Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Labor Day Championships

So now that Danny and Nathan have got the pools up for Labor Day I thought I would toss out my two cents.

First off, I'm not sure about the whole 15 team tournament format. 16 seems like such an easier number to work with and it makes me really wish Machine was gonna be at this tournament. This isn't a criticism to the TDs and I wouldn't be surprised if Machine got an invite and turned it down. Regardless, their semifinals performance at Chesapeake was nice and I think a follow up challenge at Labor Day would have been a good way for them to figure out if they have a legitimate shot a SubZero in a month or so.

Another thing to think about is that these tournaments are more designed for sorting out team issues than crowning champions. The winner of Labor Day, much like the winner of Chesapeake, Colorado Cup, Sockeye Invite, Heavyweights or Boston Invite means very little. With this in mind I like the fact that there are a lot of pool play and cross over games. Teams want the chance to showcase their strengths as well expose their weaknesses before they make their Sarasota run. However, I would not be surprised if the winner this weekend was playing late in Florida.

Pool A - Sockeye, Boston, Jam, Doublewide, PoNY
Sockeye (4-0/3-1) - This will be our first chance to not only see Sockeye after their Vancouver performance but also see the "New Sockeye". The "New Sockeye"? Well, a lot of biggins are out the door now, including Biggins. Both Seths and Chase suited up for Team USA a few weeks ago but none of them will be with their Seattle Crew this weekend. Crockford will be sporting gold and black with PoNY and Biggins is with Revolver. Sockeye does have pickups in Dave Bestock and Jimmy Chu not to mention their Seattle area youngsters, but few bring the big game experience and talent that Chase, Seth, Seth, and Sam O'Brien had. Chase's size/experience, Biggins' strength, Crockford's D-line handling, and Sam O'Brien's O-line flare are all tools that Sockeye will miss. Jimmy will replace Crockford well and Dave Bestock is as good an O-line handler as it gets. However, Chase and Biggins are still irreplaceable. Matt Rehder is a great athlete but still has a long way to go before he can cover crafty veterans. Harkness and Castine are also great D-line contributors but neither has the size or experience to replace what 7 and 24 brought.

This isn't to say that Sockeye is due for some L's, just that the team will have to adapt. They have some of the best minds in the game and it will be on them to figure out a new game plan for the Fish. Their roster has changed a bit since their first title in '04 and I think their freakish size and all-star squad now has a more polished feel with precision players like Mike Caldwell and Sammy CK leading the charge. I've got them 5-0/4-1 because I'm not sure if this "New Fish" feel will be perfect on Saturday. Odds are they get a few close calls and maybe someone gets lucky, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they swept.

First game against PoNY should be all Fish because they are well aware of New York's speed. They may have been DGP close at Sockeye Invite but not this weekend. Second round against Jam will be a great NW showdown but I think Seattle's combination of experience and youth will work out well against a veteran San Francisco team. Doublewide could be a great game considering DW is the biggest question mark in this pool. I'm curious what the Austin crowd picked up from their 3 DGP losses in Colorado but I still think Seattle rolls. Last round against Boston will be their toughest game especially considering the fact that Boston is now big and bad while Sockeye has gotten a little smaller. If Boston's offensive strategy is ironed out they may have the ability to upset the 1 seed, but I wonder if their D-line can capitalize on Sockeye's high powered offense.

Boston (3-1) - Ironside is good this year. They only have 1 loss, in the Finals of Chesapeake, and I'm sure Ted Munter and Greg Connelly have all the notes they need to lead Boston back to greatness. Whats interesting is that a Boston team that was not known for height is now hugetastic. Jeff Graham, Kurt Gibson, Colin Mahoney, Danny Clark, Will Neff, Dan Patiestas, and Teddy Brower Jarus, are all great in the air. They still have great underneath threats in Paul Batten and Ryan Todd, not to mention all around bad asses like Forch and Stubbs, but their O and D will benefit from some added size. They are as good as any in Santa Cruz, but they still need to solidify a game plan. Their offense had issues holding onto a lead against Chain two weeks ago and veteran squads like Jam and Sockeye will take full advantage of offensive miscues. I like Boston to go 3-1, not only because they have the youth to handle Jam but also because they have the veterans as well. Unlike Sockeye, Boston's youngsters have several years of Club and Worlds experience and they will not crack under the pressure that guys like Rehder have yet to deal with.

As a side not, one thing that I noticed in Chesapeake was that Kurt was on their O-line which makes little sense to me. He's an out-of-stater (Dallas, TX) so he doesn't really have the opportunity to practice and develop the chemistry needed to contribute on the offensive front. However, his legs and throws would be an awesome D-line threat and I wonder if he will get points with Neff and Colin on the D-line. He seemed to connect well with Jeff Graham (who doesn't?) so he may have found his slot on Boston, but I wonder if this is Kurt's best assignment.

First game on Saturday for Ironside is Doublewide and I think this might be their best showing. The Texas crowd has been known for their depth as well as athletes but their consistency and composure leaves something to be desired. If DW learned their lessons from Colorado they might have the focus to score consistently, but if they take a few shots they wish they could take back, Boston will cruise. This will be Ironside's chance to show how precise their offensive can be and if they struggle, they could still be a year out on a semifinals birth in Florida.

After a bye Boston gets Jam and I like this game. It pits two groups of veterans against one another and while Boston may have the edge on youth, Jam has much more experience. This will be Jam's chance to get a big out of region win and Boston's chance to show that they are better than a quarters team. Depending on the Ironside/DW and Jam/Sockeye games, we could see an overconfident Boston vs a rebounding Jam or a frustrated Boston against an overconfident Jam. Either way, this game will tell us a lot about the Series.

Next Boston plays PoNY for the 5th time this year. Look for Boston to cruise yet again and in the last round, like the Jam game, who knows? Boston has slipped only once this year and finally, they have the athletes to match up well against Sockeye. The only thing Sockeye has that Boston does not is established chemistry and I think this gives them the edge. Sockeye's defenders are stellar and I see them taking advantage of any lapses in judgement on Boston's part. If Boston gets a shot at victory though, it will be a huge win for the Northeast and a major reality check for Sockeye.

Jam (2-2) - I have this conception that Jam is this rickety old crew but I could be wrong. Safdie won the Callahan the year before Nord and both Husak and Namkung played for Team USA (masters). Steets was around for UCSB's last National title and Eastham and Cissna have been out of Davis for a while now. But as Furious showed in Vancouver, age is just a number. When you throw Gabe and Bart into this mix of veterans, not to mention Idris and Damien Scott, you have the most experienced squad in the country and they could be better than ever in '08. They won the NW on their way to the #1 overall seed in Sarasota last year and now that the Justice League debacle is well behind them, they could take the NW again. However, they have yet to earn a big win this year. They took out Subzero and Revolver at Colorado Cup, but Bravo continues to own them and a young Condor teams is 2-1 against them this year.

Their first game of the day will be against Sockeye and this will be the freshest they will be so look for this to be their best performance. Ideally their all-star talent has all the kinks worked out but I'm still doubtful on their defensive ability given their lack of college upstarts.

I already discussed the Jam/Boston game so I'll move on to DW. This game will be tough for Texas because they aren't as deep as Jam. Depending on their performance in the previous rounds they could be fired up to give the SF crowd trouble and judging from Jam's losses to the Condors and Truck Stop, they aren't invincible. However, Jam seems to have DW's number with a 13-8 win over them in Colorado. This could be close, but I like Jam.

Last round will be against PoNY and I think New York should aim high in this game. A victory over Boston or Sockeye is pretty far fetched but Jam could be just what the doctor ordered. PoNY has caught unfamiliar teams sleeping when they face off and Jam may have missed a crucial scouting opportunity by passing on Sockeye Invite. I like PoNY's faceless feel against Jam's all stars and I'm curious to know if PoNY can rattle off a few scores early while Jam is still trying to adjust. Best of luck Jody and BVH.

Doublewide (1-3/0-4) - I was really impressed with Doublewide's performance at Colorado Cup and I'm really curious to know what they do for an encore. For a team trying to play to its potential three double game point losses is probably not what they wanted. I sincerely hope the Austin crowd picked up a few lessons, but even if they did, I'm not sure it will help them here. Keeping their composure is more of a Regionals lesson that they'll need against Ronin.

As for their Saturday performance, I think they'll have a tough time with Boston but it will prep them well for their biggest game of the day, PoNY. If DW hopes to make power pools in Sarasota, taking out New York is not a tall order. PoNY is trying to get out the NE for the first time, but given their results thus far, they still have a way to go. Texas has all the pieces, they just need to put them together. Sockeye is up next and I see the Fish having their way with a tired out Doublewide team. Jam could be a close one, but I think Frisco's experience at this level gives them the edge to close out Doublewide to end the day.

PoNY (1-3/0-4) - If PoNY thinks they are going to make Nationals they really need to secure a win on Saturday. Right now they are 4th in their own region and despite their A-list tournament schedule, their season has not gone as well as it could have. They have two losses to Bodhi not to mention a 1-6 performance at Chesapeake. I like them to give Jam a scare but Boston and Sockeye should have little trouble. Doublewide could be their chance at a W but like DW, this is their one and only shot at a win on Saturday and both will leave it all on the field. Hopefully PoNY picks up whatever they need and I would not be surprised if they are happy with the Labor Day experience despite whatever the score reporter says.

Pool B - Johnny Bravo, Furious George, Truck Stop, Sub Zero, Rhino
JB (4-0/3-1) - Now that Chicken is a Yalie, I had the chance to talk to him about his team a little bit. Without Beau or Popes in Maryland, Bravo had a less than stellar performance. However, I imagine both will be in attendance and so we will see a totally different Bravo. At the beginning of the year I had Bravo pegged to win it all, but now I wonder. Hector's O-LINE!! contribution looks like it is missed and I think Rabbit is also a player that Boulder wishes they still had. Justin's work ethic and under the radar play making was a big part of Bravo, as well as Mamabird, and I think his break is not good for the Boulder boys. Big Jim, Polar Bear and the rest of their pick ups are excellent but it takes a very special player to impact a team right away. Even guys like Gibson and Zip had issues right away with Boston and Chain and I wonder if Bravo is as good as they were last year.

However, with their full roster, they should be red hot. First game is against whats left of Rhino and I expect nothing short of domination. Next round will be against Truck Stop and despite difficulty with players like Ryan Morgan and Gorgeous George Strange, I think Bravo will be ready. These two games will get the wheels turning for the Rocket before they face off against SubZero. Depending on seeding in Florida, this could be a quarters or semifinals game and when you consider the number of guys that were on Mamabird and the Hodags, this should be an awesome game. Going back to 2003, Colorado and Wisconsin seem to see eachother a lot at College Nationals: Semis '03 (Wisconsin), Quarters '04 (Colorado), Quarters '05 (Colorado), should have been semis '06, Finals '07 (Wisconsin), Semis '08 (Wisconsin). The Hodags have taken the last few but I think Jolian, Chicken, Parker, Beau, and Richter are ready to put the hurt on. Lindsley should be ready to be play his best and I hope he and Hector have figured out their O-line assignments by now. However, I don't see SubZero handling Beau or Popes particularly well, especially with Parker behind the disc. And even if they do, Willy D will gut them underneath. Bottom line, this game will be good and I like Bravo.

The last round, however, is the game of the day. Furious gets the an understandable 5 seed but I'm having a tough time remembering when these two guys played eachother last. They were set to meet in Semis last October, but that didn't happen and now that Furious has shed their Vancouver pickups, I wonder what they'll bring. After this game we may have an idea of whether or not the "double peak" will be an issue for Furious, but they could be on their way down and could be better here, than in Florida, again. This game is anyone's guess, but I think Bravo's legs will give Furious trouble.

Furious George (3-1/2-2) - Stay objective Match. This is a tough call, and I think I'm going to be overly critical of my guys. In Vancouver, Canada had several pickups and they will not be there in Santa Cruz. Canada's O-line depended on Mike Grant to John Hassell (and vice versa) and that will be a duo that will be missed. I'm sure someone like Savage, Marc Roberts or Mike Enns will be able to pick up the slack, but I wonder if it will be enough. One thing I can't forget though (as if I would) was my interview with Mike Grant. I asked him after he won gold if he expected to do this well, and he said "You have to, otherwise you won't". These guys are competitors down to the bone and after 4 years of shedding broken arm cob webs, I think MG is the best he's been since 02/03 and the Furious guys come to do one thing, win.

Furious will have a tough day beginning to end though. They start the day with a rematch of SubZero. This is the game that has me scratching my head for that 3-1 or 2-2. Furious under performed at Sarasota but the Minnesota guys are still very good. In addition, they hate Furious. They had a 17-16 loss in quarters to them a few years back and after tasting blood at UPAs last Fall, they know they can get them again. Depending on how Furious comes out the first few points, they could beat SZ the way they beat Team USA. Go up a few breaks and then cruise. SubZero's D will be fierce but I keep thinking about Muffin's injury and I wonder how well their D-line will be able to score without such a powerful flick.

After the bye, Furious takes on Truck Stop and I don't see a repeat of Sarasota. Morgan told me a while back that come Sarasota things just clicked and plays just happened but after their 0-3 performance, I'm sure they will take their play making very seriously. I would hope that every player on Furious would want their shot to make the play they didn't 10 months ago and I think they flip their last performance, 15-10.

Rhino will be an easier contest for Furious and I would imagine the Monkies will integrate their bench into this game. Saving their legs for Bravo will be important.

Like I already said, the last round game between JB and Furious will be the game of the day and I have no idea what will go down. Bravo is coming off a poor performance and Furious is coming off a great one. Furious has a tendency to be a totally different team if they really want it and I wonder if they will really want it late on Saturday. As I said, I think MG is at his best in the sense that his flick is so devastating. He has always been a monster in the air, but with his flick, his contribution behind the disc and downfield will be felt. In addition, guys like Nick Menzies played their hearts out in Vancouver but was just shy of making a huge play in the Finals. That intensity can and should be there in Santa Cruz and considering how ice cold FG can play if they want to, they could take the pool 4-0. But then again, Bravo is really F-ing good.

Truck Stop (1-3) - At the beginning of the year, I had Truck Stop getting past Ring in the Mid Atlantic, but now I'm not so sure. They failed to really make any noise at Caz or BI and they may have made the Finals at Colorado Cup, but a 3-way tie and back to back games against Bravo aren't the best indications of performance capability. I think they have the experience and the personal to get past Ring, but they need to put together a well executed offense. Getting past SubZero or Furious will be their mission and I wonder if they have a game plan that can get past Minnesota's depth or Vancouver's talent.

After a first round bye they play Bravo and this game won't be close. Bravo will be coming off a game with Rhino to get the blood flowing and all their personal should be their to stomp on Truck Stop.

Second game will be against Furious and like Bravo, Furious will have them well inside their cross hairs. Truck Stop made a lot of noise by making quarters last year and finals at CC, but now they are on everyone's radar and Furious will bring a well executed game plan. Last Fall Truck Stop took out Furious first thing, but now Furious will be coming off a tough game against SZ and regardless of the outcome, will be ready for DC, who will have just played a brutal Bravo game.

Third round Truck Stop gets another tough opponent in SZ and will be on their last leg after games against Bravo and Furious. I don't see how they could get past SZ, but I've been wrong before. Depending on Zero's injury status, they could cruise or duke it out in a close one. Either way, I think Truck Stop will have their work cut out for them.

Last round TS finally gets a game they can win against Rhino and I do hope they have something left in the tank. 4 games in a row, 3 of which are against quarters teams or better, is a tough day but I'm sure TS would like a win to go party with. Rhino will have had an equally challenging day and will be ready for TS. They have to be aware of what they are up against and a Mid Atlantic team is probably their best shot at a W on Saturday.

SubZero (2-2/3-1) - SubZero has to be looking forward to this tournament. Colorado and Maryland were not what they wanted but Labor Day has been on the Calendar since Winter and I like their 4th seed status for upset purposes. This is their chance to test themselves before Regionals where they will have to keep Machine in line. I'm not sure how Muffin is doing, but SZ's depth should help them in this grueling pool.

Their first game is against Furious and I really hope they keep their last performance out of their minds. They will see an entirely different team and rather than focus on an 0-3 Furious (or even a gold medal one) they should think about themselves. Execute an offense that will frustrate even the most athletic defenders. Good decision after good decision will get them the win, but if they let their aggression and intensity get the better of them, the Vancouver veterans will pwn. SubZero will have to stay with Furious in the first half if they want to win this game because a second half deficit will not be good to them. Likewise, if they can get up on Furious quickly, they might be able to take the air out the Monkey's tires and keep them from heating up in the middle third of the game.

After a great SZ/FG game, SubZero gets Rhino and they should not have much trouble. Rhino didn't go to Colorado, so SZ has yet to see them, but the experienced veterans should eat the Eugene youngsters alive. I hate to hate on Rhino, but they just aren't the quarters team they were and SubZero is getting better and better. Best of luck Oregon.

Last round should go in SZ's favor. They took out DC 15-10 last Fall in pool play and I imagine the same thing will go down.

Rhino (0-4) - Prove me wrong

Pool C - Chain Lighting, GOAT, Revolver, Ring of Fire, Condors
Chain (3-1) - After a great showing in Maryland, this weekend is Chain's opportunity to show that they have the consistency to reel in at least a 2 seed in Sarasota. Their pickups seem to be just what the doctor ordered and have added the depth their veteran roster needed. They weren't undefeated in Maryland and they also didn't play GOAT or Ring. I was very surprised (and impressed) with their comeback against Boston and I'm curious to know what they will do against 3 tough teams they have not faced in '08.

First round against the Condors should go smoothly for Atlanta. They might not have the chemistry that Sockeye, Bravo, or Furious have, but they are wayy ahead of a young Condor team and also have one of the best Santa Barbara players.

I like Revolver this year and I think round 2 will go in favor of the Bay Area. The Stanford guys are as fast and crafty as it gets and I think they will have a game plan Chain isn't ready for. Wiseman, Sherwood and Cahill are three devastating threats and Zip can't cover all of them and I haven't even mentioned Biggins or Tyler Grant. Dylan could take a shot at one of them, but he has had issues with handling Stanford's best. For this reason, I like Revolver to take this game, but like Chain (and GOAT) I think they go 3-1.

Third round will be against Ring and this game could be interesting. A few years ago, I think this game would be a toss up but I think Chain is a little older and I think they have really put an emphasis on consistency. This will be tough for Ring to handle and while I think there will be several exciting plays from these near neighbors, I like Chain to come out on top.

After the bye Chain will get their hands on GOAT and I like Atlanta. GOAT is a fine team but Chain will be thinking about their DGP loss to them in Quarters last Fall and Chain will bring an intensity GOAT cannot answer. The Toronto crowd has its fair share of height as well as squirrley handlers, but I don't see them matching the intensity that Dylan will orchestrate for Chain.

GOAT (3-1) - GOAT had nearly half their roster in Vancouver and it's time for them to cash in on that experience. They will get all sorts of challenges and considering every part of their game is experienced from their deep threats, to handlers, to their leadership, they can and should succeed on Saturday.

Their first game against Ring will be a nice rematch from 2 weekends ago and I like GOAT's focus against Ring's emotion. After a bye they'll get a shot at Revolver and I think GOAT is the only team to take down the Stanford crowd. Their height will be the advantage and I think despite Seth's incorporation into the South Bay Squad, GOAT should still frustrate and win. After duking it out with the Condors in a one sided game, GOAT will get the 1 seed and I like the quarters rematch to go in favor of Hot-lanta. GOAT has improved experience wise, but so has Chain and while Hassell, St-Amant, Ouchterlony, Lindquist and Scotty Nicholls are all gold medalists, Chain's veterans have years of Sarasota behind them and I like CL's odds.

Revolver (3-1) - These guys are ready to dominate this year. Colorado Cup could have gone better but they, like Jam, are more or less the home team. They have made quarters in the past and their roster has only gotten better. Tyler Grant and Seth Wiggins are great additions and I like Tyler on the O-line and Seth on D. Wiseman is also probably the best player to ever come out of Stanford and with less pressure on Sherwood in the Club scene, he will get some easier assignments. I'm not sure what Cahill will bring now that he is an out-of-stater (Seattle, WA), but I think the Revolver that won Cal States and made finals at Solstice will be ready to ball in Santa Cruz.

After a first round bye, the Bloodthirsty alums get 4 games in a row. First is Chain and despite the Atlanta guys coming off a win against the Condors, I like Revolver. The Palo Alto guys will run a very precise offense and play some of the best man D at the tournament. I think Chain goes deep a lot and despite great cutters, Revolver will capitalize here and there to earn the breaks they need to win.

With an upset in their pocket, I think they assume too much against GOAT. The scouting report on them will have a lot of blank space and I think Revolver will spend too much time trying to figure out their deep game and not enough time on their own offense. I like GOAT to keep the 3rd seed honest and give them their one loss of the day. With a loss to GOAT to keep them humble, I like Revolver to capitalize on a fiery Ring of Fire team. Stanford is known for their precise execution and despite not having the flare that guys like Zack Washburn bring, they will take advantage of Ring mistakes and earn their second win before they dismantle the Condors.

Ring of Fire (1-3) - I really don't have a fix on North Carolina so I apologize in advance for any poor analysis. Their first tournament win was a great way to dust off the cleats and a win over Bravo was huge two weeks ago. However, outside this, they really haven't made too much noise outside their own region. They beat Truck Stop convincingly, but struggled against GOAT and Bodhi and I see more of that happening this weekend.

They get a rematch out of the gate against GOAT, but I think GOAT will be better in Santa Cruz and will hand Ring an early loss. Ring then gets a shot at the 15 seed and they should capitalize . It's funny, these two teams used to be at the top of everyone's list in Sarasota, but now they are 4 and 5 seeds in their pool. After they earn their first W of the day, they will get their chance at a major upset. Both Ring and Chain have had issues with under performing and this will be Ring's chance to stave off oblivion and a win will serve as a reminder of how good they once were. However, Chain has a totally different feel this year and they could stuff Ring in a drawer. Regardless of this contest, they then face off against a tough Revolver team that will bring a devastatingly deep squad. I think Brett Matsuka is a great pick up for Ring, but I still see them getting frustrated in the face of some fast Revolver defenders and will find themselves 1-3 at the end of the day.

Condors (0-4) - Santa Barbara has had a really tough year, except when they face Jam. They seem to always give the Frisco guys trouble but they won't see their former team mates on Saturday and from what I can gather, they really have a long way to go before they can reclaim their historic status.

They will be looking up at very developed teams all day and I think they should really aim for GOAT. Asa will have Chain prepared and I think Revolver will be fired up to play against one of their former handlers. Ring will not let the Condors get away with anything so I think their best chance will be against a GOAT team that really hasn't seen Santa Barbara all that much. Crafty poaches and switches could benefit the Condors, but I also think their lack of height against a big GOAT team will be a problem. The Condors are skating on thin ice this year and could lose the Southern California section for the first time, no idea. They need at least some semblance of a solid performance if they want to remain confident against SDU in the series and I would imagine they are hoping for a major upset at some point this weekend. However, like Rhino, I see them having a tough day and will hold seed at 15th.

Closing Thoughts
When considering that this tourney is more about prepping for the series, over actually winning the whole thing, it gets hard to make predictions. I made some bold claims which is mainly just food for thought to all the readers. Realistically, I would imagine the brackets to look considerably different Saturday night and I really hope that PoNY, Rhino, and the Condors get a win on Saturday.

I think Sockeye will be the most fired up of any team and if anyone is amped to win, it will be them. Bravo has a lot to prove after their poor Maryland showing and if it all was because of a lack of Beau and Popes, we should see nothing short of excellence on Saturday. Chain is fighting to rid themselves of their inconsistent past and GOAT wants to return to their glory days of '07.

I hope Furious is off their cloud because it is time to work again and it's put up or shut up time for Ironside. If Jam is still Jam, we'll know this weekend but if they are over the hill, we will also know this weekend. Truck Stop's goal this year should be to get past Ring at Regionals and this weekend will be their chance to figure out what their problems are. Revolver just wants to get back to Nationals and with only 3 bids this year they need to start earning the W's that put them ahead of Furious, Jam, or Sockeye.

North Carolina secured a big win over Bravo two weeks ago, but they need more to follow if they want to return to their semis/finals days in Florida. Not unlike Bravo, SZ took a few hits in MD and like Bravo they need to play as well as they have in the past if they want to succeed in the future. Like Benny from the Sandlot, Doublewide seems to be the lone talent from the lone star state that just can't break into the upper echelon of teams. They're in a tight battle with Ronin to take 2nd out of the South and they'll need to break seed to get the confidence to get back to Nationals.

Pony has had moments of greatness this year but they are still pretty battered and will need to pull off something to give them a mental edge on Bodhi. Rhino has yet to beat a team that is at this tournament and like the Condors, have a much better past than future. Look for the two of them to meet late on Sunday to see who's in the cellar and who's just outside oblivion.

I'm stoked for this weekend and I really hope the score reporter is updated frequently. Best of luck to all teams and NO ONE GET HURT.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chesapeake Thoughts

The trip down to Maryland this weekend was definitely a good idea on my part. We headed out of Connecticut at around 5pm, which was a horrible idea. However, Mazur and I rocked out in the back of one of our team mate's cars and by New York City, the fact that we wouldn't arrive in Poolesville till 3am didn't bother us.

I won't talk too much about my own team although I was happy with our 3-3 performance, despite only having half our roster. Anyone got a cure for flakey teammates?

Chain Lightning
If there was any team that could have used this tournament victory it was Chain. They usually have up and down results throughout the summer and depending on their finish down the stretch are either a 3rd or 4th seed at Nationals. However, as I hinted in my mssui article, they really needed to work on their consistency and this tournament is a big step. I caught their pool play game against Boston as well as their semifinal game against Sub Zero and they looked good.

The most prominent thing that stuck out was Zipp's presence on the D line. He lined up on Heijmen when I watched them play in semis and he is really clicking with the Atlanta crowd. In addition to being a brilliant defender, he's also an obvious cutting threat and he will be great at getting breaks in the toughest of games this year.

Another player that got a lot of PT was Asa, and despite the fact that he is a Black Tide Alum, I like seeing Southwest talent do well. He was behind the disc more than I expected because when he was at UCSB, he was a major deep threat. Be that as it may, he is very composed and was always the quiet killer on a team of loud and emotional Santa Barbara guys. He has a Moses Rifkin sort of contribution on the field and I think Chain's tall roster could use another cagey veteran.

As for their veteran talent, all the main players are poised to dominate this year. Dylan is as good as I've seen him. He had an unreal layout score on Hohenstein yesterday and his commitment to Ultimate in Georgia is so commendable. Like Goldstein, I think he is a much better club player than college and I think he will continue to improve year to year.  Chain's D-line has also benefitted from some added depth and players like Simpson and Kid can focus on their veteran skill sets and offensive composure to collect breaks.

I don't think their missing Stubbs or Lindsley too much at this point, but its early. Stubbs played off and on this weekend because he was sick and Grant looked great at times, but not so much at others. This isn't surprising considering the fact that they were both just at World's, but I think Stubbs on the D-line for Boston is a good move as is Grant on Sub's O-line.

Boston looked like they were playing with their depth and that might be why they didn't pull it out at the end. Gibson has a lot of pressure on him, both because he is an out of stater and because he is Kurt Gibson. He seemed to struggle in the air when I saw him and it looks like teams are well aware of his deep threat ability. This is one reason why I am curious to know how he will do in club. He is an all around bad ass, but he isn't at Florida anymore and will need to figure out what he can bring to Boston that no one else can. His obvious talent is his flick/hammer but that is a fairly liberal offensive weapon given Boston's history of conservative disc movement. I think the thing that will help Kurt the most is finding his favorite receiver. Jeff Graham is playing fantastic and that might be the option #20 should look for (which is weird because Jeff wears 21 just like Brodie).

Another aspect of Boston that I like is their D-line depth. Colin Mahoney is a great down field defender as is Will, Dan Patisteas, and Teddy. I'm curious to know how they will organize their D-line into a scoring threat though. Colin is known for his reach and speed but his offensive contributions have always been a bit suspect. In contrast, Will might not be as fast as Colin, but his ability to turn his intensity on D to offensive composure is scary. Teddy looks like a veteran out there now which I really like seeing. His athleticism and throws are a rare combination even at the most elite level and with every tournament with Boston, he is getting better. Look for him to be on Universe D-lines.

Oh and I have to poke fun at Forch because he is Forch. He uncorked (borrowing The Count's diction) a hammer for a goal in the Chain pool play game only to walk off the field and kick over a gatorade jug. You threw a score and then got pissed? For the rest of tournament I kept yelling, "Uh oh Mueller, the Gatorade jug is talking shit, better show it who's boss". And speaking of heckles, I kept laying into Gibson for wearing a Jam hat on Saturday. I would toss out stuff like, "Oh man, Idris got up on that guy" or "Namkung's white now?".

These guys better get their shit figured out or I'm going to look really stupid for pegging them as a semis team. In reality, they are doing fine. They had a good but not great tournament for a variety of reasons. For one, two players on their O-line are Sub Zero rookies, Grant and Hector. It was weird to see Valdivia on the O-line when he was a D-line guy for Bravo. Not sure how that is going to pan out for Minnesota but I'm sure they'll figure out something. Grant also could have looked a lot better. It looked like his legs were fine, but he dropped a few deep shots which could be attributed to some burn out tendencies. Another thing worth mentioning is that I think Muffin broke his foot or ankle. He got a ride to the trainer circa the golf cart so it might be serious. It sucks but it is part of the game.

The issue associated with SZ, and this has been their thing for a while now, is honing their intensity and putting together an elite club offensive front. I think their Callahan winner will lead a great O-line with a Mike Caldwell like presence, and college team mates like Jimmy Foster and Jack Marsh will be great as go-to scoring threats. Hector will also be a good veteran contributor but I wonder if they have enough pure handlers in the Sam O'Brien squirrley pain in the ass sort of way. I'm sure there is someone that I am forgetting on their O-line but a great reset is crucial for any elite team. I'm just not sure who they'll use with Grant, Foster, Jack and Heijmen downfield and while Hector and Muffin are awesome power handlers, their quickness and breaks are nothing to write home about (in my opinion). Oh and their jerseys are terrible. The negative numbers are cool and all, but the frosted look is wayy too noisey.

I really wish I knew more about them (and Madcow). Their semifinals performance is top notch and Kevin Cho is a big part of their team's success. Joel is also a baller and after seeing him and his flick for Illinois in College, I'm sure he will carry his weight. I'm not sure what they have in the realm of depth, but after their horrible Boston Invite performance, a semifinals performance at Chesapeake was just what the doctor ordered. Its too bad they aren't going to Labor Day. They'll have some major regional competition with SubZero looking good but they did beat them on universe in pool play.

The Florida boys were probably the biggest surprise this weekend. We played them first and they didn't look great so I was surprised when I saw that they beat Bravo. They are running Florida's zone D which could draw some serious discussion from elite teams in the series like Doublewide and Chain because of double team concerns. I was looking forward to seeing/talking with Brodie but apparently he didn't have the scrilla to make the trip. Oh well, make nationals so I can chat up your goofy ass (goofy, get it?). In any event, I think Cole Sullivan, Windham and the rest of their Florida talent will give them a great deep game but I wonder if they will have the offensive depth to outlast experienced teams in the second half. I don't know about bids from the South, but if they can put together a solid offense, they might sneak past Doublewide the way VC did back in '06.

The Toronto boys had a decent Saturday, but not much else. Like Grant and Stubbs, a lot of this team was in Vancouver and I'm sure they could use a few weeks of not competing. Hassell had his shot at being a cog in a wheel with Furious and I hope he brought some of their experience eastward. Eric St-Amant had a great Worlds and I think he will be a stellar deep D down the stretch as will Ouchterlony who seems to be as fast as any when he's cutting deep. In addition, Scotty Nicholls played well at Worlds and will be very valuable for GOAT's O-line handler core.

With Boston coming back to life this year, it will be on GOAT to show that they can build on last year. I've got them pegged at 2nd from the NE but their chemistry could give Ironside trouble. In any event, a win against Bravo would have been huge because they need a win against a 1 seed caliber team. However, they will get another shot at Labor Day and hopefully they can pick up a big win before they head into the Series.

Ring of Fire
Considering Truck Stop's success at Colorado Cup, Ring really needed to assert themselves if they want to stay on top of the Mid Atlantic region. I hear they always play well at Chesapeake and I'm sure they loved being 3-1 while the DC boys were 1-3. Brett Matsuka is playing with them and his Worlds experience with Australia will be a nice new addition to the established North Carolina crowd. I'm not sure what they'll bring for the series, but if they can stay ahead of Truck Stop through Labor Day, they will have the confidence to stiff arm them for yet another year.

Their prequarters loss to Madcow and their follow up loss to Bodhi tells me that they looked past these teams and didn't bring their focus. This seems to be the crutch of emotional/fiery teams but then again, neither team is in the MA so I don't think these losses are that big a deal. They will be ready for TS come regionals, I just hope they can bring it in Sarasota because a regional winner finishing 11th is no good.

These guys are definitely #3 in the NE. They have taken out PoNY twice now and have played great at every tournament they have been too. They are so polished and give me a Sockeye Jr sort of feel. Taking Bravo to 16-14 is a huge step for these youngins, I just hope it doesn't go to their heads. Like what Furious has done to Sockeye in the past, you can beat up your biggest threat all you want during the regular season, but you have to beat them in October.

However, all their losses are to National caliber teams. They have yet to slip in focus to anyone and I think their experience against more veteran teams like Bravo, Boston and GOAT will help them in the fall. Their combination of youth and experience will help them immensely because they will be able to sidestep burning out as well as major life distractions. Best of luck against PoNY this year, beating them would be a great story to write about, but so would a 2-0 record when it didn't matter and an 0-1 when it did. The one thing I love about this tournament was that they were relegated to the open division only to make it up to the big boy bracket with a 4-0 pool play record. They may have lost but they are one of the most consistent teams in the nation right now and they have the edge on PoNY.

Truck Stop
Boston Invite, sucked. Colorado Cup, lucky (3 way tie). Chesapeake, not so good. This team made quarters last year after an epic win over Furious in pool play and a play in win over the Condors. However, they have yet to bring a quarters caliber feel to their 2008 season. They have the talent as can be seen with their 11-12 game against the hosts at Colorado Cup, but was '07 a flare up or are they the real deal. I love power shifts in regions and I want to see them challenge Ring but if they don't have the fire they did a year ago, I don't see it happening. Like everyone else going to Santa Cruz, it's their last chance to show what they've got before they play the same teams they always do. I think the best case scenario for them would be a big win over someone like Jam, SZ, or Chain. I pick these teams because each is semis caliber but each could also get haulted in quarters or worse this year. Truck Stop was is this spot a year ago and if they are better in '08, we'll know after Labor Day. However, if they have losses to teams like Doublewide, Condors, or PoNY, Ring will probably take the region again and they'll need some serious '07 luck to make it back to quarters.

They seem to be that kid that just can't seem to jump off the ledge on the high dive. They were there at the Sockeye Invite but they only beat the expected teams. They also have two Bodhi black eyes and their only win this weekend was a universe one to Forge. They're only real big (out of region) win is Truck Stop at Boston Invite, but TS worked them yesterday 15-6. Considering the fact that they got A-listed in '08 (Sockeye Invite, Chesapeake Elite, and Labor Day) they might have racked up some serious frequent flyer miles only to get a free vacation to Sarasota to watch Bodhi play instead of them. Labor Day is their last chance to develop some much needed confidence and if they can succeed the way they did in Seattle against Sockeye, they might have the gumption to put the young guns to rest in October.

The Colorado boys got worked in Maryland but they had some roster issues. I didn't see Beau or Popes in Poolesville and those are two of their best deep threats. Tripoli and Richter bring amazing intensity and Chicken and Willy D bring calm calculating precision, but Bravo depends on their deep studs. With these two and Hector absent, their velocity on D could have been an issue but if everyone shows up in Labor Day, they should look good. Jim Schoettler is a big pick up and I wonder what he can bring to the table. He's a veteran at 34/35 but he has as much big game experience as anyone and will add to Bravo's composure which they'll need to get back to the finals, if not win it all. They've got a lot of pressure on them considering their steady progression to the finals over the last 5-6 years but with Sockeye getting stunned in Vancouver, the Fish will not give them many chances if they duke it out in Florida.

Closing Thoughts
Unlike College, club seems to be so confusing during the regular season. The best teams rarely bring it beginning to end and much like Yale Cup, today's winners could be tomorrow's spectators. Every region has its own drama to deal with and come the series, we could see everything from Jam missing Nationals again to a young gun team like Bodhi break out of the NE ahead of GOAT and PoNY.

Labor Day will be the moment of truth and any team hoping to make some noise in their respective region will have to show up in Santa Cruz. Look for Revolver to blow up and I don't have to tell anyone how exciting a Furious/Sockeye rematch could be (look for the Fish to butcher the Monkies). I'm stoked to see how things go down but considering my guys are gold medalists, I could care less who takes Sarasota gold. Much like '04, '08 will be a total crap shoot. Chain is consistent, SZ is experienced, Bravo has a few black eyes, Jam is old, the Condors are young, I could go on and on (and I will, but later). Stay tuned folks.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Best Experience of My Life

Yep....I know it sounds like the lamest thing in the world, but yesterday was easily the most emotionally exhilarating day of my entire life. This post is gonna be long, sorry.

So its been a while since I posted, like 2 days, so there is some action I have missed out on so I will catch folks up to speed first.

Semis: USA vs Japan
This was the game that Sockeye prepared for and they didn't disappoint. Japan was priority #1 on Team USA's radar and their second contest was even better than their first. The win wasn't as definitive (14-10, instead of 17-11), but Sockeye balled. In looking at USA's tournament holistically, I think their focus was wayy to much on Japan and not enough on Canada. Furious has had a tendency to set up the over confidence bear trap which worked in 2005. Skip Sewell was telling me after the Finals that the game felt a lot like '05 when they lost in the Finals and it just goes to show you that no team is invincible. It is pretty ironic that Furious' best strategy in winning gold was to go 0-3 in pool play last fall.

However, as for the semifinals, the game started off with Team USA receiving, converting on their first possession and then going up a break. At 2-0, Japan answered back with their speed, but this game was a bit windier than a few days back and considering Sockeye's level of preparation, Japan's offense would have to utilize auxiliary offensive weapons. They looked good early, earning a break of their own in the first half, but it would not last.

The BB tied the game at 3s and the two juggernauts went point for point threw the first half. Mike Caldwell played a phenomenal game and looked like a machine on the field with the most precise execution I've seen in a player. He has so many release points that he can throw from and his fakes and cuts are so incredibly sharp. On the other side of the disc, Seth Wiggins had a great first half with a fantastic layout D, the first of two in this game. Tim Gehret also played a phenomenal game with two break saving layout Ds. He and Seth were the two best players in this game and it was incredible to see him turn it up a notch if Team USA's O-line coughed it up. It reminded me of the ECC '07 game where he got a fantastic layout catch block after a silly Sockeye turnover.

USA took half 7-6 (on serve) and this game looked like it could be close. However, as most games had gone with USA, teams came out firing but once Sockeye's D figured out their opponent's strategy, they adjusted and began to collect breaks in the 2nd half. After trading points, USA was receiving at 8s. USA was aiming for that pivotal threshold where the game goes from close to out of reach and this is when it happened. They put Ben Wiggins on the D-line in an attempt to bolster their D-line offense and it worked. They got the score and then the break to go up 10-8 and then they broke Japan again to make it 11-8. Japan would answer to make it 11-9 but Sockeye would break them again and play out the game on serve to 14-10.

At certain points in the second half Sockeye's offense didn't look great but Japan simply could not capitalize. They seemed to be filled with so much emotion that their nerves collapsed under the pressure. One turnover that comes to mind was a wild hammer that Chase tossed up that was D'd. Japan didn't connect on this opportunity and over threw a streaking cutter deep, being covered by Chase. The two made huge bids for the disc and what impressed me the most was that Chase was definitely behind his guy when the throw went up but managed to close the gap with his speed. He hit the ground hard however and it looked like the wind was knocked out of him. He laid on the ground for a a minute or two and when he finally spoke all he said was "What the f@#$ am I doing throwing hammers?". I thought it was hilarious.

Anyway, Japan tried a variety of things to slow down Sockeye's offense but it simply did not work. They made a ton of brilliant switches on defense, but they could not slow down Sammy CK, Moses, and Nord. Ben, Bestock, and TG ran a great offense together and in the second half, Tim got another break saving layout D. I was so impressed with his O-line defense. The one thing I did not like though was the amount of calls Sockeye made. I AM NOT SAYING THEY WERE BAD CALLS, but they made a lot and Japan did not. WFDF has no officiating whatsoever so if one team wants to make calls and the other team doesn't things will get hairy and they did. Sockeye called back several scoring attempts and Japan couldn't duplicate their success.

Semis: Canada vs Great Britain
Of all the teams outside my boys, I was the most impressed with Great Britain at this tournament. I've mentioned this before, but they played an amazingly polished game. They were spectacular in the air and made great decisions on offense. However, they were matched up against the best and they got rocked. Canada quickly took away Great Britain's deep game and despite the 17-11 score, they were well in control. They lead 13-6 late in the second half before giving up 3 breaks, but they cruised when they wanted to. I could tell Mike Grant was getting a little pissed and on an O-line turnover, he got a fantastic foot block to save another break. I had to watch Furious for a few games to realize how they work, and Mike's leadership on the O-line is why he is proclaimed the best player in the world. He and Hassell lead a great charge along with Savage and a few others and Canada earned their shot at the Americans, something Lugsdin told me they wanted above anything else.

Masters Finals: USA vs Canada
After I finished watching the semis I went over to the showcase field and Parinella, the Count and the Condors were facing off against Canada. I did some commentary for this game, so I'm not going to go into too much detail. I will say that USA looked far better than they did in their first contest with Canada. Instead of being down the whole game and rallying, they had a decent lead for most of the contest.

However, down the home stretch things got a little hectic. Team USA was up 14-12 (pulling) and after Canada scored, they were broken to push the game to 14-13. I was in the booth commentating and right before Canada pulled I said, "These guys are the most experienced players in the game. Their blood is ice cold and I don't think they'll get broken". I knocked on wood and good thing I did because Dugan had two throwaways on game point and Mooney was foot blocked on his own goal line. Team USA came devastatingly close to having to play it out on Universe (upwind) but in the end, DoG capitalized and Mooney tossed the wining goal to seal it. Husak played a great game and despite being former rivals, both Jim and Al had great things to say about their D-line stud. Namkung hurt his shoulder so he didn't play much and despite a separated rib, Dugan still gave it his all and USA won gold in sterling fashion.

After the game Alex and I got some sushi and went over to the tournament party which was a total bust. When you have a function like this at a major public venue like UBC, you have take many precautions, none of which are good for party goers. The event had music, ultimate players, and beer, but the main contingent was hanging out just outside the doors. Beer was expensive, the party inside was dark and loud as hell, and security was wayy over the top. These guys were your stereotypical suburban cops on a power trip and it was a real buzz kill. There were no shenanigans or flip cup or boat races. It just wasn't an ultimate party. I am sure the WFDF folks did their best, but it sucked and the folks I chilled with had the most fun being outside. It just goes to show you why the best "fun" tournaments are in the middle of nowhere like Redmond, Washington or Versailles, Ohio.

The one positive thing that came out of this however was that I finally got to shotgun with The Count. Everyone was predicting a blowout and despite the fact that he was victorious, I was right there with him. Husak can vouch for me, it was definitely a close victory, but a victory for de Frondeville none the less. I don't mind though, Al seems to be good at winning and considering he had to use all his fingers and some other body parts to count all his championships, I was ok with admitting defeat. I would love a rematch however, and I think I can take him if given the chance.

Finals Prep
Despite staying up fairly late, I was up early Saturday. I wanted to do some prep for the gold medal game and I figured 8 hours would be enough time. I got some coffee and fruit at a nearby market and headed to the stadium. The Ultiviallge crew was setting up for the broadcast and these guys were a lot of fun to work with. Rob, Dale, Skizip, and Dick are great people and are a ton of fun to work with. They let me loose this week and also let Alex hook up with the crew and help out where he could.

I was working hard in the press box during the Women's and Mixed finals so I have zero input on those games other than USA/Japan women was a great game and Fisher Price looked red hot winning gold via a game point Callahan.

The Block Stack guys were very accommodating for me as well and I really wanted to give them a good show for the finals. Despite Furious being my favorite team, I felt that I didn't know know enough about them and I really wanted to be prepared. I looked up every player I could but I really struggled because a lot of the information is just not available online. However, to my delight the Team Canada guys had camped out right outside the press box and despite being somewhat star struck, I did my job and approached them. Considering I had never actually met Oscar or Nick Menzies, I was a bit nervous. Other approaches hadn't gone very well this week but to my relief, they were so down to talk. They tossed so much information my way and the only thing cooler than hearing it from the horse's mouth was knowing that these guys knew who I was, they knew what I was trying to do and they were so happy to chat with me. Oscar and Nick, in addition to being great players and defenders, are really good people, not unlike the rest of Furious, and they really made my job so incredibly easy. Thank you again.

Anyway, I had my notes ready and we were set to go on the air at 4pm. I had called some family and friends to tell them to check out the broadcast if they could and at 3:55p I took my seat at the table and was ready for the most thrilling experience of my life.

The Finals
I'm not going to lie, I completely thought Sockeye was going to win this game. I had a chat with Lindlsey (I want a story by the way, Grant) earlier in the day and I told him I thought Sockeye would win. I really had every reason to feel that way and considering the fact that I love to be pessimistic in the hopes of being pleasantly surprised, it was a good mind set for me to have.

The weather was great all week but by the time the big boys stepped out, it was really raining. I scratched my head a little bit at the schedule of the tournament because the field the finals were played on had been played on probably 15 times already. Unlike College Nationals where the final field is untouched before the finals, this field was burger by the time USA and Canada came out. Players were slipping all game and in some instances, a fortuitous slip by a defender meant a goal for the offense. However, despite this, there were no significant injuries, thank god.

From the opening pull Team Canada really looked fired up. They started the game off with a break and before I knew it they were up 5-2. Team USA was easily the loudest team in the tournament but the crowd for the Finals was predominately Canada. Furious is notorious for slipping in intensity but the crowd really brought the noise and I can imagine that the intensity Sockeye depended on and Furious struggled to hold on to, went in favor of the red and white.

The first half went Canada's way 9-6 and despite a heated rivalry between these two, the game was very spirited thus far. Jimmy Chu and Roger Crafts both accidentally roughed up some Canada cutters but both were very quick to apologies with a "no contest". The second half however, would not go down this way.

Furious started on O and extended their lead to 10-6. I was already pretty fired up but after this score I really began to believe that Furious was going to win. The first half is just the first half, but being up by 4 in the second half in elite open is pretty iron clad. Mauro Ortiz, John Hassell, and Mike Grant all played spectacular offense. Mike's flick is unreal and he has such composure even when the stakes are this high. He had a sick stall 8 IO 30 yd break throw and I'm not surprised he lead his team with 40 fantasy points. He and Hassell looked great together and every time they got within 10-15 yards of the endzone, I knew they would connect and they did.

USA's offense on the other hand was really lackluster. Very few Sockeye players seemed to be in their element and it was very surprising to see. Moses played a great game with several deep cuts, but it seemed like Sockeye was just out of sync. Their line calling was a bit peculiar with several players jumping from O to D and vice versa. It appeared that USA was really trying to earn breaks back by putting great offensive personnel like Ben Wiggins and Tim Gehret on the D-line. Conversely, they seemed to second guess their O-line by putting strong defenders on the O-line like Biggins and Roger Crafts to insure a strong defensive front if/when the turn came.

And come they did. Both teams suffered from drops and poor decisions. There were a few spectacular layout D's from Oscar, Chase and Nate Castine, who had a jaw dropping layout catch block on Mike Grant. Nate was furious after getting beat a few points earlier and it was very obvious that he was fired up to get that D back.

However, Furious' 3 break lead to start the game would be enough to keep them comfortable. Sockeye really pushed but couldn't get anything to work. I heard that Mike Caldwell became a dad the night before (congratulations) and had to drive back and forth from Seattle in the middle of the night. I can't imagine this to be a good thing for his game and considering his brilliant offensive capability, I think this hurt Team USA. In addition, Furious' underneath game gutted Sockeye and when they tried to adjust, Canada owned the Fish deep.

Then the calls came. Down the stretch this game really got ugly. This is my blog so I get to be biased or subjective or whatever, but USA really showed their true colors in the end. They really began using their mouths to win and the crowd was incessantly negative towards them. Tim Gehret, who is one of the most composed players I have ever seen, made two atrocious foul calls that took back two spectacular D's by Lugsdin and Kirk Savage. The travels were also very prominent and despite the fact that Canada may have traveled in every instance, it really appeared that USA was exceedingly frustrated with themselves and panicked. I don't mind strict travel calling but call it beginning to end. The first half was so spirited and it was really difficult to watch USA get more and more sensitive to travels as the game got closer and closer to ending in favor of Canada.

However, despite the obvious frustration, Canada stayed composed. For the crowd, this was incredibly irritating to watch and considering that WFDF rules have no officiating whatsoever, all a player had to do was make a call and that was it. There was no overturning it and I can think of more than one occasion where Canada had to send back a goal because of a travel call. Unlike Japan though, Furious hung tough and grinded it out. Canada definitely had their cages rattled giving up a two breaks late, but they didn't let the tension get to them and finished the game with world class precision.

Towards the end of this game I was going crazy in the booth. Mike Grant made a fantastic layout catch on a second effort (but was called back on a travel) and I jumped up in celebration only to hit my hands on the ceiling, cutting them both. For the remainder of the broadcast I had to dab my knuckles with a napkin because I didn't want to bleed on my new white Ultivillage jersey. I wanted to keep the emotion in, but I just couldn't towards the end. We got soo many emails about me being biased and what not, but I could care less about my critics. None of these people were there and none of them could appreciate or understand the electricity in that stadium. This was the best game I've ever witnessed and considering the fact that my favorite team was taking it to their biggest rival on the biggest stage and I was at the mic, yikes, it was crazy.

One person sent an email that was titled "Professional Commentating" and basically told me to shut the hell up and I just laughed. Never before in the history of our sport had a game of this magnitude been broadcast live or even commentated. I'm not getting paid, I'm not a professional, but there was no one in the world better for the job than me. Everyone out there listening, every ultimate nerd watching the game at home would have traded places with me in a heart beat and once Marc Roberts reeled in the game winner, I about died. I felt like Al Michaels calling the USA vs Russia game in 1980 and I don't care if anyone out there understands this, I felt the way he did that day.

For 6 years I have been following Furious George and I literally bled for them yesterday. All of my fanhood and research in this sport can be traced back to my commitment to this team and the opportunity Rob and the Block Stack guys gave me was one no one in this world has ever had. I have never played at Nationals and probably never will but I found a different way to make my mark. The bulk of my ultimate effort wasn't at the track or on the field, but at a small desk in a lab in New Haven, CT. It's difficult to comprehend, but in just a little over a year, I went from being a simple free lance blogger to the most respected journalist in our sport. The Hodags can have their National Championships, Kershner can have his Callahan, I worked my ass off for 5 years to be the most well rounded, competent, and respected writer in the ultimate world and I achieved greatness. No one can take this experience away from me and to top it all off, none of my critics, none of the people that have disrespected me (and they know who they are) are world champions. To my complete shock and amazement, Furious actually likes what I do.

I introduced myself to Morgan Hibbert at the party and he spent about 15 minutes inflating MY ego. Alex and Skizip wanted to puke, but when a player wearing a gold medal tells you that he respects what you do and talks about what I write with his team mates at practice, there is no better compliment. He even quoted my college ultimate draft post on RSD and commended me on my bold Hot Women in Ultimate post. Talking with Morgan was one of the best experiences of the tournament because he knew my literature back to front and reassured me everywhere I had been criticized. I had slammed Furious all year (and praised the hell out of Sockeye) but the Canadians loved the dialog. Morgan just loved the fact that "someone was paying attention and it doesn't matter if its good or bad, it's just cool to hear about Ultimate in a PTI/Tony Kornheiser sort of way". In Canada they really understand the fanhood aspect of the game and I think its because the culture is a bit more enlighted in this reguard. In becoming a fan, a person basically conceeds they are not the best. If they were the best all they'd have to do is root for themselves. However, the Jock mentality that finds its way into American athletes really has trouble letting go of the dream and I think that is why we struggle to truly appreciate the fan base in our country.

In any event, after the Finals I did a few interviews (on camera) with some of the Furious guys including Lugsdin, Hassell, Menzies, and Mike Grant. After the Mike Grant interview Skizip kept filming me and he caught me saying "I just did an interview with Mike Grant" in my worst man crush accent. Once again, these guys were so receptive, so accomdating, so respectful and it just reminded me why I love this team. For me, it's not enough to root for a team that identifies with my geography. You have to really suck me in and despite endless "Benedict Arnold" criticism, I really could not care less. No one who criticizes me in this regard has any understanding of who and what I am or what Furious has meant to me. I bumped into Ollie Hondred at the party and after sharing pleasentries he gave me shit for wearing a Furious jersey and I simply told him, "one day you will have worked for something for 4 or 5 or 10 or however many years and when you finally earn it, it will mean the world to you and odds are, no one else out there will understand but you". I don't feel like a gold medalist (and don't actually want to) but I earned exactly what I have always wanted. I did it all by myself, in the face of considerable opposition from the biggest names in ultimate but here I am now, as happy as a pig in shit. I know its a cliche but if you really want something, your passion is really the only limiting factor.

Closing Thoughts
I got up at 545am to take Alex to the airport and when I got back, I simply couldn't sleep. I was still so excited and I just had to get my laptop out. Because ultimate is so player based, its hard for people to respect or even understand fans in the US, but Canada does. I was talking with Oscar before the finals and he said he liked my jersey (I was wearing a Furious one) and I said, "Yeah I know it's kinda pathetic that I love you guys so much". But then he cut me off and said, "No actually it isn't. We're all really glad that their are people like you out there."

I'm probably embelishing a bunch here but I don't really care. I feel the way Arizona and Wisconsin felt at Nationals in May or the way Sockeye felt last October. Hell I might even feel the way some of these Furious guys feel now. This sport is great folks and it's ok to be fan.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Friday, August 8, 2008

And then there were 4

Yesterday I headed over to the stadium to watch the first round of bracket play. The quarter final match ups were Canada/Finland, USA/Colombia, Australia/GB, and Japan/Sweden.

Canada vs Finland
This game went as expected. Each team came out firing with lots of hucks and also a lot of turnovers. Finland has a few big deep guys, not unlike most teams, and sent them deep often. They converted early but it wouldn't last. Canada has several tall defenders, like Eric St-Amant and Morgan and despite connecting a few times deep, the Maple Leafs simply figured them out and shut down their deep game.

They had some success working the disc underneath but without the level of throwing ability that teams like USA and Canada, they struggled with consistency and Canada turned a 9-6 lead at half into a 17-7 slaughter.

As for the Canucks, I've come to realize that they really play a very different game than I expected. They are a team that has talent across the board. Each player is fast and has ups and plays shut down D. No one is really an "O-line" or "D-line" player and folks like MG, Hassell, Oscar, and Lugsdin can all be part of suffocating D or amazingly fluid offense. One player I've been watching a lot is Scotty Nicholls, #19. He is so damn fast and can get the disc at will. Canada seems to have a lot of tall power cutters like Savage or CJ Hammer, but they also have squirrley little buggers like Scotty and he really did a great job of setting up strikes.

Mike Grant is having a phenomenal tournament leading his team with 30 fantasy points. His flick is so textbook and his accuracy across the field is deadly. He also is fantastic in the air and can snatch most floaters. Lugsdin, despite not playing against Japan, was back for Finland. He, like Savage, are some of the older Canadian players but they both cut deep all the time. Lugsdin cuts so well and despite his 6'5" size he really moves like he's 5'8".

USA vs Colombia
This game was really exciting. Both teams have a lot of flare and fire and it came out on the field. Like most international contests have been so far, games were close early but the better team had more weapons. Colombia's athletes are unreal and they can all get up. At one point one of their players got up and over Blaine Robbins who was easily 6 inches taller.

Colombia reminds me a lot of Japan in the sense that their all quick as hell and rely on pin point precesion to score. This proves to be exciting but in the end, all their low percentage layout grabs caught up with them. Team USA rarely had to reel in a hospital pass and caught most of their scores at chest level, wide open. Their O-line is so amazing but one thing that really impresses me is their D-line's offense. When you can put Jeremy Cram and Seth Crockford on your D-line with Biggins tossing log range strikes, you will be successful. Nate Castine is also having a great tournament and I'm sure this youngster is all smiles when he gets off the field after getting a double happiness. Chase is also playing great with an expectedly good defensive game (he had your typical insane layout Ds) as well as nitty gritty every other throw offense.

At one point things did seem to get ugly. USA plays a somewhat physical game, not unlike every other American team, and Colombia is a collection of firey soccer players that get intense and emotions ran high. It seemed like Sockeye has a firm grasp on where the line is drawn between physical and too physical. However, Colombia doesn't have any idea where this line is and they matched tight marks and little bumps with their own brand of physical play. At one point Nord stopped the game mid point to try and settle things down and it looked like it was effective. The game wasn't as good down the stretch because Sockeye really pulled away. It seems like there is a tight window between 8-6ish and 13-8ish that teams aim for. For the first few points things are close, then one team pulls away and then before you know it you're either up or down enough breaks for the winning team to cruise and that's how things went. Team USA is also devastatingly loud. Skip gets his team fired up and when I see them all in unison cheering red, white and blue, I can only imagine how intimidating they can seem.

My hats off to Colombia though. In hanging out with and watching teams from around the world, I've really begun to understand how amazing a program like Sockeye is. They are a system with so many resources and infrastructure that it is no wonder they are so good. Other teams however, struggle to even send their best players. Mexico, South Africa, a lot of these teams have to play with their wealthiest players, not nearly their best. Regardless, Colombia brings it. They play with such intensity and flare and they are skilled as hell. Their poise with the disc is excellent and they seem as prepared as anyone to compete here. Judging from their Juniors, they are only going to get better and I'm excited to see what they do in the coming years.

Japan vs Sweden
I didn't really watch much of this game because I wanted to stay out of the sun but Japan looked razor sharp as usual. They're flicks are fantastic and their hands are amazing the way they can snatch seemingly impossible throws. They also have phenomenal body control and can turn on a dime and layout awkwardly to snatch potential turnovers.

As for Sweeden, the player I've been most impressed with is David Wesley. This guy is probably the shortest guy on a tall Sweeden team but he is so amazingly fast. He is leading his team with 23 goals and I'm amazed at how effective he is at cutting deep. Unlike bigger USA or Canada cutters, his foot speed really is an asset and the separation he can get when the disc goes up is astonishing. Japan had to control the thrower at this point because his cutting ability was more than most of their defenders could handle.

In the end Japan played consistently better which seems to be the determining factor in most of these games. Every team has flare but the teams with the ability to score on single possessions over and over with a barage of weapons usually wins.

Great Britain vs Australia
This was the best game of the day, sorry Dingos. Of any team here at Worlds, I am the most impressed with GB. I would never have pegged them to make semis and they are playing spectacular all around. Their main strengths seem to be their ability in the air and their decision making. They move the disc so patiently and so effectively which is as good an offensive weapon as defensive. When they were on O they were fluid and when the disc went up they had no problem splitting Australia defenders and snatching skies. On defense they also played great vertical D and once they got a turn, that patient offense was back in a flash.

Australia played well but it seems like their depth on the offensive front hurt them. They have talent all around with guys like Pottsy and Brett moving the disc effectively on offense but they use Mike Neild a lot. He is an amazing highlight reel in the air and I would imagine the bulk of his 9 assists come from short passes when he gets a huge sky on the goal line. However, with such a visible offensive target, seeting up a defensive counter strategy at half time was really easy for GB and they took the Dingos to school. However, I will say that top to bottom Australia was an exciting team to watch and their unity despite their pick up nature was really awesome to witness.

However, as I mentioned before, Great Britain's consistency was spectacular. They just didn't give it back and Australia did. They earned break after break and once it was 14-10, the game was fairly out of reach. After choking against Japan, I'm sure these flat ballers want to see every point/game through to completion and they did just that.

Jersey Exchange
After getting some food, Alex and I headed over to the jersey exchange and this was an experience. I have never been to one of these and I was fairly nervous. You walk around with all your stuff and you try and pass it off for someone elses. Without money as an intermediate, it gets hard to know when you're going to be successful in a trade and when you're not. What sucks for me is that I'm a big guy and I like to trade with specific people and that gets hard when they are smaller than you. For me, the meaning behind the jersey is much more important than what it looks like and who you trade with is equally important because I will think of them everytime I put the jersey over my head and I would want them to do the same.

There was a kid on the Mexican team, Chamo, who is a man beast and considering my love for the little guys, I wanted to trade with him. I coughed up my dark Colt 45 jersey which seems to be a decent jersey. One kid was wearing one during the Japan/USA game a few days ago and I was so stunned I had to go up and talk to the kid that was wearing one of my team's threads. Anyway, Chamo hooked me up with a sweet blue mexican jersey and I'm digging it.

Another jersey that I brought with me that I wanted to get rid of was my "15 in the Bucket" jersey. This was the team that pulled the hooray play on disc 3 and despite the exposure I really didn't like it because it was black and it was too small on me. Everytime I wear it I hope someone recognizes it but up until this week it had never happened. Anyway, one of the mexican guys recognized my face from my disc 3 interview with Rob and I was blown away. Finally, I got what I was hoping for and I gave the jersey to the kid to take back to Mexico and show his friends the jersey that they'd all seen on an ultivillage DVD. I didn't want anything back because I was twice his size, but the jersey would fit him great and I hope he enjoys it. (I know this sounds crazy egotistical on my part, but I love this kind of shit)

Towards the end, I was happy with my trades but I still wanted to get rid of my Red UCSD '04 jersey. It was nice and made by underarmour but I don't like red because my hair is red. Anyway, I wandered over to the South Africa guys to shoot the shit and they were trying to get me to buy an SA jersey for 20 bucks. I didn't think it would fit but it did, and so I took it. However, I really like this whole trade thing and I wanted to give my new "brews" something to take back of mine. I plopped down my stash and asked my new buddy "Pinky" to pick his favorite. He asked which one I liked the best and as he was looking through he stopped at the red one with a very pleasing (for me), "ooh, I like this one". I wanted him to take it so I told him that it was the jersey from my captain year at UCSD (which it was) and he quickly took it off my hands. Sweeeet

Hitting the Town
Considering there is a party tonight and tomorrow at UBC campus and we still hadn't hit the bars in downtown, Alex and I went out into the city. We took the bus which was surprisingly effective (socal folks hate public transportation) and proceeded to walk up and down Granville St poking our heads in and seeing what was up. One thing worth mentioning was that as we got off the bus and started our journey, we came across two women, one of which started booting vigorously at like 9pm. 9pm?!?

We set the over/under at 3 bars and we totally over shot it. We started with a yaeger bomb and beer and then we went over to antoher bar for a car bomb and a pitcher of Hef (legit micro-brew). We met a few locals who seemed nice enough. A pair of ladies at the second bar were bar tenders and had a million drink ideas and were big whiskey drinkers which is always weird to hear out of a chick's mouth.

As the booze began to hit us we had up and down success with the bars. Some were off the hook an others were ehh. We had to pay a cover twice which sucked because one of the places was dead but you wouldn't know it until you got inside. We ended up at this poppin place however and Al and I hit the dance floor. We had hit enough sauce to keep the good times rolling and after about 2am I was getting tired. We hopped in a cab and went back to the dorms.

Closing Thoughts
We're gonna catch some semis action as well as some Masters and Juniors finals. It's been hard to catch games and write so sorry to folks that want more womens or mixed exposure. I'm doing my best and considering I'm not getting paid, I'm just going to go over to what interests me. I'm looking forward to another Japan/USA game. A lot of folks have been hoping that Japan was holding back in the first game, but I have my doubts. Had they been holding back, I don't think their rotation would be as tight. Who knows though?

I'm also stoked to see the Brits play my boys. I was really anticipating a Canada/Australia semi but it's always nice to see upsets. The one thing I find funny is that Canada will have to trade their white and reds for GB's white and reds as opposed to the yellow and green. Oh well.

stay tuned folks, we're coming down the stretch now.

just my thoughts

match diesel