You have to love what the Fish have done in the later part of the regular season. Following ECC, they’ve gone 13-0 in knocking off Revolver, Bravo (twice), Furious (twice) and NexGen. They are making do with a team that lacks A+ players, but gets it done with excellent clarity of play. Everyone is on message. Additionally, they have a style of play that fits their strengths.
Offensively, they don’t have a traditional big receiver. What they have in abundance is comeback-3s (meaning a 3 cutter who wants to work under primarily): Wallace, Rifkin, Rehder, Caldwell and Castine are all great coming back to the disc and then delivering. This inward motion creates a lot of easily reachable deep space; as the cutters move in toward the disc, space opens behind them and the handlers can cut deep into it. Speaking of the handlers – they are really quite good. Wonder Twins Kosednar (form of…CUT symbol ice sculpture!) and Karlinsky provide a quickness that is very difficult to account for.
Defensively, they are also using their talent to the fullest. Compared to most of the other contenders (Revolver, Ironside, Doublewide, Bravo, Chain) they are undersized. Lacking size means they will have a tough time playing defense on an island because somewhere there will be a mismatch. So they do the smart thing: they play junk and they play a heck of a lot of help-D. Koss and Barich are leading the way with this, but you can see the team begin to see the possibilities all around them. (There are blocks all over the field, if only you see them.) Like last year, they play a lot of weird defenses, but the nature of the junks is so different. 2011’s junk was built on size and power where 2012’s is built on read and teamwork. To explain, the initiating defender makes a read on a block, if they don’t get it , then the teamwork kicks in. All your teammates have to cover for you; usually this some combination of poaching and double-switching. Read-Cover-Clean Up. (A bit at 50:00)
I quite like Bravo’s offense: it is open and creative. This is an offense that is personality driven rather than structurally driven. They play a pretty tight line and the familiarity this breeds allows them to play more freely. Done correctly, this kind of system allows each player to do what they do best. Ackley is the heart of this team; he consistently gets himself and the disc in the right place. As an example, look at his two goals in the second half of Game 1. They are timely. Additionally, the cutting part of this line is big and fast. Roehm can chew yards and Jimmy Mickle is a star.
I don’t get Bravo’s defense. I know they’ve beaten everyone else they’ve played, but I would have expected more defensive sophistication from a team with this much quality. I am reminded a bit of Ironside the last couple of years – their man was good enough to beat pretty much everybody, why play anything else? (Because you aren’t trying to beat everybody else, you are trying to beat the one or two teams that can hang with you. Strategize to beat the best, not the worst.)
Game I Notes
Sockeye’s offense does a nice job in the opening points of this game taking what is given. Specifically, the Bravo handler defenders are sagging off to defend the lane, not the man. Left uncovered, CK and DK just take the free yards. They do two things really nicely. First, the handler without the disc is setting up one step upfield of even so that their starting positioning is gaining yards. Then, the thrower is throwing for as many free yards as they are comfortable reaching for. (3:30 and 19:15 ) Later, Bravo’s defense adjusts and plays tight, but when that doesn’t work they sag again.
At 5-3, Bravo has gotten everything they want. Offensively, they are moving easily through the Sockeye defense and they are successfully gunning it on the turn. (8:50) They are up two breaks. The turnovers they’ve gotten to this point (two Rehder overthrows and a DK drop) are gifts not earned and earning blocks will be problematic the rest of the way.
Also at 5-3, the Bravo D lets Holt run deep from the handler position. (27:45 and game 2 25:00. Well defended game 2 1:09:00) This is a cardinal error against Sockeye. There are two ways to manage it, but both are dependent on knowing it is coming (which you should.) If you are a poor poaching team, the best way is to emphasize getting on top of the handlers immediately and consistently. If you are a good help-D team, the double switch is the best technique.
Short field turnovers did Bravo in. All four Sockeye breaks in this game came off of turns within the brick mark. They scored four goals in only seven throws (1,1,3,2). Give two of these to the wind popping up the disc, but the other two came out of Sockeye’s 3-3-1 man-zone. It’s a really nice piece of technology for a big spread like Bravo uses. (1:03:30)
Bravo’s defense was only able to generate the two turnovers against the Fish offense. With their offense having some difficulties with the Sockeye defense, this wasn’t enough. I am curious to see what adjustments they make in the second game…
Game II Notes
…And I am still curious. Bravo is exhausted in the game and immediately dig themselves a three point hole. From there, strategy goes out the window and survival kicks in. They are hoping to just hold on for a while and build enough momentum to try to make a move. The fatigue issues Bravo faces in this game are a concern for this team in Sarasota. Their O-line is extremely good, but very thin. Bringing Farrell (who cramps up), Mickle and Ackley over to play D isn’t helping this situation. By contrast, Sockeye’s O-line and D-line play much deeper, so while any one grouping might be inferior, by the eighth game of the weekend, they are still running strong.
For all the good Sockeye’s 3-3-1 does, it also gives up some really easy goals. (23:00) Mainly it is because the deep-deep gets caught too shallow, which is mystifying considering the deeps are giving up inches and Bravo’s predilection for the big throw.
It is also surprising to me that Sockeye doesn’t fastbreak much. They do occasionally, but more frequently they back out and set up. Part of my expectation comes from the high tempo handler motion that has come to characterize Sockeye 2012, but that isn’t really the nature of the Sockeye D-team. Like a lot of teams, Sockeye’s O and D are actually two distinct teams with distinct styles of play. The O line by CK and DK’s quickness, the D line by Koss’ hucking.
Early in the second half, Sockeye’s 3-3-1 transition loses its effectiveness. Part of it is that the wind is dead, making offense quite easy but a bigger part is that Bravo is acclimated to the rhythm of the defense and no longer bothered by it. Rather than attack it directly, they maintain possession until it collapses into man and then attack it. The adjustments I wanted to see would be to either stay in it longer or put it away all together and try something different.
Bravo shows some really nice tenacity down the stretch. Down 5-10, it is unlikely they will win, but they keep chopping and finally start to generate some turnovers on the Sockeye O-line. Twice they have the disc to pull within two (9-11) but fatigue gets them again as poor execution gives the disc back to Sockeye. (1:12:30)
In the final analysis, fatigue was a big factor in the final, but the inability of Bravo to stop the Sockeye offense defined both games. They were given 6 turnovers (4 huck overthrows and 2 drops) in 19 points. Sockeye’s O-line possession percentage was 76%! Quick Sockeye O points meant that the Bravo O-line was on the field too much and had to battle too hard with the Fish D.
The first game was very clean….Since I slagged the Fish last time for their blue unis, I have to give props to the blacks – classic….Bravo’s aren’t bad either, but gray shorts kind of suck – white would’ve been better….Rehder does a nice job of fitting NexGen ultimate (balanced and flexible) into what Sockeye is doing….Two really nice recoveries by the Fish zone after it is broken. (34:00 and 56:00)….Game 1 was quite windy….Game 2 not so much….lovely Oiio huck from MC to Wallace (Game 2 49:50)….Rehder had a rough pair of throwing games with 4 huck turnovers….Evan Padget played great in the final….If you haven’t had an opportunity to play in Santa Cruz, find one. The fields are the loveliest in the world.
(Feature photo by Jeff Bell – Ultiphotos.com)