AUDL Playoffs 2022: Championship Weekend Preview

The league’s annual final four showcase returns to Madison, the capital city of ultimate.

Photo: Brian Osborne — Carolina Flyers

Our coverage of the 2022 AUDL season is presented by VII Apparel Co., who provides premium performance apparel for the active world, featuring their proprietary GreenLine fabric made from 100% recycled plastic bottles.

Four teams are left standing after an AUDL season that featured plenty of surprise and intrigue. New York, Chicago, Colorado, and Carolina will gather in Madison to battle for the AUDL Championship. While the Flyers managed to be the last team standing in 2021, each team enters with a legitimate shot to capture a championship. New York enters the tournament as the undefeated favorite following a historic season that saw them lead the league in goals scored and goals against. Chicago has been on a mission all season after 2021 left a bitter taste in their mouth when the team fell dramatically in the semifinal round and vanquished their top divisional opponent by five goals last week. Colorado is the newcomer to the league, out to prove that it belongs in the top tier even in its inaugural season.

Here are the four teams that are still in contention, along with their most important individuals (and their EDGE scores!), their journey to Championship Weekend, and the case for them to reign supreme this AUDL season.

New York Empire (13-0)

Key Players: Ben Jagt (41.6 EDGE), Ryan Osgar (56.2), Jack Williams (31.8), Jeff Babbitt (31.1), Antoine Davis (17.3)

How They Got Here: The Empire’s strong season began before the opening pull when the team inked Antoine Davis and Charles Weinberg to add significant and needed defensive depth. Along the way the team also picked up 2022 Callahan Award winner John Randolph. New York cruised through the regular season, picking up twelve straight comfortable, if not outright dominant, wins before needing a classic Jack Williams to Ben Jagt buzzer beater to take down DC for a third time and make it to Championship Weekend.

Why They’ll Win it All: This is hands down the most talented team in the league and has a case – if it ultimately wins the title – to be considered the best in league history. With the luxury of crossing over the league’s two-time reigning MVP Ben Jagt to defense and the emergence of ultra-athlete Jeff Babbitt as the toughest cover in the league on offense, the Empire do not have an obvious weak point to attack. Ryan Osgar was the thrower with MVP numbers this year and led the offense that scored the most points in the league this season. Meanwhile, Jack Williams is still the most clutch performer in the sport at the moment and is only like the third focal point of this offense. The Empire addressed the depth concerns that plagued the team last season and seem ready to regain the crown for the second time in three seasons.

Chicago Union (12-1)

Key Players: Pawel Janas (51.4 EDGE), Joe White (5.8), Paul Arters (10.9), Ross Barker (42.3), Nate Goff (10.1)

How They Got Here: After a heartbreaking loss in the 2021 semifinal round, Chicago entered 2022 with a chip on its shoulder. While all of the offseason hype focused on the ascendency of the Minnesota Wind Chill, the Union quietly got to work improving at the margins and managed to take down the Wind Chill during Week 2 to set the tone for the season. Chicago comfortably won all of its games, save for a midseason slip up at home against the Wind Chill; a loss they avenged twice over, once two weeks later and another just last week for the division championship. For that game, the Union finally had their full complement of players as Joe White, Paul Arters, Tim Schoch, and Dalton Smith joined the squad for the final playoff push after missing most of the season. With that group playing alongside the breakout stars already on the Union roster (Jeff Weis, Kyle Rutledge, and Sam Kaminsky have all enjoyed stellar seasons) and perennial MVP candidate Pawel Janas, the Union have the talent to match up with each team in the final four.

Why They’ll Win it All: The Union can certainly say they’re peaking at the right time after a five point smackdown of a motivated Wind Chill team. With the bitter taste of last season’s semifinal exit still lingering, Chicago has the experience that most of the Summit will lack to make it to the championship game. If they do get there, all bets are off as both Carolina and New York will be favored ahead of Chicago, but there’s not quite a player as singlehandedly capable of taking over a game like Joe White with nothing to lose. Chicago is a bit of a wild card because of their lack of roster continuity, but there just might be a magic to the group of 20 in Madison this weekend that could do the trick. With just a short drive connecting Chicago fans to the now-friendly confines of Breese Stevens Field, Chicago should have something of a home field advantage over the other teams as well.

Colorado Summit (12-1)

Key Players: Jonathan Nethercutt (43.5), Matt Jackson (25.3), Danny Landesman (23.2), Quinn Finer (54.8), Jay Froude (35.4)

How They Got Here: The Colorado Summit won their first three games by a combined five goals. Then, they didn’t win a game by fewer than five the rest of the season, including last week’s playoff win over Salt Lake that clinched the division championship. Though they did take one loss to San Diego sandwiched in there, Colorado has had about as productive an opening season as one could hope for. With plenty of local news interest and one of the best home game day experiences in the league, the Summit are climbing a trail of positive momentum to their first Championship Weekend appearance. Though a new team, veteran AUDL leaders Jonathan Nethercutt, Matt Jackson, and Jay Froude have commanded the Summit offense while former Madison Radical Dave Wiseman has taken leadership of the defensive unit. Local up-and-coming athletes Alex Atkins, Quinn Finer, Danny Landesman, and Cody Spicer have supplied plenty of support to that star trio; Atkins is currently not slated to play in the semifinal.

Why They’ll Win it All: First, it’s not out of the question for an expansion team to win a championship. In the past decade, the Toronto Rush (2013), San Jose Spiders (2014), and Dallas Roughnecks (2016) all won championships in their first seasons. With an explosive offense and a hard-nosed defense, the Summit have the tools to hang with the other teams at Championship Weekend. If the leadership and experience from Nethercutt, Jackson, Froude, and Wiseman can pass along to the ascending stars on Colorado, they’ll be a tough out for any opponent.

Carolina Flyers (12-1)

Key Players: Sol Yanuck (31), Anders Juengst (6.9), Eric Taylor (21.7), Terrance Mitchell (29.7), Ethan Bloodworth (5.8)

How They Got Here: A Week 1 takedown of a hungry Atlanta team set the tone for the season. Though the Flyers had a target on their backs as the defending champions, Carolina never looked harried or rushed as they rolled to a 5-0 start. A surprise and controversial loss in Austin put just a single blemish on an otherwise perfect season, as the Flyers closed out the season with seven straight wins, including revenge over Austin in last week’s playoff game.

Why They’ll Win it All: By and large this is the same team that won a championship last season. The major significant roster move is the addition of Charlie McCutcheon, exactly the kind of defender who will be pivotal to slowing down the varied New York attack. Efficient offense is the name of the game, with the Flyers leading the league in Hold % during the regular season, and they were the only team to complete 100+ hucks while keeping their total throwing percentage above 95. Though 2021 star Allan Laviolette hasn’t played all season as he recovers from an ACL tear, and Juengst has missed nearly the entire regular season, Alex Davis has stepped up to provide a spark of offensive firepower and Trevor Lynch fills in the midfield role nicely.  If anyone knows exactly how to beat New York, it’s the Carolina team that’s already done it.

Semifinal Previews

Chicago Union vs. Colorado Summit (Friday, August 26, 5:00PM Central)

The league should go ahead and rebrand this game the Pawel Janas Bowl. Janas, Chicago’s Colorado-grown quarterback, will be a key player for the Union who suddenly have the look of title contenders after his successful recruitment of Chicago-area stars gathered some much needed depth. That’s not a knock on the players who got Chicago to an 11-1 regular season — just an acknowledgement that Championship Weekend is a different test than the Central division regular season. It’s not a huge surprise that White and Dalton Smith led the Union D-line in yards against Minnesota.

Colorado has been building all season for this moment. The West division did not feature a single offense as good as the three Colorado could face in Madison, but with a competent offense, plenty of strong athletes, and a coaching staff that won’t shy away from the moment, the Summit will surely be capable of taking home their first Championship Weekend win. They led the league in hucks during the season, so expect the deep game to be a key part of their attack, testing Goff and the Union defense’s mettle downfield.

New York Empire vs. Raleigh Flyers (Friday, September 10, 7:30PM Central)

This is the game fans have been clamoring for all season. The rematch of the 2021 AUDL championship features many of the same players who also faced off in the 2021 USA Ultimate club men’s championship and the 2022 WFDF WUCC open final. Many will consider this matchup the de facto championship game, as the winner will almost certainly be favored against Chicago or Colorado.

New York has made the most significant change to its lineup this season with Jeff Babbitt taking most of his reps on offense for the first time in his career. Babbitt finished with career highs in goals and plus/minus since the AUDL reduced the regular season to 12 games. Carolina does not have an obvious matchup to slow him down and, at the most basic level, that might be the difference as Osgar, Williams, and Jagt can adjust their games around Babbitt’s dominance.

Carolina, on the other hand, is still riding the offense that won them 2021’s title and brought them to the brink of another in 2022. Especially now that initiating cutter and red zone weapon Anders Juengst is back in the lineup, the Flyers can hold possession and generate movement like no other team in the league. While New York has a strong defense, their handler defenders will be under a spotlight in this game trying to stop Sol Yanuck and Matt Gouchoe Hanas’ efficient disc movement. The pair combined for 982 completions, over 600 yards, but just 19 turnovers over the regular season. They’ll seek to merely limit rather than shut down Carolina’s attack.

Championship Predictions

NameCHI/COLCAR/NYChampion
Alex Rubin (Stall Seven Co-host)CHICARCAR
Bryan Jones (Stall Seven Co-host)CHINYNY
Keith Raynor (Senior Editor)CHINYNY
Charlie Eisenhood (Editor in Chief)CHINYNY
Tanner Jurek (Social Media Manager)CHINYNY
Theo Wan (AUDL Reporter)CHINYNY
Edward Stephens (Senior Staff Writer)COLCARCOL
  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years, but now spends his time playing pickup and coaching de Toledo High School in Los Angeles. You can reach him through e-mail (rubin.alex14@gmail.com) or Twitter (@arubes14 or @dthsultimate).

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