This weekend, 13 elite club teams descend upon Santa Cruz, CA to compete in the final USA Ultimate sanctioned tournament before the Club Series. With eight of the current top 10 USAU ranked teams in the country, Labor Day is one of the most competitive tournaments of the regular season. But while all teams face similarly difficult schedules, each has different goals coming into the tournament. The following profiles will help you know who’s who when you follow the weekend’s action.
San Francisco Revolver and Denver Johnny Bravo: Check out Skyd’s in-depth look at the tournament’s top two seeds from earlier this week.
Atlanta Chain Lightning: Chain Lightning is coming off of a tough loss to GOAT in the semifinals of the Chesapeake Invite. After being up 11-7, Atlanta collapsed and allowed GOAT to break on universe point. While the loss is undoubtedly fresh in the minds of the Chain players, the team is not overly concerned. Their O line actually played incredibly well for most of that game, having only turned the disc twice in the first three quarters. Rather, they view their loss as the result of a few execution errors, and, more importantly, the stellar play of GOAT’s D-line offense.
That said, Chain still has a few issues coming into Labor Day. They signed up late, so a number of players will not be attending due to various scheduling conflicts, including Jonathan Monforti, Ben Spears, Elliot Erickson, Sam Chatterton-Kirchmeier, and Sam Gainer. On the plus side, Chain essentially has their place in the top 16 locked up, so, like Revolver, they can use Labor Day to let some of their newer players get some experience and to work out any problems that they have discovered earlier in the season. From talking to a few Chain players, they will, more than any other team at the tournament, simply try to have a great time playing some of the best teams in the world.
Chicago Machine: After a being blown out by NexGen, Machine was the surprise team at ECC. Last weekend they cleaned up at Heavyweights without being challenged the whole tournament. At Labor Day we’ll see if Machine is really the quarterfinals team their ranking indicates or if their results from ECC simply reflect them playing particularly well against teams that were still in their building phase.
Portland Rhino: Rhino’s success very well may be the the biggest storyline of the season so far. After missing Nationals last year, they have vaulted to #4 in the USAU rankings behind a great performance at ECC. They are also one of the few teams to have beaten NexGen. Furthermore, Jacob Janin, Dylan Freechild, Camden Allison-Hall, Jeremy Norden and potentially Chase Sparling-Beckley will be joining Rhino for Labor Day. With only a few nagging injuries, Rhino has a more complete roster than most of the other teams attending. Finally, they have certainly gained the respect of their Northwest regional rivals. The rosters of Sockeye and Rhino have overlapped over the last few years, and Sockeye says that there is a lot mutual respect between the teams. Furious states that Rhino “continues to impress, coming back every year with bigger upsets over bigger foes.” With an increased volume of work this season, an already solid tournament performance, and some key late season roster additions, the stars are aligning for Rhino. Anything but a finals appearance will likely be disappointing for this young team.
Raleigh Ring of Fire: Like Chain Lightning, Ring of Fire is coming off of a loss in the semifinals of Chesapeake. Unlike Chain, however, they were the underdogs against Ironside and only hung in the game for a half. This represents a season-long trend for Ring: they are very good at consistently beating lesser opponents, but they have not yet shown that they have what it takes to beat a top 5 team. With games against Machine, Johnny Bravo and Sockeye, this will be Ring’s last chance before the Series to prove they can, in fact beat, the best teams in the world.
Seattle Sockeye: Sockeye is still somewhat of a mystery coming into Labor Day. We’ve seen them score a close win against Doublewide, a close loss to Revolver, and a solid win against the NexGen all stars. On the other hand, they lost to Truck Stop, a team that Sockeye should have the talent to beat. This up and down season makes sense considering Sockeye’s outlook for the year. They approached ECC a “process-oriented tournament” in which their win/loss record was not as important as execution, decision making, and team energy. They are viewing Labor Day similarly, refusing to even look past this weekend to Sectionals and Regionals. This is part of Sockeye’s broader plan this year: building their identity and chemistry during the regular season so they can avoid a collapse similar to what they suffered last year at regionals. (see Dan Rivas’ article from earlier this summer). What effect this attitude will have on their results is a mystery, but, with only Simon Montague out for Labor Day, I think Sockeye has enough talent and chemistry this year to break seed in Pool A. If you’re as curious as I am about Sockeye’s performance tune in at ngnultimate.com at 1:15 Pacific time to watch them play Johnny Bravo.
Austin Doublewide: The story of Doublewide’s season has been the absence of superstars on a team that, during last year’s Club Series, was built around them. This trend will continue at Labor Day as they will be without Brodie Smith and Stephen Presley as well as Dalton Smith and Trey Lemastres for their third straight tournament. Kurt Gibson will be returning from injury, but, wanting to take things slowly, he may not play as many points as we are accustomed to seeing from him. Barring a complete collapse, Doublewide will still maintain their place in the top 16, so their main story will be what they can do with arguably the best player in ultimate, Kurt Gibson, back on the field. Other than that, we’ll just have to wait until the series to see what comes with the long-awaited return of Presley and Smith.
Vancouver Furious George: Furious George has the most interesting take on Labor Day, being the only team to explicitly state that their main goal is to get a bid for the Northwest. As they see it, gaining that bid would allow them to prepare more fully for Nationals rather than be unable to look past Regionals. In their blog they cite their story of last year: they invested a large amount of practice time to specifically defeating Sockeye and Rhino, and it worked. However, when it came to Sarasota, they were unprepared, and this also showed. Look for Furious to play even harder against their out-of-region opponents as part of a long-term plan to peak in Sarasota.
Philadelphia Southpaw: Southpaw recently turned in an up and down performance at Chesapeake. Unlike most teams at Labor Day, Southpaw does not have identity and chemistry as central goals; they had an entire AUDL season for that. They have already transitioned nicely away from their Spinners’ coach, Jeff Snader, with his responsibilities moving towards 4 new younger captains. Captain Tret Katzenbach is confident that “they know how Coach Snader runs his program and what [Southpaw] expect[s] from them as leaders.”
Instead of identity building, Southpaw is simply trying to maintain the physical and mental toughness they need to compete at the highest level throughout the club series. This was already challenging at Chesapeake, where they were down several players. Katzenbach notes “it showed itself in the later games on both days last weekend and gave us fewer options for substitution changes.”
These problems will be still be present at Labor Day. First, they are missing 8 players from their roster, including 3 O-line starters and 2 of their better cutter defenders. Southpaw does have a lot of depth, and they have added New York veterans Isaiah Bryant and Lucas Murphy. But missing that many starters will make life difficult for a team attending the second of back-to-back tournaments across the country from their homes. If Southpaw can overcome fatigue, both physical and mental, expect them to come out of Labor Day still holding a strength bid for the Mid-Atlantic Region.
Palo Alto Boost Mobile: Boost Mobile is another team that competed at the Chesapeake Invite last weekend. They only notched wins against Florida United and PoNY but lost on universe against Ring of Fire. Now on their home turf with 4 players who did not attend Chesapeake, Boost has a great chance to prove themselves worthy of a Nationals bid both informally, by beating some top 16 teams, and formally, by earning the SW another strength bid. While the leadership of Boost was pretty tight-lipped about their injury situation and their goals for the tournament, I have to imagine that their main goal is to take a bid for the Southwest. Specifically, after their tight game against Ring at Chesapeake, they feel that this pool play match up is a winnable game against a strong out-of-region opponent. No doubt they are hoping this, and a few more solid games, can move them past PoNY and Sub Zero and into the top 16.
Madison Club: With no wins against top 16 competition, it would seem that Madison Club is simply hoping to hang on to the bid they gained from beating weaker competition at Heavyweights. However, like several captains I talked to, Tom Annen seemed more concerned with making the most of facing the best teams in the country rather than earning a bid for the region. That said, there is no doubt that the potential bid will be in the backs of all the players’ minds come game time. It won’t make things any easier that two of Madison’s big cutters, Dave Schleicher and Colin Camp, as well as big thrower Mike Lun, will be limited or not playing at all due to injuries. Sometimes an underdog attitude along with a strong desire for a bid can lead to an upset, and Annen predicts that Madison will break seed. However, in the stronger of the two pools, it will certainly be difficult for Madison to get their win in pool play.
Columbus Madcow: Madcow is the last seeded team and another team which attended the Chesapeake Invite. There, they notched a strong win against Truck Stop but otherwise only beat weaker teams. Captain Rodger Oakes will be returning after missing Chesapeake, but big man Ben Parris will be out for Labor Day.
They are very unlikely to get a strength bid for their region, but as Oakes says, “you can only become better by playing against great competition, so we made the commitment this year to seek out the best competition we could find regardless of time and place.” That said, the most interesting game for them will be against Machine, which, assuming everything goes to seed in the Series, will be a preview of the Great Lakes regional game-to-go.
Overall, we see an interesting mix of team goals in this tournament. Revolver, Doublewide and Chain are all missing major players and share the main goal of remaining healthy for the Series. Rhino and Johnny Bravo have both put in a large volume of work this season and will be looking to cash in by winning the whole thing. Sockeye is looking at Labor Day as a another process-oriented tournament to solidify their identity and get playing experience. Finally, Boost, Southpaw, Furious and Madison, despite some words to the contrary, are all desperately trying to keep or take bids for their respective regions. With so many different goals and storylines at such a competitive tournament, this is not one you’ll want to miss. Tune in to Skyd’s tournament central and watch live at ngnultimate.com. This is gonna be a good one…
Feature photo by Andrew Davis