2012 US Open -- Open Division Preview

Posted: July 3, 2012 10:52 PM

Open Division Schedule (SRT)



"You excited, Neeley?" Sean Keegan, my Truck Stop teammate, just woke up abruptly from his 50-minute nap down Route 36. We’ve been visiting a friend in Boulder since Monday and our return to the Denver Airport to meet our teammates and drive to Colorado Springs has jolted him out of summer hangout mode and into a focused frenzy about playing at the US Open. 
"Of course." It’s been a long off-season for Truck, as our regional rivals Southpaw ended our 2011 campaign prematurely in the Club Championship pre-quarters. Every hour in the gym, every throwing session, and every group gathering has made us more eager for our first tournament. So while my simultaneous nod and grin let Keegan know that I was feeling what he was, my response was actually rather understated.  


Over the last year in a half, USA Ultimate has poured thousands of hours into its efforts to establish the tournament as a cornerstone of elite club ultimate. Moreover, USAU staffers have worked double time over the past two weeks to make the event happen in the face of the tragic wildfires that are still burning all over Colorado. 
For those playing, however, the pomp and circumstance that makes the US Open an event is peripheral. Starting Thursday morning, being here in Colorado Springs is about one thing: the start of the 2012 club season. 
The last seven months of my life have been filled with way too much talk and anticipation and far too little playing. After a winter of wondering who’s moving where speculating on which team is going to get better and which will fall off, here’s what comes to mind as I look down the list of teams in the US Open’s Open Divison:

Doublewide is without Kurt Gibson and Brodie Smith, its two best players. Kurt won’t be here because he’s going to Japan next week to play with Revolver at Worlds and Brodie is out because he’s recovering from a knee injury (and might have missed anyway since he’s playing with the AUDL’s Indianapolis Alleycats, whose season is still ongoing). The absences don’t end there: USAU’s Byron Hicks tells me that Doublewide only brought about eight guys from last year’s team and that other absences include big men Jake Anderson and Will Driscoll and key handler David Melancon. With all of these guys out, I can see why Doublewide opted not to have their results count toward their regular season rankings. 
Still, I’m not counting out a team that finished in the national semifinals the past two years. Doublewide is strong not only because of their top athletes, but also because their entire team buys into a system that, on offense, isolates receivers so that throwers can methodically take what the defense is giving and, on defense, plays intelligently and exploits mismatches after turnovers. Different personnel will be a challenge for Doublewide, but not one that makes going deep into the tournament impossible. Their first game is, incidentally, against Truck Stop tomorrow morning.  I’ll have a better feel for them by the time I’m eating lunch.
Chain Lightning

Like Doublewide, Chain is bringing an abbreviated roster to Colorado Springs. They’re missing ten guys, most notably Dylan Tunnell, one of the best deeps in ultimate. Their results are going to count though, so they have a bit more motivation to produce. 
I’m excited to watch Chain’s young guys. The US Open is Nick Lance’s first appearance since winning the Callahan Award with Georgia Tech, and I’m curious to see his role with Chain expand. Also, the team added Jay Clark, Nick’s partner in crime at Tech this year, and it’s always fun to see college teammates translate their chemistry to a new team. Finally, Chain picked up Tyler Conger, a college teammate of mine whose game is built on relentlessly breaking the mark rather than Chain’s traditional style of working the force side and hucking the disc, so I’ll be keeping an eye on how they use him.
We don’t play Chain until the final game of pool play, and I won’t get to watch them tomorrow unless one of our games moves quickly. I’m looking forward to seeing them play Ring of Fire at 10:30 on Friday. 
Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire isn’t a team to come to a tournament without their full roster, nor are they going to give anything less than 100% effort in every game that they play. Last year’s Ring team was young, as I had played against six of their seven starting offensive players in college and I only graduated three years ago. They’ve added even more young guys this year, so I’m curious to see where their experience crosses with their youthful energy. 
Though we are no longer in the same region, Ring is Truck Stop’s biggest rival, and I’m excited to play them in the second round tomorrow. The deal is sweetened because they’ve added another close friend and former college teammate, Matt King, who joins Ian Toner and Roy Matthews to make Ring tie Truck as the team with the most Virginia alumni. Seeing and competing with friends that are now dispersed throughout the country is one of the best parts of playing club ultimate. 

GOAT is another team whose results at the US Open aren’t counting for the regular season, and with good reason: ten of their top players, most notably John Hassell, Adrian Yearwood, and Andy Oucterlony, are travelling to Japan to play with Team Canada at Worlds in either Open or Mixed. Of the Club Championships-level teams here, GOAT is certainly the biggest question mark. 
One reference point that may or may not be useful is GOAT’s results at last year’s Colorado Cup, which took place in Boulder in late July. GOAT went 4-2, beating Madison Club and Furious George and losing 14-12 to Johnny Bravo. 
Johnny Bravo

Johnny Bravo is now four full seasons removed from the 2007 national title game and three from their 2008 semis birth. That kind of success stays with a team for a long time, but after losing a handful of players to rival teams each year since, Bravo has stabilized— this is the first time in five years that the team did not lose more than two starters— and is ready to build a new identity. The US Open is a great place for them to make strides toward that. We face them in our final game tomorrow.
Truck Stop

Truck Stop lost 12 players from last year’s roster and brought in eight new ones along with two that played for us in the past. Practice up to this point has been about dealing with everything a team with an average age of 24 might expect: integrating new guys, experimenting with who should play where, and building chemistry. We’re only missing two guys this weekend, so this is a opportunity time for us to continue to improve as a team. 

Kie is yet another team that’s here without their full roster since a lot of their guys couldn’t make the trip up from Colombia. I don’t know much about them, but Colombian ultimate is known for quick disc movement and very physical defense that uses downfield switches a lot. In watching Kie play, we’ll see where the top team from another country is in its development; comparing that to our own should spark some fun thinking and worthwhile learning.  For more information, check out this Skyd Magazine interview with captain Mauricio Otalvaro

All I know about Inception is that they’re the second Open team in Colorado. Much like Seattle’s Voodoo at the Emerald City Classic, DC/Baltimore’s Medicine Men at the Chesapeake Open, and the Bay Area’s Boost Mobile at Labor Day, Inception is taking advantage of the chance to play better teams in its own back yard. That is certainly a good thing not only for the team, but also for ultimate throughout Colorado and beyond. 
Truck Stop plays Inception in the final round on Friday, when we’ll surely be a bit worn out from our five earlier games. It will be important for us not to overlook them. 
After Keegan and I hopped off of the bus from Boulder, I sat down to finish this up while we waited for our teammates to come out from the airport terminal. I didn’t stay seated for long, as the excitement lead me to close my laptop and join him in an effort to jump from a standstill off of two feet onto a particularly high flower pot; talk about a sign of pent up energy. I’m looking forward to the entire tournament, and I’m happy to be providing my perspective to USA Ultimate’s readers! Let’s hope that, for my teammates and me, the competition gets a bit more fierce than jumping up onto flower pots.