Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nationals: What to Watch For (Open)

I'll be attending Nationals this year as a commentator for UltiVillage. My focus will be on the Master's division, but hopefully I'll get a chance to catch games in all of the divisions as there is intriguing competition and compelling storylines in each. What I'll be looking for in the open division:


Day one of Open is generally uninteresting. Teams are typically well seeded, the top teams don't show everything they've got. Given the format, teams don't have any incentive to come out with their full guns until quarters. And if they come out with the guns before that, you can bet they won't make semis. So the big question on Thursday and Friday is who tightens up the roster to try and get a win to either make the power pools or avoid the play-in game. I expect the top four seeds to cruise to the quarters avoiding pre-quarters. The Thursday games I'm most interested in are: GOAT - Truckstop and JAM - Ring. I think all four of these teams have outside shots at semis but being tossed to the lower pools will make it virtually impossible. I can only recall two pre-quarters winners that were able to win their quarters game - Sockeye in 2004 (who ended up winning it all) and Bravo in 2008 (corrected).

I think if JAM can make power pools their shot at semis or further is very good. I'm not sure what JAM figured out on Saturday and Sunday last year but for three games they played the most beautiful Ultimate I'd seen since Furious in '02. It was true team Ultimate, efficiently identifying and moving the disc to their opponents weak spots regardless of player or position. If they've managed to bottle that and can get through a rough first day with Chain and Ring at 2-1, I'd be nervous if I were crossing over against them.

I'll also hope to catch some of Chain. I've watched a game and half of Chain's this fall and while very impressed with the athleticism they bring I have not been impressed with their style of play - in the finals of Regionals, they seemed to really constrict the field and narrow their cutters' space and rarely used the break side of the field. Despite this they possessed this disc, turning it over only twice on offense. AJ has assured me that Chain attacks both sides of the field. I'd like to take a closer look. Considering Chain's athleticism, teams aren't going to beat Chain if Chain can create good space for their cutters, move the disc quickly to change the angle of attack, and force downfield defenders to account for the full 40 yard width of the field.

I'm interested in watching a bit of Revolver. I saw their come from behind victory against Chain (down 8-3 and won 12-11) at Chesapeake. Obviously I got to see a lot of their defense, and while their handler D was impressive (I really enjoy watching Jit Bhattacharya guard and mark handlers) Chain made a lot of unforced errors. Of course in a comeback like that I got to see little of their O-line. I've generally loved the Revolver offense but am curious to see how Mac and Beau integrate into it. Does Revolver step back and create space for the two of them to just make it happen or do they continue to rotate their downfield threats by position - meaning that sometimes Beau is creating space for others and timing cuts as fill instead of primary cuts?

After watching Doublewide at Regionals, I frankly don't believe the hype around them. Outside of their win against Revolver at Labor Day, their season looks pretty mediocre. Kiran Thomas has got to be in the top 3 or 4 in terms of speed in the division and he dominated Chain's Rob White early in the Regional finals but as soon as Chain put Joel Wooten on him it seemed like DW's offense stalled out. So I'd like to see if DW has a second top tier offensive threat. Without that they'll have difficulty against teams with deep defensive talent.

I have seen no Ironside or Sockeye this season. I'm curious to see how Ironside is working without Fortunat in the middle of the O and how Hodag pick-ups Matt Rebholz and Jim Foster, Bravo transfer Adam Simon, and Sockeye transfer Seth Crockford are fitting in. Looking at the Ironside roster, I see more specialists and fewer complete threat players than the other top seeds but no Ultimate city has historically put pieces together better than Boston.

As for Sockeye, they are probably happy that the focus is not on them. Here's a team only two years removed from the Championship, with a still stacked roster, and it seems no one is talking about them. Last year they had the challenge of gearing up for the "triple peak" between Dream Cup, Worlds, and Nationals. This year they were able to focus their mental energy and training on a single goal. Sources say Sockeye's year began with some turmoil over personnel but that has smoothed out over time and they know as well as anyone that the only games that matter in a season are the ones in October. This is also the last year that the 1993 NOMS middle school all-stars will be playing together as CK has moved to Atlanta and looks to be playing with Chain next year. I'm curious to see the role CK is playing without being a regular at practices. It sounds like Sockeye may be employing more vert stack as well and I'd love to see how they are running it. Like most people I expect to see Chain and Revolver in the finals but it wouldn't be wise for any of these teams to sleep on the Fish.

Mixed, Masters, and Women's post to follow.

Watch Nationals coverage at UltiVillage!


Martin said...

Kyle, I'm interested in hearing your opinion on which teams have realistic chances at semis this year. Do you feel like we can pencil in the four 1-seeds for the first time since . . . I can remember?

History shows that a power pool game determines an important quarters matchup of two 1-seeds, and idea which matchup that will be this year?

Bravo #17 said...

I believe Sockeye won their prequarters game in 2004 (not 2003). Also, Bravo won their prequarters game last year and then advanced to semifinals after a grueling 15-14 victory over Sockeye.

Kyle Weisbrod said...

I couldn't pencil anything in. I know what I'll be looking for but right now all I've got to go on are rosters, results, and watching about 1 1/2 games.

I think you can pencil those four in to the quarters but beyond that it's difficult. It only takes a team getting hot for one game at the right time to knock a team out of semis.

I'll edit my mistakes - of course Bravo went through preqs last year. Not sure how I could forget that.

Kyle Weisbrod said...

Also, it really is too bad that the only people that can write truly informed opinions about predictions around nationals are players on the teams going to Nationals that have seen a large number of the teams play at multiple tournaments. And even then their perspective is limited to pretty much games they were playing in.

Is there any non-player who has been to more than one of Chesapeake, ECC, Labor Day, Boston Invite, and Colorado Cup?

del said...

The hype behind Doublewide can largely be attributed to the possibility of Kurt Gibson playing with them. It seems he's definitely out for the season though? I have no real idea but I thought I read that.

Bravo #17 said...

The only people I can think of that would be traveling to multiple tournaments to watch (and not play) would be photographers, coaches, girlfriends/spouses and parents/children. Out of this small group, few are in a position to comment on the game.

Martin said...

Last team to win a title without having played in the finals previously is Sockeye. That includes Jam's run last year. So signs would point to an Ironside victory this year . . . right?

Patrick Mooney said...

My mom went to ECC and boston invite. However her recaps about teams might be a bit weak, she's still trying to figure out the self refereeing and how you score.

Bravo #17 said...

My parents used to go to college tournaments as a way to "visit the kids." They came to watch ECC this year, they'll be at nationals.

They understand the game, but don't know yet how to see what the defense is trying to do beyond "it's a zone" or "forcing flick." I'm trying to teach them the more subtle parts of the game. They do recognize the good teams and when a team is playing well. I don't believe their insight would be that helpful, however.

Martin, JAM won last year having lost in the semis the year before. Sockeye/Bravo were in the 2007 finals.