By Larry Snyder
Allison Park, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Thunderbirds open their sixth season in the American Ultimate Disc League Saturday, June 5, at J.C Stone Field in North Park against the expansion Boston Glory. The first pull between these 2021 AUDL Atlantic Division combatants is 6:00 p.m.
Thunderbird fans last saw their team at J.C. Stone Field Saturday, July 20, 2019, when the Black and Gold edged the Chicago Union (formerly Wildfire) 21-20 in the AUDL Playoffs. During the final minute of play, Kenny Furdella, on the 11th pass of the drive, thread the disc between two Chicago defenders and into the hands of a sliding Thomas Edmonds for the game-winning score. The time on the scoreboard was 11 seconds.
Pittsburgh ended the 2019 campaign with a 5-2 mark at JC Stone Field, including a four-game win streak. Head Coach Pat Hammonds and his squadron racked up 298 goals for a 21.3 points per contest average. Additionally, defender Anson Reppermund claimed 26 blocks as the defense permitted just 19.3 points against per match.
Andrew Gardner, general manager of the T-birds, spoke with Ashton Jones of 90.5 WESA about returning after more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It really felt like a time when we were just completely disconnected, so it really meant a lot when things were starting to look brighter and then there were vaccines. It was like, here’s a return to play plan. And when we finally got back on the field together, it was like we picked up right where we left off.”
Thunderbird Players to Watch: The 2019 All-Star Game MVP Max Sheppard, who signed a new two-year deal in April 2021, returns to help keep the offense running smoothly. In addition, the Edinboro University alum became a member of the exclusive “50/50 club” in 2019. Shep is one of just five players in the history of the AUDL to finish a season with 50 assists and 50 goals.
From the ranks of the University of Pittsburgh, Edmonds contributed 26 goals and 41 assists to the T-bird’s box score in 2019, and collected 100 completions in the 2019 playoff victory against Chicago.
Coming back along with Reppermund to defend the nest is Jimmy Towle (30 goals), Sam VanDusen (33 assists), and Chris Graber (16 goals).
Thunderbird Newcomers: Tristan Yarter, who also played at Pitt, came onboard in April 2021 after playing for the 2019 AUDL Champions, the New York Empire. Another April signee, CJ Colicchio, was part of Clapham Ultimate, which won a UK National Championship and silver medal in the European Championship in 2019. The duo of Connor Newell and Nick Nagel could show up on the stat sheet sooner rather than later for the Black and Gold.
Hammond talked about his team with Evan Lepler on the AUDL website: “I’m super excited, but leading into Week 1, we still have some questions to answer about who we are. Really focusing on utilizing the weapons we have and finding new faces to fill supporting roles around them. I definitely think we have a dangerous core. The blueprint for us is making sure we design and utilize our depth to keep us within striking range.”
Glory Players To Watch: Three-year veteran handler Ethan Fortin had 19 assists with the Philadelphia Phoenix in 2019. Most of the preseason speculation out of New England is around a quintet of rookies. Tannor Johnson, Benjamin Sadok, Ian Engler, Henry Babcock, and Cole Davis-Brand are the ones who could lead head coach Sam Rosenthal’s crew to be a force this season.
My Game Prediction: I believe the Thunderbirds give the fans something to talk about on the way home from JD Stone Field with a 24-21 triumph over the Men from Beantown. Check out what seats are available here online.
Weather: The outlook from the doppler gang at weather.com is for mostly sunny skies with zero precipitation for the opening pull. After player introductions, the game-time temperature should be 85 degrees. Winds could blow in from the west to southwest at four to eight mph.
Tune In: See every over-the-shoulder catch by selecting the Black and Gold as your preferred team on AUDL.TV (subscription service). Matt Weiss returns to handle the play-by-play call.
Next Up: The Thunderbirds head to the Sunshine State Saturday, June 12, to take on the Tampa Bay Cannons. The squads face off at the 31st Street Sports Complex at 6:05 p.m. EDT.
Looking Back At 2019…