2015 National Championships: Men's Day Three Recap

Posted: October 4, 2015 01:02 AM

Semifinal 1: Ironside v. Sockeye

In the semifinals of the National Championships, the last thing you expect to be a storyline is dropping the disc. But in the first half of the Sockeye v. Ironside semifinal, it became a trend too common to ignore.

Through the first 15 points of the game, before Sockeye took half 8-7, there were seven drops. Seattle’s 22-year-old Matt Russell got the party started when Sockeye had a 2-1 lead and the disc on an important break opportunity, but nobody was immune. By the time the half was over, all-star players like Matt Rehder, Will Neff and Phil Murray had all lost control of relatively easy receptions. Neff missed a scoober from Josh "Cricket" Markette that would have been a goal and a big outside-in forehand that would have put him just outside the end zone when Sockeye was up 6-5. Murray came out the best of them all, as he immediately D’ed Christian Foster deep after his first drop and had the good fortune of Ray Illian trailing the play on his second drop and picking up the garbage for a goal.

For both teams, the amount of turnovers must have been a surprise. Sockeye captain Reid Koss explained the huge juxtaposition between playing a team like Madison Club in the quarterfinals and then having to face off against Ironside.

"Going against them [Ironside], we saw the opposite of our quarterfinal game, where were against a Madison team that lives and dies by those hucks," Koss said. "We really had to do a 180 like, hey, these guys are going to own the disc, and they're going to want to possess it."

Perhaps the most crucial moment of the game came at 6-6 when Ironside had the disc looking to take the lead and get back to even on breaks. Markette, who had another great game for Ironside, turned his mark around with a forehand fake and then tried to dish a little backhand to the sideline. But Jesse Bolton had other ideas.

With a full head of steam, Bolton — the youngest player on Sockeye’s roster at 21 years old — went over an Ironside in-cutter for a ridiculous full-extension layout D. But he paid the price. Bolton came down awkwardly on his shoulder and immediately let out a cry in pain. After the injury stoppage, Sockeye worked the disc up the field until Duncan Linn ripped a big hammer for the up-wind goal to make it 8-7. During that sequence, Sockeye teammate Adam Simon and a team of trainers were trying to get Bolton’s separated shoulder back into place on the sideline. I would not expect to see Bolton in the final tomorrow.

Bolton wasn’t the only young gun to make a big difference for Sockeye, either. Another 21 year old, Donyang Chen, had an incredible sequence at 9-7 when he got a D and then a bookends goal deep. Cheng, at 5’7", snuck behind a much larger 6’1" Mark Vandenberg for the goal, the up-wind break and the 10-7 Sockeye lead.

"We told him, ‘you go out on Tyler (Chan), you just work right next to him and shadow him,’" Sockeye captain Reid Koss told me after the game. "Came out of nowhere, he’s still at [University of Washington] and just absolutely blew up."

For Boston, who was making their seventh straight semifinals appearance since the team’s inception in 2008 but is yet to win the big one, it is another year of coming so close and yet finishing so far. The team has to be encouraged by the play of Chan, John Stubbs and Vandenberg, all young studs who got significant playing time in the semi and played well. But for now, that won’t be much of a consolation.

Ironside had their chances, too. They took an early 5-3 lead after Alex Cooper found Christian Foster up-line for a break, but that was the last time they really had control of the game. Stubbs also played a great game while taking arguably the toughest match up on the field against Matt Rehder. He managed to contain Rehder and keep him underneath, with the exception of two deep balls he caught in the whole game. It was also Stubbs’ layout D and bookends goal on Rehder that gave Ironside their best shot to get back in the game in the second half, bringing the score to 10-9 — the closest they’d get.

At 11-9 Sockeye, the soft cap went on, making it a game to 13 no matter what. New semis and finals cap rules dictate that the game will be played to the soft-cap score. Sockeye took a commanding 12-9 lead after yet another drop, the eighth of the game, this one by Ironside’s Thomas Sayre-McCord. After the drop, Koss somehow got a swilly forehand through the teeth of the wind to Cheng, who dished it to Russell and all but sealed the game. After an up-wind Ironside score, The Fish finished the job with patient end-zone offense that ended with a Danny Karlinsky up-wind score and a 13-10 victory.

Some quick hits:

  • Sockeye veteran Ray Illian needs another mention. On top of saving Murray’s drop at 5-5, the 33 year old had two amazing layout, left-hand grabs on poor throws. Both came on his in cuts and both required him to get horizontal to his left side. They came during the 7-7 point and saved the possession that gave Sockeye their 8-7 halftime lead.

  • I’ve said it all weekend, and I’ll say it again: Nobody has better end-zone offense than Sockeye at this tournament. Every competitive team in the country should watch what they do and try to emulate the patience of their handlers and cutters. It is never entirely clear where the disc is going to go or where the cuts are going to come from, but with the exception of the tail end of the Madison game, this O-line always seems to know who is up and where to look when the stall gets past four or five. It is truly a beautiful thing to watch, and I’d be shocked if anyone has better red-zone efficiency.

  • Alex Simmons, a significant contributor for Ironside’s offense, left the game early after a bid in the backfield. He was getting concussion tests and did not return to the game; a big loss for an O-line that was broken late.

  • If I were Sockeye, I’d be hoping for a windy final. They are going to be smaller than Revolver, but nobody is playing better small ball than they are right now. Plus, a nice crosswind could give them the opportunity to throw some of their more dynamic defensive sets.

  • I’m surprised how little Sockeye has used Matt Rehder deep. At one point, I asked my former Pitt teammate Julian Hausman why they hadn’t been jacking it to him, and as Hausman said "we will," Rehder streaked deep for a goal. Still, I expect to see some more of him deep in the final.

  • All season, the talk was about the Ironside players who left this year’s team and not the ones who were still here. I think Boston shut down those doubters with their performance this week, and for good measure I’ll give you a few names to remind you why: Josh Markette, Danny Clark, Will Neff, Tyler Chan, Tom Annen, Jim Foster, Misha Herscu, John Stubbs, Jack Hatchett and Alex Kapinos. Clark seems to get better with age and is still near the top of this tournament in goals. The rest of those guys, with the exception of Markette, are still in their 20s. With or without the older Stubbs, Russell Wallack or Jeff Babbitt, don’t expect this team to go anywhere.

Semifinal 2: Machine v. Revolver

From the sidelines of Revolver’s win over Machine

In a dominating performance on Saturday night, San Francisco Revolver broke early and never let up in a 15-11 win over Chicago Machine.

With the lights on and the stands packed, the atmosphere before the game was buzzing more than the previous semifinal. Observers Mitch Dengler and Greg Connelly were practicing their juggling skills. Beau Kittredge was jogging up and down the field by himself, touching lines and exploding on short, quick cuts. Machine broke into a bizarre group of five pods where they all locked arms and had individual cheers; it was something I had never seen before.

After some technical difficulties on the PA system, the first pull was up and Revolver was off to the races. Because the game was televised and most people watched it, I’m just going to share some of my own observations about the game that came from the sidelines. In case you missed the game, the recap basically goes like this: Revolver broke twice to start the game and never gave Machine a chance to get back in it.

A quick-hit recap:

I’m officially a fan of Lucas Dallmann.

Before tonight’s game, I had never seen Lucas Dallmann, #35 on Revolver, play. Honestly, I didn’t even know who he was — probably because of all the coverage that Ashlin Joye and Beau Kittredge get. He caught my attention before the first pull went off by cheering himself on a bit and bouncing on his toes in Revolver’s final huddle. He reminded me a bit of Stephen Curry. Anytime you hear a player say "let’s go" to himself under his breath, you know he is dialed in. It takes a certain kind of focus and fire to be having that internal monologue to start a game, and I could tell from the beginning that he was going to make a difference tonight. When he let off the first pull and then came down on Chicago’s best all-around player, Jonathan "Goose" Helton, I wrote "KNEW IT!" in my notes.

Later, it was Dallmann who trailed the final throw of the game and went up over Helton and a Revolver teammate for the game-winning grab. In effort to get a non-Beau Kittredge perspective, I interviewed Dallmann after the game. As if he were trying to win me over for something other than his play, he managed to use the word "acquiesce" in our interview. I have aggregated some of the most interesting stuff he said to me at the end of this article.

Speaking of Beau…

Tonight was the second time I’ve ever seen Kittredge play in person, the first was as an uninterested player who just lost at Nationals a few years ago with the Pittsburgh Haiders. The most impressive thing about watching him play in person is how he transitions from a lazy-looking jog to being horizontal with the ground and exploding into a cut underneath. He looks like a professional athlete in person, and I could almost imagine him in a basketball jersey playing for a European Olympic team or something. Before the game started, Kittredge took the time to jog back and forth by himself up and down the field, touching end-zone lines and making quick, quiet cuts. There were moments where he took solitude under the tent as his team was out in the huddle on the field. It was fascinating to watch him and all of Revolver’s mental game, seeing how they stay focused and then how it translated onto the field. On every play Beau was involved in, he was doing something right, and the most impressive part of his performance was simply how consistently dominant he was and how sure his teammates were that he was going to play that way. The left-handed grab he had over 6’3" Michael Schwenk and 6’4" Kevin Kelly was one of those strong skies that few players can make. I would have loved to see Kittredge go up for a 50-50 ball with Machine’s A.J. Nelson, but it never happened.

Brett Matzuka is the best handler in the country.

I’d love to hear anyone make an argument for someone else, but it seems like a simple fact to me after watching him play this weekend. He simply gets whatever he wants, and even a team like Revolver couldn’t stop him from throwing fade-away scoobers, cheeky inside backhands, speedy inside-out flicks and cross-field hammers. Aside from one turnover on a short hammer that caught a crosswind as it was headed for Helton, Matzuka played essentially a flawless game. He did everything, too. He had a few beautiful hucks to Helton, he threw some of his classic scoobers, he got open basically at will on the dumps and he never seemed frazzled.

Revolver lost the battles at the top.

From what I saw on the field tonight, one thing Machine can hang their hats on is that their big dogs won the battle at the top. I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard a teammate say "nice position!" to Jamie Quella after Helton put him on a poster at 9-5, because it didn’t look like anyone but Goose was going to get the disc the whole time. Like I said, Matzuka got whatever he wanted. Bob Liu played a great game and — I hate to say it — looked pretty sweet with his long red cloth tied into a headband. Nelson went over a crowd of Revolver players on the one 50-50 shot he got, and came down with the one-handed hammer catch. I think those four players outplayed Joye, Kittredge, Simon Higgins and Robbie Cahill, the guys I consider to be the best players on San Francisco’s very deep squad.

Revolver won with depth.

Despite not outplaying Machine at the top, Revolver won in dominating fashion anyway. Why? Because they won every match up down the line after those top few players. The sixth and seventh guys on Machine’s offensive and defensive lines simply couldn’t match up with whoever they had to cover or be covered by on Revolver. San Francisco won with ease because those players were consistently getting open and consistently not making mistakes throughout the entire game.

Keep your eyes on Travis Carpenter.

Carpenter exploded onto Indianapolis’ ultimate scene this year, and he came extremely close to getting a couple Ds in the semifinal tonight. Both times, he came over to sideline seething that he had missed them, and you could tell on sheer hunger alone this kid is going to be great. I’ve seen him make a few amazing plays in the air, in person against teams I was playing on, and I won’t be surprised if he’s a staple of this Machine team in the future.

Not a lot of people wanted Revolver to win.

It may not have been apparent on TV, but Machine was the heavy crowd favorite. Revolver basically got booed every time they scored, and Machine was cheered on wildly each time Helton had a big grab or someone got a defensive block. I’m not sure whether people just want a new group of guys in the finals or if everyone wanted to see the Machine Cinderella story go on after they started the tournament 0-3.

I noticed Chicago made a couple subtle but very important mental errors.

For one, when they were trailing and Revolver set their zone, they did exactly what Revolver wanted: threw to the trap side. If you’re a young handler reading this, here is a free piece of advice: If you’re playing a high-level team and a defense is giving you something really easy, it’s because they want you to put the disc there. Matzuka seemed to be the only one who noticed, and at one point was visibly upset that people weren’t making cuts to the break side. Everyone just kept taking the free dinky pass to the trap sideline that Revolver kept leaving open because they wanted to jam them there.

Also, at 12-9, with 13:50 until the soft cap went on, Walden Nelson made what I thought was a horrible timeout call. Down by three, Machine had just gotten a turn and had a fast break set up with numbers downfield. Not to mention the fact that precious minutes were ticking off before the soft cap went on. I don’t think it would have changed the game much, and Nelson did (barely) complete a pass to the end zone, but the decision to burn that timeout in that spot seemed pretty bizarre to me.

I finally got some predictions right.

In my semifinal preview, I predicted a 15-11 Revolver win. It was my first correct winner and score prediction of the weekend, and I’m hoping it’s a good omen. I also said to one of the volunteers next to me, "I bet 20 bucks he bricks this" when Machine’s Daniel Williams was setting up to pull at 13-11, and he did. We’ll call it two-for-two on the night.

Speaking of predictions…

Tomorrow’s final is going to be a very, very good game. I’m hoping for a lot of Matt Rehder and Beau Kittredge one-on-one under floaty hucks, but I’m not sure I’m going to get my wish. I have been riding Sockeye all weekend, and I truly believe they are playing the most heady, intelligent ultimate here in Frisco. After seeing Revolver play a full game, I’ve got to admit they, too, look like a well-oiled machine. Both teams are deep. Both teams are experienced. Both teams have faced early deficits and overcome them. Both teams have perennial all-stars and a storied history. If Kittredge gets loose enough downfield, I don’t see Sockeye stopping Revolver, but I actually don’t think he will. This one is going to be a barn burner, but I’m going to ride The Fish into shore and see if they can bring it home. Prediction: 13-12 Sockeye


Lucas Dallmann on...

Covering Helton early but not again for the rest of the game:
"We have a next-man-up mentality, and we’re very deep…Goose is a great player, so he’s always going to be a fun match up, so a lot of people want to match up with him. Sometimes there is a guy like [Andrew] Hagen, he wants those match ups, and he feeds off that, so I’m totally happy to acquiesce there."

Their zone point when they didn’t score:
"We didn’t actually convert, but we use a lot of boxing metaphors, and that was our body blow where we’re softening them up, and so we’re happy putting "Q" [Jamie Quella] on, and he makes a huge D right there. And that’s just us improving, and we’re continuing to rise."

Revolver’s focus when you’re not on the field: "One point. We’re focusing one point at a time. And that’s not just the players who are playing, that’s the sideline. We are so deep, and we think we should be getting Ds from the sideline…We have to use that energy, that frothiness to inject into our D line. We get a lot of humility at practice; we go against one of the greatest if not the greatest O-line in the country, and we get shellacked a lot. A lot of brutal weekends."

Game-planning for a team like Machine and their handlers: "We want to get the ball away from them [Brett Matzuka, Bob Liu], such explosive throwers. Truck had the same thing. Their top lines are so explosive, so hard to match up with, and it’s fun to rise up to that challenge, and we take it like that."

Catching the game winner after trailing the play from behind:
"I think it was to me [laughs]. No I’m kidding, there was one earlier in the game that Hagen had thrown to Sam Kanner, and I kind of let off on it and could have made a bid, and so I was kind of playing that back in my head. I didn’t have a great game in my opinion, and I’m coming in after "Q" makes an amazing D and gets hurt, so I’m just busting my butt for my brothers."

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