One point. That’s all it took to keep Northwest Regionals from being the bloodbath that it was in 2011. That’s all it took to snatch a bid from the jaws of the Southwest, as Rhino played the trump card — a misreported score at Colorado Cup — to push them to #16 in the USA Ultimate End-Of-Season Rankings after the preliminary rankings had them at #17.
But the moment of relief after discovering the region had two bids has been fleeting. Regionals now looms this weekend and, as usual, it will be a dogfight to make it to the Club Championships.
The tournament’s one seed, Seattle Sockeye, should feel good about their chances to advance, but after 2011, when they collapsed against San Francisco Revolver at Regionals and then didn’t make the game-to-go, they know not to buy their plane tickets too early.
Sockeye comes into Regionals after a long season of up-and-down play. They have some great wins over San Francisco Revolver, Austin Doublewide, and Toronto GOAT, but also some tough losses to Chicago Machine and New York PoNY.
They have been plagued by injuries and absences. Starters Matt Rehder, Danny Karlinsky, and Mario O’Brien have been hurt for most of the season. Tim Gehret has hardly played. Yet, despite traveling with heavily depleted rosters, they have managed to finish the season ranked #3 by USA Ultimate and #6 by Ultiworld.
That is a testament to the depth of their roster and their constant innovation. They show a wide variety of defenses and rely on a “small ball” offense to move the disc quickly, changing the angles of attack and never allowing the opposition to settle in on defense.
The Seattle team notched head-to-head wins over both of their closest rivals — Portland Rhino and Vancouver Furious George — during the regular season. But there is perhaps more uncertainty than ever heading into Regionals.
Furious George, who played Terminus way back in July, has been a ghost on US soil this season. They only narrowly made it into the Series after sanctioning a last minute, four game “tournament” against Seattle Voodoo, the city’s second team.
Furious, who went 1-5 at Terminus, split those games against Voodoo. Whispers started to fly: is this a complete rebuilding year for Furious? Have they lost a step?
Almost no idea who is even on @FuriousUltimate this year. 2013 has been a weird year of ultimate.
— Tyler Kinley (@tylerkinley) September 16, 2013
Certainly, the Vancouver squad has graduated a huge number of their biggest names, including Marc Seraglia, Gabe Saunkeah, and Andrew Brown. They are still anchored by Canadian legends Morgan Hibbert and Oscar Pottinger, but the team has become a faceless army with a lot of youth.
Their Sectionals performance may have helped silence the critics. They dominated, taking down their closest competition Voodoo twice by large margins.
They come into Regionals seeded third and set to face Portland Rhino. the team they are likely to battle with on Sunday for a bid to the Club Championships, during pool play.
Rhino has had a strange year as well. After losing all three 2012 captains — Seth Wiggins, Cody Bjorklund, and Mario O’Brien — the team looks vastly different than it did a year ago. UPDATE: Bjorklund has rejoined Rhino for the Series.
They had a very mediocre regular season, doing (literally) just enough to earn the region a second bid. Their best win was a 10-9 victory over Sub Zero at Terminus, where they also beat a very shorthanded Furious team. That was their only victory over a top 16 team this season.
At the West Coast Cup, they went winless, but put up very strong games on Sockeye (13-15) and Johnny Bravo (12-15). Their inexperience showed through, but they also had flashes of brilliance, led by stellar play from 2013 Callahan winner Dylan Freechild and Oregon teammate Topher Davis.
Behind the top three teams sits Voodoo, a team that has always played second fiddle but, on a good day, can challenge the best. Last year, they scared Rhino during pool play, going ahead before losing the lead in the second half and falling 13-10.
Handicapping this year’s Northwest Regionals is harder than ever. With so many wildcards in play (Sockeye injuries, Furious and Rhino turnover, few games against one another), it will likely come down to who is in good form this weekend. Sockeye has to be the favorite, but they’ve been susceptible to lapses in energy. Furious is a complete mystery to everyone else at the tournament. Rhino has been developing their young talent all season.
Prepare yourself for some surprises.