October 19, 2013 by Keith Raynor in Preview with 1 comments
With a brand new format, in a brand new city, the culmination of USAU’s brand new Triple Crown Tour, and some brand new parity, this year promised a whole lot of brand new. However, last year’s semifinalists were not sent the memo. Each returns to the semifinals in replica rematches of the 2012 Club Championships. The question remains: is the rest of the script also the same?
There’s nothing less new than seeing Fury’s name in the semifinal bracket. Having successfully dealt with any and all competition, the seven time reigning champions look as cool and confident as ever. And why wouldn’t they be? Fury has yet to be challenged late in a game and faces a Showdown team they beat twice at the US Open — including 15-8 in that tournament’s semifinal — and who they decimated in last year’s Championships semifinal, 15-6.
“We’re on the right track,” said coach Matt Tsang after their quarterfinal win. “I think we’re in the best shape we can be.”
As little attention as we’ve paid to Fury at this tournament, however, it hasn’t been the cakewalk we are used to seeing. At last year’s tournament, they were completely dominant in pool play and the bracket, winning Thursday games and their quarter & semi by an average of 12 points; this season (heavily influenced by a 12 point prequarter win against overall 16 seed Nova) that average has shrunk to under 7. While the results haven’t been close, San Francisco has had some low moments, including going down against Capitals on Thursday.
Showdown comes into the game as a team that has really delivered on their potential through Friday. In the division’s toughest pool, they emerged undefeated, including beating Nemesis solidly and upsetting Traffic. Once in the bracket, Texas muscled their way through Bent in a game not as close as the 11-8 score would indicate. That was followed up with the most lopsided win in the semifinals, 15-3 over Nightlock.
This year’s Showdown has something the 2012 version didn’t: an elite win under their belts. Earlier this season at the Pro Flight Finale, Texas upset Riot in the opening round, an eye opening result. Last year, they went 0-6 against the future pool winners leading up to the Club Championships, rarely even staying in the game.
The heavy criticism of Showdown has been how reliant they are on their top end players, but their supporting cast has stepped up their level of play all tournament. Players like Christina Contreras, Sarah Levinn, and Tina Woodings have been delivering in tight games against good competition. Cara Crouch, the team’s star, has also found more help from the team’s other top contributors. Sarah Blyth has been eviscerating marks game after game while Katey Forth’s playing at a consistently high level.
“We know our potential and that’s all we ask of [ourselves],” said Showdown coach David Melancon after winning their pool Thursday. “It just happens that our potential is to win this tournament.”
“Showdown’s offensive line is one of the best at this tournament,” added Tsang after Friday’s games.
Top heavy teams have a tendency towards inconsistency, so this type of Showdown offers a much different threat against a deep Fury team than the one we saw at Pro Flight Finale and the US Open.
The question mark for Fury is not only a few weaker performances that have dotted this tournament and their season — possible signs of vulnerability — but also their preparation for the coming challenge.
“This is a lot different,” admitted Tsang. “Not having power pools, where you ramp up against better competition is really different. I think it was a challenge for us.”
So far, San Francisco has faced only one team labeled an early contender, in their semifinal against Brute Squad. Even that Boston team was performing well below incoming expectations and didn’t challenge Fury. If Tsang’s team has sometimes put on the cruise control, will they be ready to take the wheel when the conditions are less favorable?