2016 National Championships - Men's Day One Recap

Posted: September 29, 2016 10:00 PM
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Round One

Truck Stop did not look crisp. Maybe they got baited into a crazy game with High Five. The wind was a major factor. Big swirly nonsense, garbage collection, swill and all defined the last four points. It looked for all the world that Truck Stop would blow it with a 12-11 lead going downwind and failing to score twice from short, allowing High Five the up-wind break. But they held, held again – and won. It was sloppy. They will have to get better.

Johnny Bravo went up, then withstood H.I.P. 15-13. Both teams were, in a way, unfazed by wind. They seemed to enjoy jacking it up-wind, in fact. Jimmy Mickle was a beast in the first half. H.I.P. tied it late, but Bravo, smart team, held the downwind advantage and used that ace up the sleeve to break up-wind for the W.

PoNY v. Ring of Fire was a gritty, all-out game. Athletes, but not a ton of throwers in the wind. PoNY went down by an upwind break in the first half but then broke it back, a laser shot from David Vuckovich to Alberto Alarcon. They held out of half, but it was as sloppy as, if not more than, High Five v. Truck Stop, PoNY eked it out on the downwind hold, 13-12.

The biggest game was Ironside v. Prairie Fire. Prairie Fire had this one, in a sense – they kept the pressure on Boston the entire time. It was on serve all game. The crisp handling dynamic duo core of Matt Jackson and Abe Coffin was dishing cheeky breaks all over the field, and Ironside’s defense could seemingly do very little to stop them. On the other side, Kurt Gibson was everywhere – called upon early and often. Of the first 10 points Ironside scored, he was responsible for nine of them on one end or the other. Will Neff, another tall drink of water, was his main companion out there. 

But for all of the firepower in Ironside’s arsenal, they looked flat (save for Gibson). They couldn’t get the break. Then at 11s, they got a turn and worked it up. In the play of the game, Abe Coffin marked Alex Simmons with Simmons five yards from the goal and an upwind break. Simmons pivoted to the backhand break, and Coffin essentially let him go with it, and Simmons turfed the throw. But then – foul call by Simmons. Coffin looked dismayed. They talked, Simmons claiming he got hit on the hip/thigh. The observers huddled. Coffin, in a high-level display of spirit, although questionable, didn’t contest the call. Pretty sure the observers would have let the call go. It was ticky-tack. Simmons got the disc back, stall zero, Coffin defending and forcing him to his second look, then third, then fourth. Then in desperation, Simmons does the same pivot to backhand break and throws the around score for the up-wind break goal – a huge point. To their credit, Prairie Fire held on their up-wind offensive point and had the chance to steal one on downwind D, but Ironside held and closed the game on serve.

The wind is gusty. The clouds and sun are nice. The fields are nice. Temperature good. It’s a good day to play ultimate – if the winds calm down, it will be even better.

Round Two

Winning proved contagious in round two – it was repeats all the way around. Pool B started their first games this round with Sockeye facing Doublewide and Revolver v. Patrol.

Revolver v. Patrol was crisp to start. From what I saw, four straight up-winders – two from each team – midway through the first half. Revolver played zone, allowing the veteran handler core of Philly’s best in David Brandolph, Nick "Migs" Hirannet and Trey Katzenbach pop and lock with ease. Eli Kerns caught a couple with just a fingernail, and Revolver stayed on top before closing it out 15-8. Sockeye cruised past Doublewide, as expected.

Ring of Fire eased up – or was forced to ease up after going down five in the first half – Ironside rolled easily to the win. In their pool, PoNY played gritty O and gritty D—they seem unfazed by turnovers, which happen a lot with this wind. Playing Prairie Fire, perhaps a bit disappointed in their opening game results, PoNY went down the upwind break, but just like in their Ring of Fire game, took it right back and then kept up the pressure. Lot of fun plays all the way around – Allen Jones and Brett Hidaka with some nifty plays for Prairie Fire, while D-line fixtures on PoNY like Jon Cox, Alarcon and Luke Wolckenhauer were among their many playmakers. PoNY stayed the course and won 15-12 to hold seed.

Pool A is now pretty much set: Ironside v. PoNY, both 2-0, winner takes pool. "Fire"-fight for third, as Prairie Fire and Ring of Fire tangle. The loser is out, winner finishes third and advances to the championship bracket.

Pool C was on a bye, which leads us to Pool D: Furious George v. Johnny Bravo and Chicago Machine v. H.I.P. Let’s just get something out of the way – H.I.P. has a lot of talent. Good vibes, good throws, big ups, height. They can play. Just like in the first round, they went down by what seemed like too much for an upwind-downwind game – four points. And then, seemingly because the opportunity was there, they stayed on target and closed furiously to 13-14 to pull after an up-wind break, big Kai Marshall with the assist. A Brett Matzuka hammer turn to the skinny side gave Dalton Smith the disc, and he fired one to the end zone – a tad too wide, the receiver couldn't connect. Matzuka, Jonathan "Goose" Helton and the Machine offense, despite some stale cuts and not a lot of looks, still worked up past the all-6’4" H.I.P. cup of Joel Clutton, Kai Marshall and Luke Hebert before punching in the up-winder to win 15-13. This was a near-exact repeat result of game one for H.I.P., when Bravo worked up-wind for the game-winner and same score.

Meanwhile, Bravo was able to take advantage of Furious mistakes to win 15-10, which set up Bravo v. Machine (seeds four and five) for the pool win (and is important), and H.I.P. v. Furious George for third/out. 

Takeaway – despite the fierce wind, there were no upsets through two rounds. 

Round Three

This was kind of a sleepy round. The winds did not die down. Most of the action, really, was between teams who weren’t in much danger. Exhibit A: Revolver was playing Doublewide, and they went up 10-0.

Sockeye versus Patrol was close in the first half, but a Reid Koss tight flick to Sam Hart up-wind ended the half on a break score for Sockeye, and they never looked back.

I’m sure he’s seen them a bunch of times before, but it still looked odd seeing PADA lifer and former Philly and Pittsburgh standout Trent Dillon on the Seattle sideline, playing against his former pals. "I grew up with so many of those guys, I love every minute."

Ironside and PoNY met in a rematch of the Northeast regional final. Boston had the advantage, and they squeezed an early break into a two-point and then a three-point lead, which turned into a win.

The two important and close games were Fire v Fire, in which Prairie Fire had an early advantage, and Ring of Fire closed late for the mild upset win, 13-10 – 13 seed over the 12 seed. Not much of a surprise.

"Revolver throwing the around breaks on purpose, knowing that the inside breaks are harder," overheard from Ultiworld, as all the teams battle the wind.

The other close one was High Five and Madison Club. Nasty crosswind on their field. Very swilly when I got there late. And then – a total hell point. Two timeouts from Madison Club. I counted five first-throw turns in four minutes. Madison finally scored to go up 10-7 with the cap on, and the game, really, was over. A sideline Madison dad, grinning, said "That was the ugliest point I’ve ever seen in my life!"

High Five punched it in to lose at hard cap 10-8. "Every throw upwind is a coin flip," High Five coach Tyler Kinley noted after. "They [Madison] showed competency in the wind."

In the day’s final round, High Five has to win against Dig to keep their tournament hopes alive. Madison Club and Truck Stop battle for tops in their pool, with Madison looking very prepared for the wind.

Round Four

We knew round four was going to be a good time – all the big match ups and seeds, save Ironside, were going up against each other. First thing I saw was quasi-hometown heroes Chicago Machine against the "no-name" churn monsters on Johnny Bravo, that unheralded bunch that ran roughshod in the regular season. 

If this game and this tournament is any indication, Colorado Mamabird is going to have a good year. Bravo started off with three, count ‘em three, straight breaks – two of them upwind – and that’s the game for ya. They win by three at the end.

Big plays all around – this team is legit. Jesse Fisher is a beast, Owen Westbrook can throw down. This team moves fast and doesn't get bogged down. On the other side, sure Goose Helton is a force of nature, but playmakers Brett Matzuka and Bob Liu are double-edged swords. When they connect, it’s lights out. But when they are off with their creative, big throws (and yes, they’re both: creative and big), it’s a herky-jerky sideways game of turns. Takeaway here: Look for some fun Bravo games coming up.

In elimination games to avoid the lower bracket, Furious George upset H.I.P., Dig upset High Five in a chippy game, and Doublewide withstood a big Patrol comeback to eke out a 15-13 win. Combined with Ring winning the "Firefight," all four bottom seeds moved up. That being said, this tournament is all about the top eight.

A crosswind and, at times, acrimonious tilt between three seed Truck Stop and six seed Madison Club was a solid match up and not the prettiest brand of ultimate, with lots of big rips, turns, gnarly D and all that. Then again, the wind will do that. 

They traded breaks before Truck crept closer at the end, tying it at 10s and again at the soft cap score of 12s, and when I return, it’s double-game point. An unwise forehand jack from 40 to the end zone came from Madison Club to a waiting Peter Prial for Truck Stop, but then the crazy-long arms of 6’7" Scott Richgels lays out over and beyond Prial to catch the winning goal, and it’s a mob scene…until it’s called back. On what, you may ask? The defender on the dump called a foul on the offense prior to the release of the huck. Because of the timing, it was ruled to go back.

"It was...awkward," said a Madison Club player after, still trying to process what happened.

In the end, the disc was still Madison Club’s, and inexplicably, after a couple of swings, they send it again – this time it’s eaten by three Truck defenders. Truck moves it downfield, and Rowan jacks it deep for a goal and the game…but it’s called back on a travel, which is upheld by the observer (and others on the sideline agreed). Truck works it around and sends it again – Nicky Spiva to Tom Doi. Game over, pool and the bye go to them, and there is a lot of feelin’ groovy. Madison looked very unhappy after the loss.

"It was frustrating," said one Madison player. They regroup tomorrow to play Doublewide.

Finally, the game of the day, which you probably watched on the live stream and got your money’s worth: Sockeye v. Revolver. 

As mentioned plenty of times, Sockeye should not have been seeded seventh. Anyway, they came out firing to take an 8-5 lead at half. What?! I missed that part -- a three-goal lead AND receiving out of half? They score to start the second – 9-5. "That was the worst half of ultimate we’ve played all year," said Revolver coach Mike Payne.

"They looked excited to be out there," a Sockeye fan told me about the Fish. A photographer (okay, it was Mr. Karlinsky) told me that Trent Dillon played "unbelievable" defense. And with my very own eyes, I saw Matt Rehder out there eating up yardage and catching anything within eyesight. Beau Kittredge was guarding him until Revolver decided that wasn’t going to work and sent George Stubbs over to Rehder, which also wasn’t going to work. Only one thing could stop Rehder out there, and it did – tiredness. Even Rehder has to stop cutting when he’s worn down. Even the aforementioned big-game jungle cat himself, Beau, looked tired and worn down, resting on the sidelines for stretches.

But was he? No. And perhaps therein the difference. Because sure enough, Revolver kept chipping away. A turn here or there from Sockeye, and Revolver gets a break. But Sockeye holds for the next one. Beau makes a crazy play, tracking down an overthrow that went past four players. Revolver inches up. Nick Stuart – now guarded by Kittredge – makes an amazing play up high, and Sockeye scores. But now the pace is slowing down. It’s 12-9 Sockeye. George Stubbs has been bombing away turnovers on D points, but somehow, Sockeye can’t quite pull away. 13-11 now, and now Sockeye looks gassed. Revolver, for their part, is still an army of action. Beau bolts for it, and Nathan White jacks a stall one forehand to him which ends up as a Revolver goal a few plays later.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this game was on a turf field, without much wind in a small, bleacher-filled A+ soccer field site. So that’s another reason these teams were flat-out tearing it up out there.

A couple of holds, and it’s 14-12, game point for Sockeye. Revolver holds on an absolutely beautiful three-quarter-field dime backhand huck from Cassidy Rasmussen to Grant Lindsley. "I was looking for that all second half," Rasmussen said afterward. "I had to throw around flick breaks to keep my man honest, and then there was finally that throw open."

And that’s where we get to what happened. "You have to play four quarters," Sockeye’s Reid Koss told me afterward.

At 14-13, a simple drop from Sockeye ends as a Revolver score to force overtime, game to 16. And then they score again to go up 15-14. And then Sockeye holds. On double-game point, Sockeye gets a chance when Eli Kerns can’t make another fingernail grab, but now they have a full field to go. Revolver’s D is absolutely on fire, and Sockeye’s D line playing offense was not actually going to score.

And that was your game. Rehder didn’t get this one; Sockeye again loses by one to Revolver. Beau and co. hold down the fort, and the big jungle cat is still king for now, deservedly so.

"That was like our quarters game against them last year," Truck Stop’s Alan Kolick told me. "They just wear you down."

"We’ve been looking for that all season," said Rasmussen. "This wasn’t an elimination game. We needed this test. It was a great learning experience. [On defense] it was about trusting your teammates. Win your match ups."

So the bracket is set. Ironside awaits winner of Sockeye-Dig. Johnny Bravo awaits Doublewide v. Madison. Truck Stop awaits Machine v. Ring of Fire. Revolver awaits Furious George v. PoNY.

I caught up with some Prairie Fire players whose day had ended and asked why Abe Coffin hadn’t gone to the observer and what happened on his non-call that led to the game’s big Ironside upwind break. They said that Abe had fouled him on the pivot, but not the throw. Would the observers have let the call go? Probably. That’s the game sometimes – with or without observers, sometimes the calls don’t go the way they should…


Twitter logo bird Follow Tony on Twitter @leobasq.

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