Seven On The Line: Week 7

June 11, 2024
By Evan Lepler

Tuesday Toss: Part 1

1. Atlanta and Undefeated Carolina Hand Austin Back-To-Back Losses

The Austin Sol look overmatched against the best in the South.

Obviously, the playoffs matter more than any regular season result, and the Sol still have bragging rights from last year’s stunning run to Championship Weekend, but there’s just no question that Carolina and Atlanta have consistently played at a significantly higher level than Austin through the first seven weeks of the season. With Mark Evans apparently going down with a wrist injury and reportedly needing surgery, that only stings the Sol’s chances of a late-season charge even more. 

Furthermore, there’s a strong argument to be made that the Flyers and Hustle deserve to sit in the top two spots in the current UFA Power Rankings. 

On Friday night in Atlanta, the Hustle outscored the Sol 7-2 in the opening quarter and never trailed in their 23-16 victory. Similarly, on Saturday in Durham, the Sol were quickly down multiple breaks and never held the lead for a single second, ultimately falling by the same seven-score margin at the hands of the Flyers, 26-19. 

Across two games, the Austin Sol were credited with just two blocks. Atlanta and Carolina combined for 24. The Sol’s offense converted at a sub-50 percent rate in both games and were broken nine times both nights. 

But beyond the Sol’s struggles, the Hustle and Flyers continued to shine. Atlanta completed a season-high 12 hucks on 15 attempts, while Carolina enjoyed their best offensive conversation rate of the season. Bobby Ley and Austin Taylor dished 11 assists for the Hustle, while Justin Burnett, Brett Hulsmeyer, Jeremy Langdon, and Hayden Austin-Knab combined for 14 goals. Many of the Flyers’ stars also had big days, with Grayson Sanner, Anders Juengst, Allan Laviolette, Jacob Fairfax, and Ethan Bloodworth collectively scoring 19 goals. Rookie defender Christian Belus produced three blocks for the second straight game. Mike Kobyra also delivered three Ds for the Hustle. 

“We celebrated our win Friday night and got back to work Saturday with a three hour practice in the hottest part of the day,” said Atlanta Coach Tuba Benson-Jaja. “Trying to replicate the two-day road trip we will have in a few weeks as well as work on some growth areas we saw coming out of the Austin game.”

Both the 5-0 Flyers and 4-2 Hustle will host Houston this coming weekend before Carolina travels to Atlanta for the first time this season on June 22. Both of the South’s top two will have tricky doubleheaders to close out the month, with the Flyers visiting DC and Pittsburgh while the Hustle take on the Havoc and the Sol in the relentless Texas heat. 

The 3-4 Sol have back-to-back matchups against the winless Dallas Legion over the next two weeks. The Sol can still finish the regular season 7-5 just by handling their business against the Legion and Havoc, but it’s hard to fathom Austin truly challenging the South’s best come playoff time unless they significantly raise their level over the course of the next six weeks. 

2. Houston Is Lurking

Houston won’t be able to make the playoffs just by beating Dallas, but considering they have five games against the still-scuffling Legion, the Havoc are in a somewhat interesting spot. 

Houston produced a season-low 21 turnovers and completed 6-of-7 hucks in their most recent 22-20 triumph over Dallas on Saturday, a game where the Havoc led by six early in the third quarter before a nearly complete collapse over the course of the final 12 minutes.

“I felt like we played three solid quarters to start the game, but we had a lapse in focus and execution in the early fourth quarter, which resulted in our lead dropping from six to one,” said Houston’s Jimmy Zuraw, who led the Havoc with seven assists, two goals, three blocks, and no turns. “Although the game should’ve never gotten that tight, I’m proud of how we were able to recollect ourselves and grind out a couple key holds at the end to seal the game. Coach Bex [Forth] has talked about avoiding stressflood, basically being mentally strong to guard against an avalanche of errors.”

Finishing 5-7 with only victories over the Legion is far from the goal, nor would it launch the Havoc into the postseason, but Houston has already improved its win total from last year and remains optimistic about its chances to challenge the division’s top three in the coming weeks. 

“We may not have the experience or pedigree of teams like the Sol, Flyers, or Hustle, but I feel like if we can execute our game plan and play four good quarters, we can beat any given team,” said Zuraw.

3. Cascades Crush, Nitro Rejoice, and Aviators Disappoint

Starting with Seattle, the Cascades put together one of their finest performances in team history, matching a franchise-low with just 10 turnovers in their 27-16 Friday night rout over Los Angeles. The Aviators trailed by just four goals late in the third, but Seattle steamrolled LA with a 9-2 blitz to close out the game. The Cascades finished the night 21-for-22 in the red zone, 13-for-15 on break chances, and 4-for-5 on hucks.

“Main story was ‘Scades finding our stride in both offensive rhythm and defensive attacks,” said Seattle Assistant Coach Kelly Johnson. “On O, we’ve been playing with finding the right balance of personnel and how we want to move the ball and feel like we have continued to settle in with a core crew. And on D, we’ve been honing some zone and junk looks over the last few weeks to allow us to change up pressure, but also allow us to conserve and still rely late in games on our person D when we want. It felt like we were able to execute on both sides of the ball with more confidence and discipline, which is something we’ve been working towards this season, and that’s what I was most pleased about.”

Zeppelin Raunig scored six goals to bring his league leading total to 33 for the season, while Lukas Ambrose added four more blocks to up his UFA pace-setting count to 16. 

“So crazy we have both spectrums, which I think definitely showcases our range of depth,” said Johnson. “I honestly dislike stats in some ways and how they can sometimes not highlight all the little more important things that it takes to set up goals or blocks, but numbers also don’t lie to showcase the consistent impact those two have had for the ‘Scades on both sides of the ball.”

Unlike the Summit, the Aviators were unable to bounce back with a win on the second night of their two-game trip. Instead, the Portland Nitro cathartically experienced their first win of the season, a slim 22-21 triumph. 

Up one with 26 seconds left, the Nitro converted eight straight completions to finish the game with just 14 total turnovers, the smallest number in Portland’s short franchise history. The most daring throw during the game’s final sequence was Scott Radlauer’s bold backhand between the legs of a double-teaming defender, but it worked out just as he planned, and the Nitro celebration was on. 

“As for the between the legs throw, I have thrown it before in a [pro] game,” said Radlauer, “while a member of the Growlers, also through a double team. I think it’s an incredibly effective counter to double teams since most people try to be as big and take up as much space as possible on the mark, leaving that area wide open to throw through. I’m honestly a little surprised it’s not more widely used. I’ve been working on it at practices throughout the year and felt comfortable enough to showcase it in a game at a pivotal moment.”

LA’s Paweł Janas finished with 878 total yards, seven assists, seven more hockey assists, and just one throwaway, while Sean McDougall totaled five goals, four assists, one block, and 508 total yards, but all that production went for nought, as the Aviators also endured six costly red-zone turnovers. David Barram led the Nitro with seven assists, while Radlauer produced five goals, embracing the message that Coach Timmy Perston emphasized pregame. 

“I think the biggest difference maker was Coach Timmy Preston’s mindset he tried to instill in us pregame and throughout the game of ‘Statements Only,’” said Radlauer. “When we are in the locker room, that is the time for questions, but when we’re out on the field, it’s statements only and time to be decisive. A lot of our turnovers in previous games have come from a place of self-doubt and second-guessing, and I think we were able to play a lot looser and with the confidence that what we were doing was the right thing in this game.”

4. Minnesota’s Huge Win at Indy

Separated by just a game in the Central Division standings heading into the weekend, Minnesota and Indianapolis both knew the significance of their only regular season meeting. And much to the dismay of the AlleyCats, the Wind Chill clearly looked like the first-place club, while the Cats continued to be a work in progress.

Minnesota won each of the first three quarters, building a lead as large as eight, before some fourth quarter stumbles created a final margin of just three. Although the Wind Chill were outscored 10-5 down the stretch, they still prevailed 24-21 to improve to 4-1 atop the division, dropping Indy to 2-3 and in fifth place. 

“I was proud of the game we put together Saturday,” said Minnesota Captain Brandon Matis. “We know Indy is running a new offense, and [Coaches] Max [Longchampe] and Ben [Feldman] put a great game plan together, with the help of Dylan [DeClerck], to stymie it. It was a little different stylistically from our bread and butter, and we introduced some new concepts and focuses. I commend our guys for buying in, being adaptable, and executing.”

The Wind Chill were excited to add roster reinforcements for this game in the form of college stars Will Brandt, Paul Krenik, and Anthony Jirele, and all three performed well in their first pro games of the season. Brandt led Minnesota in completions (45) and passing yards (375), Krenik shared the team lead in blocks (2) and also was involved with three scores, and Jirele shared the Cameron Brock matchup with Matis. Together, they held the UFA’s all-time goal scoring leader without a single goal for just the second time in Brock’s last 120 UFA games. 

“Crazy draw in your first game to have the goal scoring king,” said Matis, emphasizing that Jirele was making his UFA debut on Saturday. “Collectively, Cam was held out of the end zone for, what the third or fourth time ever? Proud.”

Matis also mentioned that the Wind Chill still haven’t won all four quarters in a game, and they know that being a championship-caliber team means avoiding lulls that can become super costly in critical moments. That’s foremost on Minnesota’s mind as they prepare to collide with Colorado this Saturday in St. Paul.

“Our preparation has been excellent, and we’ve had flashes of brilliance,” said Matis. “We need to keep building on that and piece it all together consistently. Colorado is a great test of that. That team has punched us in the face recently. Between that and losing our only matchup at Sea Foam thus far, this is a major ‘prove it’ game for us. I’m excited for us to do just that.”

5. Boston Cruises Past Philly

For an example of a brilliant four-quarter performance, look no further than Boston’s excellent effort against visiting Philadelphia this past Saturday in Medford. The Glory won the first period 6-3, led 11-6 at halftime, and build a 15-8 advantage through three before pouring it on late in a 22-12 dismantling of the Phoenix. While it was reasonable to ponder if Boston would have a letdown following their magnificent Week 6 wins over New York and DC, this most recent beatdown suggests that this year’s Glory squad is indeed different.

“Yes, we were all pretty happy with the win,” said Boston’s Rocco Linehan, who recorded a game-high three blocks. “We are quite aware of the standings and know that it will be tight race through the rest of the season. We went into the game with the mindset that every point counts, especially if it comes down to head-to-head or point-differential vs. New York or DC. The big story in our eyes was the fact that nobody let up, and even after some of our mistakes, we didn’t let those errors slow our momentum. Everybody did their part, and it was a solid victory all around.”

The Glory continue to sit atop the East at 6-2 with four regular season games remaining, all against Montreal and Toronto. It’s interesting that Boston’s already begun to think about potential tiebreakers, though it’s noteworthy that not only have the Glory split their season series’ against New York and DC, their point differentials head-to-head against each of those teams are dead even. The Glory first lost to the Empire by two, then won the rematch by two. They first lost to the Breeze by one, then won the rematch by one. Consequently, they are fully cognizant of the fact that their point differential in other games vs. common opponents could be a factor in determining home-field advantage. 

More importantly, however, the Glory are fully focused on continuing to grow and capitalize on their best two-thirds of a season in franchise history.

“The biggest difference this year is we are more confident and have a better mindset as a whole team,” said Linehan. “Jeff Babbitt is obviously a phenomenal player on the field, but what he brings off the field also pushes all of us to be better. Everyone is putting in a ton of work behind the scenes to make this team the best it can be, including the guys who may not be rostered each week. After coming away with from the New York-DC doubleheader weekend with two huge wins, we can feel that effort beginning to pay off.”

6. Montreal Also Aiming to Stay in the East Division Mix

Toronto’s D-line broke Montreal’s offense for the fifth time on the first point of the fourth on Saturday night, tying the score at 15 and pressuring the Royal to be nearly perfect the rest of the way. 

They were. 

Montreal’s O-line did not get broken again and only endured one turn in the last 11 minutes, as the Royal snuck away with a 22-20 triumph over the Rush. Quentin Bonnaud connected with Kevin Quinlan with 41 seconds left give Montreal a two-goal lead, and following a Toronto throwaway, the Royal completed eight more passes to make the remaining seconds disappear and finish off their second win of the season. 

“Pretty nice team win for us with a handful of contributors,” said Quinlan, who produced a game-best plus-nine with five assists, four goals, and no turns. “Players taking on new roles and our depth making a huge impact.”

Akifumi Murakoa led the Rush with a game-high 693 total yards while collecting four assists, two goals, and two blocks. Tobe Decraene continued his impressive rookie campaign with five assists, three goals, one block, and 692 total yards, one shy of Muraoka’s total. Toronto’s Phil Turner produced six blocks, most of any UFA player in a game this season, but the Rush still felt short, letting a three-goal first quarter lead slip away.

Currently, the Royal are 2-3, even in the loss column with 4-3 New York and just one loss behind 6-2 Boston and 5-2 DC. It’s hard to imagine Montreal, who thus far has only beaten Toronto, surpassing any of the top three in the standings, but they do take the field for the second half of the season knowing that they very much control their destiny. 

For a team that went 0-12 last year, it’s a refreshing feeling. 

“The way I see it, nothing is set in stone and everything is earned on the field,” said Quinlan. “The belief is real, and the Royal are hungry.”

7. Madison Outlasts Detroit During Downpour

The award for ugliest game in Week 7 easily goes to the Madison-Detroit mess, which the Radicals won 19-12 amidst brutal conditions, which contributed to the 69 total turnovers. Both offenses converted less than a third of their total possessions, and the collective completion percentage between the two teams—84.2 percent—was the lowest for any game all season. 

“That game was brutal,” acknowledged Madison Coach Tim DeByl. “That was the worst UFA weather game I’ve ever had. The rain was super heavy and it was super windy. I’ve played it rain before, but it was just consistently hard rain and a very steady wind.”

Despite the scary stats, the Radicals still found a way to squeak out the victory, outscoring the Mechanix 7-3 over the final 12 minutes. Six different Madison players produced multiple blocks, with Mitchell McCarthy collecting a team-best five. 

As the Radicals prepare to host Colorado this Friday night in the UFA Game of the Week, it’s tough to know what to expect. Sure, Madison’s 4-2 with a plus-36 goal differential, the highest in the entire league. Of course, that also includes three routs over the miserable Mechanix, who lost for the 80th straight time on Saturday.

As Steve Hartman eloquently said in a fascinating national feature on the Mechanix that aired on CBS News this past weekend, “For now, they’re ok just being stoppable.”

The Hammer

With a rare week off from broadcasting ultimate, I was fortunate to experience a new broadcasting challenge this past week. 

Over the course of four days, I had the privilege of calling 22 soccer games at The Soccer Tournament in Cary, North Carolina. This event, the cousin of The Basketball Tournament, involved 48 teams from all around the world entering to compete for a one million dollar winner-take-all prize. The field included several former World Cup champions, Premier League and MLS champions, college soccer greats, and even past NFL stars like J.J. Watt and Chad Ochocinco. If you’re familiar with former NFL punter turned ESPN media personality Pat McAfee, you probably already know that he participated in the event too. 

Overall, it was a very cool experience. If you’re interested, here are some highlights from one of the nearly two dozen games I broadcast solo throughout the week.

I mention all of this, not to necessarily tell you about what I have done, but to share a few thoughts about soccer, a sport that I played all throughout my childhood and have done plenty of broadcasting for over the past couple decades. Soccer, undoubtedly, can be a beautiful game, and the ridiculous skills and talents that top players sometimes showcase is absolutely breathtaking. But way too often, when I watch high level soccer, I am so repulsed by the epidemic of embellishment, with players constantly faking fouls and feigning serious injuries all to try and get a call. Obviously, I understand the cost/benefit analysis in play, with the value of a penalty kick being so significant in a way that does not exist in any single ultimate call, but my goodness it so thoroughly detracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise high-quality competition.

In addition to this bastardization of fair play, there also seems to be a general acceptance in the soccer world that you can drag an opposing player down by their jersey to prevent a thrilling breakaway scoring chance and simply take your yellow card and move on. Why isn’t a player ejected for such an egregious maneuver that detracts from the game and has nothing to do with actually playing soccer? I am completely flabbergasted how soccer has permitted itself to allow such flagrant, intentional, and 100-percent non-soccer physicality into its game with virtually no ramifications other than a largely toothless warning.

I know that, a decade ago, ultimate purists feared that some of these types of things would become common in a professionalized ultimate world. Through a dozen years, that is categorically not the case. Games can absolutely be physical, but it’s a level of physicality generally accepted by all players involved, and our sport has not devolved into a flopping frenzy, where players are frequently trying to dupe officials to get a call. 

In many ways, I wish ultimate was more like soccer, with folks around the world appreciating our beautiful game, its low cost of entry, and the magical dynamics of the disc. But at the same time, I desperately hope our sport can avoid the same stylistic downfalls that plague international futbol. I know I am not a soccer diehard and it remains the world’s most popular sport, but I just cannot understand why it so often devolves into a referee-fooling wrestling match, completely antithetical to so much of what makes the game great. 

I’m excited to get back into the ultimate spirit this Saturday night, when I’ll be in Minnesota for the Super Series showdown between the Wind Chill and the Summit.

Talk to you then.