Toronto Rush Get Comeback Wins Over Breeze, Empire On AUDL Opening Weekend

The Toronto Rush huddle up in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Pete Guion —

There may be some new bells and whistles in the AUDL’s Eastern Conference, but the Rush’s core proved that the East still runs through Toronto.

With a 20-19 win over the DC Breeze (0-1) and 22-20 win over New York Empire (0-1) this weekend, the Rush temporarily quieted the questions as to whether the offseason additions for the Breeze and Empire will fundamentally change the landscape in the East. Despite securing the two early season wins (which could be crucial tie-breakers even if the late season rankings tighten up), the Rush (2-0) may not exactly be standing on solid ground. They had to comeback from down 10-6 against the Breeze and 17-14 against the Empire.

The Rush’s Saturday win over the Breeze could have easily gone the other way. In the final seconds of the game, Tyler Degirolamo had two throwaways, one of which was to Alex Thorne as time expired; a completion on either throw could have sent the contest into overtime.

Prior to the game, the former Pittsburgh duo had not thrown a single pass to the team’s third key addition, Brett Matzuka. Those three additions mean that the Breeze may have the most potential of all the teams in the East; in contrast, the Rush, with 17 GOAT players on their roster and an AUDL championship under their belt, are clearly already comfortable with their teammates. The DC Breeze has a long way to go – but have to be happy that they are already playing the Rush to the buzzer. Both teams will look to improve significantly by the time they meet again on May 24 in Toronto.

Rush Roster Incomplete But Dominant

The Rush won the Championship last year with depth and defensive intensity, particularly on handler marks. They brought that again this year and Geoff Powell (6G, 4D, 2A) led the charge against the Breeze. Powell had three full-extension layout blocks and a defensive sky, all of which came while guarding Thorne.

“We really benefit from having a deep team,” Powell said. “One of our strengths last year that we want to bring back this year is tight man-to-man D. [Head coach Evan Phillips] preaches really pinching on the handlers and playing tight and pressuring them to making tough decisions and tough throws, so that’s something that we focused on and definitely tried to create tough matchups.”

Powell’s outstanding performance is not an outlier. He should continue to perform at this high level considering he is getting reinforcements. Three of the Rush’s best handlers — Adrian Yearwood, Anatoly Vasilyev, and Phil Watanabe — were not playing against the Breeze. The addition of those three players could provide even greater matchup problems for opposing teams.

“The things that we’re good at, which was the handler coverage, Phil and Toly are the biggest factors when it comes to that,” Phillips said. “They’re our main handler coverage guys, so I think it’s going to make what we do even that much better.”

Without those three, Rush throwers seemed shaky at the beginning of the game, but their confidence grew, particularly in the wind (the Rush had not played outdoors due to a harsh winter). The development of the handlers over the course of the game was evident and became a big reason why the team mounted their comeback win. It is hard to imagine that a team with such a well-integrated core of players will continue development, but they will. At full strength, the Rush is still the best team in the East — and maybe in the league.

DC Breeze’s New Coach

The most significant addition for the Breeze is, perhaps, the least talked about. First year head coach Alex “Dutchy” Ghesquiere had an immediate impact. Players threatened to leave the team in 2013 over disputes regarding head coach Tom Coffin’s leadership. Coffin was eventually removed of the head coach title and reassigned to another position within the franchise. The DC Breeze needed a legitimate leader and head coach. They now have one.

Ghesquiere demonstrated a quick adaptation to the AUDL ruleset. On two separate occasions, he called a timeout after the Rush had turned the disc, using the timeout to substitute in offensive players. Both full substitutions resulted in breaks.

Ghesquiere also installed a zone defense that took advantage of the double team rules. While they had only practiced it once, the zone forced a higher volume of throws that, Ghesquiere explained, provided ample opportunity to get a block.

“We could come down and really clog things up more [in our zone],” he said. “And I love that, as a D coach, you just want them to throw 40 passes, some of them contested. A lot of options, opportunities to get looks on the disc that way.”

Captain Dan “White Hat” Selwyn was impressed at how quickly the zone became effective, particularly in limiting throws through the middle, but finished by saying, “We can definitely improve on it.”

Chemistry in DC’s Mind

Former Pittsburgh and Doublewide teammates Thorne (4A, 1G) and DeGirolamo (6G, 3A) linked up to score the first three DC Breeze points and then two of their last three. Unfortunately, the aforementioned throw they did not connect on stands out as a difference maker in an otherwise tight game — at 20-19, DeGirolamo overthrew an open Thorne as time expired.

“I want a system that’s independent of players and I actually really like the depth on this team,” Ghesquiere said. “While those guys [DeGirolamo and Thorne] might have shown up on the stat sheet – they’re certainly really good individually – I think the team’s success is measured by how well the team plays as seven guys, not as one or two guys. When we have a system that’s working, we’re going to play all twenty guys and they’re going to show up on the stat sheet and we’re going to be an effective ultimate team together.”

The strong individual performances had some of 229 in attendance discussing the two big signees, but Ghesquiere recognized a lack of offensive flow. However, there were moments where the offense did click, and they were moving the disc every three seconds, leading to a score. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come.

“We moved the bar up a little higher in expectations,” said Matzuka, who was at the center of the defensive handler set. “As long as we do that week after week, I feel like we’ll be in a good place.”

  1. Henry McKenna

    Henry McKenna is a reporter for Ultiworld. An experienced sports journalist, he played ultimate for four years at Colorado College while pursuing a creative writing degree. He played for Inception and has coached in China and Spain.

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