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.
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Future of Ultimate
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