May 21, 2019
By Evan Lepler
If shade can be unintentionally thrown, it was cruelly and ironically heaped upon the DC Breeze as double overtime began in Ottawa on Saturday night.
Before the Ottawa Outlaws even completed a pass, they took a timeout just seconds into the untimed universe point, an incidentally savage reminder of the Breeze improperly being denied a timeout a week earlier in an identical spot, resulting in a tough, controversial, and unfortunate one-goal loss to New York. Seven days later, following a missed opportunity to steal the win after an Outlaws turnover, that shade must have felt like an eclipse, in the form of another heartbreaking loss for the Breeze, their second double overtime defeat in as many weeks, each delivered in its own excruciating way.
Whereas last week involved an acknowledged officiating blunder, this week unfolded fair and square. That, of course, was no consolation to the aggrieved Breeze, who scored an exhilarating buzzer-beater at the end of regulation to force overtime, only to again experience despair a little while later.
“We didn’t rush ourselves onto the bus after the loss,” remarked DC’s Cody Johnston. “After the team huddle broke, we all stayed at the field—reflecting, stretching, and starting to fill up the mental energy tank again. [Ottawa] played a great game, and we acknowledged that, but we also knew we left our opportunities on the table. It reflects the maturity of our young squad that we came out the way we did against Montreal.”
Considering the magnitude of DC’s recent adversity in a pair of devastating double overtime outcomes, perhaps the most amazing result of the entire AUDL season thus far was the Breeze bouncing back on Sunday afternoon in Montreal. Poetically, it was another one-goal game, this time ending in DC’s favor, despite nearly coughing up a five-goal second half lead in front of the Royal’s raucous home crowd.
“It was no doubt a big moment when the clock hit zero,” said Johnston, exhaling on behalf of his entire team. “We played eight quarters [plus two overtimes] in less than 20 hours and it was exhilarating to perform the way we did. This team has such a blend of grit and guile. We’re hungry, bought-in, and ready to go toe-to-toe with anyone.”
After a weekend of agony and ecstasy, the Breeze are basically the paradigm of a new AUDL archetype, where the margin between success and failure is often microscopically small and the emotions can vary across a wide spectrum in a single day. The difference between 2-4 and 3-3, DC’s Sunday triumph left them right in the thick of the East Division playoff race at the midway point of the 12-game season, with more twists and turns inevitable in the mysterious weeks ahead.
The Full Field Layout
There are multiple sides to every story, of course, and DC’s outcomes reverberated significantly in each of its Canadian pitstops.
When Ottawa innocently took its timeout as double overtime was just getting underway tied at 21-all, the Outlaws were struggling to stomach their own uneasy circumstances.
“Regarding our use of the timeout, there were numerous jokes exchanged with the DC captains and coaches when were heading to overtime regarding the timeout situations, but us using a timeout in double OT definitely wasn’t meant as a joke,” said Outlaws handler Karl Loiseau, who completed all 40 of his throws to help lead Ottawa on Saturday night. “DC had been coming down very aggressively in handler coverage off their pulls, so we called a handler strike to try and catch them off guard. They ended up bricking the pull so the handler strike wasn’t effective against their set defense and left Nick [Boucher] stranded with the disc and no viable reset options and he ended up calling the timeout to reset the stall count.”
Winless in four games, but coming off a disappointing yet confidence-inspiring one-goal setback in Toronto last week, the Outlaws had the disc and the game in their hands after the timeout until DC’s Leo Pierson denied a reset attempt and took off toward the end zone. He appeared to have a step on Loiseau, and David Bloodgood collected the disc and launched a blading flick to the goal line. The Outlaws breathed a massive sigh of relief when Loiseau did a nice job of challenging the catch, and the disc swiftly sailed over both him and Pierson, eventually landing incomplete to give Ottawa another life. Twelve throws later, Loiseau confidently delivered a hammer to Greg Ellis for the game-winning dagger, as Ottawa prevailed 22-21 in double overtime for the Outlaws’ first win of the season.
“I had confirmed with the refs that we would indeed have a timeout in the extra frame—there may have been a sly grin on my face when I asked them—but I certainly didn’t expect to see us use it before attempting a pass,” shared Ottawa Head Coach Luke Phelan. “I can guarantee that our plan [after the timeout] wasn’t to turn it over on a dribble handoff bail before gaining a yard of turf. Great play by Pierson, and a good idea to strike at that point. With adrenaline pumping and the game on the line, I probably would have made the same decision to huck it, but given how far downfield most of our guys were at the time of the turnover, it’s pretty likely that a couple of completions for DC would have yielded a really open throw for the win.”
Retrospectively, DC Head Coach Darryl Stanley agreed, saying that he should have taken a timeout after Pierson’s block. Following the bold but unsuccessful shot to the end zone, the Breeze maintained solid defensive pressure and forced the Outlaws to work for the winner, which eventually they did.
“There were a couple of tight throws at rising stall counts right in front of our bench, and Karl had to make an impressive inside break just a couple of throws prior to his game-winner to maintain possession, but I was impressed by how calm our guys looked as they crept down the field,” added Phelan. “Karl’s hammer was aggressive, but it was to a good spot and to a guy who had been consistently excellent for the whole game, Greg Ellis.”
The Outlaws victory was particularly noteworthy because they pulled it out in overtime without Derek Alexander and Alec Arsenault, inarguably two of their top players, who had both gotten injured during the game. Ottawa was one completion away from winning in regulation, but a turnover with less than 10 seconds remaining resulted in Nate Prior finding a bidding Matt Cullom for the dramatic equalizer, evoking memories of the Outlaws coughing up late leads in the past. This time, however, Ottawa regrouped and narrowly pulled it out, leaving the Breeze relatively reeling heading into Sunday.
From Montreal’s perspective, the Montreal Royal’s home opener at Claude-Robillard Stadium had all the makings of a must-win opportunity. At 0-2 with understandable road losses at the New York Empire and Toronto Rush, Montreal took the field on Sunday with four more road games, a pair of daunting doubleheaders, on tap for each of the next two weekends. Considering the Breeze would theoretically be fatigued and the Royal would presumably be fresh, Montreal had a bunch of reasons to throw the kitchen sink at DC in order to secure their first victory of 2019.
Throughout the first half, the Breeze and Royal dueled in an exciting back-and-forth with razor-thin margins, including tie scores at every number from one to seven. But DC broke to surge in front 9-7 at halftime, then opened the third quarter on a 6-2 burst to lead 15-9 midway through the third. Confounding expectations, the Breeze were the crisper, more energetic team in creating the sizable separation.
“Our defensive intensity set the tone against the Royal,” said Johnston, who went 73-for-73 passing to help Pilot DC’s O-line throughout the Breeze’s two-game weekend. “[David] Bloodgood, [David] Shields, [Leo] Pierson, [AJ] Merriman, [Dane] Warner, the list goes on of explosive athletes we’ve got who make life miserable for their matchups. The third quarter push was all fueled by our D-line’s willingness to play gritty and smart, and run on the turn.”
After trailing 20-16 with 5:05 remaining, the Royal scored the final three goals of the game, including the tally that inched them within one with 1:19 left. But 18 completions later, many involving Nate Prior, Max Cassell, and Rowan McDonnell, the final 79 seconds had expired without Montreal touching the disc, and the Breeze began to celebrate their Canadian split.
They could have gone 2-0 or 0-2 on the weekend, so 1-1 felt fair and just for the Breeze, who host the Royal in DC this coming Sunday, commencing a three-game homestead with New York and Toronto also coming to the Capitol by mid-June. Montreal, meanwhile, finds itself mired at 0-3, while four more road games on the agenda in the next 12 days.
“The message from the leadership after that game was a lot about maintaining focus through the half,” said Royal Captain Kevin Quinlan. “We have struggled in the third in all of our games so far. That being said, we are very happy with the development of our depth.”
Can the Royal win at Philly, at DC, at Ottawa, or at Toronto before sunset on June 2? If so, maybe they can remain a contender. If not, their five-game homestand to close their campaign will, disappointingly, be solely as a spoiler.
“The East Division is getting interesting,” added Quinlan. “We will learn a lot this weekend.”
Underneath the undefeated New York Empire, the AUDL East Division clearly feels more competitive than ever before. The lingering question is whether any of the five other East franchises can unseat New York in a game that matters later this year?
The Empire established separation quickly on Saturday’s marquee matchup with Toronto, though the Rush won’t have to search too hard for reasons to be more optimistic about a future showdown. Missing regular contributors like Andrew Carroll, Isaiah Masek-Kelly, and Geoff Powell, among others, obviously hurt Toronto’s chances to compete on Saturday against New York, but the slew of unforced errors and poor choices were much more damaging. The Empire, at nearly full strength and looking as good as they have been all season, capitalized on many of these Rush gifts and provoked additional success with their tone-setting intensity, taking an 11-6 halftime lead before prevailing 22-17.
“Defense was solid from start to finish,” commented New York Head Coach Bryan Jones, who was pleased at the improvement and focus on defense compared to last week’s double overtime win vs. DC. “We hit another gear of intensity which is where we needed to be. Marques [Brownlee] was awesome often being the first one down on the pull despite being the puller. Beau [Kittredge] had his best game of the year and is looking fast. Jeff [Babbitt] had a good game defensively, so that was helpful. We incorporated some lessons learned from the DC game strategically, but I think our intensity was the biggest thing. Toronto was definitely missing some people to say the least, but we did our job well regardless.”
Offensively, Harper Garvey anchored the Empire effort, dishing seven assists and completing 43 of his 44 throws, taking full advantage of his dynamic arsenal of receivers. Grant Lindsley caught five goals, Ben Jagt snagged four, and Babbitt and Matt Stevens each chipped in with three, though the play of the game was probably Brownlee’s majestically floating flick that found Ryan Drost for a second quarter score.
“It was a downwind throw that travelled like it was thrown into a slight breeze,” explained Empire Assistant Coach David Blau. “Just sat up on a shelf and gave Ryan the time to break off his cut, realize the throw was made, turn and track it down. Ryan is very fast, no doubt, but the rotation imparted by Marques on that flick was special.”
At 5-0, the Empire handed the Rush their first loss of the year and remain the AUDL’s only undefeated team. But what made the weekend historic was what transpired on Sunday in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Phoenix have been anxiously eager to deliver a statement result, and their 18-16 triumph over the Rush fit the bill. Frankly, Philly felt they should have won by a wider margin, but the two-point triumph still represented a landmark achievement and an unprecedented new reality for Toronto. After going winless in 13 previous meetings against the Rush, the Phoenix finally earned a win. And Toronto had never before gone winless in 12 previous doubleheader road trips since the franchise was founded in 2013, an impressive streak that also ended ignominiously this past weekend.
“There was of course a ton of excitement and even relief,” said Phoenix GM and player Mike Arcata, who had four goals and one assist on Sunday afternoon. “We have a bunch of personnel who have been with the team for years, know the Rush as one of our toughest opponents, and have experienced the history of losing to them each season. There were many people sharing in the celebration.”
Arcata lavished praise on the Sands brothers, Marc and Zac, for their clutch late-game playmaking that helped secure the victory after Toronto had transformed a 15-12 deficit into a 16-all tie in the fourth quarter. The last couple points were both sloppy, turnover-laden affairs, but after years of seeing the Rush make all the key plays down the stretch, Philadelphia grinded them out and punched it the go-ahead score and then an insurance goal to secure the win.
“While it was a historic first win for the franchise, this was not a fluke or lucky win for our team,” added Arcata. “Honestly, in the end there was a measure of dissatisfaction felt with our level of play. We had multiple large leads that were squandered throughout the game. This Phoenix team is capable of competing at the highest level and every Phoenix player knows we should have finished Sunday with a bigger margin.”
With Philly at 2-2 and DC at 3-3, the 3-2 Rush were still positioned in second place after its 0-2 weekend, though the common perch above the Phoenix and Breeze feels more precarious than usual for a Toronto team that also has to face the reigning AUDL champion Madison Radicals in an interdivisional Game Of The Week matchup this weekend.
“It’s not fun to go on the road and lose both games,” stated Toronto’s Thomson McKnight. “But having a bit of perspective a few days later, I’m proud of the effort we showed in both games. Our O-line this weekend featured four rookies, all of whom played really well and showed that they belong and can compete. We also saw great play from rookies and second-year players on our D-line. Phil Turner continues to improve as a big defender. While Jagt’s stat line was still good, Phil made several nice plays on him and minimized his effectiveness.
“I don’t want to minimize the losses, though. We are now in a much different scenario where we need wins and can’t afford to slip up anymore.”
The only other division that can rival the East’s confounding confusion is the Midwest, where uncommon results are becoming a weekly habit. Ten days ago, the Radicals suffered their first home loss against a division foe in 2,190 days, when Minnesota edged Madison 20-19 for a narrative shifting Minnesota Wind Chill win. A week later, the long-term outlook remains cloudy and uncertain, as Madison rebounded on the road, Minnesota stumbled at home, and Indy and Chicago made it harder to understand who they really are.
The Radicals and Chicago Wildfire were both looking to avoid back-to-back losses when they squared off in Chicago, but the outcome would be identical to the previous 14 clashes between these Midwest adversaries. For the 15th consecutive matchup, ever since the Wildfire edged the Radicals 15-14 on May 23, 2014, Madison reigned supreme, improving to 18-2 all-time against the Chicago. Though the result was familiar, the Radicals recognized that the landscape has shifted.
“Chicago felt like a new team,” said Madison’s Kevin Pettit-Scantling. “When matchups were given out we had a bit of homework to do to feel comfortable. Our main concerns were limiting [Matt] Rehder and [Pawel] Janas. We put Cooli [Thomas Coolidge] on Janas because he’s our best close-quarter defender. He did an excellent job.
“Our defensive coordinator, [Jake] Spiro, and some of our D leaders discussed the Rehder matchup at length. We’d all taken turns getting burned by him in the past, so we took a different approach: ‘if one cannot beat him, then two might.’ We put Sterling [Knoche] on him for one of our D lines and Chris Wilen on the other line…Their efforts placed the frisbee in their low volume throwers’ hands, where the rest of us had our shots at making plays.”
While Madison built an early 3-1 lead and never trailed, the Wildfire did make a run, tying the game at 17-all early in the fourth. But the Radicals O-line, bolstered by the return of Peter Graffy, registered a string of clutch holds thereafter, and up 20-19, Madison’s D delivered three consecutive breaks to build a four-goal down the stretch. Madison eventually prevailed 25-22.
“I would say that the main stories of the game revolved around youth versus experience,” said Graffy, who tallied four goals, four assists, and one block for the now 3-1, first place Radicals. “I feel like this iteration of the Wildfire is super young and hungry. They’re fast and athletic and do well on the big field, so their upside is really high. What they lack, though, is big game experience when things get tight down the stretch. Over the last couple of years, the Radicals have prided themselves on being a fourth quarter team. We knew that the mentality that you go into quarters 1-3 with is different than quarter four. Decisions need to be better, throws need to be tighter, and you have to find that fifth gear even though you’re tired. The Wildfire had the legs to stick with us through three quarters and into the fourth, but instead of really valuing the disc down the stretch, they made some bad decisions and had bad execution errors. Our guys stayed composed till the end, hitting open hands and working it in with our legs. That discipline paid off.”
Janas, who had endured only four throwaways in Chicago’s first three games of the season, suffered through five turnovers on Saturday, more than any game this year or last year. He still completed 72 passes, of course, and Tommy Gallagher, Tim Fergus, and Ross Barker all had strong days moving the disc, but each of the Wildfire’s top nine completion leaders finished with at least one throwaway. Among Madison’s top nine completion leaders, five finished turnover-free.
“The Radicals are a real team’s team, and they deservedly beat us Saturday night,” acknowledged Rehder, who registered two goals, three assists, and two blocks in Chicago’s three-goal setback. “Their biggest strength is in their chemistry and cohesion, which is a department we are still lacking. Offensively, we are a strong group of athletes that are just lacking structure once we are in flow. In our last two games, we have really struggled to possess the disc, almost unbeknownst to how much pressure the other team is putting on us.”
After a 2-0 start, the Wildfire now find themselves at 2-2 getting ready to host Indianapolis for the first the first time this season on Saturday, and it’s anyone’s guess which AlleyCats club will show up.
After suffering a disappointing home loss to Atlanta, Indy rebounded with a gritty effort on a raw day in Minnesota, sneaking past the Wind Chill, 13-11, in the lowest-scoring game of the 2019 season thus far.
“The wind was very unpredictable and created a heavy upwind-downwind battle,” shared Indy’s Travis Carpenter, who threw six of the AlleyCats’ 13 scores and only tossed one turnover in 47 attempts. “Sometimes it would gust and the disc would randomly either shoot up into the air or sometimes it would randomly drop really fast towards the turf. It made simple throws and catches difficult all game long. It was also mid-40s, which is not a temperature that a lot of the older guys are used to playing in anymore.”
Indy’s game plan involved trying to keep the disc out of Josh Klane’s hands, which they did with moderate success, as Klane registered a season-low 29 completions and two assists. Jason Tschida tallied 31 completions in his 2019 Wind Chill debut, but he and Klane combined for 11 throwaways, whereas Brett Matzuka (69-for-72), Keenan Plew (48-for-51), and Travis Carpenter (46-for-47) did a much better job of maintaining possession.
“I give a lot of props to Indy,” said Wind Chill Captain Brandon Matis. “They handled themselves much better than we did in the conditions, especially strategically. One thing I think people will notice on watching our film is that we’ve done a good job making other teams uncomfortable with a poachy defensive look that we have. I think we underestimated Indy’s reset ability and came down in that set a lot. We expected our junk look to cause some mistakes. Matzuka and Carpenter stayed comfortable in it the whole time and didn’t make as many as we expected.”
Indy led virtually wire-to-wire, taking a 5-3 advantage by the end of the first, clinging to a 6-5 edge at halftime, and remaining ahead 11-9 at the end of the third. Minnesota inched within one at 11-10, but the AlleyCats responded with a clutch seven-throw score, culminating with Carpenter hitting Matzuka to double the lead. The Cats’ D broke again to lead 13-10, and the Wind Chill’s final goal was inconsequential, just like, Minnesota hoped, the significance of this result going forward.
“This was one of those games you crumple up, throw in the trash, and forget about,” declared Klane. “Indy was able to possess a little better and make better decisions with the disc, but I think it’s fair to say both teams were happy to just be done with that game and get some beer at Surly.”
Both Matis and Klane insisted that Minnesota’s setback was not a ‘letdown’ after the momentous Radicals’ win. Instead, it was “just a sloppy game where the better team was slightly less sloppy,” assessed Klane.
At 3-3 midway through their season, Minnesota sits a game back of 3-1 Madison and 4-2 Indy, and time will tell if Saturday’s stumble is a mere blip or a more serious symptom that could end the Wind Chill’s three-year postseason streak.
There are not many ultimate players with their own imdb page.
Everyone knows Brodie Smith, who played five parts of five seasons in the AUDL and has established a multi-million fan following thanks to his trick shot stylings. Comparatively, hardly anyone knows Xavier Charles, but the Hollywood stuntman, actor, model, and, most importantly for this column, surging Los Angeles Aviators rookie, might be riding an even unlikelier journey to frisbee fame.
Charles started playing ultimate in 2009, while serving in the Air Force, stationed in Tucson, Arizona, where he worked as a weather forecaster, briefing pilots on the meteorological situations they would encounter. After running track and playing football in high school, Charles and many of his mates on his base used ultimate to stay in shape, and when he really began to enjoy the sport, he signed up for a local league.
Fast forwarding five years, Charles had moved to Virginia Beach, where he met his future wife, a former Georgia Southern ultimate player. He started playing on a local club team, and he was exposed to some of the top players when playing at USA Ultimate’s Beach Nationals in 2016 and 2017, where he realized his throws were not elite but his athleticism matched up well with anyone.
His ultimate skills were coming along, but his imdb page did not become a reality until after he moved to Los Angeles later in 2017. He became friends with an actor, and when his new friend discovered that Charles had formerly raced sports cars in the National Auto Sport Association, he was encouraged to look into stunt driving. From there, a career was born.
“I had been on a racing reality TV show on SpikeTV back in 2007, so I was comfortable in front of the camera and I decided to give it a go,” said Charles. “I went to stunt driving school, drift school, wire-work, and fight choreography classes to prepare. Since then, I have been on quite a few tv shows, a couple of movies, and car commercials for Honda, Mini, and Jeep. I have also had a couple of small acting roles and even modeled for the Park MGM in Vegas.”
While enjoying a wide variety of professional experiences in Hollywood, Charles also took the next step in his ultimate journey this spring. He had tried out for the Aviators in 2018, but acknowledged that his throws were not ready. In 2019, he was not going to attend tryouts until long-time LA-area player Jeff Landesman—whose 18-year-old son Danny is also having a splendid first AUDL season—convinced him to give it a chance.
“The day of the tryout, my car battery died, so I had to drive my practice stunt car there,” remembered Charles. “I arrived 40 minutes late, so I knew I probably wouldn’t make the team unless I stood out. So I used my speed and defensive skills to try and get the coaches’ attention. I felt comfortable knowing I did all I could, and at the very end, [Tyler] Bacon talked to me to see if I was interested in playing on the team.”
On April 12, at age 33, Xavier Charles made his AUDL debut, catching a goal in LA’s four-goal win over San Jose. This past Saturday, Charles enjoyed his best game yet, catching three goals in the Aviators’ three-goal win over the Spiders.
“He is extremely fast,” noted LA teammate, Eric Lissner, whose throws found Charles in the end zone three times for the Aviators’ D-line on Saturday.
Fast and fearless, Charles is another intriguing rookie for the 5-2 Aviators, who are continuing to exceed all preseason expectation in large part because of their unheralded newcomers, a group that has a variety of compelling backstories that brought them to professional ultimate. A couple weeks ago, “The Outside-In” shared Kyle Conniff’s journey from Wisconsin to South Korea to ACL surgery to the Aviators. Danny Landesman, the local teenage phenom, and Joc Jimenez, the confident Colombian import, are two more first-years who have brought energy, skill, and style.
With his unique and labyrinthine path to pro ultimate, though, Charles’ journey and career combination may be the least likely of all. He may be the only person in the world with both pro ultimate player and Hollywood stuntman on his résumé.
“Working on stunts is a lot of fun,” said Charles, who has six goals, one block, and zero turnovers in his first four AUDL games. “I get to shoot guns, drift cars, get beat up and die quite a bit. Although, if I work on something where I die, I let my mom know ahead of time so she can mentally prepare.”
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
Big thanks to Shawn Kenney for his diligent preparation and superb performance on the Stadium Game of the Week broadcast in New York on Saturday night! I was bummed to miss the broadcast, but excited to get Shawn in the AUDL mix after having worked with him during USA Ultimate’s club coverage on ESPN. He’s a true pro who has really developed a passion and appreciation for ultimate, and I enjoyed listening to him and Kurt Gibson from afar this past weekend.
When you travel by sky virtually every weekend, you are destined to experience your fair share of frustration. For a long time, I learned to just chuckle at the misfortunate, trying my best to make light of the situation that was usually out of my hands. Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve been cursed by a disproportionate amount of drama so far this season, and frankly, my fuse is getting shorter.
While I did not travel for ultimate this past weekend, I still trekked cross-country to Phoenix for another broadcasting opportunity, and everything went smoothly until Sunday, when I was ready to fly home. I made it through security—TSA PreCheck, obviously—and my direct flight was listed as on time. By the time I walked to my gate, less than five minutes later, my flight had been cancelled. It was a cruel joke that turned out to be brutally true, my second cancelled flight home in as many Sundays and my third Sunday cancellation of the past six weeks, all on the same airline.
A tip for all travelers to try and minimize the damage: from the time a flight is cancelled, a race amongst all the alienated passengers immediately ensues. Get to the front of a line, get on the airlines app, or get on the phone with someone helpful—admittedly an excruciatingly difficult task when it comes to airline customer service—as quickly as possible, as the degree of your misery is often directly correlated with how fast you can act.
I logged on the app and decisively rebooked myself on a flight from Phoenix to Newark, obviously an unappetizing choice when I was trying to get to Charlotte, but also the best chance I had to get back home before midnight. My connecting flight in Newark was delayed as well, but after being told by a gate agent I had no chance to successfully fly standby on earlier flight, my name was called for that exact flight. (I swear, at least 50 percent of the advice, suggestions, or information that gate agents pass along is either misinformed or outright idiotic.)
When all was said and done, I got home about five hours later than I was supposed to. This was actually a step forward from my previous cancellations, which cost me about 20 hours combined.
In the next seven days, I’m scheduled to fly on Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday. Please, dear travel Gods, be kind in the week ahead.
Seven On The Line
- The dozen-game weekend in the AUDL commenced on Friday night with, at the time, the most lopsided final score of the season. Despite falling behind 3-1, the San Diego Growlers led the San Jose Spiders 8-5 by the end of the first, surged ahead 16-9 by halftime, and prevailed 32-20 in their second-most lopsided win in franchise history.
“This week’s game felt very similar to the LA game last week,” said Travis Dunn, who contributed two goals, four assists, and a block to lift his season-long plus/minus to +46, tops in the AUDL. “I don’t know what is hindering us getting started right from the opening point, but once we figure it out, we are really clicking…The selfless play of everyone on this team is really bringing our play to the highest level it has ever been at. Our defense is controlling games right now too. We are generating turnovers, and we are executing with those lines as well. Will [Turner], Sam [Fontaine], and Nathan [Bridges] are really taking control when we get the disc, and we are punishing teams for giving us chances. Even though we have stumbled out of the gates offensively for the last two weeks, the defensive unit is picking us up and regaining the advantage for us.” At 6-1, the Growlers will be off this weekend before traveling again to Los Angeles on June 1. They could potentially clinch the top spot in the West Division by mid-June with wins over the Aviators on the road on June 1 and at home on June 15.
That last sentence is not meant to bury the Aviators’ chances, though their 0-2 mark against the Growlers suggests that improvement will be essential to flip the 2019 SoCal hierarchy. On Saturday night, Los Angeles certainly struggled to put San Jose away as convincingly as San Diego did the night before, but the Aviators hung on for a still-satisfying 25-21 result. Sean McDougall and Joc Jimenez combined for eight goals, seven assists, and two blocks to pace the Aviators effort, which improved Los Angeles to 5-2 and, just like the Growlers, 3-0 against San Jose. “I think we got five or six breaks in the third quarter, and I think our defensive line had possession of the first in nearly every point in the second half,” said Spiders Coach Dan Silverstein, encouraged by his team’s growth from Friday to Saturday. “At 20-18, we had the disc on their goal line, but weren’t able to punch it in. We definitely had our chances, but in the key moments things just didn’t quite connect. That definitely left our players feeling frustrated, knowing that we had the opportunity and ability to have won that game…The fatigue probably contributed, but I think LA’s defense continued to apply enough pressure throughout the end of the game to keep them up. Their defense played well and punished us for execution errors and mental lapses.” Asked about what his message was to his Spiders after their record dipped to 2-6, Silverstein commented that the game’s conclusion was also met with the realization that their return flight home had been cancelled and the San Jose roster was redistributed across six different Sunday flights. “That madness took precedence,” said Silverstein, who was forced to focus on the undesirable logistics when the battle against the Aviators ended. “I think my primary message was, ‘let’s get tacos.’”
The most significant win in the West or South Divisions in Week 7 was probably the Tampa Bay Cannons’ dramatic, 19-17, overtime triumph over the Austin Sol behind a scintillating +10 performance from Cannons veteran Bradley Seuntjens.
“The game against Austin was a showing of our mental toughness,” said Seuntjens, whose stat line of five goals, three assists, and three blocks was the best in his five-year AUDL career. “There were a couple of times in that game when we were up by two or three and they would pull it back to even. It seemed like we were able to let go of our mistakes and move on mentally to the next point, allowing us to pull ahead for the third time and take the W in the end. Nathan Vickroy had a nasty layout D to give us one more shot at the end of regulation, but we couldn’t get enough goal-line movement to punch in. Austin had a couple of execution errors in overtime that we were able to capitalize on. Bobby Patterson’s massive flick tuck to Jacob Clary sealed the game for us, going up by two with one minute left.” The Cannons, who went just 4-10 a season ago, went to sleep on Saturday night with a 3-1 record, while the Sol, who went 7-7 and earned a playoff berth in 2018, slipped to a disappointing 1-6. All seven of Austin’s games have been decided by five or less, but that competitiveness is little consolation for a team that has fallen short in five straight games since knocking off Dallas in Week 2. “The game on Saturday was tough to swallow,” acknowledged Austin’s Kyle Henke. “Tampa played a great game, using the whole field and throwing every hammer and blade that was open. Their conversion rate on those throws was amazing, and we didn’t adjust…[Head Coach Steven] Darroh told the team after the game that we will continue to play the 20 guys that are going to give us the best chance of winning games. Darroh has done everything that is necessary to win games; it’s on us as players that haven’t done the fundamental things correctly.”
By winning on Saturday in Austin, Tampa Bay was able to view their Texas trip as a success, even when factoring in Sunday’s 28-21 setback in Dallas. The Dallas Roughnecks pounced quickly, taking a 2-0 lead that it never relinquished. It was 8-4 after 12 minutes, 14-10 at the break, 22-17 through three, and the fatigued Cannons were understandably broken a few more times in the fourth by a Dallas team whose depth was on display. “Defensively, we set a break quota for each quarter,” shared Carson Wilder, whose +7 with five goals, three assists, and one turnover paced the Roughnecks O-line. “I think we met it in all quarters except the second, which fired us up as the offense. Our defense has been exceptional these last two games, specifically our handler defense from Kaplan and our downfield defense from Wesley Miaw and Alex Brouwer…Griffin [Miller], EBay [Ben Lewis], and Zach Marbach were absolutely flying all over the field defensively. Zach had a crazy game full of layouts and scooters and skies, which really fired us up from the start. We’ve had trouble coming out slow last year and this year, and this was a huge team win coming out strong on a hot Sunday game.” The Roughnecks rose to 4-1 and sunk the Cannons to 3-2, though Tampa still had plenty to be proud of when putting the weekend in perspective. “50 percent of the team traveling had not played in a Texas weekend before, so I’d definitely say we were overmatched and fatigued [on Sunday],” acknowledged Cannons Coach Andrew Roca. “I’d be interested in seeing what a home game [vs. the Roughnecks] would look like, so we’ll get our chance later in the season. I think they all played pretty impressively. They were just much more explosive than we could ever be after playing a grueling game the night before.”
Elsewhere in the South, the Raleigh Flyers held off the Atlanta Hustle in a competitive 25-22 battle, and while the Flyers improved to 6-1 heading into three consecutive bye weeks, the Hustle continued their positive trends that they have showcased since falling to 0-4 at the end of April. “I honestly thought we were well positioned starting the fourth quarter to make a run at them to close out the game, and even throughout the fourth quarter we got the Ds we needed and were in a great position to narrow the gap,” explained Atlanta’s Christian Olsen, who’s +7 with three goals, four assists, and no turns paced the Hustle. “The thing with Raleigh is that they will never just give it to you. You have to take it from them, and we just came up short on a few chances that we took. They did a great job of clamping down on our handler sets and making us take shots down the field.” Perhaps most notably for the Flyers was the debut of Bobby Ley’s Raleigh career, as the former Cannon led his new team with 53 completions in 55 attempts, creating four assists and catching four goals along the way. “Bobby’s finally healthy and has gotten a few practices under his belt in addition to playing this game,” said Raleigh Head Coach Mike DeNardis. “Not super surprised at how seamless the transition has been because one of his biggest assets is his vision as a thrower and that doesn’t change much regardless of what system he is playing in.” While the Flyers won’t see the field again until June 15, the 2-5 Hustle are very much looking forward to getting another shot against Tampa Bay this weekend, this time in Atlanta after losing a couple of April nailbiters in Florida. “We have definitely grown as a team the past few games and frankly look like an entirely different team than before,” added Olsen. “I guess we’ll have a gut check on that statement come this weekend against Tampa, but I thinker team as a whole looks a lot more confident. We’ve morphed our three-line system into slightly more of an offensive and defensive-minded traditional system where we’re putting people in better positions to do what they do best to help us win games.”
San Diego’s 12-goal victory over San Jose was the AUDL’s largest margin of victory all season for less than 24 hours, as the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds trounced the Detroit Mechanix 24-11 on Saturday evening in the Steel City, seizing control from the opening pull. Beginning the game on defense, the Thunderbirds cruised on four straight breaks at the outset and led 7-3 after one, 13-5 at halftime, and 19-7 through three, surging ahead by as many as 14 before settling for a comfortable 13-goal rout. Sixteen different Pittsburgh players tallied either a goal or an assist, with Sam VanDusen finishing as the Thunderbirds only player with multiple goals (2) and multiple assists (4). Thomas Edmonds, with six goals, and Max Sheppard, who dished six assists, led the Thunderbirds in those respective categories, helping Pittsburgh win their second straight after an 0-3 start, making the .500 mark potentially within reach with a home win over Minnesota this Saturday. The Mechanix, meanwhile, fell to 0-4 and have now lost 30 straight AUDL games, dating back to their last win on April 29, 2017 over Chicago, a streak of futility unrivaled in the history of the league.
It’s not overly common to have in-season farewells, but Philadelphia’s Ethan Peck relocated to Colorado for a new job after the Phoenix’s third game of the year, and this past Saturday, a long-time member of the Los Angeles Aviators also bid adieu to the franchise that he has been unflinchingly dedicated to since its inception. Zac Schakner played in 57 games for the Aviators, including five playoff games, getting diagnosed with and then overcoming cancer along the way. After concluding his graduate school studies at UCLA, Schakner went into Saturday’s matchup with San Jose knowing that it would likely be his final time in an Aviators uniform, as he prepares to move east. “I’ve accepted my dream job as a research marine biologist for NOAA [aka the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] in Silver Spring, Maryland,” shared Schakner. “As for Saturday, it was a lot emotionally, especially during the week leading up to the game. I had anticipated playing two more games, but as it turned out, Saturday was it, and on Friday I let the team know I wouldn’t be finishing the season. I was pretty sad the day before the game. The players and ownership all made it a memorable experience, bringing my wife and five-year-old on the field and thanking me. It was really special and meant the world to me. I’ll also add that Coach [Tyler] Bacon pulled one final surprise out for me; he put me on the O-line, which as a D-guy, I had never experienced before.” In his last game ever for the Aviators, Schakner touched the disc more than ever before, completing a career-high 25 passes, third-most on the team behind Tim Beatty and Bacon. Afterwards, Schakner articulated his appreciation for the opportunity. “I can tell you unequivocally that aside from my family, the Aviators were the most important thing in my life the past five years,” he said. “The owners and players lifted me up years ago when I was battling colorectal cancer. Without them motivating me to get back, I really could have spiraled during those dark times. I’ll miss the team and doing battle on a weekly basis. Many of those who’ve been there since the beginning, like [Michael] Kiyoi, [Eric] Lissner, [Tyler] Bacon, [Sean] McDougall, [Jeff] Silverman I consider to be some of my closest friends. It’s pretty crazy to walk away, but I’ll look back fondly at everything we are able to accomplish.” Obviously, Schakner is moving to a locale with great geographic proximity to another AUDL franchise. Might his career continue? “Chances of being in a DC Breeze jersey this season are slim, as I’d like to focus on my career in the short term, but I absolutely plan on playing next year.”
The 121-game AUDL regular season will officially reach the midway pole this weekend, as the nine-game schedule will take us through the first 67 contests of the 2019 campaign. Through seven weeks, 45 of 58 games (77.6 percent) have been decided by five or less, a considerable increase from a year ago when 62.1 percent of games were decided by five or fewer.
While Madison and Montreal embark on doubleheaders and the four teams in the middle of Midwest mayhem meet in critical single games—Indy at Chicago and Minnesota at Pittsburgh—the upcoming Week 8 professional slate will also be complemented by another annual turningpoint, as the end of the college season always sends shockwaves into the AUDL universe, rippling rosters from coast to coast after the conclusion of Nationals.
The Memorial Day Weekend tradition of 40 college teams—20 men’s and 20 women’s—battling for glory and pride begins on Friday morning and culminates on Monday afternoon in Round Rock, Texas. The AUDL connections are inevitable, and look no further than the #1 seed in both divisions, as Raleigh Flyers coaches Mike DeNardis and David Allison both serve on the extensive coaching staffs of the University of North Carolina Dark Side men’s team and Pleiades women’s team.
It is bound to be a thrilling weekend of wall-to-wall ultimate, and I will again be enormously privileged to be involved in presenting both the AUDL Game of the Week from Toronto and College Nationals from Texas.
Please, travel Gods. Pretty please. Be kind this weekend.
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