The AUDL West is stacked. Each of these teams has serious talent, and there will be no gimme games in this division.
Two expansion teams are playing in the West this year. One brought out all the best talent the area had to offer, and another brought in the best talent they could find, even if that meant importing it from Colorado. Three playoff spots are up for grabs, and every team has a legitimate shot. The West also has a more unbalanced schedule than the rest of the league. Each team has a built-in rival that they will play five times this season, while they play most other teams just twice. The imbalanced schedule creates some interesting dynamics, as some teams will become even more familiar with one another as the season goes on. Also, road victories will be much more difficult to come by this season.
What this means: even more hotly contested games in the deepest, most exciting division that pro ultimate has ever seen.
Los Angeles – Offseason Grade: B
Key Players: Mark Elbogen (San Jose), Husayn Carnegie, Tyler Bacon (San Jose), Eric Lissner
The Los Angeles Aviators have drawn in a lot of the best talent that Los Angeles and Santa Barbara has to offer. With players from club teams like the Condors, LA Renegade, and 7 Figures, this team has plenty of athleticism and a fair amount of pro ultimate experience despite being an expansion team.
Four players from last year’s San Jose Spiders championship team are playing for the Aviators this year, along with a couple former San Francisco Dogfish players. There are also players from past New York Empire and Rochester Dragons teams.
Look for Spiders veterans Tyler Bacon and Steven Chang to do work as handlers on the O-line for Los Angeles. Mark Elbogen and Husayn Carnegie headline LA’s cutting core. Elbogen only played in eight games for San Jose last year, but he caught 31 goals, and scored a point on 26% of the points he played. Carnegie is another Condors player that played with the New York Empire in 2013, where he made highlight plays on a regular basis on offense and defense. The Aviators have what it takes to win games, even in this extremely tough division. Last year the Condors beat teams like Truck Stop, Sub Zero, and Furious George. 7 Figures had a 19 game winning streak at one point in 2014. But this is the AUDL West and it is no joke. A playoff appearance isn’t impossible, but it’s also not very likely.
Projected Record: 4-10, fifth in the west
San Diego – Offseason Grade: A
Key Players: Jimmy Mickle, Nick Lance, Kurt Gibson (San Jose), Josh Ackley, Dom Leggio
It doesn’t take much time to look at the top players on San Diego and reach the conclusion that they are the best team in the league. Jimmy Mickle and Kurt Gibson are both generally regarded as two of the five best players in the world, and Nick Lance and Josh Ackley are both previous Callahan winners that are coming off a club national championship with Johnny Bravo. On top of the Bravo guys, the Growlers are full of current and former players from Streetgang, a San Diego men’s club team that has made appearances at the Club Championships before.
But before the Growlers get dubbed championship contenders, or favorites to make the playoffs, it’s important to note that this team isn’t Johnny Bravo. And with the Bravo players the Growlers do have needing to fly in for games, there are no guarantees how often they’ll actually get on the field.
That said, San Diego ownership has said that each of the Bravo imports will play at least ten games during the season, which would be more than Gibson played last year for San Jose. And it’s not like those four will be joining a team of scrubs. Last year Streetgang won the Southern California section, beating teams like LA Renegade, Sprawl, and the Condors. Street gang also beat Truck Stop and Florida United during the regular season. Expect players like Dom Leggio and Steven Milardovich to play very important roles for this team. Another factor San Diego has going for it is the schedule. The Growlers play Los Angeles five times and San Francisco three times. While those are not easy games, they’re preferable to some other opponents like San Jose or Seattle. The Growlers figure to be in the thick of the playoff race the whole year. And San Diego’s star power could help the Growlers make a run if they do indeed make the playoffs.
Projected Record: 6-8, fourth in the West.
San Francisco – Offseason Grade: C-
Adding: Eli Kerns (San Jose), Henry Konker, Jordan Jeffery
Subtracting: Cassidy Rasmussen, Zane Rankin, Chris Kosednar, Eric Greenwood
Key Returners: Lucas Dallman, Eli Janin, Clay Miller
Not every team in the West got better in the offseason. Last year the FlameThrowers went 11-3 and were the only team to beat San Jose the whole season. This year things look different for San Francisco. Not only did the FlameThrowers lose Cassidy Rasmussen, an All AUDL player in 2014. They also lost six of his Revolver teammates. Any time that level of talent and that much of it leaves, it is bound to make an impact. In addition to those seven Revolver players leaving, 2014 breakout player Zane Rankin isn’t suiting up for San Francisco this season either. Last year Rankin scored on an impressive 25% of the points he played.
But it is not all doom and gloom for San Francisco. Eli Kerns is coming over from San Jose, and he figures to play an even bigger role in the FlameThrower offense. Look for an all star level of performance from Kerns this year. Jordan Jeffery and Henry Konker are also joining the team, and they provide some athleticism and strong defensive play.
But the FlameThrowers window may have closed with their 16-26 loss to the Spiders in the playoffs last year. The West is stronger, and San Francisco is undoubtedly weaker. There is enough talent on the team that San Francisco will still be a tough out, but the playoffs look like they may be out of reach. One reason for that is the imbalanced schedule. Last year the FlameThrowers went 1-3 against the Spiders, and truth be told that one win was something of an anomaly due to the extreme wind that day. This year San Francisco has to play San Jose five times during the regular season, three of those being away games. If San Francisco were playing in almost any other division, they’d be a favorite to make the playoffs. But this is not any other division. The forecast for the FlameThrowers season isn’t looking too good right now.
Projected Record: 4-10, fifth in the west
San Jose – Offseason Grade: B+
Adding: Cassidy Rasmussen (San Francisco), Russell Wynne, Christian Johnson
Subtracting: Kurt Gibson, Eli Kerns, Mark Elbogen, Tyler Bacon
Key Returners: Beau Kittredge, Ashlin Joye, Simon Higgins, Greg Cohen
Is it possible to lose one of the five best players in the world and still get better in the offseason? The Spiders may have done just that. The Spiders may only be returning 12 players from their championship squad, but the players they are bringing in are more than capable of making up the difference.
Cassidy Rasmussen was one of the best players in the AUDL last year for San Francisco, and should ably fill in for San Jose. Rasmussen is a threat with the disc in his hands and he makes plays in the air, which should fit in just fine on the best O-line in the AUDL. Russell Wynne and Seth Reinhardt are two stalwart defensive players who will be marking up against some of the best the league has to offer. Christian Johnson is playing for the Spiders after a stellar start to his career with Ring of Fire and North Carolina at the college level, and will be a frequent target for Rasmussen. To top it off, the Spiders are adding many recent college graduates who were some of the best players in the Southwest region. While this team has championship experience, it wouldn’t be off the mark to call them young and hungry either.
Perhaps even more importantly than the new additions are the players coming back to San Jose. Beau Kittredge has long been one of the best cutters in the game, and he showed few signs of slowing down last year, winning the AUDL MVP, co-AUDL Championship MVP, and a world championship with Revolver. And though Ashlin Joye will not be a frequent presence at home games for the Spiders, he will make some appearances and will be there for the playoffs. With all this talent, it’s hard to see San Jose finishing anywhere other than first in the West.
Projected Record: 12-2, first in the West
Seattle – Offseason Grade: A
Key Players: Danny Karlinsky, Matt Rehder, Joe Sefton, Phil Murray
Forget anything you knew about the Seattle Raptors. It is no longer relevant. The Seattle Cascades are a different team, and actually feature more players from the 2014 Seattle Rainmakers team (seven) than the 2014 Raptors team (just two). Of any pro team, the Cascades actually have the most in common with the 2013 Rainmakers, as 14 players from that team are on the Cascades. That was the same team that went 8-2, and arguably the deepest team in the MLU, losing a very close game in the Western Conference Championship to a San Francisco team that featured many of the same top players now playing for San Jose.
And much like San Jose, Seattle is mixing the best established players with some of the best rising talent in the area. Zane Rankin, Johnny Stacey, and Steven Benaloh are all key players on this year’s Washington Sundodgers college team, and each will be playing for the Cascades this year. A few recent players from Fryz (the elite youth club team in Seattle) will be playing for the Cascades as well. The Cascades will also probably bring a small ball approach to the West, which was by far the most huck happy division in 2015.
Seattle is one of the deepest teams in the league, with 18 players from Sockeye on the roster. That kind of familiarity, plus a roster full of players that already have pro ultimate experience, means the Cascades will most likely hit the ground running in 2015.
Projected Record: 10-4, second in the West
Vancouver Riptide – Offseason Grade: B+
Adding: Kevin Underhill, Gagan Chatha, Nick Menzies, John Norris
Subtracting: Will Vu, Tim Lavis
Key Returners: Derek Fenton, Darren Wu
Last year the Riptide went 8-6, going undefeated against the now defunct Salt Lake Lions and Seattle Raptors but winless against the Bay Area teams. Though they did give both the Spiders and FlameThrowers a run for their money at different points, the Riptide weren’t able to close the deal.
Vancouver was a very young team last season. They’re still young this year, but have brought in nine new Furious George players. The Riptide are returning eight players from last year, and they’re also adding seven players from the Vancouver Nighthawks team that won the MLU West last year. The combination will make them a playoff contender. Kevin Underhill and John Norris have worked together many times and will be key handlers for the Riptide this year. Rising Furious George star and former Nighthawk Gagan Chatha will join a Riptide team featuring two breakout players from 2014 in Derek Fenton and Darren Wu. All of them will be attractive targets on the field to Underhill and Norris, and that’s not even mentioning more experienced players like Andre Gailits and Mark Leduc.
Unfortunately for the Riptide, they have by far the toughest schedule in the AUDL. They play Seattle five times and San Jose three times. That’s eight games against the top two teams in the West. By comparison, San Diego is only playing Seattle and San Jose a total of four times. If the Riptide want to even make it to the playoffs, they will have to get wins against Seattle, and go at least 5-2 at home. The Riptide face an uphill battle just to get there, but if last season’s team was any indication of the potential this team has, coupled with the new talent coming in, Vancouver should be able to break into the playoffs this year.
Projected Record: 7-7, third in the West