Men’s Nationals to a Novice

by | October 14, 2014, 6:46am 0

I never thought I’d look forward to a visit to Texas. But here I am, counting down the days to the conclusion of the 2014 club season in Frisco.

The season has been exhilarating, especially since I have watched the most competitive games in person. Watching live ultimate is a completely different experience from watching games through a monitor. While broadcasts convey the action, they cannot capture the electric intensity needed to do our sport justice. If you ever have time to take a weekend away and visit an elite tournament, do it. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

This is the first year that I’ve paid close attention to club, so I am ecstatic for Nationals. This is the tournament everyone has been training for. The most elite talent across the United States – the entire planet, really – will duke it out for the highest honor a club can receive. I’ll finally have the opportunity to witness the peak levels of ultimate in person.

I can’t wait.

Aside from ogling the talent, I’m going in with a mission: questions have been piling up in my head all summer, and I want answers.

My queries are derived from my perspective as a ultimate fanatic– I’m going off of the few tournaments I have attended plus what I’ve gathered from Skyd, Ultiworld, and Twitter. There are holes in my knowledge about the sport, and every time I attend a tournament, I walk away with information that rounds out my understanding of the big picture. As the last and most important tournament of the season, Club Nationals is one of the most crucial parts of my journey.

Here are my top seven questions:

1. Which of the top five men’s powerhouses will take the gold?

Since I’ve been at these tournaments and seen the same few teams several times, I’ve gathered some novice first impressions of their abilities. Consensus says there are five teams with the potential to win it all: Revolver, Machine, Sockeye, Ironside, and Johnny Bravo.

Revolver. Can they bring home another gold?

Losses this season:

Johnny Bravo at US Open, 8 – 15

Ironside at US Open, 13 – 15

GOAT at ECC, 12 – 14

Chain Lightning at ECC, 11 – 13

All research points to Revolver being the clear favorite for the title. They took gold at the US Open and Worlds, and they are the defending national champions. They didn’t medal at Emerald City Classic (ECC), but hey, they had a Worlds Hangover. (They went pretty hard to win in Lecco, so the break they took leading up to ECC was well-deserved.)

If Revolver’s stats aren’t convincing, one only needs to watch their harmonious playing style to be convinced of their worthiness. Even I can tell it is a work of art. Watching their field movement is like watching a string quartet perform a marvelous composition. Just as one instrument in a quartet is not complete without the other three compliments, the players on Revolver cannot execute their offense without the full cooperation of the others on the field. It’s clear they’ve rehearsed their cutting and field spacing countless times, and in-games, they demonstrate a comfortable ability to remain flexible. Simply put, they’re damn good. Nobody, myself included, will be surprised if Revolver wins Nationals.

Machine. Is this darkhorse a true contender?

Losses this season:

Chain Lightning at Chesapeake Invite, 7 – 13

Madison Club at Heavyweights, 9 – 11

Revolver at ECC, 9 – 13

Ironside at ECC, 11 – 13

All season long, I had no expectations of Machine. I was too busy marveling over the teams I had heard of. I watched them win at the Chesapeake Invite, but the absence of the powerhouses meant that I wasn’t paying close attention to their abilities. Clearly, I should not have overlooked them. I was absolutely stunned when they cleaned up snoozing Johnny Bravo and sauntered their way to first place at ECC. Later, I was informed that their performance should not have shocked me; the core of the group has been playing with the AUDL’s Wildfire – upping hours spent together in practice – and they’ve finished in the quarters the last two years. They are dangerous. The team obviously feels confident, as made evident by the recent release of  their D-Line and Nationals promotional videos. Will they still be ample competition against teams recovered from the Worlds hangover? Other teams need to be on their guard against Machine.

Also, Bob Liu. Why isn’t he a bigger name? This season has put him on my radar. He is easily one of my favorite players to watch. His throws, such as his randomly casual scoober for a score against Revolver during ECC, are sick. And he’s fluent in both hands. Can he be effectively contained?

Sockeye. Can they limit sloppy play?

Losses this season:

Furious George at US Open, 13 – 15

Revolver at US Open, 15 – 16

Sub Zero at US Open, 8 – 15

Chain Lightning at ECC, 11 – 13

GOAT at ECC, 11 – 12

Revolver at ECC, 13 – 14

My first exposure to this year’s Sockeye squad was their game against Clapham at the US Open. The intensity of the game was lackluster at best, and though Sockeye won 15 – 10, I was thoroughly unimpressed. I made bets that they would lose by five in their next game to Johnny Bravo. Sockeye startled me by winning by two, appearing radically different from the bumbling team who scraped by in their win the day before. Here was the Sockeye that I knew and loved, the team that was a contender for gold.

I’ve noticed Sockeye to be a team with two faces: one that slinks by when a victory appears imminent, and one that ramps up the intensity against higher level teams. Perhaps this playing style is effective to prevent from burnout later in the day, but sometimes their sloppiness seeps over into gameplay when it is unneeded and they lose. A perfect example of this is their disappointing loss to Sub Zero during the US Open. Can they be counted on to convert on breaks? Will their trademark rapid speed offense blaze past attempts to halt their upfield movement, or will it result in miscommunication and dropped discs? To win, they’ll have to perfectly operate in the system they’ve created for themselves without being strangled by it.

Ironside. Could this (finally) be their year?

Losses this season:

Johnny Bravo at US Open, 13 – 15

Sockeye at US Open, 11 – 14

Revolver at US Open, 11 – 15

Buzz Bullets at WUCC, 16 – 17

Revolver at ECC, 10 – 13

Machine at ECC, 10 – 13

Ironside has always been a contender for gold, having made semis every year since 2008. But they’ve never taken that top spot on the podium. They’ve played excellently this season. Conversations with more knowledgeable individuals have revealed that this year looks like their best chance to defeat the competition. The defense has been revamped, most notably with the addition of handler Mark Sherwood and shift of captain George Stubbs to the D-line. Also, they are probably determined to prove they are truly an elite American team; as the only US team which lost in quarters during WUCC, can they claim they are on the same level as the other Worlds squads? Will that loss help to motivate them to untap their full potential? Will their line shakeups prove to have been the right idea? Have their years without a title come a end?

Johnny Bravo. Will they become a team?

Losses this season:

Sockeye at US Open, 12 – 14

Furious George at US Open, 13 – 14

Revolver at US Open, 12 – 14

Revolver at WUCC, 16 – 14

Sockeye at ECC, 12 – 13

Machine at ECC, 11 – 15

Revolver at ECC, 10 – 15

Doublewide at ECC, 11 – 15

When Johnny Bravo’s 2014 roster came out, I thought the club season was over before it had begun. How could a roster packed with so many big names possibly not win? During the first day of the US Open, they decimated their competition, including a seven point win over Revolver. Then, the seemingly perfect team showed their flaws. I keep waiting for the magic to return, but somehow… things keep going wrong. I don’t really understand why, but I am beginning to suspect that the talent of the individuals is detrimental to the team. Bravo’s lineup exists as players on a team, and not a team of players. I saw a glimmer of ultimate insanity during Brodie’s huck and Mickle’s unbelievable grab during their universe point against Doublewide at the South Central Regionals. The play was definitely questionable, but they made it work. And that’s the problem. While I expect this kind of athleticism from Johnny Bravo, I’d also think they’d play smarter since their players [should] have such a high ultimate IQ.

Some speculation: If their team is going to mesh, they’ll need to take a page out of Revolver’s playbook and understand that an ultimate player absolutely requires the cooperation of his teammates on the field. A squad containing Watson, Matzuka, Brodie, Mickle, Gibson, Lance, and Farrell could theoretically be filled with ESPN-level bids and epic skys. However, just because players have the ability to make incredible one-man-one-play glamourous throws doesn’t mean they should rely on it. If they can synchronize the strengths of those on the field and forgo the risky decisions, they should be unstoppable.

2. Will Brodie Smith play?

I’ve compared more than the skill levels of individual teams. I’ve also used my exposure to club to also compare the abilities of individual players. Some have stood out as exceptionally talented. Brodie Smith is not on this list. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to watch him play because he has been injured. Rumor has it that he’s not only good at throwing discs into garbage cans and basketball hoops– he’s supposedly skilled on the field as well. Has he finally overcome years of injury to show up and help Johnny Bravo cash in on their ticket to first? I’m curious about his impact as a player. I would love to see him play. Is he as good as I hear he is, or has he been hyped up by reminiscing and speculation?

3. What’s the deal with Rhino?

Losses this season:

Ring of Fire at Colorado Cup, 13 – 15 

Sockeye at NW Regionals, 9 – 15 

Rhino is one big question mark to me. They’re 23 – 2, but from what I understand their wins came against lower level teams. As the seven seed, they sit right above Doublewide and Chain Lightning and are in a toss-up pool with Machine, Sub Zero, and Truck Stop. The loss they had against Sockeye during Northwest Regionals seems to indicate that they’ll crumble against the powerhouses. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see them play. What kind of young, upstart team have Dylan Freechild and Jacob Janin whipped together under the radar of large-scale USAU events? Can they sneak up on unsuspecting teams? Will they shut out Sub Zero and Truck Stop during pool play? How well do they mesh on the field? How far can their squad go?

I’m also interested in seeing Connor Matthews play. I heard chatter about the guy (Rhino, Oregon Ego) before I saw him play during College Championships. I was skeptical until I watched him jump ridiculously high during the semis game against Colorado during College Championships. This was the only thing I took away from his performance. Later, he traveled to Italy with the U-19 team. Now that I will not be caught off guard by his natural springs, I would like to observe his actual capabilities on the field. Does Connor Matthews have the ability to show up the veterans on other teams, or is he a one-trick leaping pony?

4. Can Kevin Minderhout wear all of the hats?

After Club Nationals, Kevin will be shutting down NGN. I was super fortunate to work for him, and I learned a surprising amount in my short time with NexGen. The thing I admire the most about Kevin is his ability to wear so many different hats. In preparing for broadcasts, he gathers contracts to stream games, figures out the transportation of his crew and his equipment, estimates how much money he has to spend, advertises and manages the PR, communicates with product purchasers, and uploads games to the internet and a backup drive. He’ll have to wear one more hat during Nationals when he plays with Rhino while also helping the NGN crew with its final broadcast. Will the stream unexpectedly crash, pulling Kevin away from Rhino? Will Rhino be engaged in an epically close game, forcing his attention away from the broadcast? I sure hope nothing goes drastically wrong, because Kevin deserves to have his cake and eat it too.

5. Is it weird to ask for autographs?

My all-time favorite piece of ultimate memorabilia is the NexGen disc I had the players sign during the first tour. It was kind of awkward, but I’m glad I worked up the courage to ask. It’s about time I collected another keepsake. To appease my inner fan, I have decided to get the autographs of my favorite players. I’m not worried about getting shut down, because I am also going to use this opportunity to conduct an experiment. How many can I get? This isn’t necessarily a list of the best individuals, just those who I watched play who have the star power to make me remember their names:

Machine – Bob Liu

Hit Ctrl+F and see “scoober” above. He’s some kind of genie. Phenomenal asset to his team’s offense.

Truck Stop – Jonathan Neeley

Captain of Truck Stop. Ultimate thinker and commentator at RISE UP and the USAU magazines. Senior editor at Skyd. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a RISE UP shoot and he was a sweetheart.

Ironside – George Stubbs

First NexGen tour captain. Ironside captain. Deadly flick huck.

Sockeye – Reid Koss

Defensive pillar of Sockeye. Tremendous vertical. Increasingly reliable hucks. His task is to generate Ds and then convert. He does his job.

Rhino – Dylan Freechild, Kevin Minderhout

Freechild: Captain of a Nationals club team while still in college. Regular selection for NexGen tours. Also, I hear he is a jokester, so I am interested in knowing how he responds when I ask him.

Kevin: Changed the course of ultimate by proving there was a  market hungry for quality videos as the NexGen founder. My boss and one of my professional idols. Not getting his signature would be a disgrace.

Johnny Bravo – Jesse Roehm, Jimmy Mickle (More from this team would be sweet.)

Roehm: He is the poster child for how people think frisbee players look. Thankfully, he plays ultimate, not frisbee, or else his abilities would be wasted. He plays dangerous, like a predatory animal. I love it.

Mickle: I have a slight case of Mickle Mania. It’s fine. He’s a threat in every spot on the field.

Ring of Fire – Ken Porter

His athleticism is nuts. In case you didn’t know, he has the fastest 40 yard dash record in ultimate with 4.64.

Revolver – Beau Kittridge, Simon Higgins

Beau: Because duh. One of my friends said that Beau is “LeBroning” all over the club scene. I would agree.

Higgins: I should have known his name before this year. His play making ability is fantastic, and he is so young. Can’t wait to see him improve over the rest of his time in club.

Honorary Mention – Lou Burruss

He was wearing these pimpin’ green pants and a bowtie at College Nationals. That’s the main reason. Also, I really enjoy his perspective in Skyd articles.

Note: Lou likely won’t be at Nationals. But I wish he were.

6. Will the tournament party be insane?

Kevin Minderhout once told me his favorite part of a broadcast was the tournament party. As an outsider, the strangest part of ultimate culture is easily the party scene. After a weekend of sprinting madly back and forth on the field, the athletes and associates flood whichever institution has agreed to provide drinks and host, and everyone rampages for a few hours. Players who are the most intense on the field are suddenly happy-go-lucky and fairly humble about the game. Sometimes there are bizarre costumes involved. After ECC, I had as much fun dancing at Seattle’s Rplace as I’ve ever had. Can Texas up the ante?

7. What will Monday feel like?

When the turf has settled and the last huck has been thrown, who will stand as the victor? I can’t wait to see how it plays out. For me, Nationals is like the very last episode of a fantastic TV series. I hope I see great ultimate. I hope I fly back to Seattle excited about the future of the sport. I hope I see something legendary.

I hope I’m satisfied when it’s all over.

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