Club Championships 2021: Ring Returns to Semis with Win over Chain (Men’s Quarterfinal)

Chain threw every zone in the book to try and stop Sol Yanuck!

Anders Juengst with a layout catch for Ring in the quarterfinal. Photo: Dan Juengst

Ultiworld’s 2021 coverage of the club men’s division is presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author(s). Find out how Spin can get you, and your team, looking your best this season.

“We know that pressure breaks pipes.”

That’s how Matt Gouchoe-Hanas talks about #3 Raleigh Ring of Fire’s team mindset this season. It was evident on both sides of the disc from the opening pull as Ring put together a complete 14-11 victory over #4 Atlanta Chain Lightning in the quarterfinal.

The Raleigh defense forced Chain out of their comfort zone with tight coverage on the unders by stoppers like Ethan Bloodworth, Connor Russell, Eric Taylor, and Jacob Fairfax. This stopped Chain’s bread-and-butter hucks from motion were stopped before they started. That left two main avenues for them to progress: through a series of resets and swings, or with deep throws from a stand-still.

That was a blessing and a curse for Ring, as both happen to be specialties of Chain’s two late-season roster additions from Florida: Bobby Ley and Andrew Roney. They absorbed the lion’s share of the touches while the rest of Chain’s offense pounded the turf in search of receiving lanes. Ley, in particular, found the necessary courage to take shots that would force Ring to make plays.

For a while, it worked. Parker Bray made a few good catches to save possession, while John Stubbs and Matt Smith managed to get loose and generate some motion. But even when Chain were scoring, they were working really, really hard. “I think that one thing [Ring of Fire] are really strong at is their depth on person-to-person matchups down field. And they also bracketed really well on the unders, and anyways they often had the over the top help. That made us grind it out, grind it out, grind it out,” said Chain Lightning captain John Stubbs.

Meanwhile, the Ring of Fire offense got on and off the field relatively quickly. Anders Juengst was the star in the early going. They dialed up a pull play for him to essentially just sprint 70 yards before the defense could set up. Sol Yanuck launched a backhand to the end zone; it caught a little bit of a tail wind, giving Juengst the opportunity to finish the catch with a huge one-handed layout catch. The Chain zone slowed them and earned a break — once. But for the most part Ryan Osgar, Jack Williams, Gouchoe-Hanas, and Yanuck bounced the disc freely between one another, well out of range of Chain’s traps.

“We talk a lot about how we’re a talented team, and we know that we don’t have to do anything too hard to score on either offense or defense,” said Gouchoe-Hanas.

As the first half ended, the put-upon Chain offense showed signs of fraying. Ring finished the half on a 5-1 run.

“We tried to throw ourselves out of it instead of grinding ourselves out of it,” said Chain Lightning head coach Miranda Knowles. Knowles and the rest of the Atlanta coaching staff decided that stopping Yanuck would be the best way to throw Ring’s offense off their game. To that end, they deployed a box-and-one strategy: two levels of three players in zone, and Brett Hulsmeyer taking the one-on-one Yanuck assignment. It was a bizarre twist for an elimination game at Club Nationals, but you can’t say Knowles misdiagnosed the problem.

Throughout the Ring O-line’s various phases of excellence in the game, Yanuck was the constant. He is somehow both steady and deadly in his first season as the team’s center handler. By the second half, he transcended to a whole other level from his peers. During a grinding zone point late in the game, Yanuck simply had enough. He put an almost vertical hammer up into the clouds — with the crosswind still blowing. It came down like a missile right to a standing Henry Fisher.

Chain made one last push to claw back into the game. The defense managed flip Ring’s O-line topsy-turvy: Fisher ended up firing a long shot to Osgar, rather than vice versa and it didn’t work out. Chain capitalized on the turnover to bring the game within two points.

Chain didn’t have any legs left after that. Ring ran up the field in five or six throws without difficulty. Yanuck notched the final assist.

With this win Ring put themselves in a very familiar place: the club nationals semifinal.

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

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