The Bay Trip: Game 8/9 Preview
Halfway through the 2016 AUDL season, the Los Angeles Aviators have managed a respectable 3-4 record and kept their playoff hopes alive. Standing between them and the coveted third-place spot (and last qualifying playoff position) in the West Division standings are the 4-4 Vancouver Riptide. In their way in the literal sense this weekend are the first-place San Francisco Flamethrowers (8-2) and fifth-place San Jose Spiders (3-6).
Foothill College in Mountain View and Laney College in Oakland may not be as far from Los Angeles as a venture up to Seattle and Vancouver, but that doesn’t make this weekend’s duo of games any less daunting. Both teams will be seeking to exact revenge at the Aviators’ expense, though for different reasons.
In facing the Spiders on Saturday, the Aviators face an opponent whom they defeated in their last game, the first matchup of the season between the two franchises. In that meeting, the Aviators got off to a slow start but outscored San Jose 22-16 over the final three quarters on their way to a 27-24 victory. It was the first-ever win against San Jose in the short history of the Los Angeles Aviators. This weekend’s game will have a different look to it as the Spiders return Sean Ham and Jackson Stearns to their playing roster. Their all-around production was notably absent from the action in Los Angeles last week. Kelly Van Arsdale led San Jose with both 5 goals and 5 assists, Chuck Cao contributed 1 goal and 4 assists, and former-Aviator Steven Chang put up 3 goals and 2 assists against his old teammates, though Chang will not be available this week. The Aviators face the difficult task of staving off an angered barrage by a team looking to create a winning streak while barely hanging onto its playoff hopes. Their 3-6 record is misleading, as they are stocked with talent and more than capable of a late-season run.
Looking towards their Sunday matchup with San Francisco, the Aviators’ weekend gets no easier. San Francisco started the season 8-0, but a rough weekend in the Great Northwest brought their first two losses of the season at the hands of Vancouver and the Seattle Cascades (8-3). For a team who went more than two months without a loss, the FlameThrowers will be looking to strike early and often to reassert their dominance as a top-3 team in the league. The first matchup of the season between L.A. and San Francisco was the season opener for both teams, a 19-16 overtime victory for the FlameThrowers in Los Angeles. Splitting the season series would be a great achievement for L.A., with the added effect of inching closer to a shot at the playoffs.
Dan Bellinger (#5) will not be making the trip, creating a hole in both on-field production and leadership that other players will have to step up to fill. Even if these absences did not exist, coming out of this weekend with two victories would take a Herculean effort. Luckily for their fans, the Aviators have what it takes to raise their game to the necessary heights required in these types of situations.
by Jacob Baumer
Aviators Beat Writer & Correspondent