June 4, 2019
By Evan Lepler
To put it mildly, Week 9 certainly provided plenty of fodder to discuss throughout the All-Star Break.
In terms of comebacks, Week 9 had ‘em. Two different teams overcame five-goal deficits— both on the road—to emerge victorious, with one of those teams prevailing in a place they had never won before.
In terms of tight finishes, the recent slate delivered that too, with seven of the 10 games being decided by three or less, including three one-goal games, one of which went to overtime. Overall, leading at halftime did not mean a whole lot this past weekend, as half of the contests were won by the team who trailed through two quarters.
In terms of individual accolades, are you kidding me? Chicago’s Matt Rehder and Minnesota’s Quinn Snider engaged in a first-half scoring shootout reminiscent of Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins, a reference surely too ancient for any reader under 30. New York’s Conor Kline began the game on defense before switching onto O and erupting for nine goals. Montreal’s Quentin Bonnaud caught a ridiculous 16 scores in the Royal’s two-game weekend. Heck, even some of the ‘older’ guys had tremendous stat-lines, as Austin’s 35-year-old Jerrod Wolfe accumulated six goals and five assists on Sunday alone.
By sunset on Sunday, a bunch of critical outcomes decided by tantalizingly small margins had reshaped the playoff pictures around the league with just five more regular season weekends remaining. The Midwest is madness. The East, South, and West are all intriguing, but not quite so bonkers.
And this weekend, we get to take a breath from the intensity of the postseason chase and cherish a new and refreshing spectacle, with 32 of the league’s best players, at least one from every team, all on the same field together in front of the amazing Madison fans at the league’s coolest home stadium.
And on Wednesday evening, team captains Rowan McDonnell and Kevin Pettit-Scantling will draft their All-Star rosters on Facebook Live for the entire world to watch. It’s guaranteed to be crazy compelling, though it will tough to match the abundance of storylines that unfolded this past weekend.
Without further adieu, let’s get to it.
The Full Field Layout
The deep dive into Week 9 must begin at the home of the champs, the Madison Radicals, who had won 46 straight against Midwest opponents in their cozy confines and now are 0-2 on that field since raising their championship banner pregame on May 11. But while that 20-19 loss to the Minnesota Wind Chill a few weeks back felt somewhat understandable—a mere hiccup in the Radicals inevitable climb back atop their division—this past Saturday against the Indianapolis AlleyCats was uncomfortably stunning, a disorienting experience that was downright disrespectful to the concept of rational expectations.
Calm down, Indy fans…I am not rejecting the AlleyCats’ ability to be competitive with the Radicals at Breese Stevens Field. We have seen them do that before, on multiple occasions. This past Saturday, however, featured a first quarter that was as non-competitive as any first-place battle that I can remember. With a couple minutes left in the opening frame, the Radicals led 7-2, and honestly, it felt more like 20-2.
“There was a palpable ‘here we go again’ feeling on our sideline,” remarked Indy Head Coach Eric Leonard, “and we were completely sapped of energy midway through the first. Almost nothing went to plan that first quarter, much to Madison’s credit. We were hesitant, and they were ferocious.”
With thunderstorms in the area and the AlleyCats playing so miserably, veteran cutter Cameron Brock even admitted after the game that his mind briefly wandered to the idea that perhaps his team could be saved by a downpour, prompting a postponement that might reset the score back to zero.
“There were storms in the forecast that could have ruined the day,” said Brock. “I found myself thinking for a brief second when we went down 7-2, ‘man, if these storms could show up, we can come back on another day with a fresh start.’ Luckily, those thoughts were fleeting.”
Even as Indy crept back into the game, inching back within two at half and then tying the game by the end of the third, it was reasonable to believe that Madison, like always, would deliver the knockout punch down the stretch. Long-time AlleyCats have seen that movie so many times they know it by heart.
“It is a pretty common story where we make some plays and draw the game close with Madison in the third quarter,” commented Travis Carpenter, who, along with Brock, is one of the four AlleyCats in their eighth year on the team. “That seems to happen every time. Madison’s age and experience always shines through [in the fourth]. We fall apart, and they tighten up.”
Of course, as you surely already know, this particular Saturday’s fourth quarter was different in every way imaginable.
“Our whole team came into that fourth quarter with an insane amount of energy and fire,” said Carpenter. “Everyone on the team was hungry to make a play and did not look scared one bit. It was almost like we were animals that could smell the fear coming off the Madison players. We could see some heads hanging, some desperation throws, some hands on the hips and knees from exhaustion, so we went for the kill. I think that was extremely obvious by the huge plays you saw from our guys to close out that game. Layout grabs, huge blocks, something team defense…It has been a while since I have been that hype in a game. I had a teammate tell me after the game, ‘I thought you were about to randomly run through a wall during that fourth quarter, dude.’”
It truly was breathtaking to watch as the AlleyCats exploded past Madison by winning the fourth quarter 6-3 and the game 18-15, outscoring the Radicals 16-8 over the game’s final 37 minutes after falling behind by five early.
“The moment I knew we had control was when Nick Hutton got that huge layout D,” asserted Carpenter, who led the AlleyCats in points played (22), completions (37), assists (3), and blocks (3). “It was one of the most insane D’s I have ever seen in my life. The dude covered like 25 yards in full spring and laid out at head height to block a seemingly beautiful throw from Pat [Shriwise.]”
Hutton’s spectacular play was just part of Indy’s remarkable defensive effort over the final three quarters, a performance that forced a pair of stalls and consistently denied the Radicals the looks they wanted.
“Madison just had nothing open upfield,” explained Brock. “It wasn’t just one guy. It was seven players perfectly executing their individual assignments. To only allow eight goals to Madison over three quarters of ultimate on a day where weather was pretty much a non-factor, I never would have guessed any team could do that.”
Maybe the craziest part was that the conclusive minutes were not particularly dramatic, giving Indy plenty of time in the waning moments to realize what they had achieved. Still, the feeling when time expired was described by several AlleyCats as pure joy.
“I have never been so happy after a win in the AUDL,” stated Carpenter. “The playoff win against Minnesota last year was a very close second, but I was so happy that I could barely stand for a few seconds after the horn. I was about to drop to my knees involuntarily and had to hold myself up. I then just got a rush of adrenaline and just started yelling and hugging anyone in sight."
Added Brock, “We won with three quarters of the best ultimate Indy has ever played. To know that it wasn’t luck, and it wasn’t just a one-point victory, but a more decisive win, was just incredible. To think about how well we played offensively, a nearly flawless second half, and how incredibly tight our defense played in the last three quarters seemed impossible. But we proved to ourselves that when we execute the game plan the coach puts out there for us, we can do things we never previously could have done.”
The ramifications of this game were monumental, as Indy improved to 5-3, rising into first place in the Midwest, while Madison dipped to 4-3, becoming one of the four Midwest teams with three losses heading into the All-Star Break. The Rads still have five games left to figure out the right formula, but suddenly Madison’s annual divisional crown is feeling far less certain than year’s past. Their next two games are on the road, at Minnesota on June 15 and at Pittsburgh on June 22, and how they respond to this uncommon adversity will be absolutely fascinating.
“I’m ashamed to say that I nodded and muttered good game to the AlleyCats after they won,” remarked Radicals Captain Kevin Pettit-Scantling. “But I shook hands and congratulated Keenan [Plew], Travis, and Cameron. To those big three, the big three, it felt more than a game for them. They tirelessly stuck with a team, built a program out of young talent with no club scenes to really drive the competition, and have created a formidable force. The slow burn that is Indy is remarkable, and I applaud on both feet their efforts….How do we feel? I feel like I’m 21-years-old again. I feel like our future is undefined and our past means nothing again. I feel reinvigorated to test who we are.”
It was ironic that, after the game, some of the AlleyCats bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate. A year ago, Pettit-Scantling carried the same bottle of bubbly around to every game the Radicals played, finally popping it when Madison took the title last August. While winning a regular season game cannot totally compare to prevailing in the final game of Championship Weekend, for the AlleyCats, it was another unprecedented franchise milestone for an organization that’s been gradually building. They were determined to enjoy it.
“Someone threw down 20 bucks for a bottle of champagne and the nine people in my van toasted to the sweetest victory we’ve tasted thus far,” shared Brock. “We knew we were taking it way overboard with the celebration, but that’s kinda how we are. We like to over-exaggerate. It’s our way of having fun. So we hammed it up like we had just won the Super Bowl. Then, on our way home, we watched the Chicago/Minnesota game and witnessed another comeback that put us in first place, in command of the division…We are fully aware that the season didn’t end Saturday, and honestly the All-Star Break couldn’t have come at a better time. I think we need time to let this victory breathe a little bit. We need to refocus and get ready for our next game, which is almost three weeks from now [vs. Minnesota on June 22.] We’ll have time for nagging injuries to heal a bit for some players and time to move on from this obviously emotional victory. We have put ourselves in the driver’s seat for the division, but we need to keep this car on the road lest we find ourselves in a ditch and watching the playoffs from home.”
As they journeyed back toward Indiana, the AlleyCats’ amazing afternoon extended well into the evening for a couple significant reasons beyond the satisfying champagne. Firstly, the Chicago/Minnesota battle on Stadium turned out to be a raucously entertaining shootout, with two teams clicking offensively and always sensing the importance of rare break opportunities when they arose. Secondly, and even more importantly for Indy, the eventual Wildfire/Wind Chill result would ultimately keep the ‘Cats atop the division, when for much of the night it appeared Chicago would elevate into the premier perch.
All four quarters from Sea Foam Stadium in St. Paul were compelling, but none were as high scoring as the first. The two teams combined for 16 goals in a deadlocked opening 12 minutes, with two particular players being directly involved in 15 of those 16 scores.
The 16 goals, all offensive holds, looked like this: Quinn Snider, Matt Rehder, Snider, Michael Pardo, Snider, Rehder, Snider, Rehder, Josh Klane (from Snider), Rehder, Bryan Vohnoutka (from Snider), Rehder, Snider, Rehder, Snider, Rehder.
Just 12 minutes into the game, Minnesota’s Snider—all of 20 years old and just playing his third ever AUDL game—had five goals and three assists, while Chicago’s Rehder had seven goals. Frankly, it was nuts.
Early in the second, Rehder was also involved in the game’s first break, out-reading his defender and catching an upwind 50/50 huck from Pawel Janas out of a timeout to give the Wildfire a 10-8 lead. Just over five minutes later, Rehder hauled in an almost identical post-timeout upwind flick from Janas to surge Chicago further ahead. It was 14-10, Rehder had scored 10 goals (and Janas had dished seven assists), and it felt like the Wildfire had seized control, somehow withstanding the early Snider onslaught.
Chicago’s advantage, though certainly bolstered by its dynamic duo, was about more than just Rehder and Janas. Pardo also scored three first-half goals, while Jeremy Burril and Tommy Gallagher both contributed consistently for the Chicago O-line, as the former hit the latter to make it 15-11 with 1:03 left in the half. Chicago’s offense nearly made it through the entire first half without getting broken, and, in retrospect, the Wind Chill’s goal with just nine seconds remaining felt like a pivotal shift, as Minnesota scored twice in the final minute to close within two, 15-13, at halftime.
By the midway point of the third, Minnesota had collected the equalizer, tying the game at 17. Then, after the longest turbulent see-saw point of the entire night, the Wind Chill took their first lead since the first quarter following a three and a half minute marathon that saw Jimmy Kittlesen record two blocks and ended when Vohnoutka found Ryan Welch for the go-ahead goal.
But the biggest point of the third quarter—and probably the entire game—came with just nine seconds left on the third quarter clock. Chicago had just scored to inch within one, and the Wildfire would receive going downwind to start the fourth. Logic suggested it would be difficult for the Wind Chill to traverse upwind after a good downwind pull and just nine seconds on remaining. The situation was almost ideal for Chicago until a brutal error changed everything.
The Wildfire went offsides on the pull. By rule, the Wind Chill would initiate with the disc at midfield, needing to go 40 yards into the wind instead of potentially 80 or 90. Chicago compounded its mistake by not shifting out of its “Hail Mary” end-of-quarter defense, and a few short throws later, Cam Burden hit Michael Jordan for the score with one second left in the third quarter, capping Chicago’s brutal mismanagement of the period’s closing sequence.
Up 21-19 entering the fourth, the Wind Chill would never trail again, as the teams traded 13 holds over the course of the final 12 minutes. Chicago inched within one seven different times, but never collected the coveted equalizer. The best opportunity came with just over a minute left, but Rehder’s up-line throw to a striking Janas tailed too far to the sideline, and Janas’s attempted greatest throw never came back in bounds. It was the final mistake that buried the Wildfire’s chances, lifting the Wind Chill into the winner’s circle in a game they badly needed.
“I think the biggest thing that stuck out was with a full roster we can compete with anyone,” commented Vohnoutka, who finished with five goals and three assists. “It was great to have basically everyone available for this game; we definitely missed having Cam [Burden] and Quinn out there on O the past few games…We believe with a full roster we can beat any team in the Midwest.”
Certainly, Snider’s performance—10 goals, three assists, no turnovers—was special, though most of teammates said they were not surprised, and they believed the 20-year-old Canadian phenom is capable of excellence. Burden also dished eight assists in the Minnesota triumph, a season-best for the Winnipeg-native. Janas ended the night with 12 assists, but surprisingly Rehder concluded with only 11 goals, scoring just once after halftime.
“Rehder is an incredible player, but Chicago’s offensive system requires him to do a lot of work,” commented Wind Chill Head Coach Ben Feldman. “Package that with a ton of defensive points, and it’s hard to sustain that role all the way through the game.”
Janas also acknowledged that fatigue may have been a factor in Chicago’s coughing up their first-half lead.
“I think we had mental breakdowns due to fatigue that led to execution errors, but the game never felt out of reach. Offensively, we couldn’t find rhythm in the third quarter and had silly throwaways.”
It also merits mention that while Minnesota felt mostly at full strength—minus the impactful Jordan Taylor and Josh Poterack, both of whom were scratched pregame with injuries—Chicago was missing a slew of important players who could help the Wildfire elevate their overall ability in a potential postseason rematch. Zane Rankin, Nate Goff, Von Alanguilan, Seth Weaver, and Dan Miller are all key contributors that Chicago is hoping will help carry them down the stretch of the season.
At the moment, Chicago’s 3-3, Minnesota’s 4-4, and both are entrenched in perhaps the most interesting divisional race that we have ever seen in the AUDL. Assuming none of the top five slip up against Detroit over the next six weeks, these are the nine remaining games that will dictate everyone’s fate:
Madison @ Minnesota, June 15
Madison @ Pittsburgh, June 22
Minnesota @ Indy, June 22
Chicago @ Madison, June 28
Indy @ Pittsburgh, June 29
Chicago @ Indy, July 6
Minnesota @ Madison, July 6
Pittsburgh @ Chicago, July 13
Pittsburgh @ Indy, July 14
Though the standings at the moment technically have Indy at the top, they would look a bit different if we assume that Detroit will finish winless. Just to help you visualize it, here are the current standings with all matchups against Detroit penciled in as Mechanix losses, along with each team’s remaining schedule.
Chicago 6-3 (@ Madison, @ Indy, vs. Pittsburgh)
Indy 5-3 (vs. Minnesota, @ Pittsburgh, vs. Chicago, vs. Pittsburgh)
Madison 5-3 (@ Minnesota, @ Pittsburgh, vs. Chicago, vs. Minnesota)
Pittsburgh 5-3 (vs. Madison, vs. Indy, @ Chicago, @ Pittsburgh)
Minnesota 5-4 (vs. Madison, @ Indy, @ Madison)
As a reminder, top three Midwest teams will make the playoffs, will #3 traveling to #2 while #1 awaits the survivor. What a fascinating race to the finish line this is gonna be.
As downright bizarre or outright entertaining as Indy and Minnesota’s positive results were, one could reasonably argue that actually the most compelling game of the weekend unfolded in Washington D.C., with the league’s only remaining undefeated team again getting pushed the brink by a feisty underdog with a lot to prove. Unfortunately for the DC Breeze, there was little charm about Saturday’s conclusion, their third consecutive narrow setback against the league’s talented favorite.
As downright bizarre or outright entertaining as Indy and Minnesota’s positive results were, one could reasonably argue that actually the most compelling game of the weekend unfolded in Washington D.C., with the league’s only remaining undefeated team again getting pushed the brink by a feisty underdog with a lot to prove. Unfortunately for the Breeze, there was little charm about Saturday’s conclusion, their third consecutive narrow setback against the league’s talented favorite.
Early in the game, however, the Empire struggled mightily and contest nearly became a runaway, as DC built leads of 4-1 and 11-5 before settling for an 11-7 halftime advantage. The Breeze were in a groove, and New York, playing without standout O-line cutter Grant Lindsley, kept mixing up its lines in pursuit of a winning combination.
“DC just runs a really fast moving offense that’s hard to stop, and I’m not surprised it was difficult to get our guys to adjust on defense,” commented Empire Head Coach Bryan Jones. “Offensively, we weren’t in a good rhythm. We should be able to be fine without Grant [Lindsley]…We just needed to get some more people downfield, which is where Conor Kline came into play. And we shifted over Ben Katz…We shifted to a slightly different lineup and we finally started to get locked into what DC was doing and their rhythm.”
The Breeze actually extended their lead back to six at 15-9 early in the third quarter, but then the Empire began to make their run, slicing the deficit in half to make it 16-13 by the start of the fourth, then bolting on game-deciding 6-1 run early in the fourth to storm ahead 19-17. Kline, who finished the game with nine goals, along with Katz, were both crucial to New York surge.
“[Kline] had a really amazing game,” said Jones. “It was something we needed. I told him before the game, one of the jokes around Conor Kline, and it’s a joke but it’s not a joke. But I just keep telling him that he’s so versatile, because he plays second D-line for us, but it’s always been known he can come onto the O-line. A lot of time he practices with the O. He’s kinda prepared for that. I told him before the game like ‘this is one of the games that I could definitely see you coming over [to offense].’ So he has a lot of chemistry obviously with Ben Katz and Ben Jagt from season’s prior, so they know what he does, and so it was pretty easy for him to integrate himself in those moments. We really needed that. It’s great to have that weapon sitting there on the second D-line who can cross over when we need it most.”
Just a couple seasons removed from scoring 52 goals in 12 games, it was certainly not a surprise that Kline was capable of dominating the end zone. But after playing just six O-points in the Empire’s first six games this season, he had just three goals with little opportunity for more. On Saturday, the opportunity knocked, and Kline answered.
DC scored to again inch within one at 20-19 in the final minute, but with two seconds left, Xavier Maxstadt’s attempted three-quarters of the field hammer over a double team failed to reach the end zone, and the Empire registered seventh straight win to start the season. Six of those seven victories have been decided by five or less, including three wins over the Breeze that have been decided by five goals total.
“We called [Kline] the MVP of the game,” said Jones. “You can’t come back in a game without stopping the bleeding on offense. Him and Ben Katz coming over helped us do that. Ben Jagt also had one of his best games of the season. HIs decision-making was just great. Going into the second half, we needed him to be a rock, and he was.
“I was really happy that we fought," Jones continued. "That was the biggest thing. With all the expectations around us, we know we’re gonna get everyone’s best game. For us, it was a great response. It was awesome to see that we’re capable of that.”
The Empire also endured a scary moment in the second half when underrated handler Elliot Lee was going up-line in pursuit of a floaty toss from Jack Williams when he was blindsided by a DC defender. The unexpected contact spun him around, twisted his ankle, and eventually ended with Lee’s head hitting the ground hard. Eventually, Lee was taken away in an ambulance and will be out for the foreseeable future with a head injury.
Rowan McDonnell paced the Breeze with four goals and four assists, including a spectacular bidding goal side-by-side with New York’s Beau Kittredge that kept DC within one in the fourth quarter. Jones admitted that he thought Kittredge had the block lined up before McDonnell accelerated and snagged it, but the Empire coach marveled more at how the league’s 2018 MVP sets up his teammates and escapes tricky spots with the disc.
“The dude [McDonnell] has more throws than I’ve seen,” said Jones. “He’s just so good at getting out of double teams. It is insanity. We do have a game plan for him, but I kinda have to ignore him and try to guard almost everybody else. Otherwise, it’s just tough because you put so much focus on him and try to put pressure, he just knows where the pain points are…It’s very much a pick your poison matchup.”
The loss left DC at 4-4, clinging to third place and the East’s final playoff spot with four games remaining (vs. Toronto, at Philadelphia, vs. Philadelphia, and at Toronto). If the Breeze can beat Toronto a couple times, they could very well rise into the top spot. On the contrary, a loss or two to Philly could sink the Breeze out of the postseason conversation entirely.
The East Division’s monkey wrench right now is the Montreal Royal, sitting at just 2-5 through their first seven games, but now getting ready for five straight home dates to close out the season. Though the Breeze have the tiebreaker over the Royal and it seems unlikely that Montreal will run the table, a hot streak from the French Canadien outfit remains a possible development.
The Royal would have loved to sweep their doubleheader this past weekend, but settled for an absolutely essential split by taking down Ottawa 21-19 on Saturday. On Sunday in Toronto, Montreal played the Rush even into the second half before falling apart in the fourth. Tied 11-all midway through the third, the Rush closed the game on a 7-2 spurt, winning 18-13.
“For the game against Ottawa, I think the story was our offensive conversion rate,” assessed Montreal Captain Kevin Quinlan, who became the fourth player in AUDL history with at least 250 assists this past weekend. “We were filling in the spot of Stève Bonneau with Quentin Roger, so it was a little bit of a question mark how things would run. He did incredible though; did a great job of attacking the break space and working into our system…The Toronto game was really back and forth for three quarters. [I] think our energy dipped in the fourth. I don’t think the score indicated how we felt as a team. It was a good game. We learned a lot.”
Toronto’s strong finish improved the Rush to 5-2, and it was another boost of confidence for the team’s depth and defense.
“With the score being so close heading into the second half, our team made some veteran adjustments on defense that led to a few more turnovers that we were able to capitalize on,” remarked Toronto’s Cam Harris, who’s with Quinlan in the league’s four-man 250-assist club (along with Indy’s Keenan Plew and San Diego’s Goose Helton). “A source of pride for the Rush has been our ability to get consecutive breaks as a result of our depth, and we were able to wear them down over the game before reeling off several breaks late to seal it. Jeremy [Norden] dropped another beautiful hunk to Kieran [Charnock] with the wind swirling in the stadium. Jacky Hau has to be the most under appreciated two-way player in the game, locking up key players and dictating the offense after turns. There was a sequence in the fourth quarter where Jacky got a great D, we turned it a few passes later, and Jacky did it again the same point getting a run through D that seemed to take the legs out of Montreal’s offense. Phil Turner continues to be a dominant force on defense, Isaiah [Masek-Kelly] was the calming presence after a turn for the defense to control the pace of the game upwind and downwind, and Scott Graham continues to impress in his rookie season with a few more miraculous catches.”
Hau led the Rush with four blocks and three assists for a team-high +7, while Montreal’s Quentin Bonnaud hauled in seven more goals on Sunday after recording nine scores on Saturday. His 16-goal weekend moved him into the individual league lead with 46 on the year.
“We aren’t looking for Quentin [always,] he can just get open so easily and he is always in the right spot,” remarked Quinlan. “What a gamer.”
Looking forward, thanks to their pair of road wins in the past couple weeks, the Royal realize that they have given themselves a chance to be a factor in the race down the stretch.
“All we are focused on right now is getting better,” said Quinlan. “Every time we step on the field at practice, in a game, or when we are watching film we are just trying to improve.”
In a less crazy week, the San Diego Growlers could have easily led the column. In some ways, it’s unfair to be nearly 5,000 words in before acknowledging that the Growlers became the first team in the league to officially secure a postseason spot. And San Diego locked up its berth in the West Division title game by erasing a four-goal second-half deficit on their rival’s home-field, a tremendously impressive feat that unfolded in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
“It was definitely frustrating to get off to another slow start, but man is it awesome to see the resiliency in this team this year,” declared San Diego’s Travis Dunn, who catalogued four goals and four assists in the Growlers’ 20-18 victory. “The way guys just keep grinding until we’re finally able to break through is a huge characteristic of our team all year long. We seem to have no quit, and that’s the kind of team I want to go to battle with.”
After falling behind 6-5 at the end of the first and 12-9 by halftime, the deficit swelled to four at 15-11 in the third before a furious 4-0 run drew the Growlers back to level. After Los Angeles scored the final goal of the third and the first strike in the fourth to inch back ahead by two at 17-15, San Diego proceeded to close on another 5-1 run, the dagger that secured the Growlers’ third straight win over their SoCal rivals.
“I can’t give enough praise to this defensive unit,” added Dunn. “They fight hard all game long and make enough plays to keep us in every game and then eventually break through and take the lead.
Steven Milardovich, Will Turner, and Dom Leggio were particularly impactful after a turnover for the San Diego D’s offense, completing 56-of-58 passes between the three of them combined. LA’s Joc Jimenez followed up his winning the AUDL All-Star fan vote by scoring six goals to pace the Aviators, though a scary moment occurred in the fourth quarter when an aggressive layout block by San Diego’s Scott Radlauer injured Jimenez, taking him out of the final few minutes of the game. The good news was that Jimenez was feeling pain-free by Monday and fully expects to compete in Saturday’s All-Star Game in Madison. He, along with the rest of the Aviators, just wished they were rolling into the break coming off a statement win, rather than another frustrating loss.
“I would love to say that the Growlers made a halftime adjustment that really bamboozled us, but at the end of the day it was us unable to execute our offense and us making silly mistakes down the stretch that got us,” said LA’s Sean McDougall, who will join Jimenez and teammate Aaron Weaver on the Aviators All-Star delegation this weekend. “The main takeaways from this game are quite positive, to be honest. We played a great first quarter again, and if/when we translate that to a full game, we can take any team in our division. It was nothing the Growlers did that stopped us, which means that we can always improve ourselves and dial in. And while, yea, losing to your rivals is always frustrating, we are still ramping up to what we can become. We are a team; that means we win together, we lose together, but most of all, we pick each other up and get ready for the next one.”
Though it’s highly unlikely that the 5-3 Aviators will surpass the 7-1 Growlers to assume hosting responsibilities in the playoffs, Los Angeles does have the luxury of likely needing only one win in its final four games to lock up the West’s second playoff berth.
A team usually does not change the course of history without tweaking their lineup or system, and the Indianapolis AlleyCats benefited greatly from a few highlight reel plays recorded by one of their rookies, a name you may have never heard before. And amazingly, if Sam Ellison’s college coach had not gotten injured before the season, he would presumably still be a rather anonymous tall guy who’s college ultimate career had just ended at regionals.
“[Sam] made the team in sort of a roundabout way, actually,” shared AlleyCats Coach Eric Leonard. “I don’t believe he actually intended to try out for the team, but was ‘gifted’ a tryout by his college coach, who was hoping to play but was injured before the tryout. Lucky for us, because Sam is playing some incredible defense. At 6’5”, he adds some much needed height to our roster, but has good speed and footwork as well.”
Ellison, who just graduated from Purdue, only started playing ultimate at the beginning of his freshman year of college. Following a high school soccer career, he spent one year on the Purdue B team before making the A team as a sophomore. But there’s a big gap between battling at a college tournament and making winning plays against established stars in the fourth quarter at Breese Stevens Field in Madison.
“We knew Sam was going to have an impact on this game when we rostered him at the beginning of the season,” commented Carpenter. “When we saw his size, frame, and athleticism at tryouts, we literally all agreed to take him purely for this game. We have always been fighting to find answers to the giants on the Radicals. He has been pretty steady this season and playing well, but he had a total breakout performance against Madison.”
Officially, Ellison finished with two blocks and one goal, but the modest numbers were drastically outweighed by the timing and impact of his contributions. On the opening point of the fourth quarter with the score tied at 12, he skied over Madison’s Chris Wilen to deflect a deep shot out the back of the end zone, leading to the AlleyCats’ first lead since the score was 1-0. A few points later, Ellison went up over Radicals’ All-Star Kevin Brown for spectacular goal, hauling in Connor Henderson’s huck to break Madison and give Indy a 15-13 advantage.
“Having the opportunity to make some big plays in the fourth quarter of the game felt really good,” said Ellison, who now has two goals and five blocks in his five games played this season. “Madison has a lot of players who are really good in the air, so for both my D and goal I was focusing on attacking the disc early and not giving them a chance to make a play. Overall, our whole team was feeding off each other’s energy, and it seemed like everyone was taking turns coming up with important plays.”
The Greatest (Ultimate-Related Social Media Post of the Week)
On Sunday night, the pain of Saturday’s loss certainly still lingered. But that did not prevent Madison’s Kevin Pettit-Scantling from posting a powerful message of respect about one of the faces of the team that just beat him.
“Proud to have traded jerseys with Cameron [Brock] a couple seasons ago,” wrote KPS on his Facebook page. “I’m sure the one I gave him is long gone but the one he gave me, along with Ashlin Joye, and Mark Lloyd, will forever be mementos of the amazing, talented, and kind athletes I’ve had the privilege of defending personally.”
Every AUDL road trip presents a different challenge, and players continually have to be adaptable. Obviously, doubleheader trips often add a significant degree of difficulty.
After the Austin Sol finished up their Saturday night game in Tampa, for example, several players ‘showered’ by using a hose near the Cannons’ concession stand to wash off as best as they could. That began around 10 PM, and then the Sol drove about three and a half hours toward Atlanta, their Sunday opponent. They stopped to sleep for about four hours, then drove the rest of the way to the home of the Hustle, arriving about an hour before their 1 PM game time to warm up and battle again.
Hearing these details, it’s hard to fathom how any team survives the second day of a back-to-back, but believe it or not, team’s around the league actually have a better record this season on the second day of a road doubleheader than the first.
Overall, in fact, teams have gone 3-11 in the opening game of a road twin-bill in 2019, while going 5-9 in the second game. On the back end of a two-game trip, Raleigh beat Austin, Minnesota beat Detroit, DC beat Montreal, Madison beat Detroit, and this past weekend, Austin beat Atlanta in overtime.
It is worth noting, however, that AUDL teams collectively have a much better road record on single-game trips compared to doubleheaders. Road teams are just 8-20 in doubleheader weekends, a winning percentage of .286. In single-game trips, road teams are 24-25 (.490).
Seven On The Line
With Raleigh and Dallas both idle this past weekend, the Tampa Bay Cannons further cemented themselves as the third-place team in the division with a smooth 24-16 over Austin on Saturday, improving the Cannons to 4-3. “We had. Good control of the game from start to finish,” said Tampa Bay’s Andrew Roney, who dished five assists and 40 completions in 43 attempts. “The first half was fairly close, but we had a few break opportunities that we were able to capitalize on. It seemed like Austin was missing some major contributors, so we changed our game plan for the team that was coming. We wanted to put pressure on their handlers to make throws that they weren’t comfortable with since their main guys were out. And we were able to capitalize on some missed throws or lofty throws. I was most pleased with our defensive production across the board.” Indeed, the Sol were without veteran handlers like Jeff Loskorn, Ryan Purcell, and Matt Bennett, and also missing key downfield threats like Ethan Pollack, Kyle Henke, and Josh Zdrodowski. Tampa only led by three at the half, but extended the advantage to seven by the end of third and led by as many as nine before settling for the eight-goal win. Among the Cannons’ five remaining games are four against Dallas and Raleigh, so Tampa will have the chance to give the South’s leaders its best shot down the stretch. “The team’s mindset has changed, understandably, since the beginning of the year,” added Roney. “We’ve been able to have more success this year than most people thought we would have. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves; we’re focusing on giving Dallas a hard-fought game when they come down here after the All-Star weekend. The goals are still to continue to develop our young talent and put the best team on the field each week. But the team’s expectations for where we may be able to finish has changed; we’re hoping to turn some heads the second half of the season. We know that will take a near perfect game from our team, but the positive is that this past game is our most complete performance on the season so far, in my opinion.”
After the hose showers and ensuing overnight journey, the Austin Sol also made a couple tweaks to the lineup on Sunday in Atlanta, mainly putting Jerrod Wolfe onto the O-line and shifting Elliott Moore onto the D-line. “We figured Elliott’s younger, fresher legs would be an upgrade to our D-lines,” explained Wolfe. “It also allowed us to have a little more experience on offense for dealing with the Atlanta zone looks. I was curious heading into the game if they were going to stay with their one or play us more man-to-man coming off a game the night before. We got a little lucky that they stayed with the zone, and I think that allowed our offense to kind of get our legs underneath us and play a conservative possession-based game without having to expend too much energy.” Neither team led by more than one throughout the first half, though Atlanta did built a 20-17 lead early in the fourth when the Sol rallied to even the score again. At the end of regulation, the score remained deadlocked at 23-all, the 17th tie of the game. “Brandon Dial had the biggest play of the game at 22-22 with about a minute left,” remembered Wolfe, who led the Sol statically with six goals and five assists. “He got a massive layout block on Atlanta’s goal line and then threw the score to put us up 23-22 with about 40 seconds left. Atlanta was able to work their way up the field and call a timeout with 2.6 seconds left at the 3-yard line and converted a nice scooter to space to tie the game at the buzzer and send it into overtime. In overtime, we received the disc to start and had an easy hold, which was followed by another quick hold by Atlanta and then us again. Then, the last point of the game lasted for 2:45. There was a turn by both teams and we called a timeout to get our offense back on the field with about 1:20 left. We ended up being able to maintain possession and kill the clock thanks to some incredible play from [Mutahir Ahmad] in the backfield.” Austin’s victory snapped the Sol’s seven-game losing streak, improving them to 2-8, while the Hustle dipped to 3-6. “The loss was definitely a tough one for the Hustle,” acknowledged Atlanta Captain Matt Smith. “We weren’t really too surprised that they played well; having been on several road trips where you play that poorly in the first game there’s a great chance you come out looser and better in the second game. There’s a feeling of ‘well, we can’t play any worse that,’ and teams tend to play with a more dangerous, nothing-to-lose attitude…Individually, Wolfe killed us thought it felt quiet in that none of them were super exciting plays. It just felt like every time you looked up he was either in the end zone or had thrown it. I think he’s the type of player that really takes advantage of our zone, and he proved it yesterday.”
The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds won their fourth straight game on Saturday following an 0-3 start to the season, dispatching Detroit in a weather-delayed and shortened 17-12 result. “Our first lightning strike was with three minutes left in the second quarter,” explained Pittsburgh’s Thomas Edmonds. “We went to the locker room with the narrative being ‘it is really going to suck if we don’t get to half [and] this game doesn’t count and we have to drive back our here and this round of travel was pretty much meaningless. It felt like everyone was trying to at least get the game to half so that it would count. After about 20-30 minutes, we got the call to go back out, ran a very quick warm-up and then got playing again. We got to half, took a short break, and then went back out. After two or three minutes, another lightning strike occurred and we went to the locker room. The rain starting pouring at this point and all we could do was wait, luckily inside. After what felt like an hour, Head Coach [Pat] Hammonds came in and said ‘Great win, Birds!’ And we cheered, likely more out of relief than anything.” Aside from New York (7-0) and Raleigh (6-1), no team in the league enters the All-Star Break riding a longer winning streak than the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds, who will have two huge home games against Madison and Indy to close out the month of June before playing three straight on the road to finish their regular season in July.
Late Saturday night in the Pacific Northwest, San Jose and Seattle engaged in a fairly high-level, entertaining contest of their own, a game only overshadowed because the two teams entered the week with a combined 3-11 record. Still, the Spiders found rhythm and cohesiveness following an even first quarter to seize control against one of the Cascades’ stronger rosters of the season, despite the absence of leading scorer Jay Boychuk. San Jose rookie Glenn Wysen completed all 50 passes without a turnover in his debut, while Ethan Falat snagged five goals along with three assists to pace the Spiders offense. “Honestly, everyone on our roster stepped up and then some,” commented Antoine Davis, who contributed one goal, two blocks, and three assists. “We were playing well on all fronts and even when we did make mistakes others were able too come in and make up for it. I don’t think many people could have beat us on Saturday, we were firing on all cylinders.” Henry Phan completed all 38 of his throws for Seattle, but the next nine leading Cascade completion leaders for the night all registered throwaways, with Dennis Casio, Mark Burton and Mark Munoz each accumulating four turns apiece. Consequently, the Cascades enter the All-Star Break with just one win, a May 4 triumph over San Diego that doubles as the Growlers’ only loss of the year.
As I casually mentioned on last week’s Friday Forecast Podcast, the Minnesota Wind Chill are in preliminary conversations about the possibility of hosting a game in Winnipeg in an upcoming season. With every goal scored that Quinn Snider scored or Cam Burden assisted on Saturday against Chicago, this felt like a better and better potential idea. For the season, the Wind Chill’s half-dozen Winnipeg natives have been crucial and clutch difference-makers. Overall, the six members of the Canadian contingent have combined for 53 goals and 62 assists. More specifically, four of the Wind Chill’s top six assisters are in this crew, and three of the top five goal-scorers. The partnership has been huge in so many ways, and it’s one the Minnesota leadership is hopeful will continue. “The Winnipeg connection has been wonderful to be a part of,” said Wind Chill Captain Bryan Vohnoutka. “The time and effort those guys put in to condition, travel, and play with us has been remarkable. It’s safe to say our season would look drastically different without the six Canadians on our roster. We would probably be battling Detroit at the bottom of the Midwest. On top of that, their fans were fantastic. I met some of them at Surly afterward; it was great getting to talk with them and muse on the idea of a game in Winnipeg. I was told, ‘if you have a game in Winnipeg and the stadium is 1,500 seats, we will fill that stadium.’ Hyperbole, maybe, but about 40-50 fans drove eight hours to watch, cheer, and heckle this [Chicago] game. I hope we make that Winnipeg game a reality and I think the future of this partnership will continue to develop as this season progresses.”
The overlaps between ultimate season and wedding season have confounded planners for decades, but there was a good deal of happiness celebrated off the field this past weekend, as four current AUDL veterans experienced their nuptials. Indianapolis’ Kyle Cox, one of the AUDL’s Original Six, tied the knot with his fiance, Katie, on Friday night. On Saturday, San Jose’s Steven Chang and Dallas’ Carson Wilder, who have been in the league for six and four years, respectively, married their partners Uni and Danielle. Then, on Sunday, Raleigh’s Justin Allen, a five-year AUDL veteran, enjoyed his special day with his new wife, Cassandra. Congratulations to all the newlyweds!
If you’ll indulge a personal family note…I became an uncle for the first time a couple years ago, acquiring two bright nephews and one glorious niece on the day I celebrated my own wedding. On Sunday, I was thrilled to welcome another niece to my family, as my sister, Lexi, gave birth to her first child, a 7.5 pound girl named Dara. As I have mentioned before on the air and in writing, my sister met her husband, RJ, in New York at a random ultimate pickup game. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dara is gonna have a sweet scoober one day.
I can’t wait to see the All-Star draft unfold on Tuesday night. There are thirty very good players available, and it will be remarkably compelling to see how the captains go about forming their teams.
While acknowledging that brilliant minds can disagree on the value of different players, here’s a look at the 30 available All-Stars, ranked according to the caliber of season they each have had and the potential they bring to their prospective team on Saturday. For the record, this is more of a “Lepler’s Best Available” list than a mock draft, as it is not attempted to predict what KPS and Rowan will prioritize.
- Ben Jagt, New York Empire
Travis Dunn, San Diego Growlers
Pawel Janas, Chicago Wildfire
Jay Froude, Dallas Roughnecks
Peter Graffy, Madison Radicals
Andrew Roney, Tampa Bay Cannons
Cam Harris, Toronto Rush
Henry Fisher, Raleigh Flyers
Jeff Babbitt, New York Empire
Sean McDougall, Los Angeles Aviators
Rick Gross, Indianapolis AlleyCats
Kevin Brown, Madison Radicals
Quentin Bonnaud, Montreal Royal
Antoine Davis, San Jose Spiders
Alec Arsenault, Ottawa Outlaws
Ben Katz, New York Empire
Beau Kittredge, New York Empire
Kyle Henke, Austin Sol
Jacob Fairfax, Raleigh Flyers
Jonathan “Goose” Helton, San Diego Growlers
Colin Camp, Madison Radicals
Max Sheppard, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds
Khalif El-Salaam, Seattle Cascades
Matt Smith, Atlanta Hustle
Sean Mott, Philadelphia Phoenix
Pat Shriwise, Madison Radicals
Joc Jimenez, Los Angeles Aviators
Bryan Vohnoutka, Minnesota Wind Chill
Aaron Weaver, Los Angeles Aviators
Joe Cubitt, Detroit Mechanix
Who’s overvalued? Who’s undervalued? What will the on-field combinations look like once the rosters are selected?
All these questions will be fascinating to dissect on the air alongside KPS and Rowan on Wednesday night.
Talk to you then!
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