“We just want to win. That’s the bottom line. I think a lot of times people may become content with one championship or a little bit of success, but we don’t really reflect on what we’ve done in the past. We focus on the present.”
That quote sounds like it could be Philadelphia Spinners captain Trey Katzenbach talking about their upcoming season. It’s certainly the mentality the team has. Even though it’s from the New York Yankees starting shortstop, Derek Jeter, the Spinners feel the same way. In interviews with Katzenbach and head coach Billy Maroon they don’t even mention their championship from last year’s AUDL season.
But as fans, it’s hard not to. We hear and talk about championship experience all the time in sports. Now that LeBron has a championship he “knows how to win,” and is going to be much more difficult to stop. Even though the Boston Celtics had a mediocre season, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have championship experience and the Knicks don’t, so don’t count out Boston in the playoffs. So even if the Spinners aren’t thinking about their experience last year and whether or not it matters, as fans maybe we should.
The Spinners bring the kind of pro ultimate experience that’s unmatched in the MLU. On their 25 man roster 13 of their players are returning from last year’s AUDL championship squad. And the core of this Spinners team played club last year as well, with 15 players from the 2012 edition of Southpaw on the team. The question this Spinners team faces is whether or not they can maximize their experience advantage en route to winning the first MLU championship.
Last season in the AUDL the Spinners went 13-2, with an average goal differential of +7.6. They didn’t let up in the playoffs either, winning the semifinal against Rhode Island Rampage 35-21, and the final against the Indianapolis AlleyCats 29-22. Even if they’re facing new opponents this year, dominance on that level gives them a head start this season.
In their preseason game against the New York Rumble, that experience advantage showed. Often when a Rumble player would be looking to a referee for clarification, the Spinners player they were guarding was already in motion, making their transition offense much more dangerous. When Spinners players were fouled they would take their five yard penalty quicker, and frequently get a quick break before the Rumble defense was prepared. Even if the result is only 2-3 easy goals a game, that kind of difference is extremely valuable.
While nearly half the Spinners roster didn’t play on the team last year, having teammates that are familiar with the rules set the tone makes a difference in games. Even more importantly practicing with players and a coaching staff more confident and used to the rule set makes a big difference for new players, and the Spinners could reap the benefits, especially early in the season. With Katzenbach returning as the Spinners captain this year, his leadership and play will be key if the Spinners hope to add the first MLU championship to their AUDL one.
Not all the difference makers from the 2012 Spinners team are back though. Jeff Snader, the MLU Commissioner and former Spinners Coach had to step back from the team this year. Billy Maroon is his replacement, and it should be relatively seamless given that Maroon was on the coaching staff last year. Jake Rainwater and Greg Owens won’t be back either. Last season Rainwater led the team in goals with 49, good for fifth in the AUDL. Owens had 2.11 d’s per game, most on the Spinners and fourth in the league. Not to mention the plays he made on the other side of the disc . Both Owens and Rainwater filled important roles on last year’s Southpaw team as well. But unlike many AUDL teams, last season’s Spinners team didn’t rely on just three or four players to make plays for them, they ran much deeper than that. So if there is any team equipped to deal with a few departures, it’s the Spinners.
Of course the Spinners are facing a new level of competition this year bolstered with top talent from elite level club teams. Katzenbach knows it too. “They’re going to make a level playing field across the board,” says Katzenbach, “whereas last year there were some good franchises and weaker franchises. I feel like every game is up for grabs this year.”
The Spinners will find out quickly. They start the season on the road against the DC Current, then play on the road again the next week in New York. The Current and Rumble will undoubtedly be fired up in their home openers, but the Spinners should be able to capitalize on their experience this early in the season before the rest of the league catches up. In their preseason game against the Rumble they won 27-14, a game that Trey Katzenbach didn’t even play in. If they manage wins in those first two games they could get off to a quick 4-0 start, since in weeks three and four they’re playing the Current and Rumble in front of their home crowd, which was the best in the league last year. If they do get that 4-0 start the Spinners would only need to go 1-2 against the Whitecaps, split their remaining two games with the Current, and hold home field advantage against the Rumble to finish 7-3. That kind of record would definitely qualify them for the conference finals.
Right now though the conference finals are a long way off, and the Spinners have a ways to go before they get there. But the first two weeks should tell us a lot about the kind of season they’ll have. If they go 2-0, they could cruise toward a playoff spot. If they don’t things could get interesting fast for Philadelphia. Even if they do struggle early on, remember the Philadelphia Spinners know how to win, and you can’t ever count out a team with championship experience.
Feature photo by Sean Carpenter (UltiPhotos.com)