The Midwest Doubles Down: 2014 AUDL Midwest Conference Preview

Madison Radicals fans.The buzz growing in the coastal Divisions could bother the returning teams in the Midwest Division; it could dampen spirits as legends and come-ups sign with teams in the East and West Divisions while the biggest news out of the Midwest was Brodie Smith’s unsurprising re-commitment to Wildfire. But these Midwestern teams are amped for the AUDL’s expansion, and the new kids on the block are just more reason to double down and get pumped up for the 2014 season. The Midwest Division shares one sentiment: they’re not going to let you overlook them.

Santiago Escobar, Owner and General Manager for the Minnesota Wind Chill, believes that “the Midwest remains quite strong, and perhaps has grown to be stronger than last year.”

Indeed competition in the Midwest Division will increase now that all six teams have a year of AUDL behind them, but mobility in the ranks will be minimal. The Radicals and Wildfire rivalry will emerge once more, but the Minnesota Wind Chill and the Indianapolis Alley Cats have updated rosters and eyes on the Championship. The Cincinnati Revolution and the Detroit Mechanix will continue to build their programs, but personnel losses in limited talent pools have set them back for this season.

Madison Radicals

With a returner-heavy squad (21 players) and a handful of rookies from Madison Club, the Radicals are in a good position for 2014: after a 13-3 regular season they won the Division title against Chicago Wildfire, finally taking advantage of a full roster and executing a stifling defense that the Wildfire couldn’t overcome.

This year the Radicals’ roster features 17 Madison Club players, including dangerous rookies such as Seth Meyers and Bill Everhart. Peter Graffy, also from Madison Club, will add both height and depth to the Radicals defensive line.

Tom Annen will return to help run their offense, and Scott Richgels will remain a star across the board, notching goals, assists, and Ds like check-marks on each game’s to-do list.. Mike Swain, the king of swagger and a threat downfield, will also return to the Radicals for 2014.

Last year their roster was deep and talented, and when they had the chance, their defense was choking for teams like Chicago Wildfire. This season, they will turn their attention toward offense: Player-Coach Tim DeByl notes that “We really didn’t have any ideas on how the offense would work on the bigger field with a shorter stall count. This season we will be spending a lot more time on the offense, and I think it will pay off by the end of the season.” Their high retention rate from last year will allow them to pick up where they left off last year, and adding experienced players who already know the veterans gives Madison a head start for their opening game.

With the advantage of 19 games under their belt, the Madison Radicals want to take their Division again this year and establish dominance over their Chicago rivals. They won’t face the Wildfire until late May, which gives them plenty of time to hone their defense and work their new blood into an offense that will carry them late into the summer.

Chicago Wildfire

Despite finishing at the top of the Division in the regular season and finishing second in the Division overall, last season Chicago Wildfire wasn’t as focused as they could have been; they didn’t need to be. They were a tall, strong, and fast team that generated wins without wandering far from the Machine playbook. They were championed by Brodie Smith, who leads the league in career assists (109); Jonathan “Goose” Helton, who holds the record for career D’s (85); and AJ Nelson, a 2013 First Team All-AUDL player. Tall, fast, strong.

Their semifinals loss to the Madison Radicals showed them however that some focus and tweaks could have tipped them into the finals, and this season Chicago Wildfire has the pieces necessary to take down the Radicals and take the Division. Most of their rookie pickups are actually veteran Machine players, such as Machine Captain Andy Neilson and the smart handler Walden Nelson, who will captain Wildfire in his first year. They also gain Alex Drlica-Wagner from San Francisco’s Boost Mobile, and they’ve added new blood from the Chicago club scene, Chris Vandervoort (Beachfront Property) and Von Alanguilan (Haymaker).

Ron Kubalanza will step up to coach this year, and his notorious discipline will pull the Chicago Wildfire into shape so they’ll be ready to battle the Madison Radicals and the Indianapolis Alley Cats, the top two teams who will threaten Wildfire’s ambitions.

Minnesota Wind Chill

Their 4-12 record was unexpected considering their promising roster last year, yet the Minnesota Wind Chill suffered from a string of 5 losses mid-season that crippled their playoff chances. The Wind Chill were new to the AUDL, and

James Hron and Jonathon Staron are stalwarts for the Wind Chill’s offense, with Hron scoring the most goals in their season (49 in 10 games) and Staron playing the most points in their season (295.5 in 15 games). Brian Schoenrock held down their defense, with the most D’s in their season (29 in 11 games) and the most D’s in a single game (6 against Wildfire). These stars are flanked by returning veterans such as Austin Lien, Kevin Seiler, and Josh Hemmesch, and  experienced core for a new team: because the Wind Chill are resetting and revamping for 2014.

This year the Wind Chill have a new coach, Lou Abramowski, who has coached the successful Hopkins High School program for yaers. Their roster also saw the most turnover of any team in the Midwest Division, due to life’s inevitable distractions – work, school, family. But as Santiago Escobar points out, “the talent pool in Minnesota is so deep that new players have stepped up to fill roles.”

Indeed, new players from Subzero like Dan Miller, Dan Miesen, and Eric Johnson join the Wind Chill, while Alex Baker and David Shirley join the small army of Drag’n Thrust men on the roster. This new blood makes the Minnesota Wind Chill a different team this year, one that could be unpredictable against the Division favorites.

Indianapolis Alley Cats

If anyone has the right ingredients to disrupt the rivalry of Madison and Chicago, it will be the Indy Alley Cats. Their 7-9 record last year reveals a team pressing upwards for upsets, with close games against the Radicals all season that culminated in a 15-18 loss in the Division semifinals. They lost Brodie Smith last year to Wildfire, yet the Alley Cats improved throughout their season, and now they have the roster and the rigor to make some noise in 2014.

Cameron Brock is undeniably the star of the Alley Cats, holding the AUDL record for Career Goals (154), Regular Season Goals (91), and Single Game Best Goals (14). Notice a pattern? Teams will only move past the Alley Cats by shutting down Brock and his partner-in-crime, Keenan Plew (Interrobang). Plew’s record for Career Goals (97) scored is beat only by Brock’s record, and he’s on the leaderboard for Career Assists (93). This duo ensures that the Alley Cats’ offense is dynamic, flexible, and dangerous.

On the other side of the disc Travis Carpenter (37 Career D’s, Indiana Wesleyan’s 2014 Callahan Nominee) will keep working hard for the Alley Cats, and they’ve added a squadron of young rookies, including two high school players, Levi Jacobs and Donovan Triplett.

Jared Payne transitioned to coaching the Alley Cats this season, and he’s playing to their strengths – speed and power. Their young, quick roster reflects this focus, and if they can shut down the heavy-hitters on the Radicals and on Wildfire (including the former Alley Cat Brodie), they’ll have a much longer summer.

Detroit Mechanix

It’s easy to dismiss the Mechanix as the weak link in the Division and the league; indeed a 4-12 record and a -81 goal differential puts them objectively at the bottom of the Midwest. But it’s more interesting to look at the context in which the Mechanix compete, the city with a nascent Ultimate scene that the Mechanix are nurturing and developing through community engagement.

General Manger Brent Steepe points out that “…unlike many teams, we didn’t just put a new name on old ‘club’ faces…so it will take time to develop proper flow.” Even as an older team in the AUDL, they’re still developing their strengths, and they’re building chemistry between men who have spent years playing against each other.

One step forward, two steps back. Despite being 3-year veterans in the AUDL, the Detroit Mechanix had a rocky season, finishing with a 4-12 record and a -81 goal differential that left them last in the Division. High Five emerged last season as a promising Open team, and many Mechanix men found themselves in the familiar AUDL-Club dilemma, which ultimately hurt the Mechanix who still have limited options.

Another step back: many of last year’s weapons — Dave Hochhalter, Ken Porter, Mark Worsfold, Logan Vantrease — aren’t returning for the Mechanix 2014 season, and Steepe admits that “their absence will be felt…deeply.” But the Mechanix are playing the long game: they have held strong for 3 years, developing talent in a region that they can grit through games to get wins. 13 Mechanix veterans will play again this year, including Captains Andrew Lucarotti and Ben Murphy, two playmakers who embody the Mechanix mentality and who can help the team foster Ultimate in their community. Joe Besser joins the team from Michigan Magnum, and he’ll complement Lucarotti’s offense for the Mechanix.

Some have suggested that part of the Mechanix’s struggle last season stemmed from their lack of outdoor play, and this brutal Midwestern winter probably hasn’t done them any favors, on top of their roster losses. This may not be their season to win the Division. But perseverance defines the Mechanix, and unlike many other teams in the league, they’re building more than a team: in Detroit, they’re building a culture.

Cincinnati Revolution

Some teams work hard to shed the underdog image; the Cincinnati Revolution embrace it. Owner/General Manager Raymie Younkin says that “It is always very easy to get overlooked when you don’t come from a traditional hotbed of Ultimate. We have great players that have can go toe-to-toe with any of the other teams in the league.”

They beat the similarly-ranked Detroit Mechanix twice, the Minnesota Wind Chill once, and a (tired) Madison Radicals, once. But two close victories against tired teams weren’t enough to carry Revolution into the post-season, and they ended another year as the underdogs who never rose but were always building, building.

As one of the original 8 teams in the AUDL, the Cincinnati Revolution is nevertheless stable. They lack the talent pools of the Bay Area or Chicago, but more than many other teams in the league, the Revolution have an identity that they understand, an ethos of hard work and chemistry that they hope will produce more wins than their depressing record in 2013.

This year they return their Captains Kevin Kula (Santa Maria) and Chris Powers (All-AUDL First Team), and they retain their core of Steamboat players such as Eddie Mack, Will Huffer, and Isaac Jeffries, who matched Chris Powers’ assists with his own set of goals every game.

They added depth to their D line by picking up Patrick “Peaches” Kaufmann, Jordan Rhyne, Phil Cherosky, Joe Mozloom, and Mike Ford from the Indianapolis Alley Cats. They also picked up handler Mike Ames from the Alley Cats, where he had the team’s highest completion percentage. Matt “Watersnake” Muhlenkamp rounds out their offense alongside Ben Sever who’s returning to the team after playing their inaugural year.

On the other hand, the Revolution lost Ryan Gorman who was everywhere in their victory over the Radicals, and they lost several of their big 2013 pickups, Ben Sage and Kevin Reichert. Ryan Sitler played for the Revolution last year despite living in and playing Asheville Club, but he’s staying in North Carolina for this season. These losses hurt the team that needed a win, but if there’s one thing the Revolution know how to do, it’s work hard from the bottom of the pile.

Outlook

This is once again a battle between Madison and Chicago for supremacy. While the Wildfire came out on top of the regular season last year, Madison took it to them in the Conference Finals and, using their hardnosed defense, came away with the win. Both teams have improved in this offseason, but the edge has to go to Madison in a close game.

Minnesota looks much improved this year after picking up Eric Johnson and Sub Zero stalwarts. They had trouble with commitment last year; big name players were frequently absent on road trips. If they can keep a consistent lineup on the field, they should make the playoffs.

The plucky Alley Cats hope to steal that spot and advance to the playoffs for the third straight year. They again have a good deal of roster turnover, but homegrown stars Cameron Brock and Keenan Plew keep them competitive. They will duke it out with Minnesota for the third spot in the Midwest.

Cincinnati and Detroit are a step below the rest of the division. The Revolution made some personnel upgrades that could make a difference if they integrate them well. Detroit is looking at a down year after losing many of their biggest playmakers.

  1. Katie Raynolds

    Katie Raynolds took a break from Seattle ultimate to test out the Midwestern scene, but now she's back in the Northwest to investigate this "bubble" she keeps hearing about. She played for Northwestern Gungho, two seasons with Chicago Nemesis, and now plays for Seattle Underground. Katie serves as Ultiworld's Women's D1 College Editor, and is damn proud to cover women's ultimate. You can reach her by email (katie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@kraynolds90).

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