisco late Friday night and departing early Sunday morning left little time for Bay Area tourism, however I did grab lunch on Saturday in downtown San Mateo, a spot I had never before explored. Parking cost just one dollar, and there were an abundance of buzzing options.
This weekend, the odyssey continues with voyage to Madison. I’m looking forward to Friday afternoon frolf, Saturday night cheese curds, and another enjoyable splash into America’s most Radical community.
Seven On The Line
- The Toronto Rush improved to 11-1 and avenged their lone loss of the season by storming ahead 3-0 and cruising to a 28-21 home victory over the DC Breeze. “I think the key to the good start was nothing more than hard work and patience,” said Rush Coach Sachin Raina. “DC possessed the disc for about a minute on the first point and we managed to stay with them and finally force a turn. Then the guys made a bunch of passes to convert the break. Same with the next two breaks, as we were for the most part content to move and possess the disc rather than force something.” Connor Armstrong enjoyed his finest statistical day as a member of the Rush, with four goals, four assists, and no turnovers in his team-high 33 throws. Hugh Knapp caught six goals, and Mark Lloyd returned to the Toronto lineup, registering four blocks, along with three goals and an assist. The Breeze entered the night without a bunch of their standouts, but still were disappointed by their performance. “We felt like the score-line didn’t reflect the progress we had made in determining a game plan to beat Toronto on the road,” said DC’s Matt Kerrigan. “That puzzle is something that the Breeze have been trying to solve for years, and I feel like we are starting to develop a game plan that best fits our current roster and adapts to the great talent and chemistry Toronto has. Hopefully, we will be able to put the pieces together during the rest of the season so that we get another crack at Toronto, but we can’t look past Philly this weekend.”
- The Breeze did salvage the second game of their road trip, however, overcoming a four-goal deficit to sneak past the Ottawa Outlaws 30-29. DC was down 23-21 late in the third, but closed the period on a critical 3-0 run to take a 24-23 edge heading into the fourth, and they never trailed again. The Outlaws evened the score at 27-all with a few minutes left, but another 3-0 spurt from the Breeze made it 30-27 without much time left. The Outlaws scored their final goal of the game as time expired, losing by one. “Derek Alexander was really in control of the Ottawa offense, so we had to find the right individual matchup and defensive system to slow him down in this upwind-downwind game,” explained Kerrigan, who led the Breeze with eight assists in Sunday’s much-needed victory. “Johnny Walden did a great job disrupting [Alexander’s] timing and ability to get the disc back in the third quarter. Once we got those turns in the third and fourth, it took some spectacular individual efforts on the D-line to catch some 50/50 discs. Specifically, we took the lead with four seconds left in the third quarter when Houston Parks beat his man to the cone and laid out for the score. Alex Liu, Rhys Bergeron, and Brad Scott also made possession-saving catches as we pulled ahead to a three-goal lead late in the fourth. Finally, huge shoutout to Christian Boxley for coming over to O-line, catching seven goals and securing Player of the Game.” Alexander finished with seven assists, Alec Arsenault delivered nine goals, and Paul Mensah recorded five blocks, but it still was not enough to prevent the Outlaws from dropping to 0-5 on the season in games decided by two or less. While the Outlaws sit in the East’s cellar at 2-9, the Breeze remained in third place at 6-5-1. Both of DC’s final two regular season tilts are at home (vs. Philly & vs. NY), where the Breeze have won 17 of their last 18 games.
- Some big names had big games for the Dallas Roughnecks on Sunday, as the two-time reigning South champs locked up the division’s number one seed for the 2018 playoffs with a strong four-quarter effort against Nashville. Dallas led 8-5 after one, 13-7 at the half, 19-9 through three, and prevailed 27-16 to improve to 11-1 on the year and 36-4 all-time in regular season contests. Brandon Malecek and Carson Wilder paced the Roughnecks with six assists and six goals, respectively, while Jay Froude led the team at +8, with four goals, two assists, and four Ds himself. Playing without Dalton Smith, Dan Emmons, Kai Marshall, Chris LaRocque, or Sam Ward, the Roughnecks still prevailed easily against a NightWatch team that struggled to match its intense performance from the night before in Austin.
- The Indianapolis AlleyCats matched their franchise record with a ninth regular season victory on Saturday against the Detroit Mechanix, a mark that they will look to break this weekend against Madison.
Certainly, the latter will be a monumentally tougher test than the former, whom the AlleyCats clobbered 40-20 at Grand Park to improve to 9-2. Illustrating Indy’s growth, Donovan Triplett became the fourth different AlleyCat to lead the squad in plus/minus in the team’s last four games, along with Levi Jacobs, Rick Gross, and Keegan North. Triplett registered two goals, five assists, and three blocks while completing all 25 of his throws against the Mechanix, who dropped to 0-11. Triplett was one of 12 AlleyCats to register multiple goals, while 15 different AlleyCats recorded at least one D. The Mechanix kept the game even through the first 10 points, but Indy used a 5-0 run to go up 10-5, led 17-9 at the half, and erupted for 23 goals in the second half to hand Detroit its third straight loss by 19 or more.
- On Sunday, the Mechanix were far more competitive and even led at the halftime against Chicago, yet Detroit still fizzled the stretch as the Wildfire got their act together to prevail 31-27.
Detroit’s Michael Burke recorded an impressive +10, with six assists, three goals, and two assists, but the Mechanix could not hang on to their 14-11 halftime edge. The Wildfire retook the lead at 17-16, led 21-19 through three, and never trailed again, earning a win that moved them to 5-5 on the season, within a game of 6-4 Minnesota in pursuit of the third spot in the Midwest. Compared to Detroit’s three previous setbacks that came by a total of 61 goals, the four-goal defeat was markedly different. At the end of the day, however, the Mechanix fell to 0-12 and remained the only winless team in the league. Detroit’s final two games are both against fellow cellar-dweller Pittsburgh, though the Thunderbirds have looked much more competitive the past two weeks, notably including their overtime upset of Minnesota this past Saturday.
- It’s interesting to note that the three teams that have already clinched first place in their divisions, Toronto, Dallas, and Los Angeles, all have head coaches who are in their first full season in that role. They also all happen to be the second head coach in each franchise’s history. Sachin Raina took over the top job with the Rush midway through the 2017 campaign, replacing Scott “Shooter” Hastie, who had led Toronto since their inaugural title-winning year in 2013. In Dallas, Wes Nemec has gone 11-1 since replacing Patrick Eberle, who went 25-3 in two regular seasons at the helm, including the perfect 2016. With the Aviators, Jamison Gorin had served as an assistant under Franklin Rho, but took over command when Rho stepped aside and has helped Los Angeles finish in the top spot in the West for the first time in franchise history. Not too shabby for the trio of Raina, Nemec, and Gorin, who now all share the same goal of taking their teams to Madison on August 11-12 for AUDL Championship Weekend. They each have other regular season games left to contend with first, but they also have the luxury of knowing that they are one late-July home victory away from a trip to the final four.
- Week 13 boosted this overall percentage, but it’s still fascinating to recognize that almost one quarter of all AUDL games this season have been decided by just one goal. There have been 32 contests with this distinction, 24.8% of the full season schedule, and every team in the league has played at least one one-goal game. This does not include three overtime games that were eventually settled by two or the DC-Philly tie from April 28. Adding in those four games, and 27.9 percent of all games in 2018 have been tied or within one at the end of regulation. Plenty of other games have also been in doubt in the final minutes, and overall, 65.9 percent of games in the AUDL (85-of-129) have been decided by five or less through the end of Week 13.
We are now on the verge of Week 14, another looming and impactful 13-game weekend that will span two months, concluding June and commencing July. On Saturday, every division features intrigue.
In the Midwest, the top two teams, Indy and Madison meet in Wisconsin, while the next two teams, Minnesota and Chicago, unite in Illinois. In the East and West, Philly-DC and San Francisco-San Diego are both matchups of squads presently separated by a half-game in the standings, with one team currently in the playoffs and the other on the outside looking to play themselves in. In the South, Austin and Atlanta, also a half-game apart, both have tough road tests, at Dallas and Tampa Bay, respectively.
And that’s just Saturday!
On Sunday, three more games all have significant playoff implications, as New York meets Montreal for the third consecutive week, San Jose travels to Seattle, and San Francisco completes its tough SoCal trip in Los Angeles.
The possible permutations are plentiful, though the seeding situations should become simpler to understand after this coming weekend. We can only hope the league-wide drama might approach this past weekend’s excitement.
It’s hard to fathom anything greater than the greatest, but with stakes and desperation rising, anything is possible.
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