Following teams is a fantastic way to follow the club championships. If you have a favorite team, a local favorite, or simply rooting for your big-money bets to pay off then it is going to be a great weekend. If we’re lucky, Bryan Jones will give us a great rundown of the teams to watch.
This article is different. I want to focus on the players. Here are my quick thoughts on who you should watch, whether in person or on video, to get some of the best of the Open division. I won’t be watching Open this year, so this is what I’ll be missing. This is not intended as a comprehensive view of every team and interesting player, and I have my own loud biases that I make no apologies for. If you see something wrong, editable, or missing please include it in the comments here on Skyd so other people can follow it as we’ll. Lastly, this is all done on the assumption that more media is good for the sport and the fans. If this heaps extra pressure on someone, especially on my Favorite Player to Watch in 2012, then I am sorry…amateur athletes deserve our respect and they didn’t buy their own ticket to Florida to listen to heckles, so please be the kind of respectful fan that the best players love.
Separated into the player qualities I most enjoy watching, here are my ones to watch for the 2012 Open Division.
Skill with the disc: Chain’s Greg Swanson has every throw, and can be creative even in pressure situations. He allows Atlanta to play with fewer throwers if they want, which is especially useful in low-wind, when block-getters are at a premium. Watch what other teams do to try and keep the disc out of his hands, and when they fail, watch what he does to feed the big throwers that are happy to use his breaks to stroke open hacks.
Around the division: Tad Jensen, who USAU has graciously allowed to play this year, is a matchup nightmare for Rhino opponents. Chris Mazur’s confident lefty attacks helps the PoNY offense score breaks. David Melancon is the old-school Texan who has the most subtle skills.
Efficiency: A combination of experience and anticipation help Furious’ Andy Collins run the right route. Watching him for a entire point, and see if you can spot a wasted movement. Not that he isn’t fast, but Collins routinely plays successfully both ways against faster athletes who run less efficiently and intelligently. He won’t be favorite with NW fans, but he’s a model for players looking to expand their game.
Around the division: Truck’s Keven Moldenhauer has evolved from a super-aggressive defensive athlete to an always-open game reader from the cutting position until he slides into a handler role nearer the end zone.
Fitness: Ultimate athletes are incredible in their speed endurance. Since Sam C-K (and a few others) destroyed Rich Franklin’s endurance course record at EndZoneAthletics in Seattle we’ve had some evidence that these athletes match up with real pros just fine. A wonderful example is Russell Wallack, who is a grinder for the Ironside D-line. The true measure of fitness for a defender is not that Russell never breathes hard…it’s that he pours every ounce of energy into every second on the field.
Around the division: Beau Kittredge is a wonderful athlete. He is also in the gym as much as any pro, and while he might be an all-star without training he has earned the endurance and recovery time that allows his to be a special player. Sockeye’s Reid Koss fits in this category as well.
Footwork: Tear your eyes away from the disc for a few minutes and watch some feet. Hylke Sneider patrols for Bravo from his home in the Netherlands. If a 5-foot player had his footwork, we would call him quick. For a man his size to have deft feet makes him terrifying. Similarly, watch Seattle’s Phil Murray juke and, very effectively, pause to give defenders time to get out of position.
Around the division: Nick Lance has fantastic pivots, and Kurt Gibson has the best first step in the game. Kiran Thomas is smooth at his attack points for Doublewide and Loppy Kershner has driving piston legs for Bravo, two very different approaches that both work well.
Space eaters: the biggest and highest flyers in the game change the game when they’re on the field. Older fans will remember past games with Nord, Damien, Schoettler and Safdie ruling the sky. Those players now are best typified by Ironsider Colin Mahoney, Revolver’s Beau, Chain link Joel Wooten, Portland’s Chase Sparling-Beckley, and Sockeye’s Matt Rehder (unfortunately lost for the season with a broken arm, putting a lot of pressure on Frank Devin Barich to step into a more consistently attacking leading role). Just outside this first group, but still in the best big men in the game, are Austin’s Richardson, Toronto’s Lindquist, and Ringer Ken Porter. Brodie Smith is in this category as well when healthy, and hopefully he is back or will be back soon.
Mentality: one of the major reasons that San Francisco’s Robbie Cahill is in the conversation for best player in the game is his focus and perspective on the field. The same thing that let’s him keep his respect and sense of humor while playing is that thing that let’s him be loose, creative, and aggressive in the biggest moments. There is a zone point from World’s versus Canada where he throw more than ten gut-wrenching throws. At the same time, he can smile. Not every player needs to play with a sense of humor, but those that can have an advantage on others that need harder emotions to maintain focus.
Around the division: Bostonian Teddy Browar-Jarus fits the same mold, as does Minnesotan handler Sam O’Brien. Jimmy Mickle does this very well with Bravo. It is possible to have fun while playing at the highest level, regardless of how things are going. All can flip the switch without shutting down their personality.
Intensity: Some people play hard all the time. Joe Sefton has become far more effective than his raw athleticism might have suggested in his 2009 rookie year with the Fish. This is the long term result of playing every point will full energy. You’ll see him fighting for little footwork and vision advantages during moments in the game that most players don’t use for anything.
Around the division: I think Joshua ‘Ritcher’ Ackley took a point off once in 2005, and never again since. Just watch him away from the disc, whether on O or D, and then try to coach younger players to play like that.
Teammate: Going a little off mode here, watching the teammate dynamics on Doublewide is going to be fascinating. They have several of the great teammates, like Mike Natenberg, in the game. They have a Florida core of fantastic teammates in the Gibsons and Cole Sullivan. They have a star player returning from injury that takes a lot of teammate support in Smith, and a wonderful teammate and leader returning from his own injury in Presley. They’ve tried a roughly Florida-on-D and Austin-on-O split.
How will this work? With injuries and missed tournaments, will they come together in the work-free Sarasota environment? When the game is on the line, will Brodie be able to use the skills of all his teammates, or with they rely on his body too much? So many teammate issues in one team is going to tell us a lot about these players in just one tournament, wherever they end up.
Around the division: Sockeye vet Moses Rifkin is still my gold standard for teammates. You can see the same oozing support for Ironsides players coming from Jacob Goldstein. These are players that would help any team, even if they weren’t as productive on the field.
Feel: With some players, you get the sense that their first throw was an intelligent swing pass and that they always know the right place to poach. These players have a natural feel for the game, and whether that is from inherited skill or hard practice work they are often the first to adapt to new scenarios or conditions. Brett Matzuka is a great example, and he handles and cuts for Ring based smoothly on what the other team gives him, switching smoothly between roles. Will Neff plays handler D like he has had a disc in his hand since kindergarten, which may actually be true.
Around the division: For that always-comfortable feel for the game, watch Cody Bjorklund of Portland, Josh Marquette of Ironside, and Alan Kolick of Truck Stop. They just seem to have done everything before and react to surprises comfortably.
Folks having All-Star seasons: these are some of the guys that have had seasons so good that one suspects they spent the winter re-dedicating themselves to mastering their crafts. They stand out for taking their games to the next level, like Ring’s Noah Saul, Rhino’s Mario O’Brien, Chain’s Nick Lance, and Ironside’s Peter Prial did last year, among others.
- Gailits, Vancouver
- Joye, Bay Area
- Marsh, New York
- Sefton, Koss, Karlinsky and Murray for Seattle (I see more of them, and know them better, so my bias has me failing to decide between the three)
- Vasilyev, Toronto
- Spears, Atlanta (especially early in the year)
Greatest Player in the Game Watch: While I don’t claim to be the sole or even a reliable expert on this, the short list is something close to the following although in no particular order. Watch these guys, and make your own call for 2012 after the tournament. Tell us in the comments who is missing from this list, and why, if you disagree:
- George Stubbs (working title: Fortch 2.0)
- Seth Wiggins (I’m biased, obviously. Does it all for Rhino.)
- Dylan Tunnell (will be on this list until we forget his dominance at 2009 Nationals, and his ability to rise to that again.)
- Beau Kittredge (Doesn’t just throw. Throws very efficiently.)
- Chase (Rounding in to form with Rhino? Or just a good day at NW Regionals?)
- Robbie Cahill (working title: If Damien had had great coaching from college on, he would have played like this at this age.)
- Kurt Gibson (Getting faster, weirdly.)
- Brodie Smith (although 2013 should be better/healthier.)
- And the open spot that John Hassell left when he retired
The last call: You have two hours at the Polo fields to watch, and you want one player to focus on? That’s a nearly impossible decision, but my editors are forcing me. I’m looking for a player that doesn’t just have the talent and the desire, but also someone that might do something new and has the potential to make a uniquely big play on either O or D. And I want to watch someone fun; someone with a personality that makes me want to go play when I get home. With about a half-dozen players in mind, if I had to choose then I’m watching Dylan Freechild of Rhino. He’s the best watching mix of fiery and cool under pressure. He’ll handle and give-go one point and then stay on for his 4th in a row and get a block deep. Smile for the camera, Freechild, us old guys need something to watch that reminds us why we love this sport so much.
Feature photo of Dylan Freechild by Jeff Bell – Ultiphotos.com