The Mixtape Formula: Systems + Athletes = A Championship

A season-long commitment to build trust in their systems paid huge dividends in Seattle's run in Sarasota.

Seattle Mixtape celebrate a goal in the final of the 2017 Club Championships. Photo: Sandy Canetti — UltiPhotos.com

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When I spoke with Seattle Mixtape about how things changed over the years, they mentioned trust, intention, and systems over and over again. Looking back at their 13-12 double game point victory over Philadelphia AMP to claim the 2017 National Championship, systems — and knowing when to break out of them — turned the tide and kept the offense firing down the stretch.

Coming into the season, Mixtape placed renewed emphasis on having offensive sets in place, trusting those sets, and not panicking when faced with defensive intensity. In the past, the release valve was to dial up a deep shot for the D-line and bet that Khalif El-Salaam would come down with it. This season, the offense found ways to release the pressure without switching personnel or relying on jump balls.

At the center of this is Mark Burton, the standout handler — and newly-crowned Mixed Player of the Year — who returned to Mixtape after two years with Seattle Sockeye. Burton has reinvented his game, transitioning from the deep threat he was for Sockeye to a thrower who racks up assists as the steady heart of an, at times, frenetic offense. Limiting that tendency was a key to success for the Seattle O-line, recognizing the need for consistency and reliability to complement the D-line’s explosiveness and love of chaos.

Think of Burton’s role in the offense as similar to what Claire Chastain does for Molly Brown or what Robbie Cahill used to do for Revolver. Whenever the team gets into a high stall count or the offense downfield is not where it needs to be, these players will find a way to get open and end up with the disc in their hands. Whether it be pushing downfield, cutting off the front of the stack, or operating in the dump set, they are the reliable targets, and players with the throws to get out of trouble.

Unlike previous years, though, Seattle now has an offense that knows how to clear space for itself, and stay patient enough to let that space develop. All of that was on display in the national title game against AMP.

Right off the first pull, Mixtape showed what it was capable of:

Mixtape pull play

Mixtape came out in a horizontal stack, but pushed the cutters deep to open up the underneath space and tried to work the middle of the field. The Seattle cutters pushed so deep that they end up out of frame, but Mixtape’s handlers calmly worked the disc laterally, with players fluidly switching between handler and cutter roles. Burton did this, pushing downfield before catching the under from Jesse Bolton and providing the outlet the team needed before AMP could reset. With AMP choosing to back cutters to avoid getting beaten deep, the space opened by Mixtape’s cutters allowed for big yardage gains and open under cuts.

In this situation, most other teams would be content to work the unders and march the disc deliberately towards the end zone, but Mixtape knows both its own strengths and those of the AMP defense. AMP’s pressure on the handler set can easily create blocks and Seattle did not want to give AMP the chance it needed, so instead of staying conservative, Bolton recognized that Seattle had four players behind the disc and attacked the deep space. Grace Noah peeled off from the near sideline, pushing out of that space and leaving her defender at sea. Lani Nguyen occupied her defender so their is not over-the-top help and Mixtape’s patience and awareness of space gave Burton an easy shot to Bolton. Bolton, for his part, has the explosive speed to accelerate past his defender for an easy catch in space. But it is the system opening the space for him to make a play which is the biggest difference.

Trailing 6-5, Mixtape found themselves under pressure, after giving up several breaks and forcing several throws into tight coverage. With the disc in the center of the field and all the cutters too deep, Burton was patient enough to let the stack sort itself out, swinging among handlers rather than forcing a risky pass.

Bolton to Houser huck

Again, Mixtape exhibited the commitment to open up space for cutters and switch between positions seamlessly. Paige Kercher made a good in-cut, though Casey Ikeda did not look ready for it. Bolton’s following cut was just as open and Kercher quickly pushed to the break side to clear any potential poach, giving Bolton the lane to hit Houser deep. Houser started the sequence even with Burton in the backfield, crept up the far side as the play developed, picked his spot to go, and accelerated past his defender into the space left open by the other Mixtape cutters.

The same principles can be seen playing out near the goal line, as well.

Mixtape end zone

Kercher slowed things down, and instead of forcing an around and weaving it through defenders, she hit Nguyen upline after Burton clears that space. Burton started directing traffic from the end zone before collecting a dump from Nguyen, who then cleared out of the force side space. Houser again showed off his quickness to attack the now cleared force-side lane.

Clearing space to let athletes work and having the patience to let a play develop. In the past, Mixtape would often force a floaty throw over the top, or try to jam a throw between multiple defenders. This season, though, the team figured out how to create easier scoring options and remained committed to creating them.

When their commitment to space worked, it produced some incredibly smooth offense and opened up easy scoring opportunities. Down 10-9, Mixtape put together a two-pass hold by recognizing and exploiting a poach. With AMP’s Carolyn Normile poached in front of the thrower, Seattle isolated Abbie Abramovich in a big cutting lane. By maintaining a disciplined side stack and running through their poached women, Abramovich was able to turn and find Kercher in even more space for the easy goal.

Mixtape end zone

Hard to find more open cutters than that. Abramovich has great speed in an open field, but in the past, Mixtape often crowded that space or ended up with men in the deep space, effectively killing that space for their women. It still happened at Nationals this year, and when they reverted back to their old ways, the team ran into trouble.

Spacing and timing are key for any offense, and while Seattle has always had the athletes to make up for some of the hiccups that resulted from their more chaotic, free-flowing strategy of the past, bringing a bit more structure to the fold this season opened up the field for Mixtape to earn easy holds and dig themselves out of any hole they found themselves in. Looking back on how the team approached the season, Seattle reinforced trust in their offensive sets, making sure to stick with the personnel on the O-line instead of making a hurried switch to a different player or different line. They built that trust over a full summer or ups and downs and it paid off in a big way in Sarasota.

Against Slow White — their regular season bugaboo — in the semifinals, Seattle played perhaps their structurally cleanest game of the season, their impeccable spacing meaning almost every throw on offense was to an isolated cutter in open space. After the offense sputtered against AMP’s defensive pressure in the first half of the final, recommitting to the system got the team back on track — Mixtape did not give up a single break after falling behind AMP 5-4. The Seattle offense looked unstoppable to close out the final against Philadelphia AMP, their commitment to a system of creating space for their athletic edge to shine proving to be a big difference in sealing their first championship.

  1. Colin Clauset
    Colin Clauset

    Colin Clauset is a mixed division reporter for Ultiworld and occasional player, most recently for Burnside and Friday Night Couch. Call him out on Twitter at @colinclauset

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