March 24, 2020
By Evan Lepler
I still vividly remember the first contact I ever had with the AUDL.
It was March 10, 2014, and I was on my way out the door to go play “Settlers of Catan” with some friends when I saw the twitter notification that changed my life.
I sent a DM 28 minutes later with my e-mail address, and four minutes after that, I had a response from Tim DeByl, Owner/Coach of the Madison Radicals who also serves as the league’s multifaceted marketing czar. We spoke on the phone for the first time the next day, the first of several conversations that directly led to my last six years of AUDL broadcasting bliss.
Initially, while contemplating the opportunity, I tried to contextualize the mindset that I might have had as a 21-year-old college senior. Back in the mid-2000s, I was completely smitten with ultimate, and my passion for the sport and love for my teammates basically resided on equal ground with my lifelong dream of becoming a sports broadcaster. Never in my wildest imaginations had I envisioned a genuine possibility of merging these two activities into a career.
Yet in mid-March of 2014, less than seven years after graduating from college, the world had conspired to find me this absolutely perfect fit. A month after that initial connection, I was on a plane headed to California for the AUDL’s West Division debut. Six years later, it still sometimes feels more like fantasy than real-life. Regardless, I continue to cherish it.
From ESPN3 to the Eleven Sports Network to Stadium and now FS2, I have had a magnificent perch to watch the league grow, evolve, and prosper, and I have been extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to jettison in and out of a different great ultimate city most every spring and summer weekend since 2014. From April through August, it’s an amazing privilege to accumulate miles and memories as the play-by-play announcer for the AUDL Game of the Week package, a journey that hopefully will resume at some point in the coming months when the 2020 season can finally safely commence.
Inevitably, players or fans will inquire about the best games I’ve ever called. And honestly, there have been a lot of great ones that are memorable for a multitude of reasons. For every Championship Weekend thriller that many can easily recall, there are a bunch of captivating regular season battles that are now relatively forgotten. Thankfully, video lives on, and anyone with the time and inclination can relive the drama in just a couple of clicks, an ideal activity in this time of social distancing.
Over the past few days, I have gone through many of the 104 AUDL contests that I have called over the past six years. And without further adieu, here are 10 “forgotten” gems that you might enjoy checking out.
Note: In order to be in the “forgotten” department, it cannot be a playoff game. And it must have occurred before the 2019 season. Also, I will try to pique your interest in watching without spoiling the exact result.
Indianapolis AlleyCats at Chicago Wildfire — May 9, 2014
Before broadcasting my first AUDL game, I read the rulebook from cover-to-cover. Then, on May 9th in Chicago, I remember pulling the PDF up again on my computer midway through the fourth quarter. The Indianapolis AlleyCats and Chicago Wildfire had been neck and neck for a couple hours, and overtime seemed mightily plausible. It’s a good thing I focused on the double OT rules too.
This was a tremendously exciting back-and-forth battle, with each team building and losing three-goal leads before bonus ultimate beckoned. Chicago’s roster boasted two-time reigning AUDL MVP Jonathan “Goose” Helton, along with dominant deep target AJ Nelson and a slew of other big name standouts like Bob Liu, Walden Nelson, Von Alanguilan, and Ron Kubalanza. Two other Wildfire players in this game, Casey Degnan and Xtehn Titcomb, went on to co-own other AUDL franchises, Degnan in Raleigh and Titcomb in Seattle. The AlleyCats, meanwhile, featured the league’s all-time leading scorer, Cameron Brock, who caught six of his 504 career goals on this May day in Chicago. That total of 504 scores, by the way, remains 218 more than the next highest total on the all-time list. Meanwhile, Travis Carpenter, less than a month beyond his 21st birthday and known to many of his teammates simply as “The Kid,” finished a game-high +7.
San Jose Spiders at San Francisco FlameThrowers — May 17, 2014
Many folks forget that in their debut season, the San Jose Spiders and San Francisco FlameThrowers were both completely loaded with talent, with many of the top Bay Area club players deciding to divide themselves relatively equally onto the two teams as opposed to simply stacking one of them. This mid-May matchup came a little over a month after the two teams first met in San Jose, a 20-16 Spiders victory. Since then, each team had gone 6-0, setting the stage for a highly-anticipated and well-attended showdown between the two powerhouse franchises. And this one lived up to the hype, with San Francisco overcoming a five-goal deficit and keeping fans in suspense until the final buzzer.
As for key personnel, Beau Kittredge, Kurt Gibson, Ashlin Joye, Eli Kerns, and Mark Elbogen led the Spiders in points played, while the FlameThrowers featured Cassidy Rasmussen—who happened to be roommates with Beau and Ashlin at the time—along with Eli Janin, Alex Evangelides, Sam Kanner, and a youthful Zane Rankin, who was also finishing up his college career at Cal-Berkeley that spring. One additional inside-the-broadcast note: Chuck Kindred called this game with me, however Chuck’s flight to San Francisco was brutally delayed, causing him to miss the open of the telecast. I handled the open and start of the game with solo, and then with 4:45 left in the first quarter, he made his triumphant arrival, just as the action was heating up on a memorably windy day in the North Bay.
Vancouver Riptide at San Jose Spiders — May 31, 2014
Frankly, I am just now remembering how incredible the month of May was that first season I covered the AUDL. This Riptide-Spiders tilt was probably the most suspenseful contest of all considering the circumstances. Entering the day, Vancouver was just a game behind San Jose in the standings, though the Riptide had piled up their wins against the bottom tier of the West. Consequently, many wondered whether Vancouver had the chops to hang with San Jose, and quickly it became evident that the Riptide’s rising youth movement was pretty special.
If you don’t have time to watch the entire game—and let’s be honest, you have the time—at the very least, check out the final minute of each quarter. This was a night full of mind-bending buzzer-beaters, baffling blocks, and breathtaking bids. Beau Kittredge illustrated his MVP stature with a superb line of six goals, five assists, and four blocks, while Ashlin Joye dished eight dimes, a total that still stands as the second-highest total of his career. For Vancouver, teenage phenom Darren Wu scored five times to continue his breakout season, while Riptide Captain Derek Fenton matched Kittredge in the plus/minus column, finishing the game +11 with five goals and seven assists.
San Diego Growlers at Los Angeles Aviators — June 6, 2015
Two teams in their inaugural season, each entering with just three wins, treated us to a wildly entertaining 48 minutes that all came down to a hand-blocked hammer. Seriously, this finish was nuts, with multiple Hall of Fame caliber talents making key mistakes in the game’s critical moments. Beyond the chaotic closing sequence, this matchup was tight the entire way, with neither side ever leading by more than two.
Aside from the late-game dramatics, this one’s worth a rewatch just to see some of ultimate’s top stars wearing jerseys that you may not even remember. Yea, the San Diego Growlers had Jimmy Mickle and Kurt Gibson, who combined for 11 assists. But no one found the end zone more often than the Los Angeles Aviators’ Husayn Carnegie, who mostly played O-line that night for the Aviators. As a bonus, get ready to be astonished by Trevor Purdy's absurd tumbling, juggling grab that evened the score midway through the fourth. This telecast was packed with riveting situations, as two desperate teams battled to the final buzzer.
Toronto Rush at DC Breeze — April 23, 2016
A wildly intense April showdown, this Toronto Rush vs DC Breeze collision included a countless array of exciting highlights and dramatic twists down the stretch. Toronto led virtually wire-to-wire, extending the advantage to as many as five, but a furious comeback created just the second tie of the game at 22-all (the first tie was at 1-all). There would be two more ties in overtime, necessitating a thrilling final universe point to cap the double OT masterpiece.
Aside from spectacular performances from franchise mainstays like Cam Harris, Jeff Lindquist, and Isaiah Masek-Kelly, this season opener for the Rush also featured the Toronto debuts of Boston-area pickups Alex Simmons and Rusty Ingold-Smith, each of whom made an impact. The Breeze had already won a game prior to this matchup with the Rush, but this performance, anchored by Alan Kolick, Tom Doi, Brad Scott, and Rowan McDonnell served as a fresh message that Toronto would no longer cruise to the top of the East unchallenged. And for another peek “inside-the-broadcast,” I can share that I remember spending a good portion of the morning before the game on the phone dealing with a variety of contingencies to ensure we would have a color analyst on the show that night after Bryan Jones’ initial early AM flight got abruptly cancelled. USA National Team member Peter Prial was tabbed as the fill-in and arrived ready to go, but Bryan successfully caught an afternoon flight and arrived to the stadium about 30 minutes prior to opening pull. Aside from the drama on the field and in the logistics, it was a bonus to still get to hang out with Peter on and off the air, as he joined the broadcast at halftime to share his perspectives about the Breeze and playing for the USA National Team.
Raleigh Flyers at Tampa Bay Cannons – May 20, 2017
It did not take long for the Raleigh Flyers and Tampa Bay Cannons to develop a spicy rivalry in the AUDL. They both joined the league in 2015, and in a South Division that did not yet include the Texas teams, the Flyers and Cannons were highly competitive and contentious immediately. The Cannons were cruelly beaten in double overtime in the 2015 South Division title game, and then their win total dropped from 10 to 5 in 2016. By 2017, however, the Cannons were locked and loaded again, as illustrated by the fact that they became the first team in AUDL history to beat the Dallas Roughnecks, knocking off the undefeated defending champs 24-22 on Friday, May 12. That’s the preamble for this North Carolina-Florida tussle that transpired eight days later.
As I wrote last week in Part I of the Greatest AUDL Teams of All-Time Tournament column, this was certainly Raleigh’s best regular-season squad, anchored by 2017 league MVP Jonathan Nethercutt, along with Jacob Fairfax, Noah Saul, and Goose Helton. But between Chris LaRocque, Mischa Freystaetter, Bobby Ley, and Cole Sullivan, the Cannons had plenty of firepower to defend their home turf. For most of the second half, Jacksonville played from ahead and seemed poised to rise into first place in the super strong South Division. Of course, as you’ll see, the Cannons made a couple mistakes down the stretch, and the Flyers were ready to pounce, creating an unforgettable final sequence where “The Trash-Man” capped the night in exhilarating fashion.
Seattle Cascades at San Diego Growlers — June 9, 2017
Entering this Friday night affair, the Seattle Cascades were 4-2 but coming off a loss, while the Growlers were 4-5 but riding momentum, winners of three straight in the West. And through the first three quarters, Seattle sizzled. Mark Burton, Khalif El-Salaam, and Adam Simon combined for 13 assists, while still-a-high-school-senior John Randolph tallied 30 completions, 2nd-most on his team. It looked especially bleak for San Diego when the Growlers trailed 17-10 late in the third quarter, but Steven Milardovich recorded multiple blocks in the final period to help bring the home team back, tying the game in the final minutes.
Milardovich and Dom Leggio have been massively underrated foundational cogs for the Growlers franchise since its inception in 2015, and both illustrated their value in this Seattle game. Along with Milardovich’s game-changing defense, Leggio completed 63 of his 64 throws, four of which went for scores. This contest also features West Division journeyman Hunter Corbett at his best, as the one-time Aviator and FlameThrower paced the Growlers on this particular night four goals, two assists, and a block.
Los Angeles Aviators at Austin Sol — April 14, 2018
These highlights made the rounds on AUDL social media last week, and I must say, it was a joy to re-watch them. Genuinely, this entire game was phenomenal, with two rising franchises who were both super hungry to make an early-season statement. Both teams were involved in a few wacky plays over the course of 48 minutes, but the jaw-dropping highlights far outnumbered the kookiness. The conditions were ideal for plenty of hucks, and the excitement continued to crescendo until the shocking climax at the buzzer capped this interdivisional battle.
Certainly, the Aviators had plenty of starpower in their first ever Texas trip, with Sean McDougall, Aaron Weaver, Chris Mazur, Mark Elbogen, and Eli Friedman headlining the traveling party. But my favorite moment of the night—crazy buzzer-beaters not included—came courtesy of Brent George as he delivered a gigantic scoring layout grab as the Austin Sol's Kyle Henke also bid huge right alongside him. Henke missed by millimeters as George made the outrageous catch. Furthermore, this game featured plenty of memorable moments from Austin’s old guard, as Jerrod Wolfe, Jeff Loskorn, and Kiran Thomas all made their mark on one of the best regular season games the league has ever seen.
Raleigh Flyers at DC Breeze — May 12, 2018
Like Los Angeles-Austin, this Raleigh-DC battle was an interdivisional matchup a couple years ago. With AUDL realignment heading into the 2020 season, of course, both LA-Austin and Raleigh-DC are new and exciting divisional rivalries. But I digress… The Flyers and Breeze have met twice and delivered the goods both times, an overtime game in 2017 (that was one of the tough cuts from this list) and this mid-May thriller that actually had a closer final score than the aforementioned OT tussle.
Take your pick from the large quantity of “Wow!” moments, from Rowan McDonnell’s leaping Callahan to Jonathan Nethercutt’s absurd behind-the-back flick buzzer-beater to Noah Saul’s shoulder-high layout block to Jacob Mouw’s accelerating full-extension snag on the goal-line; to sum it up, the throws and catches throughout this contest were tremendously high level. Another fun dynamic of this matchup was the duel of MVPs, as Nethercutt and McDonnell kept trading barbs, with each impacting the game relentlessly and differently. Nethercutt tallied 11 assists and one goal, while McDonnell accumulated two assists and 10 goals. Mischa Freystaetter, Jack Williams, Matt Bode, and Brett Matzuka all enjoyed individual highlights for the Flyers too, while the Breeze got significant contributions from Jeff Wodatch, Matt Kerrigan, Austin Bartenstein, and Delrico Johnson.
Toronto Rush at DC Breeze — June 9, 2018
Less then a month after that Raleigh-DC nailbiter, the Breeze treated us to another frantic finish on their home field. The Toronto Rush arrived with a 8-0 record, a streak that included a 33-20 rout of DC a couple weeks earlier in Ontario, but the Breeze demonstrated quickly that the rematch would have a very different flavor. While Toronto never led by more than four, the Rush constantly played from ahead, never trailing through the first three quarters. Isaiah Masek-Kelly and Ben Burelle were super impactful, while Hugh Knapp made an awesome first impression in his debut performance with the Rush.
Despite Toronto’s depth and skill, the story of the night was DC’s Rowan McDonnell, whose MVP march continued with a dazzling performance that showcased his all-around brilliance. Less than a month after devastating Raleigh by scoring 10 goals, McDonnell tormented Toronto with his complex arsenal of throws, accumulating eight assists and 72 completions, with just two turnovers. For good measure, McDonnell added a pair of goals and was one of seven members of the Breeze to score multiple times on the night. And yet it was a largely unheralded competitor that became the hero in the waning moments of overtime, sending seismic shockwaves through the East Division with the narrative-shifting result.