The Tuesday Toss: 2018 Playoff Time

July 17, 2018
Evan Lepler

LEBANON, OH — It’s an incredibly hectic time in the ultimate world, for players, coaches, and broadcasters alike. It’s fantastic.

Here in Ohio at the World Ultimate Club Championships, it’s marveling to witness the gathering of different ultimate cultures, as 128 teams from 36 different countries have come together for an event that is as much competition as it is an international celebration for our sport. It is overwhelming and inspiring to try to observe and absorb it all.

Meanwhile, the AUDL show continues, and Week 16 offered plenty of intrigue as playoff spots were clinched and league records were smashed. The postseason bracket is set, and the possibilities are tantalizing.

Here’s the playoff schedule. Numbers in parentheses correspond to team's seed within their division.

EAST
Round 1: Saturday, July 21 - New York (#3) at DC (#2)
Divisional Championship: Saturday, July 28 - NY/DC at Toronto (#1)

MIDWEST
Round 1: Saturday, July 21 - Minnesota (#3) at Indianapolis (#2)
Divisional Championship: Saturday, July 28 - MIN/IND at Madison (#1)

SOUTH
Round 1: Friday, July 27 - Raleigh (#2) at Austin (#3)
Divisional Championship: Saturday, July 28 - RAL/ATX at Dallas (#1)

WEST
Divisional Championship: Saturday, July 21 - San Diego (#2) at Los Angeles (#1)

In less than two weeks, the quartet of divisional survivors will be re-seeded based upon regular season record to create the Championship Weekend, a final four with the semifinals being played in Madison on Saturday, August 11. The next AUDL champ will be crowned on Sunday, August 12.

The Full-Field Layout

Needing a victory to lock up home-field advantage in the first round, the DC Breeze left little doubt on Saturday night, eviscerating the New York Empire in front of a lively crowd and national television audience on Stadium. Though even at 3-3 through six turnover-free points, the Breeze defense changed the game with an abrupt 4-0 run midway through the first quarter, seizing control and never relinquishing it in their 29-19 rout over the Empire.

“We just play well at home,” said a smiling Delrico Johnson, who registered four assists, two goals, and two blocks in the Breeze’s victory, improving the franchise to 20-1 in their last 21 home games.

Asked what were the keys to the dominant W, Johnson replied, “Get [the disc] out of Harper [Garvey’s] hand, make other people be their main throwers, and always help out on their deep shots.”

The strategy of double-teaming Garvey appeared to take the Empire out of their desired rhythm. NY’s primary quarterback still registered three assists and 39 completions in 41 throws, but the Empire’s flow was disrupted, and a handful of unforced errors also undermined their quest for road victory.

“[The double-teams didn’t] bother me too much because it means there’s someone open somewhere, and generally I try to find that person and then we move it from there,” commented Garvey after the game. “They did that pretty consistently, so it means making some adjustments; we can’t run a play off the centering pass, it’s off the following pass; so it’s a little bit of a different hitch in the rhythm, but I thought we adjusted ok to it. That wasn’t really the problem.”

What was the problem?

“Unforced errors for us early,” Garvey acknowledged. “In the first quarter, we had drops. We had throwaways. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess they got one or two Ds in the first quarter and we went down four or five breaks.”

DC’s Rowan McDonnell bolstered his MVP case with a six-assist, two-goal first half, finishing the night with seven and three. Christian Boxley led the way with six scores, while Johnny Malks added four goals and three assists in his 2018 season debut, returning from a wrist injury suffered during his college season with William & Mary.

“It’s good to have him back,” said Johnson, about Malks. “It’s just another dynamic player and good DC talent who’s gonna help us out.”

As the Breeze celebrated their sizable triumph, the Empire licked their wounds and looked to turn the page. Despite Beau Kittredge re-aggravating his calf injury early in Saturday’s game, New York’s leadership expressed confidence heading into their Sunday matchup against Philadelphia, knowing they needed a win to ensure their playoff lives.

“We’re familiar with having to bounce back,” said Garvey on Saturday night. “I’m not too worried about it.”

For a team that has endured plenty of adversity through the past couple of seasons, New York was undeterred by a lengthy weather delay and venue change for Sunday afternoon’s regular season finale. Standout defender Jeff Babbitt replaced Kittredge on the O-line and scored six goals, Ben Jagt collected 10 assists along with three goals, and the Empire broke it open in their second half to surpass the Philadelphia Phoenix 30-22, clinching their return to the postseason after missing the tournament in 2017.

As it turned out, the Empire took the field in the late afternoon already knowing they would be returning to DC this week, considering that the Ottawa Outlaws finally put together a full 48-minute effort to knock off the Montreal Royal 32-25, squelching the Royal’s faint playoff hopes.

“It was a lot of decision-making errors on our end,” acknowledged Montreal’s Kevin Quinlan. “We gave up the ball a lot. Ottawa has a very good offense and wasn’t going to give us that many opportunities going in. They took advantage and we came out flat. Looking back on the Royal 2018, I just think we are young and are still larning how to win ugly. When we can execute our strategy going in, we can play with anyone. When we are forced to adjust, to play uncomfortable, or it gets tight towards the end, we struggle. A season of what could have been, frustrating to say the least.”

Despite going 4-1 on the season against the Empire and the Breeze, the Royal will be spectators this weekend as New York and DC square off for the right to face Toronto.

New York will travel to DC again this Saturday, a place where they have not won since a wacky, weather-impacted 8-7 victory on June 20, 2015. Since the start of 2016, the Breeze have taken nine of 10 meetings from the Empire, including two dominant wins at home this year. Still, one wonders if the Empire may have discovered something by utilizing Babbitt primarily on offense?

From the Breeze perspective, they are hopeful that they can take care of business again and carry that momentum into the East Division finals, a game that DC has lost in Toronto by two (in overtime) and by three the past couple seasons.

“Hopefully we can take this next week and then take it on the road with us,” said Johnson. “That’s the next challenge, doing what we do at home and apply it to Toronto. I think we’re there. We just have to trust in ourselves and trust in our system and it should be a good game.”

*****

The other uncertain playoff spot heading into the final weekend involved everyone out West, with San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco all still alive in the race for second. On Friday night, the San Jose Spiders outlasted the Seattle Cascades 27-24, getting seven goals from Ethan Falat and four assists from Justin Norden to improve to give themselves a chance. As spectators on Saturday, San Jose needed the San Diego Growlers and San Francisco FlameThrowers both to falter, and it did not come to fruition for the South Bay franchise with two AUDL championships to its credit.

San Jose’s Bay Area rival did its part, as San Francisco fell totally flat against Seattle, bludgeoned 31-20. But San Diego stepped up and pounded the Los Angeles Aviators 34-21, securing the Growlers their first playoff spot in franchise history. With the win, they earned the right to battle the Aviators again with a berth in Championship Weekend on the line.

“LA didn’t show up, literally and figuratively,” commented San Diego’s Dom Leggio. “They were missing 5-7 starting guys and when you combine that with a whole bunch of drops against a team in a must-win scenario, it’s no surprise we blew them out.”

Notably, the Aviators were missing big names like Chris Mazur, Jesse Cohen, Eli Friedman, Tom Doi, Jeff Silverman, and Brent George. Sean McDougall capped his tremendous overall season with four goals and four assists, giving him the league-wide scoring and plus/minus titles with 58 goals and a +88 on the year. But it was not nearly enough against a hungry Growlers squad, paced by Nate Bridges' seven goals and three different guys—Travis Dunn, Sam Fontaine, and Michael Tran—who had five assists apiece.

It creates an interesting dynamic heading into the West Division final, as the Aviators, who entered the final week of the regular season at 11-0 against their divisional opponents, finally faltered against the team that they will need to beat to preserve their status as best in the West and advance to the final four. Understandably, the Growlers realize that this coming weekend will have a very different feel, but they also enter with a renewed belief after closing out the year with three straight victories.

“We are excited at the opportunity and really like our chances in a one-game scenario,” said Leggio. “LA has been the better team all year, but I really don’t think that matters this coming weekend. We are confident. We’ve been in playoff mode for the last month so there won’t be any nerves from our side.”

While the Growlers are watching film and anticipating their biggest game in franchise history, the Spiders were left to ponder the missed opportunities from their season, a campaign that included a plethora of games that could have gone either way.

“Honestly, we were a buzzer-beater away from advancing to the playoffs,” said San Jose Coach Tyler Grant. “Consider our away game the week prior in Seattle, where we had the lead for three quarters and only dipped a break in the fourth. Had it not been for a last-second half-field toss to the end-zone, we would have gone to overtime and likely won it given the results of the other three games against Seattle. Had we won, we wouldn’t have needed the Aviators to beat the Growlers. The Spiders and the Growlers would both have been 7-7 and we held the tiebreak over them…In any case, the West was fairly well balanced this year, and I look forward to building a stronger program next year.”

*****

Though the Midwest playoff pairings were already set before the final weekend, a few newsworthy developments still unfolded.

Firstly, the Indianapolis AlleyCats snapped a nine-game losing streak against Minnesota Wind Chill, beating the Wind Chill for the first time since a 25-24 victory on May 10, 2014. They would love to enjoy the accomplishment, but the AlleyCats leadership also is wise enough to recognize that their 26-16 triumph in the regular season finale won’t matter at all if they cannot beat the Wind Chill again in the Midwest’s playoff opener this weekend.

“To be honest, it was little to no indicator of how this playoff game will go,” Indy’s Travis Carpenter admitted. “Although I believe we will win, I think this game will be much more exciting and a very tight finishing score.”

Alleycats Coach Eric Leonard agreed, mentioning that “Minnesota looked to be approaching the game with a clear intent of resting key players, which makes perfect sense given the long drive and the fact they had a doubleheader. We also rested several key players. Both teams look to be at or near full strength for the playoffs, so it’s going to be a much more intense game.”

The prize for the Minnesota/Indy survivor will be the chance to try and end Madison’s remarkable 43-game home winning streak against Midwest opponents, a run extended by the Radicals’ 27-24 victory over Chicago this past Saturday. Although both the Wind Chill and AlleyCats have registered a win against the Radicals in Minnesota and Indiana over the past couple seasons, the pair of Midwest contenders are a combined 0-19 at Breese Stevens Field.

Though the Wildfire’s frustrating season ended with a pair of three-point losses at Madison and vs. Minnesota, star handler Pawel Janas recorded an impressive 21 assists in the two games, bringing his season total to 97, which smashed the previous single-season AUDL record of 86, set by Pittsburgh’s Tyler DeGirolamo in 2015.

“I think anytime you’re playing ‘meaningless’ games, it can be difficult to remain composed and focused, but that never seems to bother Pawel,” said Chicago’s Michael Pardo, one of Janas’ primary targets over the past two seasons. “He is always going to give you his best in that moment, and this weekend was no different. Pawel has had a terrific season and is obviously one of the top handlers in the league.”

In his record-breaking season, Janas threw more than half of his assists to three players, connecting with Ross Barker for 22 goals, Pardo for 15, and Kurt Gibson for 12. The other 48 scores were divvied up between 17 different players.

*****

A few more bullet points to wrap up this abbreviated Toss:

  • For the second straight week, we saw brothers connect for a goal on our Stadium Game of the Week. In Raleigh on July 7, it was Atlanta's Christian and Anders Olsen teaming up. This week, DC’s Rhys Bergergon threw a pair of scores to his older brother Quinn. “It was really fun,” said Rhys, who’s slightly more than two years younger. “We play [club ultimate] together so it’s not the first time, but bringing it to the pro game was awesome.” Even though some teammates have a tough time telling the brothers apart, the Breeze were thrilled to have the Bergerons on the field together. They are “very different in skill,” said Breeze Coach Darryl Stanley. “They are both very fast, which is kinda nice, but Rhys is more sure of himself. I think he shoots it a little more because of it, and he’s been hitting them, whereas Quinn’s more humbly very good. Not that Rhys is cocky, it’s just he’s very sure…I think it’s really good for ultimate to have brothers on the same team. It’s just fun. The chemistry’s nice, and instead of constantly competing against each other, which I’m sure they did their whole life. Now, they can be cooperative for once.”
  • Seattle deserves a shout-out. This is a team that played super hard all year and cultivated a bunch of young talent, culminating with a road win over the defending AUDL champs to close out their season at 5-9. If the Cascades can keep their young talent together, they could be a very dangerous team in years to come. In their final weekend, 19-year-old John Randolph had 10 assists and three goals, 19-year-old Kodi Smart had eight assists and four goals, 21-year-old Manny Eckert had 10 assists and five goals, and 21-year-old Sam Cook added seven goals and five assists. “I thought Manny Eckert did a phenomenal job shifting to the O-line and fearlessly dropped a ton of dimes, and Sam Cook has been fantastic all-around since he came back from USC and played the final five or so games,” said Randolph, who rejoined the Cascades after being named the top freshman in college ultimate by Ultiworld. “And of course Kodi Smart—usually center handler—is young enough to be on this U20 Worlds team but has probably been our second best player after [Mark] Burton all year…[Sunday] was a satisfying victory, and I’m extremely grateful I was able to play some games with these guys and for the Cascades organization coming in late.”
  • Looking at the final standings, it’s worth noting that ever team in the league except winless Detroit won at least three games on the season, with Ottawa and Tampa Bay picking up their third wins this past weekend and Pittsburgh winning it’s third straight to close the season, finishing with four wins overall. At the top of the pack, six teams finished with double-digit wins, led by the Toronto and Dallas at 13-1, Madison at 12-2, Los Angeles and Indianapolis at 11-3, and Raleigh at 10-4. Thinking about potential Championship Weekend seeding, a lot will depend on who emerges from the South. If Raleigh can dethrone Dallas and Madison and Los Angeles, both sizeable favorites, also advance, then Toronto’s reward for an amazing 13-1 run would be to face the Flyers in the semifinals. On the other hand, if the four regular season division winners advance to the final four, then Toronto would meet Los Angeles in the semifinals and Dallas would get Madison. Certainly, teams like the AlleyCats, Breeze, Wind Chill, Empire, Sol, and Growlers are also hoping to render these last few sentences worthless with their play over the next couple weekends.

Thanks for reading this abbreviated Tuesday Toss!

This afternoon, I’ll be on the call for a pair of heavyweight power pool matchups from the World Ultimate Club Championships. At 3:00 PM, I’m giddy for another chance to help narrate the next chapter of the great women’s ultimate rivalry between San Francisco Fury (the reigning national champs) and Seattle Riot (the reigning world club champs). Then, at 5:00 PM, it’s an international showdown between Toronto Goat, featuring many of the same faces that represent the Toronto Rush, taking on Colony from Sydney, Australia, whose roster includes former AUDL standouts Jimmy Mickle (San Diego Growlers, Dallas Roughnecks) and Chris Kocher (New York Empire.)

Hope you can join us for some of the coverage at Worlds, broadcast live on the Olympic Channel and streaming on the YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook pages of the World Flying Disc Federation.

And if the airline angels are looking down at me fondly this weekend, I’ll talk to you on Stadium at 7 PM alongside Bryan Jones, as the 2018 AUDL playoffs officially launch!

Busy times. Great times.


The Tuesday Toss is published weekly on theAUDL.com during the season. Got a comment or question about the AUDL or the current state of ultimate? E-mail Evan Lepler at AUDLMailbag@gmail.com. Feedback can also be levied on twitter: @EvanLepler