2016 National Championships - Men's Day Four Recap
Posted: October 2, 2016 08:53 AM
We’ve seen these teams here before. In 2010, Ironside brought a 38-0 record to the finals, and Revolver beat them. In the years since, San Francisco has racked up three more titles while Boston languished and lost in the finals and semifinals. Revolver is chasing historical dominance, Ironside only wants to chase away the demons. Why would 2016 be any different?
"We have a calmer sense than before," Ironside co-captain Danny Clark told me before the game. "In the past, we’ve spoken about ‘If we do this, or if we do that, then we could win,’ but this year the talk has been, ‘When we play our game, we’ll be fine.’"
Let’s talk about Kurt Gibson. When Revolver doesn’t win Nationals, Gibson does. He commanded Austin Doublewide to a title in 2012 and then Denver Johnny Bravo in 2014 while leading the Nationals field in goals. Could he do the same for Boston, bringing his unwavering belief and commitment to winning to the historically under-achieving Northeasterners?
In the past, Gibson brought or was accompanied by a cohort of ringers. This year, it was similar but different, as the primary newcomers arrived on their own: Jared Inselmann, a lanky and versatile handler was already in Boston, and Jeff Graham, an Ironside 2010 co-captain, returned to the team after time off to recover from injuries. Both are 35 years old.
It’s the age gap that Revolver was going to test. "These guys are the deepest team at the tournament – other than us," Revolver coach Mike Payne said. "We are going to run them, run them and run them. If they can stay with us, then it will be a tight game. If not…"
For match ups, Payne saw some things, "They are more nuanced than Ring of Fire. They aren’t the athletic guys, they are handler heavy – and it’s all about handler match ups. We have some surprises."
As always, Revolver stresses the good stuff: "We have had good learning experiences this tournament. We have to continue to make adjustments in games. Their D is very physical. We have to keep our confidence and continue to take the unders. Every single cutter, we expect to see three looks – last game against Ring, we only got two looks," Revolver assistant coach and former champion Ryo Kawaoka told me.
But most of all, this game was all about the personnel on the field. Who on Revolver was going to slow down Kurt Gibson? John Stubbs? Who on Ironside was going to guard Beau Kittredge? Simon Higgins? Grant Lindsley?
Ironside to receive, horizontal stack, big man Will Neff gets an under, then throws behind Tyler Chan for the game’s first turnover. Gibson shuts down his man on dump defense, Revolver burns one. Time in, they score, 1-0 on a break.
George Stubbs comes down to guard Gibson, and this is an effective match, easily two of the game’s best. Cassidy Rasmussen on Inselmann. Young John Stubbs connects with Jeff Graham for the hold, 1-1.
The O line for San Francisco: Cassidy Rasmussen, Grant Lindsley, Eli Kerns, Simon Higgins, Beau Kittredge, Chris Kosednar, Joel Schlachet. Boston’s Christian Foster comes down on Rasmussen, Dave Ferraro gets the Kittredge match up, and Kittredge wins in the air, 2-1.
Gibson, now guarded by Schlachet, saves a possession but then tries to sneak one in the end zone, and big Seth Reinhardt, a long-time Boston man now on the west coast, gets the quick-thinking goal-line D and, later, the bookends. 3-1. Revolver up two breaks. Ironside was in this position before, no big deal. They hold, down 3-2.
Like the start of both semifinals, a lot of energy was used up by both teams. Could it hold? Revolver finds space downfield after the Ironside D clamps down on handler movement. 4-2 Revolver, Jack Hatchett asks his sidelines to cover the field to alert defenders of throws. Boston holds on the next possession with the old guys – Inselmann rips a pretty backhand huck to Graham, the master of getting open.
Gibson comes down to guard Beau, Ferraro switches over to Lindsley, Russell Wallack on Eli Kerns, and it looks like Jay Clark gets an off-man D in front of Kittredge but hit Kittredge on the follow-through. Observers rule a foul. Reset, easy score to Beau for the hold, 5-3.
Ultiworld reporter Patrick Stegemoeller on the sideline: "They [Boston] are not stopping the Revolver in-cuts. That’s first and foremost. You have to do that, but then they aren’t even forcing the deep shots."
Gibson sends one to double coverage, but Tyler Chan gets up early and roofs both defenders. Ironside holds, and it could be a momentum shift as the sidelines rush the field. But all that momentum goes out the window when Boston comes down in a 1-3-3 zone which is shredded with zero difficulty, Higgins catching a mid-range goal in perfect stride from Kerns. We will never see that zone again. Revolver holds, 6-4.
Terrible Revolver pull lands out of bounds. Gibson takes it to the brick mark and rips a dime huck to Graham for the goal to punish the poor pull, down 6-5. Then it’s Kerns to Higgins again, 7-5. Speaking of Simon Higgins – who the heck was going to guard him?
But this point, all the pressure is on Ironside to hang in there. Revolver’s offense is in complete control, the flow is easy and electric, and the twin big men are proving lethal. Boston has to hold, and it’s not easy because Revolver is sending waves of elite defenders at them every point. But they do, finding Neff under in front of Kittredge, then back to Kurt who hits a hammer shot over the top, down 7-6. Ironside calls a timeout between points.
Co-captain Neff speaks, reminds the team that this year isn’t like the past, and there’s no looking to the future. It’s right now. He ends with, "We are unified. We are relentless!"
But nothing was slowing down Higgins. He gets another one; it looks easy, and the first half is in the books, 8-6. It was a perfect half for San Francisco, zero turns, and they began the second on offense.
"Win your match ups! This is a war of attrition, and now it’s time for us to step up and win this game," implored Coach Payne to his team. Revolver looked loose at half. But with Ironside, you could feel some of the tension – would they ever crack Revolver?
On the sidelines, I kept seeing Jay Clark pacing, pacing, straining to get in the game, every part of him ready as ever for fierceness on D. They call on him to start the second. Tyler Chan too. Part of the youth movement for Boston. But Beau and Higgins line up again for Revolver, and there’s a sense that they alone could win it.
Except Kittredge tries to lay one over the top to Lindsley, but Hatchett, who switched over to him, had baited it, and he gets the run-through block. Ironside cycles it to Jay Clark who finds Alex Simmons in the end zone for Boston’s first break. Gibson comes in on the next D line and assigns himself to Higgins and, pow, a total miscue from Revolver, unforced error. Gibson finds Simmons for the second break. 8-8.
The rhythm for Revolver is gone. The halftime break might have done it –just enough slack, down time, waiting for ESPN and all. The pressure from Ironside has been excellent all game, and then another as Boston pushes Revolver back near their own goal, forcing a huck to Beau, and Ferraro bodies him up, runs him off his line, and Beau has to go up off his wrong foot, the disc glancing off his hand as the cheers and jeers come raining down from the crowd. Ferraro bolts away, all legs and speed, Chan is cutting and getting open like it’s nothing, pow, Chan finds Rusty Ingold-Smith for the third straight break and the lead, 9-8, and the crowd is loving it.
Those breaks changed more than just the score – they forced San Francisco to look at their energy levels, and maybe the great Kittredge or unstoppable Higgins would have to rest? Not likely. After three straight, Revolver exhales, the crowd exhales, and Revolver scores, 9-9, Higgins breaks the mark to Kittredge.
At this point, all our eyes are on Chan and his speedy cohort, John Stubbs. On offense, these guys are tirelessly running circles around the field. Every now and then, a flying Byron Liu or Lucas Dallman or Kevin Cocks will enter the picture from Revolver, but they can never get a piece as Stubbs teleports across the field to receive a giant cross-field huck from Will Neff, 10-9.
The pressure is now on the Revolver line to hold. They have a bit of trouble when Rasmussen puts up a huck to the short cone that miraculously floats over a leaping Chan and hurtling Clark before Christian Johnson, flat-footed, snags the goal. Better lucky than good. It’s all evened up again. But Revolver needs more.
I ask Payne, patrolling the sidelines, how they will get the break back. "The old-fashioned way," he says. "We’re going to earn it."
But they don’t. Not yet at least. Gibson and John Stubbs are in cahoots out there, and they play give-and-go, Gibson catches one in the end zone, and Sam Kanner gives him a shove in the back, receives a blue card. Boston up, 11-10. Higgins helps out on the next play, why not, as he leaps up to tie Christian Foster in the air. Advantage offense, and they get the score a few throws later, it’s 11s.
This next point was about the other Stubbs, the older Stubbs, the former Ironside co-captain and World Games legend Stubbs, now anchoring the D line for Revolver. His task is to shut down the only guy out there who can say he owns this Revolver team, and right now Stubbs is doing it, bottling up Gibson’s cuts and forcing others to get back to the disc.
Inselmann gets trapped on the line after Stubbs corrals Gibson just long enough. Inselmann calls a timeout, stall count coming in on eight. When Boston lines up, they only have a single cutter, Gibson, 15 yards away and trailed by two unders. Big 6’4" Nathan White is on the mark, and when Inselmann goes to his around-flick looking for Gibson coming under, White cold stuffs it. The disc ricochets away to a loud gasp from the crowd. They work it to Rasmussen who pivots to the break side, draws a foul on his backhand, but co-captain White dives out with his off-hand to snare the disc for the long-awaited Revolver return break and the lead! Give a lot of credit to George Stubbs on that one. He might not end up the game’s hero, but getting a late-game break like that wins championships.
With the soft cap looming, the sudden turn of events and the swelling of emotions, you could feel Ironside’s season shortening up, slipping away yet one more time in the finals. And then the unthinkable happens: Graham floats a release throw to Gibson that goes too far, D’d by Revolver and now, you know it’s all over for them. Two breaks this late would be curtains. But it comes back on one of those Lazarus-calls, a foul call by the offense in the backfield prior to the throw’s release. Ironside moves it up slowly; calls are coming from everywhere as two former Paideia standouts are all over each other, Grant Lindsley guarding Josh Markette, and then Lindsley and Andrew Hagen get a piece of plastic on a tight dump throw to Markette, but improbably, Markette scoops up the vertical disc with his left hand gripping the rim before the disc swipes the turf, and now you knew Ironside wasn’t going to lose. Not true, but fun to think about as Ironside finally gets through the difficult point with a hold – 12s, cap is on, game to 14.
The Boston D is good, tight, not a lot of opportunities for the handlers. Finally Higgins springs loose under, dishes up to Rasmussen, who gets it to Johnson who IOUs it to Kerns, and it’s a turn. Kerns couldn’t hang on. Ironside is back in business. They call time out.
"Work it all the way!" demands a Boston player. But they don’t – instead Simmons floats a forehand, and Christian Johnson goes up but doesn’t get the disc fully, and Jack Hatchett saves the tipped disc, saves the day. Gibson eventually finds Stubbs in the end zone, 13-12.
Revolver receives with the usual collective out there. Everything is tight. It’s the type of point the defense loves to play. A looping swing pass has just enough to get over Gibson, and Revolver goes down the sideline, with Schlachet toeing the line to save possession before shooting a short one to Kosednar for the score, and it’s double-game-point.
Gibson, Graham, Neff, Chan, Markette, Inselmann and J. Stubbs for Boston’s universe O line. Lindsley, Kittredge, G. Stubbs, Rasmussen, White, Dallman, and Marcy on D for San Francisco.
It’s tight. Too tight. A Chan throw in tight space to Gibson, as Rasmussen flashed in front of the disc, clanks off Gibson’s forearm. Revolver disc. They center it to White, who finds Kittredge. Gibson on him, and a call between the two leads to a stoppage. Disc is checked back in, and Beau lays down a forehand that’s low and getting lower, and before Rasmussen can get there, it finds the turf. Boston disc. It’s moved around. Gibson, who else, has it on the sideline, marked by Kittredge. All the way across the stack is Graham, and I hear Gibson call out, "Jeff!" but Graham never heard it that far away – when all the other options are exhausted, Graham just ends up with the cut, and Gibson’s long arms do the rest in throwing the game-winner.
Boston winning is about as a big a relief as you’ll get in this game – so many years of expectations and losses for this Ironside team. There are a lot of emotions in the center, but young gun John Stubbs is just kind of looking around, surprised perhaps by how much these older Ironside guys had held inside. I asked him if he talked about this game with his older brother. "We talked about it," John smiled, humbly. "And I don’t want to say much more, but we were both very focused."
Alex Kapinos has been with Ironside for a lifetime. Back in 2006, when he was in high school, he was on the gold-medal-winning U.S. Junior Worlds team alongside Lindsley, Kosednar, George Stubbs, Kanner and Foster, and has spent his career in Boston, but with grace and humor, told me, "We had to get at least get one. I’m surprised at how emotional it is."
Jeff Graham and Jared Inselmann, the old guys giving it one last-ditch shot at glory. Now lying on the ground, Inselmann with his eyes closed for a second in a reverie before another joyous teammate fell upon him.
Gibson, shirt off, strode off the field a champion once again, just as he had been telling the Boston guys all season. "That was amazing. It was so stressful, but our O made plays, and the D was ready on turns."
He’s won three now, all with different teams in different cities, the only men’s player to do so. "God’s been great. I’ve been really blessed. They say there’s a Boston curse, but we felt calm." The Gibson story continues. How one man can make so much of a difference with his presence and his play will be a tale told for a long time.
Josh Wiseman, the veteran Revolver stalwart out with an injury for the finals, has seen it all: four national titles, three world championships and more. "It sucks to lose, but I thought we played great, and I thought they played great. That was a game that comes down to one final play. It could have been either of us winning at the end, but if it wasn’t us, I’m glad it was them. They earned it after all those years. That’s the best Ironside team I’ve ever seen."
Will Neff has been playing this game since high school when he was one of the game’s biggest celebrities in the early 2000s at Amherst. There was practically a bidding war in the college scene to get Neff, as dominant a force in the air as anyone. He settled on Michigan and won the Callahan Award there in 2009. And along the way, he kept playing disc in Boston, despite living two hours away in Western Massachusetts. All the years under the microscope as an elite player and years of traveling for practices – it takes a toll. Neff doesn’t try to go big in the air as much anymore, and he may not strike fear in opponents, but he’s the heart of this team, and he puts his energy out there.
"Having been in the community for so long, and in contention like this for so long without winning the title, it’s a big part of who I am," he told me. "To achieve this as a captain, it brings a fullness. And it feels extremely good to do that with an amazing group of players with core values and an ethos."
And now what? "I think I will sleep for three days."
Soft-spoken Revolver vibesman Nathan White was one of a half-dozen players on the field who also represented the U.S.A. at the World Championships this past summer. I asked him how he felt matching up against his former teammates, guys like Gibson, Markette and John Stubbs. "I definitely want to beat them. But I have a lot of respect for them too. That was a great game."
I had one final question to ask the great competitor, one of the greatest of them all, Beau Kittredge. I wondered how that disc hit the turf. How did he feel when he released it? Did it slip from his hands, did it feel pure? Was it fated not to be completed?
"I tried not to throw it," he said. "Kurt had called a foul just before, and I tried not to throw it."
Thanks, everyone. I had a great time watching the games, and I appreciate getting to talk to the fellows. I got to witness a lot of amazing games, and for that, I am grateful to everyone involved.
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