Wind Chill Prepare for First-Ever Championship Weekend Appearance
By: Jeph Novak
In 2021, the Minnesota Wind Chill were on the doorstep of competing in Championship Weekend for the first time ever. All they had to do was close the door on the Chicago Union and finish the fourth quarter strong. However, the Union had other plans and dominated the visiting Wind Chill to eliminate them from advancing to the league’s final four.
While that Central Division Championship Game left a sour taste in their mouths, the Wind Chill knew that no win comes easy, and that next year they’d have to buckle down and complete the game if they wanted to vie for the AUDL championship. So when they found themselves back in Chicago for the Division title in 2022, there was perhaps a rejuvenated passion and some redemption driving the team forward. Only this time, they struggled to make a dent in the Union’s lead from the get-go, and rather than redeem themselves, they were left quickly forgetting about their chances to advance.
And so, when it was announced in late 2022 that the upcoming 2023 AUDL Championship Weekend would be hosted in Minnesota, the Wind Chill knew they didn’t have any more margin of error, any more chances to take to rebuild and readjust. This was their year, now is the time.
“It is pretty special to be able to have the team come through and qualify for the main event in a year where the pressure was higher than ever with us electing to host the event,” said Wind Chill head coach Ben Feldman.
The Wind Chill went on a tear throughout 2023, losing just twice total and only once to a Central Division opponent. Silencing doubt from outside observers and extinguishing the hopes of the Indianapolis AlleyCats for the Central Division Crown, the Wind Chill put together a robust roster — some weeks scrappier than others — and found new ways to win week after week in the chase for a home appearance at the AUDL’s culminating event.
As the Wind Chill prepare for their first-ever Championship Weekend appearance, and the state’s first opportunity at hosting the event, they’re looking ahead to a slew of factors that can prove to be difference-makers in the results of the weekend ahead.
Preparing for the Shred
The single-elimination nature of the AUDL playoffs demands a strict, intense approach to each and every game. The Wind Chill have been cognizant of hyper-focusing on the game ahead and not getting distracted by what may come next. In the Central Division Championship game against the AlleyCats, they knew starting out strong was key and that playing the game quarter-by-quarter would lead to a win. Then, they could focus on who they’d play next.
And that opponent happens to be the Salt Lake Shred.
“Our team knows the stakes of this game,” said Will Brandt. “We can’t wait. Come game time, I think we’ll all be pretty locked in and ready to go. We played some of our best ultimate this year in the first round of the playoffs, and I believe we can play even stronger this weekend.”
Minnesota and Salt Lake have never faced each other, and the Shred have never faced any Central Division team. Of course, the Wind Chill had the opportunity to travel out to Colorado in the regular season to play against the Summit, though that game ended up being a bit of a wake-up call for the Chill as they lost 25-15. Even so, they’ll be able to take some lessons from that game and apply them to the interdivisional matchups they’ll be facing this weekend.
To Josh Klane, that lesson might be to throw that Colorado game out the window altogether: “I don’t think we’re using much from that game. We played terrible, came out flat, and that was not an accurate representation of the 2023 Central Division champs. I do think it taught us that the margin for error is much smaller against these more talented teams who apply far greater defensive pressure.”
The Salt Lake Shred do have a formidable lineup coming to Minnesota, ranking higher than any other Central Division team (other than the Wind Chill) in blocks and break percentage. However, it is their offense that will need to be tamed. Led by players like Jordan Kerr, Will Selfridge, Sean Connole, and Grant Lindsley, the Shred’s offense ranks as one of the highest in completion percentage, huck percentage, and hold percentage in the league.
If they want to put pressure on the Shred and advance to the final game, Minnesota will need to target these players and slow down their deep game. Luckily, they’ve been building their defensive prowess throughout the season, with the most blocks recorded and one of the best break percentages in the league. The Wind Chill are familiar with stopping deep looks, repeatedly preventing historically successful deep teams like the AlleyCats from getting the disc deep and limiting their completion percentage significantly.
Many teams are unable to find success with the long game against the Wind Chill, but the Shred aren’t like many teams. Minnesota will have to stay staunch in their pressure and prevent cutters from getting open downfield to minimize big gains and momentum-shifting points.
To do so, and to advance, the Chill will have to utilize their entire roster without holding back.
“We are absolutely sparing no expense at this point in the season,” said Klane. “It’s a one-game-at-a-time, win-or-go-home season now.”
Wind Chill captain Colin Berry agrees: “At this stage, we need to put everything into every game. Seasons are on the line and that should bring the best out of everyone. If you hold anything back, you’re probably going home.”
Minnesota has spent the last 16 weeks refining their roster and solidifying their strategy, ready to put it to the test against one of the best teams in the league.
Hosting Championship Weekend
Ben Feldman and the rest of the Wind Chill organization were already excited as-is to just bring the league’s Championship event to Minnesota. This is the first time it will be held in the state, and it is indicative of the hard work the team has put in to bringing awareness to the sport, growing the local fanbase, and managing a partnership with venues and teams in the area, especially the Minnesota Vikings.
Playing this weekend means so much more this year to the Chill, doing so in front of largely a friendly home crowd. Of course, there will be plenty of out-of-towners visiting to cheer on their own teams competing, taking away the familiar home-field advantage that Sea Foam Stadium brings. Even so, the Wind Chill are ready.
“The atmosphere will hype us up in a big way,” said Berry. “We love playing in front of our home fans, and it means a lot to be able to play at such a big event in Minnesota.”
“It feels nice, but now the real work begins,” said Feldman. “We will gladly wear the underdog hat. Our fans, players, and coaches are eager to make a splash at Championship Weekend.”
More often than not, the host team does not also find themselves competing in Championship Weekend. It has happened in the past, as recent as when the Madison Radicals did so in 2018. Otherwise, four teams will visit a neutral site and play the best, most rigorous and competitive ultimate they’ll play all season. For the Wind Chill, they will neither be at a truly familiar home field nor a neutral site. While their home stadium is in St. Paul, the AUDL and Wind Chill selected TCO Stadium in Eagan to accommodate a larger crowd for this weekend. The Chill have played here once before, but otherwise are unfamiliar with the turf.
“We’ve only played one game there in the past, and that happened to be some of the worst weather conditions I’ve ever played in,” said Klane. “We will have a throw around on Monday and then a practice on Thursday/Friday there so I guess we’re in a similar boat as the rest of the teams. I think it’ll feel like a regular Wind Chill home game as far as the crowd goes but the environment will definitely be different. No Surly beer garden right next to the field, and the crowd being more spread out in the stands will be a change from the norm. Overall, I’m preparing for it to feel like a neutral site game, especially with us being the underdogs.”
Championship Weekend Is Here
Nearly 16 weeks ago, the Minnesota Wind Chill kicked off their 10th AUDL season with one goal in mind: to compete at Championship Weekend in front of their home crowd at the end of August. And now, in a few days, they’ll do just that.
It has taken 10 years, 81 regular season wins, 53 regular season losses and seven postseason games to get here. The Wind Chill have been busy studying film, resting up, building chemistry, and refining their sets in order to gain even the slightest edge among the toughest teams in the AUDL. But they, too, are among the top and have earned their rightful place in the final four. Yes, they have to face the Shred, but the Shred have to face the Wind Chill, too.
“[The team is] excited,” said Brandt. “It’s the first time (almost) all of us have been here. We’re proud of our season so far. But at the same time, in February, this is where we expected to be. And we didn’t come this far just to lose. We’re just getting started.”
When everything is clicking, this Wind Chill team looks tough, and they have proven it week after week. They’ll have at least one more chance to prove it this season, and of course we hope they get a second and final chance on Saturday.
Fill the stands at TCO Stadium this Friday night with Wind Chill fans. Bring your signs, your noisemakers, your flags, your rally towels, and all the Wind Chill gear you have. Come early, cheer loud, and experience the Wind Chill like never before. Tickets for Championship Weekend are on sale now. With live music, food vendors, games, and extra events such as a Youth Clinic and 3 Off the Tee, Championship Weekend is expected to be huge this year!
Let’s Get Chilly!