August 31, 2014 by Alec Surmani in Recap with 2 comments
There were a number of early surprises and close calls in the men’s division, but by the end of the fifth round at the Pro Flight Finale in Burlington, WA Saturday, things had kind of normalized — almost to an eerie degree.
The teams that won the two pools were the same ones that made it to the finals of Nationals last year (and the finals of Worlds this year), San Francisco Revolver and Seattle Sockeye. The two teams that finished second in their pools were the same ones that dropped in the semifinals of Nationals last year, Boston Ironside and Denver Johnny Bravo. And the bottom two teams in each pool were the same ones battling it out to prove who were the best of the quarterfinalists last year, with only one climbing seed, Austin’s Doublewide.
Yet, to take the mere results at face value would be a mistake. This is partly due to the fact that Saturday’s games were just to re-rank the seeds, as everyone makes quarters tomorrow regardless. Even more than that though, the final scores and standings don’t do much justice to how close many of these teams can be when they’re on. And perhaps even more so when they’re not.
There’s a reason no squad in the division went 3-0.
Sure, teams are first and foremost using the tournament to experiment with strategies and fine tune aspects like chemistry and system mechanics before the series starts next week.
And to be fair—as evidenced by Toronto GOAT’s shocking Pro Flight Finale victory last year followed by an underwhelming Nationals performance—the implications of even Sunday’s eventual results are unlikely to function as a clear crystal ball for how match-ups will pan out at the Club Championships in October.
What can be learned, however, are certain aspects of where teams are at right now and how well they react to different, shifting conditions.
Sunday’s bracket play will help answer many of these questions. Quarterfinals match-ups all begin at 11 a.m. PST and are as follows: Revolver-Chain Lightning, Bravo-Machine, Ironside-Doublewide, and Sockeye-GOAT.
Until then, here’s a look at some of the findings from Saturday:
Revolver and Sockeye Rise Up
Both San Francisco and Seattle suffered their only losses of the day to the teams that would eventually finish last in their respective pools. Revolver gave up their first half lead and initial momentum to a surging GOAT in the third round, losing 12-14. Sockeye dropped their first game to Atlanta’s Chain Lightning, as the latter managed to execute their deep game without much difficulty en route to an 11-13 win.
But that’s what makes great programs great: they don’t let slip-ups affect them.
Though both Revolver and Ironside came out almost embarrassingly sloppy in the final round, San Francisco managed to figure it out enough to secure a multiple-break cushion throughout most of the game.
Down 2-3, Revolver blew the match wide open with a 4-0 run, capitalizing on largely unforced miscues by Ironside. Boston went into halftime down 7-4 with little to no momentum as a result of their own poor execution. Coach Josh McCarthy and the captains were livid.
While Ironside managed to clean it up enough to get some flow going, Revolver’s discipline proved too much. San Francisco took the match and the pool with the 13-10 victory, handing Boston their first loss of the weekend.
Throughout the day, Revolver displayed the signature characteristics that define their elite program. They run their cuts and clears with the same intensity, they punish poaches, and they play suffocating fundamental defense.
Their match against Machine remained close until Revolver’s D on the resets proved too much. They gave the initial dump no cushion and stayed tight on the fills, leaving Chicago few options other than tight windows that eventually yielded turns.
Revolver captain Cassidy Rasmussen said his team wanted to focus on containing Machine’s resets while simultaneously preventing them from getting the disc upline into power positions. The approach paid off, as San Francisco ran away with the match by the end, winning 13-9.
Similarly, Sockeye successfully employed various defensive sets that gave them the advantage in their final two games.
Perhaps their first contest served as a wake-up call, for Seattle certainly displayed a ramped up defensive focus against Doublewide and Bravo.
Even against a team as stacked with athletic talent and big huckers like Denver, Seattle found a way to contain the deep game for the most part. Players like Donnie Clark and Matt Russell came up with some key deep Ds, enabling Sockeye to secure crucial break conversions.
Such plays were particularly important in the Denver game as, though there were numerous momentum swings, no team ever amassed a lead greater than two points. Had the contest gone on longer, it really could have gone either way.
On universe point, however, Joe Sefton came down with perhaps the play of the day, making a chest-high layout grab on an underthrown laser huck, only to pop up and dish it for the 13-12 game-winner.
Despite somewhat straying from their iconic small ball, quick disc movement style of play, Sockeye nevertheless exhibited strong offensive efficiency with clean I-O breaks and smart continuation cuts.
Complementing this, their various defensive looks, which ranged from flash zone-to-man calls to poachy middle-clogging looks, helped slow down opponents’ offenses and give the fish improved odds of generating turns.
Saturday revealed a level of depth on both O and D that make the national runners-up seem that much more dangerous.
Ironside and Bravo Still Looking Smooth
They may not have won their pools, but Boston and Denver only missed their respective top spots by thin margins.
Most of Ironside’s turns in their match against Revolver were mere execution mistakes, like a dropped sky or a cutter slipping while trying to make a change of direction.
Boston’s defensive intensity rivaled that of any other team and could be attributed much of the credit for their convincing win over Chicago. By pressuring the unders and staying tight on the break side, Ironside forced a number of tough throws that Machine couldn’t connect on enough times to mount a comeback.
University of Massachusetts star Jeff Babbitt in particular, playing in his first tournament of the season with Boston, came up with monster layout Ds in every match, many of them seemingly out of nowhere.
Helping them hold on to the advantages they’d work hard for on D was a more conservative O line than Ironside have often employed in the past. Despite being without main handler Josh Markette, Boston exhibited good patience throughout the day. Much fewer dangerous scoobers and other tricky throws were seen, and cutters worked hard to earn their yardage and space.
If Ironside can maintain such discipline and clean up their execution errors, they could very well make a deep run tomorrow.
Much of the same can be said for Denver.
Using all their weapons that generally prove too much for most teams, Bravo dispatched with Doublewide and Chain Lightning without much difficulty, besting both squads by the score of 13-7. Only Sockeye proved to be a challenge on Saturday.
Although they initially looked to be in control with a 5-3 lead, Denver would occasionally get a bit impatient or overconfident and take shots that, though they might be partially viable, could not be defended as quite necessary.
Hammers into tight spaces, risky O-I blades over the top and trust hucks to streaking cutters who aren’t even open yet are looks Bravo often connect on, but couldn’t be 100 percent relied on in their match against Sockeye.
Admittedly, Seattle did an excellent job of converting most of their break opportunities. But, had Denver simply faked more of those questionable looks and moved the disc instead, they could have come out the victor with a sizable cushion.
The same could be said for just about all of Bravo’s losses. With all their talent and their already significant chemistry, they could be turning those universe point losses into two- or three-point victories.
One could make the argument that such an assessment is largely predicated on unfair expectations based in mere potential, and there’s some truth to that.
But in Bravo’s defense, Saturday was a regular season stint of pool play that barely affects bracket play. One can safely bet that Denver will likely become more and more clean and efficient with each match and be a totally different team. Maybe even as soon as Sunday.
Quarterfinals Teams Struggle, But Linger on the Fringes
GOAT, Chain Lightning, Machine, and Doublewide all proved they have the capability to put up solid games against the highest tiers. Their main problem is maintaining that level of play for an entire day, let alone an entire tournament.
Had they not come out terribly flat against Sockeye or not blown their chances late in the match against Machine, GOAT could have found themselves 3-0.
Just like last year, Toronto indicated flashes of unstoppable flow and skill, often looking like the Toronto Rush squad that annihilated almost all of the AUDL. Their miscues, however, which often came in devastating strings, plagued them all day.
It’s dangerous to count them out of any tournament, however, as their peak game is among the best in the nation.
Just last year, GOAT experienced a nearly identical Saturday. They upset Revolver, but lost their other two games. The next day they bested Ironside, Sockeye, and Doublewide on their way to the title.
A repeat is not entirely out of the question.
Chain Lightning and Machine too appear on the cusp of breaking through.
Atlanta came out hot and connected on most of the deep looks they wanted against Sockeye. When fewer of those shots found their receivers in the following games, however, they struggled to climb back into those contests.
Similarly but in their own way, Chicago looked smooth and confident when they were able to move the disc and scoober and hammer their way to the break side. But when their resets failed to get open and defenses played tighter on those floaty break looks, Machine found difficulty finding the same kind of rhythm they once had.
Both teams have a shot at making semis on Sunday, but only if they figure out how to succeed when opponents take away their primary tools.
Doublewide, on the other hand, despite beating Chain Lightning in the fourth round, often looked to be short of a key weapon or two. Without Kurt Gibson, Brodie Smith, Alex Thorne, Tyler Degirolamo, Tim Gehret, or any of the other big threats they’ve relied on in previous years, they seem somewhat underpowered when facing up to teams like Bravo and Sockeye.
Many of their newcomers could be seen looking off numerous break throws and deep shots of only moderate difficulty, often making it difficult to march it through tight defensive sets with athletic defenders.
Austin may still be a very good team, but unless they make some big changes or manage to find some new level of chemistry, it will be hard to envision them making it too far on Sunday.
***To watch the semis and finals, check out NGNUltimate.com and buy a game or tournament package!***