Here are the thoughts I put down on the plane last night on the way back from Sarasota:
I made a joke about Masters in my last write-up but I really do enjoy watching the Masters team’s play. As I come up on Masters eligibility age next year, I can understand the draw of being able to play in a lower commitment division, while still playing in an open setting, still playing reasonably high-level Ultimate and getting the opportunity to cleat-up in Sarasota. The Beyondors vs. Surly game is full of players who were top level players from the early 80’s (Buzz Ellsworth won a club championship with the Condors in ’81) through the last couple of years (Husak and Steets won with Jam in ’08). And while they may not be training as hard, the fact is that these guys, almost all of them that are seeing significant playing time, are phenomenal players who know how to play great Ultimate and have adjusted their games to continue to be great despite getting older. They might not fly quite as high or run quite as fast, but they make plenty of highlight reel type plays. I’m sure as my college and club cohort move in to Masters over the next couple of years and more of my former teammates and rivals take the field, I’ll appreciate it even more and possibly be drawn to it (although, frankly, I’d have to train pretty hard to play at the Nationals level).
So a couple of pieces of information that I don’t think made it out to the general public about Chain. First, in Chain’s Thursday and Friday match-ups with DW and Ironside respectively, from what I heard, Chain was only able to generate two(!) O-line turnovers in both those games. Second, Chain was playing without Robert Runner, a big piece of the D-line, particularly when it comes to helping Chain convert turns. Is Runner the reason Chain looked like a different team on Saturday then they did the first two days? I wish I could answer that. I actually only saw Chain play a total of three points – the last three points of the semifinals against Ironside. But, based on the information I have, I’m going to call Runner Chain’s missing link.
So I had high expectations for Doublewide. Going in to the tourney, I believed that they were the only team with the personnel capable to take down Revolver at this tournament. Frankly, Brodie and Kurt are beasts. Both are top five players in the Open division (along with Cahill, Dylan, and Stubbs in my opinion). DW looked great for the significant majority of the Ironside power pool game and wrecked Chain on Thursday. I was particularly impressed by their huck efficiency – in the Ironside game they hit their first 10 of 10. Krich and Tank are incredible as well and often overlooked on that team. I do think they aren’t as well utilized as they could be as DW still hasn’t figured out how to work out their O-line roles to maximize the talent they have out there. On the D-line side I was impressed by Chris Gibson who played well in the games I saw and I love Max Cook’s intensity and play. Losing Franchise is big for this team as he is a multi-threat player.
I also didn’t get the opportunity to watch the DW-Revolver Semifinal. This is another game that I wish that I could have seen – just to understand DW a little better. But, from what I saw DW could do a good deal more of identifying roles for all of their players to better utilizing them. Too often it seems like DW isn’t on the same page. Brodie seems to occupy so much of the field – and he negatively impacts the offense with some of his movement – particularly when he’s downfield. He crowds the lanes, his teammates can’t look him off, and he doesn’t clear space which reduces the shifting of spaces on the field. That lack of space shifting means that defenders have more time to adjust and set up appropriately. That’s compounded by the fact that Brodie will hold the disc for extended periods of time. Brodie has all the tools to be the best player the game has ever seen but he isn’t there yet; he isn’t even the best player playing currently. He is masterful with the disc and almost impossible to defend in the air. Gibson, Krich, and the rest move much faster than trashcans and have hands so they make easy targets. But the Florida offense has not proven to be an effective Club offense and I don’t think it can be with the level of defenders on the field.
I left the finals with more questions than answers about this team. Since when does a Boston team decide that they are going to go man come hell or high water? Boston club teams have often been the innovators on defenses, including the clam and the 1-3-3. I remember one particularly troublesome zone that DoG threw on Bravo back in 2003(?) in a windy quarters that we never were able to solve. Even the zone that they threw for that one point in the finals was effective, generating two turns out of a chilly Revolver O-line. Ironside doesn’t seem like your old Boston teams that combine great talent with innovative play and thought – something they’ll need to add to their quiver if they want to take down Revolver before they threaten the 6 championships in a row (yes, I think Revolver is capable of that).
My knowledge of Jacob Taylor is limited, but I’m confused by him being on Ironside’s starting O-line. Word on the street is that he’s got a deadly around backhand. He didn’t show that off in the finals but did have two devastating drops. These weren’t Ironside’s only unforced mistakes and I would say that Ironside lost this game more than Revolver won it – but, if I were to say that, Mike Lawler would argue that’s exactly what elite open Ultimate is, not losing the game. And I’m beginning to come around to that perspective.
On the positive, Peter Prial is golden for Ironside. He seemed unstoppable downfield and even showed off some really great throws. Prial and Stubbs are great pieces to build an offense around – and that’s exactly what Ironside should do. It’s hard to say that you need to rebuild after you make the finals, but I do think Ironside needs a fundamental change in the way they approach the game. Lou is right that Stubbs won’t be at Cahill or Brodie’s level until he is controlling the offense. Where I think he’s wrong is that I don’t think that’s entirely up to Stubbs. The system and personnel need to be designed to take advantage of Stubbs’ unique skill set (otherwise you get a system like DW where Brodie is displayed while their other strengths aren’t used). I think they need to give Stubbs more stopped disc opportunities, perhaps starting backfield and then working downfield (much like what Cahill does for Revolver). That would get him more touches, which makes downfield receivers Prial and Clark more threatening. It also means that Stubbs wouldn’t have to work as hard to get the first couple of touches he gets in a point and that allows him to do more over the course of a game or tournament. It puts a different type of defender on him – their mark has to be better – which may come at the expense of being a great downfield defender. And when Stubbs takes off deep he can do it from even with his defender (who had been marking or playing tight to deny the reset) and he has more space to run to.
All of this, however, is dependent on Stubbs continuing to play. George has been doing this for a while – at 22 this is his 7th club season and every year he’s been playing intense Spring seasons with Paideia and then Harvard. He’s had some intense summers including two Junior Worlds and this summer’s NexGen tour. He’s not a young 22 year old in either body or mind. He’s had several injuries, some a result from his odd running form. After the finals, Stubbs was the last Ironside player to get up off the field – typically you see that out of an older player contemplating the waning opportunities to win it all. Everything I know about Stubbs indicates he could be a player who leaves before the peak of his career (like a Brian Harriford for all of you old guys reading this).
I know many of the people reading this harken back to the glory days of Sockeye and Furious and consider those teams the pinnacle of the sport, but frankly, Revolver has figured out something that no Open team has figured out for a decade – back to the DoG days and NY before that. It’s how to take the best players in the game and get them to play disciplined Ultimate in a way that optimizes each player’s unique skills set. When I think of the top players in the game, the five I mentioned I believe are the best, but beyond that Revolver has several that I believe could make a case to fill out the top 20. Sherwood, Bart Watson, and Mac Taylor are the first three that come to mind. Ashlin Joye is quietly becoming dominant d-line offensive threat. But their use of players like Martin Cochran, Beau Kittredge, Tom James, Ryo Kawaoka, Taylor Cascino, Adam “Chicken” Simon, Sam Kanner, Josh Wiseman and Cassidy Rassmussen is what sets them apart. These guys are all guys that could be featured players of quarters or semis level teams – in fact many of them have been at earlier points in their careers. But what Revolver does is identify their strengths and have them perform a role where they can just play their strength. And, what is most impressive, is that they get them to do it. That’s got to be hardest part. If you weren’t aware, top level Club Open players tend to be an egotistical bunch* (when a player I knew met Mac Taylor and asked him his name he said “You really don’t know who I am? Wow. That doesn’t happen very often.”) Every team has multiple guys who think that they’ve got that throw, they can cover that guy, they should be on that point, or they should be on the O-line. If Revolver has that – which I’m sure they do, you can’t see it in their tendencies when they play.
The scariest part is that this is still a young team. Watson, at 30, is the oldest of the core of this team, with many of the players mentioned above in the 23-27 range. Unless some team adopts Crazy Frank’s motion offense or otherwise revolutionizes the game, I expect Cahill and Co. to have quite the supply of gold colored medals.
So, after my early in the week predictions I came under some fire for being a “homer.” Please excuse me while I naval gaze momentarily and feel free to skip this section. Here is my first rounds of predictions against seeding (some printed in Skyd, others written in e-mails):
- DW would beat Chain in pool play
- Chain and DW would beat Ironside in power pools
- Furious would make semis (along with Chain, DW and Revolver)
- Bucket (at 12) was underseeded and was a potential semi’s team
- Ozone would challenge Riot in the first round
- GOAT would beat Bravo in pool play
- Oakland would beat Madison
- Wheelchair would win
So, let’s be clear on who are my “home” teams. While I’ve lived in Atlanta, Providence, Boulder, Atlanta again, and now Seattle, the teams I have the strongest emotional connection to are Bravo, Bucket, Chain and Ozone having played for the first three and advised Ozone. In two cases, I called my “home” teams (Chain and Bravo) to be upset and was correct in both of those cases. The Chain over Ironside pick was incorrect but not unreasonably so; Chain showed that that was not an unreasonable pick by their play against Ironside in the semis.
I’m sure a lot of people picked Furious – I underestimated Ring and figured that Furious had a remarkably easy road through power pools (except for an expected match-up with Revolver). I obviously also underestimated Furious’ motivation to screw the NW out of a strength bid as a revenge for their anticipation of Canada being banned from the series. Either way, this can’t be a homer pick because I’m not a Furious fan.
I was wrong about Oakland over Madison and made that pick based on what I saw from the NexGen videos.
I was wrong about Wheelchair – like most people I made that pick after being blown away by the roster.
I was right on with my call of Ozone/Riot – I thought it might be a repeat of last year’s first round game where Ozone took half on Riot and then lost by two – that’s exactly what happened.
So Bucket is the big question mark. Bucket took half 8-5 in their first game against CLX and lost on double-game point. They then lost to Slow White 15-13. Three points away from winning the pool. And playing without their best defender/receiver in Rob White (he didn’t show up until Saturday and apparently got three huge lay-out blocks in Bucket’s first consolation game). I think it’s fair to say that they were underseeded – looking back, perhaps a bit of a stretch to say potential semis team as they lost to three teams that lost in the quarters (CLX, Slow White, AMP).
After Day 1 play was over, I did explicitly call Bucket over AMP in the pre-quarters and that may have been the homer in me speaking. But after two close games against good competition, this seemed reasonable.
I also called Ozone battling back up to pre-qs – that was a gutsy call because, in addition to two Ozone wins in the lower pools, it would have taken Nemesis beating RevoLOUtion and Ozone winning a three-way tie with those teams. Well, it wasn’t so far off as RevoLOUtion squeeked by Nemesis and Ozone won both their games.
I was wrong on Bravo on day two as I called them playing in preqs. I’m still surprised they lost to Southpaw, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in that.
So, my self-analysis is that my picks were overall very good and there may have been a slight overrating to my home teams out of hoping that they would do better than they did.
The Women’s Division
Something changed for me this year. Up until this year, I’ve wanted Fury to continue to be dominant. I enjoy seeing mastery. I enjoy seeing a team take pleasure in being masterful. I like Matty and everything I hear and see from Fury they seem to be a wonderful team made up of wonderful people. Perhaps it was moving to Seattle and getting to see Riot and Traffic a little more. Perhaps it was seeing Fury continue to keep top players on the roster who had moved away from SF (including Alex Snyder, Georgia Bosscher, and Alicia White). Maybe it was Matty’s women’s division preview which, while awesome, felt a little in poor taste. I’m not really sure exactly what it was – but for whatever reason, I was hoping that Fury would go down this year. I was rooting for Leila Tunnel and Phoenix in the semis – hoping that the windy conditions would be just such that Tunnel could handle the wind and the top Fury throwers would struggle. I was rooting for Riot in the finals – hoping that Riot’s revamped offense would prove difficult for Fury to slow down. I didn’t see the finals but, as disappointed as I was that Fury won, what I found heartening was that Riot came back at the end and pushed Fury. This is the first time in my memory that Fury hasn’t won going away. I don’t mean just scoring on a defensive point to win but actually closing the game in definitive fashion. I think this speaks to a turned corner for Riot and perhaps Fury. And the youth on Riot means that I can hope to see a non-Fury champion in the women’s division before my one year-old moves out of the house.
The Caps are also interesting. They didn’t bring a few of their players including key pieces Alyson Walker and Danielle Fortin. The Club Championships were just an event to integrate new players, scout other teams, and improve on their way to the World Championships this summer. Even without those players they made it to the semifinals. And even in the semifinals it seemed that their focus was getting playing time to as many players as possible. I don’t think any player on the team played more than ½ the game. Capitals will be adding back their pre-worlds players as well as picking up other top Canadians for worlds (I imagine Candice Chan and Kira Frew from Traffic are tops on that list). This is a team that could take down Fury before the World Championships. Of course, my nominal desire to see Fury lose does not go so far as to hope that they lose to a Canadian team. So, go team USA!!
I heard a lot of complaints about the observers from players this weekend. One of the complaints was that an observer, after making several calls against one team, cheered when the opposing team scored. Complaints also included poor positioning, incomplete rules knowledge, and just making wrong calls. I witnessed some bad calls as well – particularly in the Fury – Brute Squad game. In the mixed finals the observers made a mistake after a overruling a call and called it a goal and then brought it back several seconds later after players had begun walking away. And there was a strange interpretation in that game of the injury rule where it seemed from the casual observer that the rule was incorrectly applied. It seemed to me that many of the bad calls went for the team that was down.
It is hard to complain about observers because they are mostly volunteers. But that’s why we need to start paying observers and then expecting more out of them. If the observer system is going to work to the point that players have faith in it, we need observers and they need to come up with the right calls. With more video in HD and instant replays, we can see when the observer is missing calls. Let’s start using the tools that we have at our disposal to get it right.
There’s already a lot of talk on the USA Ultimate facebook page about the travel call in the mixed final at 15-15. Polar Bears had scored to take the lead but there was a travel call on the hockey assist (a pass before the assist). The observer ruled that it was not a travel but the disc still came back (to the person who had thrown the goal). A few passes later the Polar Bears turned over the disc and Blackbird scored the definitive break to lead 16-15 en route to the 17-16 win. In that situation there is no disincentive to the defender to call the incorrect travel and slow down play. The obvious solution here is to make that an active call by the observers – they should already be watching that pivot foot and are in better position than the marker.
At the very least, an overruled travel call should result in an automatic TMF. For that matter, any obvious overruled call or an obvious foul/violation that is contested should result in a TMF for the overruled player. Players shouldn’t be in a situation where the best decision is to call something they aren’t sure of and let the observer sort it out. If that’s our system, games will be slowed with calls.
There’s some talk about speeding up games, particularly time between pulls, on RSD. I wrote-up a proposal for that in a previous note just after college nationals. I’m considering trying to partner with NexGen to webcast an experimental game using those rules (30 seconds between pulls with teams alternating who pulls, active travel calls, IRS for all other calls, more TMFs for bad calls/contests). Maybe run it in Seattle next spring?
Ok, that’s all I’ve got for now. If just read all of that, I’d love your thoughts on any thing in here.
Kyle also writes for Kyle Weisbrod Ultimate on Facebook.