It’s difficult to imagine the drama getting THAT much better than what we saw on Sunday at Northwest Open Regionals in Burlington, WA. You would have seen a defending champion on the ropes, gamesmanship, redemption, and of course a case of what could have been. For those that weren’t there, you should have been listening to our live audio feed and participating in our live blog, which would have brought you that much closer to the action. I’ve written how the consequences of the final point of Sockeye vs. Revolver in the semi-final reverberated through the rest of the tournament on USAU’s site , but here you’re going to find a much more in depth look of the entire “situation”.
Defending Champs on the Ropes
The opening day was not a test for Revolver, especially with their closest opponent laying down their arms. With Rhino backing down, Revolver cruised through the day, and remained humble as always. If there is a team that always says the right things and attempts to prepare for a tough test, it’s Revolver. Their coach, Alex Ghesquiere, said they would it make out it out of the Region “if we are lucky” and Adam Simon was focused on not having to play in the backdoor finals. Revolver may have been caught off guard early by Sockeye as a result of not being tested in pool play.
Seattle Sockeye definitely brings a confidence onto the field every time they start a game – a knowledge that they can take it to any opponent. After an easy break for Revolver, Sockeye’s defense started to command the game, giving them an 8-5 half time lead. From their own mouths, Revolver cites Seattle’s junk defense and quick switches as the way Sockeye jumped out in front. After all the articles and quotes I’ve seen on RSD on why zone is a flawed strategy, you just have to watch this defense to see why it still works. Most offenses are built on flow, speed, and quick movement, and that’s exactly what this defense takes away.
Revolver has gone on runs in the second half of games by adjusting after halftime. Their defense began to tighten up and take away the clean passes that Sockeye was relying on early in the first half. This ability to clamp down in important situations is why all season long, Revolver’s games have been mostly close until the end, when they go on a string of breaks. After adjustments, they will take away what you do best, and will force you into the lower percentage situations. However, it would take a Herculean effort by Beau Kittredge to bring Revolver back from an 11-7 deficit.
If you at all watched the regular season, Kittredge was a mainstay on the offensive line. Well known for his capability to strike deep, defenders often back him, yielding the underneath option. He would be used as a reset, helping to move the disc with the Revolver handlers as opposed to looking up field. Revolver would require all of his skills, on offense or defense, as he would do it all for the rest of the game. Down four, Bart Watson’s defender choose to stake out underneath because Kittredge was holding the disc. Beau didn’t hesitate , sending the backhand deep to bring it to 11-8 Sockeye.
Mike Caldwell didn’t help matters any for the Fish on the next possession by turfing a flick off of a foul call. Late in games you can see fundamentals drop off when a player relaxes. There’s an interesting premise about how athletes often falter when they have time to think, even when it’s just a few extra seconds. Stoppages can have that affect, and when Caldwell saw an opening, he moved too quickly, didn’t use proper technique and gave Revolver the disc near the goal line. The game was starting to heat up. 11-9, Sockeye’s lead.
Another Colorado alumni joined in as Mac Taylor got the hand block and dish to Kittredge to bring Revolver within one. 11-10. After trading out to 13-11, Sockeye had an opportunity to nearly put the game away. After a Revolver turn, the disc went in and out of Reid Koss’ hands in the end zone. Koss had been close on a two opportunities in the Furious George pool play game with two incredible bids, and came up short yet again. Cassidy Rasmussen was closing on the play, and made contact nearly simultaneously as Koss made contact with the disc. After some deliberation with his teammates, Koss rescinded the foul call. After working it down the field, Kittredge would get another assist to make it 13-12.
After trading the next two points, Revolver needed to break to keep this game alive. With no options up field, the defense finally broke through. Mac Taylor intercepted a dump pass, giving Revolver possession right on the goal line. As Lou Burruss said in color commentary, that’s the kind of mistake you want to make seventy yards down field. Who else!? Who Else!? Beau Kittredge dishes to Rasmussen and we have a tie ball game.
On universe point, Sockeye had a few golden chances to win the game. Andrew Fleming was streaking deep, wide open for the final goal. Fortunately for Revolver the wind picked up and forced Castine’s huck short. Fleming had absolutely no shot at the disc as an underneath defender picked it off. Subsequently, a low pass from Taylor was blocked by a diving Tim Gehret and gave Sockeye a golden opportunity to put the game away. Coming out of a timeout, Nate Castine would grab the disc on the break side and attempt to place a leading forehand to space for Koss. Too much on it, too far, and Castine’s second turnover was nearly the final nail in the coffin.
Back to Beau Kittredge, a man who usually doesn’t force the issue and takes the underneath. Most of Saturday he sat around in his Jamaican track suit, relaxing, while I attempted to get him to read me one of his books by firelight. On Sunday, he was a beast that could not be contained. For the first time all year we saw Hylke Snieder and Matt Rehder guard him straight up giving him both the in or the out. There’s a reason why most defenders back him, and you’ll be able to watch it on Ultivillage’s ETP soon enough. After the turn, A lofty huck from Taylor gave Rehder a shot at the D but Beau just got higher. Rehder called injury, but Kittredge stayed in the game despite chipping his two front teeth to catch the game winning goal. Out of those 8 points, Kittredge managed to at least tally 2 goals and 4 assists.
Gamesmanship: The Rhino Sleeps Tonight
With two starters suspended for three games on Saturday and captain Tad Jansen suspended for the series for letting Dylan Freechild and Eli Friedman play in sectionals, Rhino made the decision to rest their starters for the opening round game against Revolver. With a drop off in competition, this strategy seemed to give them the best shot at getting to Sarasota. Initially things would work out.
Mario O’Brien played a bulk of the points for the Rhino defensive line to turn an 8-7 halftime lead into a 15-9 victory over Furious George in the semi finals. I asked him how he managed to play nearly 8 points in a row, and he replied “I guard handlers, so I’m not expending as much energy when I’m out there”. Seth Wiggins played point guard on offense, distributing the disc quickly as he was throwing as soon as he made the catch. His vision is really what sets him apart from other athletes in this position. He spots the continuation throw before it happens, and uses the fact that his defender is out of position when he makes the catch to get off quick uncontested break throws.
We saw a majority of starters without much rotation on the field for the semi-final vs. Furious George, but once again, Rhino would not give Revolver much of a test in the finals. The Seth Wiggins watch was on until he entered the game around the 5th point despite the game being relatively close in score. Revolver cruised to victory as Rhino’s strategy was clear, face the winner of a tough Sockeye-Furious George match-up and hit them early.
Redemption: The Monkey Fights Back
Furious George did the work early in the tournament, pulling out a 15-14 win over Sockeye to take pool B after being down 11-8. Rhino still hadn’t proved themselves to be for real besides their win over Sockeye at Labor Day, and the veterans from Vancouver were caught off guard in the semi final. Furious cutter Marc Seraglia, “We didn’t expect that from Rhino”, regarding their 15-9 semi final loss. After taking it to Voodoo for the second time this weekend, Furious had the tough test of being rival Sockeye for the second time this tournament.
Sockeye brought it early, and built a lead they couldn’t hold for the third time in the tournament. With the score 11-8, I thought we might be primed for a little bit of deju-vu, but instead saw Gabe Saunkeah of Furious George call Andrew Fleming in on a force out call in the end zone to give Sockeye the 12-9 lead. However, the comeback was only delayed for a point as trusty Furious defender Andy Collins showed up in the face of controversy once again. This seemed to be the formula all weekend long, Collins is involved in a heated foul call discussion and uses that animosity to fuel the fire. Almost like clockwork, Collins will make a defensive stand and get Furious the break. The team certainly feeds off of his emotion, and this case was no different.
Instead of 3 straight breaks like in pool play, Furious would get one more during the run to make it 14-12. The situation wasn’t helped by a Fleming drop, and numerous other throwaways. Sockeye would finally counter to bring the score within one, but it would not be enough. A floaty huck was just too high for Nate Castine, and Oscar Pottinger fell down backwards with the game winning catch. But this tale of redemption was not done yet, as a rested Rhino squad awaited in the game to go.
Things would work for Rhino early as the EGO connection was alive and kicking. A combination of Eli Friedman, Cody Bjorkland, and Dylan Freechild connected on the first three goals to put Furious down 3-0. Things looked desperate early until a Furious receiver snagged a hammer over the top of his defender for their first point of the game. From here on out, Furious controlled the game. Pottinger continued to throw his pinpoint laser hucks all game long, Collins made the difference on D and Seraglia was found dishing the disc around the goal line. The offense usually flows through Seraglia close to the goal line as the handlers reverse field. After a dump, he will simply follow the play to the other side of the field, creating space for an open cut up the line.
Despite Seth Wiggins being incredibly hard to contain, Rhino just made too many mistakes in the game to go. Also, with Wiggins being the center piece, there were basic miscommunication issues with the handlers that resulted in turnovers. With that, there just wasn’t much movement from the cutters out of the L stack that the offense employed. It was definitely a head-scratcher at times how the offense continued to score despite the lack of flow. The mistakes eventually added up, giving Furious the disc on game point. After working it down the field, a few ugly short passes got the job done and there is at least one team representing Canada at Club Nationals.
What could have been: Sockeye
Much has already been made of Sockeye’s 2011 demise, and there was speculation all along that they were one the most talented teams in the nation. I recognized early that they had talent to contend with the top teams, and that was still evident throughout this tournament. I can’t say for sure what the reasons were for Sockeye failure. In the end, we can play the games of what ifs. I do know that Nate Castine will be replaying that last possession in both losses that ended their season. Reid Koss was so close to helping put the Revolver game away, and numerous other players will regret how they played.
You can blame the leadership, you can blame their strategy, but there was some element of execution missing from Sockeye all season long. Starting at the major tournaments Sockeye suffered numerous losses that really should have been alarming for any prognosticators.
- Loss to Boston at ECC despite building an early 5-1 lead
- Loss to Ring of Fire in the quarters at ECC
- Loss to Rhino at Labor Day after being up 5-1, and 6-2
- Loss to Chain Lightning in the semis at Labor Day when up 12-10
- Loss to Furious George in pool play at Regionals despite being up 11-8
- Loss to Revolver in the semis despite being up 11-7 and then 14-12
- Loss to Furious George in the back door semis despite up 12-9
Are we looking at a team similar to the current Philadelphia Eagles dream team? Lots of talent, pieces at every position, veteran presence, youth infused, yet just a lack of ability to pull out games? They clearly did the work, had some well respected leaders, so what went wrong? I’m sure even the players on Sockeye are sitting around asking the same questions, and you could get a different answer from every single person.
I have seen these cases, a traumatizing loss, and overreactions. Does Sockeye need to blow their team up by any means? No. Does the leadership need to go? Not necessarily. The one place that does need to be looked at is in the offense. Sockeye seemed to falter at times when their offense needed to perform. When defenses were able to lock down, every combination of an offensive line faltered in some way. Risky decisions were made when smart ones could have sufficed, and at the same time, some versions of the offense played it too safe. Castine will probably not sleep for a while after his two turns on universe point, but he’s not entirely to blame. When your offense cannot protect leads all season, that’s a systemic issue. Sockeye will return to prominence, as they say “Sock!Eye!Spawn!Die!”, the cycle continues.
On a side note, watching teams reactions to being eliminated is something that makes sports feel real. You don’t often get a one second snap shot that displays exactly how a team or an individual cared until they are defeated. The disbelief, the shock, everything about it so unscripted. No one “good” thinks about how they are going to feel if they lose, and their reactions are as candid as ever. I watch the Stanley Cup Finals every year for the elimination game, especially to watch the handshake line. In football, basketball, and baseball, players run to the locker room. Hockey? No, you shake your opponents hand. You get to watch moments like this, where players have given it all on the line.
One can only hope that Nationals is even close to this dramatic.