June 22, 2021
By Evan Lepler
It speaks volumes about the sheer insanity of Week 2’s results that this past weekend felt slightly dull by comparison. None of the 12 games in Week 3 were overly mind-boggling, and most of the games were decided by fairly comfortable margins.
But dig just a bit deeper and you realize that Week 3 wasn’t exactly devoid of drama either. Overtime was necessary in two different games in the West, with Los Angeles dropping a game it should have won in Austin and San Diego winning a game it probably should have lost in Seattle.
The Raleigh Flyers, forecasted to finish 10-2 by this columnist, had to win their fourth quarter against Boston to avoid a third straight setback.
New York and Dallas both earned victories, but neither looked anywhere close to the form we saw from each of them in the 2019 AUDL Championship Game.
Meanwhile, as the Empire and Roughnecks still seek their groove, DC and Atlanta are showcasing early-season excellence, the Breeze featuring a red-hot offense and Hustle earning style points with their dominant D. Chicago’s certainly been sharp, too, though the Union have benefitted from a very friendly early-season schedule, and are still waiting for a true challenge.
And then you have Philadelphia and Austin, both still among the league’s five remaining undefeated teams. The Phoenix and Sol are each 2-0, though all of their wins have come at home. Beckoning this weekend, they’ll each experience their first road doubleheader of the summer, a difficult journey that will test their talents and togetherness, as Boston learned the hard way during their first twin-bill this past weekend.
Nearly half the teams in the league have already played four games, meaning that those nine franchises are already one-third of the way through their 12-game regular seasons. For the struggling, there’s still time to turn things around. Similarly, those currently in the top tier understand that they have not accomplished anything yet.
The final regular season games will be played two months from today. At the moment, the only thing I’m certain about is how much fun the next couple months are gonna be.
The Full Field Layout
Aside from individual heroics like Chris Graber’s insane SportsCenter-worthy snag, Brendan McCann’s absurd buzzer-beating scoober to Tanner Halkyard, and Jacob Wham’s outrageous end-of-quarter in-field greatest, the best thing I saw this past weekend was DC’s ruthlessly efficient offense. It’s time everyone takes note of how brilliant the Breeze have been.
Heading into the season, the narrative centered largely on former AUDL MVP Rowan McDonnell, with a belief that the Breeze offense would go only as far as he took it. Through four games, the reality could not be more different; McDonnell has, by design, been an exceptional role player, while many others have stepped up to borderline star status.
“I was totally invisible on the field,” said McDonnell, following the Breeze’s opening weekend when he only registered one goal and one assist in two games. “And I’m totally fine with that. A step back for me with my on-field role, and it hasn’t slowed us down. It’s made us better.”
With Rowan’s responsibilities diminishing, Jonny Malks and Zach Norrbom were ready to rise. Combined, Malks and Norrbom have completed an astonishing 99.6 percent of their throws, 254-for-255, a scintillating rate that’s frankly unsustainable over the full season but has been a huge factor in the Breeze’s unreal success thus far. Malks is +21 through four games, the second-highest plus/minus in the league, only trailing Boston’s Halkyard.
But focusing on high-usage handler statistics still undersells why DC’s offense has only been broken one time in its last six quarters. Beyond the individual excellence, the Breeze have showcased tremendous balance, patience, and big-play potential. Implicit in all these things is the concept of trust, a ubiquitously-aspired to on-field quality that is probably rarer than we think. DC’s nine-man O-line—McDonnell, Malks, and Zach Norrbom were primarily accompanied by Garrett Braun, Jacques Nissen, Gus Norrbom, Jeff Wodatch, Joe Richards, and Joe Merrill rotating this past Friday against Boston—exuded trust in their dominant performance against the Glory.
“It was honestly one of the coolest experiences of my life, to play with absolute trust in all of my teammates,” said Merrill, who’s currently second in the league with 15 goals on the season. “There’s a wonderful mix of handlers, hybrids, and cutters, and we all have different skillsets. Darryl [Stanley] and Ty [Aderhold] put us together in a way that each of us can use our skills to help others excel.”
At the moment, it sure feels like all their offensive pieces fit perfectly. As a team, the Breeze are currently completing a league-best 97.2 percent of their throws—the record efficiency for a season in AUDL history, by the way, is 95.4 percent—and scoring 24.8 goals per game, also the most in the circuit. In Friday’s rout over Boston in front of a capacity crowd at Catholic University, the Breeze erupted for 32 goals, the franchise’s second highest total ever.
It’s easy to have fun when things are clicking so perfectly, but there is also a belief that things were actually clicking so perfectly because they were having so much fun.
“We all genuinely enjoy playing frisbee with one another,” said Richards, who caught four goals on Friday against the Glory. “The atmosphere on the O-line, and with this entire team, is so great. Practices and games are what I look forward to every week. There is something very organic about our offense, and I think fun is a big part of that. This O-line is something special, and I am just happy to be along for the ride.”
Obviously, the Breeze’s D-line offense factors in substantially too, and that unit was nearly flawless on Friday night, converting nine consecutive break chances and finishing 12-for-14 in break opportunities against the Glory. Virtually everyone played well in order to dominate so thoroughly, but 20-year-old AJ Merriman took his performance to a new level. Playing only D-points, Merriman still finished with a team-high +9, accumulating five assists, one goal, and three blocks in the best game of his still very young career. He’s currently tied for third in the whole league at +20 for the season, having easily surpassed in four games the +16 that he totaled in 11 games back in 2019 as an 18-year-old.
“I do not know many people that work as hard as AJ day in and day out to get better at the game of ultimate,” said Richards. “His growth and success may come as a surprise to many people who are on the outside looking in, but I am sure every single person on our team would tell you it was only a matter of time.”
The 3-1 Breeze are idle in Week 4 and return to the field with another huge home game against New York on Friday, July 2. DC’s only loss came against the Empire on June 4, a 19-18 buzzer-beating defeat that the Breeze will look to avenge in 10 days time.
Speaking of the Empire, New York improved to 2-0 behind Elliott Chartock’s 475 passing yards and seven assists against Pittsburgh, but the 24-19 victory on the road still left the defending champs somewhat unsatisfied with their overall performance. No one is apologizing for winning, but the Empire struggled to put away the still-winless Thunderbirds, who had the disc trailing by two late in the fourth before New York scored the final three goals of the game.
“It’s been real fun to play alongside such athletic and talented players,” said Chartock, who has nine assists in his first two games since joining the Empire. “However, as the season grows, my preferred win would definitely be one with fewer highlights, fewer skies, and ultimately fewer turnovers. With the pieces we have, I see our offensive unit as being one that can have at most one turnover a quarter for a full game, but thus far we aren’t anywhere near this caliber of play.”
Similarly, the Dallas Roughnecks were delighted to bounce back from their opening loss at Austin with a solid 20-12 home victory over Los Angeles, but the Roughnecks also recognized that they still have a ways to go to rediscover their championship contending level.
“The win was much needed,” said new Roughnecks Coach Jim Davis. “Still sloppy, but the energy level improved dramatically. Of course, we are cognizant of the fact LA didn’t bring all of their stars, so we anticipate a much tougher game Friday.”
Abe Coffin and Matt Jackson anchored the offensive backfield for Dallas, completing 75-of-77 throws, while Jay Froude and Kaplan Maurer were the two busiest downfield targets, combining for six goals and six assists. But more important than the steadier offense—Dallas was only broken twice—was the Roughnecks’ intensifying D, which held an LA team that was missing key offensive contributors Calvin Brown and Danny Landesman to just 12 goals in 48 minutes.
“Overall, our defensive intensity is what carried us in our win against LA,” said Roughnecks Captain Carson Wilder. “Gabe [Hernandez], Ben Lewis, and Matt Armour made some awesome plays that really go the energy up, and Chase [Cunningham] is doing a great job leading the D-line on a turn.”
As one of the four teams in the league that has still only played two games through three weeks, the 1-1 Roughnecks expect significant improvement as they move onward, starting with a doubleheader road trip to SoCal this Friday and Saturday. The back-end of the back-to-back will feature the first meeting between Dallas and San Diego since the teams met at Championship Weekend in 2019.
“Honestly, I think the growth from here will be exponential,” said Wilder. “Guys are remembering what it is like to play with and for each other, and that goes a long way when motivation is the key. In the past, we have tried to hit midseason form about 75 percent of the way through, then really peak in the playoffs. I think this year will follow a very similar pattern.”
As for the Growlers, they moved to 3-1 by sweeping their two-game road trip through San Jose and Seattle, but needed a crazy comeback to sneak away with a win in overtime on Sunday. Against the Spiders, San Diego became the second straight visiting team to break San Jose’s O-line on the game’s first four points. While Seattle coughed up its big lead in the final quarter last weekend, the Growlers held firm on Friday night, winning the first half 14-8 and extending their lead post-halftime to prevail 23-16.
Two days later, the Growlers regressed to making many of the same offensive mistakes that were prevalent in their first two games against Los Angles, but they also kept grinding and capitalized on Seattle’s recurring fourth quarter woes.
“Their throws were better in the first three quarters; our legs were better in the fourth and overtime,” said San Diego’s Will Turner, who completed all 28 of his passes across the Growlers’ weekend.
After getting outscored 5-2 in the fourth quarter, the Cascades actually broke San Diego’s O-line on the first possession of overtime, only to see the Growlers run off the game’s final three goals to win 18-16. Turner and new teammate Jordan Queckboerner were both credited by teammates as making clutch plays throughout the game’s pivotal moments, and they each had tallied a game-best +5 when the final buzzer sounded.
“We prevailed in some pretty windy games,” said Growlers Captain Goose Helton. “Which is great because that has been a weakness of ours in the past…We haven’t played anywhere near our ceiling. That is obviously both frustrating and exciting. We are looking forward to Dallas this weekend, and who knows, maybe we’ll have our first low-wind game of the season. Wouldn’t that be fun!”
Added Turner, “We have not yet found our rhythm, and I am feeling very fortunate to walk away from that road trip 2-0. However, it seems like each game has been an improvement. We’re looking faster and starting to play more like a team. The defense has the potential to make a lot of noise in the latter half of the season. We’re just getting started.”
San Diego would have risen into first place had Los Angeles hung on against Austin, but the Sol eked out an overtime win to get to 2-0 and remain the only unbeaten team in the West Division.
The Aviators trailed 12-10 at halftime, but led 19-17 on Sean McDougall’s score with less than three minutes remaining. The Aviators also were up 20-19 in the final minute, but Zach Slayton’s first career AUDL assist was a smooth 30-yard hammer that found Joe Sefton for the equalizer with just five seconds left, prompting overtime. Austin dialed up the D in the bonus five minutes, outscoring Los Angeles 2-0 to survive with a 22-20 win.
“The game came down to some really solid D that forced them to make a lot of tough under throws,” said Austin’s Matt Bennett.
Evan Swiatek recorded four blocks, while Elliott Moore got three. Offensively, Paul Starkel anchored the Sol’s offense with 47 completions and no throwaways, dishing for 298 yards in the process. As mentioned in Monday’s Honor Roll, the Aviators got a huge weekend from McDougall, but it did not translate into any Los Angeles victories during their Texas two-step.
“I was so proud of us, the way we came back,” said Aviators Coach Jeff Landesman. “Both of those [Texas] teams have great players, but our team has realized we can beat anybody in the West.”
The Aviators were clearly frustrated with a couple late calls that went against them, but also recognized that uncharacteristic mistakes in the form of six drops and several other errant throws were the reason that they ultimately failed to earn a weekend split.
“We shoulda never been in overtime, and I know that,” said Landesman.
Los Angeles does expect to have Calvin Brown and Danny Landesman back on the field for their rematch against the Roughnecks on Friday night.
If things had transpired differently in the fourth quarter in Raleigh on Saturday night, the exciting Glory-Flyers game absolutely would have been more prominently placed in today’s Toss. Both teams entered the evening understanding that the loser would be mired in a three-game losing streak, but Raleigh was the team without a single win yet this season and most desperate to get off the schneid.
Throughout the first quarter, the Flyers looked fresh, fast, and feisty, breaking Boston’s O-line four times in the first seven minutes of the game. But the Glory eventually settled in and regained significant momentum on Tanner Halkyard’s second-quarter buzzer-beater, a score that inched Boston within three and a harbinger of the second-half rally that was ahead.
“We were winning the energy battle in the first quarter, but slowly let Boston take control of the energy by halftime,” said Raleigh’s Allan Laviolette.
The possibility of another excruciating Flyers loss became more possible when the Glory ran off three straight scores to tie the score early in the third and then got another thrilling break as the quarter concluded on a crazy multi-scoober six-second possession, which evened the score at 20 heading into the fourth. But Raleigh regained its composure and made several clutch plays in the last 12 minutes, prevailing 27-24 thanks to Joey Cretella’s two tremendous late blocks and Eric Taylor’s all-around excellence as a versatile O-line threat.
Taylor went 39-for-39 for a game-high 400 yards passing and six assists, while also registering one goal, one block, and 177 receiving yards. Laviolette matched Taylor’s +8, while Anders Juengst contributed five goals and four assists, finishing +7.
“I think our adjustment was not to play with urgency, but to play with confidence,” said Laviolette. “We added pieces to the team we are excited about like Matt [Gouchoe-Hanas], Derz, and [Matt] McKnight, but we needed to tap into what made us successful in 2019, which was the powerhouse combo of [Henry] Fisher and [Jacob] Fairfax.”
Indeed, Fisher and Fairfax both had their best games of the year thus far, combining for seven goals, two assists, and six hockey assists.
On the Boston side, Ben Sadok caught 11 goals and dished five assists in Boston’s two-game weekend, with Halkyard having a monster Saturday with six goals, five assists, and two blocks in a +11 performance against the Flyers.
“I am proud of our game against Raleigh despite the final score,” said Halkyard. “I think it does show that when we fire each other up, this group of Boston guys is incredible at building off that energy and confidence to pull ahead.”
Unfortunately, despite a great effort over the final three quarters on Saturday, the Glory dropped to 1-3 on the season heading into a critical three-game homestand.
“We went down 5-1, and it was like, ‘uh oh, are the floodgates about to open?’ But I am incredibly proud of the team for going down like that, then battling back for the final three quarters with vigor,” said McCann, whose buzzer beating scoober to Halkyard at the end of the third may have been the play of the game. “The heat, long bus ride, and game the day before definitely had some people beaten up, but I thought our effort through the Raleigh game was something to take with us and hold our heads high. Had we gotten blown out in Raleigh, the team attitude could be drastically different.”
Seven On The Line
Some numbers from three weeks of the season: there have been 31 games thus far, including four overtime contests, with home teams going 19-12. In those 31 tilts, there have been 51 300-yard throwing performances, 28 300-yard receiving performances, and only three 300/300 games (Indy’s Travis Carpenter vs. Detroit, Atlanta’s Parker Bray at Boston, and Boston’s Ben Sadok at DC). No one has thrown for more yards in a game than Detroit’s Joe Cubitt, who tossed for 642 in the Mechanix’s opening effort against the AlleyCats. Interestingly, Cubitt’s teammate Andrew Sjogren holds the league’s two highest single-game receiving totals thus far, accumulating 542 receiving yards against Indy in Week 2 after tabulating 495 in Week 1.
While the Mechanix have some impressive individual yardage exploits and a fresh new marketing slogan, they still did very little to keep it competitive against Chicago on Saturday. The Union only turned the disc over nine times and never got broken in their 30-13 romp, serving Detroit defeat for the 42nd consecutive time that the Mechanix have taken the field. The Union actually limited Sjogren to a season-low 245 receiving yards, though that still was a a game-high, while the Union displayed a balanced attack that saw 11 players score multiple goals and eight players record multiple assists. Pawel Janas paced Chicago with 318 throwing yards and six assists, while Nate Goff racked up four blocks and a game-high +8. Jeff Robinson and Cal Tornabene each added three blocks apiece, as the Union improved to 3-0, outscoring their three opponents 73-43. There’s no question that Chicago has looked like one of the top teams in the league so far, but it’s impossible to know exactly how the Union compare to the rest of the elite until they face some adversity. We shall see if a trip to Indianapolis this Saturday creates any stress for Chicago, though I’d be surprised if it did.
Speaking of a stress-free experience, the Atlanta Hustle stampeded to a 12-4 halftime lead and rolled over Tampa Bay on the road, 24-13. Typically, the Hustle have struggled in their trips to Florida, only winning one previous excursion to the Sunshine State, however the Hustle defense converted a season-best 13 breaks while forcing 33 Tampa turnovers. “Our D-line went out there and punch them from the moment we got out there,” Atlanta’s Kennith Taylor said in a postgame Hustle Instagram post. “We kept the pressure the whole game.” Kelvin Williams tallied three more blocks, while Dean Ramsey, Brett Hulsmeyer, and Sun Choi each had two apiece. Overall, the Hustle are allowing just 16.7 goals per game, the second-fewest in the league behind Chicago, who’s only permitted 14.3.
Who’s third in the league in scoring defense? That would be the 2-0 Philadelphia Phoenix, who’ve given up just 34 total goals in their pair of home victories, including a 27-18 triumph over Commonwealth rival Pittsburgh on Saturday.
A 10-5 second quarter broke open an otherwise close game, though the Phoenix did outscore the Thunderbirds in all four quarters for the satisfying victory. “Always great to start 2-0, but honestly those are two games that we are supposed to win in our minds,” said Philly Coach David Hampson. “The big test starts this weekend.” Indeed, the Phoenix should be revealed as either a contender or a pretender based upon how they fare at Raleigh and Atlanta this Friday and Saturday. If Greg Martin can replicate his +10 performance from the Pittsburgh game against the Flyers or Hustle, that would certainly help the Phoenix’s cause in their first first every trip this far south. “The next two games will be challenging, and that is fine,” said Martin, who recorded six goals, three assists, one block, and 455 receiving yards against Pittsburgh. “Personally, I like away games, and I am looking forward to playing teams that might not fully know us. We have a young, talented, and conditioned team that is getting better each week.” Realistically, if the Phoenix could go 1-1 this weekend, that would be a huge statement for the improving organization. But Hampson will not necessarily judge his team by the result, win or lose. “We are judging success based on our ability to execute at a high level all the time,” he said. “I mean, we beat the Thunderbirds and I would not consider that game an overall win for us. We had many unforced errors and mistakes that we do not want to be making. Even though that’s a ‘win’ it was one that still felt bittersweet because we knew that we left a lot on the table.”
The Minnesota Wind Chill also recorded a huge victory in their quest to return to the postseason by warding off Madison 24-19 on Friday night in St. Paul.
Adding in their opening night win over the Radicals, the Wind Chill are well-positioned to orient themselves as Chicago’s top challenger for the Central title. Brett Matzuka recorded three blocks in his Minnesota debut, completing 28 of his 29 throws in returning from his preseason hamstring injury. Tony Poletto went 52-for-52 to anchor the Wind Chill backfield, while Andrew Roy and Will Brandt again complemented Poletto perfectly. Combined, that trio went 136-for-138. Still, the Radicals were within one early in the fourth quarter, but never made the clutch play to swing the game as the Wind Chill pulled away late. “It seemed like we were always one break away from getting back on top,” said Madison Captain Josh Wilson. “But we couldn’t get a break and a hold together. They were the better team this week, and we have work to do before we see them again.”
The Radicals did bounce back with a critical home win over Indy on Sunday, erasing an early 6-3 deficit in their 24-20 win. A loss would have sent the Rads spiraling to 1-3, but Madison now sits at 2-2 with the next game being a home matchup against a Detroit team that the Radicals already demolished 34-10 on the road. We have witnessed some wild end-of-quarter moments at Breese Stevens Field through the years, but Madison’s crazy play to beat the buzzer in the first on Sunday against the AlleyCats definitely belongs in the pantheon. “That play was insane! said Wilson, who went 33-for-33 passing over the weekend. “There were five seconds left in the first, and we just put out our end of quarter line. This line now included rookie Jacob Wham. Rami Paust picks up the disc and is immediately double-teamed. He throws a hammer from 30 yards out, and it is clear it will be just short of the end zone. Wham runs from inside the end zone, jumps, catches the disc, and throws a crazy upside-down over the head chicken-wing. Veteran Chris Wilen makes a reaction layout to catch it in the end zone as the clock runs out. This tied the score and put the momentum back on our side to start the second quarter. One of the craziest plays I have ever seen.” That was one of Madison’s 11 breaks in the game. Sterling Knoche led the team at +8, with six goals, one assist, and one block. From the Indy perspective, Conner Henderson had four blocks and Travis Carpenter/Xavier Payne both completed 62 throws in 63 attempts, but Madison’s dominant second quarter built a lead that the Radicals would not relinquish. “My takeaway from this weekend was that we are mentally ready for the rest of the season,” added Wilson. “We were able to come back from a bad loss and refocus and get a much-needed win.”
An interesting emergence and cool story to close it out: San Diego’s Reggie Sung had participated in eight AUDL games prior to this past weekend. In 67 points played, the Cal Poly SLO-alum had never scored a goal or dished an assist. In the Growlers 2-0 road trip through San Jose and Seattle, however, he finally broke through, snatching two goals and recording one assist in a pair of victories on Friday and Sunday. Will Turner even mentioned Sung as one of the players of the game following the overtime win in Seattle, saying he recorded a key layout grab to save an important possession and was simply a workhorse for the whole game. But perhaps his most memorable moment from the weekend was not on the ultimate field on Friday or Sunday, but instead at T-Mobile Park on Saturday, where several Growlers attended the Rays-Mariners baseball game on their ultimate off-day. Sitting in the bleachers, Sung actually caught a game-tying home run that Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe hit in the top of the ninth. But since he was in Seattle, and amongst many Mariners fans, Sung apparently wanted to blend in. Moments after he caught the home run ball, he threw it back onto the field to the delight of the crowd. Seattle won the Saturday ballgame in extras, and San Diego won the Sunday flatball game in OT, leaving teammates marveling at Sung’s performance in both.