Seven On The Line: Championship Weekend Primer

August 22, 2023
By Evan Lepler

Tuesday Toss: Championship Weekend preview | Part one

1. Radack's first quarter suspension

This past Friday, the AUDL announced that Austin’s Jake Radack would be suspended for the opening quarter of the Sol’s semifinal against New York. It was an interesting decision, one that could generate plenty of reasonable debate on both sides. My personal perspective is that Radack is very fortunate not to have been ejected from the Atlanta game. He made a poor and indefensible decision, clearly shouldering Billy O’Bryan to the ground in a manner that had nothing to do with ultimate, and if the officials had caught it live, I very much doubt Radack would have remained in the game. “Jake’s play [was] awful,” acknowledged Sol Head Coach Steven Naji last week, making it clear that it was unacceptable and intolerable, though he, like the referees, didn’t see it live. In an appearance on the “I’m Open” podcast, Radack apologized to O’Bryan. “It’s unfortunate that happened,” said Radack. “I’m accepting of the suspension. On video, it looks really bad. I see that.” As for how the suspension will impact the game, it’s true that Radack will presumably bring fresh legs onto the Sol O-line at the start of the second quarter, but it’s also a very strange dynamic to enter a game cold when everyone else has 12 minutes under their belts. It’s certainly something to monitor throughout the first half on Friday night.

2. The experience divide

Considering that the New York Empire are in Championship Weekend for the fifth consecutive season and the other three franchise are all first-time qualifiers, it’s natural that New York arrives with much more experience on the semifinal stage. Between the Empire and the rest of their competitors this coming weekend, it’s truly a massive gulf in past reps at this level. Combined, the Shred, Sol and Wind Chill only have four players with any previous Championship Weekend experience: Salt Lake’s Joel Clutton and Grant Lindsley, Austin’s Matt Armour, and Minnesota’s Abe Coffin. To put it another way, those four players have competed in an aggregate of 15 contests at Championship Weekend. New York’s Drost brothers, Mike and Ryan, have played in 17. 

3. Destiny for the Drosts

The twin brothers, who between them have accumulated 396 career blocks in 259 career games, deserve their own section. Presently, they are tied atop the all-time AUDL leaderboard in Ds with 198 apiece. Wouldn’t it be something if they both reached 200 at Championship Weekend? Clearly, they both have track records of making plays in the biggest games, as 43 of their blocks have been registered across their 38 combined playoff games. Mike currently owns the AUDL postseason records for both games played (20) and blocks (23). They celebrated their 34th birthdays earlier this month, but it still feels like both players have a ton left in the tank, particularly with another chance to hoist the trophy so close to their grasp. 

4. The record watch

Aside from New York looking to become the first team in AUDL history to win the title for the third time, several individual records will be reset this coming weekend. That’s partially because the current AUDL postseason record holders are virtually all Empire. Ben Jagt’s 52 goals presently sits atop the postseason scoring chart, while Jack Williams owns the postseason records for assists (59) and total completions (553). Williams is 53 points away from matching the legendary Beau Kittredge for the most points played in AUDL postseason history, as the five-time champ appeared in 453 points across 18 total playoff games from 2014 to 2019. 

5. Another new opponent for New York

Although the Empire saw the Sol in an exhibition contest in Colombia, Friday’s semifinal will be their first official game against Austin, and that will add to another noteworthy record on New York’s incredible ledger. After going up against Colorado and Salt Lake for the first time in July, the Empire owned the distinction of having competed against a greater number of varying opponents than anyone in AUDL history. Austin will be the 19th different franchise that the Empire have ever met. From the Sol’s perspective, the Empire will be their 14th different team that they’ve faced. Meanwhile, Minnesota, despite being in the league since 2013, has only played against nine different opponents in its history; the Shred will be the 10th. Salt Lake, in its second AUDL season, will be seeing their eighth different foe when they collide with the Wind Chill. 

6. Oliver Fay looking for more

One name to keep an eye on for the Austin Sol is 6’5” defender Oliver Fay. Contrary to the pre-Divisional Weekend Player Chatter, he’s become one of the more underrated defenders in the league, capable of getting blocks against premier cutters. His fourth quarter layout block on Atlanta’s Brett Hulsmeyer was easily one of the top defensive moments of the weekend, and perhaps the season. He’ll obviously have his hands full against New York’s immense size and skill, but he remains a key playmaker for the Sol heading into Friday. Plus, Fay’s got New York roots, having attended Marist College in Poughkeepsie. Mick Walter and Josh Zdrodowski are two other giants, 6’6” and 6’7”, respectively, who will also be important factors in trying to dispossess the Empire this weekend. 

7. A battle of brothers

Aside from Minnesota’s cooly nicknamed Iceberg Bros—Bret Bergmeier and Sam Berglund—the Wind Chill don’t actually have a set of sibling teammates on their roster. That makes them the exception at Championship Weekend, as Austin, New York, and Salt Lake—with apologies to Philadelphia—are full of brotherly love. The Henke brothers, Kyle and Mark, are expected to be the Sol’s only active siblings this weekend, but Austin also has Noah and Matt Chambers and Jake and Tyler Reinhardt on the roster. Meanwhile, the Empire bring not just the Drosts but also the Chartocks, as Elliott and Oliver have played great together on the New York O-line throughout much of the 2023 season. And of course the Shred have three Yorgason siblings—Luke, Chad, and McKay—along with the Hoffman brothers, Jonny and Ben. Winning a championship can bond teammates forever, though across our current semifinal participants, many of those forever bonds already exist. 

The Hammer

A quick reminder to everyone about the Championship Weekend broadcast schedule.

The semifinals will be live on, with extended pregame and postgame coverage from an amazing Gameday Live crew. (More on them in a moment.)

Saturday’s Championship game will only be seen live on FOX Sports 2 (in the United States). There will be some gameday coverage on, but the actual game will be exclusively airing live on FS2.

If you’re a loyal subscriber bummed that you can’t see the game, hang on a sec. You actually can still watch the game! For free!

It will just require a little more work. If you don’t already have access to FS2, you can create a free trial with one of several streaming platforms that will allow you to watch Saturday’s title contest. 

Now, a few more details. 

The Gameday crew will be anchored by veteran AUDL broadcaster Ian Toner for the second straight season, and he’ll have a fantastic panel of analysts for commentary, reaction, and perspective. The crew includes Atlanta Hustle Head Coach Tuba Benson-Jaja, current Colorado Summit star Alex Atkins, and former Madison Radicals standout Colin Camp

As for the game broadcasts, I’m privileged and honored to take the lead calling the semis and finals at Championship Weekend for the ninth time, and I’m thrilled that Charlie Eisenhood and Bryan Jones will be by my side for all three games as we witness the next chapters of ultimate history together. 

We’ll also have press conferences streaming both days beginning at noon eastern, and the Gameday Live pregame coverage will commence one hour before opening pull each day.

The best weekend of the year is almost here!

See you in Minnesota!