The coaching staff is in place, the captains have been chosen, the roster is set, and the games have been scheduled. The AUDL 2020 season is approaching and all that is left for us fans now is to wait while the teams get ready. It is time for practices, drills, workouts and strategy meetings, but as we wait it gives us plenty of time to think, time to let out minds run wild with all the hopes of what a new season can bring. So let us fill that time and find some exciting ideas about what we can look forward to for the Indianapolis AlleyCats!
Can the AlleyCats make Championship weekend again?
Short answer: Of course! Now is the time of year when every team can believe that they are
better than the competition, so most teams will be thinking the same thing here, but it wasn’t a fluke that Indy not only had the best record in the Midwest division last year, but also won the divisional round match against Pittsburgh. The Cats played great all year in 2019 and while there was continual skepticism from many parties, Indy just kept winning. Critics will point to the amount of close games as a reason to suspect regression, and that is a fair point to make in most sports. For the AlleyCats though, that was the game plan last year, a slower methodical approach that kept both teams close all game, including in their semi-final round matchup against the New York Empire when they held them to their lowest offensive output of the season.
Where do the AlleyCats need to improve over 2019?
One of the biggest areas that Indy also has room for improvement though is the defense, more specifically in generating blocks. Last season the Cats were in the bottom half of the league in blocks per game after finishing 13th with 9.86, a big dropoff from the 2018 season when they were third with 14.38. While they have lost a few key defenders from last season, they have hopefully fills those holes with some exciting free agents and youthful rookies. The biggest impact though may come just from the fact that some of the usual suspects for blocks had a very down year. Rick Gross and John Jones each only registered five blocks each in 2019. Gross had led the team in blocks the previous two seasons and Jones had achieved double digit totals in both of those seasons as well. Nick Hutton also has room to add to his total even after leading the team with 14 last year, his fewest total in a season. It is reasonable to expect a resurgence from these players in 2020.
Who takes a step forward in 2020?
Each year fans will wonder who the next breakout star will be. Sometimes this entails going from a couple points per game to a starting role and sometimes it means a good starting player becomes an MVP candidate. In 2019 Travis Carpenter did just that, and landed himself in the conversation among the league’s best. It doesn’t matter where the player starts, just the kind of leap they take forward. This year, the best candidates to take that leap are Keegan North, Levi Jacobs, and Conner Henderson. Each of these players is still young and that makes it very easy to see them taking a step forward and each has shown great talent in the past.
Levi Jacobs is entering his age 24 season with the AlleyCats which seems impossible since he has been a member of the team for so long, but that is what happens when you start your
career at 18. Since he started though he has always been an exciting player to watch,
continually making eye opening layout grabs or down field hucks to his goal scoring studs. What had held Levi back previously though was correctable. The same throws that would land for highlight scores were also the types of throws that could easily go astray, but in two straight seasons, Levi has seen his completion percentage rise, setting a career high of 90.3 in 2019. It is hard to anticipate that number going much higher considering the role he plays, and that is more than ok. If he can continue to complete passes over 90% of the time, his opportunity to lead the team in assists is a good bet.
Keegan North is another player that you don’t have to squint to hard to see him becoming the next athlete to join the All-Star conversations. North has now played for two seasons with
Indianapolis and immediately found himself among the top five in completions, goals, and
assists during that time. There is nothing in the numbers to suggest that he needs to ‘improve’ anywhere to take his game to the next level, but another year of playing with the same group should certainly allow him to make even more plays going forward, and if there is any down turn from some of the more veteran players on the team, North would be one of the first players to benefit from that. His on-field connection with Travis Carpenter also doesn’t hurt the odds of him seeing an uptick in both goals and assists.
Defensive line handlers rarely get a lot of love when it comes to talking about the star players, but Conner Henderson deserves the recognition here. Conner will only be 21 for the upcoming season and already is established as one of Indy’s best options to defend the opposing throwers, and turn around on a break to handle the disc himself. If the Cats are able to increase the total blocks they generate this season, that would give Conner even more opportunities to make plays. It is also possible that Xavier Payne slots in with Conner on that line to build the line that was most affected by turnover this offseason, providing a dangerous second thrower on the line.
Who leads the team in each statistical category?
After talking about who could be the next breakout star for the team, it seems like a logical next step to figure out who could lead the team in each of the major categories. If we look at goals, assists, completions and blocks, the leaders in each of these has been fairly consistent over the past couple of years, so unfortunately that makes it difficult to bet against the odds on favorite in each. Instead we will look at the favorite as well as who could overtake that person.
Goals - The goal leader for the AlleyCats each of the last three years has been none other than 2019 All-Star Rick Gross. Gross would be the favorite to come out on top of this category again, and that should not shock anyone. The easy pick to overtake him would obviously be Cam Brock, who has finished second each of those years, but the real contender at the top could be Keegan North. He has totaled 54 catches in the endzone in two years, and if the new coaching staff uses him downfield at a higher rate, he could easily find himself competing with Gross at the end of the season for that lead. Another player not to overlook based on usage would be Corey Hardesty, a newcomer to the AlleyCats but a player who already has a 50 goal season in the AUDL.
Assists - For many years the one thing you could count on was Keenan Plew leading the team in assists, until Travis Carpenter burst through and ran away with that lead in 2019. Plew is the all-time leader in assists, having thrown no fewer than 32 until last season. It wasn’t only Carpenter who surpassed Plew either, both Jacobs and North had more throws land for points also. This year the smart money would be on Carpenter to repeat, but with the case made above Jacobs could easily take his first turn atop that leaderboard.
Completions - A big reason that Plew was able to lead the team in assists for so long was also because he was near the top of the completions list also, and the previous two years he
dominated the touches. In 2019, part of Carpenters big transformation also came about
because he took on that role, completing nine more passes than Plew. The two of them have
had plenty of success getting the disc to their teammates, and Carpenter should repeat in this category as well, but young phenom Alex Henderson has the inside track to taking over as the top distributor on this team.
Blocks - The blocks category is the toughest one to project. In 2019 there were only three
players that achieved a double digit total for the season, but before that they saw twelve Cats make that mark over the last two seasons. The leader last year was Nick Hutton with 15 followed by Carpenter, who has posted at least 12 in three straight seasons. Carpenter’s
all-around will always allow him to put up a healthy number of blocks in a season, but usually
not the team leading type. Rick Gross would be the best bet to retake the lead in that area if he is given the chance to be on the field for those opportunities, but over the last three seasons the player that has put up the fourth most blocks is John Jones. It is not hard to see how he could breakout this season to claim the top spot.