The Pro Flight Finale, expected to be the Triple Crown Tour's marquee event, may take on a slightly different vibe this year as some teams return from Worlds. Nonetheless, eight of the world's best will be looking to build confidence and learn about their main rivals -- who are likely to be quarter and semifinal opponents at Nationals.
August 28, 2014 by Alec Surmani in Preview with 5 comments
As the last tune-up opportunity before the postseason effectively kicks off next week, the Pro Flight Finale serves as the last chance for teams to play elite competition and find out what they need to work on before Nationals rolls around in October.
Though all of the eight squads in attendance at Burlington, WA this weekend will surely be using the event for such a purpose, there’s no doubt that even with all the experimentation, these teams want to win.
Last year, a scrappy Toronto GOAT with only 16 players weathered the 90+ degree heat in Davis, CA to capture the Pro Flight Finale title. Despite going 1-2 on Saturday, the Canadian powerhouse turned it up on Sunday with impressive wins over Ironside, Sockeye, and Doublewide to walk away with the crown, despite very few picking them as the victors coming into the weekend.
Likewise, 2014 could similarly play host to a huge upset, as the tournament format offers all teams a chance to rise up on Sunday, as long as they can put the pieces together for bracket play.
To up the ante even more, with the USA Ultimate rankings for the men’s division currently something of a jumble right now, the winner of the tournament could very well be crowned the winner of the regular season.
It’s sure to be a crazy weekend.
World Champs Look to Continue Hot Streak
When a team comes into a weekend having won each of its last three tournaments, it brings with it a certain advantage and confidence. When those tournaments are Nationals, U.S. Open, and Worlds respectively, and when that team is San Francisco Revolver, they come in as favorites.
Yet, despite this, last year San Francisco struggled a bit at the Pro Flight Finale. After taking a surprising loss to GOAT in the first round, Revolver bounced back to win their pool. Their quarters match against Doublewide, however, slipped away from them, and before they knew it they had once again lost to the defending champs and were left to fight for fifth.
Such an occurrence is not something Revolver is eager to repeat. Though they suffered a few big losses on the year, such as Mac Taylor and Eric Greenwood, 2014 pick-ups like Simon Higgins, Eli Kerns, and Greg Cohen have been repeatedly stepping up. Revolver look as poised and disciplined as ever.
Their pool might provide some rough challenges with Ironside, Machine, and GOAT all looking to upset the world champs, but Revolver should have enough firepower to earn themselves a solid footing for Sunday.
Sockeye Seeking Big Wins
Teams like Revolver and Johnny Bravo, and even Ironside and Machine, might garner a little more attention for their stacked rosters and supposed potential. But Seattle Sockeye nevertheless consistently find ways to prove that their program knows how to win.
After a somewhat mixed showing at the U.S. Open, where they bested Johnny Bravo in pool play only to miss semis based on match-ups, the Fish surged back to make it to the finals of Worlds, losing to Revolver 15-17 in a game that could have gone either way.
Anyone who’s witnessed Seattle play this season, or really any time over the last few years, knows that it’s terribly difficult to count them out of any situation. Their relentless movement on offense and flurry of different defensive looks, both of which function on a foundation of great chemistry, ensure that they’re never too far away from clawing their way back into any contest.
With their solid history of making semis at the Pro Flight Finale last year, as well as winning the tournament in 2012 when it was still the Labor Day Championships, one can expect another solid performance from Sockeye in 2014.
Bravo Eying Elusive Tournament Victory
Though coming into the 2014 as perhaps the biggest story in the division due to their massive offseason moves, Denver’s Johnny Bravo have fallen just short of living up to the full hype so far. To be fair though, their only two significant losses on the season have come at the hands of Revolver, in the finals of the U.S. Open and the semifinals of Worlds.
Every new match-up of the two behemoths, and every new loss that Denver suffers, only further stokes the fires of one of the sport’s greatest rivalries. Look for this one to be the most heated yet.
Captain Ryan Farrell said his team will be using this tournament to get as many reps as possible against top competition before the series starts, and as an opportunity to further test out a number of different defensive looks to disrupt opponents’ pull plays and general offensive flow.
Unlike the U.S. Open, where they were missing a number of huge playmakers like Josh Ackley, Nick Lance, Brodie Smith, and Hilke and Hidde Snieder, Bravo will make the trek to Burlington with a fuller roster, making them that much more dangerous.
Though they have a tough pool, it wouldn’t too surprising to see them take care of Sockeye, Doublewide, and Chain Lightning on Saturday, effectively placing them in good position for a deep run on Sunday.
Ironside Back in Full Force
Historically, Pro Flight Finale has been something of an anomaly for Boston Ironside. Last year, after winning their pool, they got roasted by GOAT 9-15, then lost Ring of Fire and Chain Lightning in the placement brackets to finish dead last.
Sure, they were missing key pieces like Josh Markette and Russell Wallack. But it was tough to pinpoint just what shipwrecked the Boston squad that would go on to finish third in the nation just two months later.
Ironside are confident 2014 will be a different story.
“We are excited to have our most complete 2014 roster yet,” Wallack said, “and continue to fine-tune both offensively and defensively.”
Indeed, looking at Boston’s key pick-ups like Brian Garcia, John Stubbs, Jeremy Nixon, and Jeff Babbitt, the last two of which have yet to play a tournament with them in the U.S., such a turnaround seems entirely likely.
If they can improve upon their dynamic offense that already looked fairly assured at the U.S. Open, and figure out a way to convert more break opportunities, Ironside could very well set a powerful tone for themselves heading into the series.
Machine Ready to Break Through
Over the past few years, Chicago Machine has morphed from a solid Nationals contender floating around the general quarterfinals area to a team pounding on the door of a semifinals berth.
They managed to make it to semis of last year’s Pro Flight Finale thanks to a 15-9 smashing of Chain Lightning in quarters. This year, they’ll be looking to break through and win the toughest tournament of the regular season.
Chicago’s two previous tournaments yielded convincing results. After being soundly defeated by Chain Lightning in pool play 7-13, Machine stormed back to beat them in the finals of Chesapeake Invite 13-8.
About six weeks later, Chicago went 4-1 at a truncated Heavyweights, losing only to Madison Club in a 9-11 thriller that served as the final after all the weather delays forced a modified format.
The vast majority of Chicago’s victories this season, however, have come in pretty clear fashion. Conscious of keeping them in perspective though, Captain Kevin Kelly said his team is excited about the chance to finally play some of the teams that finished in the top four last year, and the opportunity will give Machine their toughest tests of the season thus far.
With Revolver and Ironside both in Machine’s pool, along with the always dangerous GOAT, to start Saturday, Chicago will indeed have their work cut out for them.
Chain Lightning Looking for Postseason Momentum
For a team that year after year remains among the top programs in the country and also made it to the finals of the only tournament they’ve attended so far, Chain Lightning have had something of a quiet season to date.
Part of that is due to the Triple Crown Tour format, where elite teams that don’t qualify for the U.S. Open or Worlds often don’t get too many opportunities to play against other squads during the regular season. Nevertheless, though they have only played one game against a team that finished in the top six last year, one shouldn’t count them out of contention for this weekend.
The loss of Dylan Tunnell and a few other key players, however, complicates matters. If Atlanta hope to improve upon their seventh place finish at last year’s tournament, they’ll need to find, and maintain, their signature deep game throughout the weekend.
If they can’t manage to hit their marks, or if opponents figure out a way to push them under and muscle Chain Lightning out of their gamestyle, it could be a long weekend for the perennial Southeast giants, especially with juggernauts like Sockeye, Johnny Bravo, and Doublewide in their pool.
Doublewide Hungry for Return to Glory
Though only going 3-3 on the weekend, Doublewide turned in an excellent performance at last year’s Pro Flight Finale. A 15-11 upset of Revolver in the quarters set a strong tone that would have carried them to a title, had they not run into a red hot Toronto GOAT squad in the finals.
Doublewide couldn’t manage to hold that momentum all the way through the postseason, however, as they dropped to Johnny Bravo in the quarters of Nationals in a tight 15-13 match, despite beating them on universe at South Central Regionals.
With some of the pressure of repeating as national champions relieved, perhaps Austin can return to their status as a top contender with a convincing performance in Burlington this weekend.
Their fifth place finish at Chesapeake Invite doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence though. Moreover, the loss of big names like Kurt Gibson, Alex Thorne, and Tyler Degirolamo makes the task of returning to their former status as the best in the nation that much more difficult.
Their newfound underdog status, however, could perhaps spark their newcomers looking to earn respect and a name for themselves to come out that much hungrier.
If they can manage to come out focused and convert their chances, Doublewide could find themselves with a solid chance to further prove that 2012 was no fluke.
GOAT Primed for Repeat
Despite being the defending Pro Flight Finale champions, Toronto’s GOAT come into the tournament this year as the bottom seed and in great need of a boost going into the postseason.
Their run last year, coming in as a fifth seed with an attending roster of sixteen, featured impressive wins over Revolver, Ironside, Sockeye, and Doublewide. Three of their four victories were over teams that made it to the semis (or better) of Nationals just two months later. 2014, however, may be a different story.
In 2013, GOAT were coming off a 6-1 Chesapeake Invite where they only missed the semis on point differential. This year, Toronto’s coming off a Chesapeake Invite, held a full month earlier, where they went 3-4 without a margin of victory greater than two points in any of those wins.
Still, the final tournament of the regular season has been known for its surprises, aided in part by the format. Even if a squad turns in a rough Saturday, if they can just string it together for a few games, they can find themselves victors come Sunday afternoon, much like GOAT did last year.
Toronto Coach Scott Hastie said his team will once again be making the trip with a smaller roster. Yet, even with all the AUDL and Worlds overlap also making it difficult to secure large numbers at practice, Hastie said that if his team can click early this weekend, they’ll be in a good shape to defend their title.