Chesapeake Open (Division)
In case you somehow got the wrong idea, Chesapeake Open has a bit more to offer than a decent Mixed field. The Open competition is great, and with Sectionals getting closer, I was really looking forward to seeing some of the top teams match up. Here’s what I’ve got to offer about what I saw:
Revolver. Everyone, myself included, loves Revolver this year. And with good reason. They’ve finished 5th at the last two Nationals they’ve qualified for (2006 and 2008), and they’ve added Beau, Mac and a number of others to a very strong core that includes big playmakers and veterans that are both intelligent and experienced. When I saw them at Solstice in June, their offense was awesome, makings lots of space for their cutters to just get out and run faster than their defenders. Defensively, the speed and athleticism brings enough pressure to force turns on good teams and convert them enough to result in plenty of breaks.
That said, Revolver looked shitty in the showcase game against Chain. They started the game on offense and went down 3-0, misfiring on a number of early hucks but also failing to make space underneath. The thing about Revolver is that their offense is inherently risky. Mac frequently catches underneath throws and turns and fires quick, low hucks (often to Beau), which is a high risk/high reward approach that depends a lot on timing that can be hit or miss. They often run a ho stack that pushes the 1,2, and 3 cutters off to the left and isolates the 4, allowing him to just cut in and out for a while. If this gets shut down, their other guys are often too cluttered to offer a reliable upfield bailout, and I think that their dump sets are often a bit shaky because of their stud handlers’ predisposition to using their ability to go upfield.
It would be silly to say that Revolver is not good. Their talent level is through the roof, and when they’re on, they’re very, very hard to stop. The issue is just whether or not they are on. They work with such a run and gun style that little mishaps are more likely to occur. In the Chain game, I saw them throw away a number of open swing passes just because they were being too hasty. Against Ring in the semis when the game was 11-10 and the horn was on, Beau was open underneath but couldn’t quite get to an errant throw, dropping it on the sideline. Right now, I think that Revolver would benefit from some more spacing and a commitment to using the entire width of the field. Another tournament before Sectionals will help a lot, and I still would not be the least bit surprised to see Revolver playing on Sunday in Sarasota.
Chain Lightning. I was stoked to see Chain play because they are the best outlet for the Ultimate world to find out what Night Train players have known for four years: Robert Runner can ball. Of course, he’s not exactly the focal point of their defensive offense the way he was with Virginia, but it was still really cool to see him playing (and throwing big pulls) with Atlanta.
We caught a bit of their game against Invictus during our bye, but it was pretty boring just because Invictus was crappy and Chain was good. They showed pretty early that their reputation as a hucking team is well-deserved, with the opening point being a quick centering throw to Jay Hammond who promptly hit AJ Tiarsmith with a nasty IO flick huck. More hucks ensued, the heckling never really got off the ground, and we left to eat burritos, knowing we’d see Chain play in the showcase game at the end of the day.
Remember how Revolver looked bad in the showcase game? Luckily for them, so did Chain. Eventually, anyway. They went up 3-0 and then 4-1, and looked pretty in control in the first half. The reality, though, was that Revolver was just playing worse. Chain’s D line was nasty, converting turns into breaks with great efficiency (the mark of a really good D line… most D lines can get turns eventually, but the ones that put it in the endzone with regularity are the ones that actually mean trouble). Their offense, though, was cluttered and haphazard. Chain’s dumps frequently lined up extremely close to the thrower, and while they typically got the reset off, the offense often went something like dump to tight space, dump to tight space, dump to tight space, jack the disc for a turnover. The endzone offense was bad, as the strategy, again, looked to be to cram it into a tight space over and over again. While I left at half to watch Ironside v. Ring in hopes that play would be less sloppy, I was told, and have no trouble believing, that Chain’s offense turned it over enough that Revolver became the better team. Indeed, when I came back to see universe point, Chain turned it over twice, once on a bad huck by Zip and once with Swanson dropping the disc.
The thing is, I think that all of this can be easily fixed. And my assumption is that it was since they won on Sunday. Unlike Revolver, their turns were a result of nowhere to throw the disc rather than a hurried-up style. Chain’s problems, I think, are more easily solved than Revolvers, and as long as they spot them and adjust, mid-tournament improvements will be possible. As I said, Chain’s defensive lines are great, a fact that will keep them at the top going into the Series.
GOAT. GOAT’s field was the one next to us all day Saturday, so I got to see bits and pieces of their games against Madcow, Tanasi, and Ring of Fire. To me, GOAT’s offense is fascinating to watch. Most top teams have gravitated toward a horizontal stack that uses big, fast cutters that are in constant motion in an effort to get open in the middle of the field. If a cut is shut down, no big deal because the clear will come fast enough that the next cut, which has a good shot at being open, will fill quickly.
Not GOAT. They set up horizontally, but their cutters in the middle of the field do a lot of chilling until a clear deep or underneath cut opens up. The side cutters and handlers are responsible for a lot of the movement, with the handlers moving pretty well and hitting side cutters on well-timed swings that were typically accurate blades. I was generally impressed with their cutters’ ability to see swing space open up and time their movement seamlessly with when the thrower would need it.
In all, GOAT’s offense struck me as very deliberate, making it hard to defend (at times) even though it was not as fast-paced. John Hassell, a player recognized by many as one of the world’s best, was often used as a blend between an underneath cutter and handler, standing out as the one throwing and catching the more difficult swings and then putting the disc upfield after the movement. He did disappoint on defense, giving up on a few deep discs that he went after when I saw him with Canada this summer, but my feeling is that the intensity would have been there in more important games.
Other than Hassell and Andy Ouchterlony (also of Team Canada), I didn’t know any GOAT players by name. They did have one kid I recognized from the Canadian Juniors team, and he was making play after play both in the air and underneath, and although I saw two consecutive drops out of him in the Ring game, he really impressed me. One other random strategy thing GOAT did: when Ring came with a lose zone, they pushed all of their poppers and deeps to the sidelines, keeping the middle of the field wide open. They actually worked it well up the field this way, but couldn’t put it in the endzone. One other random non-strategy thing about GOAT: Tyler jokingly said that cleats tend to last longer in Canada, as many of the GOAT guys were wearing the Speed TDs that came out in like 2005. I’ve noticed this before. Go figure.
Ironside. Unfortunately, all I saw of Boston was a few points of their showcase against Ring. When I got there, they had traded points until Ironside broke to take half, pulling away in the second. For a few points, they ran a cool zone that, as Matt pointed out, started loose but clamped down as the stall count grew higher. This made upfield throws more appealing early (but they were actually taken away by well-positioned downfield defenders) but made resets tough once they were looked off. Will Neff has big pulls, Jacob Goldstein has quite the IO flick, and George Stubbs is a good player. Also, the world needs more Peter Prial. In general, though, I’m not that familiar with Ironside’s personnel, I just know that they can play.
Ring of Fire. The GOAT and Revolver wins were nice for Ring (especially since GOAT beat them five times in 2008), but I didn’t really get to see much else. They love to huck but are nowhere near as good at doing so as Chain. I was recently looking through some of Ring’s old rosters and realized that many of them have been playing together for a very, very long time, making me think that they’re capable of being more than a perennial Quarters-but-not-much-more team. Quickly: Stephen Poulos was in cleats and played a limited amount of points, and most of their Atlantic Coast college talent (Rusty, Brian Casey, Ken Porter, Thomas Ward) looked good.
The Showcase Game. I just want to hash out a few quick thoughts on this. Like I said, neither Chain nor Revolver looked good in this game (and just to be clear, while there were two showcase games, the crowd made it clear that there was really only one). That doesn’t mean, however, that they weren’t two of the best teams there. The game really only mattered for seeding, and with Saturday being really humid and the previous day/night’s trip to Maryland having been long for both teams, I don’t think that either minded mailing it in a bit. Showcase games are awesome for people who like to watch high-level Ultimate, but you can’t get too frustrated when the teams aren’t playing to their utmost potential. So yeah… that’s all I have to say about that.