The AUDL adds teams in long-targeted Denver and Portland and returns to Salt Lake City for the first time since 2014. The west-leaning newcomers lead the way for a division realignment across the league.
December 9, 2021 by Alex Rubin in News with 0 comments
After returning to the field in 2021, the American Ultimate Disc League has announced three new expansion teams for the 2022 season: the Colorado Summit, the Salt Lake Shred, and an unnamed Portland team.
Colorado Summit Get Powerful Backers, Mixed Reaction from Community
Denver7 first broke the news of a local expansion with their story in late November about a new professional ultimate team coming to Colorado. The Summit will play its games at the University of Denver’s Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. Sal Pace has been the front-facing owner as part of a five-person ownership group that also includes Molly Brown founder Emily Hanson, Jim Nolte of the Denver-based Ultimate Lending Team home loan business, former Roughnecks owner Matt Krei, and former Johnny Bravo player Darin ‘Dar’ DeLay. Pace is a former Minority Leader of the Colorado State House. He served from 2009 to 2012 and was key to the state’s efforts to legalize marijuana. The franchise also announced a Colorado Summit Coaches Council that includes a who’s who of Centennial State coaches: Joe “Smash” Anderson, Tina McDowell, Bob Krier, Mike Lun, Joe Durst, and Katie “Kip” Patterson.
The announcement was met with notable pushback from some players active in the Colorado ultimate community. Claire Chastain and Megan Ives from Denver Molly Brown are both quoted in another Denver7 article that outlines concerns over the AUDL’s presence in the Colorado scene and the sport at large. In that article, Pace commits to financially supporting a women’s division team if that opportunity arises.
Utah Tries Again with Salt Lake Shred
The Salt Lake Shred and the Portland team were later announced by the league in a post on December 1. Shred co-owner (and likely candidate for head coach) Bryce Merrill is deeply involved in the Utah ultimate scene, coaching the Western Ultimate League’s Utah Wild, BYU’s men’s team, and the Utah Swarm YCC program, as well as being a part of team leadership for the Utah Killjoys men’s club program.
The Shred isn’t the first AUDL franchise in Salt Lake City. Their forerunners the Salt Lake Lions went 0-14 in 2014, their only full season, and were shut down by the league in 2015. With long and costly travel to other AUDL teams and a roster that failed to draw enough of the area’s best talent, the Lions almost seemed doomed from the start, and were never quite able to drum enough community support to make up for the challenges (an Indiegogo campaign from owner Jonathan Orlofsky earned only $2,477 of its $25,000 goal). “The vibrant ultimate culture here in Salt Lake is growing quickly. We look forward to working with the AUDL to build a strong franchise that will represent the best our community has to offer,” Orlofsky told Ultiworld after the Lions folded. Eight years and thousands of hours of youth clinics, pick-up leagues, and high-level coaching later, the Salt Lake scene is in a much stronger place.
The Shred are a completely separate organization from the Lions, and the development of ultimate in the Salt Lake area is light years ahead of where it was then. Utah placed all three of its YCC teams in at least the semifinal round at this summer’s championships, and the U17 Boys’ team won the title. The Brigham Young men’s team finished the 2020 regular season, their most recent sanctioned competition, #2 in Ultiworld’s Power Rankings, and the Utah State men’s team just clinched a spot at the 2021 College Championships. Two months ago, the Killjoys became the first-ever Utah men’s club team at the Club Championships. On the women’s side, the Wild have drawn significant community support and enthusiasm ahead of the WUL’s Winter Cup and 2022 full season debut, suggesting the moment may be right for another semi-pro team in the burgeoning ultimate scene.
As for the new team, early signings look promising, and there’s still an impressive pool of talent with Utah connections to draw from. Jordan Kerr, Ultiworld’s 2020 College Men’s Player of the Year, and Jacob Miller are signing with Salt Lake for the 2022 season after playing their rookie years with San Jose in 2021. BYU alums were key players on other AUDL teams this year, such as Joe Merrill for DC or Braedan Eberhard for Boston, and may go on to sign with the Shred for 2022. Additionally, former Breeze player Ben Green signed with the Shred in a move announced on December 7, and the team has also inked Garrett Martin, formerly of the Seattle Cascades.
You can hear directly from Merrill on the most recent episode of Stall Seven, Ultiworld’s AUDL podcast.
Lots of Unknowns in Portland
Compared to Colorado and Salt Lake, we know much less about the team in Portland, despite the city being a prime target for AUDL expansion since the early years of the league. Portland has hosted semi-pro teams in the past: the Major League Ultimate’s Stags were the top team in the Western Conference from 2014 through 2016 and reached the final in 2016 before the league suspended operations, and the Portland Swifts were among the first teams announced for the Western Ultimate League before they formally withdrew from that league in January.
While ultimate has a longer history of elite competition in Oregon than in Utah, like Salt Lake, the new Portland team may benefit from the momentum of recent high-profile success. In 2021, Portland-based men’s club Rhino Slam! inched its way up the power rankings throughout the year, then went all the way to the semifinal at the Club Championships, losing only to eventual champions Raleigh Ring of Fire. Notable Rhino Slam! players like Raphy Hayes, Trevor Smith, and Vinh Bui previously played for the MLU’s Stags, and would be natural fits on an AUDL team. Eli Friedman, a mainstay on the Rhino Slam! offense this year, played three AUDL seasons for the Los Angeles Aviators, reaching Championship Weekend in 2018. While Rhino Slam! is not currently planning to enter a formal partnership with the Portland AUDL team, many of its players are expected to play, including do-it-all centerpiece Leandro Marx.
“We are excited to bring professional ultimate to Oregon for the 2022 season,” said Joel Caswell, who leads the new Portland ownership group, in the AUDL’s release. “As a community, Portland embraces integrity, equity, and diversity as core values, and the culture of this sport embodies those same values. Developing a fan and player culture with that ideal alignment with existing community values is highly motivating for our organization as we work to prepare for our inaugural season.”
Another Division Realignment for 2022
3⃣ new teams set for #AUDL2022
— AUDL (@theAUDL) December 7, 2021
As part of the expansion, the league will realign its divisions once again. The three new expansion teams join Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose in the West. Dallas and Austin, which spent 2021 in the West, return to the South, where they will rejoin Tampa, Raleigh, and Atlanta. Pittsburgh, which finished 1-11 in the mega-Atlantic in 2021, returns to the Central and the more familiar foes of Chicago, Minnesota, Madison, Indianapolis, and Detroit. The three Canadian teams rejoin American play and will be grouped with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and DC. Given the uneven numbers in each division, as well as close travel between some teams in different divisions, cross-divisional games are expected to return in 2022.
In each division, three teams will make the playoffs. A divisional wild-card game will see the two and three seeds play for the right to face off against the top seed in the division championship game. The division champions will meet at Championship Weekend.
The league’s expansion is just one part of a very busy AUDL offseason. UltiX Technology, LLC is currently running a Kickstarter to fund the AUDL 22 video game. The league is renegotiating its media deals after a successful 2021 that saw the league partner with DraftKings and Fox Sports. Some teams have already started signing players — notably, the Austin Sol has inked former Roughnecks star Kyle Henke — and more player announcements are expected in the coming weeks, especially from the expansion teams.
“We are very proud to introduce three new teams and ownership groups to our league, and are pleased to welcome back our Canadian teams back into the mix in 2022,” said Steve Hall, CEO and Commissioner of the AUDL in the league’s announcement. “Our new owners have backgrounds as founders in technology and private equity firms as well as in local government and are all active in their ultimate communities. They share a common passion for the sport of ultimate and our dream to introduce it to more new fans every year.”