2016 Aviators Season Preview
by Jacob Baumer
Aviators Beat Writer & Correspondent
The Los Angeles Aviators begin their second season in the AUDL this weekend and look to improve on a solid inaugural year in 2015. With some new faces, a year of experience under their belt, and a new-look division, great success may only be a full-extension layout away.
2015: A Quick Review
It would be easy to look at last year’s performance on paper and think the team had a disappointing year: They fell short of their goal of making the playoffs. They did not win their season series with nearby rival the San Diego Growlers, dropping three of the five matchups. They finished with a 5-9 overall record, good enough to avoid last place in the West Division by one game over the Vancouver Riptide. But, there were many silver linings. Of the Aviators’ nine losses, four were by 1 point or in overtime. One of those was an early season contest with the defending champion (and eventual 2015 champions) San Jose Spiders in which San Jose exploded out of the opening pull with a 7-point run. The Aviators won each of the next three quarters to pull within one, which proved to be the final deficit. Another loss was in overtime at Vancouver, after a heart-breaking, desperation huck for a score to end regulation gave the Riptide new life and momentum through the extra period.
These experiences, including multiple victories and other defeats that finished with small point differentials, should give the Aviators confidence moving into this season as they have several returning veterans who have now been there before. It’s easy to forget that the Aviators’ 2015 roster was stacked with players who had not played professional ultimate previously. The 2016 roster will not be as inexperienced.
Los Angeles is led by a long list of key returning veterans who are hungry to prove to the league their talent is not to be overlooked. Mark Elbogen, Tyler Bacon and Jeff Silvermanhave all won AUDL championships previously, as members of the San Jose team that won in 2014. Husayn Carnegie is one of the most exciting players in the league, with his unstoppable cutting ability and explosive play-making through the air. Combine the elite-level speed of Bryan Nguyen and Sean McDougall, with the physicality of Dan Bellinger,Zach Schakner and Mitchell Steiner, and the all-around athleticism of Hunter Corbett, Eric Lissner and Zach Theodore, and you have an Aviators squad that is bursting with elite ability through and through. Grant Boyd, Allen Lai and Simon Evans bring underrated versatility, hustle and playmaking that teams routinely fail without. The ageless-wonder Greg Husak also returns, providing a level of ultimate experience and success that only a handful of people in the world can measure up to.
The list of new additions to the Aviators playing roster is nothing to scoff at itself. Michael Kiyoi was also a member of the 2014 San Jose championship team and looks to provide his leadership on the field after utilizing it last year as a coach while recovering from a knee injury. Jack Marsh is a top, Nationals-caliber player who brings his skill set to the west coast after years of excelling back east. Tim Beatty, Nicholas Alexander (signed on after spending much of last year as a practice player call-up), Brandon Severson and Peter Zhou bring their own club nationals experience. Trevor Smith and Steven Brooks have been mainstays in the competitive Southern California ultimate community for years. Brent George has proven to be a pre-season fan-favorite, and the Andrew dual-threat of Kohl and Padula are very talented members of the younger side of the Los Angeles roster.
What It Will Take
Glancing into the past as they begin the new season, the Aviators success will start with the time-honored cliché “Defense Wins Championships,” and will go as far as their revamped offense can take them. As one of the best defenses in the league last season, the Aviators possession-after-possession pressure and intensity created a litany of turnovers and routinely held opponents to some of the lowest point totals across the entire AUDL. Great athletes make great plays, and that was clearly evident on the defensive side of the disc. Offensively, things do not generally come so easily. Stellar offense requires coordination, communication, and chemistry, cultivated through hours and hours of practice. Where this was not an available asset last season, the Aviators have committed their preseason this year to more practice time. If the results are as productive as they hope, their level of overall team success will receive a remarkable push in the right direction.
Per league traveling considerations, each division will continue to play only teams in their division. As a result, the Aviators will play a total of two games each against the San Jose Spiders and San Francisco Flamethrowers, three each versus the Seattle Cascades and Vancouver Riptide, and four against SoCal rival San Diego Growlers.
The first game of the season, and the Aviators’ home opener, is on Sunday, April 3 against the Flamethrowers. With the dispersion of San Jose’s top players, including some making the short transfer to the Bay Area, the top spot in the West Division seems to be San Francisco’s for the taking. That makes this matchup right out of the gate an opportunity, though a challenging one, for the Aviators to make a league-wide statement. Los Angeles’ first five games, including College Night on Saturday, April 9, are either at home or in San Diego. They will want to take advantage of this pleasant travel schedule, or lack thereof, early on. They have back-to-back games against San Jose on June 4 and June 11, the second of which will be followed by their other game against San Francisco on June 12. A stretch in late June and early July has the Aviators playing against Vancouver in three out of four games. They will be looking to sweep these matchups with the Riptide as by now they will be expecting to be peaking in their season and gain momentum towards a playoff run. In true rivalry fashion, the season ends on July 9 with a last home game against the Growlers. San Diego will be without two of the top players in the world this season, Jimmy Mickle and Kurt Gibson, who made the decision to move on to the new AUDL franchise in Dallas. Los Angeles will go into all four of these matchups knowing they have improved while San Diego has declined significantly.
Partners and Sponsors
As the Aviators and the AUDL continue to grow, it is not lost on both parties that growth and expansion are due in large part to the presence of quality corporate partnerships and sponsorships. Steps continue to be taken in the right direction, as the Aviators will be partnering in the 2016 season with:
Clif Bar as Headline Sponsor and Official Sports Nutrition Sponsor. They will have a significant presence as a part of the Aviator game day experience engaging the amazing fans with product samples and brand information while helping the athletes maintain their peak performance all season long