Ah, can you smell it? Spring is right around the corner and while most of the country--Nashville surprisingly included-- has been dealing with an inordinate amount of snow, Groundhog's Day has come and gone and we are mere months away from the start of the new AUDL season. The schedule release today gives us an exciting benchmark to the upcoming season and with it some way-too-early analysis of how the season will unfold in Nashville. There's already been a huge influx of talent coming in to a South Division which sported 3 teams in the top 9 of the final 2015 power rankings to go along with two new loaded teams in the Austin Sol and the Dallas Roughnecks. Without further ado, let's dive right into what the schedule will look like for NightWatch nation.
4/2; at ATL:
The NightWatch again begin their season against the Atlanta Hustle (10-4 in 2015, 3rd place in the AUDL South). The most natural geographical rival for Nashville, Atlanta out-hustled the NightWatch to the tune of 4 wins by an average of 7.5 goal differential in 2015. The Hustle look to be a talented team again this year as they return South All-Division star Matt Smith, who tied for 2nd in the AUDL with 66 goals last season. Nashville will counter with their offensive duo of Paul Lally (50 goals, 36 assists) and Tom Radcliffe (46 goals, 28 assists) in what could very likely be a high-scoring affair. Look for this to be an early measuring stick of the NightWatch’s improvements in the offseason.
This will serve as an early season chance for new NightWatch coach Ryan Balch to analyze his team’s performance in Week 1, watching game tape and continuing to implement a system which puts his players in the best chance[s] to succeed.
4/16; at JAX:
The first weekend road trip for the NightWatch pits them against a playoff team from 2015 in the Jacksonville Cannons (10-4, 2nd place in the South), a team which Nashville managed a win against last season. The Cannons are perhaps the tallest team in the AUDL and have several of their star players returning from a successful inaugural season. Mischa Freystaetter, at 6’7”, and Travis Catron, at 6’3”, form a towering goal-scoring duo and will put Nashville’s star defenders John Carden and Frank Strasser to the test as they attempt to keep the Cannons from scoring at will. In 2 of the 3 games between these two teams last year, the losing team was held to under 20 goals. A defensive win in this game should mean a W in the standings.
4/17; at ATL:
Round two against Atlanta comes pretty quickly, a mere 15 days after the season opener. One key in this matchup will be if the NightWatch can slow the Hustle offensive juggernaut. In 4 matchups last year, the Hustle averaged just under 27 goals against Nashville. If Nashville is to improve in the rough-and-tumble South, that number must shrink. Coach Ryan Balch's first big test will come in how he can show he can adjust and make stick the defensive schemes Nashville employs to do just that.
4/23; vs RAL:
The reigning South Divison champs were something of an enigma for the 2015 NightWatch. Outside of a lopsided loss to the Flyers (11-3; 1st place in the South) in Raleigh on May 17th, the NightWatch played neck-and-neck with Raleigh. Nashville actually led or were within a point of Raleigh in the other 3 games at half, but could not finish. Raleigh's team should again be a force to reckon with this season, so Nashville will need to put a strong performance together in the home opener in order to show it can compete with the cream of the division by last year's standards.
5/7; vs CLT:
The first matchup between the South's two most improved teams comes early in May with the Charlotte Express (2-12; 4th in the South) coming to town. How will Matt Bode (Jacksonville Cannons member for 2015) fit in alongside Charlie Muniz (2015 Charlotte Express assist leader) and Jeff "Teen Wolf" Nordgren? The Express and the NightWatch had some intense battles in their inaugural seasons, with all 3 games decided by 3 points or less. Look for new NightWatch captain Craig Stewart to show Charlotte why he called the NightWatch 'the team nobody wants to play this year'.
5/14; vs AUS:
Nashville welcomes the 1st of the two expansion teams in the Austin Sol to Nashville in a very intriguing matchup between two coaches who know each other very well. Sol coach Michael "Tank" Natenberg knows NightWatch skipper Ryan Balch quite well from their time together on Tejas at Pan American and the two played against each other for years when Balch played for Chain Lightning and "Tank" for Doublewide. Speaking of Doublewide, Austin sports at least 6 players from that superb club team and looks to be very capable of making waves in the crowded South Division.
5/21; at AUS:
Back-to-back matchups appear throughout the late half of May for Nashville and will challenge the playing intelligence of captains Tyler Conger and Craig Stewart to adjust to the schemes they see in the first matchup. With the Sol, Coach Balch will also be called upon to continue to chess match with Coach Tank.
5/22; at DAL:
Boy, I don't think anybody has been talking about Dallas' roster. Oh, wait... There's this... and this. They're only the most highly anticipated sports story since Lebron came out of high school. Never mind the coup signings of Cassidy Rasmussen and Beau Kittredge, both two-time AUDL defending champs and the latter a two-time MVP of the league. Dallas also sports 2013 Callahan winner Dylan Freechild and the player our own Craig Stewart calls the "best player I've ever played against" in Kurt Gibson. So, the challenge is there. This will be a heck of a matchup to watch and one that many of the NightWatch players have talked about as one they look forward to. When you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Watch out, Dallas.
5/29; vs DAL:
Did I forget to mention Jimmy Mickle and Kevin Richardson? My bad. Dallas is just loaded. NightWatch nation will welcome in one of the most talented squads to the music city in the final weekend of May. It should make for some great drama, pitting some of the best frisbee players in the world against a young NightWatch team brimming with talent, yet a bit shy on the side of experience. If you've got any interest in ultimate, you'll be there for what should be quite the show.
6/11; vs ATL:
A lot can change over the course of 8 weeks and certainly the 3rd and final game against the Hustle will be different than either of the 1st two. The Hustle have yet to announce their roster for the 2016 season, but it certainly feels like it will be much the same as last year's dynamic group. Listed as the team players are most looking forward to facing, Atlanta will likely also be the team Nashville needs to beat most in order to chase a winning record in 2016. At this point with two-thirds of the season pat, this game likely serve as the most important in determining the success of Nashville's season to this point.
6/25; at CLT:
Both games which Nashville lost against the Charlotte Express could have easily gone the other way. Will a Tyler Conger-led offense be able to spark a NightWatch offense which averaged just over 21 points per game against Charlotte. The "Bash Brothers" Tom Radcliffe and Blake Waldron (team-high 47 assists in 2015) will be called upon to do what they do-- score-- again and again for Nashville to win.
6/26; at RAL:
The context of this game could be HUGE. Where is Nashville in the standings at this point? Do the Flyers have the same magic that led them to the South title last year? With Raleigh's roster expected to look very similar in 2016, how will NightWatch's Coach Balch scheme to stop offensive studs Justin Allen (52 goals, 58 Assists) and Jarrett Bowen (58 goals, 43 assists)? Don't sleep on veteran David Snoke's offensive creativity or David Richardson's (25 D's) ability to cover a lot of ground on defense. One thing's for sure, a much improved NightWatch roster should continue to give the Flyers fits. The final question there is: Can the NightWatch finish?
7/2; vs CLT:
Nashville ends the season with home games in weeks 14 and 15. They have a big chance to serve up the home fans with a good showing and win against a Charlotte Express team that won as many games last year (2) as Nashville did.
7/9; vs JAX:
The season finale comes with a lot of meaning. Jacksonville slipped into last year's playoffs via a tiebreaker over Atlanta and the Cannons look to have a strong roster again this year. Nashville comes into the season looking to get into the playoffs for the 1st time. In a division that some in the NightWatch organization have called "the toughest in the league," that looks to be quite the challenge, but this game could be the deciding factor in that goal. Nashville's 3 games against the Cannons last year were decided by an average of 3 points per game. The matchup is close between two teams that finished with very different records a year ago. The NightWatch already look loads better on paper. On July 10, will we be talking about the improvement of the "what-ifs" that come with a season of disappointment?