This week, Seven On is taking a look at some different teams that could make some noise at Regionals, and possibly grab a bid to Nationals, or more accurately, trying to use the tournament as a ‘coming out’ party. Much thanks to the teams that answered my emails, and helped work with my schedule. I asked them all a whole bunch of questions, trying to get a better read on their seasons. All of these teams have been in the discussion at one point, but with the new setup in the Triple Crown Tour, I felt more than ever we don’t get the full picture on their seasons. From these teams, and I’m sure many more, there emerges patterns in the storylines – different factors that you see on a much more focused scale in the elite teams. And while these are only seven teams, there are certainly more than these seven that could make a splash at Regionals, and do some damage, steal a bid, or make Nationals – between matching up with the Skyd Power Rankings, and just what I’d heard around from tournaments, these seven teams were selected. If other teams would like to reach out for next weekend’s Regionals and in lieu of this weekend, feel free to send me an email ( email@example.com). Normal Seven On will be back next week before we start gearing up for the Club Championships in Texas at the end of October.
1. Seattle Voodoo
There is no doubt that Voodoo is a team. That may sound like a ridiculous statement, but in answering my questions practically every single one had a reference to developing the brotherly and team aspect of Voodoo. Yes, they are the second Seattle team. But they are a hard working team, that shouldn’t be looked past at the Northwest Regionals this weekend in Burlington, WA.
Voodoo this year is still in what was constantly described as a building phase. Three young names stick out on the roster: Jesse Bolton, Henry Phan and Khalif El-Salaam; along with veteran names like Steve Gussein, Gavin McKibben and Danny Trytiak (formerly of Sockeye). The entire roster has worked through what they called the building phase of the program, to increase their reputation and to keep working harder. This has also included some pro-league crossover (all MLU), 4 Rainmakers and 3 Stags. According to captain Sam Cooper, the team has stuck to four guiding principles:
“1) We want to compete, always. The W/L outcome is less important than knowing we stuck to our fundamental love of pushing ourselves and our team mates to become better.
2) We play with confidence – in ourselves and our team mates.
3) We create and support a sense of community. We’ve got each others backs, always.
4) Everyone will buy-in. Once a decision is met by the team – be it on starting lines, offensive schemes/plays, or what tournaments to attend – everyone on the team will accept and buy in to the decisions made.”
For their season, the problem has been fielding a full strength roster at all times. Partly, they say, this is the setup of the Triple Crown Tour. Yes, they’re still a fan of it.“Setting up marquee events and demanding more out of high level tournaments/tournament directors have great benefits for the sport. Marquee events allow the sport to be showcased to a bigger audience. Demanding more consistency out of tournaments makes for a better playing experience,” said Voodoo captains. Very well put. So, their issue with the Triple Crown Tour, it lies in travel. Granted, they say it’s easier to justify traveling to San Diego and Denver for the high level competition, but for a team that is used to playing locally in Seattle for ECC and then in Davis for Labor Day, the added money costs makes it difficult to get a full roster.
This has caused a season that has been all about building on top of the last performance for Voodoo. Colorado Cup was the tournament that it all came together though; they avenged an earlier loss to the Condors on Saturday, but the rest of the day they faltered. Captain Cooper told me the losses came down to a lack of chemistry, a lack of that clear identity they’d been working on building. That Saturday night, they sat down over 5 hours in a hotel room to bring the identity to life, “not what we wanted to be, but what we were going to make it,” Sam said. “I couldn’t be prouder of how those players stepped up,” he said, as Voodoo’s performance stepped up during Sunday play.
What’s next for this team? Besides their fight for a bid to Texas, they’re still looking on how to build the team, and build the family the players have cultivated around them. As a team that’s seen as a feeder for Sockeye, but instead the core player’s focus is now on – as Sam told me – “creating something great instead of joining something great … this core will be what drives Voodoo forward.” It may not get the team to Nationals this year, but it’s a mentality that has the team poised for success for many seasons to come.
2. Michigan High Five
Who the heck is Michigan High Five, right? They came out of nowhere this season, and have been making noise ever since. First they won Motown Throwdown over Madcow; then beat Truck Stop and Ring of Fire at Chesapeake Invite; only one loss on the way to third at Heavyweights; and lastly taking the East Plains Open section – beating Madcow again. Next up for High Five, is Regionals. There they’ll meet Machine once again, with Madcow on their heels looking to steal the chance to steal the second bid out of the Great Lakes.
The first year team hasn’t had it easy this season. High Five is mostly a young team, Captain Matt Wilken tells me. They have players that come from Ann Arbor Michigan that played high school ultimate on the team, and players from the three major Michigan Universities – U of Michigan, Michigan State & Eastern Michigan. From there, Wilken says, “Our first and foremost goal was to find ourselves as a team.” With a lot of practices focused on the effort and cohesiveness of the team, Wilken told me they had been able to bring that play on a consistent basis – even at Chesapeake, the team’s first test of the elite teams.
As for where the season could take them, it comes down to each player wanting to do it again. Part of that could be a place in the Triple Crown Tour, something that could’ve held the team back from playing a lot this summer. Most of their involvement has been from the spectator perspective, and they said what many have said – following the top teams has been easier. From a team perspective though, they were excluded from those tournaments because of their first year and ‘classic flight’ status. That status almost kept them out of championship play at Heavyweights, with an initial 17th overall seeding going in (which meant the best they could do is 9th). Without work from the TD, High Five might not be in the situation they’re in now.
Come next Monday, High Five will be having finished their first year of competition at Regionals. At this point, having one more tournament in the books isn’t at all far from reality. From my talk with Matt Wilken, neither is the team coming back stronger next season.
3. Kansas City Prairie Fire
High Five has made the splash this year by securing a bid for the Great Lakes. Prairie Fire has made noise, but weren’t able to bring another bid to the North Central. They’ll have to fight for a place in Texas; and would need to get there over favorites Sub Zero and Madison Club.
Their season has been a bit of roller coaster, which may be why some people are sleeping on them. A high start with the MS Open, a tournament win, that lead to a big break until the beginning of August and the Colorado Cup. Big break or not, that is when they got on the scene. On paper, it looks like a solid tournament from the Fire, and that’s exactly how they look at it. Two losses to Rhino may bookmark the weekend, they played close with Truck Stop and Johnny Bravo, along with wins over Phoenix, Florida United and Madison Club – nothing to lose sleep over. Their last regular season tournament, Heavyweights, Captain Joe Young felt they had underperformed. They know they didn’t play well against teams like Garuda, High Five and Sprawl. But taking it to every team at the West Plains Open Sectionals leaves Prairie Fire with maybe one more tournament in front of them, and two big opponents loom there, waiting.
Playing on the team are what Young says are players who started playing the game on a competitive level in college – at universities like Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Arkansas among others. Included in that is U-23 player Jay Froude, who got nothing but praise from the captains for his work on the team. The team’s goal fits right into where they’ve gotten riding the former college players; to knock out those perennial regional teams to make it to Nationals.
Young mentioned that at Heavyweights, setting the bar too high was a huge factor in their three losses. Causing them to underperform, and something that all but stopped their chances of earning the region another bid to Nationals. Now the consequence is much different, an end to their season. Young says Prairie Fire will be back next year, to continue building on all the hard work they’ve put in year after year. They’re just hoping it’ll be after a trip down to Texas first.
4. Florida United
You’ve seen the names on the roster. After the championship season with Doublewide last year, to see those familiar names like Gibson and Sullivan together with more recent Florida (the state) mainstays like Andrew Roca, Travis Catron and Alton Gaines, many weren’t sure what was going on. In past seasons the Florida United team was unclear as to their talent and skill, as was their impact on the region. This year they want it to end with no doubt at all – setting the bar high, at taking down one of Ring of Fire or Chain Lightning on the way to winning the Southeast Region.
The United captains, like some other teams I talked to, where relatively tight-lipped with information. Not looking to divulge strategy, or key me in on too much that has been going on with the team. I don’t blame them at all, but it does make previewing how they could finish a bit tougher on me, and less information for you the reader. They did say they enjoyed the Triple Crown Tour in its first season, travel issues or not (a trend amongst all teams so far). Winning the region isn’t their only goal for the season either; the rest of it includes representing the state of Florida well at Nationals and making a quarterfinal appearance. An appearance in quarterfinals may have gotten a bit tougher with the new format, depending on how they do during Thursday’s pool play.
Out of all the teams mentioned though, there could be a very direct impact on the college game from the success of Florida United this season. Twice it was mentioned by the United captains that the college players on the team (mostly University of Florida) have been able to push the competitiveness and drive of the veterans, and as a result made their team much deeper. Good news for United now with Regionals in two weekends, and a game or two against Chain and Ring. Better news for a college program looking to get itself back on top.
They’re looking for a large amount of success in two weekends at Regionals. Taking down Chain Lightning and Ring of Fire, and winning the region. With a continued push from the younger talent on the experienced guys up top, and a united-state could turn heads with their results. And pick up more of the state’s college talent for a higher finish next year.
5. Denver Inception
“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” – Eames, Inception (movie)
I searched for an awfully long time to find a quote from the popular science fiction movie that fit the team Captain Calvin Delamere had described to me. This quote fit best. Inception is not just the other team out of Colorado. They’re a team that isn’t afraid to ‘dream a little bigger’, not at all.
You see the pre-season goal from the Denver based team was to earn a 3rd bid for the South Central region, and make the bid to Texas without having to go through the two powerhouses that sit there – Doublewide and Johnny Bravo. Come a few weeks ago, and Inception finds themselves four spots out of the top 16, and thus the bid. Now, the only way they can find themselves in Texas in October is to take the 2nd bid from one of those two teams. Their mentality now though? “If the wheels come off the bus we’ll get out and crawl till we’re dead.” They are still going to be going strong for that second bid.
Two of the captain’s names may be familiar, Gabe Hart (recently Ring) and Tyler Van Domelen (recently Rhino), are the two players with the most experience in the elite club level. From there though, the roster drops into players from the Colorado college scene – current and past players from Colorado and Colorado College. Both programs have been feeding Bravo and other top club teams for a long time now. Two players Captain Delamere noted that Matt Bubernak from Colorado has been playing stellar defense for Inception, and that should only continue come the college season. Same goes for Tim Hopp and his offensive skills at the handler position, his key place for Inception. While Delamere was quick to point out these names, he stressed that every player knows it takes a team to win games, and it will take a team to take the 2nd bid.
The Triple Crown Tour may not have been the kindest to Inception, but the greater idea is still one the team supports. After a 4th place finish at Regionals in 2012, they were not invited to the TCT portion of the Colorado Cup – a local tournament. Even after a team dropped, the invitation was not extended to them because of their previous year’s finish. Delamere told me that the system could simply use a change to weight the current year’s results more. Still, Inception goes into Regionals having seen only one of the pro-flight teams (Madison Club).
Like other teams mentioned in this, their season was largely one of ups and downs – starting from the San Diego Slammer and culminating at Heavyweights. Unlike those other teams though, Inception was able to still pull out wins, and those came against the likes of the Condors, Renegade x2, and Streetgang. Losses to Streetgang, Madison Club and High Five sting though. But not enough to deter the team from bringing everything it has to improve upon last year’s fourth place finish at Regionals, and work towards more than just third this year.
6. LA Renegade
First and foremost I was told to read through the article by Skyd’s Jeremy Ziskind about the state of ultimate in LA from last October. It also links to the story of the Condors, a team both Renegade and Streetgang (up next) will be seeing again at Regionals. Both great reads, and do a lot at understanding how ultimate functions there in Southern California.
Saying that, coach Franklin jin Rho was quick to point out that while the difficulties mentioned in the article still effect the team. Renegade has also gone a long way in establishing a core that is committed to growth and stability over several seasons. That has led to a lot of improvement for the team, putting them in the competition at Regionals behind the big names of Boost Mobile and Revolver.
Looking through their results this season, Renegade has some big games sprinkled in there; wins over Voodoo and Streetgang, close losses to Boost Mobile and Sub Zero. The team that has perhaps given them the most trouble this season is the Condors. Throw in Boost Mobile and Revolver at Regionals, and there are a few teams that could give Renegade some trouble. Two of which have their eyes on a prize that isn’t accomplished just at Regionals, and the last attempting to do the same thing Renegade wants to do – end the season of a higher ranked team.
Led by Captains Alex Kadesch and Eric Lissner, along with co-founders Simon Margolis and Evan Valdes, and another coach in Chris ‘Kiosk’ Graham, Renegade enters the most important tournament of their season with a clear leadership, and the possibility of doing something amazing by qualifying for Nationals. A problem in attendance is something almost every team previewed thus far has had to deal with, and work to overcome. With that established and committed core, and two coaches to help guide the team continuously on the right path, Renegade I feel sets themselves above the rest of the pack.
7. San Diego Streetgang
After a strong Saturday of pool play at the So Cal Open Sectionals, Streetgang was looking poised to come out on top over rivals like the Condors, Renegade and even Sprawl with a strong showing heading into Regionals. It didn’t turn out that way, as they fell in a close game to Renegade early Sunday, and then again to Sprawl, before claiming fourth. A main problem this season has been hanging in with their Californian rivals (5/9 losses to teams in their region), and a problem that obviously has to be overcome to make it out of the region alive.
Another factor in that, who sits in their region; they have Revolver and Boost Mobile, along with the previously mentioned teams from their section. There are only two bids coming out of the region though, so they’ll have to get over that bump in the road, they’ll have to show they can beat the teams they see the most. They have some very good wins on their record, which makes the possibility of finishing with a trip to Texas very possible; they’ve beaten Inception, Sub Zero, Madison Club, Renegade, Sprawl and Garuda at different points this season. It comes down to if they’re able to find those wins in two weekends when they take the fields at Regionals.
One constant that seems to arise from glancing over their results, is that the team is all about how they start. By the end of day one of Sectionals, they were rolling teams 11-1. At San Diego Slammer, after the one point loss to Voodoo, they won until losing yet again by one to the Condors in the finals; the same result at Saturday of Cal States. Heavyweights is the exception to this, but when you’re facing a back-to-back-to-back of Sub Zero, Machine and Madison Club, a 5 point loss as the meat of that sandwich isn’t necessarily a black mark. At Regionals though, that type of play will be. Although the format wasn’t up yet at the time this article was published, it can be expected that they’ll face a similar ‘sandwich’ at Regionals. If they don’t devour that opportunity, Streetgang will be working towards next season in club instead of Texas. If they do, Streetgang instantly enters the role of spoiler; both in pool play, and bracket play of Nationals.
Photo by Alex Carey – UltiPhotos.com