By: Matt Goisman
The men’s division at the USA Ultimate National Championships will have a familiar feel when the four-day tournament kicks off October 24 in San Diego. All 16 teams have competed at Nationals at least once before, and 14 of last year’s qualifiers have returned, including national champion Pride of New York (PoNY), runner-up Revolver and semifinalists Sockeye and Ring of Fire.
The field combined has produced 18 U.S. national championships, 15 Canadian national championships and eight world titles.
“All the teams seem like they belong,” said Sockeye coach David Hogan. “The worst every team is going to play is still really, really good.”
Sockeye arrives in San Diego as the No. 1 overall seed, but each team will have to battle through three pool games on day one, facing off against the other regional champions and top performers from the regular season. The top three teams in each pool will then advance to a four-round (three for the top team in each pool) playoff bracket in which one loss means elimination from championship contention.
Here’s a breakdown of all four pools.
Sockeye (1) | DiG (8) | Condors (12) | Furious George (13)
Sockeye (21-3) headlines Pool A. The Seattle dynasty has made Nationals 19 times since 2000 and won national titles in 2004, 2006 and 2007 (and a world title in 1997). They finished first in the 2019 end-of-season rankings after winning both the Pro-Elite Challenge in July and the U.S. Open in August. The team didn’t allow an opponent past nine points at the Northwest Regionals, winning it for the first time since 2017.
“The folks that have come up through UW (University of Washington) and through the Seattle youth group have continued to be this mainstay of talent and ability and desire to be friends and be tight and have an emotionally bonded team that can really embrace adversity together,” said second-year coach Mike Caldwell. Caldwell previously played for Sockeye for 17 years.
Last year’s team was seeded second at Nationals, but lost to PoNY in the semifinals. Sockeye this year has gotten great production from captains Chris Kosednar (6 goals, 13 assists) and Simon Montague (6 goals, 13 assists), as well as Dylan Freechild (14 goals, 8 assists) and Jacob Janin (10 goals, 6 assists) and defensive standouts Ben Snell and Eli Friedman.
“Since we won the U.S. Open, there’s definitely been that sense of having a target on our backs,” Caldwell said.
Sockeye opens pool play against the No. 12 Condors (24-6), seeded third in Pool A. The Santa Barbara, Calif., squad lost to Revolver in the Southwest Regional final, but their sixth-place finish in the end-of-season rankings earned their region two bids to Nationals.
The Condors, led by captains Dom Leggio, Sam Fontaine, and Tyler Bacon, won the Triple Crown Tour Elite-Select Challenge in Illinois in August, then beat Sockeye in the Labor Day Tournament (which did not count toward regular-season rankings) in Washington two weeks later. The team followed up with an undefeated run through the Southern California Sectional tournament before qualifying for Nationals for the 11th time since winning their last national championship in 2001. They also claimed national titles in 1981 and 2000 and a world title in 2002.
No. 8 DiG (19-7) is the second seed in Pool A, returning to Nationals for the fourth consecutive year. The team finished 11th in the rankings, their best performances including an undefeated run through the Boston Invite in June and a Northeast Regional championship in September.
That latter tournament included two wins over higher seeds, including a 15-10 victory over PoNY in the regional championship. The Boston squad is 1-2 against the defending national champions this year, losing to PoNY in pool play at regionals and in the TCT Pro Championships.
DiG was the seventh seed at Nationals last year, but three losses in bracket play meant a 16th-place finish. This year’s key players include Tyler Chan, Jay Clark, Henry Babcock, co-captains Mac Hecht and Willie Stewart, Rocco Essex-Linehan, Gabe Colton and Ned Dick.
“We are feeling energized, but we’re feeling like we have a lot more to do,” said DiG co-captain Noah Backer. “We finally started to click on both sides of the disc at regionals, and we’re just really looking to build on that.”
DiG begins their tournament against No. 13 Furious George (28-4), a team DiG’s captains said they’ve never played before. The Vancouver team finished eighth in the rankings, winning Eugene Summer Solstice in June and the TCT Select Flight Invite-West in July. Furious George reached the Northwest Regional finals before losing to Sockeye, but a high final ranking meant both teams qualified for Nationals.
Furious George, captained by Matthew Berezan and Troe Weston, has made eight of the last 10 U.S. national tournaments, last year tying for ninth. They won titles in 2002, 2003 and 2005, plus 11 Canadian and three world championships.
PoNY (2) | Sub Zero (7) | Temper (11) | Johnny Bravo (14)
PoNY (20-5) leads Pool B as the No. 2 overall seed. The New York team won their first national championship last year, and this year lost to Sockeye in the U.S. Open championship final but won the TCT Pro Championships. PoNY also lost to DiG in the Northeast Regional championship, but both teams had already earned their Nationals bids.
PoNY has made four straight Nationals, but coaches Ben Van Heuvelen and Jimmy Leppert are quick to put aside team history.
“It’s implicit and understood across the roster that we have enough talent to win a championship,” Van Heuvelen said. “We don’t have anything to defend. The 2018 iteration of PoNY won a championship, and that team is gone. Now there’s a new team that has to go out and grab something.”
Chris Kocher is the top scorer on the team with 13 goals and nine assists, and he also leads the team with four Ds. Grant Lindsley has nine goals and 14 assists, and Jimmy Mickle has put up eight goals and 14 assists.
“The two biggest lessons I think we can take away from the previous three Nationals, the first was just putting the previous – the previous game, the previous day – behind you, no matter how it went,” Leppert said. “The second one is just responding to everything that happens to the team.”
PoNY starts play against No. 11 Temper, a Pittsburgh team PoNY beat at the Pro Championships. Temper (16-8) was founded in 2014 and is making their second straight Nationals appearance, having lost to Truck Stop in the Mid-Atlantic Regional finals but earning the region a second bid by finishing 13th in the rankings.
Temper was seeded 14th at Nationals last year but finished 12th. The team is led by captains Thomas Edmonds, Mark Fedorenko and Alex Thomas.
No. 7 Minneapolis Sub Zero (17-8) is the second seed in Pool B. Sub Zero finished seventh in the rankings, beating Yogosbo in the North Central Regional finals to earn the region’s only bid.
Sub Zero has made Nationals 19 times since forming in 1996, last year tying for seventh after advancing to the quarterfinals. The team’s top producers this year include captain Nick Simonelli (19 goals, 15 assists), Nick Vogt (14 goals, 2 assists) and Ryan Osgar (12 goals, 39 assists).
“We know that the work is largely done, and the remaining practices we do have on the calendar are just to keep us sharp and prepared,” Simonelli said. “There are plenty of things we can do mentally to prepare, but physically the guys are feeling good, and I’m doing my best to make sure it stays that way.”
Sub Zero first takes on No. 14 Johnny Bravo from Boulder, Colo. Johnny Bravo (21-8) lost to Sub Zero at the Pro-Elite Challenge, but still finished 12th in the final rankings. Johnny Bravo, the 2014 national champion, has qualified for Nationals every year since 2000, last year finishing 11th.
The team, led by captains Ben Lohre, Elliott Erickson and Kevin Johnson, reached the South Central Regional finals this year before losing to Doublewide.
Truck Stop (3) | Machine (6) | GOAT (10) | Chain Lightning (15)
No. 3 Truck Stop (17-6) from Washington, D.C., holds the top spot in Pool C, having finished third in the regular-season rankings. The team has been to Nationals every year since 2006, last year reaching the quarterfinals and finishing fifth.
Truck Stop enters Nationals having faced both of the higher seeds in the tournament. They faced Sockeye in the Pro-Elite Challenge championship, losing 13-12, and PoNY in the U.S. Open semifinals, losing 14-10.
Co-captain Rowan McDonnell leads Truck Stop with 15 goals and 13 assists. Markham Shofner (one goal, 13 assists), Tyler Monroe (seven goals and 12 assists) and Nicky Spiva (10 assists) have also put up big numbers.
“We’ve just really focused on building an environment that was a little bit more open than it had been historically, a little bit less aggressive towards other teams,” said Truck Stop co-captain David Cranston. “We’ve become a team that other teams want to compete against, and we’ve attracted more local college talent.”
Truck Stop opens Nationals against No. 10 GOAT (16-5), a Toronto team Truck Stop beat at the Pro-Elite Challenge. GOAT finished ninth in the final rankings to earn the always-crowded Northeast a third bid and qualified for Nationals for the first time since 2017 with that third bid. The team lost to DiG in the regional semifinals, but recovered to beat Sprout for third place.
GOAT has been to Nationals 11 times since forming in 2002, a stretch that also includes four Canadian championships. GOAT’s captains are Thomson McKnight, Geoff Powell, Jacky Hau, Jaret Meron and Iain MacKenzie.
No. 6 Chicago Machine (17-9) is the second seed in Pool C, finishing 10th in the final rankings, the first week they were their region’s top-ranked team. Machine is the lone Great Lakes representative, beating CLE Smokestack 13-3 in the finals and outscoring their regionals opponents 83-25 combined.
Machine entered 2018 Nationals seeded ninth and finished in the same spot. The team has been to Nationals every year since 2006.
Top scorers include Machine rookie Joe White (16 goals, 26 assists), Zane Rankin (15 goals, 12 assists), Kyle Rutledge (14 goals, nine assists), Yiding Hou (12 goals, eight assists), Paul Arters (seven goals, 11 assists) and Johnny Bansfield (six goals, 11 assists).
“The general mood is excitement, because I think we finished the regular season on a very positive note,” said Machine co-captain Pawel Janas. “Everyone wants to see how we do at Nationals, because we’re going on a nice upward trajectory.”
No. 15 Chain Lightning (11-8) from Atlanta rounds out Pool C and will first face Machine, a team Chain Lightning beat at the Pro-Elite Challenge. Chain Lightning finished 15th this season, qualifying for Nationals by reaching the Southeast Regional final before losing to Ring of Fire.
Chain Lightning has been to Nationals seven times since winning the 2009 national champion and finished 15th last year. The team is led by captains Matthew Smith and Christian Olsen.
Ring of Fire (4) | Revolver (5) | Doublewide (9) | Rhino Slam! (16)
No. 4 Ring of Fire (12-4) rounds out the quartet of top seeds in each pool. The Raleigh, N.C., team finished fourth in the final rankings, beating Chain Lightning 13-10 in the Southeast Regional final and outscoring their five regional championship opponents 65-33. Ring of Fire also reached the semifinals of both the U.S. Open and Pro Championships.
No team boasts a longer Nationals history than Ring of Fire. The four-time regional champions have qualified for 23 straight years, last year reaching the semifinals before losing to Revolver and tying for third.
Henry Fisher leads the offense with 12 goals and one assist, while Eric Taylor has 10 goals and 14 assists and Jack Williams has 10 goals and nine assists.
“We have a lot of college-aged kids, and I bet our median age is probably one of the lower ones at Nationals, if not the lowest,” said Ring of Fire coach Mike DeNardis. “The nice thing about that, versus the last couple years, is it feels fresh again, and it feels like people are building.”
Ring of Fire opens pool play against No. 9 Doublewide from Austin, Texas. Doublewide (10-8) finished 14th in the regular season, losing to Ring of Fire at both the Pro-Elite Challenge and Pro Championships but knocking off higher seed Johnny Bravo in the South Central Regional finals.
Doublewide, the national champion in 2012 and runner-up in 2017, has made Nationals every year since 2007. The team finished fifth last year, losing in the quarterfinals but knocking off two higher seeds in the consolation bracket.
The team is led by co-captain Abe Coffin, Dalton Smith and Kai Marshall, among others.
“It’s the top tournament in the country, so I think people have a little more drive, a little more will to do well,” said Doublewide co-captain Jay Froude. “Every game matters. Every point matters.”
Ring of Fire might have the longest active Nationals streak, but no team has had more success over the last decade than No. 5 San Francisco Revolver. The team has played in nine of the last 10 national championship games, winning five titles since 2010, including a 2017 season in which it also won the U.S. Open and Pro Championships for the rare Triple Crown. Revolver has also won the last three world club championships (2010, 2014, 2018).
Revolver (20-4) hasn’t lost since August 3 at the U.S. Open, a stretch that’s included undefeated runs through the Labor Day Tournament in Washington and Southwest Regionals. The team finished fifth in the rankings, out-scored its regional opponents 70-29 and will be looking to better last year’s National Championships runner-up finish to PoNY.
Jordan Marcy (12 goals, four assists), Tom Doi (10 goals, two assists) and Elijah Kerns (six goals, 25 assists) are among Revolver’s top players.
“People buy in pretty deeply to the principles that Revolver was founded on, the ‘IHD’ of intensity, humility and discipline that we always talk about, and I think that brings a level of play to practice that makes us all better,” said Revolver co-captain Byron Liu. “When our team is really playing when I’m on the field, it feels like we’re on just the brink of something, ready to go over a roller coaster.”
No. 16 Rhino Slam! (18-4) completes Pool D. The Portland, Ore., team begins pool play against Revolver, a team they lost to twice during the regular season, and is making their fourth Nationals appearance in the last six years.
Rhino Slam! finished third in the Northwest Regional tournament, losing to Sockeye in the semifinals but beating Voodoo for the final bid. The team finished 13th at Nationals last year and, this year, is led by captains Vinh Bui, Raphy Hayes, Trevor Smith and Jon Lee.
Follow along with the 2019 National Championships at tct.usaultimate.org, with the USA Ultimate mobile app (iOS, Android) and at #USAUNats.
Watch live games from the early rounds at USA Ultimate’s YouTube page and the semifinals and finals on ESPN3 and the ESPN app.