Preseason Postcard: New York Reloading And Ready To Repeat

March 29, 2024
By Evan Lepler

The New York Empire may have lost Jeff Babbitt and John Lithio for the upcoming ultimate season, but the two-time reigning frisbee kings are still keen on craving an unprecedented third consecutive championship. And it will surprise no one to learn that the Empire have signed some noteworthy new additions that will help mightily in the pursuit of another title. 

This week, with his international visa paperwork officially secured, Liam Haberfield is set to become the newest member of the Empire. The New Zealand-native, who will turn 30 next week, earned an All-Rookie First Team spot for his impressive performance across eight games last season with the Atlanta Hustle in his UFA debut, producing 17 assists, 10 goals, and three blocks with a completion rate better than 97 percent. 

It’s a strong statement for the Empire, particularly following the breakdown of negotiations with Babbitt, to officially lock in Haberfield, whom they targeted as a free agent early in the offseason.

“Liam fits into the modern archetype of the best UFA type player,” said New York General Manager Matt Stevens. “Which is someone who grew up historically being the best player on their team and was responsible for an outsized role in throwing, so that naturally put him in the handler position. But physically, if he was playing in the US, he likely would have been a hybrid/downfield cutter his entire career. Liam is someone who’s 6’2”, runs like a deer, can jump high, and can throw the disc really, really far, but also is a super high-efficiency player, so he fits into the perfect mold of the piece we look for on the Empire offense.” 

Both Stevens and Empire Head Coach Anthony Nuñez went out of their way to tout their returning handler duo of Elliott Chartock and Solomon Rueschemeyer-Bailey as, in their opinion, the premier handling pair in the sport, and they envision slotting Haberfield into a hybrid role on the New York O-line as another dual-threat playmaker alongside established stars Ryan Osgar and Jack Williams. It’s likely that Oliver Chartock, Ben Jagt, and Charles Weinberg will also be regular O-liners for the Empire in 2024. 

“What we [have] now,” said Nuñez, “is several players on that line with dynamic throws who are also athletic downfield.” 

The Empire expect reigning Defensive Player of the Year Antoine Davis, Second Team All-UFA standout John Randolph, and ‘the guy who might be the best defender of them all,’ according to Stevens, Bretton Tan, to lead the New York defense. This is not meant to exclude fellow accomplished returning champs like Marques Brownlee, Josue Alorro, or the league’s all-time block leaders in Ryan and Mike Drost, who are back for their 10th and 11th UFA seasons, respectively. Clearly, the cupboard is not bare.

And the team is also signing former Carolina Flyers big man Connor Russell, helping the Empire replace some of the size that has departed. Russell goes way back with Nuñez, who coached the New Jersey-native throughout his youth and high school career. 

“I’m really happy to have him on the team,” said Nuñez. “He’s a good piece to the puzzle.”

In the aftermath of back-to-back titles, the Empire have not exactly ramped up their preseason intensity quite yet, and they recognize that there will be a different feel with the departures of Babbitt, Lithio, and former Co-Head Coach Charlie Hoppes. They also know they have a gauntlet of a schedule, their toughest 12-game slate ever, which is exactly the challenge they wanted to prevent the grind from feeling stale. 

“I feel like the best thing you can do for players who’ve won multiple championships, especially back-to-back, is to allow them the R&R time and be a little more lenient in the preseason,” said Nuñez. “Otherwise, they’re gonna be burned out by midseason or earlier…If you had to go into championship mode at the end of February, beginning of March, there’s just no way you’re gonna win a championship.”