The Emerald City Classic will be held this weekend at the Starfire Soccer Complex just south of Seattle. A marquee club event since 2001, ECC attracts top Open teams from across the United States, Canada, and thanks to Japan’s Buzz Bullets’ frequent attendance, the world.
ECC rose to prominence over the mid-2000s during the same time that its host team, Seattle Sockeye, was dominating the UPA Championship Series. Innovative tournament directing from some of Sockeye’s brightest have kept the competition formats fresh and easy access for Vancouver-based Ultivillage has made the tournament among Ultimate’s most visible.
Aside from the Club Championships, ECC is the most competitive tournament of the year.
The tournament final has included the season’s eventual national champion every year since 2005 and has included a national finalist in each year of its existence. In every year since 2005 that ECC has been held (it didn’t happen in 2008 because of Worlds), the tournament final has included the season’s eventual champion in six out of seven years, the outlier being Chain Lightning in 2009.
2011 champion San Fransisco Revolver sits atop the field this year, followed by runner-up Boston Ironside, semifinalist Texas Doublewide, and a bevy of other heavy hitters. In total, eight of ECC’s 12 Open teams were at the Club Championships last year and only Atlanta’s Chain, Denver’s Johnny Bravo, and Raleigh’s Ring of Fire are missing from the field of 2012 contenders.
Particular to this year’s tournament is the issue of the NexGen Tour, which had wrapped up at this time last year. The tour has six players whose club teams will be in attendance: Eric Johnson (Sub Zero), Matt Rehder (Sockeye), Will Driscoll (Doublewide), and Dylan Freechild (Rhino) all play key roles for their teams while Camden Allison-Hall and Jacob Janin, both of Rhino, are welcome additions. While Rehder is flying back to join Sockeye, it is unclear as to whether or not others will follow suit.
The format is big because teams will have six, maybe seven games over the course of two days. After four games on Saturday, teams will need serious legs to keep up on Sunday, especially since every sanctioned game (and while a few teams were late in confirming it, they are all having their games sanctioned) this year counts toward club wildcards. Also, ECC will tell us a lot about 2nd tier intra-region strength, with PoNY and GOAT there for the Northeast and Voodoo, Rhino and Furious for the Northwest. Finally, we’ll see if Sub Zero, Machine, and Truck Stop, supposedly three of the better middle of the country teams and the best in their regions, can notch any big wins or if they will simply act as doormats for the big dogs.
Let’s take a look at each team in this year’s Emerald City Classic field:
San Fransisco Revolver – Fresh off of a World Championship, Revolver is still the favorite to win its third USAU Championship in as many years. The loss of key offensive cog Bart Watson as well as the challenge of peaking twice in one season, however, leaves room for more doubt than we have come to expect with this team. Look for Cassidy Rasmussen to play a larger role in Watson’s absence. A big question on the defensive end for Revolver: is Mac Taylor healthy enough to take on marquee matchups and play up to his deservedly high standards on the turn?
Boston Ironside – Ironside returns all but three members of last year’s runner-up roster and welcomes back 2009 Callahan winner Will Neff. A veteran with throws and size, Neff will partner with Colin Mahoney to give Boston’s defense two premier big men, which will allow the rest of the roster to take on more favorable matchups. Much of Ironside’s success depends on its handlers, as last year those on defense struggled to convert breaks while those on offense had a case of the drops in big games. Aside from Neff, the big name for Ironside is Russell Wallack, a second year player that guarded Doublewide’s Kurt Gibson effectively at last years Championships and who has been putting in major work with training guru Tim Morrill.
Texas Doublewide – Doublewide has gone back to the well for more Florida alumni, this time adding 2006 Callahan winner Tim Gehret along with 2011 graduate Cole Sullivan. Doublewide also regains Stephen Presley, who sat out most of last year with a broken leg, and Kiran Thomas, a long-time Texas cutter that spent the previous two seasons with Chain Lightning. Sullivan tells us that he and Gehret will be in attendance this weekend while Kurt Gibson and Brodie Smith will not, and that this year, Doublewide’s offense will be comprised entirely of players residing in Austin and Smith; the rest of the Florida guys will play defense. Given Gibson’s talent and stamina, it would be shocking not to see him featured prominently on both sides of the disc as the season moves forward.
DC Truck Stop – Truck Stop has been a middle of the road team since its inception in 2005, trading finishes in the quarters and the lower bracket at the Club Championships seemingly every other year. The team didn’t lose to anyone they weren’t supposed to at the US Open but they notch any eyebrow-raising wins either, and while they took down Chain Lightning in pool play at Terminus they lost big to Atlanta in the tournament final. Truck has 11 new players this year and will use the fire of ECC to give trial to its shaping identity. The team’s first challenge: the potential absence of captain Sean Keegan, whose recent foot injury and subsequent infection has left his playing status questionable.
Toronto GOAT – The big news on GOAT is that John Hassell, the team’s primary weapon throughout the past decade, hung up his cleats after Worlds. Players on the team are still holding out hope that he’ll reconsider for the Series, but for now, the man whose unique cutting style, dangerous break throws and hucks, and strong play in the air is gone. Given how much of a centerpiece Hassell has been, it will be interesting to see Toronto’s young talent, particularly youngsters Adrian Yearwood and Mark Lloyd, step up.
Vancouver Furious George – Like Revolver, Furious is coming off of a Worlds campaign. Fans should keep an eye on how the Monkey fairs without the GOAT standouts that joined the team leading up to and during Worlds. Also, Furious captain Morgan Hibbert tells Skyd that Thomas Kuhn, CJ Harmer, Nathan Dandurand, and Gabe Saunkeah are taking the Series off and that final cuts for the team won’t be made until August, so nobody should place too much stock in the team’s roster this weekend.
Seattle Sockeye- The host team is officially a new team. From its 2007 Club Championship team, only Mike Caldwell, Skip Sewell, Nate Castine, and Moses Rifkin return; the team is only carrying 24 players at the moment so it is possible that Ray Illian could re-join late, which he has done in recent years. College and NexGen 2011 standout Simon Montague has opted to rejoin Sockeye rather than play for Sub Zero even though he is living in Minnesota, and his return can almost be counted as a new addition given his touring and injury status last year. With ECC in Sockeye’s back yard, the tournament will be a good indicator of whether the team is rebuilding or reloading.
Portland Rhino- The big talk with Rhino is that the team is adding Portland resident Chase Sparling-Beckley, a big man who was a mainstay during Sockeye’s championship runs. Adding Chase would give Rhino another marquee leader to compliment Seth Wiggins, a man that many Rhino players credited for raising the team’s level and bringing it to the brink of last year’s Championships. Sources close to the team, however, say that Chase joining is not yet a done deal and that we’ll all have to wait and see since he will be with the USA Boys Junior Worlds team (which includes Rhino player Aaron Honn) in Dublin, Ireland starting this weekend. Confirmed pickups for this year’s Rhino squad include Jeremy Norden, Camden Allison-Hall, and Jacob Janin; the latter two will miss ECC because they are on the NexGen tour.
Seattle Voodoo – The Emerald City’s second team posted close games with Truck Stop and Buzz Bullets at last year’s tournament and, in its second year under coach Ben Wiggins, is looking to do the same in 2012. Adam “Kubiak” Desjardins, a top five Callahan finisher with UC San Diego in 2004 that stopped playing in 2006, is on the team could make a big splash.
Pride of New York – PoNY’s defense looked strong against NexGen, as did its possession offense. The challenge at ECC will be to space the field and move the disc more quickly and effectively. Tim MacGougan is an underrated talent, Jack Marsh and Dan Heijman are strong cutters with the throws to keep the offense moving, and newcomer Ryan Morgan, a right-place-right-time type of player, will help space the field. PoNY will be without mainstay Ben Van Heuvelen, the Boys Junior Worlds head coach, and top defender Andrew Wilkes.
Chicago Machine – ECC is Machine’s first tournament in 2012, and the team will immediately be challenged to play a cleaner game than the turnover-ridden performance that they turned in against NexGen. Though Machine only lost seven members of last year’s roster (most notably former captain Grant Zukowski), this year’s team is young, with most players being in their low to mid-twenties. Highlights among the new additions include George Hughes-Strange (formerly of Truck Stop), Stephan Mance (Sub Zero), and Cullen Geppert (Madison Club). Look for handlers Dane Olson and Walden Nelson to provide stability as the team works to find success.
Minneapolis Sub Zero – Sub Zero has undergone a makeover, bringing in a number of former players that have recently done stints with other teams or taken time away from the game: recent Carleton standouts Grant Lindsley, Julian Childs-Walker, and Alex Evangelides (playing his first year with Sub), Wisconsin champions Drew Mahowald and Shane Hohenstein, and old school Carleton and Sockeye handler Sam O’Brien are among the big names. Sub Zero looked bad against NexGen but was without Eric Johnson and had spent only two weeks practicing with its final roster leading up to that game. While Johnson will still be on tour, the Snowman has another month under its belt and should look better in Seattle.
Photo by Scobel Wiggins.