Monday, June 20, 2011

Solstice

I went to watch Solstice Sunday, when the weather was lovely (unlikely Saturday's deluge) and was rewarded by a number of interesting games and a Sockeye over Furious final. All in all, things look about like they did last year in terms of relative position and strength of teams.

Sockeye
They looked very impressive in the final after a very lackluster semi over little brother Voodoo. The semifinal had all the markings of a disinterested bully letting some frustrated nerd kick him in the shins for a while, knowing he could pound skinny-four-eyes when he felt like it. (I didn't really follow it, instead focusing on the Rhino-Furious semi.)
Sockeye looks good, athletic and deep. They are very young and what experience (Moses, MC, Talbot, Bestock, Fleming) they have is mostly playing offense. They played a good mix of junk and man-to-man in the final. Furious lacks a great thrower and that made all the junk that much more effective. When it worked, it looked brilliant. When it didn't, it looked like crap. That's junk for ya. Offensively, Furious couldn't manage Sockeye's long double cuts which led to a number of wide open huck goals. It is also a testament to Sockeye's stack discipline that these cuts stayed open since they are so long to develop.
There is a lot of upside for this team. Their young talent is really yet to find a place on the team. Julian CW played great and had a consistent role on offense, but Chris CK, DSky and Simon are still looking for a spot to contribute. Sockeye also went through the tournament without most of their bigs: Nord was AWOL, Rehder and the Dutchman on the bench with injuries.

Fury
Same shit, different year. They still look more composed, athletic, conditioned and confident than everyone else. For the most part, they play the same game they always have, but I do have a few comments.
1. They are a very cutter dominated team. Their handlers are very good, but it is the cutters that drive the engine. Their cutters are fast and well conditioned, so they move and move and move. They are very good at using shiftiness to get open. Shiftiness meaning they slide a half-lane one direction or another away from their defender to create separation. The thrower is then responsible for a little break, usually a slight inside-out.
2. As they have gotten younger in the last few years, they are more and more a man-to-man team and less and less of the zone dominated team they were.
3. They threw four or five goals into space past face guarding defenders when the cutter was on the run. From a defensive perspective, this is really scary. From an offensive perspective, beautiful and startling.
4. The scariest thing about this team is that there is no sign they will falter. The great DoG teams of the 90s finally fell down because the bulk of the team was over 35, so they lost to a younger, hungrier and more athletic Condors. Fury just reloads and gets younger and stays as good.

Furious
This is a solid team that is lacking any A+ players and relying on defenders, role players and supporting players to carry the entire load. Facing a man-to-man situation, they weren't able to create easy openings, allowing defenders to stay home and not help. As I mentioned earlier, they are lacking a great thrower so they aren't able to consistently challenge the outside of a junk defense either. They are quite good defensively, but don't have the depth (or won't play it) to sustain a push across two games. They came from 4-8 down in the semis to win 15-12 over Rhino and that really limited their ability to make a push against the Fish in the final.

Riot
This team is very young. A huge portion of this team graduated from college in the last three years (if they went at all) and almost all of the players they are using as handlers. They are working on some new things offensively and struggled with it. They weren't able to generate consistent movement up front and when they did, it didn't connect with the cutters downfield. In general, they were lacking deep cuts. In the final, they got rattled and frustrated and then Fury just rolled over them. The positive for Riot is that they are still way on the bottom of the learning curve. With the youth and speed they have, they should be able to get better and better.

Rhino
Ugh. Up 8-4 at halftime in the Semis against Furious, they choked it away. First they let Furious sneak back in and make it a game. Then they let Furious score 4 in a row to win 12-15. Ouch. The crazy part is that Rhino willed it to happen. In the years before Jam's 2008 title, Double Happy/Jam had a rep for coughing it up when it mattered. At Worlds in 2002, after Sockeye came back from 10-14 to beat them 15-14, a gleeful Condor came up to me and said, "It's not you, you just have to be there when it happens." (Thanks for the complement.) This game felt exactly the same. A good team like Furious is going to make a push. They won't roll over at halftime. A good team responds. You take the punches, you sag on the ropes and then you come out swinging. As soon as Rhino felt the push, they started thinking, "Not again." They talked more on the line. Their body language was defeated. And this was while they still had the lead!
Give some credit to Furious. Led by Morgan Hibbert, they played great defense refusing to give up a comeback cut and challenging the Rhino players to go deep. When they did, the markers forced bad throws and bad timing. When Furious got the turn, Rhino's defense was lackluster and Furious banked everyone.
The good news for Rhino is that the talent is there to beat Furious. (They did on Saturday.) The question is can they beat Furious while fighting with themselves.

All the other teams
Didn't see them. Talked to Kira a bit about UBC and Traffic. They were pleased to have hung with Riot in the showcase game, but sad to have been crushed by Fury. Voodoo looked surprisingly good against the Fish in the semis. Underground looked surprisingly good against Riot in the semis.

8 comments:

  1. I know EXACTLY what you are talking about with regard to the Furious comeback over Rhino: younger teams (or those without a long winning history) have a way of looking defeated when they get broken twice but still hold a 3 point lead.

    I've experienced a lot of those comebacks in college when we'd be down against some mid-level regional team and then you'd see worried faces after half and you could just tell they were thinking "Oh no, here come the squids" after we broke them once.
    I'd like to think i haven't been on the other side very often but maybe I just wasn't aware of it happening to us.

    Do you have some tips for a young team with a lead over the favorite as the halftime push comes? What should teams like Rhino do to combat that mental crumble and choke?

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  2. You said Furious lacked a great thrower. Was Andrew Brown not playing? Is John Norris still injured and not throwing with his right hand? I observed a bunch of college championship games and Norris was the most naturally gifted thrower there.

    Andrew Brown was one of the best handlers on the club circuit last season. Did he retire?

    Thanks for the recap!

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  3. @Shubbard: I've been on two teams that came out of the losing-the-close-one mess and each did it differently. Sockeye sucked (pretty much) from 99 through 03. What put us over the hump was to take a solid team, like Furious and Rhino now, and add top-end talent. In 04 we added Nord and Chase. That helped. We won. In 2008, the Oregon women we struggling to end games. We lost a dozen games that year by 1, 2 or 3 points. I preached hard work and staring your demon in the face. Hard work before and hard work during. We acknowledged our struggles, even while they were happening. Everyone is thinking it, you might as well get it out there. I said, 'This is the challenge. It will be harder than it needs to be until we beat it. Keep fighting.' Then we beat defending champs Stanford on the dirt road at Regionals 13-12 after being down 7-11.

    @David B: We I am talking about 'great' in relationship to club ultimate, I only mean 5 or 6 players nationally. A great player forces the double team. For a great cutter, that double team typically means deep help. For a great thrower, that may mean dropping off of the dump to force a swing pass. Club defenses make these adjustments all the time, but I didn't see Sockeye making these adjustments against Furious. They played them straight up and were able to shut them down with both man and junk. As for Andrew and Norris, I haven't seen Norris enough at the club level to say, but he was a non-factor in the finals. I've seen Brown play a lot in the last couple of years and while he is good, he is not at that elite, win-you-a-championship level.

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  4. In regard to your comment to Dave, who do you think those 5-6 "great players" are right now?

    Also, you said they were able shut Furious down with Junk.... isn't that like saying they dropped off dumps and helped deep? ....Against "great" players the idea is to make the bottom half of their line beat you which is basically what Junk looks to do.

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  5. Lou, I'm still going to have to disagree with you about the talent of Furious' handlers. Brown, Saunkeah and Pottinger have all won championships and they're fantastic handlers. Perhaps the reason you saw that Sockeye wasn't double teaming downfield on Furious is because aside from Hibbert, Furious doesn't really have the dominant receivers they've had in the past. Half of the reason Cruickshank was so dangerous was because he was throwing to tall, fast and talented receivers like Mike Grant, Andrew Lugsdin and Jonathan Woolridge. Teams make adjustments based on receivers as well. I think that's more likely the reason why Sockeye doesn't play the defense they did back when you were playing.

    Just saw that the video is out. Perhaps we can see what Furious could have done better.

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  6. Okay, I'll stand by my comment about handlers. Furious is just not as deep as Sockeye on both sides of the disc. I counted just one bad turnover from Furious' handlers (Pottinger's cross-field hammer at the end). Perhaps that's what you remember sticking out in your mind. The other turns came because Sockeye's defensive unit stuck tight to receivers and made some good heads up plays. Furious's defense generated a single turnover (Hibbert getting a 50 yard shot) and the rest of Sockeye's few turns were from drops or misthrows. Furious missed some opportunities to hit deep cutters for certain, but it seemed like every time an opportunity was missed it was because a lesser experienced Furious player had the disc. Sockeye's disc handling skills just seemed more sure all around as they kept the disc moving.

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  7. @David B: I, too, will stand by what I said. In the final, Brown threw nothing but swing passes (which is grind work), Gabe's only impact was to beat MC deep and while Oscar did hit that huck (a beaut) and the floater to Hibbert, he also had three turnovers. We'll just have to agree to disagree, but as a final argument I'll ask: if Cruikshank is in that game, doesn't Sockeye's junk look a lot more porous?

    @Shubbard: I haven't watched enough to know who the greats are right now. Sockeye shares the disc really well and so no one player is carrying a particularly big load. Revolver is a system team and very much reliant on team brilliance as opposed to individual brilliance. I don't know enough about the eastern teams....

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  8. Lou, My point is that Brown doesn't have the receivers Cruickshank did. You said Furious "lacked a great thrower" and I disagree. Brown is a great thrower, one of the best. He HAS won championships. The fact that he threw mostly swing passes doesn't mean he isn't a great thrower. I think there are other considerations at play here, like the absence of big-time receivers. Doesn't matter either way, the point is the same. Furious either chose not to stretch the field or they could not.

    Good discussion!

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