Preview: Week 1 Big Matchups

April 24, 2024
By Sam Weiger

Atlanta Hustle at Carolina Flyers | Game of The Week
Saturday, April 27 - 6:00 PM/ET - Watch link

Atlanta and Carolina will be itching to take the field, but their motivation runs deeper than their bitter rivalry. Atlanta is eager to wipe away the pain of one of their most gut-wrenching losses in team history, while Carolina is looking to bounce back after their underwhelming 2023 season.

The Hustle were on the cusp of making their Championship Weekend debut, but a crucial drop late dashed their hopes in a double-overtime thriller. Despite the heartbreak, they could take pride in their first South Division title and a stellar regular season record of 10-2. However, the lingering question remains: How will Atlanta perform after such a bittersweet 2023 campaign?

Carolina entered the last season riding the momentum of two consecutive Championship Weekend appearances, including a triumphant UFA Championship Game win against New York in 2021. Initially ranked fourth in the 2023 UFA “Power Rankings”, the Flyers ended up sharing the league's ninth-best record by season's end. Furthermore, they relinquished control of the South Division for the first time since 2019. 

Last season, the Flyers struggled against the Hustle, suffering defeats in three out of four encounters. In the final week of the season, Carolina’s significant vulnerability came to light during an intense overtime defeat against the Hustle. Brett Hulsmeyer dominated the Flyers D-line that night, showcasing why he was on track for First Team All-UFA recognition, but he made it appear effortless. Despite Hulsmeyer's undeniable brilliance, a thorough examination of the statistics reveals the Flyers' failure to secure a single block throughout the entire contest.

Over the offseason, the Flyers acquired Drew Swanson, a towering 6'5" player renowned for his defensive prowess and remarkable blocking skills since his entry into the UFA in 2019. With Swanson's imposing stature, he's tasked with the pivotal role of containing Hulsmeyer this weekend.

Alongside the acquisition of Swanson, the Flyers strengthened their roster by bringing back three key players from previous seasons: Henry Fisher, Allan Laviolette, and Clint McSherry III.

In contrast, the Hustle didn't make significant new signings, but their positive outlook stems from keeping most of their key players. They did lose a few notable players: 2023 All-Rookie selection Liam Haberfield, Max Thorne, and defensive standout JP Burns. Additionally, UFA goal-scoring sensation Matt Smith will not be active for Saturday's game. 

Atlanta's proficiency in hucking will help them compensate for the absence of these four players. In their last game against Carolina, Austin Taylor showcased remarkable skill in his long-range passes, successfully completing all seven of his attempts. Atlanta posted season-highs with 15 successful huck completions and 18 huck attempts in that game, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Atlanta continue this huck-heavy approach on Saturday. The Flyers struggled to defend against hucks in 2023, with opponents completing 62.5 percent of their attempts. 

The numbers tell us that Carolina’s D-line will be the X-factor in this game. If Atlanta opts for numerous hucks once more, Carolina must improve their huck defense. Regardless of the number of hucks attempted by the Hustle, the Flyers' ability to get blocks will be crucial in this matchup against a Hustle squad known for its careful disc possession.

One Big Number:
2 - Swanson has maintained an average of two blocks per game throughout his three-year tenure in the UFA, and is one of just six players ever to averaged 2-plus blocks per game.
70.14 - Last year, the Hustle achieved the highest huck completion rate in the UFA, completing 70.14 percent of their hucks.

DC Breeze at Salt Lake Shred | Super Series
Saturday, April 27 - 9:00 PM/ET - Watch link

Given the absence of Jeff Babbitt and the potential exclusion of Ryan Osgar this season, there’s a pressing question on everyone's mind: Is it conceivable that New York's dominance in the UFA could finally be disrupted? Salt Lake and DC emerge as two formidable challengers to New York's supremacy, fueling anticipation within the frisbee community as to who will emerge victorious in this showdown.

On paper, the Shred appeared superior to the Breeze last year. They finished with a better regular season record, advanced further in the playoffs, maintained a higher hold percentage, accumulated more blocks, and the list goes on. Nevertheless, it's essential not to entirely rely on these numbers to predict a Salt Lake win over DC. Let's delve deeper into the statistics to gain a more comprehensive understanding.

In 2023, Salt Lake finished with an impressive 13-2 record, while DC finished with a respectable 10-4 record. However, a significant portion of their combined losses, five out of six, occurred against New York. The Breeze played the Empire twice during the regular season, whereas the Shred only faced them once. Both teams were eliminated from the playoffs by New York, but DC had to face them in the earlier Divisional Championship. Interestingly, DC’s average margin of defeat against New York was narrower than that of Salt Lake's.

If there's a plausible explanation for anticipating a Shred victory in Week 1, it's their home-field advantage. In 2023, they encountered six different opponents both at home and away. They finished with better goal differentials against five of those opponents when competing on their home turf (with the exception of a one-goal victory against Colorado, achieved both at home and away). Salt Lake’s versatile O-line thrived at home last year, capitalizing on their possessions far more frequently compared to their road games.

Another intriguing element to observe is Joe Merrill's return to the Shred after a stint with DC last season. This marks Merrill's inaugural "revenge game" against the Breeze, and it will be interesting to see how Salt Lake incorporates him into their strategy. Merrill demonstrated his prowess as an O-liner and a proficient goal scorer in his first two seasons before transitioning to a full-time role on the defensive line last year.

Merrill isn't the only player who departed from DC. Christian Boxley and Ben Oort, who combined for nearly 100 total scores last season, won't be coming back. The good news for the Breeze is that they've acquired an intriguing international offensive player in Elliot Bonnet. Bonnet gained recognition with an eye-popping performance against the USA National Team at the World Beach Ultimate Championships in November on the way to Team France claiming gold.

The remainder of DC's core remains intact, and their key players will be particularly prepared after engaging in top-tier ultimate competitions throughout the winter. Jonny Malks, AJ Merriman, and Rowan McDonnell, who participated in tryouts for the USA National Team, represent three standout Breeze players who have the potential to significantly impact the game against the Shred.

Salt Lake returns almost everyone from their Championship run, and 2023 UFA MVP candidate Jordan Kerr remains the team’s focal point. Rising stars Jace Duennebeil (2023 UFA Most Improved Player) and 20-year-old Will Selfridge, who have been on an upward trajectory since joining the UFA in 2022, could make an even bigger impact in 2024. 

This star-studded clash has game pickers racking their brains. If there's anything worth placing a bet on, it's solely the final score. Anticipate a closely contested match determined by a margin of three goals or fewer.

One Big Number:
74.29 - Last year, Salt Lake’s O-line conversion rate was 74.29 percent at home, compared to 56.5 percent on the road.
3 - In 2023, DC’s average margin of defeat against New York was three goals, while Salt Lake’s was 5.5 goals.