May 14, 2019
By Evan Lepler
The surprises unfolded like dominoes on Saturday, one after another, gradually shifting both perception and reality during a nine-game Week 6 slate that, frankly, looked relatively mundane at the outset compared to some other weekends. Presumably, the thinking went that Toronto and New York would roll at home over their overmatched foes, and the Midwest favorites would extend their status quos, setting up a couple killer matchups in Week 7.
Of course, by now you’re certainly aware that most of these games did not go to form. In the first game of the weekend, the winless Ottawa Outlaws bore little resemblance to the team that had gone 0-13 against the Toronto Rush since the franchise’s inception. Later in the evening, the DC Breeze made the New York Empire sweat for more than 53 minutes of high-level ultimate, and members of both teams were left unfulfilled by the wacky and disappointing finish.
While Toronto and New York narrowly escaped with varying levels of satisfaction, the two Midwest undefeated teams—that appeared to be on a collision course for a thrilling Week 7 battle—both were outplayed by hungry opponents who were bolstered by significant roster additions. And with the Madison Radicals and Chicago Wildfire suffering their first losses, Indianapolis had a golden opportunity to gain ground, only to experience a similarly disappointing fate.
With three one-goal games and eight of the nine contests decided by five or fewer, Week 6 was a roller coaster of emotions around the AUDL. Urgency increases with every passing game, and the margin between victory and defeat is often thinner than the center of a fluttering 175-gram Ultrastar on a windy night.
The Full Field Layout
On Saturday evening in New Rochelle, NY, wind was virtually nonexistent, which made defense particularly tough against two offenses who were laden with stars and poise. In a way, that made the game’s dramatic conclusion that much more bizarre, with a misapplied rule turning last year’s MVP into the goat on the final point of the night.
In the tranquil conditions, 24 of the first 25 scores were offensive holds, and with breaks hard to create, neither side led by more than two at any point. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Empire had the disc and a two-goal lead, but an uncharacteristic drop by Jack Williams enabled the Breeze to inch within one with 57 seconds left. Still, the Empire had the disc and a one-goal advantage, until Leo Pierson came up with a clutch block on Grant Lindsley with about 10 seconds left. DC immediately called timeout and set a play in pursuit of the equalizer from about 30 yards out.
“New York is a very tall team, so we didn’t want to throw a jump ball at the end of regulation,” remembered DC’s Rowan McDonnell. “I just asked Xavier [Maxstadt] to throw me a bad on the right have a fake stack to the left. I thought it would work, but didn’t expect it to work that well.”
Maxstadt used his eyes brilliantly to shift the Empire defense, then launched a quick-release flick to the back right corner of the end zone for a wide-open McDonnell, who was sprinting to the spot as the New York defenders looked around at each other, wondering what happened.
“I was culpable for the end of regulation goal,” said New York’s Ben Jagt, claiming responsibility. “I took the space right behind Beau [Kittredge] but shaded to the inside and just let Rowan get behind me because I was looking over the middle. I should have positioned on the sideline shoulder of Beau and let our guys in the middle take care of the over the top/swing to break side looks.”
DC won the overtime toss, chose to receive, and McDonnell promptly scored the go-ahead goal on a Garrett Braun hammer, giving the Breeze their first lead since the first quarter. But the Empire, much like the entire night, always had the answer. Jagt assisted a pair of overtime goals, including a game-tying toss to Matt Stevens with 11 seconds left, that evened the score at 25-all. And a frantic final point of OT saw the Empire intercept a short DC throw near midfield and have a chance for a desperation prayer to win it, but Max Cassell recorded the block in the end zone to send the battle into double overtime.
In the AUDL, single overtime is five minutes. Double OT is one point, and the team that pulled to begin the first overtime receives on universe.
Therefore, when Jeff Babbitt, Harper Garvey, Ben Jagt, Ben Katz, Elliott Lee, Grant Lindsley, and Jack Williams lined up as New York’s seven, the Empire felt quite confident that their O-line would take care of business and secure the win.
If only it were that simple.
DC’s D brought as much pressure as it could, but 12 completions had New York five yards away from the goal-line when Katz sought to squeeze an inside backhand break to Lindsley. In the front of the end zone, the disc shockingly clanged off Lindsley’s hands and fell to the turf, giving the Breeze life. And that’s when everything got interesting, confusing, and ultimately, disappointing.
“When Grant turned the disc in the end zone, we were immediately presented with a tough decision about whether or not to call the timeout,” remembered Breeze Head Coach Darryl Stanley. “I had been trying to get some confirmation from my nearest ref and it was unclear. So from the sideline, we were trying to tell Rowan not to call the timeout, since it was unclear if we had one or not. He interpreted this as us telling him to try to move the disc at least before calling a timeout. No play really materialized and he then called timeout with the back ref. The refs conferred and said that we didn’t have a timeout available.”
In an instant, the narrative had turned again as DC’s timeout call became a turnover, and amidst massive confusion, New York had the disc on the goal line again with a chance to win.
“I didn’t totally grasp what was going on,” recalled Empire handler Harper Garvey. “The thing that sort of snapped me out of my confusion was Jack Williams instantly saying, ‘Harper’s disc, I’m the iso.’ It was an easy completion to him [for the game-winner.] But I was still pretty caught up in all that had just happened. I think everyone was. There were a lot of people that seemed to be unsure about how to feel. It was unique and anticlimactic.”
New York prevailed 26-25 in double overtime, but no one really knew how to feel, especially considering the revelation that would came later that evening for some of the participants and in the ensuing days for others.
It turns out the referees got the call wrong. Rule 5.4.4 says “Each team has exactly 1 timeout in each and every overtime period.” Under the bylaws, McDonnell’s timeout in double overtime should have been granted, but the officials faltered and neither coach immediately produced the rulebook in protest. It left almost everyone feeling uneasy in the aftermath.
“There were a few teammates reminding everyone that ‘a win is a win,’ but there were others that did not feel the typical feeling you might [have] after winning such hotly contested game,’ said Garvey. “I’m not happy with the way things turned out. I feel it was unfair to DC, and to a lesser extent, unfair to us. While a game is obviously the summation of thousands of moments and decisions, it’s hard not to assign additional value to those final moments, and I think both teams were robbed of an opportunity to earn that victory. For what it’s worth, Darryl, Rowan, and the Breeze were incredibly gracious in defeat.”
McDonnell (seven goals, five assists) and Jagt (eight goals, nine assists) each dominated from a statistical standpoint, and the lasting takeaway, aside from everyone being generally bummed by the marred conclusion of a great game, was simply that the battle could have easily gone either way.
“When I heard the rule that we technically did have a timeout, [I felt] relief, like now it wasn’t totally my fault,” remarked McDonnell, who should avoid the lifelong Chris Webber comparisons because of the unfortunate peculiarity of the situation. “But to be fair, I nor any of my team knew the rule either. We played a good game, and it’s only the fourth game of the season. Lots of ultimate ahead.”
Next up for the Empire and Breeze, respectively, are the Rush and the Outlaws, and that pair of Ontario teams squared off for the second time this season and the 14th time ever on Saturday afternoon in Toronto, delivering a deliriously entertaining game for the fans at Varsity Stadium. And while it may have ended with heartbreak for the Outlaws, this finish was dramatic, intense, and most importantly, fair, along with becoming the narrowest ever result between these two franchises.
For a little context, in the 13 previous meetings between Toronto and Ottawa, the Rush had outscored the Outlaws by an average of 7.8 goals per game. Eight of the meetings were decided by six or less, but five were double-digit blowouts, with the Rush registering wins by as many as 13, 15, or 17. But Toronto was not surprised to find itself locked in a nailbiter. On Saturday afternoon.
“Ottawa deserves a lot of credit for playing an exceptional game,” remarked Cam Harris, who paced Toronto with five assists while completing all 22 of his passes. “They had a very good offensive strategy that led to some good luck looks, and they were able to hit the strikers in stride. I do not think anyone on our end was surprised it was a tight game.”
Though the Rush led 9-7 after a high-scoring opening quarter, the Outlaws surged ahead in the second and Toronto was feeling relatively fortunate to be ahead 14-13 at halftime. In the third, Toronto built a 17-14 lead, but then Ottawa tied the game at 18-all and eventually built a 23-21 lead with less than five minutes remaining. The Outlaws really had the Rush on the brink, but the perennial victors stayed calm and fought back.
“All of a sudden we found ourselves down 23-21 with four minutes to go, but the message and the focus on the sideline was pretty positive,” recalled Rush Head Coach Sachin Raina. “I remember saying ‘all we have to do is hold and get a break’ and everyone nodding their heads. It was by no means an impossible task.”
Less than a minute later, the Rush has a hold and a break to tie the game at 23. About 90 seconds after that, Toronto’s D-line scored again, capping a clutch 3-0 run to give the Rush a 24-23 advantage with 1:35 left. The Rush actually got another turn and took a timeout—no one disputed they still had a timeout—but an errant swing gave the disc back to the Outlaws, who tied the game at 24-all with 32 seconds left, setting the stage for Toronto’s magical finish.
“The last point was a special moment to be a part of,” said Harris. We knew there was not a lot of time left and were probably expecting Ottawa to be protecting their end zone, but they came down very aggressive and made it difficult to move downfield. Then [Andrew] Carroll did Carroll things and got a 30-yard under, allowing us to break out, and the downside to their aggressive defense was it allowed a one-on-one matchup deep. I don’t think anyone should feel comfortable they will make the catch when Alec [Arsenault] is chasing them down; he is a great player and incredible athlete, but I knew I had position and did not want to end up on the wrong side of an Alec highlight. Once the throw went up, I knew it would be the last play of the game and was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
Carroll’s initiating cut led to a solid gainer for Akifumi Muraoka, and the Japanese rookie fired a majestic flick that found Harris in the end zone at the buzzer, giving Toronto the 25-24 triumph. The sideline and crowd went nuts, realizing that the Rush had survived a difficult test.
“I had a bunch of emotions,” shared Raina. “One, I felt a sense of relief. Two, I was proud of the guys for digging in deep when our backs were against the wall, and three, I was glad that we were taught a lesson about how competitive this league is. Long gone are the days when the Rush are going to be handed easy victories or the day where we can still win comfortably without our top players—six of our players were at U-24 camp—If we want to win we’re going to have to earn it, and it was good to be given that reminder early in the year while also still sneaking away with a victory.”
When asked about the their next game, players from the Empire and the Rush both downplayed its importance, stressing that the most critical matchup would likely be the postseason rematch in July with a Championship Weekend berth at stake. But it sure will be fun to see the two East Division juggernauts on the same field this Saturday night.
And by the end of Week 7, there will only be one remaining undefeated team left in the entire league.
Madison and Chicago will meet for the first time in 2019 this Saturday, but unlike Toronto and New York, the Radicals and Wildfire are now a couple of one-loss teams trying to avoid a two-game losing streak. And though it can’t be certain, it seems likely that this past weekend marked the first time in AUDL history that the first, second, and third place teams in a division all lost on the same day.
The least likely result in the eerie confluence of Midwest mayhem transpired in Madison, where the Radicals had beaten their last 46 straight divisional opponents and gone 47-1 all-time against their regional rivals. But the defending AUDL champs had not played a game in three weeks, several recent practices had been cancelled due to bad weather, and star player Peter Graffy was unavailable for the game.
Still, with the extensive track record of home success, it felt like a Radicals win was inevitable. Of course, the Minnesota Wind Chill had other ideas.
Minnesota entered the night as a relatively underwhelming 2-2 team, a couple points away from being 3-1 and a couple points away from being 1-3. Looking for a statement victory to prove that they could indeed be Midwest contenders, the Wind Chill immediately fell behind 2-0.
“Yes, Madison is an imposing team at home; yes, history would suggest you’re in trouble after starting down 2-0; but, and I can’t speak for anyone else, I didn’t feel any nerve at that point,” remarked Minnesota’s Cam Burden, who proceeded to complete 50 of his 51 throws on the night. “Our turn on the first O-point was an uncharacteristic miss by one of our best and most consistent players. After that, we settled in quite well as an O-line, considering the level of defense we were up against. It helped immensely that our D-line was generating more turns and were showing an unparalleled level of poise with the disc. Going into the game, we focused on having fun and being patient. The D-line allowed us to keep that mindset from start to end.”
The Wind Chill quickly overcame the early deficit and the game was even at 6-all through one and 11-all at the half. At the end of the third, the score was 16-all for a moment, until a Madison integrity call gave the Wind Chill another chance. Radicals veteran Pat Shriwise decided he bumped Minnesota’s Isaac Leonard near the back-line of the end zone as he tried to make a buzzer-beating catch, and on the ensuing untimed throw from the goal-line, Leonard dished a scoober over a double team that found teammate Brandon Matis for the dramatic go-ahead goal, putting the Wind Chill ahead 17-16 heading into the fourth.
“I definitely took my time thinking about it once the ref made the call [of an incomplete pass and no-goal],” said Shriwise, about the sequence at the end of the third quarter. “Pretty much what went through my head was that, knowing what I knew at the time, I hit [Leonard] before [he] hit the ground. I definitely threw an arm out early, being off balance and trying to find [him] after my attempt at the disc and initiated contact with [his] legs. I know it didn’t look like much on the replays I’ve seen so far, but I did feel like I moved [him.] Making the call sucked, but thinking about how it would feel to have won that game based on a no-call, it’s worse than dealing with a loss.”
In the fourth quarter, the Wind Chill received to start the period and endured the longest point of the entire game, eventually scoring to take a two-goal lead with 8:08 remaining. Madison scored three more times to inch within one, but each time Minnesota had the answer, including 13 completions in the final minute to run out the clock in an historic 20-19 win, handing the Radicals their first home loss against a Midwest opponent in six years, and just their second ever.
“I don’t think it’s possible to state how important that win was for us,” declared Burden, the Wind Chill rookie who is now 1-0 all-time at Breese Stevens Field. “Not only did we go in and win for the first time in franchise history; I think we also boosted our confidence immensely in much-needed time. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago is a much improved team this year, but losing twice [to the Wildfire] was tough. Not having a gauge for how they do against other teams, it was a concern. But beating Madison, along with what else happened on Saturday in our division, I think will go a long way in setting up our mindset and confidence for the remainder of this season.”
The Winnipeg contingent, as they are often referred, all were huge for the Wind Chill in securing the landmark victory. Along with Burden’s solid numbers, Matt Ladyman and Jesse Greenberg combined to complete 54 of 55 throws, adding great stability to the Minnesota offense.
“To come out here and assimilate with the other offensive players so effectively, that’s so impressive to me,” commented Wild Chill Head Coach Ben Feldman. “Their ability to reset the disc around, they were hitting backhands at will. We were very steady in the backfield.”
Meanwhile, the Radicals suddenly are staring at a daunting couple of road games, at Chicago and at Toronto the next two Saturdays, hoping to rediscover their championship mojo during this difficult stretch.
“We haven’t been clicking on all cylinders, but no one is ready to panic just yet,” remarked Madison’s Andrew Meshnick. “At the end of last season, we were playing at such a high level as a team, and so far we haven’t been able to replicate that level of play. We’ve been a little bit sloppy with our execution and focus. Thankfully, those are two things that we have the ability to fix, but the upcoming schedule does not get any easier for us with road games against Chicago and Toronto. We’re looking forward to being tested in those two games and finding out exactly what kind of team we are this season.”
The Wildfire certainly made it look like 3-0 was very much within reach in their game Saturday at Pittsburgh, up 11-10 at halftime against the 0-3 Pittsburgh Thunderbirds. But a 5-0 Pitt rampage to start the second half dramatically altered the complexion and feel of the battle, and the Wildfire never really recovered, as the Thunderbirds hung on for the 21-18 victory.
“As a team, we did feel some sense of urgency going into this game after starting off the season 0-3,” said Max Sheppard, who led the Thunderbirds with four goals. “We made a couple small adjustments strategically and mentally, but we all knew this was a must-win game.”
Among the adjustments were Sheppard shifting onto the O-line and Owen Watt transitioning to the D-line. It also was an obvious boon to have former All-AUDL standout Tyler DeGirolamo back to the Thunderbirds lineup. DeGirolamo, presumably wanting to work his way back slowly from a bunch of injuries that have impacted his career in recent years, played primarily on Pittsburgh’s second D-line, often matching up with top Chicago handler Pawel Janas. Though Janas and fellow Wildfire star Matt Rehder both did their share of damage throughout the game, the Thunderbirds utilized contributions from up and down the roster to enjoy a cathartic home victory.
“Steve Mogielski had one of the best sequences I’ve seen in awhile,” commented Pittsburgh’s Thomas Edmonds, who completed 58 of his 61 passes with three assists and two goals. “He got a layout block on a swing pass then sprinted essentially the length of the field and caught a laser-beam huck from Sammy [VanDusen] and then immediately imitated an Antonio Brown celebration by jumping, hugging, and sliding down the goal post. It was hilarious and got all of our energy going up to the next level.”
While the Thunderbirds relished their best performance of the season, the Wildfire were disappointed with their performance, which they felt was flat from the opening point.
“Our mental game was off,” commented Chicago Head Coach Dave Woods. “Players were concerned with things outside of the playing field, and it reflected in our play. We looked disconnected and disorganized and were consistently a half-step behind Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh played a great game. Each of their athletes played perfectly within their roles. They looked very well-prepared and they just flat out executed better than us. Teams are not defined by losing, but by their reaction to a loss; that game was not definitive of the 2019 Chicago Wildfire."
With two more home games left on their four-game May homestand, the Thunderbirds have a chance to get back to the .500 mark at 3-3 if they can beat Detroit and Minnesota the next couple Saturdays. Meanwhile, the Wildfire, at 2-1, get ready for a tough pair of home games with Madison and Indy on tap the next two weeks in the Windy City.
Speaking of Indy, the Indianapolis AlleyCats might have found themselves atop the Midwest had they outplayed their first-time foe, but after falling at home against the Atlanta Hustle, 27-22, they are basically back at square one in terms of figuring out where they fit into the complicated Midwest hierarchy.
“Atlanta outplayed us and definitely deserved the win,” said Indy’s Cameron Brock. “I don’t really have a great explanation for why we played as poorly as we did. All the credit in the world to Atlanta for capitalizing on our mistakes and playing hard…It was almost as if we just expected the offense to flow with no interruption, and people weren’t cutting with urgency. First cut doesn’t work, and then nobody was moving. Was just really confusing and frustrating. We got caught in a lot of bad situations due to poor upfield movement.”
Up 8-7 after one and 15-12 at the half, the Hustle felt their varied defensive looks flustered Indy, who had never played against them before, and Atlanta also enjoyed its best offensive performance of the season, taking better advantage of the indoor conditions. After getting broken on the first point in each half, that was it. The Hustle were only broken twice all game, and the AlleyCats never crept closer than two at any point after halftime. With the score 22-20 midway through the fourth, Atlanta closed on a 5-2 rally to create some separation down the stretch.
“It’s interesting to note that our O almost always gets broken when we start with the disc at the beginning of the game and [after] halftime,” recognized Hustle Head Coach Miranda Knowles. “I’m trying to figure out why. Aside from those points, I thought our O was really good, solid and alert, strong and appropriate in their risk-taking…I told the announcers before the game that this would show us whether the Austin win was a fluke or a beginning, and I think even if we don’t go beat Raleigh next weekend, we can see that we are legit and when we put a complete game together, it is something to behold. Getting our full roster available post-college season has been extremely helpful for us.”
One big picture takeaway from the last couple weeks is that a team’s record heading into a particular game does not dictate the result. This past Saturday, we witnessed previously 0-3 Ottawa take 2-0 Toronto to the brink, while 1-4 Atlanta smacked 3-1 Indy, 0-3 Pittsburgh knocked off 2-0 Chicago, and 2-2 Minnesota upended 2-0 Madison. Add in then-0-4 Seattle surprising 4-0 San Diego 10 days ago, and that’s five recent examples of assumed underdogs performing significantly beyond expectations.
Overall, it’s a fascinating development, and it suggests we are in for our fair share of entertaining chaos in the coming months.
Perhaps it was foolish not to already mention Josh Poterack’s fourth quarter blocks during “The Full Field Layout,” but one could also argue the Wind Chill rookie out of Iowa State deserved his own section in the column.
“I went to him on the sideline and said, ‘Josh, I just need one big play,’” remembered Minnesota Coach Ben Feldman, “and literally the next point he goes out there and makes that [amazing block on Tarik Akyuz], and then he gets another one.”
Playing in just his second AUDL game, Poterack, who did not sign with the Wind Chill until a couple weeks ago, made two of the most monumental plays of the weekend, including a truly remarkable skying block over Akyuz when the Radicals were down by just one. With about 100 seconds left in the game, he delivered another layout block on a Madison under cut, beating Avery Johnson to the disc in thrilling fashion. Both were highlights that had everyone talking after the game.
“We knew he was long and lanky, and he made a couple big plays at [college] regionals that we saw and were impressed with, and he’s got a great attitude,” said Feldman. “He’s just scratching the surface. The athleticism put him in a position to make that play.”
Poterack, who won’t even turn 21 until June 10, did not have a ton of time to enjoy the victory postgame with his teammates. Shortly after the game ended, he took off with his father, who was bringing him back to the Chicago area so he could catch a flight for a European vacation on Sunday. When his Iowa State team qualified for College Nationals, Poterack was forced to adjust his return itinerary to be able to make it to Texas for the Memorial Day Weekend event, and the Wind Chill are very hopeful that by June 1, Poterack will be full-time making plays for the Minnesota D-line.
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Together, the top three scorers in AUDL history have caught 998 goals in nearly 300 games, but they had never all been on the same field together. Until Saturday.
Heading into the unprecedented Atlanta-Indianapolis matchup, AlleyCats veteran Cameron Brock, whose 480 goals top the all-time AUDL charts, had the idea to take a photo with Indy teammate Keenan Plew and Atlanta’s Matt Smith, who are second and third with 270 and 248 goals, respectively.
“I definitely had plans to get that picture ahead of time,” explained Brock. “I’ve been working with Matt for a few months in regards to the AUDL camps, so we’ve been in contact. We swapped jerseys postgame as well. Trying to swap my way to a full league set—or as close as I can get. I figured it is rare in any sport to have the three top anything playing in the same game, so I had to take the opportunity to get that picture.”
If Madison and New York were to collide in a potential semi or final at Championship Weekend, perhaps the Drost brothers will pose for a photo with Peter Graffy and Andrew Meshnick, as those four players are the top four block accumulators in AUDL history. Mike Drost is currently #1 all time with 166, while Graffy is second with 158, Meshnick third with 157, and Ryan Drost fourth with 143.
Though I had to deal with my returning flight getting cancelled for the second time in six weeks, my traveling trauma pales in comparison to what the Chicago Wildfire endured after their loss in Pittsburgh.
“We endured one of the worst weekends an AUDL team probably ever has,” commented Wildfire Coach Dave Woods. “We spent hours on our bus driving to an away game, lost the game, our bus broke down on the drive back, we were stranded on the side of the highway for a number of hours, forced to grab hotel rooms nearby, and then drove back in cramped minivans the next morning.”
Less than ideal in many, many ways, though the Wildfire are hopeful that the adversity of the excruciating experience will make them heartier for the future.
“If anything, we came out of this weekend as a stronger, more cohesive unit,” said Woods. “If anything, the division should be more nervous about our less than if we’d won.”
Seven On The Line
- New York’s Matt LeMar scored one goal and completed all four of his throws in the Empire’s double overtime win over DC on Saturday, a relatively nondescript individual performance for the 30-year-old defender in his team’s dramatic victory. The single game may have been ordinary, but put into a larger context, it marked an extraordinary achievement for the AUDL’s signature ironman. Matt LeMar suited up and competed in his 100th consecutive game on Saturday, continuing his remarkable streak that dates back to the Empire franchise’s inaugural contest on April 20, 2013, a 23-14 victory over the Rochester Dragons. Six years and a few weeks later, LeMar’s perfect attendance remains one of the more remarkable feats in AUDL history. “I’ve taken the approach of not thinking about it so much, just figuring out how I can show up healthy ready to play each game, but Mike and Ryan Drost keep track [of the streak] for me,” said LeMar, who has recorded 61 goals, 101 assists, and 57 blocks in 90 regular season and 10 playoff games in his career. “I can think of a few games I maybe wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play in if we had a full roster. We had a road trip to Canada three seasons ago where I played on a pulled hamstring and couldn’t fully spring, but the roster for both days was 18 so I was able to get through the weekend covering handlers and not re-injuring myself. I also once split my lip open during the warmups of a playoff game in Toronto, played the game, and went and got stitches afterwards. I have been very lucky with injuries and I still expect at some point that the injury bug will get me. I have had to miss some events with friends and family over the years, but I have been able to avoid [missing] any weddings so far; just got lucky that they have been on off weekends or after the season.” Indy’s Brock and Plew are the only other players in the league who have competed in more than 100 games, though Madison’s Andrew Meshnick competed in his 99th game this past Saturday and a handful of other veterans could also surpass the century mark in the coming months. Still, LeMar is the only guy in this class that has never missed a single game. Asked about his career highlights, he mentions his first game ever, the pair of trips to Championship Weekend, playing in Montreal for the first time, and a few other special memories. “I think it’s my teammates that stick out to me most over the years, all the little things that go into creating a team every year,” remarked LeMar “The inside jokes, learning about new people, everything that happens on bus rides…I’ve been very lucky. Life events, injuries, other ultimate fell in such a way that got me to a point where the streak became a real thing and so the last couple years have certainly been trying but I’ve been able to keep it going. Hoping to keep it going a bit longer. Who knows, maybe I will be lucky enough to retire and not have missed a game.”
Despite missing two of their three captains, the Dallas Roughnecks still put together an impressive road victory in Austin, closing the game on a 5-2 run to prevail 25-21. The Austin Sol led 8-6 at the end of the opening quarter, but Dallas’s defense ran off three straight scores to start the second, led 14-13 at the half, and never trailed again. “We came out early in the first quarter and got a little luck happy, which we weren’t connecting on those shots,” said Dan Emmons, the lone Roughnecks Captain present with Jay Froude and Dalton Smith unavailable for the game. “The times we had success moving the disc were when we played with our legs and would grind out points by hitting the open cutters moving under or to the break side. We started to see more chemistry between Brandon Malecek and Henry Furuta, who stepped into a bigger role with Smith and Froude missing.” Dillon Larberg had a big day for the Roughnecks’ D-line, recording five assists and five blocks, while the season debut of Dillon’s older brother, Chris, also gave Dallas a boost. “It was great to welcome back Chris Larberg and Gabe Hernandez, which helped spring life into the defensive unit,” observed Emmons. “Chris made a few key blocks and scores throughout the game that helped give us some momentum. Gabe stepped in with some huge plays by stretching the deep space and finishing plays to the end zone. However, the star of the defensive unit was Wes Miaw covering Kyle Henke. He was constantly pressuring every cut and pass and making Henke have to work for every inch of space.” With the win, the Roughnecks improved to 3-1, while the Sol suffered their fourth straight setback, slipping to 1-5.
Raleigh kept pace with Dallas, improving to 5-1 and handing Tampa Bay its first loss in the process. Though the Flyers were broken on the game’s opening point, Raleigh ran off seven straight scores after that to quickly seize control, overwhelming the Cannons with their speed and energy. “As a unit, we tried to force Tampa into some poor choices right away, and that happened,” said Raleigh Head Coach Mike DeNardis. “I’ve been particularly impressed with the hunger of our younger players. [Grayson Sanner] started the season as a practice player and we promoted him to the full roster for a couple games and he’s been great.” Though the young guys earned plenty of praise, the veterans did their jobs too. Noah Saul completed 58 of 59 passes to anchor the offense, while Mischa Freystaetter dished four assists, scored three goals, and completed all 19 of his throws. Justin Allen registered three blocks and Terrence Mitchell scored six times. Tampa Bay won the second 13-11, but Raleigh still comfortably prevailed 24-19. “I think our group played with low energy at the start which led to a bad first half,” commented Andrew Roney, who dished a game-high seven assists for the Cannons. “The second half was a lot more even which was an obvious positive…We have a young team so it’s valuable to learn a hard lesson like this loss early in the year. That we we can refocus on what’s important to be a better team moving forward.” While Raleigh hosts Atlanta this weekend, Tampa Bay hits the road for the first time in 2019, as the Cannons travel to Texas to face the Sol on Saturday and the Roughnecks on Sunday.
In the West Division, the battle for first place was quite competitive for a couple quarters, but San Diego gradually widened its lead in the second half, using a 14-6 run to transform an 11-all battle into a 25-17 laugher late in the fourth. By the time the final buzzer expired, San Diego had earned a solid 27-21 triumph to improve to 5-1, rising back into sole possession of the top spot in the division. “Not that there is ever a good time to lose, but I think losing to Seattle was a real wake-up call,” said Growlers Head Coach Kevin Stuart. “Along with our offense getting into a high gear, I felt like our defensive attitude was a main factor for us. We have been relatively inconsistent so far this season and haven’t really played a full game with consistent defensive pressure. I felt like everyone responded and we had a good game plan to attempt to limit their offense, and we started getting blocks and turnovers in the third quarter.” Sean Ham and Jesse Cohen each had strong games for the San Diego offense, while Stuart praised Max Hume, Marcel Osborne, Nate Bridges, and Sam Fontaine for their stellar play on the D-line. Tyler Bacon, Joc Jimenez, and Sean McDougall all produced solid numbers by the end of the day, but the Aviators fell to 4-2 as their four-game winning streak came to an end. “It was a windy game and they had less trouble than we did executing resets,” said Bacon. “We weren’t able to generate the possessions needed to win the game.”
At the bottom of the West, San Jose also bounced back from their frustrating Week 5 performance with a solid all-around effort against Seattle. With the game tied 14-all in the third quarter, the Spiders ran off four consecutive goals, with Keenan Laurence and Mike Becich both making several big plays for San Jose’s D-line.
“Keenan had the best catch I’ve seen all season on a poorly thrown hammer, after which he got up and threw a goal,” said Justin Norden, who tallied three assists and one goal in the win for the Spiders. “Keenan and Mike are both extremely athletic and tall and were able to dominate the smaller Seattle players. They cleaned up poor Seattle sucks and then ran things on the turn. Munis [Thahir] also had an excellent game. Switching him over to the O-line, he confidently took open space that was given and caught goals without making any mistakes.” Laurence, who’s still a teenager, completed all 12 of his throws, with six of them going for scores, while Becich snagged six goals with three blocks. Norden was also delighted that, after a bunch of growing pains over the course of the past month, the Spiders’ offense also started to click on Saturday against Seattle. “Finally. We have had the pieces all season, and finally put things together for a complete game,” said Norden. “We reworked things on offense and finally had an offense that looked like it has in previous seasons with easy open scores. Not that it was perfect, but it was getting the job done. Having a working offense finally allowed all of the new players playing D to truly shine.” At 2-4, the Spiders don’t have much time to enjoy their second win, as they head to San Diego and Los Angeles this weekend for a two-game trip that could very well define their season.
When I spoke with Empire Coach Bryan Jones on Sunday, he went out of his way to praise Elliott Lee, the relatively unknown 25-year-old handler out of Yale. Though Lee did not score a goal or throw an assist in his 2019 Empire debut, he did complete 38 of his 39 passes against the Breeze on Saturday, including a bold blading flick to Jagt that was undoubtedly the key throw during the Breeze’s game-tying drive with 11 seconds left in overtime. It spoke volumes, I thought, that Lee was then on the field on universe point, along with the fact that only Garvey and Williams completed more passes than Lee throughout the game. And arguably Lee’s most impressive performance of the day also went unrecorded on the stat sheet. Officially, you don’t get any extra points for playing the national anthem pregame on your violin, but Lee’s rendition drew rave reviews, and his versatility, on and off the field, gave the Empire a needed boost in their narrow triumph over the Breeze.
A reminder that, as of today, we are just 25 days away from the first ever AUDL All-Star Game, scheduled for June 8 at Breese Stevens Field in Madison. Every team in the league will have at least one player in the game, and on Wednesday, June 5, I will host a live draft as the two designated captains select their teams. More details about the captains, rosters, logistics, and additional wrinkles will be forthcoming soon, but it is shaping up to be a tremendous event for many different reasons.
After the slew of stunners that we saw this past weekend, there will be even more possible surprises in Week 7, which features a dozen contests, the most of any weekend all season. (Note: Week 13, on June 28-30, also has 12 games on the schedule.)
San Jose, Toronto, and Tampa Bay are the three franchises set for road twin-bills, while Midwest mayhem gives us Madison at Chicago and Indianapolis at Minnesota. Of course, these all feel a bit like undercards compared to Toronto at New York, the East Division showcase scheduled for 7:00 PM/ET on Saturday night, live on Stadium.
Remember the last time the Rush and Empire faced off? New York edged Toronto, 18-17, in the heart-stopping East finals last July, a result that carried a more substantial shockwave than any of the wildness we witnessed this past weekend. Go back and read the Tuesday Toss from after that game.
This weekend, either the Empire will improve to 2-17 all-time against the Rush, or Toronto will re-establish itself atop the division with a narrative-altering road win that makes it 18 victories in 19 meetings with New York since 2013.
I lean towards the Empire, but I’ve picked just 21 of 46 games correctly this season on AUDLpicks.com.
Sorry, New York.
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