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Northwest Regionals

September 29, 2009

The Northwest Open has been Ultimate’s premier region for the majority of the past decade: 1999 was the last time that a Northwest team was not playing on Sunday in Sarasota, and the UPA Championship has not been handed over to a team outside the region since Furious first won in 2002 Sockeye’s title in 2004 (Furious also won in 2002, with the Condors taking the trophy down I-5 in 2003). Having played and coached a bit of Ultimate in Seattle, I’ll have my eye on the competition in Corvallis this weekend.

Revolver and Sockeye hold the top spots, with Furious George getting the three seed and defending UPA Champion Jam sitting at the four. The five, Voodoo, has made gigantic strides since Solstice in June, maximizing its talented young core and key roster additions to bring much of its potential to fruition at New York and Emerald City Classic. From there, PRZYBILLA brings experience (and Aaron Richards) that is not to be taken lightly, End Phase will make somebody’s Saturday longer than they think it should be, and Rhino… who the fuck knows?

The format is definitely odd: only 14 teams are participating, leaving two pools of seven wherein the top two teams in each pool after pool play advance directly to the semifinals. The two finalists are into Nationals, and the losers drop down to the fiercest backdoor bracket in the nation. With only two pools, there’s even less margin for error, and the potential of a tie at any place above four in the bracket requires an even keener eye on point differential.

If I were to be a betting man, I’d say that Revolver and Sockeye meet in the finals, with Furious and Jam, like last year, playing in the game-to-go. Predictable? Kinda. Boring? Not exactly. With the experience that all of these teams bring, I would imagine the atmosphere to be much less, “that’s a promising team hoping to break through, pretty disappointing if they don’t,” and much more “these guys have seen each other dozens of times over the years, and if one team is going home, it’s because they blinked first.”

Just to add some more content, I wrote the following bit back in June, a couple days after Solstice. It’s mostly centered around Sockeye, and I never got around to posting it because I wasn’t sure if it really had a point; it’s just my ramblings, which are of an outsider’s perspective. More clearly, I have a great distaste for Ultimate “reporting” wherein the author acts as if he actually knows things that he does not. With that said, I see no harm in sharing some of my thoughts:

While they did not win the tournament, it is no surprise that the internet chatter surrounding Solstice on Monday consisted largely of questions about Sockeye’s roster. While I don’t have any empirical evidence, I think the reason for this is simple: of all the teams competing at the elite level, Sockeye is the most visible and, therefore, has the largest fan following.

Aside from winning national championships in 2004, 2006, and 2007 with top-notch talent that includes a lot of former college stand-outs, Sockeye has made a name for itself by setting up a good website with player profiles as well as forging partnerships with well-known sponsors like Clif Bar and international Ultimate organizations in Japan (Club Jr.) and Colombia (can someone give me any more details on this one?) Also, it doesn’t hurt that individual players like Ben Wiggins and Matt “Skip” Sewell are consistently in the public eye due to The Huddle and Cultimate, respectively. In our small, insulated community, such visibility goes a long way.

While a lot can be chalked up to hype generated by the fact that there’s not a whole lot else out there, I think that some of it has created a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein Sockeye conducts themselves in a manner more professional than that of its competition: from their matching Patagonia warm-up jackets to their extremely coordinated warm-up routine, Sockeye comes off as a marketable, finished product.

Ultimately, whether you like Sockeye’s act or not, you would probably agree that it doesn’t have all that much bearing on their success on the field when it comes down to playing elite opponents. I’m starting to think, however, that the opposite may be true, as Sockeye exudes a cerebral approach to the game that while for some may borderline on overdoing it, works for them.

What I noticed from Sockeye at Solstice was a certain openness that was reflected in line calling and decision making and that led me to believe that their purpose at the tournament was a bit different from Revolver’s. While they certainly showed a strong desire to win, I got the feeling that they were more there to feel out their recent roster additions and develop an understanding of how to address their key losses. For example, Wiggins had a particularly bad Final, throwing a number of turnovers, and I believe that the majority were to newcomer and University of Washington standout BJ Sefton. While Revolver’s defense certainly deserves some credit here, I’d venture to say that some of the mistakes were simply a byproduct of the thrower and the cutter figuring out what they can do together.

Adding to this thought, I think that Sockeye’s fitness level was not that of Revolver’s, a fact for which Revolver should certainly be lauded but Sockeye, perhaps, should not be scolded. Many of the big plays that I saw in the finals, particularly those involving some of the big men on each team, were decided in Revolver’s favor by relatively small margins: layouts that just missed or long sprints that ended just short. The reality is that most of their players are now approaching or are over 30, and my guess is that they are really just beginning to get to their expected level of in-season fitness. While I expect Revolver to maintain and build upon their existing high level, I also would not count Sockeye out with regard to catching up.

My basic point here is that as teams mature, I think they acquire an ability to approach each tournament with goals that focus on a finished product rather than an early season win. Save 2008, Furious George has been a shining example of the fact that a National Finals contender doesn’t have to show up until Regionals, and given that Sockeye’s core group of players is a mature and knowledgeable bunch, I would not count them out.

Tons has changed since June. Sockeye’s results (and adding Seth Wiggins) suggest that they’ve improved, but so do Revolver’s. As noted, Furious doesn’t tip their hand until Regionals, and while Jam has lost a lot from last year’s roster, I’d imagine they’ve learned a thing or two from the Monkey over the years. Plus, they still have the Title, meaning that they should not be counted out until actually eliminated.

It’s going to be a fun weekend in the Northwest.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe Seidler permalink
    September 30, 2009 8:08 am

    Furious won in 2003, not the Condors (who lost in the finals):
    http://www.ultimatehistory.com/championsnational/results/clubopen.htm

    • neeley permalink*
      September 30, 2009 8:15 am

      Shit, good eye. I should have noticed it myself since I knew Furious had three titles in this span, but when I wrote this last night I just checked the UPA Hall of Champions site, which has it listed incorrectly (http://upa.org/club/hallofchamps/open-qualifiers.shtml). Thanks for pointing that out.

      Your book is tight, by the way.

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