Revolver & Sockeye To Meet Again In Potentially Classic Final

Revolver's Beau Kittredge scores against Sockeye's Danny Karlinsky at Worlds 2014. Photo: Kevin Leclaire --
Revolver’s Beau Kittredge scores against Sockeye’s Danny Karlinsky at Worlds 2014. Photo: Kevin Leclaire —

In an odd tournament filled with surprise upsets, formatting issues, and a sprinkling of controversy, this makes sense: Sockeye vs Revolver, for all the marbles. It’s a classic rivalry — a battle between two of the top ultimate programs over the past 10 years, and it pits two of the top fan bases and communities in all of ultimate against each other. These two teams regularly meet at WUCCs, the finals of TCT events, and now they are meeting in the USAU Club Championship game for the second time in three years. This is a game with some pedigree.

Not just that, but at this point in the season, these two teams are simply playing the best ultimate in the Men’s Division. Besides a puzzling near-loss to Madison Club in quarters, Sockeye’s dynamic offense has been unstoppable all weekend, and Revolver….well….they are playing like the team everyone expected to see. They are clinical almost beyond belief, notching just four turns on offense in their entire semis game against Machine, leaving no doubt that they would win a game in which Machine frankly played very well. That’s Revolver. You can play a pretty damn good game against them, and they will still beat you.

If Revolver has a fault, it’s that they take themselves almost too seriously. However, there seems to be a more concerted effort to relax and enjoy the ride this year. They know they are good, they hold themselves to a high standard, but at the same time, they are going to the movies before games (Mike Payne gave The Martian four stars) and dancing to the PA music during half time. It feels like a Revolver team that’s having just a bit more fun than in past years.

Sockeye, on the other hand, has never had a problem having a good time. They cheer about Blue’s Clues when they bust up a zone, they choreograph post-goal celebrations (some of which involve a hubcap, some of which involve grass from the field), and their sideline chatter is perhaps the strongest in all of ultimate. There seems to be a sort of irreverence about the Fish that teams like Revolver just can’t get close to, despite how loose they try to be.

The Artist And The Engineer

Sockeye plays what most people refer to as “small ball.” Handler centered, throwing from movement, and constantly changing the angle of attack. There isn’t an open throw that they will look off. They’ve got tremendous talent at the handler spot, and their offense is clearly initiated from the backfield. Danny Karlinsky is one of the best in the Division, and Aly Lenon and Mario O’Brien fill out a handler set that is creative and dynamic, but also reliable. However, their downfield options add a slightly different facet to their attack than in years past.

Phil Murray has been huge for them all tournament, dropping back to provide a bigger body with disc skills, and he actually leads them in assists. Matt Rehder is still Matt Rehder. However, Ray Illian, back from retirement, and Zane Rankin, a recent transplant, are what’s making their offense more dangerous this weekend. Illian’s combo of speed and IQ makes him almost unguardable. On the other end of the spectrum, Rankin is good for at least one jaw dropping flick huck or massive sky per game. He’s the definition of explosive, and adds an element of unpredictability into their cutting corps.

Whereas Sockeye’s offense is like an abstract painting, Revolver’s feels like a machine. They approach offense like it’s “a problem to be solved” in the words of Payne. Whatever defense they face, they tinker, strategize, and apply well timed cut after well timed cut in order to beat whatever gets thrown at them.

When you have downfield tools like Beau Kittredge, Simon Higgins, Christian Johnson, and throwers like Ashlin Joye (6A against Machine)  and Cassidy Rasmussen (8G, 17A at Nationals), you would be hard pressed to find a problem that offense couldn’t solve. Sockeye will have their hands full, but if anybody is up to the task of coming up with something that can stump Revolver, it’s the boys from Seattle. 

Containment Strategies

Revolver is faster than Sockeye (and most teams) at numerous positions. Seattle knows this, and they probably aren’t coming down playing man. Who knows exactly what Sockeye will be doing, but expect to see fronting cutters, sagging on handlers, Reid Koss patrolling deep, and at least one possession of four man cup. In their earlier game this season, the primarily look was a three man fronting defense on the cutters, with a single deep, but Sockeye is creative enough that there is no guarantee we will see that again.

Seattle’s artistry on offense should be a different, but perhaps equally difficult beast for Revolver to contain. Seattle’s offense is like “Machine’s on steroids,” according to Payne, due to their dynamic handlers and constant motion. You’ve gotta start with tight defense on the handlers, which Payne notes they had good practice for in their game against Machine, containing the squirrelly duo of Brett Matzuka and Bob Liu.  They got their looks, but were definitely less productive than they had been against Bravo or Ring.

Revolver’s middle mark zone, featuring the massive Nathan White as their mark, should also make an appearance. They tend to use it as a pace change, so expect to see it whenever Sockeye starts to get in any sort of rhythm.

Revolver Or The Field?

This was the question everyone was asking all week: can anybody knock out Revolver? So far, the closest anyone has gotten is Truck Stop in quarters, and just like everyone expected, Revolver is back in the finals, and it’s not a stretch to say they are the favorite.

Sockeye as an underdog, though? Dangerous. Their energy and camaraderie is off the charts. If they can hang around with that dynamic offense of theirs, their sideline energy is going to build. Their defense will be foaming at the mouth, and suddenly, one errant Revolver throw, or one Seattle poach, and the game turns. They have enough veterans to remain poised; they have enough young athletes to be dangerous. When a team with the pedigree and history that Sockeye does has the chance to be the team playing with house money, you can guarantee they aren’t going to be an easy out.

The bottom line is this: they play dramatically different styles of ultimate, and embody very different philosophies, but these two storied programs should give us quite the game this afternoon.

  1. Scott Dollen

    Scott Dollen is a reporter for Ultiworld. He graduated from Gonzaga University and captained the ultimate team there for four years. He currently lives in Austin, and plays for Riverside Ultimate. You can reach him on twitter @dollensw

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