Club Nationals: Friday by Grant
November 5, 2010, 7:28 pm
Filed under: tournament write-ups

Our arrival was early. The earliest in fact. At 5:30 in the morning, it was only us and the good folks guarding the beer truck. On call from 7pm to 7am, they spend as much time at the fields as anyone else yet they are rarely seen by the masses. My hat is off to you gents.

This is what the Polo Club looks like without any sunlight.

At 6:15 the port-o-john guys arrive and we are already jovial about having the entire site to throw around a flashflight disc while it’s still dark out. With our collective adrenaline we formulate a plan of action to get through the day that includes making a trip to Publix as it opens and loading up with the requisite bread, turkey, cheese and mustard to compliment our stocked cooler already filled with ice and beer. Now with the sun rising over the Sarasota Polo fields, it’s time to find out what’s going on.
We park our van for front row seats right in front of where Chain Lightning is beginning to come to life. Last year they could have run the slogan “Welcome to Destroyertown. Population: Chain Lightning” and the early evaluation was these guys look good. When Zip goes past me, I can’t help but think even his jog to the Honey Bucket looks like it helps his game.

With less 15 minutes to game time, I get a chance to catch up with Ring of Fire all around dominant player and good guy, Jared Inselmann to ask him what exactly happened at regionals this year. He responded that full credit goes out to Truck Stop. They were playing well and Ring simply wasn’t at its peak at that time. In previous years, they had the advantage of being comfortable heading into regionals but this time there was a lack of preparation. Jared also said they were only 1 for 7 on break opportunities. Well Nationals is a whole new ball game and early season heartbreak can be erased.

With 5 minutes to go before game time, I found out that Ozone was down to only 9 healthy bodies by the end of Thursday. Rough. And then the moment the teams were waiting for…

Horn sounds.

Mixed Power Pool Round 1

Drag’n Thrust (Minneapolis) v. Polar Bears (East Bay)

Despite the elevated level of play between these two sides, both squads carry a cavalier, whatever happens, happens attitude. Drag’n Thrust never calls subs or lines, instead relying on a alchemic mixture of athleticism and experience. Two of the players are over 30 and they even had a few practices this year. The Polar Bears cut their over 30 player count by 1 and when asked about gunning for a strength bid this year and coming back next year… they shrugged. These guys are just going with the flow. Sure, they had set out a goal of winning the Northwest region, but that’s in the past now.

Drag jumps out to an early lead and through my simple observation it’s quite simple. Drag’n Thurst’s throws aren’t floating while the Polar Bears’ throws are. 2-1 D’n T. Already down a break, the Polar Bear O spreads the field wide in hopes of opening the throwing lanes. They also get throws from both sides of the mark and get one back from Minnesota. Advance and conserve seems to be the name of the game early. Both teams are weary of the seemingly intermittent wind so they wear down the defenses with quick up field strikes, followed by a steady pace of dumps and swings. The offense is potent enough to beat PB’s cup as the Bears look to prevent the big rushes. When push came to shove though, Drag’n thrusted, 4-2 Minnesotans.

The game is far from over but D’n T makes a big statement with a turn and then a huck to Patrick Niles who makes a stellar grab. Thrust jumps to a 5-2 lead. What might be aggravating on the field is actually very enjoyable as a spectator. In a bid to get the next few points, both teams are ramping up the defensive bids and the wind is acting as the third man on the field. The Polar Bears interrupt my enjoyment by calling a timeout before either team can grab a point. I learn that some of the Drag’n Thrusters are operating on 4 hours of sleep after the bad weather in Minneapolis slowed air traffic to a crawl and caused multiple delays and missed connections.

Polar Bears come out of the huddle and get the point they wanted, leaving a gassed line to depart from the field. Thrust proves you don’t need long points to score and march down the field without turning over the disc and then score another crucial break with a bomb with the wind, 7-3 Drag’n Thrust. 808 Liu matches it with a bomb of his own to Lucas Dallmann making it look so easy, but Thrust gets the first laugh, taking half 8-4. As the Polar Bears come over to the sidelines to talk, Clay Miller is upset and directs his anger towards the nearest trashcan but this is how I saw it: Clay thought the garbage can looked a lot like Hitler and let it know how he feels about that with his foot. The uninformed might have seen the same moment differently though.

In the middle of half time I caught up with Greg Connelly, head honcho for the observers here in Sarasota to ask about the method to his madness and this is what he had to offer:

In the college championship tournament, every game is observed in addition to having 4 observers in the semifinals and finals. It would take 60 observers to do the same here at the Club tournament which unfortunately isn’t feasible. All of the observers have their flights, hotel and some meals paid for but there aren’t enough willing to make the trip and to complicate the situation even more, some of the better observers who Greg would like to have are playing in the event. So, it’s not a budget issue, just a personnel issue, but Greg makes due with the qualified staff he has on tap. Each observer goes through a screening process and he tries to pair up rookies with veterans who also give feedback to the newer guys. Even at the quarterfinal level, all of the games can’t be observed because the Masters division semifinal games are taking place at the same time and require observers. Before he takes, he offers one last pivotal piece of information telling me that quality definitely counts over quantity. “A game with poorly trained observers is worse than no observers at all.” I wholeheartedly agree with his philosophy and he is definitely on the ball with this event. Kudos Mr. Connelly.

Back to the game at hand where the teams are converting on the offensive chances. Josh Hemmesch gets a step for first position and D’n T’s 9th point. Natasha Won makes a super layout grab to make it 9-6 Thrust and provoke this exchange on the sidelines between teammates, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming.” “I did.”

Why do I love ultimate? Seeing teammates laughing and smiling on the sideline even while down at Nationals. Even though the haven’t closed the gap yet, the Polar Bears are still hanging tough, staying an edgy 3-4 points behind at all times. They are close to a game breaker but under a high stall count they have to punt the disc towards the end zone that always ends up as a completed goal (a contested stall would have nullified the goal). You what though, sometimes things just work out for you regardless. Robert Gormley breaks the mark to Ernst Westphal and the Bears have finally gotten a break back, 10-8 Thrust. PB wants two breaks in a row, even forcing a turnover but Drag’n Thrust serves up a handblock and then Robyn Fennig goes crossfield to a wide open Michael Berseth for the score and the momentum 180. 11-8 D’n T.

“Pick. Pick called! Oh, that was a bee. God dammit!” Daniel “Robot” Naruo always vocalizes the important stuff. Things aren’t going well on the field for the Polar Bears either. Drag’n Thrust starts to display that athleticism and experience I’ve been hearing so much about as Niles gets elevation again for a break and then Thrust connects on the outshot again going downfield to make it 13-8. The Polar Bears work the disc with supreme fluidity to slow the Thrust, 13-9. D’n T counters with an O point and then gets it back when PB coughs up the disc in the red zone. They don’t want to waste their own chance after lots of disc advancement so they call timeout on the winning doorstep. 1-2-3-4 throws is all it takes and Fennig takes in the game winner, 15-9 Drag’n Thrust.

After the first of two power pool rounds, it’s time for a well deserved beer and a sandwich. The long hours and little sleep haven’t gotten to me yet and the rest of my traveling posse also look sprite as I encounter them in our sandwiching making van. There’s something about Club Nationals that fills even the spectators with a whole lotta adrenaline.

I have also found out one of the more intriguing storylines for the weekend that has some players wondering if this is the end of an era. The beer garden is no longer free. What will this mean for the future?

Clearly this is an issue.

Power Pool Round 2

Sockeye (Seattle) vs. PoNY (New York City)

My first glimpse of the open scene is the power pool game between Sockeye and PoNY and Seattle looks like Sockeye of 3-4 years ago. They yell, “Blood in the water! Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!” out to a 3-0 lead over PoNY and the dreaded dropped pull strikes the Pones before they get on the board. The game begins at 4-1 Sockeye. The Seattle offense is back after a long rest and Spencer Wallis gets the big throw downfield. He dishes to Mike Caldwell and gets it right back outstretched in the end zone. The Fish can seemingly do no wrong, 5-1. Anything they throw is working, 6-1. The defense is forcing mistakes, 7-1.

Jody Arvigan gives New York something to smile about with a highlight of his own, staving off halftime for at least one more point, 7-2 Sockeye. Seattle finally comes back down to Earth and PoNY gets a break chance but Adam Holt stabs a swing pass out of the sky. A dump here, a swing there and Seattle maneuvers the disc into the end zone, 8-2 Seattle half.

This is how Muffin manages to tweet and play at the same time.

New York starts out the second half the way they wished they had started the first half with Ben Faust connecting with Jack Marsh to make it 8-3 but Seattle matches with a goal to Mr. ESPN, Andrew Fleming. Kevin Terry goes to Aaron Bell on an inside out breakmark flick and now the Pones are starting to string some offensive possessions together and giving more playing time to the D line. A break in the wind and the Pride announce their presence with a hammer for the break in the game, 9-5 Seattle. New York is stepping up on D because if New York ultimate has taught me anything, it’s FCU, it’s ICU. Sockeye is forced to work harder and they step up to the challenge to get the goal, 10-5. PoNY is working harder but they are going to need to get some more breaks in a hurry to make a run at the fish… and then they get one. A O point leads to a D where Marsh throws a trailing flick to the end zone, 10-7 Sockeye. Both squads are fired up so Fleming acts like there are more cameras around and skies 3 Pones to keep pace. Tyler Kinley follows that with an encore breakthrow to Tim Gehret, 12-7 fish. PoNY almost gives up another break but Ignacio Yz has other plans and gets a bookend goal, 12-8.

Even though both teams are incredibly focused in the game, Ben Wiggins doesn’t give up the opportunity for an on field heckle during a stoppage of play. During the stoppage Webster McBride needs to take an injury, BLW responds, “I need you to earn that injury,” with a smile on his face. So one of the Pones on the sideline lobs a bottle at him. The game is never too serious for both teams to share a laugh. After the disc is tapped back into play, each team produces a turn but the fish get the benefit end, 13-8.

Gehret comes up with a big layout D on the next point but has to take an injury. Even more unfortunate, the goal pass is too far and the fish give it up. Another hammer, another near injury so the Fish avoid a possible third incident by scoring this time around, 14-8. PoNY continues to fight, even on their deathbed and eeks out a goal as well as a break from Joe Anderson to Grant Boyd, bringing the tally up to double digits for both teams, 14-10 Sockeye.

Wiggins finishes things with a pass to Dave Bestok for the win but Dan Heijmen looks on the bright side: “Prequarters baby! Prequarters!”

Before the final round of play, I get a chance to ask Andrew Lugdsin about how exactly Matsuhiro Matsuno came play for the monkey. As it turns out, Lugsdin and Matsuno have been communicating over the past few years with the hopes of playing at some point, when Matsuno asked to play with Furious next season. Lugdsin responded that while it sounds great, he wouldn’t be playing next year as this was his last season, so come play with Vancouver for Nationals this year. And the rest they say, is history.

Well, not exactly. Lugsdin also explained to me this is the first time Matsuno has played with Furious and he speaks little English. The Buzz Bullets also run a different system than Furious so figuring out a place for Matsuno is not as easy as it might seem to those aware of his gargantuan stats at Worlds earlier this year. Sometimes he plays O, sometimes he plays D because it’s always tough to integrate someone where everyone else already knows each other.

Regardless, it was quite awesome to see him on the field and while Furious couldn’t pull out a prequarter victory, there were some awesome highlights and the spectators can only wish for more Matsuno vs. Ken Porter matchups in the future. Next up… Saturday play!

Matt Lane and I got into a shootout during Friday. He won.

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