This was the first year I didn't stay at Siesta Key, we stayed at the tourney hotel 10 minutes from the fields. I loved it.
For the past so many years going to nationals, I always hated leaving about an hour before cleat on warm-up time, to drive in traffic, to get to the fields. This was a huge load off everyone's shoulders in the morning, and made it very easy to refuel after games were done.
I highly recommend it to teams with high maintenance players, younger teams, and teams that just want to concentrate on performing their best without the distractions of siesta key.
Anyway, onward to the recap. Wednesday, half the team drove (read: the young, dumb guys), they had a car break down in savannah and had to get a rental. I flew in with the over 30 crew on the first flight out in the morning. We went to the beach and threw around, after some time, we then left and went to the fields to cleat up and throw around to get use to the wind. There is little to no wind in NC where we practice, so acclimating to a crosswind is important.
Thursday, we wake up, get to the fields, have a great warm-up. It is super hot and humid, and the dew stays for almost all of the first game. We start off against Doublewide.
They are missing the two Gibsons, but they are still jacking it deep mostly to a really tall dude named krich or something like that. He made some great grabs in double coverage.
Doublewide gave the disc up too much, but we could not convert anything in the first half (yeah, i get that if we couldn't convert then they weren't giving the disc up too much, what I mean is that they were not playing #3 seed ultimate and we were not capitalizing on it).
Our offense was atrocious on thursday. We held the disc to long, didn't swing it, and then hucked late into the count to a backed man. When we actually had a guy wide open deep, we floated the huck and 3 defenders would smother him.
The observers were possibly the worst observers I have ever played with. All season long, I had really been impressed with the quality of observing, and then when we got to nationals, none of the people who worked at ECC, Chesapeake, and Regionals seemed to be observing any open games near me. The only time I felt the observers were high level were during the Furious game, machine game, and ironside game, but I guess that is what you get when you are the 11 seed.
Anyway, back to the game. Basically doublewide took half off of static hucking 8-5. Our D line starts converting all of the doublewide miscues and we bring it to 12-11 us, receiving the disc. The O line then starts to malfunction again with drops, throw aways, botched dump throws, etc until we lose 15-13. Painful loss.
The captains and team did a great job of keeping spirits high and bouncing back for the big game against Sockeye. We come out, put a lot of pressure on Sockeye's O line, and get a few breaks. I think we might be up 2 breaks or so, and then the sockeye loose man / junk D starts to give our O line fits because they are holding it too long and are unwilling to take the easy pass. They get around 8 breaks on our O line during the game, maybe more. There were a lot in a row going into and out of half. I get to play 3 D Line O points that game and we score all three effortlessly.
In general, I think it is a good thing to stick in a D line on O when you can't stop the bleeding, but in practice, during that game, it just sort of made me angry at the O line for not being able to do what we, the D line, could do with ease.
After the game, a lot of people were dejected. The low road is very long and hard to get to the quarters, and now we essentially had elimination games ahead of us. Dave Snoke rallied the team to get ready to play good ultimate and salvage the day, and we did just that against Madison, although the O line did have some troubles late in the game against them, but the D line got on the field again and closed the door on them.
I had never played on a team who's O Line had an entire bad day. Ironside's O would sometimes have a bad half, or get too excited and have a bad game, but never 3 games in a row that were sub-par.
Friday found us in the bottom pool with Tanasi and Machine. We started off playing Tanasi and it was chippy with ticky-tack calls. Our O Line struggled again a little, but we pulled it out and started to have great momentum in the second half going into the Machine game. We played machine, and started off a little slow and then just wore them down and ran away with the game. Their talented handler core was playing both ways a lot of the time, and it was noticeable that they got slower and slower as the game wore on. We were able to keep our lines mostly open and our key players fresh for the prequarters.
As we were walking over to play in the prequarters, it seemed as though every ring player was stopped by players on other teams for them to give us advice on how to beat furious. i was left wondering if players root for ring, or if we just were the lesser of two evils at that point.
Anyway, the common theme of the tips was that there were exhausted. We took advantage of this and ran them to the ground on D. I think we take half 8-2 or 3 or something big like that. Furious then mounts their own comeback halfway through the second half as our O Line starts to get rattled and starts chucking it deep to double coverage at high stall counts. Their D line really outplayed our O line in the second but thankfully we punched it in to stop the bleeding.
This set up the quarters matchup that ring was hoping to not have this year. Ironside in the quarters for the 4th straight year (technically, the first year was the prequarters, but still...). We had a game plan that we were going to use, we had the match-ups set, we even had a good O strategy, but we got down 5-0 to start, and never really recovered. We didn't give up fighting, and we even clawed our way back in it, but d'ed discs were finding their way back into the hands of non-intended ironside receivers and we were not getting the chances we needed to win.
The finals were tough to watch. Ironside had about 5 injuries on a 24 man team. I was worried a little before halftime when ironsides O line started to look gassed everytime they came off the field. Their D line was still playing hard, but they were just making tired mistakes. Last year, Chain did a great job of using everyone all tourney to stay fresh and have the most legs, and this year, Revolver seemed to have learned their lesson and used more of their deep team all tourney. Jeff and Will who are normally indefatigable showed signs of being exhausted towards the end of the game.
It seemed as if ironside handlers became gun shy and would not throw it deep to jeff when he was being fronted. This made jeff have to work too hard to get the disc underneath, and then he stayed back and handled after the handlers were having trouble getting the disc off the line. I have never won a game that jeff handled more than cut (he might be the best cutter in the game), and i knew they were in trouble when it was happening.
but, it was very, very painful to watch a championship slip away from my friends. I know how hard they worked for it.
in reflecting on the year, it was a very interesting playing for a small market team. I was asked to do a lot more for them in both PT and throws. I think I played well, but there were times when I was absolutely gassed after a turn because I was playing so much.
the feel of the team is very unique. you don't have ringers moving to town to look for a championship, you don't have a town where all the top college players migrate to, you don't have 90 people on your tryout list, you just have a group of dudes who grew up in the area, went to college in the area, and learned to play a brand of ultimate that gives them a fighting chance against the big market teams. It is really fun to be an underdog, to just go out there and give it hell.
i am already looking forward to next season.
I hope we can work on getting our offense a little crisper, a bit more patient, and a little better at decision making. I also hope we get better at mental toughness, I feel that people played scared in big games, or worried too much about uncontrollables and not enough about stomping on the other team. I feel if we can both become more fundamentally sound and mentally sound, we will continue building upon a good season.
For any college players reading this: Ring is a great, young team that is on the rise. The triangle area has good tech jobs, super cheap cost of living, and you can play league games outside in the winter time. If you are looking into cool places to live after college, become an immediate impact player, and part of building upon 21 years of grittiness, send me an email, and we can help you find a job.