In 2014 the Madison Radicals separated themselves from the rest of the division. They finished three games ahead of the second place team, and after winning the Midwest two years straight they’ve established themselves as the favorites once again in 2015. But a few teams made some moves in the offseason to try and even the playing field, and an expansion team in Pittsburgh should make noise this year as well.
Chicago Wildfire – Offseason Grade: B-
Adding: Brett Matzuka, Ryan Smith
Subtracting: Ron Kubalanza, Dan Williams, Kevin Kelly
Key Returners: Jonathan Helton, Bob Liu, AJ Nelson, Brodie Smith
Last year the Wildfire and elite Chicago club team Machine partnered to make their rosters nearly identical. On paper they looked better than ever. In reality a lot of the players they expected to be big contributors showed up sporadically, and the team was never able to put it together in 2014. The Wildfire finished 9-5 and lost 16-22 to New York in the first round of the playoffs.
This year Chicago is losing a lot of those Machine players, but the team is hoping the players they have signed on are more committed to the AUDL season. Replacing handlers like Ron Kubalanza, Dan Williams, Dane Olsen, and Brett Kolinek is no easy task, but Chicago is adding some accomplished handlers this offseason. After sitting out all but the last game of Chicago’s season last year, Brodie Smith finally looks healthy this year after spending the club season with Denver’s Johnny Bravo. With targets like Jonathan “Goose” Helton and AJ Nelson, Brodie will make life difficult for opposing defenses.
Brodie’s Johnny Bravo teammate Brett Matzuka is suiting up for Chicago this year too, after playing with the DC Breeze last year. Matzuka has a wide arsenal of throws, and has become one of the premier handlers in the game. A less-heralded name that will likely handle on the D-Line with Matzuka is Ryan Smith. Smith is a product of the University of Illinois, was named player of the region in 2013, and is known for his fiery attitude and big flick. If the players on the Wildfire roster show up, they’ll be a contender in the Midwest.
Projected Record: 10-4, 3rd in the Midwest
Cincinnati Revolution – Offseason Grade: C-
Adding: Isaac Jefferies, Kieran Kelly
Subtracting: Chris Powers, Nate Botti, Michael Ames
Key Returners: Eddie Mack, Tim Settles
Last year Cincinnati entered the year with increased expectations. They were supposed to challenge Indianapolis and Minnesota for the final playoff spot in the Midwest. That didn’t end up happening, and Cincinnati finished 4-10.
This year the Revolution are focused on building a team that they think can represent Cincinnati for now and years to come. The front office and Revolution captain Eddie Mack know that for the team to become competitive, it won’t happen overnight. “Our program is not about individual talent leading the way and I don’t think it will ever be, but a collective group of players that focus on the same task at hand.”
That starts with signing captains Eddie Mack, Isaac Jeffries, and Tim Settles to two year deals. The team is also looking for more involvement from University of Cincinnati players and recent graduates, with several on the team for the first time this year. The Revolution are starting their rebuilding process and even if the results aren’t immediately imminent, they’re hoping it works out over the next few years.
Projected Record: 3-11, 6th in the Midwest
Detroit Mechanix – Offseason Grade: D
Adding: Scott Sotasanti
Subtracting: Andy Barnhart
Key Returners: Andrew Lucarotti, Aaron Del Real
This will be the fourth year in the AUDL for the Mechanix, one of only two teams to be there for every year of the league’s existence. Unfortunately for Detroit, their record has gotten worse every year. The Mechanix bottomed out last year, going 0-14.
One of the bright spots for Detroit last season was Andy Barnhart, who led the team with an impressive 28 blocks. Unfortunately, Barnhart will be playing with Nashville this year, though the team is hoping Scott Sotosanti can replace some of Barnhart’s defensive intensity. Sotosanti was instrumental in bringing Dartmouth Pain Train to the quarterfinals of the college championships in 2013, making some clutch defensive plays along the way. But Detroit has a long way to go before they can start thinking bigger than just getting a couple wins.
Projected Record: 0-14, last in the Midwest
Indianapolis AlleyCats – Offseason Grade: C+
Adding: Michael Ames (Cincinnati)
Subtracting: Joey Cari
Key Returners: Keenan Plew, Travis Carpenter, Cameron Brock, Andy Cava
The AlleyCats have become a known quantity in the AUDL. They have one of the most efficient O-lines in the game, with Plew, Brock, Cari, and Cava (a.k.a. An Toine) all playing very smart ultimate with very defined roles. But Indy’s D-line has never been as strong, and outside of Travis Carpenter (who moonlights on the O-line as well) the ‘Cats D-line doesn’t do enough to generate break opportunities, and their offense is very stagnant when they do get chances.
This year the AlleyCats will also have to make do without their cutter Joey Cari, their breakout player of 2014. Last year Cari had 28 goals, 37 assists, and averaged 1.2 throws per point, which shows how involved he was in the offense throughout the point. He did all that with a 93% completion rate. A player Indianapolis expects to step up this year is Levi Jacobs. Jacobs had limited playing time with the ‘Cats last year and also played with team USA at the WJUC on the U19 team, but it’s a lot to ask of such a young player.
The AlleyCats are returning 17 of their players from last year. They’ve made the playoffs every year of the AUDL’s existence. They’ve overcome the odds before, and can’t be counted out. But with a new team in Pittsburgh and Chicago reloading, Indianapolis will have to overcome the odds again just to get back to the playoffs.
Projected Record: 8-6, 4th in the Midwest
Madison Radicals – Offseason Grade: B+
Adding: Jay Froude, Colin Camp
Key Returners: Andrew Brown, Andrew Meshnick, Peter Graffy, Pat Shriwise
The Radicals have established themselves as one of the premiere teams in the AUDL. Even with the addition of potential powerhouses out west, Madison can’t be counted out of the championship conversation. Last year they narrowly lost to the eventual champion San Jose Spiders in the semifinals, one of the most exciting games of the year. This year they’re returning 24 players from their 2014 squad.
But even with such great roster continuity, Madison faces questions. The first question is how many games veteran handler Tom Annen will miss, and who will fill his role? Annen has moved away from Madison and will only play in the playoffs, though they plan to bring him in occasionally for regular season games. He had 35 assists last year, scoring on 21% of the points he played, averaging 1.8 throws per point with a 93% completion rate. His style of play was the perfect complement to Andrew Brown’s more conservative approach. With Annen’s absence and David Schleicher’s injury, Madison will need players like Brian Hart and Bill Everhart to step up into larger roles. Frankly though, Madison shouldn’t have problems getting back to the playoffs. This team was head and shoulders above the rest of the Midwest last year.
Projected Record: 12-2, 1st in the Midwest
Minnesota Wind Chill – Offseason Grade: C-
Adding: Greg Arenson, Jesse Bolton, Jacob Lien
Subtracting: James Hron, Kevin Seiler
Key Returners: Jay Drescher, Ben Jagt, Brian Schoenrock
Last year the Wind Chill added a lot of talent from Sub Zero, and looked like they may be able to challenge Madison. The potential only came through at times though, and Minnesota fell short of the playoffs. This year Minnesota will be fielding a drastically different team.
No Sub Zero players are playing for Minnesota this year. More importantly, neither will James Hron or Kevin Seiler. The most common connection for scores in the AUDL was not Joye-Kittredge, Helton-Nelson, or Thorne-DeGirolamo. It was Seiler-Hron. Both had over 300 touches over the season, scored on at least 27% of the points they played, and had over a 95% completion rate. Minnesota’s O-line will not be the same without them.
The Wind Chill are returning three of their biggest playmakers on defense though. Jay Drescher, Ben Jagt, and Brian Schoenrock each had at least 25 d’s. Much like Cincinnati and Chicago, Minnesota is trying to create sustainable success by having a more reliable roster with better continuity. New additions like Carleton CUT standout Jesse Bolton, former NexGen player Greg Arenson, and Arizona Sunburn player Jacob Lien give the team some talent at the top of the roster, and the team is getting younger. But shaping a new offense won’t be easy and the Wind Chill don’t have as much depth in 2015.
Projected Record: 5-9, 5th in the Midwest
Pittsburgh Thunderbirds – Offseason Grade: A-
Key Players: Tyler Degirolamo (Washington), Alex Thorne (Washington), Pat Earles, Marcus Ranii-Dropcho
The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds are the new team in the Midwest in 2015, and they are a serious contender.
They have 14 players from Temper on their team, the Pittsburgh club team that finished twelfth at the club championships in October. Alex Thorne and Tyler Degirolamo are a powerful combination, and playing in their hometown should mean they make games more regularly than they did for DC last year.
The questions facing Pittsburgh are how they match up against Chicago and what they’ll do against the Madison zone. The potential is definitely there for Pittsburgh to take the Midwest. Athletically they match up well against Chicago. They have a lot more height than Indianapolis, and more depth than Cincinnati or Minnesota. And when given a 53 yard field to operate in, it becomes even more difficult to stop Degirolamo. Last year he scored on 36% of the points he played, good for second in the league.
The biggest factor against Chicago will be how their defense performs. Slowing down the Chicago offense will be no easy task. With players like Rob Dulabon and Mark Federenko, though, the Thunderbirds have plenty of defensive chops. Against Madison it’s going to come down to that zone. Shorter handlers can struggle against the Madison zone, with the Andrew Meshnick-Matt Weber double team proving to be tough to get around. Either way things in the Midwest should be a lot more interesting this year.
Projected Record: 11-3, 2nd in the Midwest