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Chain Lightning

October 25, 2010

 

A lot of teams would trade their 2010 results for Chain Lightning’s in a heartbeat. They took 4th at Worlds, 2nd at Chesapeake, rolled through Sectionals, and finished 2nd at Regionals, earning their ninth consecutive trip to the Club Championships and securing the chance to remain on top. But Chain isn’t most teams; they’re the reigning champs. And that’s exactly why one might consider the season thus far to be an underperformance.  Given that Chain straight up rolled through the division in 2009 and added some pretty noteworthy firepower in the form of Sam Chatterton-Kirchmeier, Jolian Dahl, and Kiran Thomas (CK and Jolian having made Team USA for World Games in 2009 and Kiran looking like he defintely would have when he played against them in an exhibition at College Nationals), I think a lot of people expected a Worlds win and a Chesapeake three-peat.

Chain 15, Revolver 11

Really though, I think that Chain’s losses should serve as a reminder of how good the Ultimate is at this level. That anybody can get hot. That anybody can fall into a slump. That anybody can beat anybody, and that talk of who’s pool is easy and who’s isn’t is very relative because, after all, this is Nationals that we’re talking about.

So I’m not quite sure what to make of Chain’s season thus far. On one hand, it looks like other teams have made the strides necessary to keep Chain down to Earth, with Boston looking like the new Atlanta and Doublewide sparking suspicions that the days of an underperforming Chain Lightning didn’t leave so much as they took a vactation. Maybe Jay Hammond, Jason Simpson, and Rob Barrett’s influence was greater than people thought. And you can’t forget how effective Joel Wooten was against Beau Kittredge in 2009’s final. Last year, Chain’s early season troubles were mostly on the offensive end, with dumps and dropped discs posing problems, and at this year’s Chesapeake, it looked like more of the same against Ironside.

But when you’re on top, it’s really easy for people to nitpick. So let’s take a moment to remember who we’re talking about: the defending champions plus three of the best cutters in the game. Guys like Robert Runner, Peter Dempsey and Nick Lance now have another year’s experience under their belt, and really, who are your top two defenders going to guard? Dylan and Zip? What about CK and Kiran? Either way, that gives AJ your worst guy, and I’m willing to bet that that’s going to be a real problem. And what happens when the handlers start dropping bombs and the wind in Sarasota has died down and Chain looks just as on as last year? What then?

It’s impossible to overstate how difficult it is to repeat as champions. Chain was untouchable at Nationals last year, and their performance has been the standard that every team out there has had to look up to for 359 days. And that’s a really tough position to be in. One thing that I think will help is the laid-back approach for which the team is known. Last year, you could always tell how focused and confident they were, but you could also see how calm and relaxed the team was, which is a demeanor that you’d hope to have if you were going to need to shake off a few losses before heading into Nationals. In talking to a friend the other day, I brought up the fact that Chain has always traded Regionals wins with Doublewide. He countered with a very rational “yeah, but those other years that they lost to Doublewide, they didn’t win Nationals.” Good point. But something just gives me a feeling that in these particular circumstances, Chain’s attitude and its experience winning a title leave the team in pretty good shape.

Looking at the pool set-up, losing to Doublewide may have been a blessing in disguise for Chain, as I’d rather be on top of Pool D than Pool C. If they were in Pool C, they’d have to face Sockeye, who has beat them this year, along with Ring of Fire, who played them to 13-10 at Chesapeake and has the speed and size to pester Chain’s deep game. In Pool D, they’ll see Streetgang, Furious, and Truck Stop. All of these teams are dangerous, but I’m not sure that Streetgang or Furious are dynamic enough to keep up with both Chain’s deep game and their ability to get open underneath so consistently, and against Truck Stop, Chain will have the experience edge and possibly one or two too many dominant cutters on offense.

For now, a last note on Chain (in what has been an admittedly haphazard post): if they win their pool, a power pool game against Revolver is very likely. These two haven’t played since the finals last year, and while it wouldn’t be an elimination game, it would still be quite telling as how sharp Chain is and how much Revolver has improved since 2009. Sweet.

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