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2017 National Championships: Men’s Day One Recap

By: Tony Leonardo

Round 2

“That’s Florida Ball,” says Dylan Freechild after the game. And what that was: big man zone/cup. Huck it at all times to those same big men. Make observers have to make calls.

“It was windier than I expected, “says Florida coach Van Auken. “But these guys have been playing this way for a long time. Since 2008, 2010 [University of] Florida guys.”

To his team, after what was unquestionably a chippy, foul-ridden game, Van Auken says “Everyone is going to hate us. They already hate us. This is no different.”

For Florida, the hate, real or perceived, definitely fuels the team, keeps the edge. For sure they play a very sloppy brand of ultimate. Sloppy as in not clean, pretty – they jack it. They play zone. They aren’t your friendly bunch of dudes. They turn that pressure they feel on themselves to outward grit.

What’s next for Florida: They play PoNY who defeated Machine 14-11 with an upwind break to finish off Chicago. “Doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win. That’s just one game. We’ll have to see how Fairley is (injury during game), and we don’t have Andrew Roney and Bobby Ley. We have to keep adjusting.”

For PoNY’s part, they played the wind and used their offense to punch in turns. An upwind break followed by a down-winder in the first half and an upwind hold gave them the advantage they clung to all second half before finally getting the break to end it.

Back to Sockeye – will they be ready for the grind that awaits? This is a team that wants to go all the way – expect to – and they lost 14-8. They lost focus in that gnarly Florida game; they were intermittently defiant, resigned, angry, and internalized a lot of it. They were all over the place, psychologically speaking. But none of that matters – all they need to do is stay in it. Win two winnable games against PoNY and Machine – they may only need one win there – and they should be ok. But that’s a big maybe. A six-point loss is brutal on point differential.

“We’re going to zip lock that game and move on,” says Freechild. “Every game is do or die. We aren’t dead yet.”

In other news and pools, Truck Stop had a 12-10 lead on Dig and lost, 14-12, a bunch of breaks later. Their O couldn’t hold; mistakes and turns doomed them. They recovered to edge the Condors on double-game point, 14-13, but now the pool veers to a three-way tie. Bravo barely took care of Dig, putting Bravo at 2-0 with Truck, Dig and Condors at 1-1. Winner of Dig v. Condors is in the pre-quarterfinals, and Truck, if they don’t win, might need help. But with a -1 point diff with Dig and Condors, they should be ok.

Round 3

Pool B has been some fun. Big news of course is that New York PoNY was able to hold and hold and fire up-winders and score downwind and, finally, on double-game point, they get an unforced Sockeye turn, move the disc around, and Kocher to Little to Keegan downwind and they win, 13-12. Sockeye falls to 0-2, demoralized, and look a little bit lost while a bubbly PoNY bunch of guys, a lot of youngsters, just grin their way to 2-0 in the pool. Next up for them is Florida at 2-0 with the winner taking the pool and advancing straight to quarters.

“We’re going to keep it the same,” PoNY coach Ben van Heuvelen (BVH) says. “We came in hungry and fearless. And every win we get makes us more hungry and less fearful.”

BVH is N.Y.C. old guard. Maybe 15 years at the elite level. I ask him about the last time New York beat Sockeye, and he didn’t know, couldn’t pin a day. I thought for sure he’d done it before, but let’s just say it’s rare.

“We trust each other out there,” Harper Garvey told me. Simon Pollock from UltiWorld thought Garvey might be player of the game after his dime backhand bomb to Sam Little knotted the score at 12s, but Kocher was there too, with a huge hand block on Trent Dillon that set up that throw.

“The captains and coaches keep us confident,” added Garvey.

Florida and Machine tangled in a similar situation. Totally on serve through the first half with Machine receiving down 8-7. Then Florida’s Connor Holcombe makes the play of the game – defending a dump swing on the midfield mark and streaking deep to catch the upwind break. Florida converted the down-winder, and I left the game – Machine stuck around, but the double score out of half and Holcombe’s bookends seemed to seal the game; Florida won 14-12.

But Machine sauntered over to their next game brandishing a loudspeaker and boom box, keeping it loose. Sockeye looked dismayed. If those energy levels stay the same, Machine will place third.

Ring crushed Patrol and are now 2-0, Ironside and GOAT were evens at 6-6, and Ironside won by six. That should tell you they are ramping up their game. As predicted, Ring of Fire and Ironside square up for the pool’s top spot.

Dig plays the Condors next, Truck Stop plays Bravo – Pool D is all up in the air. A close Truck Stop win would likely send Dig to the pool win if they beat the Condors. A blowout Truck win gives it to D.C. Bravo wins and they are in. Lose and…they could be eliminated. So things are getting weird.

Round 4

It was getting a little wild in the last five points in Pool D. Boston Dig was down 10-7 to the SoCal Condors in a must-win game for both teams. Truck Stop was ahead of Johnny Bravo by a couple of points which would give Truck the pool win.

Then Dig on D started to claw back. They tie the game at 10s. Jeff Babbitt gets a hand block and skies to catch a hammer, and they take lead. Now a Dig win changes the equation, but they need one more for point differential.

Meanwhile, Truck Stop and Bravo are battling with big throws – bombs from Jimmy Mickle and Nicky Spiva – and Truck stays ahead.

Then Babbitt gets involved again, leaps for the D on the goal line. Composes himself. The Condors look way demoralized even on the field – they kind of stop moving for a second as Babbitt, jacked up on adrenaline, looks super mean. But Babbitt takes a big breath and advances the disc. Then Dig simply marches down the field on stall counts of two and three and punch it in on the upwind side and shock the Condors 12-10. Dig finishes pool play as follows: five in a row to end the Condors game, four in a row to end the Bravo game (and lose on hard cap after scoring) and five in a row in the first game of day to defeat Truck Stop.

“The D line had some fire in the second half and knows how to grind,” said Babbitt. “It’s crazy. Our season was on the line. There were so many emotions. We were going to go down and out, and then we won the pool.”

And then Truck Stop wins – Jonathan Neeley steps into a laser forehand huck way down the field, and the celebration begins. It’s a 14-11 win over Bravo and a three-way tie at the top. Bravo drops down on point diff, -2 because of that loss to Truck and the Dig comeback. Dig and Truck are tied at +1, and Dig wins head to head and earns the quarterfinals bye which could be huge. They will play the winner of Chicago Machine and Raleigh Ring of Fire.

As predicted, Sockeye’s diminished energy was not going to work out for them. Chicago Machine took the game, to no one’s surprise, save for the fact that the number two seed overall dropped all the way down and out on day one, a humbling series of defeats, despite having Rehder and a full team ready to rock. I can only say that this team needs to find a way to sustain focus and strategy. They didn’t against Florida. They lost a close one to PoNY. They weren’t going to beat a Chicago team that already beat them earlier in the season.

Meanwhile, Florida United continued the roll as Cyle Van Auken’s squad defeated PoNY for the pool, 14-12. “We’re so tall, and we are dedicated to our strategy in the wind,” says Van Auken. “Never play with the disc on the top side – it looks ugly, but last three points, we would huck it down to Mischa [Freystaetter]. [Ben] Jagt got a couple on him, but the last three were us.”

“They play a really good game of dumb ultimate,” said Van Heuvelen afterward. “And what I mean is they had a good game plan and didn’t do anything they didn’t need to.”

Remember, Cyle Van Auken is the defending Sarasota Nationals championship coach – he guided Doublewide to their 2012 win.

Van Heuvelen feels confident in New York’s matchup with Toronto GOAT tomorrow in the pre-quarterfinals, even if GOAT last beat them 15-10 at regionals.

“We have great throwers, and the vibe is really good,” says BVH. Reminded that Pony had this situation last year and lost the pre-quarter to another Canadian squad, Furious George, BVH insisted the team has learned from that.

For Ironside, “I reminded the team, the last time we broke on double-game point to win the pool on Thursday…” Coach Josh McCarthy said. Well, that was last year, and they won Nationals. This year, they squeaked out a win against Patrol, and then, in every game, they seemed to get better.

“We had to adjust to the wind, and I started subbing tightly,” said McCarthy. They tightened up against Ring, started running Kurt Gibson out there on defense. It worked, as Gibson notched the goal to break to end the first half, 8-7 to Ironside over Ring of Fire, and they converted the offensive point to start second half.

“We had to put all our eggs in one basket. That bye, a win out of pre-quarters basically, is very valuable,” said McCarthy. “We decided to go for it. We didn’t have the luxury of not doing that.”

So now the shake-out is: Revolver, Dig, Ironside and Florida win their pools. Bravo and Doublewide battle to play Florida. High Five and Truck Stop match up for the Ironside game. Machine and Ring tangle to face Dig(!). And PoNY and GOAT have a Northeast regional donnybrook to face Revolver.