It might only be the last week of June, but with a few tournaments in the books and several rosters released, we can already identify a number of important trends that span across the club landscape. A number of talented, familiar faces have hung up their cleats (at least for now) and opened the door for other veterans to take their teams’ reins. With this season being a worlds-qualifying year, the top teams have countered these losses with exciting, youthful reinforcements and notable veterans, who have come back out of the woodwork to earn a shot at representing USA (and Canada) in the World Ultimate and Guts Championships next summer. In short, major turnover is the trend in elite ultimate. Here’s an examination of some of those trends (and exceptions) across arguably the top five teams in the nation (but in no particular order).
In the Northwest, Sockeye has lost its wise point guard in Ben Wiggins and Jaime “Idaho” Arambula has retired, as well. Their departures will certainly create a bit of a culture shift and change in Sockeye’s leadership dynamics that were young and burgeoning during last year’s semis run. But things already look to be moving in the right direction after their impressive Flowerbowl and Solstice performances in split and united squads. Picking up legend returner Alex Nord, international monster (6’7”) Erik “The Kraken” Doesburg, and college standouts Julian Childs-Walker and Simon Montague at least partially counters these losses by adding more athleticism and explosiveness to the Seattle roster. It’s my belief that this year’s Sockeye squad will only go as far as its offensive unit will take it, with the O handling corps having to move on without Wiggins and get used to former defenders, like Nate Castine, doing more offensive cutting than in the past. Seattle’s defensive team, led by co-captain Tyler Kinley, should be as solid as it’s been in the past. Overall, it should not be unreasonable to think that Sockeye’s handlers might take a few more deep shots this year, especially if Nord and the Kraken can step on the field with any combination of NexGen player Phil Murray, young stud Matt Rehder, or returner Frank Barich, all of whom owned the skies in Sarasota last fall. Reaching anything less than semifinals could be underachieving for this team. Chomp, chomp, chomp.
Revolver lost 2008 and 2010 national champion cutter Brian Garcia and defensive handler Tyler Grant. After tryouts, the Bay Area team’s big name pick ups included accomplished handler Adam “Chicken” Simon and returning utility man Tom James. Neither of them will be able to fill the precise (and perhaps overlooked) cutting void left by Garcia, but as Robbie Cahill points out, the team had “a glut of cutters” last year, so the offensive unit should be fine, so long as UCSC star Cassidy Rasmussen and Josh Wiseman (whom Cahill and Bart Watson claim is now faster than ever) can continue to serve as viable downfield options. And with Mac Taylor, Ashlin Joye, and Taylor Cascino still there to anchor a star-studded D-line that will gain Tom James, Revolver’s D should be just fine. This is a massive opportunity for Revolver to win back to back champies AND vie for back to back world championships, certainly solidifying their place in history as one of few teams to do this. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on a domestic repeat this year.
Chain has lost leaders and stalwarts in cutters AJ Tiarsmith and Josh Ziperstein. At the same time, they’ve picked up NexGen stud Nicky Spiva, who has proven that he can do it all with both Tanasi and Wasabi, and former Minnesota Callahan nominee Michael Arenson. Chain has also regained big man Joel Wooten, who played for Southpaw last season, and Carleton grad Grant Lindsley, who really needs no explanation. Chain’s losses, while substantial, could prove to be a blessing in disguise, as the team looked unprepared going into last year’s Champies and unable to adapt to different defensive looks. It’s time for the new pickups of last year, like Jolian and Sammy C-K, to further gel with this team on the field, and it’s time for the new leadership of Dylan Tunnell, Russell Snow, and Mark Poole to make Chain as competitive as it can be. A fresh start could be just what Atlanta needs to get all of this talent on the same page.
There’s no way around it: Ironside proves to be a notable exception to these patterns, as their losses are massive and their gains are yet to be seen. You’re down an experienced handler with Chicken’s move to the Bay Area. You’re down a hard-working leader and dominant cutter with Jeff Graham’s
retirement switch to Mixed. You’re down a Callahan winner and proven force at the club level with Will Neff’s switch to the Mixed division. You’re down a charismatic veteran and leader in Sam Rosenthal, and Seth Crockford’s departure can’t be overlooked, either. Boston still has Josh McCarthy scripting the first fifteen, though, so I’m sure he will make the best of the situation at hand, much like he did with a Harvard Redline squad that battled injuries throughout its 2011 campaign. This weekend’s Boston Invite will be an interesting test of how well some rumored Bodhi pickups, including Alex Kapinos and Jon Hirschberger, can work in McCarthy’s system, and how Boston has moved on without Graham and Neff.
And then there’s Doublewide. It’s hard to imagine them falling short of their 2010 semis appearance, as this skilled, athletic roster now has a year of gelling and big game experience under its belt. They’re also experiencing very little turnover, gaining Faissoil M’Bae (Ironside’s Nas’ brother) and a
German Dane, Mads Bakkegaard, with great ups and surprisingly accurate blady throws. Doublewide put together the best season in the team’s history last year, but that semis run also decreased the touches of previous primary playmakers. Will Brodie and Kurt continue to play catch in the big games? Can Doublewide bring more to the table offensively? It will be interesting to see if they can vary up their offensive looks and utilize some of the Texas talent more so than they did last year. Don’t get me wrong, Doublewide has the potential to put together a stellar season. But if they happen to run into Revolver, Sockeye, or a smarter Chain in Sarasota, their offense is in trouble. My guess is that the disc will continue to flow through Brodie and Kurt, no matter what. That strategy could win them the South again, but it will not win them a national title.
These ramblings are just the tip of the speculative iceberg – we’re going to work to bring you in-depth previews of the top twenty or so open teams in the coming weeks. Just because we didn’t talk about Ring or Southpaw or Furious or whoever doesn’t mean we’re ruling them out or we’ve forgotten about them. We’ll get to them. For instance, I am excited to release the Bravo preview soon, as their additions of Arizona greats Joe Kershner and Austin Gregerson make them (at least on paper) a legitimate dark horse capable of making some serious noise in Sarasota.
And remember that it’s early. Lots of things could happen before Sarasota, altering the arc of the season. Beau could develop carpel tunnel working on his children’s books and become incapable of throwing flicks (wait…). Brodie could hurt his right shoulder in an unfortunate Bro Tips filming accident. The NexGen kids could experience burnout before ECC. Chesapeake could get rained out.
This season has the makings of an explosive Michael Bay film, but with a more plausible and intriguing plot line than alien robots bringing their intergalactic battle to earth’s surface—that is, athletic adults with and without full-time jobs chasing after plastic within the confines of a barely recognized sport for a few weekends out of the year. Get your popcorn ready.
Thanks to David Pichler and Henry Wotton for their contributions to this article.