September 4, 2023 by Edward Stephens in Recap with 0 comments
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The Pro Championships men’s division final will feature Washington DC Truck Stop and Atlanta Chain Lightning. Their semifinals, while both were interesting, albeit it quite different from one another.
Full Stop to Punctuate Semis
#2 Washington DC Truck Stop more than made up for last month’s US Open loss to #1 New York PoNY with a full-bore defensive effort in the Pro Champs semi.
The 15-8 win was a proper blowout. “I think what we’re going to take away from this game is that we’re not where we need to be to beat the best teams in the country,” admitted PoNY’s Jimmy Mickle. “Credit to Truck for beating us in basically every single facet of the game.”
That’s how it ended, anyway – at the start, it looked like PoNY were well on their way toward a competitive (and potentially very successful) semifinal effort. Wary of the Truck’s defensive opportunism, they carefully picked their way to an opening hold, largely working through Ryan Osgar. Ben Katz immediately set them up for a break by baiting and blocking a soft reset look back to the center of the field. The disc flew all the way to the goal line, and John Randolph (who has played a superb weekend of ultimate) scored quickly to stake PoNY to a 2-0 lead.
DC teetered on their next two offensive points – without giving up a second break, crucially – and finally settled in with a one-throw score from Jonny Malks to Christian Boxley, their two most consistent offensive weapons. Then, trailing 4-3, the D-line started to show off the cataclysmic energy of an unhinged demo crew.
“This D-line is one of the hungriest I’ve ever seen,” said Tyler Monroe. “Today they just made plays.”
The blocks came one after another – Truck might as well have been counting rosary beads. David Cranston got his hand into the standard reset line for Chris Kocher. Thomas Edmonds launched into a full-extension layout takeaway at the expense of a Mickle under. Alexandre Fall outran Osgar’s fill cut from the front of the stack. Cranston planted his feet mid-handler switch instead of continuing the chase upline to bat down a potential counter-roll pass. During this time, they were a ruthless four-for-four on break chances. Edmonds, Cranston, and AJ Merriman all took adroit shots both directions in tricky wind conditions.
The run continued through the half and finally came to an end with PoNY’s sixth goal – a stunning Mickle-missile right into Elliott Chartock’s chest downwind from 55 yards away. By then, though, PoNY were completely underwater. The 11-2 run that preceded it included eight breaks. Truck Stop had already made their statement.
It’s true that PoNY lacked some of their big names: Jeff Babbitt, Jack Williams, Ben Jagt, and Conrad Schloer were all off the field this weekend for various reasons. Mickle, at least, didn’t offer their absence as an excuse. “While we were missing pieces, we had more than enough to be competitive with every team,” said Mickle.
That seems about right. How big an impact would a few players have made against such a complete defensive effort? Even if PoNY had managed to stop their skid earlier and put more pressure on the Truck O-line to perform, they still would have had to find ways to contain the likes of Christian Boxley, Tyler Monroe, Rowan McDonnell, and Jacques Nissen. The O-line didn’t play much in the semi, but they demonstrated enough proficiency to show that PoNY would have had trouble coming back. Any way you slice it, any allowances you make, Truck Stop were the better side.
As we saw in the transition from the US Open to Pro Champs, the landscape is anything but settled. Life, as the poet says, comes at you fast. The odds are good that there will be another titanic battle between Truck Stop and PoNY in the near future to add another wrinkle to the rivalry.
The Seesaw of Vengeance: Chain vs. Revolver Redux
The other Pro Champs semifinal, between #6 San Francisco Revolver and #9 Atlanta Chain Lightning, was anything but lopsided. In a rematch from the last round of pool play that start the day – when Revolver cruised to a 15-10 win and the coveted bye into semis – Chain exacted a measure of revenge, breaking Revolver on universe point to advance to their second consecutive tournament final.
The semi started like a continuation of the pool play match: hard cutting, smart spacing, and crisp throwing from the Revolver offense. Anton Orme and Dillon Whited have the downfield timing of an artisanal Swiss clock. Riley Kirkman-Davis, picking up the thread from his time at UCLA, is a deft weaver in the dominator sets. Justin Lim’s throws are smoother than smooth in basically every situation: a cure-all whenever the offense starts to show signs of being a little upset. They steadily put three points on the board, and then the D-line took advantage of a Chain drop to break the holds pattern.
Chain quickly bounced back. Bouncebacks, as it turned out, would come to be the dominant pattern in the game.
They would need another, as Revolver broke near the close of the first half. At that point, with Revolver getting the better of Chain’s one impressive zone point (finally broken by a Colby Chuck scoober) and otherwise playing with the kind of grace that had characterized their earlier win, it looked like San Francisco would skip to the final. But Chain made a defensive adjustment during halftime to try to play more to their strength: pure athleticism.
“We stepped it up,” said Huslmeyer. “We went [force middle] in the first half, and then we switched to just one force – hard person one on one. Revolver have very good break throws. And so we were like, ‘Okay, let’s make them be faster and more athletic than us.’ And I think that was huge.” The upshot was a 5-1 run to put the pressure back onto Revolver’s D-line to generate breaks.
Which, to be clear, they did. Trailing 11-9, Revolver forced a no-good-options punt that couldn’t even reach midfield, setting up a smart red zone possession and keying a 5-2 run of their own. At the end of the sequence, an upwind huck to Michael Ing put them at the doorstep of both a goal – they scored it – and the game: they held a 14-13 lead.
Chain’s ensuing upwind huck (really a Nicky Spiva desperation punt) wasn’t nearly as successful, and Revolver marched the disc to within spitting range of the win. Then the attack stalled out. Literally. The count reached 10 without any of Chain’s downfield defenders even realizing it.
“Honestly I didn’t even know it was a stall… because I was so locked in. I was like this close to [Michael Ing’s] chest,” said Hulsmeyer. “And I assume that’s what everybody was doing – and that’s why it worked. We all individually just said ‘I’m gonna stop this guy from scoring.’”
On the second attempt to even the game, Michael Fairley floated a beauty of a forehand toward the back line for Jeremy Langdon.
Universe point started with a pair of nervy mistakes. Revolver worked hard to get out of their own end zone, and then a pass into Nathan Prior’s breadbasket bounced right out. The red zone counteroffensive didn’t go anywhere – Hayden Austin-Knab zigged when Adam Miller’s reset throw zagged, giving Revolver second life. Revolver’s mulligan went much better… until it didn’t. They made it to power position near the goal line, where Calvin Brown thought he saw an open window for the scoring pass. Hayden Austin-Knab disabused him of that notion with an easy two-handed catch block.
The game ended with a scorcher of a play. Lukas McClamrock collected the disc at the forehand sideline near the defending brick and saw Tanner Robinson make a beeline for the end zone. “Anytime I see one of those fast boys just going – I want it,” said McClamrock. The throw screamed all the way down the sideline. Robinson snapped like a rubber band into a bid and sent Chain into the final.