Monday, November 2, 2009

I love this game...

...and in situations like this I really miss writing about our sport the way I used to. After countless texts and "ahh, you're not here" phone calls (thanks Shep), I just gotta talk shop.

Congrats to Rob and the Ultivillage crew for putting together a great show. I can't speak for the NW, because I heard poor things, but the live feed was a success in my neck of the woods despite several hiccups. Lucky for the Open division they were last to play because I think by then, everything was sorted out. I had my laptop rigged to the projector in my lab conference room and caught the finals on a 70" screen, it was spectacular.

As for the game itself, I was thoroughly entertained, but surprised. Going in, I was expecting a 17-16 barn burner much the way Sockeye and Jam duked it out back in 2004. That game had two great teams that had never been champs and I thought Revolver vs Chain would prove to be a truly emotional game where both teams gave everything they had, culminating in a Universe finish. Oh well, a writer can dream.

Instead, we saw the perfect example of what happens when the best Club team plays the best College team. What do I mean? As any elite club team knows, you have to rely on depth and assignments in this game and Chain did exactly that. Rob Barrett, Josh Markette, Joel Wooten, Asa Wilson, Zip, Peter Dempsey, Dylan, etc... all did their one or two jobs and successfully scored 15 points. What about Revolver? Well they did what a lot of college programs do, put their best 3 guys out there and hope for the best.

Many will say that the crucial turning point in this game happened right after the first half when Chain came out and scored on O and then rattled off 3 breaks to go up 12-7. However, in this writer's opinion, this turn around was brewing since 1-0, Revolver.

The first point of the game Revolver received and their glory line of Mac, Beau, and Cahill moved the disc effortlessly and scored the opening point. What happened after that? They stayed on the field. Chain received and put up an ill advised huck which Robbie D'd. Did Revolver convert? Nope. Chain gets it back works it up to 1-1. What about Robbie, Mac, and Beau? They stayed on the field and worked it up nicely, but after they scored, what happened? They stayed on the field.

As I was watching, I kept thinking to myself, "Umm, so we're just going to abandon our O/D assignments? Mike Payne is really going to go with the hype and ride his All-Stars the whole game?" And that is more or less what happened. Revolver moved things nicely for the first half, but sooner or later they were going to run into chemistry issues, mainly because no one else was playing. Halverson? Cochran? Grant? Revolver is known for their depth and after 15 first half points I barely saw any of the veterans that have actually been through a Sarasota with Revolver.

What is ironic is that in his half time interview (previously recorded) Mike Payne made a point to mention that every player was going to play a role in the Finals and in reality that was complete BS.

How did Chain capitalize? They did a great job of utilizing role players. Take Joel Wooten. Joel is known as the 2nd fastest man in Ultimate behind Kittridge and what do you think his job was? D Beau once. All you have to do is D Beau one time and you send a huge message to the other sideline. And that is exactly what he did. A huck goes up to Beau, Wooten gets a hand on it early and next thing you know Revolver is thinking to themselves, "Shit, that wasn't supposed to happen". And what does Joel have to do on the turn around? Nothing. Maybe he gets the disc once or twice, but screw it, he did his job. Let Lokke or Dempsey or Runner convert the break and they did, like 5 out of 6 times because that's their job.

It's funny, when Beau first came out, I used to describe him as the "Michael Vick" of the sport and what's funny is that he has (d)-evolved into exactly that. You have a player who has incredible speed and athleticism, but if a team builds a strategy around just that, they are screwed. Much like what the Bucs used to do to Vick back in the early 2000's, smart and athletic teams will adjust. Beau is the biggest scouting liability on the planet and Revolver just played into Chain's hands.

Which also got me thinking about Bravo. How did they use Beau? Back in 2007, their best year, rather than rest the entire offense and defense on his shoulders, they put him squarely on D and then used this incredible pick up named David Popiel to run off their deep scores. No one knew anything about Popes because they were paying too much attention to #50 and before they knew it, Popes had 5 goals and Beau got Bravo 5 crucial Ds. Brilliant!!

Anyway, Beau is an incredible player and has evolved immensely since I first saw him at SW Regionals back in 2004. However, Revolver did not need to put so much emphasis on him and Mac (the second biggest scouting liability on the planet). Eric Halverson is a gargantuan threat and he never saw the field. Same with Martin Cochran.

In any event, by the time the second half came around, I think Revolver's game plan was completely compromised. All the chemistry and synergy that had been developed over the last 6 months was out the window and what happened? They completely broke down. Miscue after miscue after miscue and before you know it, you're down three or four breaks late. Much like the College National Finals this year, I don't think Chain wanted to win this way, but when you have a team completely collapse, they were probably stoked to have the pressure off. I was very disappointed with Revolver's approach and I think it is a lesson to stick to the game plan. Much the way Sockeye abandoned their assignments when they lost to Furious at Worlds, Revolver sacrificed their confidence when they forgot what got them there in the first place.

I will say there were a lot of high points in this game however. I have seen it a lot but the way Mac uses his length and upper body strength to work the break side is incredible. He had a gorgeous up wind huck that looked like it was thrown indoors. Robbie also had a great game anchoring Revolver's O-line and he had as many great D's as picture perfect hucks. Beau also showcased his usual talents with an amazing sky-catch D over Dylan and a few deep sores.

But Chain was simply spectacular. I loved NOT seeing a single player take over because that is how you win at this level. Everybody wanted to see Zip reel in 10 layout Ds, but aside from his amazing layout score off a macked disc by Wiseman, he was relatively quiet. I already mentioned Wooten's D on Beau and another great D was Dempsey's almost callahan. You could see the frustration on his face as if he just dropped a disc on offense and I kind of chuckled to myself knowing what kind of athlete/competitor Dempsey is in real life.

I was also thrilled to see Asa Wilson finally show the Club World how great he really his. Back in college he was Black Tide's offense and at UCSD we used to always scratch our heads trying to figure out how to stop him. It was a shame to see him dodge Club Open for so long, but I was excited to see him suit up for Chain last year and I think he was Chain's best goal scorer in the Finals. He is also a class act, much the way Franchise is, and despite the fact that he played for Tide, it was tough to dislike him.

Because of Chain's run to start the second half, the game really lost a significant amount of steam so I focused on other factors, like Sammy CK and Jolian. Apparently they are both going to be in Atlanta next year and I don't even need to point out how powerful that could be. Unlike Revolver (and probably Ironside) Chain did a great job of utilizing their pick ups but not to a fault. They managed to find a balance between fresh and established talent and I think 2010 will be more of the same. Yikes.

And going in that direction, how awesome is it to see a team NOT from the Northwest win a championship? You've gotta go back to 2001 with the Condors winning their second title to see that and what's even better is that this is the first Club Title for a Southern Team, unless you count Tunas (St Louis '84). Great for Chain, I hope they do it again next year.

Team Thoughts
Streetgang - I think seeing SG beat Ironside was my personal high point for Nationals. I was actually in a Bloodborne Pathogens Safety Course when it happened but when they won, I got about a dozen texts, one from an SDSG player, and my boredom was immediately replaced with absolute elation. Too bad I couldn't show it. They had another great win over GOAT later in the tournament and I was really happy to see them get a few wins after going 0-7 the last time out. I think their slip up against Pike highlights their "newness" to the National scene. Nationals is a brutal tournament and relying on Wormser and Dollar is nice, but it won't last in a 4 day tournament. Oh well, at least they beat Pike the 2nd time around.

Doublewide - I know that Doublewide had their sights sent on Semis this year but seeing them finish 5th gave me a lot of personal joy. For starters, Kurt was suited up, limping, but suited up, and in writing my cancer article about him I learned how strong a man he is and seeing him out there was really amazing. I was texting with him back and forth on Friday night and he seemed a little disappointed with his performance which isn't surprising but it just echos his intensity and commitment to excellence. I also loved seeing Dub battle it out and take 5th because that might give them a shot at Worlds which I hope to attend with Mexico in Prague next year. If everything works out I'll get to party with my Austin Bro's like Matteo and Matty C again and maybe even meet Kurt in person.

Ironside - Much like Revolver I think Ironside's lack of success at Nationals was because they depended too much on their new personnel, but I think this was more out of necessity. In watching them at Regionals, I realized that six players on their O-line (Jimmy Foster, Peter Prial, Matt Rebholz, Jeff Graham, Ryan Todd, and Trey Katzenbach) never played for DoG, which just goes to show that this team has a lot of work to do and the loss of Forch cannot be overstated. Because Forch's heyday was before Ultivillage and because he only played in the NE, his noteriety doesn't reach as far as someone like Chase or Beau, but I firmly believe he is one of the most mentally tough players in the history of the sport. I think the best parallel example for him is Kobe Bryant. Both came out young and won championships with established teams and over the years battled with mediocrity while still being the best in the game. When time is running out and a clutch play is needed, like Kobe, Forch has ice water in his veins and he makes a huge play like its nothing. Also, like Kobe, Forch returned to greatness once team personnel issues improved, but had Forch stuck around for '09, I think Ironside would have lasted a little longer and he might have gotten another ring. It looked like Jeff Graham was his replacement this year, being the athletic underneath cutter that sent big hucks to Foster, but realistically, the swagger that Forch had will never be replaced. When he took the field he had the confidence of a man that had won the NE 10+ times not to mention a few MVP and National championships. Jeff has only won it twice and has done so only by joining DoG, not beating them. But they still have one of the deepest teams in the country and will be back next year.

Sockeye - It used to be that having a top to bottom program all but guaranteed you success in this game, but I'm beginning to think that talent transplants are giving Juniors/Feeder Teams a run for their money. Sockeye is an institution in Seattle, but I wonder if having home grown talent is enough to win. When the Fish took the Ultimate world by storm '04-'07 they did so on the back of some major pick ups and despite the fact that guys like Castine, Sharkness, and Rehder have developed well in their program, the talent flow is moving away from Seattle and I think thats the rub. Tim Gehret moving to Emerald City to win a ring was one of the last big pickups Sockeye had and as long as people like Sammy CK, Chase, and Kubalanza take off, no farm system in the world is going to get them back to the Finals. Free Agents bring playing experience that local talent cannot muster simply because they are local. Playing elsewhere gives a player so many intangible weapons and while I think Sockeye has depth for days, they are going to need something else to get back to the Finals.

GOAT - I think calling GOAT's performance at Nationals poor is an understatement and I think Toronto is doing some serious gut checking. GOAT rose to contender status in steady year to year increments but back-to-back quarters play-in games is not what a contender should be doing. Hassell's BPiG status (Best Player in the Game) is a few championships early and I think until he wins the NE Region and/or makes the Finals, that title still belongs to MG. I don't know if they simply looked past teams like Truck Stop and Street Gang, but with pick ups like Sam Kennedy and Derek Alexander, it is almost inexcusable. Hopefully they sort it out but right now they are in the same position as Bravo wondering, "What happened to us and what the hell are we going to do?"

Bodhi - 6th times a charm.

Johnny Bravo - Much the way talent pickups can help teams, losing talent has an equal and opposite affect. However, of all the teams to underperform this year, I think Bravo is in the best position. Losing Beau, Mac, Popes, Whitaker, Deaver, Chicken, etc.. is huge but to challenge Revolver the way they did and still contend sends a great message. They seem to struggle at the power pool level with back-to-back 0-2 showings and quarters play-in situations but I think that ties in with losing so many veterans. This was Hylke and Pebbles' first year with Bravo and I think with the continued success of Mama Bird, they'll be fine.

Fury - Jesus H Christ. For the generation before me, it was DoG, before them it was NYNY. However, for the current generation, there is no team better than Fury. They have 6 titles since 1999 and this was their 4th in a row. Everyone thought this was Riot's year but Matt Tsang and the rest of the Bay Area crew had other plans. Their performance yesterday speaks for itself and I do believe that their success has yet to peak.

Axis of Chase Ville - I've got mixed feelings about the mixed results. I think the husband/wife story of Chase and Anna was cute but I did not want to see the hype come to fruition. Seeing a single player make such a huge impact on a team is exciting but I think it compromises the legitimacy of the division. Whether or not Chase was actually that big of a factor is irrelevant because this championship will always be remembered with him in mind. I kind of like that Beyondors couldn't pull the same move in Masters and I think this example shows that from a competitive standpoint, Mixed is the lagging division with the least amount of parity.

Shout Outs
I've got a few shout outs to give. Congrats to my dear friend Jonny Miles for making Natties this year with LA Metro. He along with several other former Pleasuretown players have come up empty many times at Regionals and now they've got some Sarasota experience under their belts. Congrats again, I wish I could have been there to party with you guys.

I've also gotta give some love to Jeff Wodatch who left the confines of Colt 45 to play for Truck Stop this year. Congrats on taking out Ring at Regionals and good work making Power Pools and finishing 9th.

And to Korber, did you have fun at Nationals? Can you come back to us now?

I hope everyone had a great season and is somewhat healthy. Congrats to all the champions. Hopefully my broke ass can make it to Santa Monica in January for Lei Out.

just my thoughts

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