2013 Chesapeake Invite: Tournament Recap (Men’s)

Clapham v. Ironside at the 2013 Chesapeake Invite.
Photo by Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

With all of the top East Coast teams in attendance, the Chesapeake Invite had all the pieces to be an exciting late season tournament. It did not disappoint. With some wild upsets, double game point drama, and unexpected results, the tournament left us with plenty to talk about heading towards the Pro Flight Finale in two weeks.

Here is a recap of the biggest news and results from the weekend.

Sub Zero Does About Face After Terminus With Outstanding Weekend

There are a lot of good things to say about Sub Zero’s 6-1 Chesapeake weekend. Perhaps what is most remarkable, though, is the turnaround they showed from a 1-5 Terminus performance. Yes, the team was missing a number of key players in Atlanta, including captain Grant Lindsley and Nick Stuart. But going from an 0-5 pool play performance to a 4-1 one is remarkable, even considering those absences.

it wasn’t just an influx of talent that took this team to new heights. Simply put, their defense was outstanding and the entire team fed off of that energy throughout the weekend. Sub Zero adviser (though not quite coach) Phil Bowen said on Saturday that the team’s defensive intensity was getting the sideline more into the game and leading them to wins.

That’s not to say it was a dominant performance. Sub Zero had three double game point games (they went 2-1) and two wins by two points over PoNY and Cash Crop. They nearly lost to Michigan’s High Five. They crept through the backdoor into the semifinals because they only lost by one point to Toronto’s GOAT on Sunday morning; had they lost by two, GOAT would have taken their spot.

“We could have lost five games this weekend,” said Lindsley. While he was, of course, happy that they found ways to win, he knows they can’t rely on what can often be random luck on double game point.

“I think [getting to double game point] against the better teams is a sign of our potential,” he said. “I think against the not better teams, it’s a sign that we’ve got some more mental strength to work on.”

At Terminus, Sub really struggled to move the disc between the handlers and switch the field. Adding Lindsley to the backfield changed that immediately and dramatically. Having Stuart as a huge downfield threat — and a great defensive stopper after the turn — made things easier for the offense.

PoNY offensive handler and former Sub Zero player Kevin Riley said he told PoNY defensive line to simply not throw in Stuart’s direction when they had the disc on offense. They consistently paid the price for doing so. On a critical possession late in their semifinal matchup, PoNY had a chance to tie the game but Stuart came up with an outstanding run-through block to recover the disc for the Sub O line.

“If your O line is converting, that takes a lot of pressure off of the D,” said Bowen. That’s what the Sub Zero offense managed to do, which created a virtuous circle of increasing defensive pressure and more team energy. Josh Klane was excellent with deep hucks all weekend and often found Stuart open downfield.

In both matchups against Ironside, Sub used a straight-up mark to good effect. Bowen said that the Ironside offense didn’t seem like they knew what to do. “We wanted to make sure sure they weren’t able to continue, continue, continue,” he said.

The strong all-around performance will be a big confidence builder for the Minneapolis team, but they know they have a lot still to fix. Lindsley wants to reduce their reliance on deep shots to Stuart. They are also likely to see a regression to the mean from their defensive line offense, which — despite taking a lot of risky, contested shots — didn’t turn it over much.

Perhaps their biggest challenge will be mental. When asked about his emotions after winning the Chesapeake title, Lindsley said, “Half super pumped, half a little bit worried we’re going to get complacent.”

Ironside Still Deeply Talented, But Showing Weakness

Although the finals showed a susceptible Boston offense, the O line is not a major concern for the preseason favorites. For most of the weekend, the offense looked very good and rarely coughed up the disc, despite playing without a handful of starters including George Stubbs.

But for the defense, it’s the same story that we saw at the US Open: they can’t score. In the first half of their semifinal against Clapham, the defensive was 2 for 11 in break opportunities. Against Michigan’s High Five: 1 for 8. Yes, they found ways to win by getting a couple of breaks late in the game, but this is not the Ironside defense that stifled teams starting from the first point of the game last season.

It is proving to be a real problem for Boston.

“I don’t think we need to completely go back to the drawing board, but we need some practice,” said Ironside coach Josh McCarthy. “We need some reps together.”

Despite having one of the most intact and consistent rosters in the Men’s Division, Ironside is showing some chemistry issues in the defensive unit. After generating a turnover, they can’t seem to make the right decisions, trying to force hucks into tight windows, throwing into poaches, and miscommunicating on resets. They might learn something from Sub Zero’s approach: attack quickly and attack deep.

Some of the best D line possessions were big hucks from Brandon “Muffin” Malecek to streaking receivers. Even when they didn’t score, they at least switched the field. Far too often they gave the disc back in their opponent’s half.

Often, their defense wasn’t even generating many turnovers. Jack Hatchett played great all weekend, but their team-wide defense was not strong. As many teams innovate new junk or zone looks, Ironside’s approach — generally pure man — seems stale.

What’s unusual is how effective many of these players were defensively in Major League Ultimate, playing for the Boston Whitecaps. McCarthy didn’t think that the pro season was having any effect on Ironside, though.

“There’s no reason that the MLU is hurting us right now, which was something that I was concerned with,” he said. “I think we’ve just had a hard time generating consistent pressure as a defensive unit, and our conversion rate – instead of being 60 to 70 percent – it’s been clearly under 50…It’s not going to get it done.”

McCarthy said they would consider changing defensive line personnel, but the O line guys he might want to switch over — Peter Prial or Stubbs — he believes are too valuable as offensive weapons. For now, they plan to give the D line a lot of reps with the disc.

This is an unusual position for Ironside, which has been a dominant force during the regular season in the past two years. Yes, they made it to the finals of each of their first two tournaments, but have really struggled to get there, a sharp contrast to last season.

McCarthy was right when he told his team in the huddle after their pool play loss to Sub Zero, “Wins and losses at Chesapeake are not going to define our season.” But with a skeleton crew headed to Davis for the Pro Flight Finale thanks to weddings and other commitments, Ironside will have a lot of work to do in the month before Regionals.

They’re No One Trick PoNY

New York PoNY’s Terminus victory over Atlanta Chain Lightning and relative success at Colorado Cup has been widely viewed with skepticism. How could a team that lost so many games a year ago suddenly be this good? Were they just getting lucky by coming into July well-conditioned after the pro ultimate seasons? Everyone has been waiting for them to misstep.

That simply hasn’t happened. PoNY opened their Saturday at Chesapeake with a double game point win over 2012 Club Championship semifinalist Raleigh Ring of Fire and rode that energy to an undefeated pool play performance, including wins over Chain Lightning (again) and London’s Clapham. They did it all without their best player, Jack Marsh (calf), playing a point.

PoNY drew Sub Zero in the semifinals after a wild finish in Pool A. It was a great matchup between the two hottest teams in the game. For the first time, PoNY’s offense cracked under pressure, giving up one too many breaks for their defense to recover.

Offensive handler Kevin Riley pinned the loss on himself for some turnovers down the stretch. A number of players felt they should have won, but had some decision errors late in the game that cost them.

Despite the loss, PoNY finished the weekend 6-1 and has clearly shown themselves to be one of the country’s best teams. Even the New York players aren’t accustomed to that, though.

“We’re still kind of getting used to the fact that we’re as good or better than anybody,” said Riley. O Line cutter Markian “Muk” Kuzmowycz said that they just haven’t been feeling pressure this year. “When we can be goofy and weird,” he said, “we’re gonna do well.”

Chris Mazur thinks the turnaround this season has been in large part due to their large rookie class. He sees a different mindset: they don’t care who they’re playing. Mazur said that, last year, PoNY would lose games because of another team’s reputation.

Those rookies — almost all defensive players — have turned the PoNY D line into one of the best in the elite game. They are consistently able to generate turns and, more importantly, turn them into points. D Line handlers Milo Snyder and Chris Neitzey have been smart with the disc all season. The defense is winning them games.

The question for PoNY: can they withstand the additional pressure of rising expectations? They will not play again until Northeast Regionals, where they will have to face off against strong teams in Ironside and GOAT, as well as a number of other young, loose teams like Amherst’s Dark or Light.

The team’s offense is also prone to bad turnovers. As their opponents’ offenses improve over the next two months, will their defense be able to continue to get enough breaks to make up for that?

Right now they are enjoying their winning ways.

“Losing on universe [last year] a lot kind of sucked,” said defensive cutter Mike Sender. “This is a lot more fun.”

London’s Clapham Shines Against US’ Best

The 2012 European Champion and long-time UK powerhouse Clapham continued a tradition of traveling to North America for tournaments by coming to the Chesapeake Invite for the first time since 2007. They had an excellent weekend, putting up wins on Chain Lightning and Ring of Fire while giving an outstanding effort against Ironside in the semifinals, perhaps the best game of the tournament.

“To be frank, this is the level we’re at now,” said Clapham captain Marc Guilbert. “It’s not a surprise that we’re winning against the big teams and we came to show that.”

Richard Harris, a member of the 2013 Great Britain World Games team, was outstanding and helped propel Clapham to some big wins. They had no trouble dispatching Madcow and Oakland. They were always focused on the Pro Flight teams.

“The Ironside, Chain, and Ring games – these were the games we came here to play,” said Guilbert. “The 2-1 [record] against those teams shows where we are in our development towards Worlds and where we need to push the boundaries.”

As the team builds towards the 2014 World Club Championships, this weekend gave them an opportunity to see where they stand in relation to the best East Coast teams in North America. Their double game point win over Chain Lightning was reminiscent of a very similar game in 2007, and one of their highlights of the weekend.

Although they were happy with their play on the weekend, they were naturally disappointed by their semifinals loss to Ironside.

“We got pushed to a tempo that was artificially high,” said Guilbert. “And I think our offense caused some turns just out of trying to rush things. We had to make some adjustments but I think we just gave out one too many at the end.”

Clapham scored some breaks late in the game to tie the game at 12-12 and keep things interesting, but a huge layout block from Rusty Ingold-Smith delivered the game winning possession as Ironside advanced with a 14-12 win.

“I think the things to take home is that we can evolve after the first half and establish new strategies that keep us on the front foot and help us win games,” said Guilbert. “This is something we’ve been struggling with in the past, struggling in second halves, and we got through that.”

Clapham loves to threaten over the top of the defense, setting up big away cuts followed by large gainers underneath in a deep horizontal stack. If teams adjusted to stop the unders, they were happy to huck to their big, fast receivers.

Teams that gummed up the cutting lanes like PoNY and Truck Stop (in their Friday night showcase game) had success against Clapham.

The team now heads back to London as they get set for the UK Nationals this weekend. Clapham has won 12 straight National titles.

With New Firepower, GOAT Looking Strong

It’s easy to see the Chesapeake results and look right past one of the best teams at the tournament. GOAT had the unfortunate distinction of going 6-1 but finishing fifth. Just one point separated the Toronto squad from a semifinals berth.

After falling to Ironside by two on Saturday in a tight game, GOAT set themselves up for a chance to make semis with a win over Sub Zero. They got that win, but they needed a two goal margin to advance based on the point differential; the final score was 13-12. They were banished to the fifth place bracket.

There, they notched wins against the Southeast’s best: 15-12 over Ring of Fire and 15-13 over Chain Lightning. They did it with a roster of just 19 players.

Chesapeake’s GOAT was a very different version than what we saw at Terminus. They’ve added some top young talent to their team. New to the squad: New Zealand’s Aaron Neal (NexGen ’13), Switzerland’s Luca Miglioretto, and Michigan’s Dave Hochhalter (who bailed on playing with new MI club team High Five…more on that later).

GOAT had great results this weekend despite missing a number of key players. Canada World Games players Cam Harris and Adrian Yearwood were out, along with Isaiah Masek-Kelly, Anatoly Vasilyev, and Thomson McKnight, among others. At full strength, this GOAT team will be very dangerous.

They found success this weekend by staying patient with the disc on offense, particularly in the case of the defensive unit. Strong fundamentals make it difficult for other teams to take the disc from them.

“All of our guys have had so many touches with the [AUDL’s Toronto] Rush,” said coach Scott Hastie,” that our defensive offense is working.”

Like Regional rival PoNY, GOAT has gotten younger this year. They have again drawn on the rich Canadian talent pool while also tapping into the international market. Knowing them, they may add a big European name for the Series like they did last season.

GOAT skipped the Canadian Ultimate Championships which took place over this weekend after not enough players were willing to make the expensive trip to Vancouver for what they saw as much weaker competition. Because of that, they forego an opportunity to play at the World Club Championships next season. They are not eligible to qualify through the USA Ultimate Club Championships.

Their decision shows just how focused they are on challenging for a top spot at the Club Champs. Last year, they missed out on semifinals after eventual champions Doublewide mounted a second half comeback in their quarterfinal matchup.

Chain Lightning Looking Too One Dimensional

Atlanta’s Chain Lightning could never be accused of lacking talent. With two Team USA players (Dylan Tunnell and Nicky Spiva), a host of veterans, and some immensely talented rookies, they have all the pieces to be one the country’s greats.

Yet, so far this season, they haven’t been great. They’ve been very good, no question, but a 4-3 performance this weekend can’t have been what they were hoping for.

Perhaps part of their problem is an overuse of what the team is well-known for using: the long ball.

On one possession in their loss to PoNY during pool play, their offense received the disc, centered it to a handler in a vertical stack, and ran a pull play. The primary deep look was shut down by the PoNY defenders, who also bracketed to stop the in cut to the open side. Chain never looked to reset — by the time they initiated the dump, the stall was very near nine and they put up a bailout hammer that floated and was knocked down by two PoNY defenders.

While obviously you cannot indict a team from a single possession, they didn’t show an effort to adjust their offense to what the defense was giving them.

On the plus side, Chain dominated their closest regional rival, Ring of Fire, on Saturday. Chain’s defense took advantage of frequent Ring mistakes and led the team to a 15-9 win.

If Chain can clean up their dump sets and refine their offensive approach, they will continue to be a powerhouse team. If not, they will be in danger of missing the quarterfinals this year.

Ring Of Fire Stumbles Out Of Chesapeake With Work To Do

You have to wonder how Ring of Fire’s weekend might have been different had they managed to beat PoNY on double game point in their first game of pool play. PoNY received on offense and Ring of Fire gave themselves two possessions: both resulted in point blocks. PoNY punched in the game winner.

Ring went on to finish 2-5 with wins only over the bottom two teams in their pool. They then lost 15-12 to GOAT and were finally embarrassed by Michigan’s High Five in a 15-9 loss to close out the tournament on Sunday.

Ring is a streaky team. They feed on the energy of the team. Sometimes, that results in a great run of play, like at the 2012 Club Championships where they only lost to the eventual finalists. Sometimes, that results in a downward spiral like this weekend at Chesapeake.

Nowhere in sight was the team that nearly upset Ironside at the US Open last month in the semifinals. They were making simple execution mistakes and not putting themselves in a position to win.

“When we’re losing, we get down,” said Tommy Lamar in a team huddle after their loss to Chain Lightning. “We’ve got to step out of that.”

Keeping a positive mentality is always a challenge for intense, defensively-minded teams like Ring. They saw what can happen when they don’t pull out of that funk.

Sometimes, a frustrating weekend like the one Ring just had can spring benefits: better focus at practice, a renewed commitment to improvement. Remember: last year they went 1-5 at Labor Day before making the semifinals at the Club Championships.

Michigan’s High Five Show That They Belong On The Elite Stage

It’s rare at the highest level of the Men’s game to form a new team from scratch and immediately prove yourself to be a contender. That’s just what Michigan’s High Five has done.

After beating Madcow on double game point to win the Motown Throwdown, everyone started to take notice of High Five, which formed out of the wake of the departure of Overhaul, the Ann Arbor-based mixed team.

While High Five didn’t have a dominant weekend, they had a very good one, finishing 3-4 with wins over Ring of Fire and Truck Stop. They had a halftime lead against Ironside and were ahead late into that game before the offense’s wheels fell off. In fact, they won the first half of every game they played except the one against GOAT. The fact that they lost three of those games may be a sign of their relative inexperience.

“We’ve got the raw talent,” said captain Matt Wilken. “And it’s just a matter of having fun.”

Wilken described that they’ve stressed treating practices like tournaments in order to prepare for the big opportunity that Chesapeake presented.

“Obviously it’s a little bit different when you’re going up against Ironside, but we’ve got some experienced guys,” he said. “We’re not necessarily intimidated by these other teams.”

Along with almost certainly ensuring an additional bid for the Great Lakes region, High Five got some valuable game experience against top teams.

“It’s a way for us to look at our guys and say, ‘Hey, there’s the bar. We’re right there,'” said Wilken.

The team played with great confidence on both sides of the disc. Johnny Bansfield was very good playing with the defensive unit and Sam Greenwood stood out as one of the better offensive cutters at the tournament.

High Five used their young, athletic talent wisely, attacking deep with speed and playing gritty man defense. They surprised some teams with their strength.

Keep an eye out for this team as they head towards the Series.

Truck Stop Couldn’t Figure Out Offense On Saturday

Along with Ring of Fire, Truck Stop had the strangest poor results at Chesapeake. With an 0-4 Saturday including a loss to High Five and blowout losses at the hands of Sub Zero and Ironside, Truck didn’t look like the team that had such a strong start to the season.

In a Friday night showcase game in Arlington, Truck convincingly beat Clapham, but the signs of trouble that plagued them throughout the weekend were there. The team’s offense was not efficient, frequently turning it over and struggling to put the disc in the endzone.

It must be very frustrating for the defense to watch the O Line struggle, since the D Line is one of the better units in the division. They got a couple of breaks against a stingy Ironside offense, but nowhere near enough to make up for the many breaks their offense allowed.

Alan Kolick, the O Line’s main handler, is an excellent player, but by making his resets more difficult and clamping down on the other handlers, opposing defenses were able to stifle Truck’s offense.

Truck did go 3-0 on Sunday, but they only faced Cash Crop (twice) and Madcow.

Their ceiling is clearly higher than this. They have two strong wins against PoNY and nearly beat Doublewide in the semifinals of Colorado Cup. But, like Ring, they’ll need to fix their dump sets to find success.

NOTES

…The weather was beautiful and warm on Saturday, then cooler, overcast, and rainy on Sunday…Teams from Pool A went 8-1 against opponents from Pool B…All games were to 15 and there were no byes in pool play, making for a lot of fatigue at the end of the day on Saturday…Pro Flight teams went 17-11 on the weekend…Elite Flight teams went 15-6 on the weekend…

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