The Big 2023 West Division Schedule Preview

February 9, 2023
By Adam Ruffner

Jump to each team section.

Colorado Summit
2022 record: 11-1, Finished 1st in West Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Nethercutt-Froude-Finer-Atkins-Stoughton starting offense

Fresh off a semifinal appearance, the Summit O-line features two of the best offensive players in AUDL history in Jonathan Nethercutt and Jay Froude. What’s really frightening for the rest of the West, and the league at large, is that those two might play complementary roles for the other three by the end of the season—that’s how ridiculous the growth trajectories project for rookie Calvin Stoughton, a fully healthy Alex Atkins, and 2022 All-AUDL selection and Rookie of the Year runner-up Quinn Finer

Any team with Nethercutt at the helm is going to have one of the best deep attacks around, but the Summit can score from all three levels. And for as pure of a receiving talent as he is, Froude continues to improve as a mobile thrower entering his eighth season, and has developed an elite midrange game that uses his lefty passes in transition to exploit the break side. 

Atkins and Finer are unicorns. There are not three players in the game right now with a quicker first step than Finer, and he uses that separation and high tempo playstyle to basically do whatever he wants. In his first pro season, Finer completed 82 percent of his 22 hucks and 97.6 percent of his 329 total throws (seven throwaways!), and finished fifth in total scores (84) and sixth in total yards (6668) in the entire league; players this productive can’t also be this precise. And despite missing the final six games of the season, Atkins was on track to put up 35 assists-26 goals-16 blocks as a rookie while dishing out nearly 32 completions per game (~440 for a full season); only one other player—2015 MVP Beau Kittredge—has posted at least 30-25-15 with at least 400 completions in a single season. 

2) Cody Spicer defense

If you haven’t ever watched an ultimate game for defense before, allow the reigning DPOTY into your life. Sure, Cody Spicer has plenty of highlights. But it’s his work in the proverbial trenches that really speaks to his level as a competitor. 

Spicer has size, agility, great reads and instincts that allow him to often dictate where his matchup goes. He has enough finesse and foot speed to wrangle handlers and chase down cutters alike, with the physicality of a low post basketball player who knows how to protect the rim. 

And his recovery reactions are second to none. It’s a kind of “fool me once…” logic: You might beat Spicer on one route, one disc, one point, but he’s adjusting and coming back twice as hard if he makes a misstep, or allows a score. It feels like as the game wears on, Spicer adaptation becomes better and better. 

One big question: 

Is Colorado the biggest challenger for New York’s throne?

With this level of talent, and a fire lit under them after a bad loss in the semis to the Union, Colorado feels like one of the strongest contenders for New York’s spot at the top.

One big stat:

Despite having the fifth most efficient offense in the league last season, the Summit had the second lowest red zone conversion percentage (76.6 percent) of any playoff team.

One big matchup:

 July 14 versus New York

In their regular season finale, Colorado host the Empire in a late season battle between two super teams. New York are coming off an undefeated season, and the Summit did not lose a game at home last year. Something has to give.

Los Angeles Aviators
2022 record: 4-8, Finished 5th in West Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Pawel Janas

It’s very probable LA won the offseason with their six-year contract signing of Pawel Janas. His unmatched blend of volume, accuracy, aggressiveness and mobility as a passer has allowed Janas to summit the league’s all-time leaderboards for assists and completions after just five seasons. Over the past two years in particular, Janas evolved from statistical titan into field general, and led Chicago’s offense to two of the most efficient seasons in AUDL history. As Central Division opponents learned: You don’t so much stop Janas, as redirect play elsewhere and hope mistakes happen when he doesn’t have the disc. 

And that is what is so exciting about Janas joining an Aviators O-line that already excelled at distributing touches. In 2022, LA had eight different players average 20 or more completions per game, which was the most of any team in the league. Janas doesn’t have to be the whole offense, and instead can act as a conductor of it.

Adding perennial All-AUDL thrower Janas changes the entire DNA of this LA team, and more widely, the landscape of the West Division. In one move the Aviators went from feisty to ferocious, amplifying an already solid core of vets and intriguing playmakers into a team poised for a playoff run. Brandon Van Deusen can boost it. Michael Kiyoi, Sam Cook, and 2022 rookie Everest Shapiro combined for 88 goals last year and presented a dynamic cutting group for defenses to deal with. Aaron Weaver is a terrific “glue guy” on the field, and is an even better leader off of it. Former Summit handler Daniel Brunker is a great need-fit wherever Aviators decide to use him. The blueprint is here for success, and there’s maybe not a better commander in the league than Janas to help marshal LA forward.  

2) Free agency destination

There’s gravity to star movement. We’ve seen it from numerous teams over the years, most notably and recently with the Empire. And this Janas move is already swirling the West Division waters—LA will poach more players from rival rosters. 

With the team’s identity in transition, the Aviators will have to figure out new roles quickly in a deep West Division.

One big question: 

Does Pawel Janas make LA an immediate contender in the crowded and evolving West?

Colorado are the clear favorites to win the West for a second straight season. But Janas is used to summiting tall foes. When he joined Chicago in 2017, the Union (then the Wildfire) were jockeying with Detroit for the bottom spot in the Central Division standings, and Madison was winning their fifth straight divisional title. Cut to five years later: Madison hasn’t reached the postseason since 2018, and Janas has back-to-back Championship Weekend appearances.

One big stat:

Janas finished his last season with the Union with 741 completions, the third highest total of his career, and 286 completions more than the 2022 Aviators team leader (Van Deusen, 455). Here’s a quick list of players who finished with fewer than 286 completions last season: 2022 All-Star Game MVP Abe Coffin, 2022 All-Star Goose Helton, 2022 All-AUDL Second Team Eric Taylor, 2022 AUDL Most Improved James Pollard, Kevin Quinlan, Jay Froude, and many more notable players.  

One big matchup:

May 6 versus Colorado

Not only is it the season and home opener for the Aviators, it is also a quasi homecoming for Janas who played college at University of Colorado, and even attended the inaugural Summit tryout event in 2022. New-look LA will get an immediate test against the best in the West. As Janas told Ian Toner this week, “I’m looking forward to becoming the sharpest thorn in [Colorado’s] side for the next six years. They don’t know what’s coming.”

Oakland Spiders
2022 record: 4-8, Finished 4th in West Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Evan Magsig leads strong passing attack

Starting in last year’s preseason scrimmage against Portland, Evan  Magsig looked like a different player. Magsig had a velocity to his throws and his feet that wasn’t there as a rookie in 2021, slipping easily past defenders, working to get open within the confines of a telephone booth, and infinitely available for resets from his teammates. For a team that already featured one of the most underrated QB1s in the league in Justin Norden, Magsig was a perfect complement and change of pace.

The Spiders completed nearly 12 more passes per game than any team in the league last season, and ranked in the top 10 in team completion rate. Magsig saved his best for last in the regular season finale against San Diego, throwing six assists and 361 passing yards on 68-of-70 passes, and added in four goals and 304 receiving yards to boot. Now a captain in 2023, Magsig could take another step forward for an Oakland team brimming with young talent.  

2) Internal development

Many of the other teams in the West have used free agency to their advantage to bolster their rosters, but the Spiders have taken a homegrown approach over the last two seasons. The results aren’t quite there in the win column, but Oakland has undeniable sideline presence and chemistry together, and there’s hints of real power here. The Spiders scored more goals in a game against Colorado than any other team last year, and they put up an 2022 AUDL single-game high of 36 when they blew the doors off the Nitro in Portland. 

Magsig along with Keenan Laurence, Max Williams, Robin Vickers Batzdorf, and others all had their moments in 2022, but four quarters of consistent play routinely evaded the Spiders as they started the season 0-5.

One big question: 

How quickly can Oakland develop?

After earning back-to-back titles during their first two seasons as a franchise, Oakland hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2017. It feels like a different era altogether when the Spiders founded this division, and that might be a good thing for one of the youngest rosters in the league. This team wants to prove itself in the newer age frontier of the West.

One big stat:

When the Spiders defense can slow down scoring, this team is feisty. Oakland had a 3-1 record in games where they held opponents to less than 20 goals in 2022. But in the other eight games last season, the Spiders surrendered nearly 25 goals per game, and finished the year 21st in the league in defensive points allowed.

One big matchup:

May 13 versus Salt Lake

The Spiders held a 13-10 lead over the second place Shred in Week 12 before Jordan Kerr and Joe Merrill boosted Salt Lake to a second half comeback win. Oakland earned 16 blocks, but more devastatingly turned the disc over 27 times. The Spiders have winnable games against elite competition, they just can’t keep beating themselves.

Portland Nitro
2022 record: 2-10, Finished 7th in West Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Four verticals

Kinda like a 12-year-old playing Madden, the Nitro had no qualms about running multiple receivers on vertical routes downfield every point, with the end target usually being 2022 Rookie of the Year Leandro Marx. There was a simplicity to the strategy, and for the first three games of the season it worked. The Nitro nearly took down Colorado in Week 2, completing 15-of-21 hucks (71 percent) but ultimately falling to the Summit in overtime.

Portland became too brash with their deep shots, and ended up losing the final nine games of the regular season after starting 2-1. But there’s something to their aggressiveness with the disc and putting pressure on defenses that can serve well in the West.

2) Year Two Ke’ali McCarter

Rookie Ke'ali McCarter was one of the few bright spots for the Nitro defense, and tied for sixth overall in the league last season in takeaways. He’s a big defender in the air, and has shown flashes as a receiver on the counterattack.

One big question: 

Where will production come from outside of Leandro Marx?

As one of just three players to put up a 50/50 season (50 assists and 50 goals) since the clock rules changed in 2019, Marx was a one man show for much of the Nitro’s inaugural season. When Portland had help, they looked like one of the most competitive teams in the division.

One big stat:

The Nitro were outscored 237-159 during their nine-game losing streak to close out the season. 

One big matchup: May 5 versus Salt Lake

The Nitro scored 29 goals and rocked a big crowd in their home opener a year ago. Upsetting the Shred in Week 2 would really make the West wild.

Salt Lake Shred
2022 record: 10-2, Finished 2nd in West Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Defensive playmaking

The 2022 Shred defense was one of the most athletic lineups ever, and they blitzed the West from their very first game, ultimately leading the league in blocks per game as an expansion team. Joel Clutton had a Hulk-like presence for Salt Lake last season, taking top matchups and erasing them while earning All Defense honors. 

The hits don’t stop there, either. Chad Yorgason, Ben Green, Brandon Jordan, Devon Terry, and Kyle Weinberg all finished with double digit takeaways, with another handful of defenders not far off. The Shred throw themselves at offenses in waves; if the first layout block attempt doesn’t land, the immediate next two just might.

2) Jordan Kerr on offense

It basically took the most efficient offensive production season in league history from Ryan Osgar and an undefeated Empire season to keep the MVP trophy out of Jordan Kerr’s hands. Arguably no one player did more for his team in 2022 than Kerr. He finished with the second most assists for a single season ever, and had the best game of his two-year career in the West Division final against Colorado, throwing seven assists on 40-of-41 passes and racking up 635 total yards of offense. 

As exciting as he was as a rookie in 2021, it was surprising to see Kerr become the multidimensional, dominant force he is now. And if he has another leap inside of him, the Shred will be competitive with the Summit atop the division for years to come. Merrill might be gone, but newcomer Elijah Jaime seems like a perfect fit as WR1 for Kerr and the Shred offense.

One big question: 

Will the Shred continue to build the offense around Jordan Kerr, or diversify?

It was entirely understandable why it happened—Kerr can become a human flamethrower when in rhythm—but at times the Shred offense felt overly simplified in its attack. Luke Yorgason, Jacob Miller, and Sean Connole are all great contributors for this team, and the presence of Jaime and his incessant motion cutting could provide more modes of disc distribution in 2023.

One big stat:

The Shred not only led the league in takeaways per game and opponent completion percentage in 2022, they also held opponents to the second lowest offensive efficiency rate (44.5 percent) in the AUDL, trailing only New York.

One big matchup:

May 19 versus Los Angeles

Despite losing both of their games to the Shred, the Aviators matched up well with their new foes from Salt Lake. The Shred tied a season-low for scoring in their last meeting, and had to rally in the second half at home to pull out the win.

San Diego Growlers
2022 record: 9-3, Finished 3rd in West Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Offensive consistency

There’s been a handful of O-line rotations over the past two seasons as this Growlers team has cycled many new pieces in and out of their system. But with Travis Dunn, Paul Lally, and Tim Okita handling the bulk of the throwing duties, you can rely on San Diego to be a top 10 unit on offense. 

Dunn has made four consecutive All-AUDL teams, and has been one of the most consistent offensive performers for the last half decade. The 32-year-old enters the season number eight all-time in total scores (480), and could move as high as sixth by the end of 2023 if he continues to play at his normal level. Dunn’s top speed and decisiveness as a route runner are his main strengths as a receiver, and he has one of the most underrated and reliable continuation flick throws ever.

The Growlers may lack some of the pop of the other big offenses, but they are a tough group to consistently pressure and keep out of the end zone.

2) Defense by committee

San Diego’s D-line feels a bit like the “Faceless Mob” lineups on old Empire teams. There are very good individual defenders here, including last year’s team leader in blocks Jordan Queckboerner, Michael Tran, and longtime defensive captain Steven Milardovich. But the overall effect of the Growlers is one of team effort and execution, as if each player’s defensive DNA shared the same code.

The Growlers hustle in matchup defense, and they communicate well with each other to sag into lanes and clog up throwing windows. There’s few highlights, but a lot of making the right read and playing smart, situational ultimate. They also roster a win condition at the end of quarters with 6’6” Trevor Purdy looming on the back end.

One big question: 

Is the Growlers window closing?

After back-to-back Championship Weekend appearances, San Diego slipped last season to the third seed in the West, and got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Salt Lake. One of the more experienced lineups in the league, the West has formed a completely new competitive map since the three expansion teams joined in 2022. The Growlers still battled with the teams at the top of the division—they gave Colorado their lone loss in the regular season—but they’re going to have to fight harder than ever in 2023 to stay in the playoff picture.

One big stat:

Though the Growlers D-line may lack some of the name recognition of other elite units, San Diego played like a top eight defense in 2022, ranking fifth in blocks per game and holding opponents to the third lowest conversion rate inside the red zone (73.5 percent)

One big matchup:

June 3 versus Los Angeles

San Diego has owned the SoCal rivalry against LA the past couple of seasons, and are not looking to change that anytime soon, especially as the Aviators try to recruit current Growlers players. Dunn was especially damaging against the Aviators in 2022, putting up nine assists and 10 goals combined over two games.

Seattle Cascades
2022 record: 2-10, Finished 6th in West Division | 2023 Schedule

Two big likes:

1) Garrett Martin back on ‘Scades D-line

A 2021 All Rookie Second Team selection with the Cascades, Garrett Martin spent his second season with the Shred as a defensive captain. Now back with his original squad for 2023, Martin could be invaluable if he can reprise his role as leader of the counterattack on the ‘Scades D-line. 

With just seven wins over the past three seasons, Seattle is still trying to develop a team identity. In 2021, their quick-strike jailbreaks on defensive scoring opportunities felt like the right path forward for a Cascades group that can gain momentum in a hurry.

2) Young talent

Seattle already signed back a group of their up-and-coming core for this season, including Martin, Jack Brown, and 2022 All-Star selection Zeppelin Raunig. And though their record might not show it, the Cascades could be closer to being competitive than other teams realize; Seattle was 0-6 last season in games decided by four goals or fewer. 

There has not been a consistent backfield presence for years. If Seattle can settle on playing roles early in the season, and solidify their handler spots, they will surprise the league.

One big question: 

Will Seattle find lineup consistency?

For all the city’s talent, this has been the question facing this franchise since they last made the playoffs in 2016. The week in, week out churn of the AUDL schedule requires some level of roster stability, and until Seattle can find it, they will struggle in an ever improving division.

One big stat:

Cascades had the second most huck attempt turnovers (6.8 hucks per game) in the AUDL in 2022, living (but mostly dying) by the longball.

One big matchup:

May 6 versus Salt Lake

In one of the most seesaw games of the season, the Cascades fell 25-24 at home to the Shred in Week 11. Seattle turned the game into a rock fight, and both teams committed 49 turnovers combined. If the ‘Scades can brew up some wet weather again at home in this early season showdown, they might get revenge.

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