With contributions from Alex Cooper and Gene Buonaccorsi
After Hurricane Irene ruined Chesapeake weekend, there were no natural disasters to inhibit the running of the 2011 Labor Day Ultimate Championships or the Chicago Heavyweight Championships. Between these two tournaments, we saw all but a handful of Nationals contenders on the fields in their last tune-ups before the Series.
The race for the Central title intensified this past weekend, with the region’s top four contenders trading blows into the semifinals and beyond. Machine escaped with a perfect record that included important wins over Madison Club (pool play and semis), Sub Zero (finals), and an improving Madcow squad (pool play). And speaking of Madcow, the Ohio team certainly complicated things by breaking seed, charging to the semifinals, and splitting the weekend series with Madison Club. Sub Zero took care of business against everyone except Madison Club, and their run to the finals should give them confidence as they head into the Series. Madison Club performed well, but Machine definitely asserted its superiority over Madison by beating Madison twice in the same weekend.
This tournament just effed shiz up. Doublewide, widely regarded as one of the nation’s top three teams, struggled with many playmakers out on account of the injury and conflict bugs. Kurt Gibson tweaked his hamstring, Kevin Richardson hurt his knee, and Jerrod Wolfe suffered a concussion, all in Doublewide’s first game. Cameron Bond rolled his ankle against Sockeye (third game), and David “Salad” Melancon and Chase Hudson (two offensive starters) were not in attendance. Sockeye, a team on the Tier 1 bubble, swam to the semis, but not before being upset by regional rival Rhino. Who picked Rhino to win pool B? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Sockeye had its own injury woes to deal with, as Dave Bestock sat out Saturday, Danny Karlinsky sat out the whole weekend, Simon Montague was sidelined with broken fingers, Mike Caldwell broke his nose Sunday, Erik Doesburg had a hurt hamstring, Skip Sewell went down with undisclosed injuries, and Tyler Kinley got concussed in the semifinals against Chain.
What’s the point of all this injury talk? A lot of the writers at IB hate the excuse, “Oh well, you can’t really blame them for losing this game because they were missing that person or this combination of players.” But Doublewide’s injuries took out nearly their entire O-line before Saturday was over, and Sockeye’s injuries knocked out three of its four captains, who are also major playmakers. There were other factors that contributed to the teams’ poor play—Doublewide couldn’t connect on its floaty/touch hucks to space that it did in Colorado, and Sockeye’s offense couldn’t hold on DGP against both Rhino and Chain, despite being near the opposing goal line in both points. Still, the injuries and absences of offensive and defensive staples negatively impacted these teams’ complexion and performance.
Revolver beat Furious, Furious beat Chain, Chain beat Revolver, and then Revolver beat Chain. There’s no transitive property of sports application here—there are just great teams losing to great competition. The Mid Atlantic Region posted a particularly poor showing, with Southpaw going winless and Cash Crop’s only win coming against Southpaw in placement play, when Cole Sullivan was given more freedom to handle. If there’s any indication that the club open division needs to quickly adopt a more regular season strength-based bid system (like the college divisions), it is this tournament’s results. The Mid Atlantic just doesn’t have the depth that the Northwest does, but this year’s Nationals field will still be comprised of four Mid Atlantic teams and just two Northwest teams. Ugh.
Before we give too many justifications away in the recaps, let’s jump to the rankings:
Tier 1: Revolver, Ironside, Chain Lightning, Doublewide, Sockeye
Tier 2: Furious George, Ring of Fire, Rhino, Truck Stop, GOAT
Tier 3: Machine, Johnny Bravo, PoNY
Honorable Mention: Sub Zero, Voodoo, Southpaw, Cash Crop, Madison Club Oakland Ultimate, Streetgang
These rankings still reflect how good we think teams are, not necessarily how likely it is that they’ll make Nationals or how well they’ll perform there.
- Revolver’s offense experienced some hiccups in the form of uncharacteristic drops and throwaways from Cahill, Watson, and Rasmussen, but San Francisco fought through its difficulties and posted an emphatic tournament finals win over Chain. They did it all without Russell Wynne playing on Sunday, either.
- Ironside has not played since ECC, so they stay locked in Tier 1.
- Chain Lightning put together an excellent weekend, with notable victories over Revolver and Sockeye. The Seattle victory had to feel sweet, as the Fish ended Chain’s Worlds and Nationals runs last season. One Sockeye player commented that Chain’s danger lies in its slight delineation between handlers and cutters. Chain has players like Nicky Spiva, Dylan Tunnell, and Grant Lindsley who are threats downfield and behind the disc. Force Nicky out, and he’ll take you to the house. Force Nicky under, and he’ll feed someone else in the endzone. You get our point.
- We realize that Doublewide is a controversial Tier 1 team with their subpar performance at Labor Day. But we still think that they’re one of the nation’s top teams provided everyone is healthy. No offense to Doublewide’s sectional competition, but the Austin boys don’t have another truly meaningful or challenging game until Regionals in October—that’s plenty of time for people to get healthy and get Doublewide’s o-line back to full strength.
- Sockeye fought to the semis despite several tough injuries, and both of their losses came on double game point to quality teams. There’s no reason for them to leave Tier 1.
- Furious missed out on the championship bracket by mere points. They earned solid victories over Doublewide and Chain Lightning, and lost to the best team in the world. Had they made the championship bracket and/or the finals, they could have put themselves in the Tier 1 discussion.
- Ring hasn’t officially played since ECC, so they stay at Tier 2. There was a Charlotte round robin in place of Chesapeake, but none of the attendees had their full rosters, and it’s not on Score Reporter, so we’ll discount anything that happened there.
- Rhino came out of nowhere to take Pool B. Seth Wiggins and Dylan Freechild are the real deals. Their Labor Day surge, along with Furious’ performance, has to plant a more than a seed of doubt in everyone’s mind that Sockeye has that second Northwest bid locked up.
- Truck Stop hasn’t played since ECC, so they stay at Tier 2.
- GOAT hasn’t played since the Canadian Ultimate Championships, so they stay at Tier 2.
- Machine wins Chicago Heavyweights Classic against competition at or below its level. They are the Central and Tier 3 frontrunner.
- Johnny Bravo posted some disappointing results at Labor Day. They were missing captain Ryan Farrell, veteran David Belsheim got concussed, and Austin Gangel suffered a knee injury that might have ended his season. Furthermore, with David Popiel and Matty Zemel having left the roster, the team had to quickly integrate Jeff Grobe (of Barrio) and Steven Rouisse (from semi-retirement). Their losses were to Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 competition, and their wins came against Honorable Mention and injury-plagued Tier 1 competition. We feel that this inconsistent performance and roster upheaval merits downgrading them for now.
- PoNY wasn’t terribly impressive, but they won the games they were expected to win, and maybe one more (Johnny Bravo?). They stay comfortably in Tier 3.
- Sub Zero put together a nice run to the CHC finals. Had they won, they could have moved up to Tier 3, but we think they aren’t quite on the same level as those other teams.
- Voodoo gives teams fits at Labor Day and earns a win over one of the MA’s top teams. It’s about time they earn honorable mention recognition. It’s too bad that they’re in such a tough region, because they could have a shot at a Sarasota berth if they were in the MA, for sure.
- Southpaw is the only team to plummet in these rankings. Labor Day has never been kind to the Philly boys, and going winless doesn’t give us much to go off of—they have to be moved down.
- I’m sure all the Cash Crop haters will love to see them moved down here. They played Sockeye close and beat Southpaw (indicating that the MA really is wide open), but struggled otherwise. They have some technical kinks to work out before they can become a Tier 3 team again.
- Madison Club’s run to semis keeps them here.
- Oakland and Streetgang haven’t played in a sanctioned tournament since our last rankings, so they can’t move.
Look for another set of rankings and some Nationals projections after Regionals. Until then, tell us what you agree and disagree with in the comments.
Photo by Ben Beehner