Truck Stop blew out Temper. Then Temper blew out Garden State. Low drama, but some big takeaways.
September 29, 2014 by Simon Pollock in News, Recap with 10 comments
POOLESVILLE, MD — Though there was a small shakeup in the backdoor bracket this weekend, the dust settled on Regionals with what most expected. The first slot went convincingly to top seed D.C. Truck Stop, a perennial power who locked in a commanding 15-7 victory over Pittsburgh Temper late Sunday morning. Shortly afterward, the reinvented Temper clobbered Princeton’s Garden State Ultimate 15-4, and easily wrapped up the second bid. Both teams were dominant, easily separating themselves from the rest of the competition when a bid was on the line. Neither team, however, looked flawless.
Truck Stop Takes The Top Spot
D.C. Truck Stop had something — in fact, a lot of something — to prove coming into this weekend. It was clear in conversations with team leaders earlier this week that the Mid-Atlantic powerhouse was doing some soul-searching. An up and down performance during the regular season left Truck a major question mark: they hadn’t managed many decisive wins, the offensive system wasn’t quite installed, and the defense was only showing glimpses of excellence.
But beyond the field, Truck Stop has spent this season putting in the mental work to become a better team. “We’ve been working really hard, not just on spirit of the game and team connections, but also on the technical part of that,” said head coach Will Smolinski after winning the Regional title. “If somebody comes to you and gives you feedback: how to accept it, how to do it, and then moving on and implementing it.”
Those are promising signs from a team that knew entering this season that they had a bit of a rep — a history that said D.C. could always field a group of very talented players, but with pressure mounting in big games, might devolve into a smattering of individual efforts, at times disjointed. Both captain Johnathan Neeley and Smolinski have mentioned their refreshed mental approach this season, and the team seemed to be locked in throughout the win over Pittsburgh.
Though the final score shows that D.C. took complete control, the first nine points of the game looked a lot different. Nearly every point for both teams came after five passes or fewer, with massive hucks defying the direction of the wind and landing just inside or on the goal line. D.C.’s Peter Prial asserted himself with a huge sky on a deep shot from Calvin Oung and came crashing down in the endzone for the first point of the game — he would have a few more huge catches throughout the matchup.
Pittsburgh answered quickly, sending Tyler Degirolamo deep to the goal line, where he found an easy continuation for the 1-1 goal. He and D.C. Breeze teammate Alex Thorne would remain relatively quiet for the rest of the game however, as Pittsburgh seemed uncomfortable to go to their bench until later in the game and continued to send their starters out to contend with D.C.
Veteran cutter and well-known deep threat Jeff Wodatch went to work for D.C., reeling in three of Truck’s first five points and combining with Prial to be a brutal down-field duo. On the other side of the disc, D.C. sent the exact same defensive line out for the first four or five points, anchored by captain David Cranston and Keven Moldenhauer. The first noticeable changes to that line came at 5-4 D.C., when Truck secured a turn an converted a break to make it 6-4, and never looked back.
“We knew athletically that we were probably in a good spot on defense, and that we could go fourteen deep,” said Smolinski when asked about the defensive game plan. Their depth was highlighted by some of those D-line substitutions, as Chip Cobb came up with an especially impressive set of blocks and bookends scores to push the lead to 11-5 late in the game.
Just after midday on Sunday, everything seemed to be clicking for D.C., and Pittsburgh started to pull their starters in preparation for their next game. Truck’s uphill battles have focused around proving their worth to themselves and gaining confidence, and their performance this weekend showed progress.
“Generally in the ultimate community we call it spirit, and we’ve had pretty good spirit this year, but even better is that we’ve been great teammates to each other,” said Smolinski. “Not just supporting each other, but accepting feedback.” Whether that will be enough to stand up to the heavyweights in Frisco this year is still up in the air.
Temper Worthy Of The Two Seed
Pittsburgh Temper may not have been prepared for Truck Stop on Sunday, but they were prepared to set the tone as the clear number two in the region. After giving a break to Garden State Ultimate off a miscue swing, Alex Thorne stepped behind the disc to go every other pass for 50 yards, before dishing it off to Degirolamo, who then tossed in a goal to Max Thorne. The familiar Pitt stars were back, and ready to return to Nationals.
During the next point, the adrenaline Garden State had carried with them after their emotional upset of Philadelphia Patrol minutes before seemed to wear off, as two offensive line players took injuries while grinding with the Temper defense. Pittsburgh’s Nick Kaczmarek got a statement handblock during that point, and the defense converted their first break of the game.
Trent Dillon and Marcus Ranii-Dropcho took over the next time around, working the disc quickly and consistently down the field, building up confidence that would lead into a rash of breaks; Temper took half 8-2. They clearly had something to prove after a thumping loss to Truck Stop, and their team stepped up through the rest of the game, securing their own blowout win against the New Jersey squad.1
“It was really eye opening, the game against Truck,” said Temper coach Stuart Kellner later in the afternoon. Looking back at the day, coach Dave Lionetti also took the win against GSU in stride. “The Truck Stop game is going to leave an impression on us. Essentially, we did our job [this weekend]. We came in as the two seed and held seed. That’s something to be proud of, but not excited about.”
Both coaches were tuned in on Temper’s overall season goals, particularly the team’s commitment to growing and improving into a quarters-worthy team at Club Championships. “The focus shifted from a team that was developing talent for the Pitt college team,” said Lionetti. “The goal for the Oakland team that made nationals in 2011 was to develop those college players, so it’s no coincidence that we went on to win college nationals the following year. That team met its goal. The problem was that the goal never changed over the next two years, and it became stale.
“We were ready for the transition this year. We were ready for a new goal.”
The attitude shift is what the coaches say brought back Thorne, Degirolamo, Eddie Peters, and Rob Dulabon. The players got together and agreed they were ready for change and wanted to focus on becoming a perennial club power. In the game against Garden State (and in Saturday’s double-game point win over Philadelphia Patrol), the investment was starting to pay off. According to Kellner and Lionetti, Temper players spent the season running two track workouts a week, and practicing both days on the weekend, a remarkable commitment in the club world where older players have to negotiate work and family life with team demands.
The buy-in is certainly there, with solid leadership from coaches, and constant analysis from team captains. “One thing I would say about the leadership of this team, is that between Trent [Dillon] and Nick [Kaczmarek], you have two of the most thoughtful Ultimate players in the country,” said Lionetti. “They never stop thinking, adjusting, and analyzing.”
It’s an interesting spot to be in for a — technically — first-year club team. Their overall performance was a statement that they can play at a national level, but the misstep against Truck Stop cannot be ignored as Temper heads back to practice in the next couple of weeks. It was a big loss against a team that has truly been on that national stage before, and we’ll need to see a bit more depth from this younger Pittsburgh squad for them to show up as any kind of contender at Nationals.
– Garden State were clearly the hot team this weekend. They took their seven seed and — presto — turned it into a third place finish with a big upset over Philadelphia Patrol and taking top select in the Mid-Atlantic for next season’s Triple Crown Tour. GSU were lightning fast all weekend, and put up 11 on Temper on Saturday. Definitely look for Garden State to reload in anticipation of owning their Select status next year.
– Patrol is not Southpaw. The Philly team of old was militaristic in their conditioning under coach Jeff Snader. A year off from club, and the split of players between the AUDL’s Phoenix and MLU’s Spinners can’t have helped Philly in their return to the club scene. Patrol looked strong and confident at times this weekend, but one has to wonder if Snader’s influence would have ironed out the weaknesses that allowed Garden State to steal a pair of late breaks in the 3/4 game and end Patrol’s season.
– Even so, Philadelphia would have been our pick to challenge Pittsburgh for the second bid. Their size and experience were trouble for Temper on Saturday, and Patrol’s fall on Sunday might be more a result of inconsistency than anything else. Patrol may have had the chops to push Temper a bit more on Sunday than GSU, who quickly flamed out after their statement win and looked relatively small matched up against Pittsburgh.
– Medicine Men held seed at five this weekend and were unable to stay close enough with GSU on Sunday morning. They had trouble dialing in their offense, and watched the game slip away on account of a few big drops.
– While Med Men battled against GSU, Pittsburgh Dire Wolf got another shot at Patrol Sunday morning, and almost had it. Dire Wolf converted a break late in the game to nearly put the game back on serve, but their offense bled breaks at the wrong time; two of Philly’s last three goals came from short field turnovers.
The men’s division here in the Mid-Atlantic has yielded two clear favorites, D.C. Truck Stop and Pittsburgh Temper. Both teams are in mental flux in 2014, shirking reputations that have dogged the elite clubs from both cities for years now. Leaders from each side have admitted to new approaches to mental focus and a more nuanced plan for growth as elite club teams.
Both got dominating wins in their games for bids, executing their game plans and taking control. Still, neither team has had major success this season against other elite squads, and they’ll both head back to practice this week with plenty of things to work on.
Additional reporting from Tad Wissel.
Garden State Ultimate was playing without notable deep threat Marques Brownlee (hand), although it’s not clear that his presence would have been enough to turn the table on Temper. ↩