The AUDL South enters the league in very similar fashion to the West in 2014. A couple of the top teams have valid championship aspirations while other cities are just looking to establish themselves as teams that deserve to be in the league. The first year will undoubtedly include some bumps and some blowouts, but there is real competition for the top spot to represent the South at the final four in San Jose come August.
Atlanta Hustle – Offseason Grade: B+
Key Players: Dylan Tunnell, Mark Poole, Jay Clark, Robert Runner
The Atlanta Hustle enter the AUDL with a conglomeration of talent from many club teams, but with a core of players from Chain Lightning and Bucket, the elite Open and Mixed teams in Atlanta. The team features some of Chain Lightning’s best players, like Mark Poole, Jay Clark, and Byron Liu. The team even has former Chain players like Dylan Tunnell and Robert Runner signed on. That said, this team still has quite a bit of youth. Many recent graduates from schools like Georgia or Emory are represented, along with some current students and two players from Team USA’s 2014 U19 team.
The Hustle figure to play a style of ultimate very familiar to Atlanta, relying on big throws and serious athleticism. Right now they don’t look as deep as Raleigh, the team they open the season against on Saturday night. But if the Hustle can keep this team together for the future, they will remain a contender every year.
Projected Record: 10-4, 2nd in the South
Charlotte Express – Offseason Grade: C
Key Players: Ken Porter, Micah Hood
Charlotte entered the offseason as a big question mark. There is no elite Charlotte-based club team. no existing infrastructure to draw from. With the Raleigh Flyers next door, it’s not like the Express could poach talent from around the state. Putting together a competitive Charlotte AUDL team is considerably more difficult than doing the same thing in Atlanta or Raleigh. But the Express is a team with more bite than one might expect.
Ring of Fire veterans Ken Porter and Micah Hood headline a roster that features players from regional level club teams like Cash Crop and Cahoots. Also, four players on the roster already have AUDL experience from four different AUDL teams.
Charlotte doesn’t have the depth of Atlanta, Jacksonville, or Raleigh, but they have a core of committed players that are used to playing at this level. That should keep their games tighter than expected, even if it doesn’t translate into many wins.
Projected Record: 3-11, 4th in the South
Jacksonville Cannons – Offseason Grade: B
Key Players: Michael Hickson, John Best, Cole Sullivan, Mischa Freystaetter
The Cannons are a team years in the making that will ensure that the South isn’t merely a two-team show. The Cannons have many players from Florida United as well as current and former players from the University of Florida, Florida State, and Central Florida. All that talent, despite none of those schools being located in Jacksonville. Being the only AUDL team in the state has its advantages.
In particular, Central Florida’s rise as a college program is a good thing for the Cannons, who feature more Dogs of War alumni than any other school. Jacksonville’s starting seven could go toe to toe with most teams in the league, but the question again comes back to depth. This team doesn’t look as deep as Atlanta or Raleigh. Depth will also be more important for Jacksonville than any other team in the South since the Cannons have three two-game road trips this season– over the last few years in the AUDL, the second game of a back-to-back has been especially brutal. It could be that Jacksonville has more talent up and down the roster than initially thought, and at some point a previously unknown player will probably play a big role for this team. It just remains to be seen if there will be enough of those players to get this team past Atlanta and into the playoffs.
Projected Record: 8-6, 3rd in the South
Nashville Nightwatch – Offseason Grade: C-
Key Players: Andy Barnhart (Detroit), Kevin Terry, Matt Gallin
Unbeknownst to many, Nashville has an up and coming youth scene. Another thing ultimate fans may not remember about Nashville is that Tanasi, an Open division Nashville-based club team, qualified for the Club Championships in 2010 & 2011. Granted, it’s been four years since Tanasi made it that far, and the team didn’t even play in 2014. Also, only three players from the 2013 edition of Tanasi are on the roster.
That said, this team has a trio of leaders with pro ultimate experience, and not bit roles either. Andy Barnhart may be coming from an 0-14 team, but he had 28 blocks last year, good for fifth in the league, and he had the third most assists on Detroit. Kevin Terry played a major role for the New York Rumble in 2013, second only to 2013 MLU MVP Chris Mazur in throws completed on the team, and also adding 23 assists. Matt Gallin played for the Philadelphia Spinners in 2012 and 2013 and got a lot of time as a D-line handler. Those three come from pro teams that varied all the way from winless to champions, so there won’t be a lot thrown at them that at least one of them hasn’t experienced before.
The Nightwatch are hoping that their team of mostly local Nashville players can play smothering man defense and use that to compete for a playoff spot. It’s a big ask in a division with a couple powerhouses.
Projected Record: 1-13, 5th in the South
Raleigh Flyers – Offseason Grade: A
Key Players: Noah Saul, Tristan Green, Justin Allen, Taylor Pope
Other teams in the South are setting their sights on Raleigh, and rightfully so. While the Flyers can’t take anything for granted, there’s a reason they are the favorite and wouldn’t be satisfied with just a division title. The team features 16 players from Ring of Fire, the local club team that made a run to the semifinals of the Club Championships last October before losing on double game point. North Carolina teams have often been known for their attitude, but what will distinguish the Flyers first and foremost will be their talent, depth, and strong leadership.
The Flyers are going to be a deep team that doesn’t rely too much on any one player. Noah Saul was extremely important for the New York Empire last year, averaging 1.7 throws per point and scoring on 26% of the points he played. While he’ll remain a very important piece to the puzzle for Raleigh, expect those numbers to come down a bit. No one player is going to end up carrying that heavy a load for this team.
The Flyers have Ring of Fire veterans and alumni like Taylor Pope, Mike Moore, and Stephen Poulos, all of whom bring valuable experience to the team. They also have four of seven players from the 2014 Atlantic Coast All-Region team, including Jon Nethercutt, Ben Snell, Justin Allen, and Robert Goode all on the roster. The Flyers even have Team USA U19 (and current Ring of Fire) player Terrence Mitchell on the roster. This team has young talent, experience, and plenty of players in their prime. The Flyers can’t overlook the rest of the South, but there’s a reason they’re the favorite.
Projected Record: 13-1, 1st in the South
Correction: A previous version of this article said that none of the players who went to Nationals with Tanasi in 2011 are playing for the Nightwatch, which was an error.