By: Matt Goisman
San Diego, Calif. (Oct. 24, 2019) – No men’s team had an easy run through the first day of the USA Ultimate National Championships. Three pools were decided on double-game point, and two came down to head-to-head tiebreakers between teams with 2-1 teams.
Sockeye and Pride of New York (PoNY), the overall No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, both left Surf Cup Sports Park on especially high notes on Thursday, earning one-point victories against the second teams in their pools to finish 3-0. Machine recovered from an early loss to score a one-point upset and take Pool C, while Ring of Fire secured the top seed in Pool D for the final automatic bye into the quarterfinals.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, we knew we were going to get a lot of tough games,” said PoNY’s Chris Kocher, who caught the double-game-point goal to beat Sub Zero. “Feeling that pressure, feeling that grind, and feeling the trust we have even when things aren’t going exactly the way we planned, is what it’s going to take for us to accomplish what we want.”
Sockeye opened their day with a 15-10 win over the Condors, then followed it up with a 15-8 win over Furious George. But the Seattle squad ran into a much tougher challenge in Boston DiG, a team that took half 8-7 and led as late as 11-8 in the second half.
Sockeye went on a run after that, however, as their defensive lines forced turnovers on three consecutive DiG possessions. A drop led to Matty Russell finding Dongyang Chen to get back within a point, then another turnover set up Ben Snell for a full-field huck to Dylan Freechild and an 11-11 tie.
Billy Katz stepped up with a D on the next point, then found Russell in the end zone for the lead. DiG finally broke the four-point run after Noah Backer laid out to break up a pass in the end zone, then Henry Babcock sent a scoober Tanner Halkyard’s way to re-tie the game at 12-12.
DiG wouldn’t get the disc back, however, as Sockeye worked their way to midfield, and Freechild kept a forehand inbounds down the near sideline for Matt Rehder to haul in the Pool A game-winner.
“That’s one of the best throws I’ve ever seen,” said Rehder, who had four goals and an assist against DiG and finished the day with seven goals and three assists. “Dylan put so much inside-out edge on that, and the way the wind has been pushing it was nuts. I definitely thought it was going out.”
Sockeye will get the winner of the morning pre-quarterfinal match between No. 7 Sub Zero and No. 10 GOAT. Sub Zero was one point away from upsetting PoNY in the final game in Pool B, opening with a 2-0 cushion but never leading by more than a point the rest of the game. Greg Cousins found Ryan Osgar for the 12-11 Sub Zero lead late, but PoNY came back to go up 13-12 before Osgar’s goal from Kevin Brown forced double-game point.
PoNY wasted little time in winning the game and Pool B. Jimmy Mickle hurled a backhand huck the entire length of the field, giving Kocher plenty of time to run it down in the end zone. Kocher easily caught it on the move.
“We’re grateful for a challenge,” said Kocher, who had two goals and three assists against Sub Zero and finished the day with six of each. “It was a lot of fun. We have things to work on, but it’s a game we needed.”
The win differed greatly from PoNY’s 15-8 win over Temper and 15-6 win over Johnny Bravo earlier in pool play. PoNY next faces either Rhino Slam! or DiG in the quarterfinals.
Rhino Slam! made the pre-quarters thanks to a third-place finish in Pool D, beating Doublewide 15-10 in their final game to advance to the championship bracket. Pool D featured the most close games, as Doublewide opened their day with a 14-13 upset of No. 4 Ring of Fire, but then lost 15-14 to No. 5 Revolver in their next game.
“I’m definitely calling it the ‘Pool of Death,’” said Revolver’s Antoine Davis. “You can’t sleep on anybody. With anybody, we come out on fire. We don’t care really who we face, but it’s more of a point to do it today.”
Ring of Fire responded after their first-round loss, beating Rhino Slam! 15-5 for a big edge in point differential that would have come into play had Doublewide won their third game and left three Pool D teams with 2-1 records.
Instead, the pool simply came down to head-to-head results, and Ring of Fire toppled Revolver 15-9, breaking the two-way tie at 2-1. To close out their day, Anders Juengst’s defense returned possession to the team from Raleigh, N.C., and Matt Gouchoe-Hanas finished it off with a hammer to Tim McAllister in the end zone.
Ring of Fire now awaits either Truck Stop or Temper in the quarterfinals
“We’re always amped up to play against Revolver,” McAllister said. “We beat them once this season, and we really wanted to come out and show them that wasn’t a fluke.”
The last bye into the quarterfinal round went to Pool C winner Machine, who upset No. 3 Truck Stop 15-14 in their final game. Machine, whose scoring leaders Thursday included Alex Evangelides (five goals, one assist), Walden Heiwa Nelson (five goals, one assist) and Joe White (four goals, 11 assists), next plays Revolver or the Condors.
It was quite the turnaround for Machine, who opened their tournament by blowing an 8-5 halftime lead against No. 15 Chain Lightning and losing 15-12. Chain Lightning’s Bradley Seuntjens laid out to knock down a pass, and Daniel Sperling found Alex Trautman for a 9-8 lead, then the Atlanta squad went up for good when Paul Lally hauled in a diving catch at the goal line and tossed an easy one to Christian Olsen to go up 11-10.
Chain’s offensive line later picked up the final point on a John Stubbs pass to Matt Smith, capping the most exciting of the first-round games.
“It’s the first day of Nationals, and we’re a low-seeded team,” said Smith, who had four goals and three assists against Machine. “Jitters are going to happen, but we have to bring the energy. We brought the energy in the second half, and honestly it looks like we kind of flipped roles on them.”
Bracket play starts with the pre-quarterfinals tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. at Surf Cup Sports Park in Del Mar.