February 19, 2019
By Evan Lepler
45 days away from the 2019 regular season, the AUDL offseason hot stove is about to really heat up. Final tryouts will unfold over the next few weekends, and significant news regarding rosters around the league should be revealed soon.
Meanwhile, there have already been a few seismic shifts on the player movement front, with a couple teams standing out for their respective offseason surges. Multiple marquee additions have made the New York Empire and San Jose Spiders the early winners of the winter. Elsewhere, Austin, Indianapolis, and San Diego, all playoff teams from a year ago, have succeeded by maintaining solid roster continuity while signing one or two noteworthy newcomers who could help them take the next step.
Though this list will certainly require some updating throughout the coming weeks, here’s a look at the most impactful individuals who will be playing somewhere different than last year.
Big News in the Big Apple
Coming off an improbable and exhilarating run to Championship Weekend, the New York Empire redefined their potential by finally vanquishing the Toronto Rush for the first time ever in the 2018 East Division championship game. Leading up to that pivotal game in July, the Rush’s epic string of divisional dominance had been well documented, and the Empire stunningly flipped the script when few, if any, expected it.
Heading into the upcoming 2019 season, the Rush-Empire rivalry ranks among the fiercest in the league, even though New York is now just a measly 1-17 all-time against Toronto. When you consider that wildly lopsided head-to-head record, it would be easy to look at last year’s shocker as the mere exception to an era of Rush reign. But now, because of Grant Lindsley and Jack Williams, the residue of past Empire expectations has been totally shattered, and New York finds itself with a Manhattan-sized target bolted to its back.
If the Empire had simply added one of these two dynamic cutters, it would have probably secured New York’s status as preseason favorite in the East, rendering the Rush as an East underdog for the first time. With the dual signings of Lindsley and Williams, not to mention the hiring of the experienced and savvy Bryan Jones as head coach, New York has ascended to the peak of any reasonable preseason power rankings.
While Lindsley did not play in the AUDL last year, his overall abilities and ultimate accomplishments have earned him a well-deserved reputation as one of the top cutters in the world, a notion he bolstered by scoring eight goals for Team USA at the 2017 World Games, tied for the most on the gold medal winning squad. At the pro level, he only played sparingly for the 2017 San Francisco FlameThrowers, but still emerged as a critically important cutter and creator during the team’s Championship Weekend run in Montreal, recording nine goals and six assists in San Francisco’s pair of victories over Madison and Toronto. Set to turn 30 in May, the two-time collegiate champion with Carleton (2009 and 2011) remains in his prime and should immediately become a top option on the Empire’s stacked O-line.
In Williams, New York brings in a versatile and confident 24-year-old wunderkind, who is uniquely suited to enter the best all-around player in the world conversation in the next few years. Coming off his best statistical season with the Raleigh Flyers in 2018, Williams frequently teamed with Jonathan Nethercutt to create an unstoppable two-man tandem. With the Empire, he will be surrounded by a bevy of capable disc distributors, giving him a smorgasbord of options with which to work. As the season progresses, it will be fascinating to see how Williams, who was on his way to perhaps replacing Nethercutt as the alpha on Raleigh’s roster, finds his role amidst the league’s deepest collection of top level talent since the 2016 Dallas Roughnecks. But make no mistake, his track record suggests he could smoothly alternate between simply doing a job versus being the man. That transformation—and it is coming—will be tantalizing to watch.
Beware Of The Spiders
The San Jose Spiders may have missed the West Division playoffs in two of the past three years, but the 2014 and 2015 AUDL champs are poised to be back in the mix in 2018, largely thanks to another pair of athletic standouts, one who was a member of those two San Jose title teams, and another who has occasionally been compared to Beau Kittredge, the Spiders’ two-time MVP who galvanized multiple franchises with his abilities and personality.
Marcelo Sanchez may the most understated and underrated superstar in the league, a consistent and reliable cutter who scores way more than he speaks. Durability and commitment could be his two greatest strengths, considering that he’s played in 73 games over the last five years, an average of 14.6 per season, including the playoffs. Having spent the past three seasons with San Francisco, Sanchez recorded 94 goals and 111 assists, gradually assuming more responsibility in his team’s offense as the years progressed. Still just 27 years old—he’ll be 28 on July 22—Sanchez should be a more polished weapon that he was during his first two AUDL seasons with the Spiders, both of which resulted in championships.
And then there’s Antoine Davis, who will be making his Spiders debut in 2019 after emerging as one of the league’s breakout stars the past two years with San Francisco. “I think the obvious comparison athletically for Antoine is Beau,” three-time AUDL champion Cassidy Rasmussen told me in 2017. “I think Antoine has much more polished disc skills at his age than Beau had, and if he can develop the same decision making that makes Beau so valuable, he will be incredibly hard to stop. The craziest thing for me is watching Antoine play is like watching Beau play if he was always going 100 percent. Beau is an incredibly smart player, and he’s played for so long that he really has started to pick and choose his spots. Antoine is so young and has all the energy in the world, when he turns to go deep he is going as hard as he can and it is pretty impressive to watch.” Set to celebrate his 26th birthday on May 27, Davis is positioned to become a potential MVP candidate in his first year as a Spider. If his on-field discipline can nearly match his athleticism, then San Jose could find itself back in Championship Weekend for the first time since 2015.
The Under-The-Radar Transactions
Aside from the Empire and the Spiders, there are many other teams who have revamped their rosters with quiet but critical moves to add a new wrinkle to their team’s outlook.
Perhaps the most headline-y of these “under-the-radar” moves is Jonathan “Goose” Helton moving from Raleigh to the San Diego Growlers. One of the six players who has played every AUDL season since 2012, Helton, the original two-time MVP, is set to break another barrier. When he takes the field for the Growlers, he will become the only player in the history of the league to have played for teams in all four divisions. He won MVPs with Indy in 2012 and Chicago in 2013, then spent two more seasons with the Wildfire in the Midwest before joining the DC Breeze in the East in 2016. He ventured South to Raleigh for 2017 and 2018 and now Instagrams his strict training regimen from the SoCal beaches in the West. Even though he turns 35 this coming Monday—Happy Birthday, Goose!— few are in better shape than Helton, who will add an experienced and explosive guiding hand to a San Diego squad that’s hopeful to reach new heights in 2019.
It would be disingenuous to say that Brett Matzuka was simply Helton’s wingman over the past four years, but since 2015 the two have played together in Chicago, DC, and Raleigh. That will change this spring, as Matzuka will be Helton’s sidekick no more. Interestingly, and coincidentally, he will be joining the Indianapolis franchise, where Helton’s pro run began seven years ago. This is very good news for the Indianapolis AlleyCats. Quite simply, Matzuka has long been one of the league’s craftiest handlers, with as wide an arsenal of in-game throws as anyone without his own YouTube channel. He still holds the record for most completions in a single game—113 for Chicago vs. Pittsburgh on June 28, 2015—and the soon-to-be-34-year-old thrower will become an important disc distributor and reset valve for an Indy team that’s coming off its best season in franchise history. If he can stay healthy—which has not always been a given throughout his career—he can be a guy that makes everything easier for teammates, a dynamic that should help amplify the growing abilities of AlleyCats like Rick Gross, Travis Carpenter, and Levi Jacobs. “They are a tight-knit, hard-working group, definitely more than a collection of individuals, but a band of brothers,” Matzuka said about his new teammates. He added, jokingly, “Indy had a great year [in 2018], and figured to truly test their mettle they would greatly hinder themselves by signing someone that is hot trash to challenge themselves more. I volunteered as tribute.”
Speaking of high-volume handlers, Cole Sullivan is only a few years removed from leading the AUDL in assists, with 82, for the 2016 Cannons. His role evolved in recent years, and a life move to the DC area prevented him from playing more than two games for the Tampa Bay Cannons last season. Now settled into his new home in Baltimore, Sullivan has signed with the DC Breeze, giving DC a tall, veteran, power-thrower to send bombs downfield to 2018 AUDL MVP Rowan McDonnell and the rest of the team’s young, athletic core. “When I moved up here, [Breeze Coach] Darryl [Stanley] reached out to me and gauged my interest in playing for the DC teams,” Sullivan explained. “I always enjoy playing for new teams and being exposed to different aspects of the games. I find joy in meeting new people, fitting into new systems, and just offering my frisbee knowledge to others whenever anyone is interested. Darryl is incredible and we have already hit it off. He seems very knowledgeable and also knows how to manage people/expectations.” It will be very interesting to see how Stanley chooses to utilize Sullivan, particularly in the context of DC’s other big, gun-slinging handler Xavier Maxstadt. Playing them together would give the Breeze a gigantic backfield that could lead to mismatches with quick handler defenders who aren’t used to seeing such size. Stanley could also separate Sullivan and Maxstadt, letting one use his cannon on O and the other on D. Either way, we know that the Breeze’s leaders will play with a confident moxie that won’t quiver against anyone. That should make DC’s season opener in New York against the Empire’s new superteam must-see tv on April 13.
Without making a huge splash, the Minnesota Wind Chill have added a pair of really talented and productive players to their established core. Cam Burden was a breakout star scoring a gazillion goals for Team Canada in the World Championships of Beach Ultimate in 2017, and last year in his pro debut, Burden delivered consistent quality to the Montreal Royal, accumulating 24 goals, 22 assists, and nine blocks in 13 games. The 29-year-old native of Winnipeg has a chance to have another superb season with the Wind Chill, as its easy to imagine him fitting in with Minnesota’s other returners. The Wind Chill also sneakily plucked Tate Halberg away from Detroit after he led the Mechanix with 34 goals in just nine games last season. A relative unknown since he played collegiately at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and then for the winless Mechanix, Halberg also dished 16 assists last year, giving him 50 combined scores, meaning he was involved in nearly a quarter of Detroit’s points throughout the campaign. On a winning team, Halberg should be reinvigorated and provide Minnesota with another 6’3” downfield threat.
Out West, the Seattle Cascades' loudest transaction was re-signing Khalif El-Salaam, who’s back on the Cascades after registering 29 goals and 38 assists in 12 games in 2017. Undoubtedly, El-Salaam will be a team leader who’s capable of taking big matchups. But a couple of other Seattle signings felt significant as well, in order to create some much-needed depth. Jay Boychuk was always solid in his three years for the Toronto Rush, first as a D-liner, and then gradually growing into more responsibility on the team’s O-line in 2018. While never a marquee first-option for Toronto, it was young players like Boychuk that helped the Rush maintain their consistent excellence in the East Division, giving the Pickering, Ontario-native a great foundation of success to bring to Seattle. Beyond El-Salaam and Boychuck, the Cascades have also added Zach Sabin from San Jose, a speedy 6’4” cutter who collected an impressive 32 goals and 24 assists in just 12 games last year for the Spiders in his AUDL debut. If he can find his role quickly enough with the Cascades, he could be in store for an even bigger breakout season, catching bombs from Mark Burton instead of Sonny Zaccaro or Justin Norden.
Seven On The Line
- Losing three players the caliber of Jack Williams, Goose Helton, and Brett Matzuka would cripple the championship chances of some teams, but in the case of the Raleigh Flyers, they aren’t quite in rebuilding mode just yet. Quite frankly, the Flyers still possess one of the most impressive and daunting collections of talent in the league, a roster that should also be bolstered by the upcoming announcement of a handful of noteworthy additions in the days ahead. They also retain 2017 AUDL MVP Jonathan Nethercutt, along with goal-scoring behemoth Mischa Freystaetter—currently fourth in the league's all-time goals scoring list—and long-time team captain Noah Saul. Beyond that, they return the vast majority of their young core, full of burgeoning superstars who are just scratching the surface of their abilities. Jacob Fairfax, who scored 42 goals in each of the past two seasons, is still just 22 years old. Terrence Mitchell, with 65 goals to his credit over the past two years, is only 23. Atlanta transplant Allan Laviolette, who joined the Flyers midseason last year, is now firmly entrenched in the Raleigh system. And defensively, Justin Allen, David Richardson, Jakeem Polk, and Mike Pannone all remain in the mix to create havoc in Head Coach Mike Denardis’ system. The Flyers are also excited to return a couple feisty and highlight prone defenders in Tim McAllister and JD Hastings, both of whom have played for Raleigh in the past but did not suit up in 2018. Here’s the point: even without Jack, Goose, and Brett, Raleigh is still stacked.
- If New York and Toronto are the #1 rivalry in the league, Raleigh and Dallas is #1b right alongside them. While the Empire and Rush won’t meet until mid-May, the Flyers and Roughnecks will collide in the opening game of the year on Friday, April 5 in Dallas. The Roughnecks’ 2019 roster will be similar to a year ago, with perhaps the biggest addition being a guy who spent all of last season on the sideline. Abe Coffin missed the entire 2018 campaign with a wrist injury, but is finally healthy again, back practicing, and receiving rave reviews. “Abe’s comically good at frisbee,” said a delighted Wes Nemec, who’s back for his second season as Dallas’ Head Coach. “He’ll be really fun to watch this year.” Along with Coffin’s return—he registered 39 goals and 37 assists two years ago—the Roughnecks also will feature their three captains: Dalton Smith, Dan Emmons, and Jay Froude, who earned First Team All-AUDL honors in 2018. Potential stars Carson Wilder and Kaplan Maurer will presumably assume even larger roles in their second year with the team, while the gang of youthful contributors like Connor Olson, Noah Chambers, and Zach Marbach are all another year older and now possess Championship Weekend experience. Even though the Roughnecks have spent the offseason cherishing their improbable and thrilling comeback victory over Raleigh in the South Division final, Dallas also maintains the sour taste of defeat from Championship Sunday in Madison, a motivator that will fuel them in their quest to make it four straight years in the final four.
- In January, the Philadelphia Phoenix announced that David Hampson and Nate Venditta would be the team’s co-coaches in 2019, replacing Trey Katzenbach, the ageless player/coach who helped Philly win as many games last year (five) as the franchise had won in the previous three years combined. But while Hampson and Venditta, who served as Katzenbach’s assistants last season, will take over coaching responsibilities, the 48-year-old Katzenbach does expect to be back for another year as a player for the Phoenix. “We are in a much better spot this year in terms of our preparation for the upcoming season and all felt that it would be good to have a dedicated coach that could concentrate on just coaching,” Katzenbach explained. “I hope to still be a big part of the team as a player.” Having already re-signed their top players from a year ago like Sean Mott, Ethan Peck, and Himalaya Mehta, the Phoenix will hope to continue their rise in the East Division. Behind Toronto and New York (in some order), there should be a great battle for the division’s final playoff slot, with four teams that all have some intrigue.
- Montreal will be one of those teams battling Philly in the East, and one can reason that the Royal would have made the playoffs last year if not for an 0-3 record against the Phoenix. Although some of Montreal’s veterans like Yoland Cabot and Antoine Genest have retired, Montreal will still have an eclectic mix of international talent. Kevin Quinlan, at age 25, is back as captain for his eighth year in the league—he remains a member, along with Helton, Cameron Brock, Travis Carpenter, Kyle Cox, and Keenan Plew, of the AUDL’s Original Six—and the Royal expect to import additional members of the French National team on their 2019 roster to join the impactful Stève Bonneau and Quentin Bonnaud, who each enter their third year in Montreal. Caroline Cadotte also returns as Head Coach of the Royal, making the Royal one of two teams that currently have female head coaches. Miranda Roth Knowles is back leading the Atlanta Hustle for another year, while Eileen Murray and Erin Mirocha, who served as head coaches last season, are no longer at the helm for New York and Minnesota, respectively.
- Do you remember the story about Madison’s Kevin Pettit-Scantling carrying a bottle of champagne to every Radicals’ practice and game last year? Well, prepare for the sequel. Earlier this month, KPS posted on Instagram, showing two battles of the same champagne. One is open and empty, a symbol of last year’s success. The other is corked and secure, representing the renewed pursuit of even greater glory. Pettit-Scantling wrote: “During the AUDL 2018 season, we had a theme: the champagne campaign. I ferried a bottle of champagne to every practice and every game for seven months. It was a simple reminder for us as teammates to stay focused; put our heads down and WORK. Six months later and we’re about to start the 2019 season. Madison Radicals practices start tomorrow…I can’t think of a better way to pack than with a new bottle of champagne. Here we go. Come and get us.”
- Watching the 68th NBA All-Star Game this past Sunday night got the mind wandering to visions of the very first AUDL All-Star Game, which will take place in Madison on June 8. There’s just something cool about seeing all the different logos on the court together, not to mention the collection of the greatest talent in the world all in the same spot to showcase their skills and have some fun. Sure, it’s not that competitively intense, but that’s not necessarily the point. The game was filled with scintillating shooting and above-the-rim hops, full of flair and pizzazz. The very first professional ultimate All-Star game will certainly follow a similar script, and it will be a novel and enticing evening of entertainment for all the fans to enjoy both in person and on tv. It also should have a positive effect on all the players and the league overall, as Ben Simmons’ in-game comments on Sunday night implied. Simmons, an Australian-born guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, told TNT’s Kristen Ledlow that being around all of the great players in the game inspires him to want to work even harder. In the same vein, the AUDL All-Star game should enhance the camaraderie and competitiveness of all the league’s top players. It will be riveting to watch it all transpire in June.
- And speaking of hoops, time for a bit of self-promotion. My personal basketball broadcasting schedule concludes with 13 games in 24 days, starting this Saturday afternoon in Louisville, where I’ll be privileged to call the action for third-ranked Virginia and 18th-ranked Louisville, which is a huge game in the ACC men’s basketball race. Tipoff’s at noon eastern on Raycom Sports, and you can watch the game on stations in 38 different states (and DC). If you don’t live anywhere in the Raycom/ACC footprint or don’t have a tv subscription, you can still steam the game for free at theacc.com.
The Tuesday Toss is published weekly on theAUDL.com during the season and occasionally during the offseason. 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