Tuesday Toss: Week 4

April 30, 2019
By Evan Lepler

After three weeks cataloging nothing but close games, we finally witnessed a weekend featuring far less suspense and much more separation in the competition. Even with one overtime tilt in Minnesota and another two-goal game in San Diego, the eight contests were decided by a combined 40 goals, an average margin of five. Previously this season, the average margin had been just three. Moreover, after seeing six underdogs win outright during the first three weeks, all the betting favorites—according to AUDLPicks.com—earned victories in Week 4.

We should not be shocked. In fact, we saw this coming, right? In reviewing this past week’s schedule, every single game involved a 2018 playoff team vs. a 2018 non-playoff team. Last year’s postseason participants went 8-0 this past weekend, while the ‘lottery’ teams went a corresponding 0-8.

Toronto, New York, and Raleigh played like playoff certainties yet again, flexing their diversity of talent, depth, and experience by combining to go 3-0 on the road and 4-0 overall, while Ottawa, Philadelphia, Montreal, and Atlanta illustrated that, despite the occasional glimpse of greatness, they were not quite ready for primetime. In the East and South, there is undoubtedly still a gap between the best and rest.

The tightest games of the weekend were in the Midwest and West, but even in those matchups, the returning playoff squads—Indy, Minnesota, and the two teams from SoCal—surpassed their feisty but flawed opponents in the moments that mattered most.

Despite these realizations, it does not erase the competitive facts that have been echoed repeatedly over the past few weeks, for multiple things can be true. We can comment on the noticeable separation displayed in Week 4 while also emphasizing that teams around the league are more evenly matched from a talent and strategy standpoint than ever before. After all, there still has not been a game decided by double digits, and the average margin of victory (3.73) is still the lowest of any season all-time.

Obviously, it’s still early. There are 99 regular season games remaining, more than three-quarters of the schedule. But before delving further into what’s ahead, let’s review what transpired during an educational Week 4.

The Full Field Layout

Only six teams in the league had any chance to be 4-0 through four weeks, a byproduct of the uneven 15-week, 12-game regular-season schedule. And while wins in April are not nearly as important as ascending in August, every team certainly ambitions to start the season strong. For the San Diego Growlers, the league’s only 4-0 team as April concludes, it’s an especially significant achievement.

Prior to 2019, the Growlers had won only four April games in four seasons, three of which came last year. They were 4-14 in the season’s first month from 2015-2018, always playing catch-up in the daunting West. Now, San Diego is setting the pace, riding their unique formula of chemistry and clutch to four straight wins by a total of 10 goals, including a narrow two-goal triumph over the Seattle Cascades this past Friday night.

“I truly believe we are just a better and deeper team [than past seasons],” said San Diego’s Steven Milardovich, when asked about the Growlers’ ability to close out close games this season. “It may be oversimplifying things, but we just have more talented players on the field making big plays when we need them. We are winning more matchups all over the field and throughout the course of the game, and that is tipping things in our favor. It is very satisfying to be 4-0 at this point, and it is downright exciting to be in this position when we have not played our best ultimate yet.”

San Diego only turned the disc over 10 times on Friday against Seattle, according to the official game stats posted on ultianalytics.com, but the Cascades were crisp through most of the game too and actually led the Growlers 16-15 through three quarters. On the opening point of the fourth, Seattle forced a turn on San Diego’s O-point and had a chance to surge ahead by two, but Travis Dunn’s interception near the goal-line helped to swing the momentum.

Tim Okita’s layout score with 10:40 left evened the game at 16. Ninety-five seconds later, Dunn found Jonathan Helton for the go-ahead goal following a Milardovich block. And then, after perhaps the play of the game—Will Turner’s spectacular diving D to deny Seattle an equalizer—Dunn hit Helton again to give the Growlers an 18-16 edge with 5:35 remaining.

The Cascades managed to tie the game again with 2:34 on the clock, but Dom Leggio’s score with 1:48 left put the Growlers up for good, and Dunn’s dish to Mark Slader made it 20-18 with five seconds left, officially securing the win. Dunn, who’s roster spot in the first AUDL All-Star game is just a formality at this point, finished +8, his best plus/minus of the season, with three goals, five assists, and two blocks

Whereas the Growlers remained undefeated and atop their division, the Cascades tumbled to 0-3 and then 0-4 a day later when they fell to the Los Angeles Aviators in LA. Seattle trailed Los Angeles just 19-16 early in the fourth, but the fatigued visitors floundered in the final 12 minutes yet again, as the Aviators prevailed comfortably, 25-19.

Dating back to last season, Los Angeles has won 15 of their its 17 against the West, though the two adjoining seasons have very different feels. In 2018, the Aviators overpowered opponents with their array of talent; in 2019, however, they have developed a new recipe, mixing in hungry newcomers with underrated veterans to win three of their first four and establish the best point-differential in their division.

“One of the biggest things that has surprised me this year is the general mentality and attitude everyone has on the team,” said Sean McDougall, who accumulated five assists, one goal, and two blocks in the Aviators’ six-goal win. “It’s a very relaxed and fun group of people, and you can see it in the way we play. Talking to some of the other vets, there just seems to be far less pressure for some reason this year, and we get to watch quite a few of the younger guys step up into big roles for the team, which is causing a lot of excitement. In addition to that, we have pretty good buy-in from all the players who want to play and do well, so it creates this awesome competitive nature that we get to bring to every game.”

One of LA’s youthful revelations, 18-year-old Danny Landesman, lit up Seattle for seven more goals on Saturday and now has 15 scores in the Aviators’ last three games. Though many around the team had a hunch that this kid would be a great addition, his amazing early production has still exceeded expectations.

“I told [Danny] at one of our first practices that he would be scoring all our goals,” remembered McDougall. “I just didn’t realize how good he would be at it.”

In the West, the only division where all teams have played the same number of games, there looks to be a clear top two, 4-0 San Diego and 3-1 Los Angeles, and bottom two, 1-3 San Jose and 0-4 Seattle. This Saturday, when the Aviators visit the San Jose Spiders in the Stadium Game of the Week, the gap between the duos will either widen into a three-game crater or narrow into a three-team race.

“I expect it to be an intense battle as it always is with San Jose,” remarked McDougall. “We know they are desperate for a win, which will make them even more dangerous, so we have to be prepared for whatever they throw at us.”

*****

The most dramatic Week 4 finish transpired in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Minnesota Wind Chill and Pittsburgh Thunderbirds were both striving to avoid 0-2 starts. Amazingly, the collective sense of urgency manifested itself in neither team ever leading by more than a goal through the first 45 minutes.

With 3:13 left, Minnesota took the first multi-goal lead of the game when Jordan Taylor hit Ryan Welch for the break that made it 21-19. But the Thunderbirds responded immediately, scoring with 2:37 remaining to inch back within one, and then breaking back with just 56 seconds left, tying the game on Max Sheppard’s shot for Alex Thomas. The Wind Chill had a chance to beat the buzzer as regulation expired, but Josh Klane’s hammer in the final moments was swatted down by Pittsburgh’s Kenny Furdella, extending the battle into overtime, tied at 21.

Though the 25-22 final score makes it look like Minnesota must have dominated the five-minute extra session, the teams actually traded quick offensive holds in the first 76 seconds of the overtime, and Pittsburgh’s Anson Reppermund recorded a block with 3:10 left, giving the Thunderbirds the disc and a chance to take the lead. That’s when Minnesota’s Cam Burden, arguably the Wind Chill’s most prized roster addition in 2019, delivered a stealthy run-through block on Sam Van Dusen’s very next throw.

“Cam Burden is unbelievable,” praised Klane. “He’s so dynamic and so much fun to play with. I feel like we’ve been playing together for years, even though it’s literally been a month or two. He and the other Winnipeg guys have fit in seamlessly on and off the field with this team, and without them, I think we’d be in a lot of trouble.”

After Burden’s block, Klane quickly picked up the disc, hit Jesse Greenberg for a one-throw score before the Thunderbirds defense could organize, and triggered the 3-0 run that would close out the Wind Chill’s gutty triumph. The Thunderbirds turned the disc over after just one completion on their next possession, enabling Klane to register another assist as the lead swelled to 24-22. And with two seconds left in the overtime, Minnesota added the exclamation point score, as Ethan Rasmussen hit Isaac Leonard to close it out.

“The main story of the game was grit and perseverance amid a really sloppy performance,” remarked Klane, who finished with a game-high seven assists. “Pittsburgh is a really tough team, but without a ton of their studs playing we feel like we should have pulled out a much more comfortable win. We just weren’t as sharp as we knew we can be offensively and defensively, and I’m sure Pittsburgh feels similarly about their performance. It was a grind it out win that took an entire team effort. I’m happy about how we played in OT, especially considering we’ve lost multiple games the last two seasons to this Pittsburgh team in similar come-from-behind fashion.”

Dangerously close to 0-2, the 1-1 Wind Chill now embark on their first road games of the year with three straight in the next couple weeks. Minnesota visits Chicago and Detroit this weekend before journeying to Madison on May 11. The Thunderbirds, meanwhile, at 0-2 after a pair of tough losses on the road, will spend the entire month of May at home, hosting Indy, Chicago, Detroit, and Minnesota on four straight Saturdays.

*****

It may not be May until tomorrow, but doesn’t it feel like we can already safely pencil the Toronto Rush and New York Empire into the East Division title game already? Sure, Montreal and DC have made runs against the Empire, and Philly and Ottawa theoretically are improved from a year ago, but the Rush and Empire sure looked like Championship Weekend contenders this past weekend, outscoring their opponents 67-48 across three games

Toronto took the field first amidst snow flurries in Ottawa and immediately fell behind 2-0 before storming on their own 6-0 run to seize control. The Ottawa Outlaws managed to win the second quarter 5-4, but the Rush blanked their hosts 5-0 in the third period to basically put the victory on ice.

“The conditions weren’t great, but also not anything new to most of our guys,” assessed Rush Coach Sachin Raina after Toronto’s 19-13 win. “Because the Canadian University Ultimate Championships are played in October, pretty much everyone has experienced that kind of weather before. While we did get some snow for a solid patch in the middle, for the most part we were just dealing with wind and cold. I thought our guys did a good job staying positive and accepting that the game was going to be messy and adjusting our game to the conditions. We could’ve easily got negative after going down 2-0 or got frustrated with not being able to do the things we normally do, but the guys embraced the conditions and made the most of it.”

Raina also pointed out that without the Rush’s 6-0 run in the first quarter and 5-0 run in the third, it might have been a very different game. Of course, this was a familiar outcome for these two franchises, as Toronto has now beaten Ottawa in every one of their 13 meetings all-time.

“Having to play our season opener in that kind of gusty and cold wind certainly played havoc with the throwing on both teams, but the Rush were able to dial up a few more upwind sucks and pull down a number of tipped/macked disc that really made the difference,” commented Outlaws Co-Head Coach Luke Phelan. “[Isaiah] Masek-Kelly was a force that we weren’t able to contain, especially with his upwind throws. The aggression on hanging discs from the entire Rush roster was noticeable and resulted in a couple of really important breaks for them.”

Meanwhile, the New York Empire also showed off all their wide array of abilities in their two-win weekend. On a windy Saturday, it was the Empire’s adaptability that stood out, as they went to upwind/downwind lines to better handle the gusty conditions.

“We went bold in the Philly game with our upwind/downwind strategy, and the team fully bought into that,” remarked New York Head Coach Bryan Jones after the 25-16 win over the Phoenix. “D-liners get excited to play downwind points, and when the O-line is generating turns while pulling upwind, it maximizes our resources.”

Mike Drost was one of the D-line mainstays who capitalized on his offensive opportunities, collecting four goals, three assists, and three blocks against the Philadelphia Phoenix. After the game, Philly’s Sean Mott acknowledged Drost’s contributions and his own team’s shortcomings.

“I would say the main stories of the game were that Drost had an amazing game and that they were playing the wind much better than we were with usage of double teams and going into the wind,” explained Mott, who recorded two goals and two assists himself. “I was impressed with how well they were shooting in the wind compared to [us].”

On Sunday, the Empire reverted back to their normal O and D-lines against the Montreal Royal, putting their talented roster in position to succeed again. The coaching staff stressed patience, and the players, for the most part, obliged.

“Prior to the Montreal game, we discussed the important of conservative offense at the start of the game, in order to give the D a chance to get us a lead,” commented Assistant Coach David Blau. “The team took that to heart. It’s no secret that we have talent, but what I’m most excited about is the fact that our talent seems to be comprised of players who value possession and don’t seem to have issue focusing on their strengths, playing within our team concept, and not necessarily showcasing their full arsenal.”

The Empire completed 96 percent of their passes in a 23-19 triumph over the Montreal, a game that New York led 20-12 before the Royal made a late run to make the final score appear slightly more competitive. Ben Jagt finished +10 for the game and +17 on the weekend, with nine goals, six assists, three blocks, and just one turnover. Ben Katz added five goals, six assists, and four blocks in the Empire’s pair of Week 4 wins, a couple games that really showcased the team’s collective potential.

“I think the most impressive thing about this team so far is everyone’s willingness to play different roles at a drop of a hat,” explained Jones. “Conor Kline can either mark in a zone on D, or play as an unselfish cutter on O. Jeff [Babbitt] can patrol the skies on D or preserve possession on O. Matt Stevens had a great bookend sequence on D at the end of the Philly game. CJ Oullette played D against Philly and helped coach on Sunday vs. Montreal, doing some D-line calling. Jack [Williams] and Grant [Lindsley] are world class players and of course are people we can lean on to get it done. We’re still building this entire roster and figuring out what’s the most optimal way we can play it. A lot of versatile players means a lot of different options.”

The Outside-In

Known for its pull plays and all-around efficiency, Toronto has consistently possessed one of the top offenses in the league, a fact bolstered by the continuity its been able to build through the years. When the Toronto Rush’s offense took the field for the first time this season, though, it included a player that most AUDL fans have probably never heard of.

Akifumi Muraoka earned a silver medal representing Japan in the 2018 U24 World Championships last year, and after deciding to give the AUDL a shot, he has quickly found a role on the Rush’s O-line.

“I thought Akifumi played pretty well on Saturday, especially when you consider it was his first game with a new team, in a new league, and in unfamiliar conditions,” said Raina. “I knew he was going to be at tryouts, and had heard some good things, but didn’t know much else. He impressed at tryouts, earned a spot, and flew over in March so he could get acclimated as quickly as possible. On the field he’s a pretty good offensive threat who can also play D; he’s fast, has good disc skills, and has a good head for the game.”

Muraoka actually led the Rush in points played in Saturday’s win over the Outlaws, scoring two goals and dishing two assists along the way. Though he’s one of nine rookies on the Rush roster in 2019, Raina says his unique personality has injected some fresh energy for the team.

“Off the field, he adds a personality to the team unlike anything we’ve had before,” added the Rush’s third-year head coach. “His passion for ultimate is infectious, and although he speaks little English, he has the ability to make everyone laugh. When he’s around, the vibe is always very positive, which I think will be a huge asset as the season wears on.”

Interestingly, Muraoka is not the only young Japanese player making a significant impact on an AUDL team. On the west coast, the San Diego Growlers have included Ryo Senda in their active 20-man roster for each of their four victories, and his teammates similarly rave about what his presence has added to the team dynamic

“Senda has been one of the more fun teammates I can remember getting to play with because of the way he continues to surprise and impress me,” explained Growlers veteran Steven Milardovich. “We did not know him at all prior to tryouts, so we have continued to learn about him as he shows his skills on the field. One moment it’s a nice flick huck, the next it’s an outstanding play in the air, then he’ll throw a crafty break throw that the defense is completely caught off guard by. At this point, I have realized that I should no longer be surprised by anything he does, he is just an excellent all-around player and we are fortunate to have him.”

In four games, Senda has registered five goals, four assists, and four blocks for the undefeated Growlers, while playing more O-points than everyone except Travis Dunn and Jonathan Helton.

“He has fit in to our team and our system easily because he is a smart player and has really good instincts about cutting and clearing space for his teammates,” added Milardovich. “Beyond that, he was worked hard at learning our offenses, defenses, and terminology despite the language barrier. At each of our practices leading up to the season, you could catch him in the huddle writing down notes in a small notebook for any language or concepts that he may not have fully understood.”

Between the French quartet in Montreal, the Colombian contingent that’s spread around the league, and now the Japanese presence in both Toronto and San Diego, the international infusion into the AUDL talent base is a fantastic development for the present and the future. The Rush are delighted with Muraoka, the Growlers are thrilled to have Senda, and, presumably other franchises are already plotting what other personnel from around the world they can recruit in years ahead.

The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)

This past weekend happened to be one of the most exciting ultimate weekends of the year, as 36 of the 40 possible tickets to College Nationals were punched over the course of Saturday and Sunday. It was originally supposed to be all 40, 20 men’s and 20 women’s, however weather delays forced a couple regions to have to push some of their schedules to next week. Regardless, it’s always a fascinating couple of days because jawdropping surprises have a way of popping up around the country, often with little notice or precedent.

The two biggest shockers were on the men’s side, as Carleton and UMass, both ranked in USA Ultimate’s top 10 at the end of regular season, both failed to qualify despite each residing in three-bid regions. Carleton fell to Iowa State in the semis 14-12, then lost 13-11 to Wisconsin in the North Central Region’s final ‘game-to-go,’ while UMass similarly slipped up against Northeastern, losing on universe 14-13, before getting dramatically edged out by Tufts 12-10.

Why were these results so shocking? Well, Carleton was considered a genuine national championship contender and, at the very least, most imagined they were likely headed for their third consecutive semifinal appearance. UMass may not have Carleton’s decades-long track record of success, but the kids from Amherst have also been a fixture in Nationals bracket play over the past several seasons.

Additionally, Carleton’s loss to Wisconsin was accompanied by interesting historical implications, as Ultiworld laid out in this tweet about the CUT-Hodags rivalry.

College Nationals, as usual, will be held Memorial Day Weekend, Friday through Monday, May 24-27. This year, for the first time since 2003, Nationals will be held in Texas, at the Round Rock Multipurpose Sports Complex just outside of Austin.

Traveling Tales

In the absence of a fascinating traveling tale from this past weekend, let’s take a moment to send out positive vibes to Luke Johnson, the veteran AUDL broadcast producer who’s currently chauffeuring all of the television equipment from Atlanta to San Jose, a roughly 2,500 mile trek across America’s heartland. It’s the continuation of a months-long cross-country quest for Johnson, who will shepherd the Tiger Balm trolley eastward again next week along the northern route, ending up in Madison for a weekend before continuing to New York. And, of course, the journey does not end there.

Suffice to say, if you roll into a rest stop somewhere and see the AUDL-clad van, adorned with images of Rowan McDonnell, Chase Marty, and Tiger Balm signage, buy its driver a cup of coffee.

Or a keg of it.

Seven On The Line

  1. The Raleigh Flyers depth is unreal. On Saturday, they went to Atlanta without Justin Allen, Jonathan Nethercutt, Mischa Freystaetter, Bobby Ley, Noah Saul, and about seven other starters on offense and defense. That’s two full lines of impact players! But amazingly, the Flyers still looked like a bona fide contender with the 18 bodies they brought, as they cruised past the Atlanta Hustle 21-15.

    To overly simply it, the difference in the game was a pair of 3-0 runs that the Flyers used to close out the second and third quarters, first transforming a 6-all battle into a 9-6 lead, and later widening an 11-9 gap to 14-9. Again, the Carleton kids were indispensable. Henry Fisher caught five more goals, increasing his league-leading total to 18, while Eric Taylor and Sol Yanuck combined for 92 completions with just two throwaways (both from Yanuck) and six assists. Perhaps even more impressively, three other Flyers made their season debuts and all looked very much like they belonged, as Sam Gabrielson, Jordan Perry, and Grayson Sanner all were involved in at least one score. Though most franchises have not had the opportunity, it’s worth noting that Raleigh already has three road wins; no other team in the league has more than one.
  2. Are the Raleigh Flyers possibly better on offense without former MVP Jonathan Nethercutt? That’s the type of absurd question that ESPN talking heads would be asking on First Take if ultimate was in the mainstream. But hey, even members of the Flyers acknowledge that Eric Taylor has done an amazing job providing backfield stability in his rookie season, leading the league thus far with 222 completions, and it feels almost certain that Nethercutt will initially join Raleigh’s D-line when he returns to the field. Chemistry is a delicate dynamic, and the Flyers have found success with Taylor, Saul, and Laviolette as the top-line distributors with Fisher, Freystaetter, Jacob Fairfax, and Terrence Mitchell running away from defenders downfield. Certainly, it’s easy to imagine Nethercutt jumping in on O if the Flyers get broken, but don’t be surprised if two-thirds of Nethercutt’s playing time comes on the D-line when he does take the field.
  3. The Indianapolis AlleyCats also used an early 3-0 run to create separation against Detroit on Saturday, scoring the opening three points of the contest and leading wire-to-wire in a 19-16 final. Despite playing outdoors for the first time this year and dealing with some snowflakes during the game, the AlleyCats still completed 95% of their passes, a rate bolstered by Keenan Plew’s 52-for-52, six-assist display. “I’d say the two main stories for the game from our perspective were working on keeping a high conversation rate on offense and slowing down their offense,” said Plew, the AUDL’s all-time leader in assists. “From a defensive perspective, we had to limit the power position touches of [Joseph] Cubitt, [David] Innis, and [Kevin] Coulter. Reviewing the game film, I thought the defense did a great job of slowing down Cubitt. Coulter and Innis still were able to get their assists but had just as many turnovers.” Cameron Brock and Rick Gross each scored five goals for the AlleyCats, while Keegan North and Levi Jacobs each snagged three; those four players finished with 16 of Indy’s 19 tallies. At 2-1 after back-to-back victories over the Mechanix, the AlleyCats now brace for the meaty chunk of their schedule, with four daunting road games at Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Chicago, and Madison all set for the next five weeks. If the AlleyCats are gonna return to the playoffs for the third straight season, they probably have to win at least two of these road challenges.
  4. From Detroit’s perspective, baby steps are being made. Consider that in 2018, the Mechanix’s three lopsided losses to Indy came by the ridiculous combined score of 95-53. No one wants to brag about moral victories, but when you’ve lost 28 straight games, keeping a playoff team within margins of four and three in back-to-back weeks is significant improvement. “This Detroit team is so much further ahead of some past Detroit teams,” acknowledged Plew. “You can tell their players have bought into what Chris Sackmann is coaching, but they are more skilled at every position too. There is not a lot of quit in these guys. We got up five scores on them, but they kept grinding back to within two or three goals.” The Mechanix were particularly encouraged by the fact that they kept it close while missing five of their top 12 players, who were competing in College Regionals. While it remains to be seen whether the positive vibes will translate into wins, it seems undeniable that Detroit’s depth is night and day from past seasons. “The team has strong leadership with talented, youthful legs,” said Sackmann, who’s moved on to coaching after suiting up in nine games for the Austin Sol back in 2016. “Our practices sometimes run 40 deep on separate fields as we build each other up and unite…Against Indy, we were only focused on building to get better, work on some of our fundamentals—marks, floods, rotations, spacing—protect and solids the offense to keep us in games, learn the new system, and build our chemistry moving forward.” Next up for the Mechanix is a Minnesota team that will be on the second day of a back-to-back. Much like Indy, Minnesota massively outscored Detroit 105-59 in three meetings a year ago, but the timing and circumstances of this Sunday’s soiree should give the Mechanix some hope.
  5. It’s certainly tough to envy Montreal’s season-opening slate. Not only does the Royal’s schedule commence with road games against New York and Toronto, two of the top teams in the entire league, but the Royal’s opening homestead will be devastatingly brief, a May 19 matchup with DC. After that, Montreal will endure four more road games on consecutive weekends, journeys to Philly and DC and then Ottawa and Toronto again. Of course, there is a light at the end of the very dark tunnel, with five straight home dates to close the season. But the question is can the Royal survive the tunnel and eventually see the light with any glimmer of postseason still within reach? Despite their 23-19 loss to New York, the Royal did find some positives to take away from the experience, most notably the performances of new French imports Quentin Roger and Mathieu Bosser. “The French additions played well and their confidence will only grow,” expressed Royal Captain Kevin Quinlan, who led Montreal with five assists in the loss to the Empire. “Our bigs can compete. Check out [Andre] Arsenault getting a deep block on Babbitt. Insane! [Kevin Groulx] was also huge in the air and made a couple of big plays…We really didn’t talk about [New York’s] ‘big names;’ we talked about how to match up and learning tendencies throughout a game. New York was good; they deserved that win. The message from leadership was about growth and the fact that this was only the start. We were not intimidated by the matchup and know we can compete with any team.”
  6. Perhaps it’s my fault for not hyping him enough, but San Diego’s Will Turner deserves to be considered in the upper echelon of players in the West Division. Not only were his two blocks and steady handling critical to the Growler’s fourth straight win, but the 25-year-old UCSB product has continued to blossom into an all-around threat in his third year in the league. “He is the definition of a complete player,” stated Milardovich, matter-of-factly. “He could literally fill any role on our team. He has a full arsenal of break throws, impressive power and touch on his hucks, and deceptive athleticism that gets him the type of blocks you saw on Friday. He became an anchor on our D-line last year, but still routinely crosses over for O-points as a handler. I think his versatility and the way he plugs into so many different spots may be why he doesn’t stand out as much, but he has been one of our best players for a couple years now.”
  7. One random nugget to keep an eye on over the next few months: Indianapolis’ Cameron Brock will almost certainly record his 500th career goal before anyone else in the history of the league even reaches 300. At the moment, Brock’s at 472 scores in 110 career games, including the postseason. AlleyCats teammate Keenan Plew is #2 all-time with 268, while Atlanta’s Matt Smith (241), New York’s Matt Stevens (235), and Raleigh’s Mischa Freystaetter (235) round out the top five. So far this season, Brock is averaging only three goals per game, a rate which would give him 27 more goals through Indy’s last nine games, putting him at 499. The ‘over’ here is a safe bet, and at some point, probably in July, Brock will register goal #500. Considering that he almost did not attend tryouts for the 2012 season because he thought he would not be good enough, it’s been a remarkably improbable and impressive ride.

The Hammer

After averaging 6.75 games per week in the early portion of the season, the AUDL calendar dramatically increases its intensity over the next couple months. There will be 93 games in the next nine weeks, not including the All-Star Break, beginning with a 10-game slate to launch the month of May. Austin, Minnesota, and Ottawa all embark on difficult doubleheaders, and Toronto returns to Varsity Stadium, its University of Toronto home that was unavailable due to renovations last year, for the first time since 2017.

Interestingly, there are four teams that are off this coming weekend, including three who were also off this past weekend, and all of whom are playing well right now. Last year’s AUDL finalists, Madison and Dallas, are both in the midst of back-to-back off weeks, while Tampa Bay, arguably the top surprise of 2019 thus far, also is enjoying an extended break. Lastly, the New York Empire, the team considered this year’s favorite, are poised for another week off after sweeping a twin-bill to cap their perfect April.

Collectively, the four teams that are idle this coming weekend have a combined 9-1 record on the year. Aside from Madison, Tampa Bay, and New York, only 4-0 San Diego, 1-0 Toronto, and 1-0 Chicago carry unblemished records into May.

Consequently, this upcoming Week 5 will largely be about middle of the pack teams illustrating why they merit consideration in the postseason conversation, a topic that will certainly be discussed in depth from San Jose’s perspective in Saturday’s Stadium Game of the Week. The Spiders find themselves in a precarious position, much like Atlanta experienced this past week, in that they will be at home and desperately trying to transform preseason potential into concrete results, which so far have mostly remained elusive.

The Aviators-Spiders game will also unfold underneath the watchful eye of veteran AUDL analyst, Chuck Kindred, who’s set to make his 2019 broadcasting debut on Saturday evening. Sources suggest his hot takes are already in the oven, gaining form and texture, ready to be served with a scorching spiciness on live tv.

Regardless of whether we see more suspense, separation, or a combination of both, the 2019 season churns on. After all, we’re just 103 days away from determining another AUDL champion, and there’s so much to be figured out between now and then.

 

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