July 18, 2023
By Evan Lepler
- The South goes through Atlanta
The Atlanta Hustle clinched the top seed in the South thanks to a dominant third quarter at Carolina on Saturday evening. It was an historic day of firsts for the Hustle, as the 25-19 victory was also the first time ever that the Hustle won a road regular season game against the Flyers.
“Walking out as regular season champs was very gratifying,” said Matt Smith, one of four members of the Hustle who’ve been on the team since its inception in 2015. “Of course, we’re not satisfied with just that and we’ll be looking to grow and improve over the next three weekends, but it’s certainly an achievement for the team and something we celebrated for the weekend before looking ahead.” The Hustle did have one memorable previous win at Carolina, upsetting the Flyers on the road in the 2016 playoffs, but Atlanta had gone winless in their last seven trips to the Triangle before Saturday’s statement result. Smith and Christian Olsen each scored give goals, Brett Hulsmeyer tossed a career-high six assists, and the Hustle D-line, led by Dean Ramsey, Justin Burnett, and Jeremy Langdon, produced nine breaks. Collectively, that D-line trio totaled seven goals and seven blocks. “To be honest, Carolina gave us a lot of unforced turnovers, but I applaud our D-line for taking advantage of those opportunities, along with the ones they generated for themselves,” said Smith. “Out offense had its ups and downs, but we were committed to grinding and I was proud of the way we banded together.” The Hustle host the Flyers this Saturday night in their regular season finale, but regardless of the result, Atlanta will be the top seed and welcome either Austin or Carolina to Silverbacks Park for the South Division title game on August 12.
- Minnesota is three "home" wins away from a championship
After a mind-boggling start on Saturday against Chicago, the Wind Chill finally woke up. The Union led 4-0 and had the disc with the chance to make it 5-zip before Minnesota answered, but the Wind Chill’s D-line embraced the challenge and fueled an insane break train over the final three and a half quarters, en route to a 22-13 victory that clinched the top seed in the Central. “I could tell based on the way we warmed up that we were going to start poorly, in all honesty,” said Minnesota Captain Brandon Matis. “We didn’t feel dialed in, and the energy felt like we already had everything in the bag.” The Wind Chill’s early struggles were a gift that Chicago couldn’t completely unwrap, as the shorthanded Union could not even hold their early 4-0 lead through the end of the first quarter. Minnesota tied it 5-all through one, led 12-8 at half, and led 18-8 by the midway point of the third.
By the end of the night, the Wind Chill defense had a season-best 17 breaks and the Union endured 38 turnovers, their most in any game since 2017. The Chicago O-line scored on just 6-of-35 possessions, a putrid conversion rate of 17 percent, the second-worst single-game offensive efficiency in Union history. “I think we have the most underrated home-field advantage in the league,” said Maris. “Our fans show out big and [Head Coach/GM Ben] Feldman puts on a great event week in and week out, which is a big part of it. But even moreso is the tumultuous wind we seem to experience at Sea Foam [Stadium] [...] We’re uniquely positioned to dominate games and downright comfy when the conditions are not favorable. The [sideline] trap set got us so many turns Saturday.” Like Atlanta, Minnesota will have the privilege of hosting a divisional title game for the first time, as the Wind Chill will take on either Indy or Chicago in St. Paul on August 12. The difference is that while everyone else is trying to earn a trip to the Twin Cities for Championship Weekend, the Wind Chill know they will have home cooking all the way to the title, if they can get there. “It goes without saying that there’s added pressure to make Championship Weekend, both with it being at home and having been so close the last couple of seasons,” added Maris. “We’ve done our jobs well enough this season to put ourselves in a position to ensure that we only need one win at home to do so. I’m thrilled with the execution to get us to this point, but we can still find some consistency on offense and optimize our defensive sets further. The real work doesn’t stop here; it starts here.”
- Indy secures home field playoff game
A home loss this past Saturday would have put the AlleyCats into must-win desperation mode heading on the road for a Week 13 rematch at Pittsburgh, but Indianapolis ensured their playoff status by hanging on for a narrow 18-16 victory over the Thunderbirds. In the wake of Indy’s disappointing performance at Minnesota the previous week, it was a critical result for the AlleyCats’ confidence moving forward. “Saturday’s game was definitely a stabilizer for us,” said Indy’s Lucas Coniaris. “We obviously needed to win, but we wanted to win within our systems and get our swagger back offensively. I think, for the most part, we accomplished that.” The AlleyCats never led by more than two during any point in the first three quarters, but three straight goals to open the fourth created significant separation. From there, the Indy offense did enough to eke out the two-goal win. “In true AlleyCats fashion, they played solidly, prized possession, and kept the disc moving,” said Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Mast, who led the Thunderbirds’ offense by completing all 73 of his throws. Coniaris went 42-for-42, while Jeremy Keusch also enjoyed the finest statistical game of his career, totaling three goals, three assists, two blocks, and no turns. “We saw Jeremy Keusch step up big time for the offense,” said Coniaris. “His playmaking and defense on a turn kept us in the game the whole night. I would expect to continue to see him step up in big moments in the playoffs.” Indy will host Chicago on July 29, with the winner going to Minnesota for the Central title game two weeks later.
- Portland prevails for first time since May 2022
After a painful and frustrating 19-game losing streak, the Portland Nitro finally tasted victory this past Friday night against San Diego, pouncing on the Growlers early and never trailing for a single second in an 18-15 wire-to-wire win.
It was an enormously cathartic result for many on the Nitro who’ve endured all these consecutive losses. “Saturday morning was Christmas,” said Nitro Player/Coach Timmy Perston. “I woke up, texted my friend Chris Hancock, then drank some coffee. While sipping through my ear-to-ear grin, I was living in a different world. I walked the dogs and passed by others that were also living out a dream come true. Nitro won. The feeling lasted for a few hours, but it legitimately felt like everyone must we aware. We did it.” In the week leading up to the game, Perston kept reiterating one main point: the first goal of the 2024 Nitro season was a win against San Diego on July 14, 2023. He felt like it could be a turning point for the franchise, and while that still very much remains to be seen, Friday’s result was an important first step. “It took this long to find the blend of players to get on the teammateship,” he said. “It’s been a struggle. Not without effort though. We have been focused on small goals for each game and growth vision for each other…I reminded them that confidence breeds success, and success breeds confidence. But obviously we are lacking one of those, so fake the other! I gave each person carte blanche to display their swagger and peacock.” No individual on the Nitro tallied more than three goals or three assists, but collectively Portland managed a season-low 16 turnovers. It was the second fewest of any game in Nitro history; they only turned it 15 times in the franchise’s inaugural game, a 29-24 win over Seattle on May 1, 2022. Portland beat Oakland three weeks later, but then hit the skids and suffered setbacks in 19 consecutive outings, a streak that came to an end on Friday. “The weight lifted was real,” said Perston. “It can be done. Look out world!”
- Dallas also avoids winless 2023 campaign
While Dallas possessed just the fourth-longest losing streak in the league heading into the weekend, their 23-16 victory over Houston was a long-time coming for a team that sat at 0-9 and had lost 20 of its previous 21 games. On Saturday, the Legion won all four quarters against the Havoc, finishing with just 13 turnovers after having averaged more than 27 per game on the season. “We’ve been slowly figuring things out throughout the course of the season, and this weekend we were finally able to put all four quarters together in a pretty heavy-handed win,” said Dallas’ Connor DeLuna. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team not only for securing our first win this season, but the journey it took to get here to overcome so many obstacles. Over the past 4-5 games, there have been glimmers of the potential this young Dallas team has once we build on the chemistry and understand our roles on the field. Our last game against Austin, I would probably say, was our best showing until this weekend. We are trending in the right direction and from a captains’ perspective, it makes me proud to see the growth from everyone on the team this year.” The Legion O-line converted on 64 percent of their possessions, easily the most efficient performance of the season, and Houston’s D-line managed just one block in 48 minutes. “Our offense looked confident the entire game and took care of the disc and facilitated excellent disc movement up and down the field,” said DeLuna. “Alec Wilson Holliday, who is having an amazing sophomore season, has finally branched out from his typical deep cutter role and worked the under all game. Nobody on Houston could stop him, and the stats clearly showed that.” The Legion also enjoyed the return of Ben Rogers, who recorded two blocks while making his season debut after suffering an ACL injury last year. Looking to keep building positive vibes toward 2024, Dallas travels to Houston on Saturday and also plays next Tuesday night in Carolina—a make-up of a June postponement—to cap their 2023 season.
- Cascades cruise, face home finale against Portland
Since starting the season 0-5, the Seattle Cascades improved to 3-3 in their last six games by smacking San Diego 29-22 on Saturday night. Garrett Martin and Khalif El-Salaam were dually dominant, combining for 11 assists, five goals, two blocks, and almost 1,300 total yards between them, with just one total turnover. Tony Goss also went 50-for-50 for the Cascades offense, which actually set a franchise record with just 11 turnovers against the Growlers. While Seattle’s long since been eliminated from the playoffs, the Cascades could still finish the season on a positive note if they can knock off the Nitro this coming weekend. Suddenly, the Pacific Northwest finale is a game between two teams who are both striving to finish their seasons on two-game winning streaks.
- New opponent, same result in Detroit
Playing their first interdivisional game since a June 30, 2012 victory over the Philadelphia Spinners, the Detroit Mechanix suffered their 72nd consecutive loss on Saturday afternoon against Toronto, falling behind 5-1 and trailing wire-to-wire in a 25-13 beatdown. The Rush kept their faint playoff hopes alive, while the Mechanix lost their last chance at home until 2024. Detroit closes out the season at Madison and Minnesota this weekend, while Toronto travels to DC and Philly. Technically, the Rush are not yet eliminated, but Toronto needs to defeat both the Breeze and Phoenix and have Boston lose at home to Montreal in order to steal the three-seed in the East. “We went in obviously thinking about the ‘streak’ and not wanting to be the team that broke it,” said James Lewis, who led the Rush with seven goals. “But at the same time, we tried to not change our game plan at all and play how we normally do and we were able to get the job done.” Detroit experienced a season-high 36 turnovers, going just 10-for-35 on offense and 3-for-15 on break chances. The Rush converted 16 breaks in 23 opportunities, , completing 12 of their 15 hucks along the way.
With Atlanta’s Week 12 win rendering their Week 13 rematch against Carolina insignificant from a playoff qualification standpoint, the AUDL decided to flex our "Game of the Week" coverage out West. Consequently, we are excited to journey back to the pacific, and we are heading to Santa Barbara, the iconic west coast ultimate haven that will be hosting an AUDL game for the first time ever this Friday night.
All season long, the Aviators have planned on hosting their regular season finale at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, where their long-time Captain Michael Kiyoi works as the school’s Instrumental Music Director. In fact, all concession sales at this Friday’s game will go toward the San Marcos High School Instrumental Music Program. But this is not just a ceremonial exhibition game; the Aviators are taking their show to Santa Barbara with their season very much hanging in the balance following this past week’s collapse at Oakland.
Along with Kiyoi, current LA contributors Nate Kirchhofer and Marcel Osborne also have Santa Barbara roots. It’s a city with a noteworthy ultimate history, often considered the birthplace of west coast ultimate, with a foundation of powerful college and club teams that were among the best in the world in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s.
Personally, I am excited to visit Santa Barbara for the first time, adding a cool wrinkle into my season-long AUDL journey. Since I had never been to Salt Lake City before this past Saturday, it’s now two weeks straight of new destinations, definitely a cool perk of the job.
The other quirk is that, unlike every other FOX Sports Game of the Week during the regular season, this weekend we’ll be covering a Friday night game. As usual, it’ll be live at 10:30 PM Eastern on AUDL.tv, and it will re-air on Sunday on FS2.
Just one more week left in the regular season, with two postseason berths still up for grabs. If this past weekend was any indication, the championship chase is gonna be one wild roller coaster ride, and I can’t wait to see what twists and turns are coming around the bend next.