Written by: Ryan Baker
It has been four years since the Madison Radicals have made it to Championship Weekend. They are also four removed from taking home the trophy. Over the past three years, the Radicals sport a record of 19-17 despite consistently having one of the most premier defenses in the league.
They are looking to break that mold this year and jump atop the Central Division. According to the preseason power rankings, the Radicals stand at 14, two spots behind the Indianapolis Alleycats, four behind the Chicago Union and five behind the Minnesota Wind Chill.
Injuries have plagued the Radicals for the past couple of years, and this year is no different. However, head coach Tim DeByl heads a squad of promising young talent, wily veterans and overall an incredibly playoff hungry team.
The first game for Madison brings them to Pittsburgh on April 29 against the Thunderbirds. Prior to the season kickoff, there are ten things to be looking for throughout the season for the playoff hopefuls.
First postseason berth since winning the title in 2018
The Madison Radicals are hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since their title run. This year they enter the season with the same goal to win the title but different expectations.
“We expect to make the playoffs. In past years, we’ve had the expectation that we are going to win a championship,” said DeByl. “I think, right now, we are trying to bring back that championship level of play, and we don’t want to set expectations to a level that is going to create too much pressure on our players. Our goal is to win the championship, our expectation is to make the playoffs.”
The key parts of health and development of the younger guys on the team will tell the tale on whether or not the Radicals can break their drought.
Losing two-time all-star Kevin Pettit-Scantling to injury
Recently in preseason practice, Kevin Pettit-Scantling (KPS) went down with an injury that is suspected to have done damage to his ACL. The blow of losing KPS is more than meets eye, because he was going to be returning to D-line for this season. This was after spending the 2022 season playing mainly O-line because of the injury plague.
Pettit-Scantling had four straight years of at least 20 blocks from 2017 to 2021. He even managed to add 10 more to his career totals last year. Long time teammate and other headlining D-line player, Sterling Knoche knows that the Radicals are going to be representing Pettit-Scantling out on the field until he gets back.
“KPS has invested so much of himself into this team, especially the defense, for years,” said Knoche. “It would be a disservice to him and all that work if we just rolled over. Those are a lot of blocks that are sitting on the bench, so we are going to have to make up for those as a team. I have no doubt that we will be able to do that.”
The timetable for Pettit-Scantling’s return is unknown pending surgery, however there is a possibility he could be back before the end season. Adding him back into the lineup prior to the playoff push could be exactly what the Radicals need to push them the extra step.
Anthony Gutowsky among up and coming talent
There’s a ton of young talent on the Radicals. Namely, two rookies that are looking great at preseason practices are Anthony Gutowsky and Shane Otis. Gutowksy has worked his way to a starting spot, while Otis is still trying to fight to get one of those spots. DeByl has high praise for Gutowsky and those that have their careers in front of them.
“Anthony has been playing great. We expect a lot from him, we expect him to catch some goals and fill in on defense. I think a lot of those guys [rookies] are going to come along as the season wears on. Also, over the last couple years we’ve added a ton of young players,” said DeByl. “We probably have one of the younger teams in the league right now, which is very new for us. We have a lot of talent in the bank, we just need to figure out how to get it working well on the field.”
Gutowsky is on the “notable additions” list for the Radicals on the preseason rankings, and with being 21 years old, the sky looks like the limit. It will be a thing to watch for this season to see if Gutowsky can push his way into the rookie of the year conversation.
Replacing top defenders in Matt Tucker and Will Casperson
DeByl has a tough task lying right ahead of him for the season. Not only does the recent KPS injury add complications, but the Radicals lost top defenders in Matt Tucker and Will Casperson in the offseason. Those three accounted for 462 combined defensive points played. Those three had headlined the astounding defense, but DeByl has a plan in mind to create that balance.
“It’s never easy to replace your top defenders. We have Sterling Knoche who we moved back over and is obviously one of our best defenders specifically for that reason. We also have Josh Wilson playing defense this year. I think it’ll be the first year we try something a little different,” said DeByl. “We’re actually going to be moving a few O players to D-line rotations during the game. You might see Victor Luo, Brian Hart or Anthony Gutowksy, some of our offensive athletic players switching over and playing some defense.”
Others are going to have to step up and fill a role they may have never experienced before. It might be a bit rocky to start the season, but DeByl and company are hoping to iron out the wrinkles over the course of a long season.
Sterling Knoche returning to D-line
Among the loss of top defenders and the injury to KPS, Knoche is going to have his work cut out for him. After spending the 2022 season mainly on o-line, he will be returning to his stout defensive line. After the o-line dominated ’22 season and missing a few games in 2021, Knoche will look back to get back to his ways of 22 block season just three seasons ago.
“I’m definitely excited to get back to the D-line. I remember our first practice this year, being able to pick the dark jersey out of my closet again felt really good. It feels like home, and I had not played offense hardly ever,” said Knoche. “Some of those nerves and anxiety were back from those first couple seasons, because you are doing something completely new. Definitely looking forward to moving back, and I maybe fit in a little more with the culture and mindset of the defensive players.”
Brian Hart returns after hiatus
Stepping away from the game and injuries has held Brain Hart off of the field for the Radicals since 2017. However, this year one of the most premier players in the whole league will begin to don the Radical name once again. Knoche couldn’t be more excited for his friend and teammate to return.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve personally played with,” said Knoche. “I didn’t quite believe it until I saw him come out on that practice field for the first time. I’m smiling just thinking about playing with him. He can be game-changing.”
O-line starter Victor Luo was teammates with Hart in his last year before his hiatus and Luo could tell that Hart possessed something that most players do not.
“I’m super excited. You can tell when he’s on the field, everyone out there feels a bit calmer. When he’s out there with the disc, he just looks calm,” said Lou. “He omits calmness from himself that is helpful for our O-line. It’s like adding a LeBron James to our team, to a certain extent.”
Hart is still nursing an ankle injury right now that puts his status in question for the beginning of the season, so getting healthy and remaining that way will be a question throughout the entire season. If Hart can stay healthy, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with and a key piece on this roster.
More than just a couple games from Kai Marcus
In the 2022 season, Marcus had shown an incredible amount of potential with totaling eight total assists in the second game of the season. That brought his total to 10 throughout the two games and placed him as having the sixth most assists on the team for the entire season before he went down with an injury. Being sidelined for an extended period of time for the first time in his frisbee career provided Marcus with an outside perspective he wasn’t expecting.
“I think throughout my career up to now, I’ve really been focused on how I can do things that will result in goals. I think I didn’t really have a great perspective on what that actually looked like,” said Marcus. “Being able to have this injury, taking some time to look at the game from the outside, and see how the decisions people make actually affect the game as whole instead of just seeing the game from the inside has really changed my perspective on frisbee in general.”
Marcus is just beginning to sprint and is feeling incredibly well about his recovery. The highly touted sophomore is targeting a mid-June return; Marcus is going to hit the ground running as soon as he is able to get back to 100%.
The murky Central Division race
There couldn't be more confusion on who is going to be taking first place in the Central Division. Both Union and the Wind Chill have lost a significant amount of high-end players, Indianapolis was on a record-setting tear defensively last year that doesn’t seem too sustainable, Pittsburgh is still developing and Detroit remains at the bottom of the league. While the Radicals aren’t fully healthy and are young themselves, it seems that they are primed to make a run.
Health will be the biggest factor for them, along with how their younger players improve throughout the season. However, if those two can happen efficiently then watch for the Radicals to be in the thick of it all season long.
Matchup placement against the Chicago Union
Both games this year against the Chicago Union come at crucial spots in the season. The first matchup with the Union is the Radicals’ home opener on May 27. This will be their third game of the season, and a lot of their key pieces in Hart, Marcus, and Jake Rubin-Miller will be looking to make returns to action.
The second matchup comes much later in the season on July 21, which is the second to last game of the season. With how murky the Central Division looks, this could be the deciding game on who takes home the division. This game should be circled on everyone’s calendar, and when it comes to the conclusion of the season it will be a matter of how significant this game will be.
There’s two glaring spots that are going to decide the season for the Radicals. Health and development. These are two things that every team has to deal with, but it is moreso highlighted within Madison. Towards the end of the season, it is speculated that they will be at full strength. Right at the right time.
Keep an eye out for special returns, the young core, and the next man up mentality to be prevalent during the 2023 season.