AUDL Throwaround: Breeze Seize The East, Indy Falls Again, Will Chen

Seattle Cascades’ Will Chen. Photo: AUDL.

Throughout this AUDL season, Ultiworld will be publishing a weekly Throwaround, a chance for you to catch up on the amazing, funny, and interesting moments that you might have missed from the weekend’s games.

The Stars Are Out Tonight

The New York Empire and the D.C. Breeze met on Saturday night to write the latest chapter in their burgeoning rivalry. What was pitched as a clash atop the Eastern division devolved into a scrappy test of wills, measuring the teams’ abilities to grit their way through a sloppy game on a cold, wet night in the nation’s capital.

If you read that previous sentence three weeks or three years ago, you would probably expect the next one to tell you that the Empire had ground out the win thanks to a hard-nosed defensive performance and a dyed-in-the-wool intensity stemming from a tight-knit team culture. The fickle winds of narrative have changed course, however, and it was the Breeze emerging with a 22-21 victory and a “three yards and a cloud of dust” identity that has them atop the AUDL East.

After losing some of buzziest names in ultimate in the offseason, a regression seemed in the cards for D.C. But by doubling down on a core of local players and giving the spotlight to some young talent, the Breeze have kept their division title hopes very much alive. On Saturday night, it was D.C. and not their Acela corridor rivals who were able to win the long, drag-out, knock-down points. Despite going up against one of the most athletic teams in the AUDL, it was the Breeze coming up with that extra inch in all the physical battles, well, most of them anyway.

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And in less than ideal conditions, the Breeze were the ones who made the mental adjustment to the slick and chilly climate that turned several points into slapdash affairs.

This isn’t the first time that the Breeze have made life miserable for a rival on their home turf, as the Rush also left Washington looking like they had come out on the wrong end of a street fight. D.C.’s defense has been effective all year at limiting one-on-one matchups and forcing teams to readjust their line of attack on the fly.

The defensive chemistry that has been crucial to Washington’s success this year was evident all night, but the deciding sequence of Saturday’s game was especially clear. New York had the disc in their hands looking to tie with just enough time to do so. After Josh Alorro slipped free of Matt Kerrigan on an upline cut, Kerrigan and Alan Kolick seamlessly executed a perfect sideline double team trap. Reading the play, Jonathan Neeley dashed towards the crossfield swing space and when the smothering trap marks forced Alorro’s around flick to hang, Neeley arrived just in time to make the game’s deciding block.

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That moment of team defense gave the Breeze the game and the outright lead in the AUDL East. Having already beaten their two biggest division rivals and growing in confidence with every win, DC is showing this year that with chemistry, a strong mental game, and a commitment to doing the little things right, you can overcome the loss of even the brightest stars.

-Patrick Stegemoeller

Colin Grandon On Sportscenter Top 10

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Stuck Between Stations

Late in the third quarter on Saturday night in Minnesota, the AlleyCats held a 19-18 lead. Despite losing by ten to the Wind Chill just two weeks ago, Indianapolis was on the verge of scoring the upset. After a Wind Chill hold, Minnesota got the disc back in their own end zone with little time left on the clock. Then this happened.

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Minnesota entered the fourth quarter with a 20-19 lead and never trailed again, winning 28-25. It was a familiar story for Indianapolis, and not just because they’ve now lost seven games in a row to the Wind Chill. The week before in Pittsburgh, the AlleyCats led 25-23 late in the fourth quarter before allowing a string of breaks to lose the game 26-25. The AlleyCats are now 1-4 and look like they’ll miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

The AlleyCats aren’t any worse than they were back when they were making the playoffs every year. The competition has simply improved. Indianapolis has become a measuring stick. At the entry for the line entering the Midwest playoffs, there’s a picture of Keenan Plew, Travis Carpenter, and Cameron Brock that says “you must be at least this good to enter.”

The AlleyCats have talent. Carpenter would be a valuable addition to any team in the league. Plew is a versatile offensive player that has typically been the primary cutter but has been putting in more time as a handler this year. Brock is an elite goal scorer. Rick Gross made the leap last year and is now a valuable part of the offense. But the depth, which has always been a question mark for Indianapolis, looks as thin as ever in 2017.

Like many teams that aren’t quite playoff material in the AUDL, so much of the AlleyCats talent resides on its O-line. Even Carpenter and Gross, two natural defenders, play offense for Indianapolis…and it’s because the offense needs them.

Carpenter is the best all around player on the team — he already had a monster nine assist game against Pittsburgh — but it’s fair to wonder how much gas he has left in the tank at the end of games. Carpenter is playing five more points played per game than the next player on the team, and four more points per game than he ever has before. In the fast paced AUDL game with a 53 yard wide field, that makes a big difference.

When the Indianapolis offense is humming, it’s something else. For a lot of Saturday against the Wind Chill, that was the case. Players know their roles, and you can tell just from watching a single point how comfortable and familiar they are playing with one another. When people step outside of their roles…it can get ugly.

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In 2015 and 2016, Brock went from being a pure goal scorer to a more multidimensional player, averaging 40 assists over those two seasons, with a not good but not bad 90% completion rate. Brock is at his best when he is running to the end zone, though, not taking shots at it. That has never been more clear than it has this year.

With defenses having adjusted to Brock being a capable thrower, he’s still making throws like the defense isn’t staying home. Over the last three games, Brock does have an impressive 14 assists, tied with Carpenter for the team lead, but he also has 15 throwaways. With only 45 completions, that’s an anemic 75% completion rate. For an Indianapolis offense that is normally efficient, that’s a problem.

But Brock’s decision making and Carpenter’s heavy load aren’t the biggest issues. The Indianapolis defense is athletic and quick, but lacks height and playmakers after the turn. Against Pittsburgh, the AlleyCats tried a zone for much of the game to disastrous effect. The team is much better just matching up and hoping their speed can give the other team problems, even if it hasn’t really worked yet.

Tyler Degirolamo had nine goals and two assists against them in what seemed like an off night for him. Greg Cousins just lit them up for seven assists and three goals. Watching players like Gross and Carpenter saunter onto the O-line after a quick Pittsburgh or Minnesota hold seems like it’s a waste, but it’s also a necessary evil. It’s part of why the AlleyCats were in these games to begin with. When they’re on, they can trade points with the best of them.

Even given all that, and a 1-4 record, it’s not like Indianapolis is that far off from being a playoff caliber team. They only lost by one point in Pittsburgh. Last year they beat the Thunderbirds twice, and they’ll get two more shots at them. If Indianapolis can win both of those games, they’ll still have a decent chance at making the playoffs. If the present is anything like the past, though, the AlleyCats will once again end up on the outside looking in.

-Nathan Jesson

I Believe That We Will Chen

The first thing I thought of when Donnie Clark flew through the air and blocked the championship hopes of my local Radicals team wasn’t sadness. It was umbrage. And my feelings didn’t even have to do with Clark’s game-saving acrobatics. No, the first thing I thought was, “How the hell did Will Chen get off that throw?!”

You see, at the end of the third quarter of the 2016 Madison v. Seattle semifinal, with under 15 seconds to play, Madison’s Andrew Brown swung a too-slow crossfield forehand into a pack of players, with Seattle’s Husayn Carnegie ranging over and swatting the disc down. Seattle’s transition off the clutch Carnegie block was lethargic at best, with the disc hitting the ground at 10 seconds remaining, and a Cascades player failing to pick up the disc until just a scant six seconds remained.

Finally, wretchedly, Ben Snell scooped up the disc and quickly swung it to Chen. With Matt Weber and Kevin Brown of the Radicals closing in on the mark, Chen pumps once to his right before bringing the disc back across for a backhand rip through the two defenders with three seconds on the clock. 80 yards later, the disc is smoothly and slowly settling into a suddenly wide open Matt Russell for the buzzer-beating Cascades score. I’ve never seen a play like it in ultimate.

Will Chen Huck

It so thoroughly broke my spirit (kidding…mostly) and impressed me at the same time that I have a new rage-respect for Chen, a carefully cultivated grudge. He’s been a favorite of mine since his, uh, ground-breaking 2006 Callahan video, and he always seems to be a “right place, right time” guy throughout the years.

So on Saturday, when Seattle hosted the Thunderbirds and Chen was back on his ish getting layout blocks on the mark, playing bothersome defense on the dump handlers, and pestering everyone who he matched up with, I smiled. As Ian Toner said perfectly on the broadcast when Chen bolted across the open field for a huge layout grab late in the game, “Was there ever any doubt Will Chen would find a way to make the play?”

Will Chen Layout

-Adam Ruffner

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