2013 Pro Flight Finale - Mixed Division Recap
Posted: September 4, 2013 01:43 PM
The 2013 Mixed Pro Flight Finale featured eight teams who made pre-quarters or higher at last year's National Championships. The parity of the field was evident as no team went without a win, nor did any go home without a loss. A total of nine games were decided on universe point, and only five games had a margin of victory of more than four.
While the Davis heat got much of the press this weekend, injuries were a major story of the tournament. To just name a few - Blackbird lost steady handler Eli Janin on day one and also lost several other players during bracket play, Drag'n Thrust big man James Hron went down in the second round of pool play, and an already-small Slow White roster lost several players to injuries and finished the weekend with just eight men. These teams will all benefit from skipping sectionals as they nurse their wounds before regionals in several weeks.
Though Pool A went to seed, the game scores reveal just how close these teams are. Iowa's Chad Larson Experience went 3-0, winning its games by a combined five points. The Bay Area's American BBQ went 0-3, losing its games by a combined four points. American BBQ's frustrating first day started early, coughing up a 12-8 lead to local rival Mischief to lose 14-15. BBQ would return the favor the next day, coming from behind to beat Mischief on universe point in the consolation rounds. CLX squeaked by both Minnesota's Drag'n Thrust and American BBQ on double game point before finishing the day with a relatively comfortable three-point win over Mischief, avenging their loss from quarterfinals in Sarasota last year. Drag'n Thrust split with the San Francisco teams, beating BBQ but falling to Mischief to finish third in the pool.
In Pool B, Austin's Cosa Nostra came out fired up in the first round with a big upset over the Bay Area's Polar Bears. After a close start, Cosa broke late to take half and extended their 8-7 halftime lead with a sharp second half to convincingly take the game 15-9. In the first round, Boston's Slow White was able to ride a couple early breaks to a two-point victory over the defending national champions, Blackbird from San Francisco. Slow White opened their second game slowly against Cosa Nostra and required a layout D and bookends score from new roster addition Rachel Poore on universe point to escape with the win. Cosa would follow this disappointing loss with another double-game-point loss in the final round to Blackbird. The Polar Bears would defeat Slow White in the final round of pool play, and this head-to-head win gave the pool to the Polar Bears.
As in the other divisions, the mixed crossover game was cancelled after a captain's vote. This game had no impact on the format of the tournament, and the teams opted not to play an extra round in the California heat and instead rest up for bracket play.
Due to a coincidence in the final pool play finishes, all four Bay Area teams ended up in the same half of the bracket. A few of the teams appealed to swap positions in the interest of seeing new competition, but the requests were denied, so this group of Pro Flight teams found themselves playing sectionals after all. Polar Bears quickly dispatched American BBQ 15-7, while Blackbird opened up a 12-8 lead over Mischief. In almost a repeat of their game with BBQ the day before, Mischief rallied from the deficit to force universe point. This time, Mischief was unable to complete the comeback, falling 15-14. In the semifinals, Polar Bears ran out to a huge early lead over Blackbird. Blackbird would narrow the gap, but the game was never really in doubt, and they ultimately fell 15-10 to the Bears.
In the top half of the bracket, CLX got their largest win of the tournament with a four-point victory over Cosa Nostra. Slow White again needed late game heroics, this time riding a layout D from Minnesota transplant Dave Truesdale to force universe point against Drag'n Thrust before clinching the game. Slow White's last-minute luck would finally run out in the next round when CLX won their third game of the weekend on universe point to reach the finals.
The finals between Chad Larson Experience and Polar Bears opened as a tight game, with teams trading breaks into an 8-7 Polar Bears halftime lead. Polar Bears were able to take advantage of a few CLX miscues, earning a small advantage in the second half. This game was evenly matched, but Polar Bears put a few late breaks on the board to eventually take the game 15-10, a result that didn't capture the match up’s closeness.
Iowa's Chad Larson Experience and Boston's Slow White entered the tournament virtually tied atop the power rankings, and it seemed whichever came out on top this weekend may emerge with the Triple Crown regular season title. Instead, third place AMP from Philly got a boost from the bye week and watched these teams fall below them to take the title.
CLX has had to fly to their only two tournaments this year, losing only in the finals of each. They are a clear favorite to contend for a bid to Worlds and have the roster depth to prove it. Whether it's Doug Jacobs generating blocks or Becca Miller making layout grabs, this team finds contributions from all across their roster. They have a great blend of experience and youth that will make them hard to stop at Nationals.
A big story during the weekend was the long-awaited appearance of Alex Nord for the Polar Bears. After shaking off some initial rust, he became a key part of the Polar Bears defense and proved that you can't forget tall. His highlights included a ridiculous sky over a pile of Blackbirds and a big vertical (naturally) catch off of a huck in the finals. Nord's understanding of the game and experience may bring as much to this young Polar Bears team as his physical skills. When paired with Greg Marliave and Simon Higgins, the Polar Bears can put out what might be one of the tallest D lines in the mixed division, which may present major matchup problems for their opponents at Nationals.
Blackbird once again seems to be peaking late. They made semis despite several injuries and still have not played in a tournament with Robbie Cahill. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can integrate him into the team during the Series. With Cahill and Janin behind the disc, it will be very difficult for opponents to force turns on this O line.
Boston's Slow White came to California with only 18 players, missing veterans Jasper Hoitsma, the Patisteas brothers and others. Nonetheless, they put together an impressive 4-2 record, losing only to the two finalists, and should be an impressive team once at full strength at Nationals.
Like CLX, Drag'n Thrust had to leave the Midwest for both of their meaningful tournaments of the year. They finish the season with impressive wins over Mischief and Blackbird along with universe-point losses to Polar Bears, CLX and Slow White. Their athleticism creates constant matchup problems for any opponent, but they will need to prove they can win the close games again elite teams if they want a repeat semis performance at Nationals to qualify for Worlds.
American BBQ exemplifies the risks of a poor showing at a travel tournament under the hegemony of the rankings algorithm. A lackluster Philly Invite put BBQ insurmountably low in the standings, but this weekend shows that they can contend with the best when at full strength. Sadly, they could not overcome the damage of Philly and find themselves in a region with just three bids, requiring an upset over Polar Bears, Blackbird or Mischief at regionals to earn a spot at Nationals.
A Tyler Grant-less Mischief was the underperforming team of the tournament, entering fourth and finishing seventh. Despite a positive point differential on the weekend, the finished fourth out of Bay Area teams in a region with just three bids. Though they've had a great regular season so far, they did not end it on a high note and will need to regroup in the next few weeks if they want to return to Nationals this year.
Cosa Nostra entered the 2012 Club Championships as an afterthought for most, another first-year team given the 16th seed. After storming into the quarterfinals in Sarasota, they reloaded this year and have shown they are here to stay and should not be overlooked. Their eighth-place finish belies the strength of the team; one more point in either their Slow White or Blackbird games would have given them their pool. They have faded on Sunday in both their tournaments this year, so it remains to be seen if they can once again put together the strong multi-day performance required for success at Nationals.
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