Madison’s Year, or Will the Spiders Repeat? 2015 AUDL Championship Game Preview

2015 AUDL Championship Weekend

MADISON RADICALS v RALEIGH FLYERS (22-19 MADISON)

In the first leg of the AUDL semifinals at Championship Weekend, the Madison Radicals outlasted the Raleigh Flyers to secure the first spot in the final.

As expected, Raleigh started the game with more than a few unforced errors. With a slight crosswind from north to south, Madison began the game in their patented zone. After several inside breaks from the Flyers, one got caught in the wind and sailed over the intended receiver’s hands straight into those of Kevin Brown. A few quick passes later and the Radicals had their first break. On the next point, Brown almost earned his second block on a Flyers deep shot, but was whistled for the foul. After centering the disc on the endzone, Raleigh found the open man, only for it to slip through his hands. Madison worked it down and punched it in for a second consecutive break.

The Radicals would take an early 5-1 lead on the backs of both earned blocks and unforced Raleigh drops and throwaways. As a fan in the crowd said during the first quarter, “It looks like Madison’s just out there practicing.” Raleigh looked like a team that hadn’t played together before, while the Radicals’ chemistry, offensive flow and defensive switching were incredibly smooth. Graffy skied Allen just outside the endzone before flipping it to Meshnick for the goal to make it 5-1.

By the time Madison had fought their way to 12-5, the game appeared to be over. Raleigh stalwarts like Justin Allen and Noah Saul were making egregious errors, throwing straight into coverage and dropping discs that they frequently catch with ease. Those errors caused them to be far more cautious than they normally are, looking off open cutters and putting themselves into higher-stall situations more frequently than necessary. While Madison’s offense wasn’t perfect, they were able to earn the disc back and convert on both sides of the disc, in large part thanks to Flyer errors.

At least until 13-6. After a quick offensive run up the breakside, Raleigh was revitalized, and subsequently ran off three straight breaks to bring the game to 13-9 at half. While not the 7 goal lead they had earlier, Madison had done enough. The rest of the game would consist primarily of offensive holds, with the odd break being traded. Andrew Brown was point blocked for the first time since 2006; Mark Lin had one of the most gratuitous layouts the crowd (and sidelines) had ever seen; and Dave Wiseman finished with 4 assists on just 7 completions.

For Raleigh, Richardson and Taylor were two of the more impressive defenders. While Taylor cut his teeth with the U23 team recently, expect Richardson to make more of a name for himself in 2016; he both made and was inches from making several stellar defensive efforts, frequently punishing Madison for even the slightest of errors.

Tempers flared after Tim McAllister made a dangerous bid near the sideline late in the game; while the referees whistled for the foul, Madison thought the play was deserving of significantly more punishment. The Radicals definitely were on the receiving end of some very physical plays, none of which seemed to be made with poor intent. Raleigh were simply competing their hardest in the last few minutes of the game, and some competitiveness found its way onto the field in a more physical manner than usual. The Radicals held on, however, and are the team that earned themselves the chance to compete on the final day of the 2015 AUDL season.

SAN JOSE SPIDERS v TORONTO RUSH (25-20 SAN JOSE)

The latter semifinal produced a similar storyline to the first. While Remi Ojo was able to point block San Jose’s Simon Higgins on the first point, Toronto tried to counterattack too quickly, resulting in an immediate gifting of possession back to San Jose. The Spiders held and then broke twice early to go up 4-1. Again, similar to Raleigh’s run earlier in the day, the Rush fought back valiantly.

While Toronto tied the game at 6-6, that was the closest they would come to taking the lead. Greg Cohen was a force for San Jose, while role players Chuck Cao, Jordan Marcy and Sonny Zaccaro also performed admirably as connectors to the bigger roster names. Cassidy Rasmussen and Ashlin Joye played well off each other, although Joye’s deep game wasn’t as on-point as usual. The San Jose O-line ran relatively smoothly, especially considering they were without two of their best cutters (Johnson was absent and Kittredge appeared injured and played almost exclusively the role of defensive handler). Sean Ham was particularly effective filling in this role, finishing with 4 goals and 3 assists.

Defensively, both teams played impressive shut-down defense for long bouts; the Spiders were simply able to cope better with the pressure and outlast Toronto, while the Rush would attempt difficult throws into tight lanes and end up conceding possession. Ojo had a terrific catch block in the lane to prevent an end of quarter Spiders score, but Toronto was unable to punch in the ensuing possession. The Rush seemed to lack teeth as the game progressed, and the outcome was never in very much doubt after the first half of play. San Jose only became stronger as the game progressed, despite some lackadaisical defense once the win was all but secured.

The Spiders will look to continue building when they retake the field Sunday afternoon against the team and defense that gave them their biggest hindrance en route to their 2014 Championship. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to pull off the win twice in a row, especially if the swirling winds inside Avaya continue to benefit the Radicals’ zone.

CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: SAN JOSE SPIDERS v MADISON RADICALS (Sunday, 2PM PDT, 5PM EDT)

With neither semifinal being particularly close, fans will be looking forward to the final with what were arguably the two most dominant regular season teams facing off. As we saw in last year’s semifinal, Madison v. San Jose was the best game of Championship Weekend 2014.

Against Raleigh, Madison did an excellent job of coming out strong and dictating the pace of play. While San Jose won’t be as easily rattled as the first-year Flyers, if the Radicals can open the game with similar defensive pressure, they will be off to a good start. San Jose’s movement operates primarily laterally, taking deep shots from the break sideline, or when the disc is in Joye’s hands.

One thing that the Radicals were incredibly wasteful of yesterday were end-of-quarter situations. They will need to do much better about at least giving themselves opportunities to compete in the air in order to give themselves the edge against the Spiders. Rushed throws in efforts to bring themselves closer to the endzone before forcing any shots resulted in turfs and short throws into coverage. Madison will need to trust their big receivers and put the disc into endzone airspace. On defense, their zone is dangerous in that the inside break, usually a relatively easy throw for handlers of this level, is sometimes left open. While that was exploited several times by the Flyers, it also was the cause of more than a few throwaways.

For San Jose, they need another big performance from their stars. When I spoke to Mark Lloyd of Toronto, he opined that a big part of the Rush’s loss in the semifinals came from their own poor display, and thinks the Radicals have the ability to do a better job containing San Jose. That being said, the Spiders also performed admirably in forcing Toronto into lower-percentage looks: “They did a good job with their mark and dump coverage working together, and punished our mistakes. It seemed like Greg Cohen caught anything that came his way, and was a difference maker. I think Madison can really disrupt San Jose’s offense. On defense, the Spiders play to bend but not break, so they will be there if you make a mistake, but aren’t going to force a ton. They will punish any mistakes that Madison makes.”

Madison will have to work harder on offense against San Jose, whose handler coverage and marks were noticeably superior to the Flyers’. If the Spiders continue the tight coverage they demonstrated Saturday night, Madison may have a tougher time than they have seen this season. That said, the Radicals have shown themselves to be at the very top of the AUDL competition time and again; 2015 very well could be their year to finally hoist the trophy. Coach Tim DeByl expressed hesitant excitement at the prospect of a rematch: “The Spiders play such a tough defensive game. They use their athleticism to prevent you from getting anything easy on the open side, and provide a ton of help over the top. The only thing that consistently worked for the Rush was throwing difficult breakside hammers. But San Jose is the matchup we’ve wanted since last year when we lost to them in Toronto. We are excited to get another shot at them.”

There’s a very strong chance that the best game of Championship Weekend is yet to be played. You can catch the game on ESPN3 at 2pm Pacific time.

  1. Steven Wartinbee

    Steven Wartinbee graduated Georgetown University in the class of 2015, where he captained the men's team, Catholic Justice. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, where he has competed with the open club team Gridlock. You can contact him at swartinbee@gmail.com, or find him on Twitter @swartinbee.

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