May 17, 2022
By Evan Lepler
It’s never too soon to begin the undefeated chatter, right?
We’re three weeks in, 24 of the 25 AUDL franchises have played at least two games, and only seven teams remain unbeaten. And in the next 11 days, we will have two games between undefeated teams.
The number of perfect records will likely shrink to six this Friday when Austin (2-0) clashes with Carolina (3-0). By the following Saturday, either the Shred (3-0) or Summit (2-0) will also experience their first loss, as Salt Lake and Colorado square off in Denver in Week 5 (and both are idle in Week 4).
So at most there will be five undefeated teams by the end of May, with no more than one in each of the East, South, and West divisions. The Central is the only division where multiple perfect records could linger into June, and that would require the Madison Radicals (2-0) to survive a May 28 home match against Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Chicago Union (2-0) are the only team in the league that will 100 percent still be perfect through the end of May, courtesy of their quirky schedule that has them off from May 7 through June 4. The Union will almost certainly be 3-0 when they host Madison on Friday, June 10, raising another possibility of two perfect resumes colliding in Week 7, if the Radicals can keep up their end of the bargain.
Beyond that, unless Austin can somehow sweep their Carolina/Atlanta gauntlet this weekend and also handle the Flyers at home on June 4, there won’t be any other possible matchups of undefeated opponents until Championship Weekend. And while we’re unlikely to reach the playoffs with multiple remaining unbeatens, it would not be unprecedented. Remember, the Dallas Roughnecks and Madison Radicals were both 15-0 entering Championship Weekend in 2016, and the battle of flawless foes felt inevitable before the Seattle Cascades’s crazy comeback under the Breese Stevens lights in the semis.
Unquestionably, the increased quality around the league makes it less likely that powerhouse programs like New York or Carolina could both still be perfect heading into August, though their respective 3-0 starts suggest that such a collision is indeed possible.
The Empire have already taken care of business in two of their toughest road games, putting them in the lead in terms of perfection probability. At this point, it feels right around 50/50 for New York to potentially finish the regular season 12-0, though I’m not sure how real oddsmakers would assess it. The Flyers, with multiple games against Atlanta, Austin, and Dallas still ahead, clearly face much longer odds to finish without a single setback.
As for who will remain perfect the longest, the Empire would be the first pick in a draft of the seven possible teams, but Chicago probably would be selected second. Aside from a June 4 date in Detroit, where the Mechanix literally have not won in nearly 61 months, the Union don’t have any other outdoor road game until July 16.
Of course, the primary goal for every season is not necessarily to go undefeated; it’s to win a championship. And as the Flyers showed us last year, it’s much more about how you finish than how you start.
The Full Field Layout
Three teams endured their first losses of 2022 this past weekend, including the Montreal Royal. But 24 hours before DC clobbered them, the Royal rejoiced with one of their most thrilling scores in the history of the franchise.
Christophe Tremblay-Joncas delivered the AUDL’s first game-winning walk-off buzzer beater of the season on Friday night in Philly, capping a wild contest that included nine ties, four lead changes, and eight second-half breaks. The Royal had the disc up one with a minute left, but Paul Owens’ block of a Montreal reset gave the Phoenix the chance to score the equalizer, which James Pollard did with eight seconds remaining. Overtime felt imminent, but Tremblay-Joncas had other plans, rising above the crowd with a will-timed snag of Antoine Rousseau’s huck that lifted the Royal to an 18-17 triumph as the clock showed all zeroes.
“That man can jump,” said Montreal Head Coach Jon Hayduk, when asked about Tremblay-Joncas’ dramatic catch. “I always expect him to come down with it. He’s one of the most athletic guys I’ve ever met, right up there with maybe Beau [Kittredge], but this generation.”
The 26-year-old Tremblay-Joncas finished the game with three goals, two assists, and two blocks, while the Phoenix were forced to endure another heartbreaking result, their third in a row. Philadelphia, who began the season with a one-goal loss at Boston and a two-goal loss at New York, now has three losses by just four goals.
“There’s work to be done,” said Phoenix Head Coach Roger Chu. “You can just see that games like these hurt, and they should. What I see from the players is determination to say, well, how do we improve? How do we keep on pushing ourselves so when we see [Montreal] again on a short week, the outcome can be different? The Phoenix have been around a long time, but this is in many ways a newish team, and so I think you’re seeing some of that newness at play. We have to learn. Sometimes, the only way to learn is to burn your hand on the stove.”
Founded as a franchise that was burned and re-birthed, the Phoenix will look to emerge from the ashes as a desperate team when they hit the road to Montreal and Ottawa this weekend. It’s truly a must-win trip for Philadelphia, whose postseason ambitions could be virtually extinguished if they cannot sweep their Canadian journey.
If the Salt Lake Shred could play so brilliantly on the road, what would they be like at home?
On Friday, we witnessed another landmark moment for Utah ultimate, as over 2,000 fans filed through the turnstiles at Zions Bank Stadium to see the Shred dominate again. Salt Lake showed no mercy against Seattle, cruising past the Cascades 32-21 in their first home game in franchise history.
“The home atmosphere was absolutely mind-blowing,” said Salt Lake’s Garrett Martin, who scored four goals and dished three assists while playing an astonishing 31 D-points. “I’ve never been around a crowd like that in ultimate.”
With the Utah state high school tournament transpiring in the area that day, throngs of youth players filled the seats for their first ever AUDL experience, and the Shred gave them plenty of reasons to cheer.
“The atmosphere was awesome,” agreed Salt Lake’s Joel Clutton, who recorded three blocks as the Shred improved to 3-0. “It was probably the longest high-five line I’ve ever been a part of at the end of the game. I think I ran longer during that [postgame experience] than I ever did during the game.”
Even members of the Cascades, who play under the iconic Space Needle at historic Memorial Stadium in Seattle, were taken aback by the experience in Salt Lake City.
“I think [Madison Head Coach] Tim DeByl may be on the hot seat for best venue in the AUDL,” said Seattle’s Drew Swanson, who played at Breese Stevens Field in Madison multiple times during his seasons with Chicago. “Not only did the fans show up for game-time, but the mountain backdrop was second to none as far as scenery during a game of fris.”
Shred officials said that approximately 2,100 fans attended their home opener, and they saw their team take care of business from the opening pull. Salt Lake won all four quarters, taking an 8-3 lead after one and then outscoring Seattle 8-6 in each of the second, third, and fourth periods.
“From the first point, they played smooth,” said Swanson. “They took open shots without forcing anything difficult, and their risks were calculated. The Shred capitalized on ideal cuts by their best cutters, all while optimizing the times their best handlers had the disc in their hands looking downfield.”
While the Salt Lake fan support and the team’s roaring early success were the headlines, the play of Jordan Kerr also deserved prime billing, as the 24-year-old continued his breakout season with an absolutely dazzling six-goal, six-assist, one-block, zero-turnover display.
“Jordan is on another planet right now,” said Martin. “The best part about a player like Jordan is that he does all of these things so quietly. He’s not making huge plays left and right. He’s just making the right decisions over and over and finding the end zone a lot for it. Now that’s not to take away from him as a thrower. Jordan has all the throws, but like I said earlier, he makes the right decisions with them every time.
“If the huck is the right throw, he’ll do it. If the break around forehand blade is the right move, he’ll throw it. The list like that goes on. I feel like Jordan doesn’t leave his comfort zone in the game and maybe that’s because he is comfortable in every offensive situation. Especially in our offense, it is basically built to let him facilitate and attack the break-side, which he does almost perfectly.”
Through three games, Kerr has produced 22 assists, 10 goals, and three blocks, while completing 86 of his 89 throws, including all four of his hucks. Of course, his teammates have been excellent as well. Will Selfridge drew attention for playing three high school games during the day on Friday and then scoring four goals for the Shred in his fourth game in the evening. Luke Yorgason and Sean Connole steadily distributed the disc from the backfield, while Jacob Miller also contributed seven scores—four goals, three assists—while completing all 24 of his throws. And the Shred defense, led by Clutton and Martin, produced 12 breaks in 18 chances, refusing to relent against a talented Seattle squad.
Cascades rookie Declan Miller accumulated another 904 total yards, putting him number one in the league in yardage through three weeks, but the Seattle offense was stymied to a less-than 50-percent conversation rate for the game. Swanson played 36 points, most of anyone on either side, and produced five assists and three goals in just his second game for his new team.
Swanson also said that he could envision a scenario where all three of the West Division’s new franchises could make the playoffs in their inaugural seasons.
“Now, I haven’t played the [Portland] Nitro or the [San Diego] Growlers, and I don’t think I saw the Summit at their best when we played them two weeks ago, but I honestly feel like we may be sitting here at the end of the season looking at the three expansion teams atop the West Division,” he said. “Looking at it from a distance, it seems like all those teams have strong chemistry, which I think becomes a premium quality when facing the pressure of a Championship Weekend atmosphere.”
Seattle will seek its first win of the year when they play at San Diego and Los Angeles this weekend, while Salt Lake has a bye week to prepare for their monumental matchup against Colorado on Saturday, May 28.
Like Seattle, Madison also trailed 8-3 on the road this past weekend. But the Radicals masterfully rallied, chipping away against the Indy AlleyCats over the course of three quarters before prevailing 23-22 in exhilarating fashion.
“We kept our energy and just kept gaining a point every five or six minutes,” said DeByl. “There was no big run. We just kept crawling back.”
Playing without two of their O-line leaders in Victor Luo and Sterling Knoche, the Radicals let rookie Kai Marcus anchor the offense, and the former University of North Carolina gunslinger produced eight assists, two goals, and 753 total yards before hurting his knee late in the third quarter.
With Marcus out in the fourth, others stepped.
James Sykora, for instance, came on as an injury sub for Jake Carrico when the game was tied at 21-all with just over four minutes remaining. Immediately, he cut from the handler space to the corner of the end-zone, where Kevin Pettit-Scantling found him for the go-ahead goal, producing Madison’s first lead of the game with 4:04 left.
“When we took the lead for the first time, I knew we were going to win the game,” said Josh Wilson, who went 43-for-45 as a key disc-mover on the Radicals O-line. “The momentum and energy was all on our side, and the Cats looked tired.”
Quietly, the Radicals are now 2-0. They have been far from dominant, beating Pittsburgh by two and Indy by one, but they’ve emerged victorious in the close games that they often lost over the past couple seasons. Consequently, there’s a far more comfortable and confident feeling growing again in the self-proclaimed Capital City of Ultimate.
“Last year, we started 1-2, and there were only two playoff spots [in the Central Division],” said DeByl. "To start 2-0 and have a couple wins over teams that we’re competing with for the third spot feels really good. This win gave us a little breathing room and lets us work on figuring out who the best players are, whereas last year, we couldn’t try anything new; we didn’t have any room for a mistake.”
The Radicals, who’ve defeated Detroit 17 consecutive times, will go for their 18th straight over the Mechanix when they travel to Michigan this Saturday.
Seven On The Line
- Boston played well enough in the first half to incite a sense of urgency from New York on Saturday night. The Glory got the first break of the game when Jeff Graham skied Jack Williams for the early upwind tally, and Boston led 10-8 through the first 20 minutes. But the Empire repeatedly crossed several stars over onto the D-line and rediscovered their O-line mojo with plenty of time to spare, outscoring the Glory 12-5 during a pivotal stretch to seize control en route to their 23-19 victory. “We have a lot of talent to fall back on, so often times things can still go our way even if we aren’t running our offense perfectly, but that wasn’t happening for us early in the game,” said John Lithio, who scored eight goals against Boston and leads the AUDL with 15 goals through three weeks. “I think we can look back on the game as a whole and see that overall, we played a fairly solid game, but at the same time we still have some clear areas for improvement.” Ryan Osgar contributed seven assists, four goals, and a game-high 501 total yards for New York, while Ben Jagt added six assists and two goals. Jeff Babbitt had three blocks for the Empire, though the defensive player of the game might have been Boston’s Cam Wariner, who also had three blocks on a night when the Empire only had 13 turnovers for the game. The Glory and Empire are now both tasked with hosting Toronto this weekend, as the Rush visit Boston and New York on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
- Speaking of the Rush, the rumors of their complete and total demise have apparently been exaggerated, as Toronto completed 16 hucks and managed fewer than 10 total turnovers in a 29-26 victory over Ottawa.
Geoff Bevan erupted for 1,128 total yards along with 10 scores for the Outlaws, but the Rush produced five breaks compared to Ottawa’s three, and James Lewis and Luc Comiré both enjoyed career days for Toronto. “I’d say the main story of the game and of our whole season is proving people wrong,” said Comiré, who completed all 64 of his throws for 793 yards, five assists, and five hockey assists. “We’re going into every game with no expectations except that we’re going to push the other team. Of course, with Ottawa it becomes more personal, but our focus never changes.” Lewis earned Honor Roll recognition with his seven-assist, four-goal, one-block, 828-total yard performance, while his younger brother Wilkie racked up five goals, two assists, one block, and 477 total yards. Oscar Stonehouse, a Rush rookie who according to the team’s roster welcome announcement can play Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” on the harmonica, scored a career-high six goals with 439 receiving yards. “Getting our first win was huge since we proved that we’re not a bad team going through a huge rebuild just because we lost some guys,” said Comiré. “It was nice to see hard work paying off, especially for the rookies getting their first win.” Like the Rush, the Outlaws are now 1-1, but coming off a loss in which they only turned the disc over 12 times. Looking back, they realize that they had their chances to get blocks, but it just wasn’t their day. “One of the toughest aspects of [the Rush] offense was their poise and execution at stall six and a half,” said Ottawa’s Carson Turner. “That high-pressure situation was a riddle we could not solve on Saturday night. Numerous times, our D-line clamped down and smothered their first, second, and sometimes third options, yet they were able to come down with potentially all of their last-ditch effort hucks.”
- For the second time in three weeks, the Austin Sol held Dallas to just 17 goals. Following their 20-17 win on the road in Week 1, the Sol rolled to a 24-17 victory in their Week 3 home opener. “We wanted to control the tempo, we wanted to push the tempo, we wanted to run, run, run,” said Austin Coach Steven Naji.
“If you look at the score at the end of the first quarter, I believe it was 7-7, and then we won the second quarter easily, the third quarter easily, and then traded points and won the fourth quarter by one point. If you look back at game one, we actually lost two of the four quarters, but again, we had a breakout quarter because of the preseason fitness work that we were putting in.” Jake Radack, who missed all of 2021 with an injury, led the Sol offense in yards for the second straight game, racking up 594, including 355 throwing on 39-for-41. “He was voted the best teammate on our team in 2021,” said Naji. “He moved here prior to the pandemic, joined the team, and then had a really unfortunate injury just prior to the season starting. It would’ve been real easy for someone to lose buy-in, but Jake Radack consistently showed up to every team event we had and was the heartbeat of everything that we do. Leading into 2022, he was an easy choice for Captain. He’s QB1. Everything flows through him. When he’s on, we have a high chance for success.” Radack and the Sol will have their hands full going forward. There next five games, starting this weekend at Carolina and Atlanta, are against teams with the combined record of 11-1. (That includes the Flyers 3-0 record twice, since the Sol will also host Carolina during this stretch.)
- As for Dallas, the Legion dropped to 0-3 after pairing their seven-goal loss on Friday with closer-than-the-final-score-indicated 20-14 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Wind Chill on Saturday. The Legion began the game with back-to-back breaks to quickly lead 2-0, but still trailed 4-3 after the first, 8-7 at halftime, and 14-12 through three, before the Wind Chill broke it open with a 6-2 spurt in the fourth. “I think we got a little pressed for time by trying to manage the heat,” said Minnesota Captain Bryan Vohnoutka.
“With the choice to shorten our warmup time to reduce overheating, it took a few points to lock in. Once we did, it was a decent performance, but we missed quite a few Ds that could have blown this game open earlier.” As for the Legion, Coach Dan Emmons was particularly pleased by how his team bounced back from Friday night’s result in Austin. “The Minnesota game was definitely the best game we have played so far this year,” said Emmons. “The biggest difference was our defensive intensity from start to finish. The guys were doing a great job of pressuring the underneath cuts and staying tight in the handler space which helped us force some turnovers and situations where we could take advantage of getting some blocks. Logan Kinney played some big points and registered three blocks, one of which was a big downfield block on Abe Coffin. Drew Watson played very well throughout the game and was able to make some big plays for us as well.” Coffin notched two assists and three blocks while Sam Ward scored three goals in their returns to Dallas as members of the Wind Chill. Andrew Roy, who missed the season opening loss against Chicago, led Minnesota with 412 total yards. “Having A-Roy out there was definitely huge,” said Vohnoutka. “His ability to keep the disc moving and hitting open hands makes it easy on the downfield cutters.” Dylan DeClerck, Quinn Snider, and Bret Bergmeier also had standout performances for the Wind Chill, recording four blocks, five goals, and five assists, respectively.
- The Cannons covered the spread against Carolina for the second straight week, but the Flyers still delivered another six-goal win over Tampa Bay, following up their 19-13 result in Week 2 with a 24-18 triumph in Week 3.
Though Carolina showcased some new faces in the lineup in each game, the Flyers continued their brand of stingy possession-based offense and feisty aggressive handler defense. Meanwhile, Alex Davis’s emergence as an O-line weapon became more front and center, as the speedy cutter produced six goals, four assists, and 685 total yards, pacing his team in each category. “I said it on twitter, I said in order to be a great player, I’m gonna have to throw more turns,” mentioned Davis in a postgame chat on the Flyers Instagram following his 28-for-28 throwing performance. “So I came out here and tried to throw a little bit. Unfortunately, I hit all my hucks. Also, in addition to that, Derz [Anders Juengst] was out, so I had to take over the front cone for us, so that’s what happened.” Matt Gouchoe-Hanas went 39-for-39 for 336 throwing yards, while Dylan Hawkins, who’s currently a senior at NC State, churned for 498 total yards, three assists, and two goals in his AUDL debut. The Flyers will put their AUDL-leading six-game winning streak dating back to last season on the line on Friday night against Austin.
- While Montreal arrived to DC at 3-0 following their exhilarating Friday night buzzer-beater, the circumstances greeting the Royal were not especially friendly. The Breeze had been sitting on their opening loss to New York for two weeks, ready to take out that frustration on whoever was next on the docket.
Accordingly, DC began with a six-throw hold, with Jonny Malks connecting on a 69-yard huck to Steven Wartinbee, followed by four straight breaks to build an immediate 5-0 lead. The Breeze led 7-2 after one and the edge never shrunk less than five over the final three quarters, with DC ultimately prevailing 27-17. “Mindset was win early, win often,” said AJ Merriman, who produced two assists, one goal, and two blocks in the 10-goal win. “We had clear goals given to us by [Assistant Coach Alex] Crew on how we would win defensively, basically, make them throw, then go catch the disc. That confidence from the D-line, coupled with the bye week, allowed the O to have a relaxed approach coming in and throughout the game.” Malks went 41-for-41 and Joe Richards rung up five goals, but the DC D-line going 10-for-17 on break chances was the decisive factor on this particular day for the Breeze. “So many individuals stepped up,” said Merriman. “Fred [Farah] had a great debut, especially the second half. Alexandre Fall went nuts from the first point till the last, laid out to stop them from even throwing their last buzzer beater attempt when we were up 10 points. Rico [Delrico Johnson] had a bounce back game after not looking like himself in Week 1. Moussa [Dia] is fitting in well on D.” Rhys Bergeron also recorded three blocks for the Breeze, who have another bye in Week 4 prior to traveling to Toronto on May 28.
- Much like DC, the San Diego Growlers also pounced quickly against their Saturday foe, bolting to a 4-1 lead en route to a 22-17 victory against Los Angeles. Since their opening night loss to the Shred, the Growlers have won two straight.
“Our offense just performed better, and we’re a bit more consistent on pressure after a turn,” said Sean McDougall, who caught three goals and dished two assists in his first game against the franchise he suited up for over the past six seasons. Travis Dunn paced the Growlers with five goals, five assists, and 485 total yards, while Kyle Rubin added four goals and three assists for San Diego. Brandon Van Deusen orchestrated the Aviators for 73 completions and 618 throwing yards with only two miscues, but LA managed to convert just 40 percent of their offensive possessions (15-for-37). Furthermore, the Aviators, who were without several key playmakers, mustered only two blocks for the entire game. “The slow starts are what are really hurting us, which I feel positive about,” said LA’s Michael Kiyoi. “That to me is something we can fix and something we did really well in Colombia. Just getting all the pieces to click and settling into the game earlier is something we will do well against Seattle.” Both SoCal squads face the Cascades this weekend, with the Aviators getting the luxury of facing Seattle on the second day of their two-game trip.
There were plenty of notable AUDL debuts over the past three weeks, though I believe only one received a unique twitter shout-out from an account with over a million followers.
Rather it was SportsChina, who early this morning belatedly shared the news of Yipeng Wang’s AUDL debut. Currently a University of Michigan standout junior, Wang played his first game for the Detroit Mechanix on May 8. The account also proclaimed that Wang, a native of Beijing, became the first Chinese mainland player to compete in the AUDL.
With so many players from around the world finding their way into the league, the international reach of the AUDL continues to grow. It’s one of the coolest byproducts of this professional ultimate venture, and it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface.
The best is still ahead.