The Tuesday Toss: The Best of the Best
August 22, 2017 — By Evan Lepler
The past few days—eclipse hysteria aside—were simply the calm before the storm. Today, there are no games to recap; rather, the biggest games are on tap. Hence, the Toss will endeavor to give you a primer on what you should be looking for on the field in Montreal.
But first, there are, in fact, some results to report.
During my seven years working in minor league baseball, I would always eagerly anticipate the results of Baseball America’s annual “Tools Survey.” Each season, the national publication would poll all of the minor league managers on the best players in various categories. This would lead to some fascinating observations about who had the best specifically-honed skills throughout the minors, and it showcased certain players for their greatest strengths.
If this works in baseball, why shouldn’t it also be employed in ultimate?
Over the past several days, I have compiled the submissions of the majority of AUDL coaches to figure out the toolsiest players in each division. Since there’s only minimal cross-division exposure throughout the season, coaches were asked to share their opinions about their division exclusively. To encourage candor, anonymity was guaranteed.
Click on each of the divisions to see the results.
Now, onto Championship Weekend…
Semifinal One: #1 Madison Radicals (13-2) vs. #4 San Francisco FlameThrowers (11-4)
Saturday, August 26, 4:00 PM/ET
Series History: When Madison and San Francisco get Saturday started, it will be the first-ever meeting between the Radicals and the FlameThrowers. However, nine members of San Francisco’s roster have experience against Madison—including big names like Cassidy Rasmussen, Beau Kittredge, Ashlin Joye, Marcelo Sanchez, and Greg Cohen—from 2014 and/or 2015 with the San Jose Spiders, and the Spiders ended the Radicals’ seasons both of those years. In 2014 in Toronto, San Jose beat Madison 23-20 in the semifinals; a year later, the Spiders edged the Radicals 17-15 for the title at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.
What to Expect from Madison’s O-Line: In 2017, the Radicals offense was more up and down than previous seasons. Part of it was the fluctuating personal. Perhaps another aspect was the presence of several aging veterans who may not be at the peak of their athletic primes anymore. But this is still a unit that can deliver cool, crisp, and efficient offense under pressure. Plus, adding youth and athleticism as the season progressed makes this O-line considerably more explosive in August than it was in April.
Ross Barker finds a streaking Avery Johnson for the Radicals rookie connection on the score.
Typically, this is not a unit that will look to huck immediately. Andrew Brown, at 36 years old, still remains the anchor of the handler set, and the Radicals will center the disc to him 99% of the time when he’s on the field. Confident in his breaks and accuracy, Madison will count on Brown to make the right choice to begin most possessions. His mistakes are few and far between; he only had six throwaways this season, the fewest of his AUDL career.
After Brown, the trio of Pat Shriwise, Ben Nelson, and Colin Camp touched the disc most frequently this season for the Radicals’ O-line. Camp’s unquestionably the #1 striker (41 goals), but also possesses the throws and instincts to initiate under and then launch a huck. The emergence of Ross Barker and Avery Johnson combined with Kevin Brown’s return from injury gives the Radicals more deep threats and also gives Camp more flexibility to mix up his cuts and utilize his versatility.
Veteran Dave Wiseman may not have the eye-popping numbers of some of his past seasons, but is still an important glue guy for the Radicals offense. Madison’s #1 glue guy, though, is probably Tom Annen. The original Radical—Annen was the very first player that Tim DeByl signed before the 2013 season—only saw the field in five regular season games this year, but he’s a contagious, calming presence when he’s out there.
What to Expect from San Francisco’s D-Line: The FlameThrowers have multiple waves of athletic block-hunters to throw at their opponent. In fact, San Francisco had nine different guys record double-digit Ds in 2017, tops among the Final Four contenders. Six additional players registered at least seven Ds, further illustrating the squad’s defensive depth.
Two-time AUDL champion Greg Cohen is one of the first names to know. A large and fiery presence, Cohen has often made his biggest impact when the stage is brightest, especially in end-of-quarter situations. Kevin Cocks, another relentless energy guy with a championship pedigree, will also make things exceptionally difficult for whomever he happens to be guarding. Sam Kanner, Byron Liu, and Patrick Baylis are three more San Francisco vets who bring feistiness every point they play.
Byron Liu fights for the hard earned bookends on defense.
The FlameThrowers defense rose a level in 2017 thanks to valuable additions like Antoine Davis, Sawyer Thompson, and Lior Givol. Davis’ 25 blocks led the team, and early in the season, he accumulated those stats largely playing on the O-line, using his hops and anticipation to prevent an opponent from converting a break. Down the stretch, however, Davis has focused more on D. His highlights have not been as numerous, but his impact has remained significant.
San Francisco also has a core of offensive stars that can cross over to D when needed. Beau Kittredge, Cassidy Rasmussen, Joel Schlachet, Eli Kerns, and Mac Taylor have all played more offense than defense, but each of them has a resume of making things happen on both sides of the disc. Consequently, it won’t be surprising to see any of these five guys steal a point or two on D in the second half of a close game.
What to Expect from San Francisco’s O-Line: Rasmussen (34 goals, 57 assists) just finished up a First-Team All-AUDL-type season, and the versatile veteran is back in the Final Four alongside his buddy, Beau Kittredge, as the duo aims to win AUDL titles with their third different franchise in as many seasons. The San Francisco O-line is way more than just Cass and Beau, though.
Cassidy Rasmussen rocketing a perfect pass into space for Mac Taylor to track down.
Nobody in the league played more points this season than Marcelo Sanchez, and the super-slippery cutter saw 82% of his action on offense. Often, the FlameThrowers will begin with Sanchez downfield in a horizontal alignment with Rasmussen, Kittredge, and Taylor, a quartet that does not have a weakness. Furthermore, Grant Lindsley, widely considered the premier initiation cutter in the world, is also expected to be available in Montreal. Lindsley only suited up for two games in the 2017 regular season, but he was involved in a dozen scores in those appearances.
Handler-wise, the FlameThrowers are loaded as well. The midseason return of thrower-extraordinaire-Ashlin Joye made San Francisco considerably more dangerous, thanks to Joye’s steady array of breaks and hucks. His comeback also allowed Joel Schlachet and Jordan Marcy to fit in more as uber-reliable resets and continues, along with enabling Schlachet to move downfield a bit more and demoralize defenses with his quickness and sure-handedness in the end zone.
Lucas Dallmann, who’s spent most of his career on D, played enough O this season to finish second on the squad in assists, with 41. But the hunch of this author is that Dallmann will spend more time hunting for blocks and breaks than anchoring smooth offensive holds this weekend in Montreal.
What to Expect from Madison’s D-Line: Of the eight units that we will see in Quebec, the Radicals’ D may be the toughest to predict. Athletically, they have been swift enough to rule the Midwest for many years, with Andrew Meshnick, Kevin Pettit-Scantling, and Peter Graffy all capable of hindering the other team’s top weapons. At Championship Weekend, however, it’s fair to raise the question whether the Radicals have the army of athletes that can stifle another division champ for four quarters.
Incredible goal line stand from Madison's defense in the 2017 Midwest Division championship game.
Of course, Madison’s mysteriousness is another significant, albeit intangible factor. The Radicals play less zone defense than in the past, but it remains a legitimate threat, especially against an unfamiliar opponent. Members of the Spiders’ championship rosters have admitted that even though they beat the Radicals in back-to-back years, they never really got comfortable against the Madison zone. Logan Pruess, Brian Hart, and Seth Meyer are all sneaky quick and have a way of making plays from unlikely spots on the field.
Whether they are playing zone or man, Sterling Knoche must be accounted for. The first-year Radical has been a fierce Tasmanian devil, averaging two blocks per game, often coming at the most critical of times. Madison will miss the injured Thomas Coolidge and Bill Everhart, but the squad is hopeful that other rookies like Chase Marty and Jeff Maskalunas can do some damage defensively in their first final four.
Semifinal Two: #2 Dallas Roughnecks (13-3) vs. #3 Toronto Rush (13-2)
Saturday, August 26, 7:00 PM/ET
Series History: Saturday’s nightcap will be a semifinal rematch from a year ago, when the Roughnecks dispatched the Rush 27-20 en route to their perfect 17-0 season. Dallas stormed to a 3-0 lead before Toronto got on the board, and a four-goal lead after one widened to a six-goal gap at the half. A couple early breaks in the third quarter inched the Rush within four, but the Roughnecks immediately responded with a 6-2 rally to stretch the edge to eight. At this point, Toronto did not have much of a chance against the full-strength Dallas juggernaut.
Highlights from last season's semifinal matchup between Toronto and Dallas.
It is worth mentioning that the 2017 Rush will have a very different roster than last season. In their seven-goal loss in Madison, the Rush were missing the suspended Geoff Powell, along with the absent Jacky Hau, Bretton Tan, Mike Jones, and Jason Huynh. This quintet, along with Rush rookies like Darren Wu, Ben Burelle, and Jeremy Norden, should totally reframe this season’s showdown.
What to Expect from Dallas’ O-Line: Kurt Gibson’s return from a pectoral injury that sidelined him for 13 regular season games drastically changed the primary look of the Roughnecks’ O-line. Like San Francisco’s Joye opening up new possibilities for Marcy and Schlachet, Gibson’s impact was felt not just in adding one of the top throwers in the world, but also in shifting other pieces to become a more effective and compete team. Most notably, Chris Mazur, Dylan Freechild, and Stanley Peterson, who played the fourth, sixth, and seventh-most O-points for Dallas throughout the season, have focused most of their energies on D over the past two games, both convincing playoff victories.
Of course, Jimmy Mickle remains absolutely central to the Roughnecks’ offensive game plan. Fresh off celebrating his 26th birthday on August 19, the superstar is virtually impossible to matchup against, with his vast arsenal of throws, powerful speed, and electric aerial game all capable of devastating a defense. If Gibson and Brandon Malecek open the O-point as the handlers, you can expect Mickle to make one of the first cuts downfield.
Jimmy Mickle has been a force downfield for the Roughnecks this season.
Throughout the season, Abe Coffin has progressed from being a brilliant complementary player to an unquestioned featured performer. Quick and shifty—think Freechild-lite—Coffin led the Roughnecks in goals with 47, while also dishing 37 assists, fifth on the roster behind Mickle, Mazur, Freechild, and Dalton Smith.
Lately, Ben Lohre, Matt Jackson, and Thomas Slack have been almost flawless as Dallas’ chorus. They are all speedy, sure-handed, and play simply, embracing the mindset that they don’t need to try and do very much. If they run hard, clear space, dish resets, and catch the disc, they become perfect role players for one of the top offenses in the league.
What to Expect from Toronto’s D-Line: As previously alluded to, the Rush own a completely rebuilt defense compared to the squad they sent out there in the semis a season ago. In 2017, Toronto’s top three defenders in terms of points played were Marijo Zlatic, Bretton Tan, and Mike MacKenzie, none of whom were on the roster the last time the Rush met Dallas. Jaret Meron, Jacky Hau, and Iain MacKenzie, Toronto’s next three busiest defenders this season, were also non-factors in 2016. Hau did not play, and Meron and Iain MacKenzie only played sparingly.
This core of defenders will be critical on Saturday night, but they are not the #1 reason the Rush have a much better shot against Dallas this time around. Mark Lloyd has not made a gigantic impact on the 2017 regular season, but in the four games he played, he almost exclusively played D. For Toronto, having him out there potentially transforms the Rush’s D-line from good to great. Whereas Lloyd was still shy of 100% health-wise in 2016 after missing the previous year with a knee injury, his athleticism has looked top notch in quick snippets of AUDL play this season. Furthermore, his playmaking in Poland with Team Canada showed that he is primed to compete at the highest level of Championship Weekend as well.
A healthy Mark Lloyd makes Toronto a strong competitor for the title.
Aside from Lloyd, Jeremy Norden and Geoff Powell are additional artillery to throw at Dallas. And don’t forget that Isaiah Masek-Kelly, a former 50-goal/50-assist scorer in this league, has also shifted to the D-line to roam the deep space and be an influential target after a turn.
Wise decision-making will be vital for Toronto’s D-line, as Dallas will not give them that many chances to break. But with explosive athletes and more experienced disc-doers, the Rush will almost certainly break Dallas more frequently than a season ago.
What to Expect from Toronto’s O-Line Perhaps more than any other team, the Rush O-line is built around a bunch of pull plays that they often execute with ruthless efficiency. They center the disc to veteran handler Thomson McKnight—think Andrew Brown-lite—and he will usually see at least one or two open targets thanks to the team’s splendid downfield spacing. Ideally, McKnight would love to connect with Cameron Harris, whose hucks and choices are amongst the best in the league. If Harris cannot shake free under, then it’s likely fellow veterans Jeff Lindquist or Adrian Yearwood have found a gap for an open look, or ascending speedster Andrew Carroll has raced past another defender. If McKnight’s still got it and the stall has climbed to five or six, then teenage mutant ninja reset handler Connor Armstrong will get a look as the Rush reorganize.
Toronto’s offense could be pretty darn good with just those six players, but you would be foolish to forget about Ben Burelle and Darren Wu, a pair of Vancouver transplants who have shown a great understanding in adapting to the Rush’s rhythms throughout the second half of the season. In a pinch, Lloyd could also hop on the O-line and fill any role the Rush require, giving them added depth and a wild card weapon to use at some point on Saturday.
Andrew Carroll's all around skillset has been a big part of making the Toronto offense one of the top five in the league.
While McKnight’s handling and Harris’ hucks are both hugely important, one could argue that Carroll’s cutting is the #1 key to success for Toronto’s O-line. After playing more defense in past years and splitting his time between the two lines in last year’s semis, Carroll has focused primarily on offense in 2017, gradually gaining confidence to match his abilities. Dallas has the athletes to make things tough for Carroll, but even if someone like Dylan Freechild or Stanley Peterson is chasing him, it will be imperative that the Rush keep relying on him. With a natural mindset to simply take what the defense gives him, this might need to be the game where Carroll starts to dictate a little bit more. His game is that good, and the Rush are going to need every bit of it.
What to Expect from Dallas’ D-Line: The Roughnecks possess a potentially deadly combination of athletes and throwers, enhanced by a few key offseason additions. Jay Froude, who led the squad with 32 Ds and 46 goals, highlights the list. The former Radicals standout has brought his highlight-making mastery to a team that needed to replace some key pieces. Along with Froude, Jason Holleran, Ben Lewis, and Joel Clutton all made plays to help Dallas overcome the losses of Jake Anderson (injury) and Matt Costello (retirement), not to mention Beau and Cassidy bolting back to the Bay Area.
Ben Lewis has quietly been shutting down the opposition for the Dallas defensive unit all season.
Along with this fresh batch of difference-makers, the Roughnecks still have many of the anchors of last year’s championship quest. Matt Bennett and Dalton Smith, formerly college teammates at Texas A&M, have a chemistry and creativity that is hard to replicate in a pair of D-line handlers. Adding Freechild and Mazur into the mass of D-line distributors is borderline absurd. The Larberg brothers—Chris and Dillon—each made their fair share of plays in Championship Weekend in 2016, as did Dan Emmons and Kai Marshall, two towers who can sway momentum with a layout D or a buzzer-beating sky. Stanley Peterson and Zach Riggins also specialize in the abstract world of boomeranging momentum, as each has registered bookends several times throughout their tenures in Dallas. If that’s not enough defensive firepower, one can expect Gibson and Mickle to steal some points on D throughout the game as well, mixing their unique skill-sets into the Roughnecks’ already hearty turnover-making stew.
In the regular season, there were occasions where the Roughnecks would lack intensity. This contributed to their losses and forced them to work harder in other fourth quarters to secure wins that seemed uncertain. At this point, these sporadic lulls are part of the team’s character, which is something to watch. But to be fair, the Roughnecks’ most common response to these lulls has been more rampage than rally.
That rampaging trait, like a dragon spitting fire, puts them in great position to repeat as champs. But as powerful as they look, they are not invincible. Deep down, they know this, and it will be telling to see how they react if/when adversity arrives.
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