2016 National Championships - Men's Day Three Recap

Posted: October 2, 2016 08:53 AM
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Ring of Fire v. Revolver 

First up today: Raleigh Ring of Fire, hat in the ring, ready to rumble with defending champion San Francisco Revolver. Two years ago, Ring of Fire was here and lost a close one to Ironside when their rally fell short. This year, they rose to the occasion by playing bigger, better and smarter in every successive game, eclipsing their original 13 seed into the semis. And they came prepared.

"We love playing in the stadium," Raleigh’s Jon "Nutt" Nethercutt told me. "The atmosphere, the crowd, the energy, the boooooos – we take on the role of the anti-hero."

That being said, this team was still carrying a young bunch of guys. A lot of rookies and folks new to the club that weren’t on that team two years ago.

"We spent a lot of time this year playing more, not necessarily open lines, but lines that had different combinations. Those early season tournaments were not the goal, this is. We can feel confident it’s not going to be just nine guys there for O or D," said Nethercutt, replying to a question I asked about how they were going to maintain a high level against a squad like San Francisco.

Ring’s assistant coach, Dave Allison, revealed what they wanted to do against Revolver. 

"We might have Sol [Yanuck], Noah [Saul] and Nutt [Nethercutt] move over and play D line sometimes," Allison told me. "Grant Lindsley is an important cog in how they operate, so we will have Justin Allen or our young kid Jacob Fairfax on him – Fairfax is an athlete with size, so we will try to push Grant to away cuts and not let him beat us under. I’m not worried about Grant deep; I think his quickness and foot speed can beat us underneath though. We’ll have Tim McCallister on Cassidy Rasmussen, and if Beau [Kittredge] or Simon [Higgins] is in, either Fairfax or Hunter Taylor will guard him."

"Their O scores so efficiently," said Nethercutt. "We want to use our defense and our talent to stop them and keep our energy up."

Revolver coach Mike Payne, he of the shades, shorts and coffee cup, told me that they had scouted Ring of Fire as best they could, watched a lot of footage. "They’re extremely athletic and young, and they are about as deep as we are. They’re a momentum team. It’s incumbent on us to have great marks, work it under on O if the deep isn’t there, and create space with the stack and triangle offense."

I asked him about George Stubbs’ propensity for sending it deep for good and for ill. "George and I need to work more together. I’d like to see him use pump-fakes more."

So the stage was set. And right away, as if on cue, Revolver jacked it deep to a streaking Grant Lindsley, and Jacob Fairfax rose up and swatted it out of the sky. Ring marches down and…calls a timeout. Midway through the first point of the game! They score the break after working it around, and the sidelines go big. 

Next up, somehow Revolver sees Lindsley open deep again and sends it, and Fairfax again goes up big and swats it, but there’s a foul call. Upheld. Disc on goal line. Revolver works it around and centers it towards Beau before…wham, Hunter Taylor comes screaming on D like a missile through the disc before it ever gets near Beau, and he Hunter are off for the end zone. Some passes here and there, and then Taylor collects the bookends with a monster off-hand layout snag. 2-0 Ring, two breaks, and what they told me about pushing Grant deep and allowing their athletes to make plays has happened. And now Revolver calls timeout.

Why all the timeouts so quickly? A lot of energy was being burned up fast in this game. The question for Ring of Fire was whether it would last, and the question for Revolver was whether or not they would get run over if they weren’t careful.

Revolver scored on O. Next point, Ring’s Micah Hood sends one that would have been a goal with the old 25-yard deep end zones. Turn. Revolver works it up and in. 2-2. Another turn and a patient Revolver D line playing O moves it in to get back on serve, 3-2, four of the game’s first five points were breaks. But the Ring sideline – still, the energy is there. Hood again slices one too far, but they get it back, Marcelo Sanchez outruns Shane Sisco, Nutt finds his range, Beau uses his body to box out, and it’s 4-3. Next point – Revolver gets a turn and…calls a timeout. It’s an epidemic. Ring gets it back. A hammer can’t connect from Nutt in stride, low, but the offense should have caught it for a goal, and Revolver breaks again on a sick stick from Team U.S.A.’s Nathan White and…timeout Ring of Fire, between points. At 5-3, both teams had used both of their timeouts in the half. The juices were flowing; coaches Mike DeNardis and Payne were trying to control the spigot properly.

But no luck – Ring can’t get in the flow in the face of another Revolver clamp-down, and Revolver breaks again for 6-3 and…the Ring sideline finally exhausted its energy with their offense in a depressive drought.

The solution in my mind that should have been employed much earlier was Terrence Mitchell. He reminds me of Beau out there: He always seems to time his jumps perfectly, he catches everything, he has wobbly, awkward backhands and forehands, but the most Beau-like thing he does is Eat. Up. Space. He gets open at will. Stall count high? Offense stalled? Find Mitchell. He scores the next point. Was it too late?

Revolver takes the air out and scores with a patient O and cutter-handlers like Joel Schlachet and Josh Wiseman working it around. In researching Revolver, I saw Wiseman’s name on the original 2006 Nationals roster. He’s been on this team and in this game that long, and he’s dicing it up on the field with a bunch of 20-year-old dragons from Ring? Indeed.

Mitchell makes an instant impact and scores again. Ring gets a turn, and Hunter Taylor beasts one in the air, an insane layout way up high that nets him the goal and Ring a break, and there’s life back in the game for Raleigh. His reward for making an insane play? They keep him on the field for the next point, and he has to guard the big-man Beau. Revolver scores for half.

Trading points to 10-7. Noticeably, George Stubbs hasn’t boosted any deep this game, although his teammates have been, and they’ve been failing as the Ring defenders are strong. With Nutt on D, they get a turn with help from Jack Williams and send it his way. They score deep, 10-8. Overheard on Revolver sideline: "We need to swing it to a bail-out first, then to a cutter and not the top side." I don’t know what this means, but – didn’t help.

A crazy sequence on the goal line: Tristan Green almost gets a Callahan on a Revolver swing, picks up the disc instead, throws it away. Revolver drops the next throw, Noah Saul rushes into a turn that is called back on a foul. Finally Justin Allen hits Saul – all this happened in 30 seconds and 10 yards of space. 10-9. The pressure is on Revolver now, and you could feel it!

Eli Kerns, Chris Kosednar, Cassidy Rasmussen for Revolver – these guys were the core, and Wiseman and Schlachet. Simon Higgins wasn’t used much here, or they couldn’t find him deep. Ring’s Jakeem Polk bids on a Wiseman under cut and rolls up on his knee. Wiseman out. The others work it, Schlachet toes the line for a goal. Ring holds. Cassidy sends one too hot, too deep. Revolver’s O looks bottled up. They’re pushing it, playing Ring’s game. Nutt cranks a cross-field hammer to Nordgren for a goal, and they are within one again, and time is running out. But now it's the Revolver sidelines that are flat. Game to 13 now, tied at 11s. Taylor just misses beasting Beau, Beau throws a goal to Grant Lindsley. The Ring O has to step up. Work it down, and timeout Ring. Nutt jukes one to Jack Williams for the goal. It’s a tie game, double-game point. Ring calls another timeout.

On the universe O line for Revolver: Higgins, Beau, Cassidy, Kosednar, Kerns, Lindsley, Schlachet. Cassidy fields a dangerous one-hop pull on the fly and centers. The next pass to Beau in the flat gets caught in the wind and pops up. Hunter Taylor sees the opportunity and dashes in, but it’s over his head, and Beau is calmly waiting for it on the other side of its float. A wide pass is snared by Schlachet, centered to Beau, and there’s Taylor again flying past like a dart but no disc – Beau caught it, and flipped it to the break side up-field for the game-winner to Schlachet, 13-12.

And then, well, Revolver had a kind of mellow celebration. Great game all the way around.

"Pretty cool experience," Hunter Taylor told me after the game. "Playing Beau – he’s still way faster than me. I watched him jump over a guy in high school and said I wanted to be like him one day, and here I was out here. But truth be told, this game left a sour taste in my mouth. There’s something left out there for us."

I asked him about the two plays at the end. "I took the inside lane, and when it hit that wind and went up, I was out of position. I want that one back. And the other one [the missed layout on the centering pass], I wish I had that one back too," he lamented.

Ring played an amazing game, never getting out of it and giving themselves a chance to win. But maybe it came down to a little bit of that veteran experience after all.

"I liked playing against him [Taylor]," said Beau afterwards. "He makes you work hard. It’s a tough matchup. You know you aren’t going to get anything gifted to you, and he’s an athlete."

About the disc that sailed up and Beau smartly positioned himself instead of following Hunter into the air?

"Ah, the old-man tactic – no jumping. After 24 years of playing, at some point you learn to read the disc."

24 years?! "I started playing when I was 10." 

Beau’s experience might also explain the goal shot he threw to win after Taylor sailed by on a layout bid: "It’s a risky play, but I felt like I had it."

Risky play for Taylor to make that bid? "No, risky for me. He could have gotten the D, but it was worth it to me to wait a little longer to catch it in the hopes that he would make the layout. Because then I wouldn’t have a mark and could get it to the break side a lot easier."

So Beau set up Taylor’s layout by sizing up the throw and then waiting to grab it at the last second. Nifty play. 

Revolver moves on to the finals. "We need better dump pressure and a release valve on offense, and we need to clean up the mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes. We need to reign some things in and have the mental discipline to be better tomorrow," said Kittredge.

Finally, I caught up with Wiseman, still going strong after all these years. His knee is badly bruised, but he should be okay. He’s put a lot into this team over 10 seasons. How does it feel?

"It’s just so much fun to stay with it and stay with this team," said Wiseman. "Players come in and they become Revolver teammates. We work out and train so hard as a team it keeps it fun for me. This game, playing these guys [Ring of Fire], with their energy and quirky attitude – it reminds me of college."

"I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I can tell you that this tournament has kept us humble. We need to earn it."


Ironside v. Johnny Bravo

Before the game, I spoke with Jim Schoettler, the lone coach of Denver’s Johnny Bravo, the only team I’ve seen all tournament that consisted of just the bare essentials and nothing else: 26 players, one coach. No trainers, support personnel, tweeters, etc. 

"I don’t think Ironside knows how good you guys are," I suggested.

"I’m not sure we know how good we are either," Schoettler responded. "It depends on how focused we are. We might be an unknown team to others, but we are also unknown to ourselves."

That sounds both sage and ridiculous, but basically Schoettler has an old-school vision of replicating the greatest team in the open division, Death or Glory, they of six straight titles and the founders of an offense that was nearly perfect during their reign. DoG finally fell off when another team also perfected offense: Furious George and DoG met in the 2002 semifinals and committed three turnovers total between them in in a 17-16 victory for Furious George. Schoettler sees that vision or attainable perfection in this group, even if they don’t yet see it themselves.

"We’re trying to play that [type of offense]," explained Schoettler. "Take care of the disc. Be disciplined. Play within the system and see what we are made of. I’m not sure where we are in that process, but against a team like Boston Ironside, that is so good on offense, we will find out."

So Bravo is a masterpiece in progress, and while mining Boston’s history, it has become increasingly clear that Ironside is borrowing from Bravo – specifically their 2014 championship campaign when they had Kurt Gibson, Brodie Smith, Bart Watson, Jimmy Mickle, Brett Matzuka, Nick Lance and more – talent capable of taking them over the top. Ironside lost in the finals to that team, and now Ironside’s legacy possession offense (and well-known failure of the D line to generate scores off turns) is different this year.

It’s not that Kurt came to town, and they worked him into their system and that changed the offense, but perhaps more like Kurt Gibson’s presence actually changed the style of the offense to something more like hero-ball with judicious responsibility attached. What that allows is veteran talent to become more than just quality pieces, but pieces that are unique and uniquely able to get open and make plays. Take Josh "Cricket" Markette for example, one of the most creative throwers in the game. Perhaps the workload the last few years was too much, but now he can sit back and be himself without having to hit 45-yard hammer and 25-yard scoober goals because Kurt runs the show. Add Jared Inselmann, another singular talent with superb skills all around the board. At 35, he might not be expected to find a role on a typical club team, but in this offense, his age and veteran experience become a positive. Cricket is 37, by the way, and now add in the cutter hybrids on this line: Jeff Graham at 35, Will Neff at 30, Gibson at 30. What do these guys all have in common? Not just age, but rather that they are all bomb two-way players, and that’s why the other guys on the offense, Tyler Chan and John Stubbs – both young and crazy fast – fit so well. They are not role players. They are also aces. Now you have a line-up that is very versatile and the fact becomes they don’t need an offense so much as they need to establish common ground and be freeform. 

The typical problem with not having role players on your O line is that someone is going to be tempted to actually play hero ball. Structured roles and role players calm that down and keep egos in balance. But Gibson is the ur-role player – he’s a hero who can masquerade as a reset or dump swing or an up-line cutter. If he wasn’t so famous, you might now know how good he is.

On the field, Gibson is also going to tell you not to shoot it deep. And you will listen. He’s going to play smart disc and find the open cutter. He’s going to clear and create space when needed (not always), and if you are off target with Gibson, you’ll know. So bring on the veterans and the talent because, in a weird way, those are the guys who can identify and bond with Gibson, and now everyone is on the same page.

I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Ironside coach Josh McCarthy on Bravo: "Ben Lohre is a focal point, so we want to try and shut him down. Mickle will get his. We can try to force him out. And then there’s Westbrook and Rauls we have to pay attention to. It’s execution for us now."

"We feel good," said Tyler Chan. "We’ve been preparing."

Bravo huddle before first pull: "Respect greatness and each other."

First pull comes sailing down from Christian Foster. Bravo hucks it up to Josh Crane who dishes to Rauls for the score. Ironside turns it, Tom Tulett rips one to Stanley Peterson who makes an unreal grab just off the turf for a break, 2-0. Boston holds, Jeff "Grasshopper" Graham finds John Stubbs. 

Bravo is running a vertical stack in the center of the field which was, indeed, the standard (or only) set for most of the 80s and 90s. They look a bit like DoG, with both sides opening up. If the force lane is shut down, they can move it to the other side easily. And they have a set, so cutters know when it’s their turn, and throwers hit them in stride – but it doesn’t seem to be the traditional 1-2-3-4 or catch-hitch-man-buddy play calls of yore. 

Both lanes are open with good choices, and Bravo scores, 3-1.

On defense, Bravo is slowing Boston down. They get a turn, and Tom Tulett puts one deep for the 4-1 lead. It feels like a big lead, and that Bravo can hang with Ironside. But maybe not big enough.

"I wasn’t worried," Markette told me after the game. "We felt confident. We have so much firepower."

Maybe so, but Bravo looked good, and Ironside looked jagged. But Graham was out there getting wide-open unders and then busted deep, and Markette bombed it to him in stride for a big confidence-building goal, 2-4. Mickle sends a pretty huck back the same way, but David Ferraro gets in the way, and Gregerson can’t hold on. Ironside collects their first break. Kurt comes out on D to guard Mickle, and Ironside’s pull rolls past Rauls, touches him and goes out the back, so they have to take it on the back end line.

Bravo works it out, but they aren’t getting open looks, the lanes are closing. Ironside gets the turn, Wallack gets the score, closing to 4-5.

Oh, and another monster pull from Ironside’s Christian "C-Fo" Foster. All game – I’ve never seen such a disparity. Foster’s pulls were ginormous and pinned Bravo back repeatedly, consistently. His fill-in, Jack Hatchett, was good too. But Bravo’s pulls were awful. Half the time, they sailed out of bounds. The one before half went 40 yards. Such a discrepancy alone might have cost Bravo the game.

Graham goes big, ties it up at 5-5. Hatchett gets one of his Ds on a Mickle huck, and several turns later, gets the score. Bravo changes up their O line, but then Jay Clark swats down an attempted Mickle scoober, Banerji is D’d by Tulett, Clark swipes another one, Boston scores, 7-5. Bravo calls timeout.

Schoettler saw what needed to be corrected, but was it too late? The stack was getting strung out deep – the cuts were coming from too far away, so the hucks weren’t there. And the team had doubled down on this error by sending the hucks anyway, and they got D’d. He had them shorten the stack and be cautious upon sending it. It worked. But then those pulls from C-Fo rained down.

Gibson to Stubbs, 9-6. Mickle finally goes deep and catches it for a goal. Lohre gets a block at 9-7, but then Cricket dives under a swing pass on the first throw after the turn, and Ironside gets it on the goal and score. Momentum stays with the Ship. Bravo’s offense has finally gotten back in the flow. Score. On D, former teammates Henry "Hank" Konker and Gibson tangle in hand-to-hand combat, then later Kurt sends a not-great huck to Stubbs that Denny Bechis eats. Neff to Kurt to Stubbs. It’s 11-9 now, trading, and Bravo is pulling…out of bounds. Gibson sends a huck into double coverage. Tullet sends one too fast and far. Ironside regains control and scores. It’s all over now, save the final score which, appropriately, is a goal shot to Gibson. After all the handling he’s done this weekend, it’s a nice reminder that he led Nationals in goals with Bravo two years ago with 24. The game is over, 15-10, and the Ironside sidelines call out, "More work! We’re not done yet!" 

"It’s the healthiest I’ve been in my life," Jeff Graham told me after, explaining his resurgence. "The time off helped. That and adrenaline playing such a big game. It’s great to be out here."

I asked Markette how he got the big under block that got in Bravo’s heads late in the game. "I was thinking of that play all day. I think of a lot of plays, but you don’t often get them. This one I saw, and I got fortunate."

On the Bravo sideline, Big Jim Schoettler was consulting his players, often individually, encouraging them to play next year and teaching them tenants.

"They had a tight, physical D and seemed to know where to poach on our offense after the first several points," Rauls told me. "We relied on the deep shot. We had our chances in the second half, but they took care of the ball better. We’ll take this as a learning experience and get better."

"We got out of our sets, spaces," Schoettler told me after the game. Why, I asked? "I thought our offense got nervous." 

I asked him what he told his team at half, "That we’re beating ourselves. Have fun. We had three break opportunities and didn’t convert. We needed to do that."

What about after? "If you come back to play, we can improve. We have more work to do." Another brush stroke completed.

Twitter logo bird Follow Tony on Twitter @leobasq.

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