April 13, 2021
By Evan Lepler
It’s finally starting to feel real, and yeah, after nearly two full years of waiting, it absolutely will be spectacular. The next AUDL season, long an uncertainty that we’ve been waiting nearly 21 months for, is now just 52 days away.
If you haven’t already done it, get your calendars out!
On Monday, the league unveiled its 2021 schedule, with plans for 114 regular season games over 12 weeks from June 4 to August 22, followed by seven playoff experiences over the following three weekends, all culminating with the title tilt under the lights in Washington D.C. slated for September 11. Many teams have already begun practicing, all with the dream of competing for that championship on one of the last summer Saturdays before the leaves turn. The journey to that eventual destination, once an abstract idea, is now a distinct path, as each franchise can begin to honestly visualize its road to success.
There’s no question that it’s gonna be a difficult grind, with a dozen games jammed into as many weeks, including a total of 35 doubleheader weekends (defined as a team having multiple games on the same weekend). These twin-bills are almost always Friday/Saturday or Saturday/Sunday struggles, exhausting back-to-back battles that create circumstantial hurdles in a season where fatigue and conditioning could be even bigger factors than they have been in the past.
The Madison Radicals and Pittsburgh Thunderbirds are no longer in the same division, but they are the two teams with three doubleheader weekends apiece. For Madison, they're scheduled for Friday/Saturday in Week 1, Week 5, and Week 9, featuring two Friday night games against Chicago across the three weekends. For Pittsburgh, they're scheduled for Friday/Saturday in Week 3, Week 9, and Week 11, a six-game murderer’s row that includes two games with New York and also road challenges at Philadelphia, Raleigh, Atlanta, and Boston! That is, in a word, Yikes! Sure is a good thing Max Sheppard’s only taken one day off from training since the 2019 season ended.
Another dozen teams have a pair of doubleheader weekends throughout the summer, though perhaps the couple corresponding byes will be important and timely. Conversely, defending champion New York Empire is the only franchise that has zero weeks off, eschewing doubleheaders for the privilege/burden of having just one contest each weekend for 12 straight weeks without a breather.
One quirk of the 2021 schedule is the rise of Friday night ultimate. Currently, there are multiple games on 11 of the 12 Friday evenings, with the third Friday in June featuring five different matchups, more than any other Friday I can ever recall. Among other minutiae, there are a season-low seven games slated for Week 5 (July 2-4), but there will be at least eight games in every other week. And get ready to begin this quest with a bang! The busiest slate of the season actually arrives on opening weekend, a 12-game barrage with every single team in action and five franchises playing two games apiece.
For a deeper dive into the breakdown of the schedule, here’s an eagle-eyed view of the layout:
- Week 1—June 4-5: 12 games (4 Fri, 8 Sat)
- Week 2—June 11-12: 9 games (2 Fri, 7 Sat)
- Week 3—June 18-20: 11 games (5 Fri, 5 Sat, 1 Sun)
- Week 4—June 25-27: 11 games (4 Fri, 6 Sat, 1 Sun)
- Week 5—July 2-3: 7 games (3 Fri, 4 Sat)
- Week 6—July 9-11: 8 games (1 Fri, 6 Sat, 1 Sun)
- Week 7—July 16-18: 11 games (2 Fri, 7 Sat, 2 Sun)
- Week 8—July 23-24: 8 games (2 Fri, 6 Sat)
- Week 9—July 30-August 1: 11 games (2 Fri, 7 Sat, 2 Sun)
- Week 10—August 6-8: 10 games (2 Fri, 7 Sat, 1 Sun)
- Week 11—August 13-15: 8 games (2 Fri, 5 Sat, 1 Sun)
- Week 12—August 20-22: 8 games (2 Fri, 5 Sat, 1 Sun)
If you’re doing the math, that’s 114 games, six at home and six on the road for the 19 teams located in the United States. (Our three Canadian clubs, Montreal Royal, Ottawa Outlaws, and Toronto Rush, will embark on their own competitive tussle starting in July. We’ll miss ya, MontreOttaRonto, and we eagerly await your return to the league-wide story in 2022. I’ll be dreaming of my next plate of poutine every night between now and then.)
Here’s the breakdown of two-game weekends for the 12-week slate and how many each team has on its schedule. Notably, the number of doubleheader weekends is equal to the number of weekend’s off each team has.
- Week 1: DC, Detroit, Indy, Madison, Tampa Bay
- Week 2: None
- Week 3: Boston, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Diego
- Week 4: Austin, Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay
- Week 5: Madison, Seattle
- Week 6: Chicago, Minnesota, Philadelphia
- Week 7: Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Indy
- Week 8: Los Angeles, San Diego
- Week 9: Madison, Pittsburgh, San Jose, Seattle
- Week 10: DC, Raleigh
- Week 11: Minnesota, Pittsburgh
- Week 12: Boston, San Jose
- Atlanta: 1
- Austin: 2
- Boston: 2
- Chicago: 1
- Dallas: 2
- DC: 2
- Detroit: 2
- Indianapolis: 2
- Los Angeles: 2
- Madison: 3
- Minnesota 2
- New York: 0
- Philadelphia: 2
- Pittsburgh: 3
- Raleigh: 1
- San Diego: 2
- San Jose: 1
- Seattle: 2
- Tampa Bay: 2
The other noteworthy dynamic of the 2021 schedule is the reality that, unlike the Central and West Divisions, the (super) Atlantic’s 12-game marathon is not competitively balanced. Technically, neither is the West’s, but the geographic rivalries in the new West Division make it quite sensible for each team to play their primary travel partner—Dallas & Austin, LA & San Diego, San Jose & Seattle—four times apiece, while playing the other four teams twice, once at home and one on the road. In the five-team Midwest, each team plays the other four three times apiece, a relatively simple and easy arrangement.
In the expanded Atlantic, however, the eight-team battle royale—sadly, without the Royal—consists of each team having five opponents that they play twice, once at home and once on the road, and two franchises that they will only see once. Without knowing for sure how good everyone’s gonna be after nearly two years without competition, it’s tough to categorically state who got lucky in terms of who they only have to face one. But you don’t need to be a postgraduate seeking your Masters in ultimate to predict that New York and Raleigh both should be pretty good again. Boston, DC, Pittsburgh, and Tampa all have to face the Empire and Flyers twice apiece, while Atlanta and Philly only have three total games against the presumptive top two. The Hustle will not travel to New York, and the Phoenix get everyone but Raleigh at home. Oh, and the Flyers and Empire, who gave us the game of the year when their then-interdivisional classic went to double OT in 2019, are only scheduled to see each other once in the 2021 regular season, an early August affair in the Big Apple.
Here’s the team-by-team breakdown of who each team only has to play once in the Atlantic:
- Atlanta: @ Boston, vs. New York
- Boston: vs. Atlanta, @ DC
- DC: vs. Boston, @ Pittsburgh
- New York: @ Atlanta, vs. Raleigh
- Philadelphia: vs. Tampa Bay, @ Raleigh
- Pittsburgh: @ Tampa Bay, vs. DC
- Raleigh: vs. Philadelphia, @ New York
- Tampa Bay: @ Philadelphia, vs. Pittsburgh
The minor competitive advantages or disadvantages are what they are, but it’s safe to say no one has it easy. And certainly, the third place teams in the Central and West—divisions where only the top two will advance to the postseason—will not have a shred of sympathy for whoever comes in fifth or sixth in the Atlantic, where the top four will qualify for the playoffs and consequently be just one win away from Championship Weekend after the regular season concludes.
The last tantalizing aspect of the 2021 schedule release today is the newness of everything, especially in the Atlantic. This hit me on Monday afternoon while scrolling through Instagram and seeing the Atlanta Hustle’s graphic hyping their six home games. The slate begins with the familiar Flyers, but then features four straight home games against franchises that the Hustle have never played before. That freshness has to feel super cool for both the players and fans to get these new opponents coming into their home stadium for the first time.
That feeling should linger throughout the entire season, with unprecedented matchups ready to debut alongside several old-time rivalries that are desperate to be rekindled. Who’s curious to see what the expansion Boston Glory will show against Pittsburgh in the Steel City in Week 1? Can I interest you in another potential OT classic between DC and Raleigh in Week 2? How about Dallas’ first ever jaunt to the west coast in Week 4 or a Seattle trek through Texas in Week 5? The AUDL’s first Boston-New York tussle will highlight Week 7, and Week 8 brings the gift of San Diego’s doubleheader safari through the Lone Star State, a weekend the Growlers have been thirsting for since the 2019 final four.
There’s only one contest currently scheduled for the final day of the regular season on Sunday, August 22, but that could very well be the de facto first playoff game, with Madison and Minnesota each needing a victory to keep their season alive. Long before that bookending battle, though, the Radicals and Wind Chill will also clash on Friday, June 4, as the AUDL returns following a 663 day absence, with Madison and Minnesota each trying to set the tone for the 12-game odyssey that will arrive, unfold, and end all too quickly.
If only the 52 days between now and opening night could fly by that fast.
Seven on the Line
- By this point, you have presumably heard about Chicago’s huge superstar haul. Last week, the AUDL Minute revealed the signings of former Madison Radicals Peter Graffy and Pat Shriwise, former Indianapolis AlleyCat Keegan North, ultimate legend and two-time AUDL champ Kurt Gibson, and young phenom Joe White, who will be a pro ultimate rookie this summer after winning gold medals at College Nationals (in 2017) and U-24 Worlds with Team USA (in 2018 and 2019). These additions, along with the three-year commitments from returning stars like Pawel Janas and Nate Goff, have quickly reshaped the narrative surrounding 2021 expectations for a team that has averaged just five wins a year over the past three seasons. While the credit for constructing such a strong overall roster can be divvied around to many different people, Coach Dave Woods thinks one captain in particular deserves most of the praise. “Charlie Furse was a recruiting powerhouse,” said Woods. “I tell him all the time, you’re the reason why we have the roster that we do. Don’t let anyone else take credit.” Furse, who will turn 31 this June, is entering his third season with Chicago. He was named captain prior to the 2020 season getting canceled, and his efforts and energies throughout the endless offseason may end up being viewed as critical groundwork for the Union’s 2021 aspirations. “I will never undervalue or underestimate the value of offseason/preseason recruiting,” said Woods. “Just having conversations with people, planting seeds, revisiting the crops, however you want to use the metaphor. I would say 75 percent of the roster this year is because the efforts of Charlie Furse.”
- There’s no doubt that top notch recruiting can be a gamechanger, but occasionally a team will just get exceptionally fortunate with high-end talent simply showing up and wanting a chance to compete. This is basically what happened recently with the San Jose Spiders and their new BYU duo, Jordan Kerr and Jacob Miller, who live in Utah but were eager to join an AUDL team for the 2021 season. “The Utah thing, I wish there was a secret or magic sauce, but we just put out our tryout form, and they just applied, they walked in off the street,” said Spiders GM Jackson Stearns. “[Head Coach] Dan [Silverstein] actually thought it was gonna be a troll, cause it was just a google form, but I was like, yeah maybe it’s not. Let’s reply and see what’s up, so we set up a call with them. They had also applied to the Growlers and to LA, and we were the only ones who got back to them in a timely manner. We emphasized that we’re trying to build something in San Jose, a new ownership group, and [they’re] gonna be able to learn a ton and get the reps to develop…They’re both exceptional young men. They both have been incredibly responsive, humble, hard-working, and bought-in on everything we’re trying to do. Really excited to have them.” How good have Kerr and Miller been in college the past couple years? Since the start of 2019, their BYU men’s ultimate program has become one of the most dominant juggernauts in the country, going 41-4 with landmark wins over several powerhouse programs, a spree that includes triumphs over Wisconsin, Texas, Pittsburgh, Oregon, Carleton, Minnesota, and UMass, among others.
- One especially cool roster tidbit from Austin: 35-year-old Joe Sefton, whose last AUDL action came in the 2016 Championship game as a member of the Seattle Cascades, has signed with the Sol for the 2021 season. A member of the 2016 USA Men’s National Team that won gold at WUGC in London, Sefton left Seattle back in October and enjoyed ‘a wild ride’ as he put it, making several pitstops on his way to Austin, where he finally arrived and settled into his new home about a month ago. He participated in his first full team minicamp with the Sol this past weekend, and his new coach was thrilled with Sefton’s impact. “He was just an incredible teammate,” said Head Coach Steven Naji. “Always led by example. He was as humble as any player could be. He brings a winning mentality, and it’s already rubbed off on everyone.” On his initial impressions of his new surroundings, Sefton said, “I think we have a massive amount of energy, raw talent, and egoless-ness. It’s been super fun experiencing a new city with a different friz culture and practices. I think I have a lot to learn from all of them and have plenty of experience, success, and most importantly, some massive past failures to share with them and learn from.”
- Who knew that the 2014 Indianapolis AlleyCats’ roster would produce two AUDL Head Coaches? The aforementioned Naji, who played 14 out of 15 games for the Cats (including the playoffs) seven years ago, is leading the Austin Sol. Meanwhile, Will Drumright, who suited up in 10 contests in that 2014 Indy campaign, takes over as the AlleyCats new Head Coach following Eric Leonard’s decision to step down after the 2019 season, when Indianapolis advanced all the way to the final four. In fact, it was only a couple months later that Drumright was named as Leonard’s successor in October of 2019, so he’s been anxiously waiting seemingly forever for the opportunity to lead, something that he finally got to do at the team’s rain-soaked tryout event this past weekend. “The weirdest start to a coaching tenure I think I can imagine,” said Drumright, summing up his journey since accepting the job about 18 months ago. “What a daunting time to try and take over a franchise when they’ve had their best year ever as an organization, and then the world stood still.” Outside of ultimate, Drumright is a professional mental conditioning coach, focusing on working with athletes on mental toughness and maximizing performance, a job he’s had throughout the past decade. That experience, along with his ultimate background, position him well to assume the leadership reins in Indianapolis, though it’s impossible to overlook the key losses that Indy has endured. They had spent months preparing for life with all-time greats Cameron Brock and Keenan Plew, who both retired in the second half of 2020. But up until about a week ago, the Cats were preparing for 2021 with an expectation that Keegan North would be returning for a third year with the franchise. Many on the AlleyCats were stunned when word trickled out that North had made the decision to sign with Chicago instead, leaving Indy without another past weapon for their upcoming season. “A week ago, Keegan was central to what we were trying to build,” Drumright told me on Sunday night, a few days after it was officially announced that North would join the Union. “That hurt. There’s no way around it. It’s one of those things, it’s kind of a gut punch…I understand why he made the move, but unfortunately we’re on the opposite end of the breakup.” Despite North’s departure, Indy remains very optimistic about their chances to compete with the best in their division. Certainly, there’s no question that Travis Carpenter, Rick Gross, and the rest of the AlleyCats will have an abundance of motivation when they match up with Chicago on the season’s opening Saturday night. “We’re still the defending champions of the Central, and we want to make sure we come out strong,” said Drumright. “Got 53 days to figure out our plan.”
- While many of Chicago’s new marquee signees were not yet in attendance, Union Coach Dave Woods seemed especially pleased with the effort and spirit he witnessed at his team’s first practice. Of course, he still felt obliged to try and protect his players from themselves, at times. “All these players have a year of pent-up competitive energy that they’re just ready to unleash,” said Woods, about Chicago’s initial team workout. “However, nobody’s played competitive hard ultimate in a year, so you’re almost hesitant to say ‘go all out at practice’ cause it’s more like ‘don’t hurt yourself at practice, we only have a month-plus to get ready for the season.’ But the energy and the excitement is tangible. Everyone is elated, excited, relieved almost, just to be out playing together.” From the promo department, you can hear more from Coach Woods on the third episode of AUDL Weekly, which premieres tomorrow, Wednesday, April 14, at 8 PM on Facebook.
- Jeff Landesman has been a huge fan of the Los Angeles Aviators since the franchise’s first game in 2015. In the six years since, he’s watched dozens of games, seen a new favorite player emerge—his son, Danny Landesman, scored 32 goals in 10 games as an 18-year-old AUDL rookie for the Aviators in 2019—and, most recently, became the franchise’s fourth Head Coach, a role that’s becoming more real with every passing day. Jeff was a great player in the pre-AUDL club days, advancing all the way to several semifinals and finals at Club Nationals in the late 80s and early 90s. Furthermore, he’s coached a variety of sports throughout his life and won a gazillion games leading his son’s youth soccer teams—he credits Danny’s on-field skills way more than his sideline strategies—but now, leading a professional ultimate team coming out of a pandemic, is a sizable new challenge for one of the long-time stars of LA’s local community leagues. “I am not too proud to ask for help and get some support and help from people who’ve been playing and doing it,” said Jeff, who adds that his passion for ultimate has been all-consuming since the time he was 16 years old as a high school junior in New York City. “My goal in coaching is always to put a good product on the field, where the players and people who are participating and watching are having a good time. Obviously, winning too, I’m a very competitive person.” The Aviators will have a very different look as franchise mainstays like Tyler Bacon, Aaron Weaver, and Zach Theodore will not be on the field in 2021. Another LA All-Star, Sean McDougall, is still deciding whether he will be able to make the commitment for the upcoming season. But Los Angeles does have the coach’s son, now a sophomore at the University of Colorado, returning along with fellow youthful sensations and Cal Poly SLO students, Calvin Brown and KJ Koo, giving the Aviators an uber-talented trio of early 20-something potential that Jeff Landesman absolutely can build around. “Jeff is a legend,” said Aviators captain Michael Kiyoi. “And he’s been around ultimate for a long time. I respect his experience and his passion for the game. He’s just a super positive fun guy. He’s gonna do a great job leading us this season. I have no doubt about that.”
- One correction to make regarding something I’ve said over the past couple weeks about Pawel Janas’ new three-year contract with Chicago. After asking around and conversing with many people, both at the league level along with owners and players, I believed that Janas’s three-year pact was the first of that length in the league’s history, but I’ve since been informed that the Tampa Bay Cannons quietly inked former Atlanta standout Nathan Vickroy to a three-year deal three years ago. Back on April 8, 2018, eight days AFTER he played his first game for the Cannons, the team’s twitter officially welcomed Vickroy to Tampa Bay, highlighting his top-end speed, ankle-breaking cuts, and precision throws. “We look forward to seeing his athleticism and skill on full display for years to come!” said the tweet, with a non-specificity that begs the question, why not make a bigger deal about it? Whatever the reason for it, Vickroy will now be recognized going forward as the first to sign a three-year contract in AUDL history, at least until some other surreptitiously signed agreement comes to light. Regardless, I regret the error.