Rattled: How PoNY Took Down Sockeye

How the #1 men's team got knocked out early!

New York PoNY vs. Seattle Sockeye in semifinals at the 2021 Club Championships. Photo: Jeff Bell -- UltiPhotos.com
New York PoNY vs. Seattle Sockeye in semifinals at the 2021 Club Championships. Photo: Jeff Bell — UltiPhotos.com

Sion “Brummie” Scone of Flik ultimate gives his analysis from filmed games at USAU Club Nationals. This content is available for free courtesy of Flik!

The Pride of New York vs Seattle Sockeye men’s semifinal at the 2021 Club Championships was the only semifinal covered by ESPN that was available outside the USA, and it was a hotly anticipated rematch of the 2018 semifinal which went to double game point. This year’s game wasn’t even close, as PoNY smashed a Sockeye team whose offense never clicked and defense rarely had an impact.

Everyone was expecting this matchup between the two most recent champions to be a thriller; instead, it was practically over after eight points. What happened?

The Data

Firstly, I ran some stats.

PoNY’s offense played nine points, scoring six without a turnover — good for a 67% “perfect conversion rate.” Of the remaining three, they were only broken once. That means their “recovery rate” was 67%, and overall O-line scoring rate of 89%. That’s superb, and the kind of efficiency you expect of a championship contender. In comparison, Sockeye’s offense played 14 points, scoring just five without a turn, a 36% perfect conversion rate. Of the remaining nine, they were broken seven times. That means their recovery rate was 22%, and overall O-line scoring rate was 50%. The immediate read of this was that Sockeye crumbled under PoNY’s defensive pressure, and were very rarely able to get the disc back.

Sockeye’s defense got the disc in three points, managing just one break, a conversion rate of 33%. In contrast, PoNY’s defense got the disc 13 times in nine points and managed seven breaks, a conversion rate of 78% and a perfect conversion of 67%, meaning six of those breaks were scored without turning over.

It’s fair to say then, that PoNY’s offense – on both offense and defense lines – was a major contributing factor to their victory. Generally speaking, New York were very efficient at scoring. Watching the game, it was clear that most of these breaks were not long grinds, or multiple turnover points. New York’s defensive line rarely needed to throw a lot of passes to score. Offense looked easy for them. But why? Well, frankly they were taking advantage of a disjointed Seattle defense. PoNY didn’t need an immaculate reset system, in fact they rarely reset the disc. They didn’t need to. They barely even needed to break a mark. They were consistently able to get free on the open side. New York’s fast break offense was effective at moving before Seattle could react:

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When you score easily, it increases the pressure that your opponents feel. They will be very aware that any error they make will be quickly converted into a break. As Sockeye made more and more errors, they became more disjointed both offensively and defensively. In short, they were rattled. Recovering from a mental lapse is very challenging for an individual, but when it takes over your team, it can be catastrophic. Individuals start to second guess everything, from their individual ability to the team plan. As soon as a player no longer trusts their teammates, they begin to make simple errors like trying to cover more than one person, poaching independently of their teammates, and generally trying to do too much. Sometimes it is the other way around, players are so overwhelmed with the speed of their demise that they’re like rabbits in the headlights, caught in no man’s land trying to make a decision.

While this was truly PoNY’s victory, frankly it would be dull to go into details of their offense in this game (although a more detailed analysis of their dominator sets is on the cards). On this occasion they mostly just took what they were given, and they were extremely patient. New York’s first turn came at 6-2, and they managed 12 turnover free goals from 15. It’s elite level stuff and it is why they were able to go to the wire in the final.

For me, the main reason for the huge score disparity in this game was that Seattle crumbled under the pressure. PoNY took down Revolver in the 2018 final using an innovative defensive scheme that took the reigning champions by surprise. They achieved pretty much the same thing in 2021 using simple one-to-one matchups, prioritizing intensity over sophistication. Sockeye had already shown their ability to break down poaching schemes many times, so moving away from that type of defense was a smart move. The only surprise to me was how poorly Sockeye dealt with the level of intensity that PoNY brought. I’m going to explore some of the issues I saw from Seattle.1

Sockeye arguably started better than PoNY. Seattle’s first point was slick offensive point from Seattle, while New York required a very long, grinding point to draw level. In the following point, Sockeye again looked smooth until the red zone, when a simple miscommunication on a dump gave PoNY their first break and a 2-1 lead. In the next point, Montague just sat on the disc for eight seconds without looking anywhere other than his intended cutter (whom I assume is Janin, although he’s out of shot). Montague ended up throwing deep to no-one; another miscommunication error. He could have thrown to Freechild, or turned to engage a reset. New York broke again.

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Fortunately, Sockeye weren’t rattled yet. Their next point was a confident hold, with frequent handler resets executed to perfection. PoNY’s offense took the field again, and took 16 passes to score. After eight, they were still at their own brick. Sockeye’s defense was stifling, but it was matched by PoNY’s patience, and New York held. On the following point, Janin overthrew Freechild deep, and PoNY slowly worked their way against Sockeye’s ineffective poaching. Another poor deep throw – this time a 50-50 ball to Rehder/Jagt – saw PoNY break again to go up 6-2.

So what was going wrong for Seattle?

They missed more throws in one half than they probably did in some tournaments. And yes, we should give credit to PoNY’s defense, but PoNY hadn’t actually got a block yet. They were, however, inside the heads of their opponents. One key factor in building pressure on your opponent is to take advantage of any break opportunities, and clearly this is one area that PoNY were absolutely perfect at the start of this game. New York were three for three on break opportunities at the start.

For elite teams like Sockeye, this type of simple error shouldn’t cause them any issues. They should be able to right the ship and get back on with things. Instead, it seemed that the pressure just kept piling on and it appeared largely self-inflicted. Throws were simply too far from their intended targets, or released at the moment the receiver changed direction. The amount of defensive pressure is largely irrelevant if you’re going to throw to no-one.

PoNY never let their foot off the gas, and continued to pile on with some spectacular defensive plays like this from Jibran Mieser:

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Mieser actually got two blocks this point, as New York had two turns as soon as they picked up the disc. At half-time, Bryan Jones said that PoNY’s D-line were sometimes a little wasteful and could have stretched the lead further. In the following point, New York’s offense turned the disc for the first (and second) time, giving Seattle their first break. At 6-4, was a comeback be in the cards?

Being blunt, Sockeye had been playing really badly but were only down by two. Their defense was easily capable of getting them back into this game, and the next few points were absolutely critical. PoNY showed the benefit of a really short memory by confidently running a dominator the full length of the pitch to go up 7-4, then on the following point Montague again locked in entirely on Janin. He didn’t look anywhere else, and again there were no other cuts available. He got handblocked on a high release backhand, and again Sockeye seemed disjointed with their end zone defense, leaving a wide open player to catch a goal off the dump swing.

2

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New York took half 8-4, and the game was basically over.

Disjointed Seattle Defense

Let’s talk a little about Sockeye’s O-line defense. It was bad. Their poaching & switching just wasn’t up to par. Perhaps the wind had dropped significantly, and of course we should give credit to New York’s ability to quickly find gaps in defensive coverage. But frankly, Sockeye made things too easy for PoNY after they turned the disc over.

Time and time again, PoNY were able to take free throws to the open side, hitting undefended players with easy passes to move the disc. Often, there were complete communication breakdowns in the Sockeye defense, with player left completely unguarded. Here are a few examples. Firstly, Pony scored with two passes down the sideline. The first pass is to a player open by at least ten yards, the second thrown to Ben Jagt in the end zone who has been left wide open:

https://gfycat.com/SentimentalShortAmazontreeboa

This next example shows how New York’s cutters can run straight past their defenders over and over again to get the disc on the open side, with Seattle players wrong-footed, out of position, or simply jogging:

https://gfycat.com/FabulousWarmHoopoe

Look at the defensive positioning on Jimmy Mickle. The force is backhand but his defender is on his left. That means it’s just a foot race to the open side to put the disc in the hands of PoNY’s best handler. I just don’t understand the reasoning behind this type of defense. Then we have Chris Kocher wrong-footing his defender to score. Never turn your back on the person you’re guarding, but also why does the defender commit so hard to charge back to Kocher after he stumbles? It makes it far too easy to blow straight by him for the goal:

https://gfycat.com/ShockingPracticalGalapagostortoise

In this example, PoNY attempt a fast break but don’t move the disc very quickly. Yet even after a reset, we see two New York cutters get open downfield, running straight past Sockeye defenders to get big yardage gaining throws on the open side. It’s all far too easy:

https://gfycat.com/PotableMammothHartebeest

If you’re going to play a clam type defense in the end zone, then the most important spot to defend is the front of the end zone. Montague is set up to defend against the line cut, but no one is backing him up to prevent this easy dump & swing:

https://gfycat.com/AngelicHandyAdmiralbutterfly

This is a laughably easy offensive hold for PoNY. Mickle is open by 10 yards on that first under:

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This next clip shows a poor defensive setup from Sockeye. With lane poaches, the only place that Mickle is a threat is under. Why is he being backed? Sockeye were happy to switch and had plenty of other defenders to help with a deep threat. Instead, they allowed PoNY to put the disc in the hands of their best player while gaining yards. Mickle threw a 20+ yard gainer to Kocher.

https://gfycat.com/WindyCompassionateInsect

Sockeye appeared to be forcing straight up, which is pretty much the worst way to defend against a dominator because it allows leading passes to both sides of the field. At one moment it appears they are settled with a backhand mark, then the mark switched to the other side of the field, allowing PoNY to switch the field to Garvey. Dillon spotted an open side threat and left Randolph unguarded in the end zone, so Mickle threw right over him.

https://gfycat.com/OrangeRaggedGallowaycow

After Sockeye’s defense dropped the disc, they were in complete disarray. Their lack of urgency in finding defensive assignments was noticed by the commentary team. This is another example of a fast break offense used to strike before the defense can get organized:

https://gfycat.com/ClosedImpoliteBrant

I’ve never seen anything like this from Sockeye, who are usually so confident and intense.

Reset Turns

Undoubtedly, Sockeye struggled with their resets. The first turn came from a simple miscommunication, Mac Hecht throwing the disc just as Simon Montague changed direction:

https://gfycat.com/PotableBelovedGreathornedowl

This reset from Janin was too far for Montague:

https://gfycat.com/RegalFamiliarAsianwaterbuffalo

This give-go move was executed a little too casually:

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However, the number of confident resets run by the Seattle offense is far too many to list. New York’s handler pressure got a few turns, but there were bigger problems with Sockeye’s offense.

Huck Turns

Let’s look at some of the Seattle turns throwing long. All of these have something in common:

Rehder underthrew Janin: the throw was shorter than ideal, but Janin did not attempt to box out and was easily skied while trying to reach backwards for the disc:

https://gfycat.com/ReflectingSentimentalDartfrog

Childs-Walker to Coolman: again this throw should ideally have been further to the left side of the field, but Coolman placed himself right underneath the disc, making it difficult to attack:

https://gfycat.com/ImpressionableConstantGardensnake

Nick Stuart misread this Montague huck, going up too early when he really didn’t need to:

https://gfycat.com/BabyishBlankAsianelephant

All of those throws could have been caught with better boxing out, like this masterclass from Revolver’s Tom Doi:

https://gfycat.com/TatteredSparklingAcornweevil

Stuart to Freechild: the throw was aimed at the back side of the receiver, but it’s so close to Freechild that he doesn’t quite know what to do with it, turning in an attempt to run it down and losing track of it. Freechild’s movement denied his defender a bid at the disc, but that ends up being irrelevant since he couldn’t make a bid himself:

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This one was just thrown too far:

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With all of them, the cutter ends up directly under the flight of the disc. Whether this is because of a failure to box out (Coolman, Stuart, Janin) or because the throw was too close to the receiver (Stuart, Rehder), it’s definitely not the sharp offense we’re used to from Sockeye. Were these “in system” turns, or desperation throws from a team who were on the ropes? Some of them should be easy enough for elite throwers to execute, and I can’t help but think that the mental battle was being lost when I see so many errors from such a great squad.

At 11-6, despite another turnover, Sockeye hold serve, then their D line generate a turnover with an arrowhead zone. It’s 11-7, Seattle have a chance to bring the game within 3, and realistically it’s a must score scenario. Cometh the moment, cometh the man: Chris Kocher’s spectacular block felt like the nail in the coffin for Sockeye, and it proved to be the last time that Sockeye’s D line touched the disc. New York would break twice more on the way to a crushing 14-8 win.

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While this article has focused largely on Sockeye, ultimately their opponent caused these issues. Under pressure, cracks show, and PoNY did a phenomenal job of creating crushing pressure that just never let up.

You can read more analysis of these teams and plenty more over at Flik.


  1. Editor’s Note: Previous version of this article was released without this additional paragraph, which aims to give more credit to PoNY’s defense 

  2. Note: the camera work sucks on this clip – we can’t see what’s going on downfield at all – try this amazing drone footage for how it should be done 

  1. Sion "Brummie" Scone
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    Sion "Brummie" Scone coached GB Open from 2010-2012, and also coached the GB World Games team in 2013, and the u24 Men in 2018. He has been running skills clinics in the UK and around the world since 2005. He played GB Open 2007-12, and GB World Games 2009. He lives in Birmingham, UK. You can reach him by email (sionscone@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@sionscone).

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