Seattle Sockeye is one of the most famous Ultimate teams in the world. Since 2002, the Fish have made three semis appearances, won three championships, and lost in the finals once. After their third championship in 2007, some of Sockeye’s talent slowly trickled out of town and into retirement. Chase Sparling-Beckley moved to Virginia and Alex Nord took time away from the game. But under the guidance of a new leadership core that put together a surprising WUCC 2010 finals appearance and a strong 2010 USAU semis finish, Sockeye is looking to battle Revolver for the Northwest Regional title and add another star to their jerseys.
It’s hard to downplay Ben Wiggins’ retirement. He’s been one of the few constants in Sockeye’s offense since the mid-late ‘00s, a time that saw Sockeye rack up three championships (’04, ’06, and ’07) before some major roster shakeups. An often under-appreciated aspect of captaincy is practice planning and practice leadership, so Wiggins will be missed in that regard, as well. Sockeye is also losing culture-captain Jaime “Idaho” Arambula, Thomas Sebby, Bailey Russell, and Charlie Ellis. Each of these players got quality playing time last year, so the Fish will certainly need to make strategic changes in their losses.
Seattle’s Personnel Committee has done a respectable job reloading the team’s roster by adding exciting young talent and established veterans. 2011 College Champions Julian Childs-Walker—a fast, instinctive cutter with a nose for the end zone—and Simon Montague—a lanky handler defender with devastating throws of his own—join the roster, though Montague will be gone with NexGen until early August. Erik “the Kraken” Doesburg, a 6’7” talent hailing from the Netherlands, will add height to the roster, as will the return of legendary cutter Alex Nord. Former Emerald City Ultimate captains Danny Karlinsky and Chris Kosednar will provide handler depth with their combination of solid throws and quickness.
Strategy, Leadership, and Philosophy
Last year saw the rise of Sockeye’s small ball offense. The O-line still took calculated deep looks, but the D-line offense (and O-line at times) looked like to be playing 4v4, with lots of dishes, swings, and quick disc movement. This proved troublesome for teams that couldn’t match Seattle’s speed.
“Our offensive O will change with Ben’s departure,” says co-captain Tyler Kinley, “and will probably move the disc faster…We found that to be successful last year and only really got in trouble when we looked for the ‘best’ throw instead of the easy throw. Our defensive offense will continue to look like a game of hot potato.”
Sockeye’s success in the 2010 season was rooted in its defense. The captains used the depth of their roster effectively, saving their most athletic players for the toughest defensive matchups—an environment in which players like Nate Castine flourished. Though someone like Castine might play more O this season (part of a common trend: putting your freak athlete defender on the O-line to increase your long ball completion percentage and ability to get the disc back after an O turn), there are still a number of returning athletes and pickups capable of refueling the Fish defensive unit.
Kinley added, “On defense we will try everything once. Whatever works, we’ll do that thing. Against Chain at Worlds last year, we got an early break, then didn’t touch the disc again until about 25 points later. It took us that long to find anything that would slow down their offense, but we prided ourselves on being able to adjust dynamically and to not give up. I personally love poachy defense, but Skip (co-captain Matt Sewell) loves hard man-D, so we’ll probably just argue the entire season.”
With so much talent coming in and out of Seattle, it’s important for Sockeye to have a stable leadership structure to lead the team, develop new talent, and groom up-and-coming leaders. Sockeye’s Personnel Committee handles all of those responsibilities in support of the team captains (who currently are Kinley, Sewell, Ray Illian, and Mike Caldwell).
Kinley explains, “Sockeye does a fantastic job of grooming future leaders into captains, as well as selecting players in the tryout process that already bring our core principles of hard work and dedication to the table. For instance, the Personnel Committee, which selects the roster each year, is a good place for a potential future captain to embed himself into the leadership of the team and see how some of the process works without the full-year burden of being a captain. It’s a tough, time intensive, emotional committee but one that ends by mid-June, so it’s a good position to learn from.”
Sockeye won both Flowerbowl and Solstice over split and united Furious George squads.
Regular Season Schedule
Seattle will attend ECC and Labor Day before the series. Both tournaments will have international presences, with Buzz Bullets and Australia at ECC, and Great Britain at Labor Day (among other international participants).
Kinley believes that the Fish will have to fight to have to win every game, and he and the team leadership are trying to keep last year’s lessons in perspective. For instance, a sub-par ECC performance was an important slice of humble pie for a team that finished second at WUCC 2010 weeks earlier. Kinley adds, “I think a national championship is not out of the question, but we will have to earn it and I don’t think any game will come easy.”
Sockeye has multiple middle and high school coaches, ran a local Mini tourney mid-spring, and spent 10 days in Russia teaching a massive Ultimate clinic. Kinley elaborates that the Russia clinic, “was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”
Sockeye has tremendous upside heading into the 2011 season. The leadership team of Kinley, Sewell, Illian, and Caldwell has a successful first year behind it, and it has added a crop of world-class talent to its roster. The challenge for Sockeye, as Kinley has noted, will be developing a new offensive identity now that Ben Wiggins isn’t there to catch every centering pass and reset. It’s easy to think that all the new talent will make up for those losses, but remember the lessons of Chain 2010: not all new talent, no matter how good, meshes perfectly or quickly. Still, Sockeye has posted impressive early results and can easily build on them to a semis or better Sarasota finish.