I’ve stumbled back from Sarasota with a head full of thoughts and ideas and impressions. I went as a broadcaster working on the NexGen live feed, so while I spent my time mostly focused and working, my spectation wasn’t coherent; I just watched what was in front of me (which is what I was announcing). Correspondingly, here are my thoughts in no particular order.
The great. The two most impressive performances I saw were from Alex Snyder (of Fury) and the entire Revolver D team. Alex’s forehand was the difference in the finals. Her ability to use it to cut through the wind and find the high side of the field was crucial to Fury’s 5-point run that spanned halftime. (From 4-4 to 9-4.) Equally masterful was her performance in the semifinals against the Capitals where she threw at least 4 beautiful hucks, shelfing them out for the receivers to run on to. It was impressive enough upwind, but that two of them were completed downwind with touch was masterful. It’s also hard to say enough about the Revolver defense. Having gotten a really great look at it across 2+ games, I’ve come to realize that as technically sound as the downfield work is, it is the marking that is truly exceptional. In the finals versus Ironside, the Revolver marks were able to keep the boys from Boston pinned on the forehand side, allowing their defenders to hone in and sell out on stopping comeback cuts into the hole. Even when Ironside was able to hit arounds or comebacks, the mark was established immediately, disrupting any flow (particularly east-west.)
The sad. I was generally disappointed in the lack of sophistication displayed by many of the teams, particularly the open teams. In both open games I watched in their entirety (DW vs Goat and Revolver vs Ironside), the losing team failed to adjust their strategy despite steadily falling behind. In both games, the losing teams played man, got scored on and played more man. Goat didn’t force a turnover from the DW offense until something like 13-8. In their first eight defensive points of the final, Ironside played man seven times and forced one turnover. In their one point of zone/junk, they forced two. What did they play on their ninth defensive point? You guessed it: man-to-man. I understand that changing strategies out of desperation is risky and that the best way to win is to stay true to your nature as a team, but why not build a team identity that is flexible? Why not anticipate the need to play zone or junk in addition to man-to-man. Also, if you get in a game and realize that you are on a path to defeat, why not try another path? Even if it is a risky gamble, why would you rather stay with a sure loser. Would you rather guarantee a 10-15 loss or risk a 7-15 loss with the small possibility of victory?
The strong. Riot’s comeback in the face of sure defeat showed admirable resilience. The opportunity lost when a swing pass to Jinny Eun floated a titch too high and too long decided the game. During that final stretch of points, Fury’s conditioning was beginning to flag. Their cutters where stagnant and their defenders were reacting rather than anticipating. I’m guessing Matty Tsang recognized this as well; he played a surprisingly second-string line late in the game (I believe at 14-12) to rest his stars as best he could. Oh, but that turn. And only 10 yards out of the Fury endzone. Alas for Riot. But put that aside a moment and ask this about Riot: what did they accomplish? After two disappointing collapses in back-to-back semifinals, Riot stared themselves in the mirror and saw that their greatest weakness was their mental game. Acknowledging their weakness, Riot set out to overcome it. I don’t know all the details of how exactly they built their mental strength, but you don’t pull yourself out of a 13-8 hole without a good deal of resilience.
The lay of the land. While the teams have shifted a bit, the general structure in the men’s and women’s divisions hasn’t changed much in the last decade or so. On the open side, there is one dominant team (Revolver), handful of semis-caliber teams (DW, Ironside, Chain and Sockeye) and a gaggle of teams fighting to rise into and above quarters (Ring, Goat, Bravo, Furious, Rhino, Southpaw, Machine, Truck, etc, etc.) Just as the worst bullying in middle school is among the middle of the social pack kids, the nastiest battles are between the teams fighting to move up from quarters to semis. On the women’s side, there are two great teams (Riot and Fury) one of whom always beats the other when it counts. Behind them are a pack of teams fighting for a spot in semis (Phoenix, Molly Brown, Scandal, Capitols, Showdown and Traffic) and behind them another pack of teams looking to knock them off and make quarters (Nemesis, Brute, Ozone, etc, etc.) Is this going to change? Maybe. How will it change? With Matty likely to sign on for another Worlds year, Revolver in its prime and Riot on the upswing, it doesn’t look like the three teams perched at the top (Revolver, Fury and Riot) are going to get any worse, so it will be a matter of some other teams moving up. Ironside is in a good spot. If they can figure out how to get Stubbs in a more central offensive role (instead of brilliant role player) and patch up some of their deficiencies at the handler spot, they should be in position to step forward without major changes. DW and Chain both look like teams that are at the end of their strategic paths and in need of reinvention to take a step forward. In particular, DW will need to get over the exultation of finally being able to destroy bad and mediocre teams (of which they were one not so long ago) and start figuring out how to beat good teams consistently. On the women’s side, the payout from the ’06 junior worlds team and the ’10 college season just keeps on going all over the country. To compete with Riot and Fury, however, the young players on these teams are going to have to figure out how to be great in a hurry. One (or more) of these teams will pull this off.
The adjustments. There are a few nagging details from both finals that I have to mention. First, Riot’s tactics against Fury’s zones and junk. Riot consistently had all six of their receivers within 15 yards of the disc. Even when they broke through, they had nowhere to go. A fundamental element of the Condor’s zone strategy (the originators of the 2-handler set) is to spread out so that once you beat the cup, you have a numerical advantage downfield. Also, I thought that Riot was lacking a dominant throwing handler. O’Malley, Weatherford and Eun are all cutting handlers, doing most of their damage with their legs. Clemens and Ambler are solid and dependable. Of the two players I would consider for this spot, Titcomb and Suver, the former was out for the year with an ACL and the latter has yet to find the consistency at the club level she displayed in college. A last note on breaking zones. There are four ways to beat a zone: in, through, around and over. Riot used three of the four, but failed to utilize overs with any meaningful results. This falls squarely on the lack of a throwing handler; it is her job to deliver overs consistently regardless of the weather. Looking at Ironside’s offense, their inability or refusal to move the disc to the weakside killed them. Yes, Revolver’s marks are superb, but they are still breakable and must be broken. Systematically, there are two ways to accomplish this: play off tempo (throwing the dump on stalling 1,2,3) or losing more yards to gain space. To run the vertical offense that Ironside wants to use, you must be able to dump-swing, regardless of what the other team is doing defensively.
The brilliant. The best two plays I saw all weekend both came courtesy of Revolver. The first, from Jon Levy, came on Revolver’s first defensive point of the finals. Off of the pull, Ironside centered to Rebholz. After some initiating motion, Rebholz had a cutter free coming down the center, but definitely on the open side. Rebholz hit him with the easy forehand. Actually, he didn’t. Anticipating and timing his dive perfectly, Levy left his force backhand position to fully layout and cleanly block the disc. A couple passes later, it was 2-0 Revolver. The second was the layout goal by Sherwood. The thrower didn’t do him any favors, launching a chest-high bullet that turned over and died as quickly as it could toward the grass. Maintaining a half step on Stubbs, Sherwood tore down the field as and somehow got to the disc just before it was down.
The west is the best. Capped by Further, the NW women’s teams finished 1, 2, 5 and 9. The women from Eugene took only 15 players, none of whom had ever been to Club Nationals before in any capacity. After a disappointing performance the first four rounds (26-60 cumulative), they beat Bent (15-7), RevoLoution (15-13) and then Brute Squad to finish an exultant ninth. Up 12-10 on Brute Squad, they managed to kill the clock with a stultifying zone that ate 20-minutes and the hard cap, so that even when Brute scored the game was over 12-11. Their Nationals ended up surprisingly similar to their Regionals. In both tournaments, they managed to ignore some bad defeats and win all their close games thanks to a small squad that got better at playing together as the weekend went on.
The brutal. I’m not even talking about the Monkey.
The neglected. For now. So much still to talk about that I can’t get to. Fury’s pick-your-poison offense. The limitations and possibilities of DW’s two man game. Surly wins! Surly wins! The ugly last point of the Wheelchair-Beyonders game. Who’s the greatest player in ultimate? The promise and possibilities of Riot’s offense. Fury’s fascination with junk d. Would it work without Liz Penny? The spacing on Revolver’s offense. Not their flow, but their pull plays. The mental game. The mental game beyond stilling the mind. All the little oddities I learned about announcing and calling a game and providing color and interviews and all that production stuff. Suits are sweet. I could go on and on and on…