Photo by Kevin Leclaire – Ultiphotos.com
The Washington D.C. Current entered the 2015 season as defending league champions with a promising future.
Predicted to return to the title game, the season ended with the team locked out of the playoffs for the first time in team history.
The 2015 D.C. Current season was full of ups and downs for the team to say the least. Early on the Current appeared to be picking up right where they left off the year before. A huge double-overtime win over their rival, the Boston Whitecaps, (thanks to this SportsCenter Top 10 play by Ben Fleming) gave the squad a pivotal home win to start the regular season.
Things took a turn for the worse once the team got away from Cardinal Stadium. A doubleheader weekend provided a major setback with road losses to the Boston Whitecaps and the New York Rumble. They split a home stand that included the first loss at Cardinal Stadium in Current history (a thrilling 19-18 win for the Philadelphia Spinners), ending a nine game home winning streak and put the team at 3-3 heading into the final stretch of the season.
After getting revenge against the Spinners the following week in Philadelphia, a key game for D.C. presented itself as they hosted the Whitecaps. In another dramatic chapter of this thrilling rivalry, the Whitecaps emerged victorious despite a last second heave from Alan Kolick that flew just out of the reach of Jeff Wodatch as time expired. All hope was not lost for the team, still on pace to make the playoffs for the third straight season after the conference leading Spinners dropped a match against the Rumble in Week 8. This set up another must-win matchup, this time against the Spinners.
In a series that turned physical, resulting in two player suspensions, both were fighting for their playoff lives in a critical matchup in Week 9. Despite the hot start by D.C., Philadelphia went on a 5-0 run to jump on top of the Current for good and take the victory, thus ending the District of Ultimate’s chance at defending their MLU Championship. The team would finish up the 2015 campaign with another victory over the Rumble, ending the season with a 5-5 record.
“Our turning point was in our last game in [New York],” said Defensive Head Coach Will Smolinski. “We finally had guys playing for each other, proud of doing things well, and wanting to play well, not just win. There was a lot more autonomy, leadership and consequently – accountability to the teammates – coming from the players. We need to bridge that into 2016.”
While many may be looking for answers for the team’s performance, General Manager Matt Dewhurst does not give blame to any moment in the season.
“I think there are a number of things you can look back at in hindsight and say – ‘Man, we should have gotten that call’ or ‘We should have won that game.’ But that happens every year, in every sport, to every team,” said Dewhurst. “The truth of it all is that despite not playing up to our potential some weeks, and not getting some breaks, we still had an opportunity to make the playoffs in the end and we simply didn’t execute.”
An Icy Start on Repeat Road
Coming into early morning tryouts in February, thoughts about the team were as uneasy as the drive was on the ice-covered roads. A majority of the team’s core were already signed but were heading into the third year of the MLU without team leaders Sean Keegan and Dan Kantor. Finding their replacements was going to be a trying task for D.C.’s management, losing one of the offense’s handlers in Keegan and losing the defense’s captain in Kantor. In addition, the team was also going to be without Eddie Peters and Cody Johnston.
At season’s end, Smolinski admits that the team never could find players to fill their void.
“We tried to just let things go on as they had the year before, and losing Cody and Eddie, we didn’t have the flexibility and enthusiasm we did in 2014,” said Smolinski. “We are still looking for some solution for Kantor’s absence. He was a rock of the D-Line and complimented [David] Cranston very well. We also missed Keegan’s fire, he wants to play his best, always. He also expects that out of his teammates. All four of those players bring elements to the team that you can’t just pick up on the side of the road.”
Leaving the tryouts, optimism increased as the Current were returning 17 players from the 2014 Championship roster and brought in key additions in the form of Jonathan Neeley (an original D.C. Current player from 2013), and Chuck Cantone (played for the Montreal Royal in 2014). At this time the team also brought on Tim Eubanks, a D.C. ultimate scene veteran, as an assistant coach to further build the franchise.
More help was not too far off for the team as D.C. organized the two biggest signings of the year. Days before the opening pull, the team announced that they were bringing on former Seattle Rainmaker, Seth Wiggins. Throughout the year, Wiggins added experience and depth to the defensive line and saw increased action as the season went on, tallying three goals, three assists and five blocks. Just before the team’s doubleheader weekend, the Current added their second mid-season signing in Nicky Spiva. Spiva had his time split on both the offensive and defensive lines, primarily as a handler. He would end his first pro ultimate season with nine assists and four blocks.
Statistically, the team was led yet again by 2014 MVP Kolick (15 goals, 28 assists) who placed third in the Most Valuable Player award voting. His right hand man, Markham Shofner (12 goals, 16 assists), had a down year with the squad by his own standards. Peter Prial (24 goals, 14 assists) scored the most goals on the team, closely followed by Wodatch (22 goals, 18 assists) as the Current’s main downfield cutters. Defensively, the team once again relied on players up and down the depth chart to come through in clutch situations, but the main star was the human highlight reel, Delrico Johnson (15 goals, 13 blocks).
While this season may have been a huge drop off from the previous season’s championship run, it was another step towards building a powerhouse, D.C. ultimate franchise.
“Up until last season, players weren’t really sure what to make of either the AUDL or the MLU. Now that we are starting to develop team cultures and both teams are reaching sustainability, we are transitioning from yearly goals and contracts to mutli-year goals and contracts,” said Smolinksi. “We want to invest in young players that we saw promise in – even if they were only practice players – and looking to club teams like John Doe, Floodwall and Medicine Men for players that believe in and are ready to work for the D.C. Current. We want players who are willing to work with us to play the best ultimate that we can play, to bring our fans a team that plays in a way they can be proud of.”