After last week’s recap, I went through the comments and my email inbox and pulled questions. I also jumped some comment threads that needed expansion or further discussion.
Before we start, let’s give Scandal some credit. Payne, Jorgenson and Mercier brought it. Alicia White was dominant and Kath Ratcliff provided sneaky offensive support. The entire team played with an exuberant recklessness and nowhere was this more apparent than in their stifling defense. Great work.
This from Mike Lommler: Speaking of Fury’s defense in the final, it seemed to me that one of their greatest failings was consistently permitting Octavia Payne the space to rip upwind backhands, particularly with Jorgenson streaking deep. Even when Opi didn’t complete those bombs they re-set the field position and forced Fury to face that powerful Scandal d-line for the full 70.
I agree and on a windy day, this is a fundamental mistake…typically. In at least two of their titles (the epic Riot comeback game and again last year), Fury let the other team play field position and then calmly and patiently converted their opportunities even when they had to go 70 to do it. Overall though, Fury’s defense was lacking in this game. Too often, Fury defenders were trailing cutters by two, three or four steps and yielding easy unders. It had the look of a team that was waiting to be given opportunities rather than one that was out to generate turnovers. Obviously, they had trouble with Jorgenson, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the Scandal shouldn’t get fronted.
This from ‘Guest’: Forcing errant throw after errant throw is not the usual Alex Snyder game plan (at all) but that’s what was happening and yet fury kept playing her instead of putting in younger, faster, different handlers. When something is going that wrong like it was for Furys offense that game something needed to change and for being such a high level, prestigious coach like Matty is I was very shocked and frustrated in his coaching during that final.
The sentiment that Alex and Matty somehow let Fury down has been widely circulated, but count me a sceptic. No one on Fury played well and it is really difficult to pinpoint one individual who particularly struggled. Across the board Fury’s handlers had far too many short-field swing and dump pass turnovers, but they weren’t all Alex. There are complex structural and strategic issues at play here. Fury has a talent glut at handler with Hall of Famers and rising stars competing (Snyder, Casey, Sun, Fajardo, Nazarov, Finney, Sherwood) for a mere three handler spots under Fury’s strict offensive. Credit Scandal’s defense, particularly on the cutters. How often did Fury string together cutter to cutter throws? Too many times, Fury would hit a comeback cut, then have to throw multiple swing passes before hitting another. The numbers on a windy day just don’t play out. Scandal’s timely zone sneak attack only exacerbated the issue. The nail in the coffin was all around poor play from a great team. We are so used to Fury being the beneficiary of another team’s mistakes we are all shocked when the script flips.
Even so, I think all the second guessers are wrong about the decisions Fury made. They’ve won seven in a row by staying the course, making small adjustments and calmly going about business. Over the years, Fury has turned games on little adjustments and for that Matty has relied on Alex. It is very, very difficult to take the words of a coach and turn them into action on the field. At issue is the very nature of the brain. Words are conscious thought, the very enemy of unconscious, “in-the-zone” play and it is the rare player who can take words and turn them into action. Alex can and Matty has relied on it. That’s who they are and how they’ve gone about winning. The scorpion must sting the frog. When Fury used this plan to come back from 1-11 versus Riot it was genius, why is it a mistake now?
GOAT and Nemesis
From mottsauce: Not much has been made of GOAT’s collapse (and Nemesis’, for that matter). What do you think are the reasons that occurred? Peaking too early? Did they mismanage personnel? Something else entirely?
A lot of GOAT and Nemesis’ ‘collapses’ has to do with expectations. Going in to the tournament, these teams had been anointed contenders based on a very small body of work, really just a handful of games in each case. In truth, in a landscape dominated by parity, they’d come out on the top of some close games where the W ended up weighing more in people’s minds than actual performance or talent. Subzero and Sockeye went to Nationals knowing they could beat GOAT; the same was true for Showdown and Traffic and Nemesis. The same wasn’t true for Revolver. Truck and PoNY went into their pool planning to lose to Revolver. Additionally, both GOAT and Nemesis suffered from a lot of film for their competitors and from the switch to hunted instead of hunter. Nationals might have been the first time everyone was out to beat them; no one went to the ProFlight Finale saying “We’ve got to game plan for GOAT.”
In a land of parity, it is little things that make the difference between winning and losing. The lists below are deficiencies to reflect where these teams struggled, but both teams are quite good and did a lot of things right as well.
- Their offense was stagnant. Far too often, they’d get one downfield pass and then have to swing the disc multiple times before getting another downfield shot.
- Their deep game was off. Half of their 8 turnovers in the Sockeye game came from hucks.
- Derek Alexander was off. At the end of day one, he was sitting at 12 turnovers. That’s 4 per game! GOAT’s formula was high percentage offense and it was built around Alexander’s ability to possess and distribute.
- Sockeye’s deep game was on. Rehder had five goals in the first half and two other goals came from hucks to Phil Murray.
- GOAT’s expectations got the better of them. They planned to play open the first two games and then tighten up for the Sockeye game. Having chalked the first to games as wins, they neglected to tell Subzero and Madcow.
- Their zone offense was terrible. On a windless day, why do you have four handlers back? Actually, why would you ever have four handlers back? Nemesis struggled to move the disc against a Showdown zone that was very weak around the edges – twenty yards down the sideline was there for the taking.
- Their defense overplayed the open side. In the Showdown game, the Texans were able to get easy flow and easy goals working down the breakside/strongside after an initial break. This was particularly evident after Texas put away their struggling horizontal and went almost exclusively vert in the second two-thirds.
- Cara Crouch did whatever she wanted. Really. Johnson is a great player and defender, but she isn’t enough alone to deal with Cara. Some help defense would have been nice.
- Nemesis’ d team failed to convert their early opportunities.
Also from mottsauce: “Now that we have, do you think this is an improvement over the prior format or not? The win-or-go-home prequarters matchups between the 2 and 3 seeds were fantastic (Chain/Truck, Traffic/Capitals, and Machine/Pony) and the format opens up more doors for “underdog” teams (Showdown and Sockeye breaking seed are the two easy examples) to advance when compared to simply eliminating the three weakest teams from the two lower power pools.”
Strategically, the formula for winning is play well in pool play so you can rest your studs, then play them like crazy down the stretch. No one executed this better than Revolver (who probably benefited from a light schedule early). No team seemed interested in gaming the system by throwing games. Partly, this has to do with the makeup of club teams. Unlike the college division, where teams are very reliant on a handful of players and throwing games is standard practice at Regionals, club teams are much deeper. They can stay with their regular strategies and not overly tax their stars, particularly if they are winning and can keep their offense off the field.
I’d still like to see some adjustments to the format. Eliminate the 1-4 pre quarters game. Win your pool, go to quarters. Lose your pool, go home. There are so many exciting games on the second day; it was a tragedy they were all crammed into the morning. Spread the round of 16 and the quarters out so that more of those games are available for fans. On a side note, too much is made of the format ‘exploiting’ players. Play late and start early? Not a big deal, just a new challenge to overcome; like any challenge there are good strategies for dealing with it.
From Joaqman “In the last 20 years only 4 open teams failed to make the semifinals after winning the championship the previous year: Condors 2002*, Sockeye 2008*, Jam 2009, and Doublewide 2013. Is there a reason for the consecutive examples in the late aughts or is it just coincidence? Is it harder now to maintain or is it just WUGC Sockeye (they got back to semis in 2009), then two teams that happened to experience key retirements post championship?”
The jump from quarters to semis is the hardest jump in ultimate. In any given year, there are 2-4 truly great teams and 6-10 good teams. Those six to ten good teams have a pretty high likelihood of making quarters – there are eight spots and they only need one of them. Additionally, they only need to beat another good team to get there. But to make semifinals, you often have to beat a great team, which a good team rarely, rarely ever does. Add in the travails the 7 and 8 seeds endured under the old power pool play in game system and the odds get even slimmer.
One of the reasons that so few champions have failed to make the subsequent semifinals is that most teams stay great and great teams don’t lose, but I’ll take these five champs on one by one.
- Condors 2002. The Sockeye-Condors power pool game was one of the most physically intense games I’ve been a part of at Nationals. It was the first ‘hot’ Nationals and no one was prepared to deal with the 90 degree temperatures, let alone two Mild Coast teams. Both the Fish and the Condors went on to lose their next challenging game.
- Sockeye 2008. An overly ambitious season (Dream Cup, Worlds and Nationals), a giant and diffuse roster and a Bravo team in the quarters that finally managed to get the monkey (Fish) off its back. And score was 14-13.
- Jam 2009. This wasn’t the same team that won in 2008.
- Chain 2010. Chain’s title in 2009 is looking more and more like an aberration in a landscape dotted with quarterfinal exits. I think the real question is not why did they lose, but how did they win?
- Doublewide 2013. In a deep field, they lost two close games to eventual semifinalists. From what I saw, they never felt or played with the urgency and intensity from their 2012 campaign. At least until the end of the Bravo game. If they’d played with that fervor the whole tournament, who knows how things might have turned out.
From Bjorn Schey: “What does it mean that Boston won MLU against SF in light of their semis exit in USAU?”
Not much. Most of the elite players still view MLU and AUDL as a pleasant off-season diversion. The Club Championships are still the single most difficult tournament in the world and the winner is still the best team in the world. That may change at some point in the future, but not for a few years yet.
From Charlie “On a side note, I am also interested in what you think (or if you think) that the explosion of MLU and the AUDL had any Impact on the TCT this season– it seemed as if there was significantly less of a hangover from the respective seasons than in 2012 (ex, southpaw winning in AUDL, but not qualifying for nationals.”
The semi-pro teams helped those cities prepare earlier and develop new talent. That early development was most on display at the US Open where Boston and San Francisco were clearly ahead of the MLU-less Triangle and Austin. I didn’t see Southpaw’s failure as an AUDL hangover, I don’t think they were very good and their AUDL domination was more about the third-tier status of AUDL year one than anything that Southpaw did particularly well.
From Guest: “You might be too hard on Boston. Look at the 3-3 point in the semis: Clark has the disc on the goal line after a foul, and his dump to Markette is dropped. Sockeye (eventually) scores. They lost by one point, and here was one play where they score 95 times out of 100. I don’t know what happens if they had played Revolver in the finals, though.”
I don’t think I am as hard on them as they are being on themselves. For the last six years, they have entered the season as legitimate title contenders. This season, they came in as the preseason favorites. But this isn’t just what the press and the chattering classes think – this is what they think internally. If your goal is winning and you don’t….it’s really hard to take. I was a part of the Sockeye teams that lost repeatedly to DoG (late 90s) and then Furious (early 00s) before finally breaking through. Those years were incredibly, incredibly difficult. Ironically, the only team that really and truly suffered for years and came through intact to win it all? Boston’s Death or Glory.
The Biggest Loser
In all this discussion of on the field action, the biggest change to the frisbee landscape almost went by unnoticed and unmentioned (except on Twitter). The biggest loser from the shift in Nationals? The Daiquiri Deck. Although something will come along to replace it, traditions are part of what make ultimate special and like the passing of the Palm Bay, the passing of the Saturday night at the Daiquiri Deck is something we should take a moment and mourn.
Feature photo by Jolie J. Lang – UltiPhotos.com