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Chain (Lightning!)

November 9, 2009

Chain was sweet.

I had seen Chain’s huck-happiness, their ridiculous speed, and the easy going attitude at Chesapeake, but comparatively, the team I saw in Sarasota was on a whole new level in terms of focus and execution. Everything looked refined: resets ran more smoothly, cutting lanes opened up faster, and the defensive pressure was even higher.

I think that U Catch makes a great point about Chain’s success: they played their game. Chain’s style was unapologetically theirs, and while it’s a no-brainer that champions are typically the teams that refine their approach to best suit their own preferences and personnel, I think Chain deserves a particular amount of credit due to how long in the making last weekend’s win was.

On the field, Chain was patient enough to wait for the looks they wanted while continuing to do serious work in the meantime, and while a lot of Ultimate strategy is moving toward quicker disc movement and conservative offense, Chain’s win came without these elements being front and center.

On offense, I think Chain was so successful because they stretched the field more than any team Revolver had played up to that point. While the rap on Revolver was that they could defend most anyone because of their explosiveness, they weren’t ready for Chain’s throwing ability. Full field hucks, both backhand and forehand and in both directions, from Jay Hammond, Dylan, and Frito allowed Chain to push deep cuts farther and keep receivers dangerous for longer amounts of time. In other words, while a lot of teams’ deep cuts are nullified at 35 yards or so, Chain could push receivers to 45 or 50 yards and still hit them with long shots, and Revolver wasn’t ready to defend so much more field space.

Aside from just being fast enough to work the open side, which took a ton of pressure off of their throwers, Chain’s offense often included pushing deep cuts so far that another one could develop underneath the primary one, which worked because the first deep cutter coming back to the disc was always a threat. In fact, part of the way that Chain addressed their reset situation was to free up more space for returning cutters whose defenders, after working hard to keep up deep, were too tired to challenge in throws. Among others, Asa Wilson and Zip were particularly useful for this part of Chain’s strategy.

On the whole, various aspects of Chain’s offense just worked to strengthen others. When a handler can see consecutive deep looks that include so many dangerous receivers, lulling the defense into giving up easy unders is, well, easy. When you’ve got such a spread out field, hanging on to the disc for a second or two longer in search of maximizing the outcome of the next throw is acceptable because there’s plenty of room for a reset. And when your offense is good enough to play lock down defense on the turn, you’ve not got to worry about percentages so much.

Speaking of defense, I should go ahead and say now that some of Chain’s defenders are straight up monsters. Rob White is sick, and his refusal to let his man go anywhere without physically letting him know that he’s right there with him is straight up intimidating. Mac Taylor, while an incredibly talented player, had a really tough time getting open White.

And he’s just one example. What really did it for Chain was the constant pressure that they were able to apply to Revolver’s offense. Rather than look to poach or bait throws, Chain’s players all took it upon themselves to win their individual match-up.

(At this point, I’ve got to give a shout out to last year’s Virginia captain, Robert Runner. Much of Revolver’s offense consisted of Robbie Cahill, a player who is nothing short of phenomenal, getting a good five seconds to break the mark to a more-open-than-he-would-have-been-on-the-force-side-but-still-pretty-covered-cutter, and a few points into the game, Robert came into the game to mark Cahill. From the look of it, he made his life much more difficult. Not only is Bob’s mark a real bitch, but his dump defense does quite the job of telling you where you can and cannot go. For the most part, I don’t really claim to know what I’m talking about, but really, you can trust me on these two things. Point is, I was stoked to see Robert playing a pretty crucial role during the points he was in on. While Cahill did get a couple of breaks off, they were much later in the stall count than he would have liked, and were often too late to allow Revolver to then rattle off the quick break side strike that they wanted.)

The one big exception to Chain’s stinginess was their dealing with Beau. For the most part, Joel Wooten stuck Beau pretty tight, but later in the game, he started to force him out more. I thought this was interesting because most teams’ approach to Beau is the opposite: his throws aren’t too great, and while he sure can put a hurting on you deep, he can’t do too much with the disc in his hand. The result of Chain’s approach, though, was that Beau became content to just hang out deep, clogging up the lane for others and being far enough away that when the throw did go up, Wooten had ample time and space to go make a play on it. Again, I thought this was really cool just because most people would think it moronic to push Beau toward the endzone. Call it another testament to Chain’s athleticism, I guess.

Watching Chain on the podium, it was pretty cool to see some of their older players with their medals and the trophy. Winning Nationals is no small feat, and to see so many guys who have played with one another for so long finally get theirs was inspiring. I’ve often had doubts that I’ll ever have as much fun playing Ultimate as I did in college, but a lot of the teams in Sarasota looked to be quite close.

So congratulations to Chain Lightning 2009. Revolver, along with the rest of the field, were no small potatoes, and such dominance is quite impressive. I learned a ton from watching Chain, and I hope that the Ultimate of the coming years continues to be so entertaining.


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