Tuesday Morning Standler: Northeast Regionals
By Bryan Jones
We were one point and one foul call away from seeing the Club Championships seeding going topsy turvy at Northeast Regionals. GOAT had Ironside on the ropes, leading 14-12 with Jeff Lindquist streaking deep. Ironside’s Jack Hatchett was hot in pursuit making up ground quickly. Lindquist gained position, caught the disc and Toronto flooded the field to celebrate. All was for naught; as the replay has shown, Lindquist’s arm was too far outstretched. With the foul overruled, Ironside would complete a 5-0 run to win the game.
Was it a foul? Replays conclude yes (Thanks to Ultiworld). Hatchett showed excellent closing speed on the deep throw, going around the outside shoulder of the receiver. As they both closed on the disc, Lindquist extended his forearm to create space to make the catch. After a foul call from Hatchett, Lindquist, in disbelief, threw it to the observer, who upheld the ruling. The call shook the confidence of GOAT to the point where they never even sniffed the end zone again.
There’s nothing like watching a good team with their back against the wall. This marks my 24th tournament this season and it’s easy to get burned out. While Labor Day and ECC show glimpses of high skill and effort, there’s just not the same desperation and emotion that you see even at a lower level college tournament. When club season gets to regionals, we finally start to see individuals and teams elevate their game. This game had nearly everything, with both sides coming back from runs early on, and it was culminated by GOAT’s end-game collapse.
I will contend that it wasn’t the foul ruling that brought on the GOAT’s disintegration, but rather intense late-game pressure defense from Boston. It all started out with a big play from 2009 Callahan winner Will Neff. Neff has gone a bit unnoticed this season with Ironside, but his catch block shortly after the upheld foul call at 14-12 set off a spark of defensive intensity that put the pressure on Toronto in a big way, to the point that even getting off simple resets became difficult for them.
Call it what you want: nerves, a lack of confidence, or hesitation from the offense, but GOAT all but handed Ironside the disc on the following three possessions. While the Ironside’s defense did indeed tighten up, GOAT’s mistakes were all internal. The three game-ending mistakes were an overthrow, a miscommunication, and a turfed disc.
Those who have read the baseball statistics bestseller Moneyball by Michael Lewis will remember the book’s mention of a study by Dick Cramer that disproved the fact that there were “clutch” hitters in baseball. Fans will point to Derek Jeter over the years vs. Alex Rodriguez, top players who had vastly different postseasons. Jeter is fondly remembered as Mr. Novemeber for his timely hitting while Rodriguez was villified for his late game ineptness. Rodriguez was perhaps guilty of squeezing the bat a little too tight, trying t do do much rather than letting the game come naturally. It’s hard to quantify mental fortitude, players who are clutch, or why Eli Manning somehow turns into a superhero in the 4th quarter of games. I do believe there are “anti-clutch” players, those without experience of the pressure moments. The biggest mistake players can make is focusing on the overarching potential of outcomes as opposed to just playing like they’ve drilled over and over again.
Did GOAT lose because they were chokers? Or did Ironside simply throw more talented defensive lines at them? The answer is some of both. Up until that point, GOAT was five for five on defensive break chances and everything was bouncing their way. There’s no question that Boston is the more talented team. Toronto knew they had to play close to their absolute best, and that level is hard to achieve over the course of the game. When those windows tighten and every throw becomes crucial, throwers start missing their receivers by inches. Every single action becomes a little bit tougher and teams that hesitate are done for.
The finish was great, but how did they get there? Anyone starting to watch during the Hatchett-Lindquist foul call point would never have guessed, but Ironside led 8-5 at halftime, had zero turnovers, and even left several prime break opportunities on the table. I had predicted Boston running away 15-8 before the game, and it looked like I still had potential to be right at halftime. However, the second half did not begin well for the Sailors.
After a Toronto offensive hold, Ironside’s Alex Kapinos started things off with a high release backhand behind Jim Foster. The GOAT defender made a great chest high layout on the disc and converted soon after. George Stubbs was point blocked on the goal line by Adrian Yearwood, Peter Prial dropped an easy one, and finally Ironside turfed a disc, giving them four consecutive turnovers. What was remarkable was Toronto’s ability to convert on all of these breaks, going four for four in this series and five for five total. The best defensive lines convert at a 60% rate. GOAT’s defense played better than the best.
The credit for GOAT’s success on those series should be fully given to Adrian Yearwood and Anatoly Vasilyev. Yearwood’s explosiveness is absolutely a treat to watch. To quote Zack Smith, he has “lightning fast shoulder fakes” and is one of the most agile athletes in the game. Stubbs hasn’t had to play too much defense this year, but he was still limited in putting pressure on the standout. Both him and Vasilyev kept the play alive with give and go’s up the field.
On the other side, Toronto’s offense relied on big plays. Scotty Nichols and Derek Alexander provided the backend support to distribute the disc with short passes, but the real treat was Cam Harris sending it deep early and often to Lindquist. Lindquist’s speed was difficult for teams to handle all weekend. No matter how obvious it was, Harris managed to get the inside-out huck off to Lindquist sprinting deep almost every time.
There was a bit of a buzz from the inclusion of international stars Justin Foord of Great Britain (Clapham) and Sebastian Sporrong of Sweden (most recently of the now-defunct Skogs). Sporrong seemed to fit in well, GOAT’s David Janssen called his transition into the offense “seamless”. However, Sporrong’s lack of chemistry accounted for two turnovers against Boston. Both occurred on similar plays where Sporrong threw an underneath pass to a cutter going deep. This also accounted for Hatchett’s interception with the score tied at 14. Despite those miscues, Sporrong is a beast of an athlete. For ultimate fans alike, let’s hope Toronto sends him deep every once in a while. Foord, on the other hand, was spotted on the defensive line, coming up with a big block in the third place game against Dark or Light.
The good for Ironside is the show of resiliency, and the bad is that they were one catch away from losing this game. I was impressed with what I saw from the defensive line, which is the deepest in the country. Want a lineup that can stand up to the height of Doublewide? Seth Reinhardt, Jon Hirschberger, Colin Mahoney, Russell Wallack and Will Neff are all capable. Need someone to battle the small ball of Sockeye? Chrisitan Foster, Rusty Ingold-Smith, Jacob Goldstein (when healthy), Miles Montgomery-Butler and Alex Simmons can be your man. Not to mention Jack Hatchett, who was invovled with two of the turnovers and two goals in late action.
The offense is where I have concern — not for lack of skill, but rather consistency. Ironside has been their own worst enemy when it comes to turnovers, drops and looking off a high-percentage option for a risky throw. Jacob Taylor, Matt Rebholtz, and Josh Markett are more than capable of providing resets, so why are we seeing up field errors? Regardless, a near loss may have been the perfect situation for Coach Josh McCarthy. Motivation is no longer needed after a scare that big, and Ironside retains their number one seed.
One of the hardest things to do in sports is to beat a good team twice. In the second game, the winning team is looking to keep doing what they’ve been successful with, while the other team is coming in with motivation and a new game plan. Couple that with trying to recover from blowing a 14-11 lead against the number one team in the country. That’s a tough situation, and it showed in the 2nd place game of GOAT vs. PoNY.
First, New York almost didn’t make it to this game. At 14-14 against Dark or Light, PoNY turned the disc on the Amherst goal line. The season looked to be in jeopardy with a break side cut open in the endzone, but Captain Jack Marsh answered with a hand block. PoNY worked it down the field for the win and to advance to the 2nd/3rd place game.
More importantly, they achieved a 2-0 record against Dark or Light. For those who aren’t aware, any team with a 2-0 tournament record against any other team means that a rematch between the two cannot be scheduled in the same tournament. If Dark or Light had won that third game, PoNY could have ended up exiting empty-handed, but with a 2-1 series lead. Thus, PoNY’s remaining tournaments outcomes were a win over GOAT (Qualify for the Championships), a loss and a face-off against Dark or Light (Qualify for Championships) or face Phoenix, a team they had already beaten 15-2 on the day.
With the knowledge that their bid to Club Championships was nearly secured, PoNY smelled blood and went for the jugular. Despite injuries to offensive handlers Kevin Riley and Ben Van Heuvelen as well as defenders David Ferraro and Andrew Wilkes, New York came together. Captain Jack Marsh said it was great to see people “fill in” for the injuries as they ran away with the 15-10 victory. After a tough first possession with a few turnovers, PoNY stuffed it in and punched their ticket to Sarasota.
It was evident on the faces of GOAT that they simply had no mental capacity to be in this game. The sidelines told the story: loud and boisterous on the New York side and quiet and slumped on the Toronto side. It’s distinct to the tournament formats of this sport. It’s possible to have to play a critical game immediately following a heartbreaking loss. It’s also not always single elimination mode at tournaments. At Club Championships it’s possible to win 2 out of 5 games before advancing to pre-quarters (See Southpaw 2011). Having the mental fortitude to forget about the previous game is important for winners and losers.
The shakeup lacked the drama of the 2011 Northwest regional because the favorites were not eliminated from Club Championships. GOAT would beat Dark or Light in the 3rd place game 15-12. Dark of Light is filled with Amherst and several Tufts players, the squad stayed true to its young athletic roots. Jonah Herscu was dangerous with the disc, often finding up and comer Amos Adams deep. Not bad for a pick up team.
I ended up 11/16 on my picks for exact position at Regionals, and I predicted 15/16 of the National qualifiers correctly. The only team I have to eat crow on is Boost Mobile, who handled competition easily on their way to a second place finish at Southwest.
It’s evident from conversations with those around the nation that previous year finish and head-to-head has been considered the litmus test for seeding. I do wonder how USAU will use the fact that this year’s regular season was sanctioned in accordance with the results. Let’s take a look at some of the major issues concerning seeding:
Issue 1. Revolver vs. Doublewide and Sockeye – Battle for Number 2
Where do the defending champions lie? Some will tell you they deserve the number two position, as they are 1-1 vs. Sockeye with only two other losses on the season. I have them at the three spot in my personal seeding, but we could see them ahead of Seattle or behind Texas. Hard to see San Francisco fall behind Johnny Bravo, even though they only have three losses. The problem for Doublewide is that their regular season came with six losses. If we are only going off of Labor Day results, losses to Johnny Bravo and Rhino still bring up questions. Sockeye, Revolver and Doublewide is my order.
Issue 2. Furious vs. Machine vs. Rhino – Battle for Number 7
Rhino was the clear winner out of these three before Regionals, but the kink in the hose was their loss to Furious at Regionals. Machine has two head to head victories over Furious, but no big wins on the season. Who do we reward in this instance? My rankings put Rhino above Machine even with a close loss to Furious.
Issue 3. GOAT vs. PoNY vs. Boost Mobile vs. Madison Club – 13 through 16
If we just simply argued about the last three of those teams, it would be an open and shut case. Madison Club followed by Boost Mobile, followed by PoNY. The problem arises when PoNY’s win over GOAT at regionals is factored in. Should GOAT fall all the way to 16 as a result, putting PoNY at the 15? Before this, GOAT was clearly at least the 12th seed and one loss to PoNY is less damaging than anything else we’ve seen on these squads resumes. I have them ordered as PoNY, GOAT, Madison Club, Boost Mobile.
Pool of Death based on… Math?
While we’ll have a Skyd compile rankings based on results at the end of this week, here’s my individual thoughts on where teams lie with comparison to their seeding. Shout out to Tyler Kinley for the idea.
1. Ironside 0
2. Revolver +1
3. Doublewide +1
4. Sockeye -2
5. Johnny Bravo 0
6. Chain Lightning 0
7. Rhino- +1
8. Furious George +1
9.Ring of Fire +1
10. GOAT +4
11. Machine -2
12. Sub Zero -1
13. Truck Stop -1
14. PoNY 0
15. Madison Club 0
16. Boost Mobile 0
There are small differences in most cases, but we’re looking at GOAT as the most under seeded team at this tournament. While seeding should factor in results as they are, GOAT played ECC and Chesapeake with extremely low numbers. They may not be Ironside, but we should see them competing for the top 8.
Sockeye drops in my rankings because they will be without Matt Rehder, who broke his arm on a greatest attempt at Saturday at Regionals. Rehder was a big piece of the Sockeye offense, and was one of the few allowed to take shots in the small ball offense. Sockeye looked like a potential finals team, but now I have them relegated to the 4 spot.
We’ll be looking at some of the superstar players for some of these teams in the coming editions of Tuesday Morning Standler.