Contributed by Carter Thallon
With Matt Mastrantuono’s Chasing Sarasota having caught fire within the ultimate community, it is no surprise that there has been a buzz surrounding Portland Rhino throughout the 2012 season. Add to that a second place finish at the Emerald City Classic that included a win over Boston Ironside, followed by increasing rumors that Chase Sparling-Beckley would join the team and one can understand why there were quite a few eyes on Portland.
Rhino has more or less lived up to the hype so far. The team placed 7th at Labor Day, and thanks to the Ironside win and a third place finish at Northwest Regionals, will play at the Club Championships for the first time since 2007. And while many didn’t expect such success for the team this season, Rhino are not surprised.
Why not? Rhino have been working hard this season and haven’t been thinking about the past. In fact, they hardly resemble the Rhino teams that have lost in the game to go to Club Championships for the past two years. They not only have added onto their roster with young college stars like Jacob Janin, Jeremy Norden, and Camden Allison-Hall, but they also look physically different than years past. The team has implemented an intense new training regimen this year and it has paid off. Rhino captain Mario O’Brien attributes the greater number of wins this season to this new mentality. Better conditioning also helped Rhino win seven of their nine universe point games they played this season (winning 6 consecutively at ECC alone). Rhino is playing with a fiery determination and look to continue their high level or play at Club Championships.
So exactly what has changed from the Rhino teams of previous years? Captain Mario O’Brien points at the time commitment that Rhino have put in outside of practice. Rhino have a set number of hours per week that everyone on the team has to spend working out. “It’s something that Seth (Wiggins) brought in. He brought it to our attention that some of the teams that he has played for in the past that have achieved the highest levels of success were working harder than us off of the field, and that we needed to change that if we wanted to achieve the goals that we had set for this season.”
Rhino’s ECC performance raised eyebrows not only because it was their first tournament of the season, but also because they were missing all of their NexGen players and Chase Sparling-Beckley (also, Wiggins was absent on Saturday). Rhino won because they spread the workload around rather than relying on one player to carry them, stuck to playing a handler-driven offense and played hard man defense. Rhino’s hard early season conditioning allowed the team to continue to play at a high level even after several consecutive lengthy games.
Though Rhino’s ECC performance was strong, the team still ended up playing six universe point games… in a row. Most teams don’t get that many universe point wins in a season, let alone two days. “It came down to experience,” says O’Brien. “It was the chemistry of the core group of guys that have been the heart and soul of the team for the last three to five years.”
It also helped that Rhino was on offense for four of them and simply worked it down the field. Truck Stop handed Rhino’s D-line another one by dropping the disc in their own end zone twice, and the Ironside win can be attributed to Rhino’s solid defense, and, after the turn, handler movement. The Ironside win is the season’s most noteworthy not only because Boston is so strong, but also because Rhino went down 3-0 to start the game.
Rhino entered Labor Day as the third seed in its pool and hoped to replicate its ECC performance by making moves against Revolver and Chain Lightning. However, stagnant offense kept Portland from those crucial wins and in need of adjustments. After seeing that its handler-reliant ECC offense wasn’t working, Rhino worked to balance the roles of handlers and cutters by placing an emphasis on cutter to cutter continuations. O’Brien said that Rhino made some short-term adjustments at ECC that helped them win there, but those weren’t long-term solutions for the team. After a couple of games of tweaking, Rhino’s offense finally got to where they wanted. Rhino was able to hand Doublewide, the eventual winner of their pool, their only loss of pool play.
Another transition that Rhino faced at Labor Day was the addition of new roster members that were not at ECC. It took a couple points, but once they got going, they started hitting on all cylinders. Dylan Freechild and Jacob Janin were consistently open and played lock-down defense (like Dylan’s spectacular game saving SportsCenter D for example). Camden Allison-Hall was also a big addition to their offense. “We watched tape from ECC and realized that we really didn’t throw deep much, and Camden’s speed lets us do that a lot more and it really lets us open up the field” said Mario.
Rhino also worked on starting their first game with high energy. They got crushed in the first half against both Revolver and Chain. “We worked on starting with high energy and making sure that it continued throughout the game. It really paid off in the Doublewide game,” reflected O’Brien.
While Rhino didn’t have the best results, the team worked out some kinks. Portland was 2-2 in games that mattered (Chain, Revolver, Doublewide, and Furious), and helped to secure a third bid for the Northwest Region.
Rhino is going back to Club Championships, but they didn’t get there the way that they wanted to. After breezing through pool play, Rhino found itself in position to win the Northwest Region. Receiving on universe in the finals against Sockeye, they turned the disc over near their own goal line and Sockeye wasted no time in punching it in. While a Northwest Regionals win would have ensured an advantageous seed somewhere between three and six, Rhino’s eventual placement of third after losing the second place game to Furious George (another universe point game!) brought on a nine seed and a deflated sense of accomplishment: on one hand, Rhino will be at the Club Championships for the first time in five years, but on the other they missed out on an opportunity to emerge victorious over the teams that have kept them from getting there.
Rhino will enter Thursday at the Championships as the third seed in Pool A, which also includes Ironside, Furious, and Boost Mobile. While Rhino’s starting position is not ideal, it is emblematic of a team whose major storyline has literally been its storyline: the job is not yet finished and, while they are still fighting, they are not satisfied.
There is still more triumph to be chased.
Feature photo by Jeff Bell (Ultiphotos.com)