By Victor Smith
It’s easy to wonder what’s been up with Ring of Fire given their recent results. They range from the good, (Ring’s 5-1 record at Chesapeake Invite) to the bad, (Ring going 1-5 at Labor Day, the next weekend) to the weird (Ring’s loss to crosstown rival Cash Crop was the team’s first at Sectionals since 2002). Explaining this disparity is difficult. The way I see it, there are two possible explanations: Ring is either wildly inconsistent or they are peaking at the right time.
Ring’s only loss at the Chesapeake Invite came at the hands of a dominant Ironside that would go on to win the tournament. If you’ve been following club ultimate this season, you know that Ironside has only one loss this season; hats off to Rhino.
Labor Day Invite came one week later. Ring flew out to Santa Cruz with a depleted roster; they never had more than 17 playing in a single game and in some went as low as 15. Moreover, a few Ring players had flight difficulties and didn’t get to the West Coast until early Saturday morning. At the tournament, Ring won their first game against Machine then lost their subsequent five games. The rest of the games were all knock-down drag-out affairs, the shortest of them coming out at 23 points. Ring’s roster issues might help explain their dismal record, but as expected, captain Noah Saul neither made excuses nor dwelled on his team’s poor showing.
“I think it’s fair to say that our missing personnel hurt us at Labor Day, but there were several games which we still should have won, and other reasons why we didn’t. We learned a lot about ourselves at that tournament.”
Let’s move on to Sectionals, where Ring looked unsteady throughout the weekend and lost to Cash Crop on double game-point. I wasn’t able to watch the whole game, but what I heard was that Ring built a comfortable lead during the first half only to have Cash Crop come back in the second half. Ring pulled on the final point and Cash Crop’s regular O-line worked it meticulously down the field and scored without turning the disc, handing Ring their first Sectionals loss in 10 years.
When asked what the game meant to the team, Saul said, “I think it served as a good wake-up call. We didn’t show the grit or heart at Sectionals that we needed going into the series, and that is what our team is all about.”
“Cash Crop are a good team that played great at Sectionals while we did not,” Added captain Josh Mullen. “We know that if we don’t play well, we will lose to a lot of good teams.”
Ring rolled into Regionals two weeks ago with a few questions to answer: Would the results be similar to Sectionals? Would the lack of Brett Matzuka (sidelined by a wedding) derail Ring’s offense? With only two bids to Nationals and Cash Crop seeded ahead of them, Ring needed to make a statement on the weekend. They did just that, going 4-0 on Saturday and notching a convincing win over Cash Crop, 15-6.
“We’re gonna take it to Chain tomorrow,” predicted Matt Bode on Saturday night. It didn’t happen. Ring’s offense looked shaky, turning the disc on a few underthrown hucks, and they had trouble dealing with Chain’s huck-happy D-line. Chain took the game 15-10. Meanwhile, on the other side of the bracket, Cash Crop was coming back for another shot at Ring.
Coming off a universe point win over Florida United, Cash Crop was fired up coming into the game and it showed when they scored an early break. Ring, however, responded back, and while Cash Crop kept it close through the first half and remained within striking distance until the 9-7 mark, Ring rattled off five unanswered points to put the game out of reach. After losing one D-point, Ring would seal the win off a huck to Tommy Lamar that definitively prove them the stronger side.
The question now remains: what do we make of these results? It would be easy (if disrespectful) to chalk up the Labor Day losses to lack of numbers and unfortunate travel logistics, and the Sectionals loss to a strong and in-form Cash Crop that upset a misfiring and unfocused Ring. But what about their losses to top teams like Ironside and Chain? These losses weren’t particularly close and seem to indicate that Ring is still has a way to go to compete with top-talent.
“We are confident that we have the individual talent to beat any team in the nation,” Saul said in response to questions about results against these teams. “The challenge for us has been to play our best throughout entire games and tournaments. We know that if we do that, we can beat the teams like Chain and Ironside who have admittedly had our number recently. We structured our season and practices in order to peak at Nationals, and we feel good about where we are with Nationals approaching.”
Looking at the difference between Ring’s showing at Sectionals and Regionals, it’s not a stretch to say that Ring’s performance is on an upward trajectory. Nationals remains a blank slate and a chance to put past results behind them. With Revolver up first in Sarasota, they have the opportunity to prove they belong at the top. “We are excited to play Revolver first game at Nationals,” said Saul. “It will be a good test for us and a chance to get some early momentum. Our goal is to win it all, so it is nice to start off the tournament against the defending champs and see where we stack up.”
It’s a familiar Noah Saul catchphrase: “you gotta be a winner. It’s the only way you’re gonna win s*&t.” Is Ring peaking in time to be winners?