The moment the first pull went up, the sound of high level ultimate was deafening.
Cheers, screams, up-calls, heckles, curses, and arguments echoed through the men’s pre quarter fields, and the juxtaposition between this and day one was as bold as it could be. I started the round standing between Sockeye V. Rhino, Ring V. Doublewide, Revolver V. Prairie Fire and Machine V. Bravo.
Sockeye gives Rhino the little brother treatment
When I was about 12-years-old, I was wrestling with my older brother in the kitchen. I asked him if I could try a WWF move I had seen on TV, and when I did, I knocked him unconscious on our linoleum floor. I remember a few weeks later, after he had recovered from the concussion, the first time we went at it again and how it was one of the harder beat downs of my childhood. I couldn’t help but think of that fight while I watched the Sockeye V. Rhino game.
Rhino ended Sockeye’s season unexpectedly in pre-quarters last year, and then stole a cookie from the jar at regionals just a few weeks ago. So Sockeye wanted to send a message, and they did.
From the very first point it was their game, their offensive line was unchallenged. They walked it up easily to start and Phil Murray caught a goal all by himself after some of the most patient offense on the end zone I’ve seen all tournament. The following point Rhino held, but not before turning it over first, a rocky start for an offensive line that was about to feel the stranglehold presence of Sockeye’s defense.
Rehder would score to make it 3-2 after the teams traded, and his five-story-high spike brought all The Fish on the field and took the energy of the game to another level.
And then one of those game-changing moments happened: the next point, after a Rhino turn deep, Reid Koss let a monster 65 yard backhand deep to Julian Hausman. Hausman, with his 6’2” frame, galloped after the disc, left his feet and at full extension caught the frisbee with two hands and slid through the end zone, holding it up over his head. Sockeye stormed the field and their defense wouldn’t let Rhino breath for the rest of the game.
On the following point there were 6 turnovers in total, including two by Rhino with low forehands into the ground, but Sockeye’s d kept giving it back. After a grind-it-out offensive possession Rhino scored with a scoober to Dylan Freechild, who spiked the disc hard and made it 4-3. But Sockeye’s defensive message was clear: they could get the disc whenever they wanted, and when they started converting Rhino’s O would be in trouble.
Those conversions came quick. Sockeye burned a timeout up 7-4 on the goal line to take half, and moments later walked it in with — again — the most patient end zone offense of any team I’ve seen at the tournament. They are not scared to go rail-to-rail and they are less worried about dumping the disc back 5 yards for a new stall count. Their patience was rewarded, they took half 8-4, and the “blood in the water! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP!” cheers started. That message, too, was clear. Sockeye wanted blood, they wanted vengeance, and they weren’t going to stop until the score card flipped to 15.
At 11-5 it looked like the wheels came off for Rhino, and the Freechild, Bjourkland and Janin connection was absent from the second half of the game. Sockeye would go onto to win 15-9.
Ring jumps on Florida United early, boo’s their way to second straight quarterfinals birth
“The offense is going to come out and score this first point and everyone is going to rush the field,” Cyle Van Auken told his Florida United team before the first pull.
But Ring of Fire had other ideas. Florida’s first shot of the game was to Cole Sullivan, and the overthrow gave Ring a chance to draw first blood. With patience offense and quick disc movement, Ring walked it up the field until a quick inside dish found the hands of Noah Saul, who threw down a huge spike as Ring of Fire boo’d themselves and stormed the field.
Florida would respond, though, with quick work on offense to knot it up at 1-1. They’d force a couple turnovers with great reset defense on Ring’s first few offensive points, but Ken Porter — who arrived this morning — would catch a Callahan on one of Ring’s offensive points for an important hold.
At 4-4 Jonathan Nethercutt dropped a center pass of the pull and essentially handed Florida their break back, bringing the game to an even 5-4 and re-energizing a frustrated Florida squad. In the first half alone, there were two collisions on up-line cuts that resulted in turnovers and d’s absent of foul calls. It was clear these two teams, arguably some of the most athletic in the tournament, were going to play physical and fast.
Ring’s next break came after Florida’s Andrew McClevey went up for a high swing and had his legs taken out from under him. He didn’t call a foul because he dropped the disc before the contact, but his honest play gave Ring a chance to take the lead, which happened after Ben Dieter went over Chris Gibson for the 7-6 break.
Ring would strike again before half for the 8-6 lead, and they’d score out of their O-point on a high stall huck for the 9-6 lead.
From there, the game was a battle of deep shots, miscues on the dumps, and observer rulings. Sullivan and Nethercutt both missed a few shots deep, and Florida had almost every call they made that went to the observer overruled. Mischa Freystaetter was overthrown a few times but still came down with some big goal scores, a must for this Florida team to win. Ring got as far away as 11-6 but Florida United clawed back to make it 13-12 before a conservative upwind possession gave them the disc on the goal line.
After a Florida injury call, Nethercutt got stuck in the far corner and then connected on a sweet around backhand goal. But Bobby Ley made a call, the disc came back, and Nethercutt turfed an inside out lefty backhand. On the ensuing Florida possesion, Freystaetter had the disc in what would become one of the more controversial moments of the game. Looking for an around backhand to the break side, Freystaetter stepped into his mark and drew contact as he lofted up a backhand, immediately calling a foul. But Michah Hood contested, arguing with the observer that he was standing still with his arms wide. There’s no doubt there was some contact, and there’s also no doubt Freystaetter made the throw and stepped forward intentionally trying to draw the foul, a perfectly legitimate play against a tight mark. Hood’s argument that he “wasn’t moving” probably wouldn’t hold up with video evidence, but the cheeky call went unrewarded: the observer called no foul and Ring got the disc, worked it in for a break to Jarret Bowen and essentially won the game. The final nail came when Hood went deep on Freystaetter during Ring’s ensuing offensive point, catching the game winner as the 6’7” Freystaetter rode his back desperately trying to get a D. Ring advanced with a 15-13 win, avenging their regional finals loss.
Madison, Machine score monster upsets
Machine took control of Bravo early on and never looked back. After jumping to a 5-2 lead, Bravo tightened up and went into a trading battle with the Chicago team desperate to get over two double game point losses yesterday in pool play. And thanks to AJ Nelson, they did just that.
The 6’4” deep cutter was open almost the entire game, at one point scoring four straight goals for Machine. He’d finish with five, including the game winner that came after Johnny Bravo received their third TMF of the game and gave Machine the disc at half field with a 14-13 lead.
For Bravo, the story was a game of inches. After Machine took half 8-6, there were several points where Bravo stacked their defensive lines and nearly came away with the d they needed. A Nelson sky over Henry Konker to make it 10-7 kept Machine in control, and on the following point they almost gave Bravo the dagger. After a huck to Mickle fell short, Machine went deep but a sliding receiver dropped it in the end zone for what would have been an 11-7 lead. The miscue let Bravo back in, who got the game to 10-9. But on their next break opportunity, Sean Keegan left one up for Jimmy Mickle against 6’3” Michael Schwenk in a battle of powerful deeps. You could feel Bravo’s sideline revving up as Mickle leaped into the air, but Schwenk kept his inside position and made a pivotal defensive play to protect their lead and get the game to 11-9.
With Mickle, Nick Lance, Pawel Janas, Ryan Farrel, Jackson Kloor, Hylke Sneider and Henry Konker on the line at 12-10, Machine immediately went deep on Lance, who made a beautiful full extension bid and came so close to d’ing the disc that I couldn’t even see the space between his fingers and the plastic. He came up yelling in frustration as Machine tossed in the easy goal to make it 13-10 and set themselves up to walk away with the biggest upset of the tournament thus far.
Over on field 16, High Five was answering the questions many had about them, and not in a good way. The Michigan crew went down big early, succumbing to a 6-1 deficit against Madison that was mostly the fault of turnovers on their own third. Colin Camp conceded that High Five had really hurt themselves with sloppy play, but also credited his own teams tough defense and smart defensive offense for converting every chance they got.
High Five, who finished second in pool D yesterday, wouldn’t go quietly. They brought the game all the way back to 14-12 but with the clock ticking on a hard cap, and only 45 seconds to score before the horn, star handler Johnny Hansfield had to force up two poor throws deep, the second resulting in a Madison huck goal to end the game and complete a sweep of Pool D’s top two teams.
Patrol makes good on my promise, tests Ironside, while Truck looks like a broken record of second half greatness
When Patrol won two games yesterday, I warned that Ironside and others should not overlook them. A team playing with nothing to lose and in their first tournament at Nationals should not be taken lightly, and Patrol proved they were the real deal, even in defeat.
The Philadelphia team battled Ironside through the first half, finishing 8-7 and on serve. After Josh “Cricket” Markette milked an up-line throw and leaped into the end zone to make it 8-8, Patrol’s O line came out with beautiful offense until a shot deep to Billy Sickles. With an Ironside defender on his back, Sickles went for the clap catch in the air, absorbed some contact and dropped the disc. He didn’t make foul call, giving the impression that he bonked it before feeling the Ironside player on his back.
Patrol would get it back after a giant Christian Foster hammer was smashed by the wind. They went sideline to sideline a few times but a Michael Panna around backhand to nobody gave Ironside their second break chance of the point, and you just knew they weren’t going to give it back. Foster redeemed himself with a huck to Jack Hatchett that gave Ironside the 9-8 lead and the control they needed to push forward. At 10 all, Patrol missed their fifth break opportunity of the game (they were 0-5 on break chances at that point) and once Ironside got the 11-10 lead they never looked back. The game finished 14-11.
In another pre quarter surprise, Truck went down early to Sub Zero. At 4-2 and 6-4, it was the story of the weekend for Truck Stop: slow starts and big holes to dig out of. Thankfully for Truck, Nate Castine, who is playing his first season on the team, earned his stripes before half. He had an assist and then a bookends goal after a layout block to give Truck Stop the 7-6 lead.
Out of half, Alan Kolick went up and over a Sub Zero defender and dished the goal to give Truck the 9-7 lead. They’d break on the next point to make it 10-7 after a Markham Shofner block, and they would never give the lead back.
Doublewide handles GOAT after a close first half 14-9. GOAT had several red zone turnovers that hurt them bad, and Doublewide continued their dominant play on the weekend.
Revolver dominated Prairie Fire 15-8 and is yet to get a challenge this weekend.
Machine V. Ring of Fire (showcase game)
Both Machine and Ring handed higher seeds upsets to pave the way for this 2014 rematch. Ring ended Machine’s season last year in pre quarters on their way to an improbable semifinals birth, so you can expect Machine to be looking for vengeance (a theme of this year’s Nationals). But how could you bet against North Carolina? At one point this year their only win over an American team they had was a win over Machine, which prompted some talk on social media about how Ring “never loses to Chicago.” They have owned them over the last few seasons but it’s tough to imagine Machine taking a loss after the way they handled Bravo. There is a reason this game is the showcase, and you can expect some fireworks. If Ring can’t stop AJ Nelson, they’re going to be in trouble. Notably, Brett Matzuka, who played for Ring of Fire for years, will be on the other side of the disc when he takes the field for Machine for the first time at Nationals against his former team. Prediction: 14-12 Ring
Sidenote: Justin Allen arrived this morning after the pre-quarter game, missing every match up to this point because of a work conflict. The fresh legs and presence of one of Ring’s biggest stars cannot be understated.
Disclaimer: Isaac Saul is the brother of Ring veteran Noah Saul, and his prediction is admittedly skewed by his desire to see a Ring win.
Revolver V. Truck Stop
Expect this to be the first challenge Revolver sees all week. Truck Stop is hungry to prove they have elevated themselves after the additions of Seth Wiggins, Nate Castine and Nicky Spiva this summer. If there was ever a game to do it, this is the one. Revolver’s easy road to this point could be an advantage or disadvantage depending on how you look at it. On one hand they haven’t felt that full stride, big game intensity yet, on the other hand they must be the freshest team at the tournament. I’d be shocked if Truck doesn’t get them on the ropes at least once this game, but I’m not ready to bet against the big dogs yet, either. Prediction: 15-11 Revolver
Doublewide V. Ironside
Ironside is back in quarterfinals and once again have shown the doubters this program can survive anything, including the loss of some of the biggest names in the sport. But don’t get anything twisted: Doublewide is the favorite here, and for good reason. Without Jeff Babbit, Ironside is going to have trouble matching Doublewide’s size, and the Texas gunslingers are sure to go deep early and often against an Ironside team that has tons of grit and brains but not nearly enough athleticism to match the Doublewide squad. Still, at a tournament like this, a good game plan can get you a long ways and it’ll be interesting to see how Ironside’s defense plans to slow down a Doublewide O-line that frequently includes Tim Gehret, Max Cook, Jeff Loskorn, Kurt Gibson, 6’6” Ethan Pollack, Kiran Thomas and Brandon Malecak. Prediction: 15-12 Doublewide
Sidenote: Malacek was a staple of Boston ultimate before landing in Texas, and it’ll be fun to watch him play his former teammates. It will be interesting to see whether he or Markette, who has taken a huge load this season, performs better at the handler position.
Sockeye V. Madison Club
This is undoubtedly the most lopsided quarterfinal match up, and Sockeye has to feel good about their draw against a team that lost to Patrol yesterday. That being said, Madison, Patrol and Machine all proved me wrong by playing a great round in pre-quarters and showing Pool A was stronger than most people thought.
I still don’t see them having a chance, though. Sockeye has played the most consistent ultimate aside from Revolver, came out on top in toughest pool at the tournament and then pummeled Rhino in a game of pure revenge in the pre-quarters. I expect the Sockeye defense to suffocate early and often, and the best end-zone offense I’ve seen all weekend to shine through. I think this one might get ugly but I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Prediction: 15-9 Sockeye