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Portland Rhino Ready For Big Year: 2014 Season Preview

Rhino at the 2013 Northwest Regionals.
Photo by Jeff Bell — UltiPhotos.com

When Rhino returned to the USA Ultimate Club Championships in 2012, it seemed that the five year drought had come to a close. However, after the departure of captains Seth Wiggins and Mario O’Brien in addition to seasoned players Chase Sparling-Beckley and Breeze Strout, 2013 turned into more of a rebuilding year than anything else for the Portland squad. The young team lost the second nationals bid to Vancouver’s Furious George in a heartbreaking 15-11 loss in the game to go.

“2013 was definitely a rebuilding year,” said captain Jacob Janin. “We had some success but we were young and felt the lack of those go-to guys. We’re starting to get more comfortable with the core of the roster and everyone seeing where they need to step up.”

After a successful spring for Portland ultimate (the MLU’s Portland Stags went 8-3 in the Western Conference), Rhino now sets its sights on a 2014 return to nationals in Frisco, Texas. The 2014 roster has returners making up over half of the roster, strong rookies, and the reappearance of some key veterans. This year will also see some change up in leadership with veteran players and childhood friends Dylan Freechild and Jacob Janin taking the reins. Both brought up through the ranks of South Eugene High School Ultimate and NexGen tour alums, this pair has strong x’s and o’s and will bring a great deal of technical experience to the captainship. If all goes to plan, Rhino is shaping up to be a real West Coast contender.

The feeling on the team?

“Excited,” said Janin. “We know we have a lot of potential and we’re ready to do something with it.”

Returners

The 2014 roster will see sixteen returners from the 2013 season, nine of whom participated in the 2014 MLU season with the Stags. This roster has a lot of experience playing together, with many having played together on Oregon Ego in addition to their time on the Stags.

The group returns Eli Friedman in addition to solid cutters Ben Lohre and Cody Bjorklund. Handlers Jeremy Norden, Chris Hancock, and Ben McGinn are back in the mix as well as cutters Raphael Hayes and 2013 Rhino rookie Peter Woodside. Both Hayes and Woodside had sizable impacts on this year’s MLU season. Combined with Timmy Perston and Camden Allison-Hall, Woodside’s noticeable improvement during 2014 makes him an additional threat in the air.

“Over the years, there’s always been a ton of roster turnover and it’s hard to maintain a program when people are coming and going,” said Janin. “So anytime we can get the core of the roster back we’re able to build. We don’t feel like things are starting over and we all work really well with each other.”

This also applies to the return of Kevin Minderhout and Kelly Van Arsdale to the Rhino roster; neither lives in Portland. However, Janin isn’t concerned. With Minderhout’s experience with Ego and Van Arsdale’s history with the contingent of Lewis & Clark Alums (Lohre, Cole, Shaw) as well as each of their previous play with Rhino, Janin has confidence they’ll fall into place. Van Arsdale, a key height anchor for Rhino, has spent the spring recovering from shoulder surgery repairing a torn labrum and Bankart lesion. After being plagued by injury for the past few years, the 6’5”+ Van Arsdale is expected healthy for the season.

Rookies

Everyone has heard the chatter about the exceptionally athletic Connor Matthews joining the Rhino roster this year. The rising sophomore at Oregon played for the U-19 Junior National Team in Lecco, Italy, this month. However, Rhino has also picked up Carleton alum Adam Fagin, Ego handlers Trevor Smith and Tyler Cable, in addition to Stag Eli Blackman.

“He has lots of experience in college,” says Janin in discussing Fagin. “And he’s here for the next six years for school so we’re looking forward to that.”

The Rhino/Ego contingent remains strong with Matthews, Smith, and Cable. With lots of commonalities, this group of rookies should fit in well with the roster.

Veterans

A major difference to this year’s Rhino roster is the return of a number of seasoned Rhino veterans who took a year or more away from the team. The main head turner rejoining the team is Chase Sparling-Beckley.

“Chase is a great player,” says Janin. “He has so much more experience than anyone else on the team. He’s not technically part of the leadership, but he’s a huge positive influence and a great leader.”

The roster also sees the return of Grant Cole, Breeze Strout, Dan Suppnick, and Steve ‘Gameday’ Kenton, all of whom played Stags this season.

“Having Breeze coming back is great,” notes Janin. “He’s one of the first people who taught me how to play when I was 15. We have 4 different generations of South Eugene captains on the squad this year so that’s pretty cool.”

Those South Eugene High School captains he refers to are Strout, Friedman, himself, and Freechild. The South contingent also includes Allison-Hall, Cable, and Matthews.

Out of the club scene since 2008, Ego Alum Steve Kenton returned to the Oregon Ultimate scene this year, first with Stags and now rejoining Rhino. A starting offensive handler during the 2014 Stags season, Kenton picked up with his old Ego teammates seamlessly.

Challenges

It’s no secret to anyone that Rhino is getting a late start on this year’s club season. They’ll not participate in a tournament until the Colorado Cup this weekend in Boulder. However, this doesn’t worry Janin or the team.

“Timing is hard,” says Janin. “Half of the roster is coming off Stags season, but that also has it’s advantages. They’re already in great shape and have the rhythm.”

Rhino will not meet Northwest front runners Sockeye or Furious George until Regionals in September, another unique aspect of this season. Both teams participated in the US Open in early July and will be at the World Ultimate Club Championships in Italy through this month.

“We’re focusing on ourselves,” comments Janin. “It’s easy to over think all the drama — getting bids, flight, rankings, etc. We really just have to go win games.”

  1. Addison Magness
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    Addison Magness is a Portland-based Ultiworld reporter. This year, she worked as the content manager and lead writer for Major League Ultimate's Portland Stags.

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