June 11, 2019
By Evan Lepler
We witnessed history this past weekend in Madison, as 32 of ultimate’s greatest stars all convened at Breese Stevens Field to compete in the AUDL’s inaugural All-Star Game. Every player looked at the opportunity with a giddy sense of anticipation, but no one knew exactly what to expect. And by the end of the experience, there was a collective, unanimous, overwhelming appreciation for virtually every aspect of the thrilling event.
Who better to explain the excitement of Team KPS’s 28-27 double overtime victory over Team Rowan than the all-stars themselves? Here, in the players’ words, is the story of an unprecedented weekend that elevated the AUDL to new heights, forged new friendships, and gave ultimate fans in Madison and around the world a new standard for captivating entertainment.
Setting The Stage
Rowan McDonnell, DC Breeze, Team Rowan — We used this word at the draft [on Wednesday night], but it felt historic. I have always loved talking about past players, famous games, ultimate stories, and to be on ground zero on something, it was awesome not only to be a part of it on the field, but to have a firsthand experience on the draft, the promotion, the atmosphere, and of course the game itself. It was one of the most exciting games of my life, period. The atmosphere and fans of Madison were spectacular, energy radiating throughout the second half push.
Aaron Weaver, Los Angeles Aviators, Team KPS — Simply put, it was legendary. The game was nuts. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so happy with all of it.
Max Sheppard, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds, Team KPS — It was really a dream come true! I remember the first time I had ever discussed an All-Star Game. It was back in 2015 on one of my first away games with the Thunderbirds. My General Manager, Andrew Gardner, who I had just recently met, was talking about all the great players and comparing it to all other professional sports. This past year, when the league announced on social media that there was going to be an All-Star Game this year, I was in immediate shock because I wanted to be a part of this historic event. This past May, I was absolutely touched when I then found out I would be representing the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds in the inaugural All-Star Game.
Ben Katz, New York Empire, Team Rowan — When I found out I got picked [as an All-Star], I thought they e-mailed the wrong Ben on the Empire. Once I figured out that it really was for me, I got pretty excited. But even then I had absolutely no idea what to expect. This had never happened before; we were the guinea pigs. Having three other Empire guys, along with the Stevens family, made it easy to go in with a good mindset; at the worst it would be a fun trip to Madison with some good friends. But then getting to Madison and seeing everyone [on Friday night] immediately made me realize how much fun it was going to be with all the All-Stars. The guys were incredibly nice and nothing helps with bonding like beers and watching sports.
Kevin Pettit-Scantling, Madison Radicals, Team KPS — The whole experience feels surreal. We were so engaged as teammates that the energy never really died. I think each team had its road of momentum and we clashed like two titans should in an arena like that.
Sheppard — The first memory was even before the game started. As each team was standing and listening to the national anthem, I took a moment to look around to capture how spectacular this entire event really was. I cannot describe the feeling of standing on the field with the best 32 players from around the league, truly a moment I will never forget.
Sean McDougall, Los Angeles Aviators, Team KPS — It was an incredible experience. To be surrounded by such an amazing amount of talent was unreal. Every time I stepped onto the field, I felt incredibly confident in all of my teammates. For one of the first times I could remember, cutting was super easy, with each player cutting and then creating space for the following cut from someone else. It really made me appreciate how much different that is compared to some of my previous games where people didn’t always know where to cut to after the initial play.
Katz — One thing in the [pregame] huddle that stuck out to me was Rowan’s choice of a call to break the huddle. Team KPS had broken their huddle before us and chanted ‘Team KPS’ to break it, probably a good decision to win over the crowd. When we got tight after Rowan’s pep talk, he said ‘Team on one’ which turned into ‘One Team’ which I thought was a great reminder that even though we were All-Stars from different cities, tonight we were playing as one team. Everyone can go out and show what they have because that’s what the All-Star Game is for, but make sure it’s good for us, for our one team.
Katz — The skills competition brought the competitive spirit up a tick and there was some goodhearted trash talk going on, which set the tone nicely for the game.
Beau Kittredge, New York Empire, Team Rowan — It was crazy how there was very little tomfoolery compared to like an NBA All-Star Game. There were very few mistakes made by people trying to showboat.
Jacob Fairfax, Raleigh Flyers, Team Rowan — The game was both exciting and a little daunting. I was excited to play with some of the best players in the league, but I also felt pressure to perform well and prove that I did belong there.
Cam Harris, Toronto Rush, Team Rowan — With so much skill on the field, it was almost like playing indoor ultimate in the sense that every position on the field was viable to cut to. The game itself was incredible and was played with an intensity you do not typically see in all-star games.
Peter Graffy, Madison Radicals, Team Rowan — There were more hammers thrown in this game than I’ve ever seen before.
McDonnell — There was no managing required; we just played every other point. We used a few set plays here and there that almost every team uses at some point of another, but no real schemes or systems. Defensively, we moved to a bracket off the side stack and forced backhand because their hammers were on point, but that came from other players more strategic than myself.
Jonathan “Goose” Helton, San Diego Growlers, Team KPS — The game was super fun. I think a lot of the players expected a little bit of a slow start, you know, testing out what level of intensity is appropriate; but come game time, it was on! Speaking as a member of Team KPS, there was a real sense of excitement to play with each other and then see how exciting of a game could be had with these talented guys but little experience as teammates. You could tell some people were nervous, as they had probably never been in a showcase situation before, while others, like Max Sheppard, were completely ready to put on a show.
Matt Smith, Atlanta Hustle, Team Rowan — The level of play was very high. I think people underestimated how tiring that game would be, or at least I did, especially when it went the distance to double OT. We only had 16 people which meant playing pretty much every other line and there simply weren’t any easy matchups out there. If you were on offense you generally had to run hard to get open and you had to keep your head on a swivel on defense or else you were toast. Originally, I thought the game might open with some pretty lazy defense and a few easy scores, but the game went to 28-27 without anyone just giving up D points which I think speaks to the level of talent on the field.
Harris — Playing on the same team as Rowan for once, we seemed to be on the same page almost immediately. He was cutting exactly where I was expecting him to go and just made it very easy to throw to him. The same can be said for [Quentin] Bonnaud and [Ben] Katz with their strikes and resets, respectively. Maybe it was a byproduct of playing against them for so many years, but it felt very especially seamless learning to play with them.
Antoine Davis, San Jose Spiders, Team KPS — Honestly, it felt like a super fun pickup game with some of the best players in the world. Everyone was playing hard and it was a game full of spirit. You can definitely feel the intensity start to ramp up as the game went on though.
Harris — One of my more vivid memories was the footrace between Davis and Beau, where Beau was able to close some of the gap and make a big layout for it. Unfortunately for our team, he did not get the D, but it serves as a reminder that he has the heart of a champion. There is a reason why his teams usually win.
Pawel Janas, Chicago Wildfire, Team KPS — I think we struck the right balance between pleasing the crowd with some questionable decision making, but also playing good ultimate when it mattered. The game got competitive once Team Rowan stormed back and you could tell both teams wanted to win at the end. The ‘what celebration do we do after we score?’ chatter quickly became ‘don’t screw this up’ and it felt like a real game.
Weaver — I was marking Cam Harris one point and thought I had good positioning to challenge an open side flick. But when he released the disc he go-go-gadgeted his arm out an extra two feet. I was so shocked, I actually exclaimed, ‘holy (bleep), dude you’re so long.’ He busted up laughing and I had him cracking up the rest of the point.
Graffy — One vivid memory that stands out to me was during the game, Jay Froude, Jacob Fairfax, and a few others including myself were talking to the guys playing on the field while we were on the sideline. After a minute, Jay had a little moment of realization and turned to us and said, ‘wow, this is amazing. Everyone here knows how to play. Everyone knows what they’re talking about. This is so nice!’ And it was true.
Bryan Vohnoutka, Minnesota Wind Chill, Team Rowan — At half[time with our team trailing 17-11], Rowan brought us together and told us, ‘we’re coming back, that’s why I assembled this team.’ That energy permeated our second half and galvanized us to play a little smarter and lock down a little more on defense. We could have folded in the second and started messing around, but we didn’t. We battled back and showed that we cared and to do that with the best players in the league made this experience for me.
Katz — Everyone was talking about the big guys on Team KPS and they came out swinging. But the thing about big guys is they get tired faster than us little guys. So I knew we were going to be the better second half team and that showed.
Jay Froude, Dallas Roughnecks, Team Rowan — I think Rowan did a great job making sure the team was never out of the game. I specifically remember him saying in a huddle at halftime that the reason he picked this team is because we like to have more fun than the other team. And as a result, we started having a lot more fun in the third quarter and it showed.
Kittredge — I think in general, there was not ever a time when we thought we were out of it, and you have enough players on that team that have been in situations where they’re down and know how to rally a team. It was very little work convincing everyone we were gonna come back.
Froude — The most memorable moment was definitely the third quarter buzzer-beater after throwing it 70 yards to Cam [Harris] in the end zone. Our team had new life as we registered five or so breaks to come within one heading into the fourth. I remember Rowan making an incredible D over Jagt as the time was winding down. After the disc hit the ground, I started running downfield, but noticed Beau was stranded back in our end zone alone so I came back to help him reset. When I caught the under I saw the clock at six seconds and threw the disc like a standstill pull. I just tried to get the disc to hang a bit and gave my guys a chance to get to the end zone to catch it. Luckily, Cam was just standing like the Statue of Liberty waiting for the disc while it met his hand as time expired. I was ecstatic, obviously. I sprinted down to go tell Cam he was my hero. It was a monumental moment because we clawed back to make it a decent game heading into the fourth. Team Rowan had life!
Harris — I promised Rush Coach Sachin [Raina] that I would not jump in pile-ups to try and avoid the risk of injury, so I simply did not jump. It was pretty fortunate for two reasons: one, Rowan just got the D on Jagt at the other end so Team KPS’s big guy was not in the picture, and two, by the way Jay threw it I was able to see it the whole way and get a good on it, so I was able to establish position early and be tall.
Weaver — In the fourth quarter, in our team huddles, KPS started saying the mantra, ‘let’s be on the right side of history.’ I was already fired up to 11 for the whole game, but that just took it to another level.
Ben Jagt, New York Empire, Team KPS — As for the block on Rowan, I threw it too out far in front of Max and immediately saw Khalif get the end zone eyes and start going deep with Max a few steps behind so I knew Rowan would be looking to rip it. I was on the backhand side and tried to stay there to open up that lane, inviting the throw. I saw him wind up and just tossed myself over to try and stop it. Rowan put a bit too much I/O on it and thankfully I got the block. After the game, I asked why he didn’t throw it O/I and he was like ‘Yea, I don’t know. You should have caught it.’
Froude — In overtime, Rowan pulls me aside and goes, ‘You owe me a D, I have three already so you owe me one.’ So feeling obligated and getting called out just made me want to prove to him I was worthy of his first pick. About a minute later, Max throws this cross-field flick going to Antoine in the corner of the end zone and I track it down and get the block. I think we ended up scoring the break or getting the hold. In that moment, Rowan didn’t even realize what happened so walking off the field, I asked if he liked the block I got for him and he looks at me and says, ‘Oh, that was you! The next couple minutes are you and me, we have to take over.’ It was a special moment to me in that we had this trust even though before tonight we had never even taken an AUDL field together.
Andrew Roney, Tampa Bay Cannons, Team KPS — My highlight was getting that layout block after chasing so many guys around. I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good.
Helton — Despite wanting to discard my aversion to turning the disc over in lieu of making exciting plays, I remember each of my three throwaways and my stall-out. I wanted to not care about those, but I can’t help it. On a more positive note: I remember the game-saving block from [Andrew] Roney being HUGE. Antoine [Davis] also made two big plays for us, the really tough one being the toed line at the buzzer to keep us in the game. I also recall throwing a huck to him that he wasn’t cutting for yet, but the space was open and realistically, he’s the fastest player in the sport right now, so I knew he would reel it in. I didn’t expect Beau to put that much pressure on him though.
Davis — That last point of the first OT was kind of crazy! There were two times during that point where I thought the deep ball was coming because I made a successful deep cut. When the clock got under 10 seconds, the defenders seem to panic, went straight to the end zone, and forgot about me. When I saw the shot go up, I knew I was all by myself, but that disc seemed to be taking its sweet time to get to me. Luckily, I was able to get my feet in before my old friend, Beau, decided to give me a big hug.
Davis’s buzzer-beating snag of Kevin Brown’s last-second flick sent the game into sudden death double overtime, where Team KPS, who had pulled to begin the first OT, received the disc on the night’s final point. Five quick completions later, it was over, as Jagt found Janas bolting up-line for the clincher, as a bidding Smith came up just short defensively.
Jagt —: I had a great back and forth with Pawel. We had been ribbing each other all day and throughout the game, so it was fun to throw him the game-winner!
Pettit-Scantling — When Pawel scored, I went wild. Never have I ever wanted to hug a Midwest opponent, but I bear hugged him and felt true gratitude toward him and all of my teammates and future opponents. I have appreciation for them as people and players and not just rivals anymore.
Janas — This was the best outcome for the league, and they didn’t even have to script any of it. Besides Team Rowan going down big early, you couldn’t ask for a better game.
Katz — Our team was running two lines the entire game, switching off every other point. So when double OT came along and it wasn’t my line on the field, I wasn’t upset. All of us were guys that will be on the line for our respective teams, but for this game it just didn’t matter much. Yes, it would have been awesome to walk away with the win, but for this game it just didn’t matter that much. Yes, it would have been awesome to walk away with the win, but the experience was more than enough to take away the sting of losing.
Smith — I will admit to having lost several hours of sleep about giving up the game-winner upline in double OT. But at the end of the day, that wasn’t really what the game was about; everyone of course wanted to blow up Max Sheppard style, but I think realistically everyone just hopes to feel like they fit in and to have their 15 seconds of fame where they do something positive to represent their city, which I felt most everyone, including myself, did.
Sheppard — Being named MVP wasn’t even on my mind throughout the game. My pregame mindset was to just play the game how I usually play it for the Thunderbirds. I was establishing a connection with all of my teammates to get a feel of how everyone felt before the game. Team KPS had an energetic and intense scrimmage before the first pull, but I kept my mind focused on having fun and enjoying the moment. As I was set to throw the first ever All-Star Game pull, I wasn’t even nervous because there wasn’t any pressure. I knew if Team KPS wanted to win this game, we needed to come out of the gate on defense, and we did exactly that. Overall, it is really a complete dream for me to win the MVP of the inaugural All-Star Game. I didn’t actually realize it until after the game and I was being escorted to the middle of the field to receive the trophy. I saw [Evan Lepler] standing there waiting for me as I walked over for the postgame interview. My emotions were running wild with excitement.
McDonnell — After the game was really special. There were fans and young players throwing on the field, so to interact with them on the field where we just competed was great. Lots of amazing players walking around in that proximity, throwing with kids or signing autographs.
Helton — The All-Star Game and weekend surpassed nearly all of my expectations. Whether we are talking about the accommodations, the schedule organization and adherence, or level of intensity throughout the game, the event planning of the AUDL has certainly continued to climb. Madison especially seems to know how to host a show.
Helton — Right after Pawel [Janas] caught the game-winning upline, [Detroit’s] Joe Cubitt exclaims while we are all high-fiving each other, ‘This is my first AUDL win!’
Reflections And The Aftermath
Davis — The best memories were honestly off the field, getting to know these guys on a deeper level was the greatest gift from the weekend. KPS invited all of us to his apartment after the game and it was worth all the effort and travel just to get to know that guy. He is an A+ dude.
Smith — Probably the most poignant off-the-field memory I’ll have is pretty mundane: it was just getting tacos on Friday night with a small crew of guys. We were just hanging out and at one point I looked around the table and it was Babbitt, Beau, Jagt, Katz, Rowan, Froude, Bonnaud, and myself. [Matt] Stevens was also there and I apologize if there was someone else I’m forgetting. I’ve never made it to Championship Weekend and I’ve never been to a Team USA tryout at any level, so this was probably the highest concentration of frisbee talent I’d been around. It was a cool moment to just sit back and reflect about where I started and where I currently found myself; I really just felt like one of the boys getting tacos with some all-time greats.
Janas — Before the weekend, I was hoping that at least some of the guys would turn out to be total jerks so I could validate my hatred for the teams they play on, but they were all really nice people! Even Jagt wasn’t half bad. I always expect a huge crowd in Madison, and the city delivered yet again. Seeing all the fans and players on the field after the game just talking, signing autographs, and sharing a feeling of accomplishment together is what will stay with me.
Graffy — I would say that the game and weekend were exactly what I had expected. I’ve been around [Madison Owner/AUDL Director of Marketing] Tim [Debyl] for a lot of years now and I know how well he puts together a gameday experience. From start to finish, this weekend was a Tim DeByl creation, so I hope people can see why and how the Radicals are as successful as they are in getting people in the stands.
Vohnoutka — I was blown away by what the league was able to accomplish. The accommodations, the gameday and after game events were phenomenal. As a player, I had very little to worry about and was able to simply enjoy the weekend.
Kittredge — I think that it was a more intense experience than I expected, and I think it was also an interesting view of what players think of each other and how they respond to different situations. Getting to see them all, how they think about the game, is very interesting and very unique. A lot of these players, I would never get to hear what they say on the line and what they are thinking, what kinds of plays they call and who they think the play should go to in critical situations. All the nuance behind their decisions is something that you get to experience, and I tried to remain as quiet as possible and just kind of listen and learn because I’m gonna end up having to play against these players over the next year or maybe the year after. I wanted to try to understand and learn how they viewed the game and what they thought. It was nice to get that little glimpse into how their minds work.
Weaver — The pregame meet and greet was a hilarious half-awkward, half-family reunion. Everybody was super nice, super stoked to be a part of it and super curious about what the competition level was going to be like come gameday. Flash forward to the youth clinics and everybody wants to contribute. It was a blast to teach the next generation of ultimate players and hear some of the tips and tricks from the other All-Stars. You might see some Pawel dominator moves in my next game.
Kyle Henke, Austin Sol, Team KPS — I will say that meeting all the guys was incredible. I was excited to get to make my own judgements of character rather than judging based off of others’ experiences/thoughts. Everyone was genuine, which isn’t something I expected. Nobody tried to take over, nobody was trying to be the biggest and baddest. We all just really enjoyed being in Madison together and it’s a crew I certainly won’t forget getting to play with.
Graffy — I personally really enjoyed meeting and playing with Khalif [El-Salaam]. Also, I found out that Beau and I have really good chemistry on the field. I’ve been his adversary for so long I wasn’t sure what it would be like to play on the same side, but we hit it off right away and synced up early on. I doubt I’ll get many more chances to play with him again, so I’m happy I got this opportunity.
McDougall — I am honored and humbled to be a part of the experienced and will forever cherish this weekend. Each person on our team was a blast to play with, but one of my favorite players had to have been Joe [Cubitt] from Detroit. He was wild, goofy, and a great sport about everything that happened. I also enjoyed getting to meet Matt Smith and to work with him during the kids’ camp before the game. He has a truly good heart and was a great person to learn from.
Smith — The youth clinics were a highlight of the weekend for me. I was blown away by players’ willingness to help out; when I normally ask for volunteers to help with youth stuff, I’ll get a handful of people, but we had almost half the guys out there working with kids. Hosting the clinic also gave me the opportunity to work with and meet a handful of players that I probably would have not have otherwise. Pawel was really helpful with the clinics and offered to be a group leader in both sessions despite also competing in the skills challenge. KPS and Goose were great group leaders as well and it was really liberating to be able to just assign them to a group and watch them work their magic. Sean McDougall brought a great energy to the effort and mentioned being grateful to have the chance to do a little more youth work. Overall, it was just a really positive experience working with and learning from other AUDL All-Stars at the youth clinics. They all brought great attitudes and it seemed like the event was well-received by the participants and their parents.
Fairfax — Something Rowan said really stuck with me, and that was that we were the ones who had control of what we wanted the All-Star Game to look like. I think we did a pretty good job setting the precedent for future years. Other than the game, it was also a great experience to get to meet players from all over the league and hang out with them. I did enjoy playing with Jay Froude rather than against him for a change. I have always had respect for him, and having him as a teammate was a lot of fun.
Froude — The most interesting person I met this weekend was Quentin Bonnaud. We met late Friday night after I got to the brewery and for the next couple of hours I just got to know him and his ultimate experiences and how he transitioned from France to Canada…Funny how 48 hours with someone is all it takes to make a friend.
Pettit-Scantling — I go to practice with the Radicals this week feeling reinvigorated and like I’ve become a better player. I’m more confident in myself. Playing on the same field as those incredible athletes gave me the subtle nod that maybe I have a bit of skill and talent; maybe I belong here with these guys. Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusion that I was one of the top 10 or 20 guys out there. But I made sure that I stood tall, listened to my teammates, and gave them their opportunities to be a part of history.
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