June 6, 2023
By Evan Lepler
In every single division, the playoff picture became decidedly more compelling and confusing this past weekend. For the most part, first-place teams won, last-place teams lost, and everyone else grew closer together, creating more intrigue across the landscape as we near the midseason mark.
Beyond the interesting ramifications of all 13 Week 6 results, the action was absolutely riveting, from the opening pull on Friday evening in DC all the way to Keenan Laurence’s 11th goal of the weekend as the final buzzer sounded on Sunday night in Colorado. In between, there were 10 games decided by five or fewer and two others settled by six. There were also five different games in which the team that entered with more losses found a way to win.
Week 6 "Upsets"
Carolina (3-2) over DC (3-1)
Seattle (0-5) over Portland (0-4)
Philadelphia (1-4) over Carolina (4-2)
Los Angeles (1-3) over San Diego (2-2)
Madison (0-3) over Pittsburgh (2-3)
Team records going into each matchup
New York (6-0), Salt Lake (6-0), and Colorado (5-0) all remain undefeated heading into Week 7, though all three of these elite teams experienced their fair share of quirky, competitive circumstances this past weekend. All three also will put their perfection on the line in the days ahead, with the Shred and Summit set to square off this Friday and the Empire hosting the 4-1 Atlanta Hustle on Saturday.
Alright, enough preamble. Time to dive deep into an exhilarating weekend of ultimate.
The Full Field Layout
“Clearly, he’s insanely talented," said Carolina cutter Anders Juengst. “Definitely in the running for the most talented player on our team.”
Against the Breeze, White’s first throw of the game was an incomplete huck, but his confidence was undeterred. The first-year Flyer tossed 10 assists the rest of the night, along with scoring three goals and producing nearly 800 total yards as Carolina edged DC 20-19. He finished plus-11, tying New York’s Jeff Babbitt for the top single-game plus/minus of the 2023 season.
“I always play with confidence,” said White. “I’m always gonna go out there [and] take shots. But it’s easy when the unders start coming fast, you get a bunch of touches, and then it’s all rhythm from there.”
DC tallied the first break of the night five points in, but Carolina still led 6-5 after one and 11-10 at half, as White hit Juengst with eight seconds left in the second quarter to break the tie. The Flyers stretched the lead to three early in the third, and despite surrendering a late break that made it a one-goal game with a minute left, they completed 15 passes to drain the final 60 seconds and close out the impressive road result.
“It was all grit,” said White, who completed 51-of-53 throws against the Breeze. “Just winning unders. After the first six minutes of the first half, we knew they were fronting our guys, so we just had to go win the disc over and over and over again. Really tough. Super fun game.”
Both teams finished exactly 4-for-9 on break chances, but Carolina’s end of quarter success, scoring the final goal in each of the first three quarters, turned out to be the narrow difference in the game.
In retrospect, DC felt like it lost the energy battle.
“We were missing one of our key energy leaders, Jasper Tom, and it showed,” reflected Jonny Malks, who led the Breeze with 572 total yards. “We all could have done a better job of raising the intensity before we were trailing. That’s intensity both physically and on the mental prep side.”
While DC’s weekend was over after Friday’s entertaining battle, Carolina continued its road trip to Philadelphia, where the 1-4 Phoenix were waiting. But this was no ordinary one-win team.
Leading the league in heartbreakers through the season’s first five weeks—perhaps tied with Madison—Philly had learned from its past mistakes and felt prepared to pounce on the fatigued Flyers.
“I asked the team to give it all to each other and to put full effort into this game and win the effort battle, and we did,” said Phoenix Coach Roger Chu.
Philly started strong and closed even stronger, ultimately prevailing 20-17 in one of the biggest wins in franchise history. Along with an excellent game plan, the Phoenix competed with purpose and intensity, disrupting the Flyers early and often.
“Their aggressive flat-mark defense, challenging every show-and-throw, got us out of rhythm early in the game,” said Juengst. “And then their huck percentage was pretty good.”
Philly led 14-12 after a superb hold with 10:29 left, but the Flyers broke with about eight minutes remaining to tie the game at 14-all. From there, the Phoenix responded by scoring six of the next seven goals, an epic and cathartic rally for a team that desperately needed it.
“We knew we’re good,” said Philly veteran Sean Mott. “We made the playoffs last year, had plenty of close games against New York and DC, who are two of the top teams in this league. This win means a lot because we can show that we can beat the top teams and finish games that we should win, so I think this is gonna do wonders for our confidence going forward.”
The Phoenix were a playmaking machine against the Flyers, connecting on 12-of-18 hucks and finishing 12-of-13 in the red zone. They broke Carolina nine times and often showcased impressive poise and patience working the disc after a turn. Their most significant growth, though, may have been their overall ability to maintain possession on offense.
“We knew early in the year that our resets were not great,” said Mott, who churned for a game-high 541 yards. “We got in trouble and we panicked late in games. So we went in and put in a lot of reset work, and it showed out in this game.”
Calvin Trisolini added three assists and two goals, Max Trifillis created four blocks, and monster plays from Greg Martin and James Pollard all helped Philly seize this season-changing result. At 1-5, their postseason fate would have felt mighty bleak. Instead, they’re now 2-4, reinvigorated and revved up for the second half of the season.
“This game is a sign of [our belief in maintaining a mindset of growth],” said Chu. “This team has basically kept the goal in mind, which is no matter what happens, let’s keep on working for each other, keep on figuring how to improve, keep on incrementally becoming better and better no matter what happens. That’s exactly what we did. This is a game that I don’t know that we would have won at the beginning of the season. Not only did we win, but we put it out of reach at the very end with multiple breaks in a row.”
Philly now heads up to Toronto for another critical contest in their urgent playoff pursuit, while the Flyers understand that they have no more mulligans if they aspire to host the South Division Championship Game in August.
“We’re playing to make the postseason and we’re playing to win two hard games on back-to-back days on the last day of the season,” said Juengst. “We’ve got another test next week to go try to win back-to-back games on the road [...] People are gonna be hungry.”
At the top of the East Division, New York and Boston both entered Friday night undefeated and ready for a titanic tussle. Unfortunately, visions of a classic encounter between these long-time rival sports cities sank into the abyss, as a deluge of rain and thunderstorms spoiled the potentially epic evening.
“We initially got on the field at around 6:00 PM, but had to seek shelter due to close lightning strikes around 6:45,” explained New York’s Ryan Osgar. “We spent the next two hours in the locker room, passing the time by bouncing lacrosse balls into Pringles cans, playing Pictionary, and streaming the DC/Flyers game. Since we thought the game would likely be canceled, we were not fully focused, but our trainer yelled at us to focus up, and we eventually took the field around 9:30.”
When the game finally got underway, the lightning and thunder had subsided, but the downpour did not. Both teams were told that they could only play until 10:30 PM, and they had to reach halftime for the game to count. It was far from an ideal situation, particularly since the weather forced them to play a form of ultimate that barely resembled what they practiced.
“The conditions were ridiculously bad, with heavy rain, cold temperatures, and swirling wind,” said Osgar. “We managed to secure an early lead and then focused on maintaining possession on offense to run out the clock and reach halftime by 10:25 PM. It wasn’t a pretty game, and it probably didn’t do wonders for our team stats, but a win is a win.”
Indeed, the two teams combined for 13 goals and 35 turnovers in 24 minutes, but the Empire’s adaptability and early 6-1 lead enabled New York to win 8-5 when the game was officially called at halftime. Despite the bizarre circumstances, it still became the franchise’s 20th straight victory.
The playing conditions, at least from a wind standpoint, weren’t much better a day later in Montreal, but again, the Empire won the battle of attrition. New York did not win any quarter by more than two goals, but the Empire still outscored the Royal in every quarter, prevailing 16-10 in a game that included 51 total turnovers and only five completed hucks.
“Team-wide our defense was very good, but our offense left a lot to be desired,” said New York’s Ben Katz. “The great crowd they have and their energy might have gotten us into more of a spectacle than we generally like offensively, but I am not concerned about us repeating an offensive showing like that [...] It can be nice to play poorly enough to learn lessons while still walking away with a win. We just have to make sure those lessons stick.”
The Empire’s overall winning streak, dating back to the start of the 2022 season, now sits at 21. They need three more wins to surpass the 2016-17 Dallas Roughnecks for the second-longest winning streak in AUDL history, and their next three games are at home, albeit against three good teams in Atlanta, Boston, and DC. The Empire have currently won 24 consecutive home games since losing to Montreal on June 23, 2018.
As for Boston, Friday could only be described as a huge disappointment.
“This game was supposed to be the culmination of a lot of things for us,” said Glory Captain Brendan McCann. “We have a good team this year. We had a 3-0 record [and] an Empire team that has looked vulnerable this season. And no JR [John Randolph] or Brett Tan. [...] I wanted to give them our full-strength roster vs. theirs and really see how we stack up. But we didn’t learn much out of this game and we aren’t putting faith into it. Every point had like four turns or more. Luckily, we are bringing a strong roster down to New York in two weeks and hopefully play in some better weather. But an L is an L in the standings, even if it was a joke of a game.”
The Glory will get another crack at a marquee win when they host Atlanta this Friday night. Unfortunately, as of Tuesday, there’s also a 55 percent chance of thunder-showers then.
By the time New York takes the field against Atlanta on Saturday, there will only be one other remaining undefeated team in the entire league.
Salt Lake and Colorado will collide this Friday outside Denver before meeting again in Utah one week later. Both the Shred and Summit remain unblemished after Week 6 wins over Oakland, a pair of wildly exciting contests that saw the Spiders go toe-to-toe with the two best in the West.
“Keenan Laurence has definitely leveled up this year,” said Salt Lake Coach Bryce Merrill. “On another level, winning his huck catches and unders. Just really impressed. Raekwon Adkins was also a problem. A downfield of Laurence, [Dexter] Clyburn, [Gavin] May, and [Walker] Frankenberg for [Mac] Hecht, [Evan] Magsig, and [Chris] Lung to work with is a legit lineup. They’re for real.”
Colorado leadership shared similar sentiments regarding the Spiders’ overall potential.
“Oakland was definitely our toughest challenge so far,” said Colorado Co-Head Coach Mike Lun. “Mac’s throws were dialed. Somehow, I feel like Mac has become an underrated player. Lung had some great shots. Both Keenan and Adkins were tough deep matchups.”
But despite all the deserved praise for a pair of second-half leads on the road against undefeated opponents, the Spiders still had no wins to show for their two promising performances. On Saturday, the Shred outscored Oakland 11-5 in the second half in Salt Lake’s 21-17 triumph. One day later, the Summit broke it open late with a 6-1 spurt, transforming a 21-20 nailbiter into a comfortable 27-21 Colorado lead. Laurence scored at the buzzer in a 27-22 final, but the Summit still walked off the field victorious, despite Oakland’s feelings of encouragement after their respectable showing at altitude.
“Overall takeaway from the weekend is that we can hang with the best,” said Hecht. “We felt like we were in both games, and both felt like we were a few execution mistakes away from winning.”
The Austin Sol or Houston Havoc can talk about traveling to Atlanta and Carolina on consecutive days, and the Hustle will experience a daunting journey through Boston and New York this weekend, but there’s definitely a strong case to be made that a back-to-back at elevation is the toughest test in the entire league.
“This is one of, if not the hardest, doubleheader road trips in the entire AUDL,” said Laurence. “The combination of altitude, raucous home crowds, and extremely athletic teams bring forth a challenge that you just don’t see anywhere else in the league. I am immensely proud of how we competed this weekend.”
Trailing by two at the half, the Shred did not make any major changes. Instead, they maintained their game plan and leaned on their experience and explosiveness.
“We knew we were applying pressure in the right spots,” said Merrill. “I liked the risks that our defenders were and weren’t taking. And I felt confident that was going to win out over the four quarters…I feel like each game we’re highlighting a different player on the O-line for a breakout performance, and rightfully so. McKay [Yorgason] has had a couple of insanely athletic highlight plays this season, but it’s the consistency on moving the disc and supporting his handlers that has really stood out to me. And that consistency allowed us to shift Grant [Lindsley] and Will [Selfridge] over to some D-line reps this game, which was a huge boost for intensity and lockdown D in the second half.”
The youngest Yorgason completed all 43 of his throws, dealing three assists and six hockey assists. Jordan Kerr added five goals and five assists for the Shred, who improved to 6-0 ahead of Friday’s showdown with the Summit.
Colorado, playing without Jonathan Nethercutt and his seven assists per game, welcomed Danny Landesman and Calvin Stoughton for their 2023 debuts and let Quinn Finer cook for 814 yards, six assists, and four goals. Saeed Semrin led the Summit defense with five blocks, and Alex Atkins also seized more responsibility for the Colorado offense.
“When we’re full strength, we really don’t need to be so heliocentric around Nethercutt,” said Lun. “Even when he’s there, it’s good to know that we can utilize Alex Atkins more and more in that role. Our goal is to be more balanced as an offensive unit.”
Coming up later today in “Seven on the Line”, another SoCal classic between LA and San Diego, Minnesota’s masterpiece against Chicago, a preview of Friday’s battle of unbeatens, and more!