Recent History and Roster Turnover
Ring of Fire has been around since 1989, bringing together the best players from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle area. Ring’s culture is unique, according to Josh Mullen, who points to the range of personalities on the team. “That is really what makes Ring click,” he said, especially with the “influx of young guys [bringing] the energy up tremendously at practices.”
This past season saw some major losses for Ring, including several long-time players. Major names were lost, including Robbye Brooks, Jared Inselmann, and Stephen Polous (torn ACL). To answer this, there have been a number of new additions, most from the local club teams including Los and Right Coast. College additions include Tommy Lamar and Steve Bender, current and former standouts at UNC Wilmington, along with rising Virginia captain Roy Matthews. Paul Weeks has come from Los and fit in well with Brett Matzuka on Ring’s offensive unit. Mullin said that he and captains Taylor Pope and Josh Torrell, “expect all new players to become part of the system,” with most of them already playing and contributing at ECC.
Strategy, Leadership, and Philosophy
Ring restructured its personnel this year, with both O and D line changing up how they look at their strategy. There are two “separate but equal D lines, [so that each] can create cohesion as a group.” The O-line is now comprised of dynamic handler/cutter hybrid players, “to keep D teams off-guard and make match-ups difficult.”
As always, their defense will be gritty as ever. When the D-line plays well, the whole team plays well, and while they may change it up with some junk looks, there will be the man D that has come to be known as Ring’s bread and butter.
The team’s philosophy this year is based on three values: Team, Funnel, and Grit. Mullen’s words describe each three best:
“Team embodies all the character traits of being a good teammate: believe in your teammates and trust that your teammates believe in you, put the work in for the love of your team and not for yourself, etc.
Funnel is something Ring is working very hard on this year. It means to throw out all the uncontrollable and funnel your focus down to the point at hand; no looking forward and no looking back until the game is over.
Grit is probably the word that other teams use to describe Ring year in and year out. We bring energy, passion, and resiliency to each and every game we play. We pride ourselves in being the team that teams don’t want to play because of the energy they have to expend to do so.”
Results & Schedule
There was an early season split squad tournament in South Carolina, where the X and Y teams played in the finals. Though there was a loss to NexGen, they moved forward with the Furniture City Shootout afterward, splitting into O and D lines.
From there, after a talk from UNC’s sports psychologist, Ring went out to ECC ready to make some noise. A rough Friday led to a fine Saturday, and an excellent Sunday. Mullen said that “everyone realizes that we have a long way to go to get where we need to be,” but these results are promising for Ring’s future.
The only remaining tournaments left in Ring’s schedule Sectionals and Regionals. And of course, assuming Ring continues with their current progress, expect to see them at Nationals and doing well there.
The players are specific in their goal: to win a national championship. As Mullen said, “That goal has remained constant in the 22 years of the team.” That goal doesn’t look like it’ll change soon, with a good performance at ECC. They don’t have a game plan for most tournaments, other than playing the best that they can at the time, so while they would love to win the region, their goal is to peak at Nationals.
Ring has 23 players from the surrounding NC schools, so there is certainly a pipeline with the community. Josh Mullen helped coach UNC this year, and Ring players would often scrimmage against UNC and NC State. Though there are not many efforts for Youth Ultimate, they “hoped to find their niche in having a Youth camp in the Fall.”
If Ring’s ECC results are any indication, there are no definite statements about Ring’s future. While they may take another team by surprise and break that quarters hump, the likely prediction of Ring’s National’s performance is pre-quarters to semis. Maybe within the next couple years, they might make that jump to the next level, but for now this is probably still a building year towards a future National championship. They’re a team that would benefit hugely from a big name pickup, so if a few great players move there in the next few years, expect them to make the jump into the next level.