2013 Pro Flight Finale - Men's Division Recap
Posted: September 4, 2013 01:47 PM
I skipped the first round of the Pro Flight Finale in favor of a sprawling Davis Farmer’s Market. To be fair, I had no idea how great the market would be, nor just how little one could learn from the first round. In fact, the first round wouldn’t be the only one difficult to discern.
One of the weekend’s many subplots was the cancellation of the crossover round at the end of Saturday, a decision made jointly by USA Ultimate, the teams and the tournament directors. They agreed on this decision in part because of the desiccating Davis heat and in part because of the inconsequential nature of the games (they would have counted for rankings, but Sunday’s seeding was set after pool play). It turns out they could’ve canceled the entire first day, which in some ways proved no less inconsequential – everyone played three games, everyone is good and everyone makes quarters. The two pool’s losers met in the finals on Sunday. We could’ve all gone to the market together.
While perusing the various stands, I stopped alongside another patron examining piles of rock-hard peaches and nectarines. We prodded and rolled them skeptically. The stand’s owner saw us, knew what we were thinking and corrected our assessment. He pronounced them ripe and sweet and pulled out a knife to slice a sample for each of us. He was right; juicy, sweet and delicious. Had I been doing the picking, I’d never have known they were ripe for it. I should’ve asked this guy about Revolver before I wrote my preview.
Apples to oranges, NoCal’s produce outperformed its ultimate teams this weekend with both Revolver and Fury exiting before the finals. Doublewide would be the farmer in this analogy, picking them off in the quarterfinals with a 15-11 win, which seems fair if you’ve ever laid eyes on Rory Orloff.
One final note before I actually talk about ultimate. I spent about $30 at the market and didn’t see more than 20 percent of its offerings. Everything was great, but I missed a lot. And so it goes when you’re trying to take in a tournament comprised of eight fantastic teams. I missed more than I saw, and I already told you about the fruit. So here’s the smoked cheese curds, the baguette, the almond paste croissant and a pun on produce.
When I returned to the fields, I learned that every first-round result was an upset according to seed. That first round set the nail that the weekend would eventually hammer home: for 2013, among the top 11 teams (include PoNY, Sub Zero and Bravo), there are no upsets. If we don’t know who’s actually better than anyone else, then it’s just a bunch of teams playing each other.
After the second round, every team had a win and a loss, and I’d had two cups of artisan coffee. Chain rebounded nicely from their first loss to Ring in as long as anyone except Ring guys can remember. Ironside topped Machine 15-12, their deep game popping like so many cherry tomatoes.
Revolver escaped the second round with a double-game-point win against Ring of Fire. Ring broke to make it 14-13 but celebrated with half hearts and disjointed cheers. Their response to the late goal was more like what you’d expect from a fruitless goal at hard cap whose only consequence was a slightly slimmer margin of failure. There seemed a lack of belief in anything more. But they broke again and mustered a bit more enthusiasm. On double-game-point, Revolver’s Josh Wiseman threw a leading pass into the end zone, a trust throw, which he floated. Micah Hood bodied the Revolver receiver, played shoulder to shoulder and veered under it. The disc shifted, and his knee buckled under the force of the pursuit. The receiver caught the game winner as Hood fell to the ground, howling open-mouthed in pain. It was a difficult scene to witness, Hood being perhaps Ring’s best defender and a joy to watch.
Saturday’s final round passed with Machine and Ring notching wins and securing second place in their respective pools. Machine’s win came against Doublewide, which pushed DW to fourth, and set up the eventual semifinal rematch between the two tall, athletic groups. At the same time, Boston was finishing Sockeye while Revolver handled Chain by the largest margin in any game throughout the weekend at 15-7.
Sunday began with quarters, and at a single moment in time, all four games sat at 10-7: DW over Revolver, Machine over Chain, Ring over Sockeye and GOAT over Ironside. Sockeye came back to avenge their 2012 quarter’s loss to Ring at the Club Championships. All others held, and we were left with semis match ups no one picked. Revolver was done, though they’d go on to win their remaining two games and take fifth, enough to hold onto their Triple Crown Tour regular-season title.
Ironside was out at the hands of GOAT, their regional rival and sometimes whipping boy, and on their way to an eighth-place shipwreck. All hands on deck, tack back and so forth. Ironside lost four games this weekend. They’ve lost fewer games in each of the last two seasons. They miss Colin Mahoney and Will Neff. Without them, every other defender is forced down the plank toward the opponent’s biggest athlete. But this could be exactly what that group needs. I like them to bounce back, but not until Nationals.
The semis featured Machine vs. Doublewide and GOAT vs. Sockeye. GOAT threw deep in rhythm throughout the weekend, and against Sockeye, there were margins to be exploited. Sockeye used Jacob Speidel against Jeff Linquist repeatedly, and that is a "++" match up for GOAT. Speidel has an inch or two on Linq, and that is all he has on him. When the deep shots weren’t there, GOAT didn’t take them. Had Sockeye snuck into the finals, it would’ve been compelling to see them work their zone look as the wind grew from an occasional breeze to a steady 15 mph. The Fish still missed Danny Karlinsky, but Sam Harkness and Aly Lenon continue making both the big plays and the small. They are two of the most exciting players to watch under 6’0".
On the other side, Doublewide planted seeds of doubt in Machine as they got out to an early lead. Machine is still convincing themselves they belong in that game. At 7-4, Alex Thorne missed Max Cook on a goal-line break flick. Machine took possession and looked stagnant until a dump-swing-huck sequence broke them out. The huck flew to Thorne’s man who was wide open deep for the second time in the point. The receiver went up high and earlier than necessary against the late-arriving Thorne, and the disc grazed his fingertips and floated to the ground. At this, Machine’s sideline moaned, disappointed in this shortcoming. There was a certain combination of desperation and despair in those moans that is specific to a team in Machine’s position; they are flailing in exactly the game they came to win. They believe they can do better, they’re probably right, but the belief seems to lack direction. Following that point, Doublewide harvested the fruits of that doubt and won convincingly, 15-10.
Machine plays a remarkably elementary brand of ultimate both on the offensive and defensive sides. On O, they often hit only the most obvious break throws, frequently holding and waiting for the open cutter to curl across the front of their vertical stack. Bob Liu, their most inventive thrower, is an exception here. On defense, they yell things to each other like, "Hey, remember, no switching! Get your guy." But at this level, barring obscene athletic advantages, you don’t get there by creating defensive islands. Machine needs to find angles, cut distance and help each other.
And finally, the finals. As mentioned, the wind grew to about 15 mph, blowing almost perfectly perpendicular to the field. Both teams implemented zone looks, GOAT’s more loose and clammy and DW’s of the tight, four-man variety. Both forced a high volume of throws and both generated turns. Doublewide seemed to hold something back, offering different looks despite a high success rate with the tight cup. I saw GOAT’s junk look earlier in the tournament and thought it belonged on the heap, and maybe without Doublewide’s unforced errors it would. But here, it created break chances, and GOAT showed more patience in converting them, seldom rushing, often finding upside-down forward resets to keep the offense moving.
Doublewide’s break opportunities were characterized by a Kurt Gibson-centric offense and tons of handler movement. The throwers seemed content to chew the acreage bit by bit, at times not even looking to throw downfield. This proved problematic as Kurt had an unusually large number of turnovers, and GOAT unveiled a nice capacity for the up-line switch to slow the momentum. GOAT also grew stingier around the goal line. On several occasions, GOAT pushed Doublewide 15-20 yards back from the goal line and eventually, on sheer volume, forced a floaty throw. Will Driscoll bailed them out once, catching the disc in a crowd and converting, but others floated to the ground. After being down 8-5 at half, Doublewide never closed, and GOAT sealed a 14-11 win.
The GOAT win is surprising on some counts and not at all on others. Put simply, we haven’t seen them win a tournament this competitive in years, if ever. They did it with 16 players and without some of their best young stars. But they were fresh off an eerily quiet near-miss at Chesapeake with their only loss coming to Ironside, which kept them from the finals. And most importantly, it wasn’t surprising as you watched it happen; they had a palpable tranquility with the disc balanced against a feisty-without-being-unspirited intensity on D. They are hard-nosed and disciplined and stingy when you give them the disc.
My only remaining question about GOAT is how they beat Revolver in that first round. But man, what a baguette.
GOAT was without more than one of their four Team Canada members in the finals as a result of injury or absence, including Adrian Yearwood and Mark Lloyd.
No one is more insistent on celebrating every goal than Sockeye’s BJ Sefton. Down 14-8 against Boston, he snatched the disc from a lunging defender, trotted off holding it in place for mostly just himself to admire as everyone else seemed to have moved on to more relevant business.
All weekend, Ring seemed to have a spirit disjointed, two half circles really, one slightly displaced from the other. Half of the team has that old North Carolina fire, but the other half doesn’t quite seem to know what to make of it. Being both burning and a ring is a broad aspiration. Regardless, they struggle and fight, but it’s at times against both the opponent and their own mixed nature. In some games, those together will be too much.
Sockeye’s Skip Sewell still lays out with the indiscriminant effort of a rookie. In his mid-30s, I’d hate to know what his body feels like on Monday morning.
GOAT’s Toly Vasilyev is a force. He has been around, but appears to be playing at a new level. I wonder if he declined a spot with Canada for the World Games.
DW’s Max Cook is a quiet perfectionist and a thinking man’s player on both sides of the disc. Watching him and Tank work the handler set is as charming and gritty as Austin gets.
Nate Castine typically plays in pants, and I suspect he was ordered to don Sockeye’s red shorts. He did so over the pants, and it was worse than the pants alone.
Thompson McKnight was often at the center of GOAT’s offense. I asked his teammate where he’d come from, and he told me "The Rush." Then I asked what that was.
Have any questions or comments? We welcome community feedback and discussion made in a respectful manner. Please refrain from profanity or personal attacks, as such public comments negatively reflect on our sport and community.