October 19, 2014 by Simon Pollock in Analysis with 5 comments
Denver Johnny Bravo spent all season preparing to take down San Francisco Revolver.
As the opening pull went up in the quarterfinal round yesterday here in Frisco, spectators, players, the Ultiworld staff in attendance assumed that Bravo would beat Washington D.C. Truck Stop and meet Revolver after they in turn dealt with Toronto GOAT. That was not to be.
And yet Bravo has proved more than difficult to beat than any team in attendance this weekend. Trusting their physical preparation and mental fortitude, Bravo had charged forward through each of their five games previous, resting no starters and winning at all costs. They entered last night’s semifinal undefeated and – despite all of GOAT’s talent, height, and strength – Bravo left that way. 6-0 heading into their final tomorrow evening, to take on a Boston Ironside team they defeated earlier in the tournament. It was an outstanding performance, headlined by a Denver going 4 of 5 on break conversions and riding a 7 goal individual performance from Kurt Gibson.
“I have a great group around me,” Gibson said of his performance. “Jimmy [Mickle] and Bart [Watson] — just some tremendous throwers. You know you only need a step or two and they’re going to put it right on the money.”
The story goes beyond that though. This was not a simple win, and Bravo are not a simple team.
It’s too easy to say that Bravo have outplayed the competition so far. This isn’t Space Jam — there’s no Mickle’s Secret Stuff.
A crucial piece of Bravo’s success has been breaking the mark, which allows the team great access to horizontal space on the field. For the latter half of the tournament, Denver has sent both Nick Lance and Brett Matzuka out with their defense. These two are incredibly talented throwers individually, but sending them out as a pair against Toronto turned many typical reset and reverse patterns into 30 or 40 yard lateral changes.
The backfield on offense has been just as dangerous, with the handler set being led by Bart Watson. Watson has a unique talent in opening up the field. Numerous times this weekend, he has turned his back to the reset thrower and let around throws float over the shoulder to allow to catch the disc in stride, already looking downfield. It’s the throwing strength and accuracy of his downfield cutters, however, that allow him to become more rangy and find more of the field, but they too can find any sort of space they need.
Mickle had no goals and four assists in the semifinal, though he tracked down all sorts of throws — including one from Watson in the first half that looked like it would have sailed passed just about anyone. Sean Keegan joins that category of flexible cutter as well, and after being more of a cog in the wheel this weekend, put up a critical two goals and two assists against GOAT.
Bravo Runs Deep
“I think it’s our depth”, said coach Bob Krier when asked after the win about what made the difference. “We played everyone early in every game. We made sure we got everyone their points so we could see who was ready and who was at their best. Then we got to pick and choose, and it was a luxury to not feel like we had to call the same guys on the line.”
The ability to break the mark — and of course to put it deep — is shared up and down this roster, across both offense and defense, and it showed in Bravo’s patience and efficiency.
Creating that fluency across all players has been no easy task, especially on a roster full of so many players who are used to being the go-to look on a team. “It’s about the reps,” said captain Ryan Farrell. He and his co-captains have had no shortage of talent to corral over the last two years and getting his stars to defer to each other and include role players in the game has been a challenge. “This process has been ongoing since the day they came in, and it’s still going on…we didn’t expect it all to click,” he said.
It speaks to a lot to the work that this team has put in outside of tournaments. With out of region players committed to “double-header” weekends, practice has been crucial to get the top talent to find roles that jive with second units. “It’s about the reads on the field,” Farrell explained. “It’s about taking cues from your teammates’ body language and that’s something we didn’t do well earlier in the year. You can see that we started to do it better here.”
No Nonsense Fitness
From the outset of this tournament, Bravo has set themselves apart not only in style of play and depth of roster, but with an all-business approach to their lines and gameplay. Krier has played his starters often and up front, from the semifinal to Bravo’s 15-6 drubbing of Vancouver Furious George. This format has often unnerved teams with a similar ranking, convincing some coaches and captains that resting their stars early will pay off later. Revolver notably rested Beau Kittredge nearly all of pool play and Seattle Sockeye weren’t substituting aggressively early in their loss to Rhino in prequarters.2
And yet, Bravo’s full lines have appeared all weekend.
“It’s how we always do it,” said Farrell. “I think it’s ridiculous when teams baby their best players. Beau can wear his pajama pants all day for all I care…we don’t baby Jimmy, we don’t baby Kurt.”
All of these factors have pushed Bravo above and beyond in each of their six games here. They’ll have to do it one more time in the men’s final this afternoon.
GOAT played the mongoose to the Revolver cobra, at first reacting to a deadly first half strike, then countering the next few strikes, and delivering a death blow in an historic double-game point win that would send them to semifinals against Bravo. ↩
Kittredge played a total of 8 points on Thursday. ↩