2016 National Championships - Men's Division Preview

Posted: September 27, 2016 05:00 PM
2016NationalsLogo 435x290  

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It’s been a long season.

Lots of action, lots of tournaments, leagues, teams, 2016 Worlds in London this summer and now, finally: the Championships and 16 squads left standing. What should we look for?


Elite club circuit guns for hire: we know them by name. Guys like Bart Watson, Ron Kubalanza and Chicken – he doesn’t even need his full name (but it’s Adam Simon) – owned this distinction before settling down. But of late, the only big gun that matters is Kurt Gibson. Since 2010, Revolver has won four championships, and the other two have been won by Gibson. And now he returns to Boston hoping to bring that winning touch to Ironside.

It used to be the Kurt and Brodie show, just like The Amazing Race, but this time it’s only Kurt on the field, leaving him with his Florida mentor Kurt Dahlenburg, an old-school throwback who owned the scene in South Florida by dint of attitude.

"For all of his talents, [Gibson] preaches solid fundamental play." wrote Coach Josh McCarthy. "And, like the rest of the team, he's very motivated to compete for a championship."

As a competitor once told me, "He is always the best player on the field, 100 percent."

Will the amazing run continue for Kurt? Certainly he’s Kryptonite to Revolver — he may be the only player who has won against them three times at Nationals.


Kurt Gibson was on the roster in 2006 when Gainesville’s Vicious Cycle defeated the first-time Nationals contenders from the Bay Area, 17-16. Revolver went 4-4 that year, then failed to qualify in 2007, but ever since, they've been in the hunt for the title.

One key to their success is on not focusing on winning championships. Instead, Revolver has flipped the script. They seek the smaller things and prize the journey over the destination, and in doing so, they’ve won more than anyone else in the last decade.

The Intensity Humility Discipline values statement is a big part of who they are, but there’s also the team’s desire to improve. "We are done with the era when teams could go years without a loss," explained head coach Mike Payne. "Revolver has never had an undefeated season. When we lose, it’s not that we are disappointed in losing, it’s that we are disappointed that we didn’t necessarily improve over early performances."

"We feed off our losses, and in one sense, we borrowed a mindset from New York, New York [the six-time national champion from the 90s]. Practices for NYNY were much more intense than tournaments themselves. Our practices are also like that— intense."

There’s a lot that goes into Revolver’s game but the primary one is talent. The new talent coming in to town offsets the loss of Ashlin Joye and Robbie Cahill. This team is going to be as good as everyone expects them to be.


If the top seeds hold, the brothers Stubbs would meet in the finals — on opposite sides for the first time. World Games and former Ironside captain George Stubbs took a year off from playing in 2015 and moved to the Bay Area, eventually joining Revolver. He will be a lethal fixture on the D line while brother John serves as a D-line cutter for Ironside after his standout performance at the College Championships.


Don’t forget Seattle Sockeye as a title contender. Just in case you forgot. Because you probably shouldn’t.


Not sure why the USAU ranking algorithm rules when it comes to seeding. As a semi-professional, part-time journalist, I can’t imagine how the defending champion (Revolver) and the team they beat in last year's finals (Sockeye) both end up in the same opening-round pool.

Let’s not forget that both teams improved their rosters from the previous year and have a wealth of talent from Team U.S.A.’s dominant Worlds performance this summer in London.

Sockeye lost some regular-season games. So did Revolver. So did every team. I realize in some sense that I am fighting a losing battle as sabermetrics geeks and Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs keep winning with obscure stats and algorithms that rule our lives. 


2015TCT Ironside   


We all know the story. They haven’t won it all, they always have talent: young guns John Stubbs and Mark Vandenburg leading the way this year while Kurt Gibson has blessed them with his presence. They will win Nationals one year, we just never know which year that will be…

2015TCT Ironside   


They lost the best guy in the game who could huck for goals from 60, Ashlin Joye, and replaced him with the second best, George Stubbs, and that’s just one part of the equation. They have way too much talent, skill, chemistry, height, ups, mental fortitude and more. They are chasing Death or Glory and NYNY, both with six championships. Revolver has four. The most complete team ever assembled? The deepest team ever put together? Such accolades are mighty, but this is one squad that might be deserving of them. Watch out for former Sub Zero star Grant Lindsley as a cutter/activator in space, Eli Kerns with the disc in his hands, and look for force of nature Simon Higgins in the end zone.

2015TCT Ironside   


A lot of positive intangibles here. They have a strong core that’s been playing together for a long time. They’ve been getting better year after year, and they are chasing city-mates Scandal, the cross-division two-time champions. All that, and Alan Kolick and Nicky Spiva are playing on the D line. This should be a strong squad looking to contend, make no mistake about it.

2015TCT Ironside   


Jimmy Mickle is a franchise quarterback. Jim Schoettler is an excellent coach. They’ve had a great season; they beat Revolver, Sockeye and Machine and only seem to lose to Prairie Fire (twice) and Truck Stop (twice). Will the run continue, or will the rocket come crashing down to earth in Illinois? This is a youthful team—as are many coming to Rockford. Is that going to be a good thing or a less good thing? Henry Konker and Stanley Peterson remain beasts on the D line. 

2013TCT Machine   


More like Mystery Machine. They win a lot. They lose a lot. We all saw Brett Matzuka grinning ear to ear and throwing 60-yard double helix hammer bombs to win the U.S. Open. Lot of veterans, lots of talent. They have Ron Kubalanza, and he’s seen everything. The time is right for this team…or they tank like they did at Chesapeake Open, or go 0-3 in pool play again — actually that won’t happen, but this team needs to have all its pieces together if they want to make a deep run. Look out for the usual suspects of big throwers in Matzuka, Bob Liu and Jonathan "Goose" Helton while newcomer Jesse Buschbaum at 6’9" should make a good target. Finally, there’s a rare opportunity for a home-field boost for this team. If they can stay loose and goofy, which is their style, then a crowded and raucous sideline cheering them on won’t be such a distraction, but rather, perhaps, a gift.

2016TCT MadisonClub   


Madison could also benefit from the location as this team is based just an hour north of Rockford. Madison Club reminds me of their pool mates, Truck Stop. They have a core that’s been together, and the team keeps getting better. But the season hasn’t quite been the same. A big mid-season win over Ironside was followed by losses to Machine, Rhino and Turbine, combined with that strange six-point drought against Sub Zero at North Central Regionals. It suggests that they might face difficulty when their offense has to grind. It’s the hope that their man D-line, led by Peter Graffy, KPS (Kevin Pettit-Scantling) and Andrew Meshnick, can generate turns and breaks, while Colin Camp, Pat Shriwise, Kevin Brown and Brian Hart anchor the offense.



Okay, so your team loses in the finals last year, ends up with some major talent coming to the city (Husayn Carnegie, Trent Dillon – both on my Skyd draft team, by the way – and Worlds ace Nick Stuart), and they get seeded a dismal seventh because they lost on double-game point to a solid Prairie Fire team at Pro Flight Finale? Ugh. Takeaway: Seattle is a championship city when it comes to ultimate. Under-seeded team, but at least no one in Rockford can claim ignorance. Insiders suggest that the fault lines may lie in how Simon Montague and Danny Karlinsky can work together as dual disc distributors. But if they have that figured out by the time they get to Rockford, then it’ll be the whole team getting involved and not just the Matt Rehder show. Of course win or lose, we are looking forward to seeing Rehder go big.

2013TCT PoNY  


New York is always seeded eighth or ninth. They are that team. They are on the cusp of the semifinals or the cusp of 13th. They are a big threat every year to take ninals. They have talent, they have chemistry, they beat good teams, they can beat great teams, they can lose to anyone at Nationals. I live in New York and have friends on this team. I don’t know what else to say – I always root for them, but they deservedly got shoehorned into a tricky pool. If they can escape Thursday, could this be the year they make a legit push for semis? It’s anyone’s guess. Team U.S.A. selection Chris Kocher anchors the O line, while mixed crossover twins Michael and Ryan Drost will show that they can generate blocks against elite competition.

2016TCT HIP   

(9) HOUSTON H.I.P. - D3

Shoot from the hip, a group of young hipsters out of Houston, the studs from years of Texas TUFF and Texas A&M Dozen joining forces without Doublewide — call it what you want. They are going to upset someone at some point, but it’s tough to push the envelope in your first go-around. No offense to them, but a nine seed is generous, regardless of regular-season record. It’s going to be up to their offensive sets and offensive chemistry to withstand the intense defensive pressure they are going to face at Nationals. Matt Bennett, Dalton Smith, Dillon Larberg and Reid Bacon are names you probably already know — Rockford is the opening salvo for what should be promising careers for these guys. They can and will play with anyone, but will that be enough?

2016TCT HighFive   


This Ohio-Michigan combo team is listed as being based in Ann Arbor, but even captains James Highsmith and Phil Cherovsky are from Eastern Michigan and Ohio State, respectively. Only in ultimate could these states collaborate. But I digress. They have a great logo, a pretty good twitter account – second to PoNY – and a lot of ballers. Would be a nifty sleeper pick if they can get by Truck Stop or Madison in pool play to avoid the dreaded Pool B second-place finish. But make no mistake – they will compete, and if they get the chance, they may even beat Ironside again. 

2016TCT Patrol   


They’ve got all the pieces: height, handlers, youth, coaching traditions, blue-collar players who give no ground. Might be less speedy than other teams and lacking in pizzazz and star power to take them over the top and into a quarters spot. But Philly ultimate loves to take out teams that overlook them, so your squad probably shouldn’t do that. A look over their roster won’t produce recognizable college stars, but beware—Philly has never had the same collegiate presence nationwide as other programs, but the Philly high school, league and college ultimate scenes are big time, so these guys know how to compete under pressure. For most squads, it’s important to list the marquee names like Jake Rainwater, but for this team, the under-the-radar locals you should know are Vince Reydams and Charlie McCutcheon.

2014TCTLogos PrairieFire   


From an old head like myself, hearing of serious action out of Kansas City is great. Back in the day – after the fall of the St. Louis Tunas, of course – there wasn’t much besides whatever the Horrorzontals were up to at the University of Kansas. Prairie Fire has been to Nationals three straight years now. They’ve, perhaps unwittingly, followed a line of success that Revolver pioneered: "Humility and defined roles. Players are receptive to serving whatever role is needed of them on the team, while constantly seeking individual improvement to become complete players," wrote co-captain PJ Matulka. "[We focus on] getting better every point, every practice rep, every tournament, every year." The results? Pretty solid. Look for highlight-reel makers Abe Coffin, Jay Froude and Matt Jackson, with Jesse White, Kaplan Maurer and Brett Hidaka on the D line.

2015TCT RingOfFire   


Dick Vitale would call this team a collection of PTPers – Prime Time Players. Sure, they lost a few close matches at sectionals because the regular season was a total mess, and they lost the region a very deserving bid. Seeded fifth at regionals, they had to overcome all those angry teams to win the sole bid out of the Southeast – just another year in the never-dull world of elite North Carolina ultimate. If there’s any team out there who can pull that off and then bring a little extra special action to Nationals, it’s Ring. With Jakeem Polk lurking and Jonathan Nethercutt, Terrence Mitchell, Jack Williams and Justin Allen all doing their thing, this could be a scary team. Down, down, down and the flames went higher… 

2013TCT Doublewide   


At regionals, a double-game point loss to H.I.P. followed by a double-game point win over Inception brought Doublewide to Nationals after an up-and-down Triple Crown Tour season. Early wins over Patrol and PoNY were mitigated by a series of two-point losses to Truck Stop, Bravo, Sub Zero and Rhino. Tough to say where they will end up and even more difficult to predict the relative strength of this year’s South Central Region. A lot of youth, a lot of turnover, but talent at the top.

2016TCT Dig   

(15) BOSTON DIG - C4

Every year in Massachusetts, there’s a wealth of talent looking to throw down. Often an Amherst-based men’s team will be the beneficiary of all the high-school-to-college talent in Western Mass, but otherwise, the central hub of Boston will get folks from Providence, N.H., and elsewhere who want to get in on the action. This year, that team is Dig, and they have Jeff Babbitt, Ben Sadok and Dave Reshef who propelled UMass to a number one seed at this year’s College Championships leading the charge. Will it be enough to get them an upset win at the big show?

2015TCT FuriousGeorge   


There was a time when Furious George owned the ultimate universe. They were the first team to succeed in merchandising with that angry monkey logo appearing everywhere, even inspiring an apparel company – Gaia. They were paid to fly out to the Dream Cup and win. They won Worlds (three times), Nationals (three times). They won everything, and it seemed like Vancouver – like Pacific Northwest mates Seattle – would always be a contender. But it wasn’t to be, and when their core retired, so did Furious’ sky-high presence. Now that they’ve clawed their way back to Nationals and GOAT’s power is diminished, will 2016 plant the seed that returns Furious to glory? I’m a fan of handler Kevin Underhill and cutter Gagan Chatha, but so is everybody else. Lookout for Morgan Hibbert on D and Tim Tsang on O.



First of all, the randomizer format of the past few years that produced exciting but ultimately cringe-worthy upsets was finally and rightfully scrapped. Now we can reasonably return to sussing out pools and predictions.

In order of how they will cross over to pre-quarters, here are mine:


Looks unfun. PoNY has game. Ring of Fire has game. This is Kansas City’s third straight year making Nationals, and they’ve shown some great success already this season—they’ve got game. Oh and Ironside at the top – this is a totally unfair pool.


Is tough at the top – the dangerously under-seeded Sockeye as the overall seven seed and defending champion Revolver at the top, always gutsy and game Philadelphia in the middle and a team, Doublewide, that won it all a scant few years ago. Then again, Doublewide lost almost all of those guys from back in the golden days of 2012. This dub team has, I counted, 13 rookies. It might be Brandom "Muffin" Malacek hucking to Ethan Pollack for survival. Put this pool to chalk, or pick Sockeye getting past Revolver if you like – either way, no one in Pool C wants to crossover against Seattle or San Francisco.


Truck Stop, Madison, HIGH FIVE and Dig. Boston’s number two team, Dig, will be happy to be in Rockford, and the others will advance. The order is a big question mark – a very important question mark. There is some good parity here. High Five beat Ironside last year in pool play (although it was made meaningless by the format). Truck is game to win it all. Madison is steady, ready. These games are going be fun to watch, and there’s a lot at stake. No one here wants to get eliminated early on Friday by Sockeye/Revolver, so the pressure is on to finish second in this pool – I’m calling Truck Stop and their battle-hardened team to take the top spot, but honestly, HIGH FIVE and Madison’s cores are both starting to peak, and it’s quite possible that Truck is already past its prime. TOSS UP.


Whoever doesn’t get completely knocked out of Pool A will have to face Chicago or Johnny Bravo in the pre-quarterfinals, which would be tough but doable. And the second-place team gets…Houston H.I.P.? No offense to the Texas bunch, but this is their first trip to the ‘Ship as a team, and even with a bunch of Bennetts, they are over-seeded at nine. Furious, the 16th seed, might beat them, and Furious also has a lot of young talent. Who knows? I mean, even Johnny Bravo is stocked with a boatload of college players recently brought up to the big leagues. Sure Bravo won some quality regular-season matches, and the talk is that Big Jim Schoettler, the 1997 Callahan Award winner, is an excellent coach for them, but the four seed may be too high for Bravo. This pool is going to go to the veterans on Machine, and getting the bye into quarters is going to be a boon for them.

Pool Winner Predictions:

Pool A - Ironside
Pool B - Revolver
Pool C - Truck Stop
Pool D - Machine



0-4: Ironside record in finals

1: teams from the Midwest to make semis in last 10 years (Chicago Machine, 2015)

1: number of times Nationals has been held in the Midwest

2: number of times Revolver has won the Team Spirit Award at Nationals on a tie breaker

2/3: Will Kurt Gibson’s second stint with Boston win him his third title? 

13: number of USAU staff members at Nationals 

20: number of straight years Ring of Fire has qualified for Nationals

60-9: Revolver’s nine-year record at Nationals since 2006

73º: expected Thursday temperature in Rockford

10:30 a.m. – Friday, September 30: time when half of the teams are eliminated

Twitter logo bird Follow Tony on Twitter @leobasq.

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