July 30, 2019
By Evan Lepler
After 132 games over the past 17 weeks, the 2019 AUDL semifinals are set, and the storylines are plentiful.
The New York Empire are undefeated, yet still looking to prove their historical dominance, while the San Diego Growlers are explosive, but relatively unknown, presumptively the best of a weaker West. These are the top two seeds, a couple clubs who are a combined 24-2.
They will be facing a pair of four-loss franchises that delivered convincing beatdowns in their divisional finals. The Dallas Roughnecks earned their fourth straight trip to Championship Weekend with their finest effort of the season, while the Indianapolis AlleyCats continued their dream campaign by pummeling Pittsburgh by six, a margin twice the size of Indy’s largest previous win this year against any contender.
Consequently, the Empire and AlleyCats will meet in the first semifinal (7:00 PM ET on August 10), while the Growlers and Roughnecks will play on the same field three hours later. Both contests will be at Foothill College, home of the San Jose Spiders, and they are a couple of pairings that we have never before seen in the AUDL’s previous seven seasons. All three Championship Weekend games—both semifinals and the championship game—will be livestreamed on Stadium.
As for the first impressions in trying to contemplate and dissect the two semifinal matchups, I think it’s pretty clear—despite MyBookie.com's disagreement—that New York and Dallas are the two favorites. Aside from the valuable experience that comes with previous Championship Weekend opportunities, the Empire and Roughnecks simply have more blue-chip talents who can take over games. With that said, the Growlers and AlleyCats possess underrated rosters with years of continuity, buoyed by intelligent coaching, and are clicking at the right time. Of course, their personnel can also bring it, with plenty of athletes who may not already be household names but could absolutely storm into the national conversation at the final four.
The bottom line: a New York-Dallas final would be tantalizing and remains the most likely outcome, but either San Diego or Indy could absolutely advance to Sunday’s climax with their A+ performance on Saturday evening.
For the moment, the coaches will strategize, the players can refocus, and the hype can gradually build. In a dozen days, we will know our new champion.
Now, as for how the ‘Necks and ‘Cats got there…
The Full Field Layout
Back in June, when the Dallas Roughnecks were enduring the most lopsided loss in their four-year franchise history, things got ugly on the sideline. Teammates confronted one another about the struggles they were encountering as the Raleigh Flyers routed them, and it became an uncomfortable experience for a team that was used to winning almost every time they took the field.
“They brought it to us early,” remembered Roughnecks Captain Dan Emmons, recalling the events of the 27-18 shellacking at the hands of the Flyers on June 15. “We went down early, our offense was having a rough game. Defensively, we weren’t doing the best job on taking away a lot of their looks, and they were having quick, effective scores that were really drawing the energy out of our team, and unfortunately, we were having a lot of negativity. Guys were chirping in each other’s ears. We were chatting on the sidelines, and a lot of that stuff was just not positive.”
For a team that has prided themselves on their team culture, built around relentlessness, focus, and positivity, that rough night in Raleigh was quite uncharacteristic for the Roughnecks, and in retrospect, it served as a bit of a turning point in the team’s season.
“We looked at that game as kind of the benchmark, so trying to really to take a step back and say look, when we play effectively, it’s when we’re playing hard for one another,” continued Emmons, a fourth-year Roughneck who’s in his second season as one of the team’s three captains. “Obviously, you can see what happens when we start to get down on each other. We’ve come back from deficits before, but if we’re negative with one another and we’re feeding off that negativity, that deficit’s just gonna grow and grow and grow.”
Six weeks later, rejuvenated and determined, the Roughnecks entered the South Division title showdown committed to bringing an abundance of exclusively positive energy. And on the same field where they were walloped in June, they returned for an immensely enjoyable evening, never trailing for a single second in Saturday’s 21-17 triumph, a remarkable revenge result to deny Raleigh the final four trip it so desperately coveted. Despite dropping four regular season games—as many as they had lost in their three previous seasons combined, the Roughnecks are headed back to Championship Weekend for the fourth consecutive year, a tribute to their culture and, perhaps even more, their array of talent and ability to handle the big moment.
Frankly, the game did not feel as close as the final score made it appear. The Dallas D-line came out blazing, punching in five first-quarter breaks of the Flyers’ heralded offense. Dillon Larberg lit up multiple matchups with blocks in the game’s first five points, while Griffin Miller, Zach Marbach, and Matt Armour also delivered huge plays for the Roughnecks’ defense that slowed and stymied Raleigh’s bread and butter sets, building a 7-2 lead. Overall, the Dallas D accumulated 14 blocks and frustrated the Flyers, who matched a season-low by scoring just 17 goals.
“We all knew Dallas was going to come out with fire after our last two battles,” acknowledged Raleigh Head Coach Mike Denardis, who presided over a frustrating playoff loss to the Roughnecks for the third straight season. “They pressured us early and got two Ds in the first two points that set the tone for the rest of the game. It seemed like they were playing a bit faster, more aggressively, and being more assertive than they have so far this season, and this forced us into some bad decisions and/or poor execution. We did gather ourselves for brief moments of the game and even felt some momentum building early in the third quarter, but they did an incredible job possessing the disc, getting their holds, and buying their time until we made a mistake.”
Indeed, on offense, the Roughnecks were dangerously precise, patiently and clinically shredding the Flyers’ defensive schemes throughout the evening. Raleigh only broke Dallas’s O three times all game, and one of those was late in the first half after an apparent Dallas goal had been called back because of an injury. Another was with 5:36 left in the fourth that made the score 20-16, which the Roughnecks, calm and composed down the stretch, ensured would be too little, too late.
“The main adjustments were really our handler positioning and disc movement,” commented Abe Coffin, who easily was Dallas’ top individual standout on the night. “We felt that in the two previous matchups, from our film sessions before the game Saturday, showed us that we weren’t getting to our spots correctly at the handler position, which put our downfield cutters in bad situations and let Raleigh’s defensive units clamp down early and make disc movement difficult. We felt that we could punish the defense more when the disc isn’t sitting for more than five seconds and that it is being moved the full width of the field. I believe we accomplished both of these adjustments on the offensive side which helped in getting clean offensive holds and bringing back our hungry defensive lines that really frustrated a potent Raleigh offensive unit.”
Coffin and Dalton Smith anchored the offense’s merciless possession, completing 100-of-101 passes between the two of them. Coffin, in particular, at 48-for-48 with nine assists, put on a show with a flawless performance that had everyone amazed, though not surprised.
“Abe just decided to be Abe Coffin tonight,” commented Roughnecks Head Coach Wes Nemec. “When Abe gets dialed in, it’s hard to take him off his game. He can place hucks, he can move the disc quickly in small-ball style, he’ll be there for resets, he’ll go catch goals. I think Abe’s one of the most off-the-radar superstars. I don’t think he gets near as much attention as he deserves.”
Added Emmons, “It’s always amazing to see Abe play his game when he’s at the best, however in all honesty, this isn’t an oddity by any means. If you really take the time to sit and watch Abe on a consistent basis when he’s really healthy, this is something he’s capable of doing any game of the week. It’s funny, because we’ve joked about it with Wes before at one point saying Abe is comically good, but he really is.”
Coffin’s +11, with nine assists, one goal, one block, and no turns dramatically stood out compared to his 19 other active teammates, none of whom finished better than +4. It’s maybe a bit ironic, though, that even with Coffin’s superior performance, Dallas’s depth was probably the backbone of this result, as 10 other players tallied somewhere between +2 and +4. Only seven Flyers registered +2 or better, led by Henry Fisher and Bobby Ley at +6, though the Roughnecks’ D-line mitigated each of their impacts for extended stretches in the game.
“Honestly, I think it was a lot of the prep work we did coming into this weekend,” mentioned Nemec. “We watched a lot of film, studied what we needed to change, and we implemented that game plan [on Saturday night], and it worked, which was refreshing. We struggled against their zone offensively and made some adjustments personnel-wise. Defensively, I guess we kinda scouted each player and had a specific strategy as far as marking some of their throwers, who we wanted throwing, how to guard some of the guys downfield, how to take away a couple of looks on initiations, things like that. After studying things they did, we noticed patterns. It was a combination of all of that prep, and then the guys went out and just got the job done. I mean, the prep is useless if they don’t get the job done, but they did [on Saturday].”
They did, indeed, smashing another cruel stake through Raleigh’s heart on their way to a fourth straight South Division title. The next task, of course, is even tougher, as the Roughnecks try to reclaim the greatest glory that they have failed to achieve in each of their past two trips to Championship Weekend.
While the Roughnecks returning to the final four certainly feels a bit routine, the AlleyCats’ rise may be their greatest achievement in franchise history. Indianapolis technically made it to the title game back in the league’s inaugural 2012 season, where they lost to Philadelphia, but that barely compares to what they have done in 2019.
“I reminisced after [Saturday’s] game how making the 2012 championship game kinda doesn’t count in some ways to me,” explained Indy’s Keenan Plew, one of the four AlleyCats who have been on the team for all eight AUDL seasons. “The league was so different then compared to now that it feels watered down to say we competed for a title.”
Seven years later, the franchise oft considered every Midwest contender’s little brother the past few seasons is now all grown up, with a mixture of AUDL veterans and youthful athletes that have played their best ultimate when it has mattered most. And despite being a team that played their home games indoors this season, they looked way more comfortable than their opponent in the blustery outdoor conditions that both teams dealt with on Saturday at Westfield High School.
Although Pittsburgh seized a quick 2-0 lead with a multi-turnover offensive hold and a quick break, the flow stabilized as the teams combined for six straight upwind scores, proving that the steady wind was far from a blockade. With the AlleyCats trailing 4-3, following another upwind conversion, Peter Carleton’s downwind pull buried the Thunderbirds deep in their end zone, and a couple throws later, Jonathan Mast’s flick toward Dylan Best popped up in the air, as Indy’s Jake Fella skied for the Callahan catch to tie the game at four. Shortly thereafter, Brett Matzuka found Conner Henderson for another break, giving the AlleyCats their first lead at 5-4; they would not trail again.
“Jake Fella was huge for us,” commented Cameron Brock, the league’s all-time leading goal scorer and another of Indy’s eighth-year vets. “He pretty much swung the momentum in our favor singlehandedly in the first quarter with his Callahan and subsequent huge sky to keep a possession alive on the next point.”
Another break—Alex Henderson dished to the bidding Travis Carpenter with just 21 seconds left in the first—gave Indy a 7-5 lead, a margin that grew to 13-10 by halftime. Following a lengthy point to begin the second half, the Thunderbirds inched back within two at 13-11 and then missed a golden opportunity to make it a one-goal game after taking a timeout to get their O-line back on the field following an AlleyCats turn. Instead of Pittsburgh trailing just 13-12, the Nick Hutton to Spencer Loscar strike with 6:38 left in the third made it 14-11, a margin that quickly grew to 16-11 after two more breaks over the next four minutes.
“By the second half, it was clear we were winning the energy battle and our defense kept pouring on pressure,” explained Indy Head Coach Eric Leonard. “Hutton had another great game, on both sides of the disc really, with some crucial hacks to convert some breaks.”
After Pittsburgh missed its chance to get within one, Indianapolis blew it open with a 7-2 burst over a 10-minute sequence that included blocks from Sam Ellison, Peter Carleton, Aaron Weaver, and Travis Carpenter. David Hortermiller caught three goals during this stretch, all for breaks, while Hutton had three assists in this particular AlleyCats onslaught that virtually ended the Thunderbirds’ final four aspirations. The Indy O-line also took care of business, registering decisive offensive holds in 25 seconds and 26 seconds after the only two Thunderbirds scores during the AlleyCats surge.
“I think one of the main stories was our collective ability to work the disc upwind,” remarked Carpenter, who led the Cats with 45 completions in 46 attempts, accumulating a +7 with four assists, two goals, and two blocks. “Pitt only had two or three guys that could throw more than 20 yards upwind. We had me, Levi [Jacobs], Keenan, Nick Hutton, Peter Carleton, Brett Matzuka, Aaron Weaver…all guys that can rip throws upwind, even in the most brutal of conditions. Our offense was clearly more comfortable going upwind compared to theirs, and we have a level of trust with each other that other teams do not have. Most teams in those conditions just try to get an open huck look upwind as fast as possible and hope for a highlight catch. The AlleyCats trust each other to the ends of the earth.”
Indy leadership heaped praise upon Fella and Loscar for job they did containing Thunderbirds star Max Sheppard, while Ellison and Colin Ringwood also received plaudits for their defensive work on Pittsburgh’s Thomas Edmonds. Overall, 10 different AlleyCats recorded blocks, while the Birds only registered seven total blocks as a team.
“Our D-1 look against those two was lots of height, hoping to either force them deep and win the jump ball or bother them on the mark with length and a lane poach,” divulged Leonard. “I think we succeeded there and force Pitt to work through other guys more. Our game plan on defense is to grind the other team down over four quarters with tight, physical defense, and I think it really showed this game.”
Throughout the fourth quarter, the final result felt inevitable, though several long-time AlleyCats refused to really celebrate until the clock struck zeroes, at which point the 23-17 victory became official, clinching Indianapolis’ first ‘modern-era’ Midwest title. A trip to Championship Weekend beckons, and the AlleyCats have a couple weeks to rediscover the mojo and hunger that earned them their spot. Immediately after Saturday’s game, of course, the emotional reflection-filled celebration was on!
“As we got to the final minutes, everyone knew we had the game wrapped up,” said Carpenter. “With a minute left, Coach even started celebrating and running down the line high-fiving teammates. For whatever reason, I just could not celebrate yet. I had to wait until I heard that final whistle blow and see the clock at zero with us on top before I could really feel the win. But man…the instant that clock hit zero…game mode flipped off, and memories just started flooding my head of the last eight years. I thought about 2012-2013, when I was still just a kid and nervous to even be on the field. I thought about all the games we lost by one point. I thought about 2016-2017, when I lost hope for a while in the team and let myself slip mentally. I thought about all the hard workouts we did as a team dating back to January, forcing myself off a warm couch at 8:00 PM to drive through the snow to a cold gym to lift weights and run with my teammates until 10:30 PM. Then, I started thinking about all the highlights from this season and all those scoreboards where we won by just a couple points and had that little bit of fight left that other teams could not match. As all that hit me, I just immediately started crying. I was so incredibly happy to know that everything in the past eight years was worth it.”
Carpenter wasn’t the only AlleyCat veteran to overtaken by nostalgia and emotion about the long journey that it has been.
“Saturday was very much like having a giant weight lifted off of my shoulders,” remarked Plew, the league’s all-time leading assist man. “The feeling of finally winning the biggest game of the season—to this point—felt incredible…Winning this game in a way took the bitter taste of other big losses from the past away. Eight years of workouts and practice with some of these guys finally paid off. Some would think that that much time wouldn’t be worth just this one big win, but to me it was all absolutely worth it.”
Another aspect of the victory and appreciating it in the aftermath was the long-time AlleyCats realizing how their roles have evolved. Brock, in particular, remarked how grateful he was that he only caught one goal on the day. Mostly, he just watched his teammates play incredibly, relishing the moment as joyful tears flowed plentifully.
“The second the buzzer went off, I started to break down in tears,” admitted Brock. “Not exactly what I expected; I thought, especially given the circumstances of knowing we were going to win before the fourth even started, that I wouldn’t feel much of anything. I had to quickly try and compose myself to go through the high-five line, then started to break down again. Then went to high-five the fans and broke down again. I saw Keenan right after we thanked the fans and he was crouching and he had the same look I imagined I did: eyes teary, somewhat in disbelief. I walked up to him and said, ‘you’re getting a hug.’ Keenan isn’t a hugger, but it was a nice moment. We’ve both worked so hard and long for this. It was cool to share that moment with him, Travis, and Kyle.”
Perhaps by the time you read this, the AlleyCats will already be back to work, as Indy has a Tuesday night practice on the schedule. Preparation for Championship Weekend now takes precedence, as the final four teams look to make their division titles significantly sweeter.
“I’ve only ever watched [New York] games as a fan, so now I get to go back with a more analytical eye,” said Leonard. “Very excited for the challenge! Can’t wait for San Jose!”
Did you see the recent footage of US Soccer star Rose LaVelle meeting a little girl who’s also named Rose Lavelle? Check it out. It’s adorable.
If Los Angeles had returned to Championship Weekend, the AUDL’s social media might have similarly blown up if and when Aaron Weaver met Aaron Weaver. One Weaver is an 30-year-old Aviators all-star, while the lesser-known Weaver is a 23-year-old AlleyCats rookie who made a huge difference on the Indianapolis D-line in Saturday’s Midwest final. Though Indy’s Weaver only played in five games during the regular season due to injury, his presence against Pittsburgh directly created two blocks during the Cats’ decisive, game-sealing rally.
“Aaron has been a great player and has really begun to develop more towards the middle of the season,” explained Kyle Cox, an AlleyCats captain and the fourth of Indy’s eight-year vets. “He had a few injuries that kept him sidelined for half the season, but has always been a phenomenal young player with a great attitude to boot.”
A recent graduate of Ferris State, Weaver had one goal, one assist, and no blocks in five regular season games. On Saturday, he collected a goal and two blocks in the biggest game in AlleyCats history.
“He’s a great athlete, and a better person," said Brock. "He spent the early part of the season recovering from a quad injury and then has missed games here and there for injuries. He would have been a 14-game player had his body allowed it.”
Along with the Henderson brothers, Jake Fella, and Sam Ellison, Weaver’s in the forefront of young AlleyCats who helped make a difference in transforming a competitive Midwest squad into a Championship Weekend participant.
I hope there’s video if and when he ever meets the other Aaron Weaver.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Wow, this is a bittersweet tweet.
A decent argument could be made that the Atlanta Hustle encountered the most difficult schedule in the league in 2019. After all, the Atlanta Hustle went 2-2 against teams that made it to Championship Weekend, beating Indy 27-22 on May 11 and surpassing Dallas 23-19 on July 6. They are the only team in the league with more than one win against the current final four.
Despite a 5-7 final record, the Hustle finished the year with a positive point-differential, a byproduct of the fact that six of their seven losses came by three goals or less.
As I write this on Tuesday, July 30, it’s now been nine days since I’ve been on an airplane. That may not seem like much, but for me, it feels like an eternity, not that I’m complaining one bit!
For perspective, the last time I went 14 straight days without boarding a plane was the first half of January, when I fortuitously had a string of seven consecutive basketball telecasts all within a few hour drive of my North Carolina home. Since then, it’s been a life spent hopping from one airport to another, while cherishing the time at home in between.
The journey continues in a couple days, with a Thursday flight to Minnesota for USA Ultimate’s US Open, and of course the AUDL odyssey will culminate the following weekend in San Jose.
It’s hectic, and it’s honor. Always trying to enjoy the ride.
Seven On The Line
- After the Roughnecks/Flyers game, one topic that many fans were wondering about was the status of Jonathan Nethercutt, the 2017 AUDL MVP who was available to play but left inactive by the Raleigh coaching staff. It’s an easy decision to second-guess, however their rationale remains pretty sound. Basically, it came down to the fact that Nethercutt had barely been a part of the Flyers 2019 team throughout the year. Other life obligations only enabled him to participate in two regular season games, on May 5 and May 18. Consequently, it had been 10 weeks since he had taken the field, and Mike Denardis and David Allison simply decided to go with the guys that got them there. Further considering the lessons of the past, they felt that they didn’t necessarily need to mix in more talent, instead prioritizing chemistry, cohesion, and continuity. In retrospect, of course, knowing what we know now about the game’s result, there’s an obvious pang that provokes the head-scratching, unanswerable question: how might things have been different if Nethercutt had been on the field? Unfortunately, we will never know.
- With Nethercutt on the sidelines trying to contribute as much as he could in a coaching/advisory role, the Flyers still narrowed a six-goal gap down to two in the middle part of the game, holding the Roughnecks without a score for more than 10 minutes of game action spanning halftime. After Raleigh made it 11-9 with 8:38 to play in the third, the teams traded the next seven offensive points, putting Dallas ahead 15-12 with 1:49 left in the quarter. But the Roughnecks earned their first break of the second half with just 14 seconds left in the third, when, after a timeout, Thomas Slack hit Carson Wilder to make it 16-12. Then, with the Flyers looking to creep back within three before time expired, Raleigh experienced absolute disaster, turning the disc over in their own territory and allowing the Roughnecks to dramatically add another goal, the dagger, at the third-quarter buzzer. “End of quarter has always been kind of a struggle for us,” commented Dillon Larberg, who tossed the climactic strike that gave Dallas their second score in less than 15 seconds and made it 17-12 heading to the fourth. “We haven’t really been able to close or figure out what works better, whether it’s running a trap-kinda thing and just trying to delay throws or just do a hard man point. So really coming into it, it was ‘hey, we’re gonna do a hard man. We’re gonna shut their throws down.’ And obviously the goal is to not let them score. And then that turn, we knew we had a few seconds left to get something off. I think Kai [Marshall] picked it up and threw it to me, and I just saw Kaplan [Maurer] in the end zone. Put it up, a hope and a prayer, and obviously it got tipped and Matt Armour came down with it. It was great. It was fantastic. That’s the best way you can end a quarter, especially knowing that we’re starting the fourth quarter ahead and coming out on offense, that was best-case scenario for sure.”
- Another storyline of the North Carolina night was Dallas Head Coach Wes Nemec discovering the magic touch for timeouts, utilizing three separate calls from the sideline to mitigate D-line turnovers that seemed inevitable as the whistles sounded. “I don’t know, you get lucky,” said Nemec, when asked about it. “During the regular season, there’s times when you didn’t call them and you wish you did. And sometimes you call them and it’s a great call. I’ve gotten to a point where I kinda know when our players get that look in their eye, and they’re running out of options, or the count’s rising, that a call needs to be made. It feels pretty good. Sometimes the players say thank you and sometimes they curse me for doing it, but it is what it is. That’s part of my job, to keep my eye out for stuff like that. That’s one of the ways a coach can influence a game, but that’s one small factor of a lot of other stuff we did really well to win the game.”
- So often in ultimate, we hear coaches or captains say something like, ‘we did not really game plan for our opponent, we were purely focused on ourselves, and we know that if we just focus on us, we’ll be fine.’ This past weekend’s AUDL results stand in sharp contrast to the mercurial wisdom of that kind of thinking. To put it simply, Dallas made great opponent-specific adjustments, while Raleigh and Pittsburgh, especially Pittsburgh, did not. “A lot of our identity this season was about being the T-Birds, about having an identity, and about us being good enough,” shared Thunderbirds veteran Anson Reppermund, who collected three goals and two blocks in Saturday’s setback. “We didn’t change based on our opponents. We didn’t send pregame e-mails about matchups or strategic changes, we went out and executed our defensive variables throughout the game to adapt to what is happening. Unfortunately, we didn’t adjust well over the three meaningful games against Indy. We didn’t get enough turns. Of those three games, we might’ve won 3-5 quarters total as a D-line. We failed to take away what they wanted to do.” While Reppermund bemoaned their lack of defensive guile, the Pittsburgh O-line was not any more crafty. “We did not play our game after the opening few scores,” chimed Mark Fedorenko, who endured an unfortunate ankle injury early in the game and only played five points. “Cutting from the front of the stack, not willing to swing it for a loss, cutters feeling stranded, weak marks on defense, and lackluster energy. It was one of our worst performances of the season, in my opinion.” Displeased by their own performance, the Thunderbirds also were able to recognize and salute the way Indianapolis handled the elements better to take care of business. “Indy played great defense against us,” said Max Sheppard, who had eight assists but also four turnovers. “They had the upper hand because they adjusted to the wind better than we did. It really showed early in the game. Indy did a much better job handling the upwind points than we did. We had three chances to seal the downwinder after the upwind break, but Indy kept grinding the upwind O-points….Indy stayed very patient and worked the disc up the field, taking more appropriate hucks than us…They certainly came down with more hucks than we did, and it paid off for them in the end.”
- On the 2019 AlleyCats’ roster, amidst the Indy veterans and variety of local young talent, is one ultimate vagabond who had a unique perspective to the team’s success. For Brett Matzuka, who has competed with four different franchises over the past five seasons, joining the Indianapolis organization this year has been a gratifying experience. He sensed that this would be the case after playing against them as a member of the Chicago Wildfire. “The thing about the AlleyCats is the main aspect that fired me up to beat them and revel in those victories when I played for Chicago is what also makes being around the team special as an experience,” explained Matzuka, who went 17-for-17 with one assist and one block in Saturday’s win in the Midwest Final. “I am really happy for the Indy program, for the fans, volunteers, owners, and my teammates. They have been building to this for years, investing everything—blood, sweat, tears, time, energy—to climb past every adversity and challenge to summit this peak. It is really amazing to witness given just how meaningful it is to the AlleyCats.” Though Matzuka was recognized as a First Team All-AUDL performer in 2015 with the Wildfire and he has teams have made the playoffs each of the past six seasons, this will be the 34-year-old’s very first trip to Championship Weekend.
- With Raleigh’s loss to Dallas, the AUDL has seen at least one regular season division champion lose prior to Championship Weekend in each of the past four seasons. The Flyers faltered as regular season champs in 2017 and 2019, while the Toronto Rush slipped up in 2018 and the San Francisco FlameThrowers stumbled in 2016. But it’s worth noting that no team who failed to win a regular season division title has ever prevailed on Sunday at Championship Weekend. The 2018 Empire lost in the semis, the 2017 Roughnecks lost in the semis, and the 2016 Seattle Cascades fell in the finals.
- As usual, the great ultimate awareness and chart creating twitter account @SludgeBrown posted a very solid visual representation of the eight years of AUDL Divisional Champions by Season. The dynamic that stood out most to me is that there have been five different West Division champs over the past five years, making it comparable to the ACC Coastal Division when it comes to college football. In the South, East, and Midwest, only two franchises have made it to Championship Weekend since 2013.
When everyone takes the field in San Jose, it’s possible that as many as 12 of the competitors will be former AUDL champions. In fact, the AlleyCats, perhaps the team with the most overall AUDL experience—of the 10 players who have competed in 100+ AUDL games, three are AlleyCats—are the only team with zero past champs on the 2019 squad.
The Dallas Roughnecks have nine members of the 2016 title team that have played for the team in some form this year, though only six of this group competed in Raleigh this past Saturday. Dan Emmons, Chris and Dillon Larberg, Kai Marshall, Thomas Slack, and Dalton Smith are the six, while Matt Jackson, Brandon Malecek, and Zach Riggins have seen varying amounts of playing time this year after contributing to the franchise’s inaugural title three years ago.
Beyond the Roughnecks core, only New York’s Beau Kittredge, New York’s Grant Lindsley, and San Diego’s Sean Ham have previously experienced the glory. Obviously, Kittredge is in a class by himself, having been a part of the title teams in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, while Lindsley (2017) and Ham (2015) were each teammates with Beau for one season prior to 2019.
For better or worse, legacies are determined by how individuals and teams fare on the grandest stage. For us, that’s a week and a half away, in San Jose.
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