The best of Saturday's elimination play.
August 6, 2023 by Jake Thorne in Preview with 0 comments
Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 club ultimate season 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.
After a trio of Friday games, the US Open field arrived to Aurora knowing they’d need to step up their game in the bracket to find success. The increased pressure created an environment ripe for good games between top contenders.
Bravo Makes a Statement over Rhino
One of my biggest misses of the tournament so far was underestimating how strong #4 Denver Johnny Bravo is. With some key departures on offense from last year as well as Danny Landesman and Alex Atkins being unavailable due to injury, I thought they wouldn’t have the personnel to topple a hyped-up 2023 Rhino. Calvin Stoughton and Quinn Finer featured prominently in their 15-12 win. Seth Faris was also a surprise contributor for the offense and performed well. We don’t keep a Statcast record of it, but he probably leads the tournament in toe-in catches across all divisions. This is a proven core that can win, and it’s a mistake to sleep on them despite the bear case mentioned previously.
#3 Portland Rhino, on the other hand, did not achieve the level of success that we expected. The market perhaps too hastily determined that adding in Dylan Freechild and Will Lohre would immediately elevate them into the PoNY and Truck Stop tier, but it’s clear they are not at that level yet at this point in the season. Freechild had some brilliant moments, but also some curious mistakes; Lohre had a notably quiet game.
If there is any gap on this team, it may be their handler group. They have solid depth, but at the pinnacle of the division, this backfield unit has not proven that it can consistently deliver. The volume of Rhino’s deep shots is concentrated in continuation cutters and not handlers. This is starting to rear its head as an issue because their specialized throwers are not taking the bulk of the shots, which could help explain Rhino’s high variance in comparison to other top teams.
Machine and DiG Chippy Clash
It was a street fight through every point of this quarterfinals universe point stunner. Both teams were impressive today, but #6 Chicago Machine’s defensive pressure and intensity were enough of the edge to squeeze out the victory 15-14.
The #7 Boston DiG offense was riding shotgun on the proverbial Mac Truck as Hecht continued dealing today – his 23 assists lead the division by a country mile. Machine was throwing the kitchen sink at him with their best matchup defenders and he still balled out and threw six assists. Simon Carapella also continued to show off his chops as an up-and-coming elite finisher in the club division that naturally finds his way into the end zone. Orion Cable crossed over to defense and made huge plays by baiting unders and then erupting for layout blocks. Peter Boerth also stood out as a dynamic deep threat that is dangerous in the air.
The Machine offense looks like it has the potential to be something special this year. Joe White and Pawel Janas looked absolutely dialed, but the whole offensive unit is loaded with talent. Jordan Kerr is looking more involved than last year. Keegan North was a hyper-technical assassin, as he always is, and Malik Auger-Semmar is a perfect fit as their fourth option cutting downfield. Most notably, Nate Goff running with the offense adds a big threat as a cutter, but his impact is most felt after the turn, where he is one of the best in the game at getting showtime blocks. There are certainly some new faces on the offense, but the core of this unit has played 4+ years together. In a deep men’s division this year, their chemistry is starting to differentiate them from the Nationals field, where having killers on offense is commonplace.
As a side note, Tim Schoch shot up my ranking for “best heel” in the division this year. He chirped DiG during and after the game, which is especially amusing given his experience playing with them for three years.
PoNY Pressure too Much For Revolver
Remember in the last episode of the Game of Thrones when [SPOILER?] the Dothraki charge into the White Walkers and get snuffed out immediately? [/SPOILER] That’s what I imagine it feels like playing offense against the titans on the #1 New York PoNY D-line. John Randolph and Jack Williams were excellent, but Antoine Davis impressed the most. He’s always been a problem for the division, but it seems like he may have found yet another gear this season.
The #9 San Francisco Revolver offense took a little while to adjust to matching up with the PoNY D-line. It’s the first time young guys on Revolver like Anton Orme and Riley Kirkman-Davis have the chance to go up against a club-grade defender like Randolph or Cameron Wariner. These reps are invaluable down the road for a young Revolver team with hopes of a bracket finish this year. It was a close-ish game but it felt like Pony had the upper hand throughout, they would take the game 15-12.
Truck Stop Dismantles Mutiny
Not too much to mention here. #2 Washington DC Truck Stop is one of the best teams in the world and looks to be in top form already so it’s to be expected that they’d dismantle Mutiny 15-4.
Shouts out to Mutiny though. They are a team that, at face value, appears as if they do not belong at US Open, and yet they showed up. Jarrod Banks, Zach Norrbom, Gordon Larson, and Will Brandt stood out as the main drivers of the offense. Mickey Walsh and Noah Hanson also impressed as versatile flex pieces that work in a variety of roles.
Their success (and DiG’s) with a small roster may suggest that top teams are overstuffing their rosters. Perhaps the perfect roster size is less than what is currently popular in the meta right now.
Machine Can’t Quite Get There Against PoNY
For a little while, we looked poised for a big semifinal upset. Machine was up 8-5 at half due to phenomenal defensive play from Jason Vallee, Johnny Bansfield, and Jeff Guo. The Machine coaching staff assigns these guys to the top matchups on opposing teams and they are successful in forcing elite offensive players to cycle through their second or third option to find separation. PoNY stormed back in the second half – they used their overwhelming talent to stack D-line after D-line, prompting several Machine mistakes – to take the game 15-13.
Given their talent, PoNY’s offense disappointed a bit today and lacked polish. They got broken multiple times against Machine and it required their defense to step up and make plays to win the game. New York’s floor is so high that they can play average (or even bad) ultimate in some cases and still beat truly excellent teams. They will have less margin for error tomorrow, however, facing off against Truck Stop who has looked like the more impressive team thus far this season.
Truck Stop Holds Off Bravo
Truck Stop had a bit of a scare after Bravo took the lead late into the game at 10-9, but then they focused back in and dominated down the stretch, finishing the game on a 6-1 run to end the game 15-11. Thomas Edmonds and Jonny Malks each put on strong performances and led the defense and offense respectively. Christian Boxley and Tyler Monroe continue to execute at a high level in the red zone for the Truck offense. Bravo played extremely well against most of the rest of their offensive looks, but until someone proves they can slow down that dynamic duo, Truck will probably just keep on trucking.
Some positives for Bravo’s already deep D-line: Noah Coolman showed off his defensive prowess and recorded three blocks. Coolman and Saeed Semrin – both 2023 newcomers for the defending champs – are some of the fiercest matchups in the division and give the Bravo D-line a lot of playmaking upside.
Stay tuned to Ultiworld and UltiPhotos for ongoing coverage of the 2023 US Open!