I’m not superstitious, but after living on Chicago’s north side and cheering for the Cubs, you learn to blame luck, fate, and curses for your city’s playoff results.
The quarterfinals of the Club Championships have eluded Machine throughout its entire 11-year history. Last year, a loss to Madison Club in pre-quarters caused Machine to miss the championship bracket yet again. They instead had to settle for ninth place.
Now, after a season of tight wins and close losses to many of Open’s most consistent teams, it looks like this young squad with its veteran core is poised to make a run for its first top 8 finish.
Machine’s season began with a turnover of seven teammates. They were able to fill the void by picking up a few experienced club players, including Stephan Mance of Sub Zero, Cullen Geppert of Madison Club, and George Hughs-Strange of Truck Stop.
One of Machine’s defining characteristics this season is their age. Many, if not most of the team is still in their early twenties. The leaders on Machine don’t see inexperience as a liability, however. Instead, captain Craig Poeppelman maintains that it created room for the team to grow and improve throughout the year .
Many younger players on the squad stepped up into major roles throughout the season. Machine vet and Northwestern University alum A.J. Nelson was moved onto the starting O-line this year and stepped up as a go-to cutter downfield. Likewise, Neal Phelps from the University of Illinois produced a number of Ds on top players.
At both the Emerald City Classic and Labor Day tournaments, Machine showed that, despite their past results and their relatively young roster, they were able to hang with the country’s top squads.
At ECC, Machine fought to take Rhino, Doublewide, and Furious George to universe. They came out victorious against Furious and Doublewide, but couldn’t put up the last break on Rhino. While Labor Day did not go as well for Machine, they were able to give Johnny Bravo a run before losing on universe. They also hung with Sockeye, currently ranked second in the nation, losing by only two points.
Machine attributes a lot of success to their ability to stick to their system and execute their sets. Their goals all year have been geared towards becoming a better, more cohesive team.
“The way we see it is if we trust in our system, the rest will come,” said Poeppelman.
Of course, no team can thrive without a cast of seasoned veterans. Although Machine’s core might not consist of household names, they do have years of Nationals experience and even some AUDL fame.
Machine player Jonathan “Goose” Helton of the Indy AlleyCats was recognized as the 2012 AUDL MVP. Helton lead the league in both D’s and assists. In addition, handlers Walden Nelson and Dane Olsen have anchored the team throughout multiple Nationals appearances.
Two things stand in the way of Machine’s quest to top their ninth-place finish from last year: consistency and pools.
Machine is currently going into Pool B ranked second, seventh overall. Revolver, of course, is an intimidating opponent for any team. The real trouble comes from the third seed, Ring of Fire, who took Machine down at Labor Day 8-13. They’ll also get a chance for revenge with Madison Club, who took their spot in the quarter-finals last year.
They have shown all year that they can take teams to universe, but Poeppelman is aware that taking a team to universe won’t cut it at Nationals. Machine will have to find that extra push that has been avoiding them all summer, or even the last ten years.
“Winning is a skill, so this year we want to practice winning and closing out games,” said Poeppelman.