Truck Stop held firm in the face of a furious Chain Lightning comeback to close out a universe point win in the Pro Champs final.
September 8, 2023 by Edward Stephens in News with 0 comments
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MILWAUKEE – #1 Washington DC Truck Stop narrowly finished off an undefeated Labor Day weekend with a victory in the final over a tenacious #2 Atlanta Chain Lightning side. The 15-14 universe point win cemented Truck’s regular season finale win for the second consecutive season and puts a double underline on the team’s championship potential. They bent without fully breaking as they held off a second half Chain comeback.
For a stretch, it looked as though Truck were setting up another complete dismantling, à la their semifinal performance against #1 New York PoNY. They tallied three breaks in the first half, taking advantage of Chain’s execution mistakes – a huck too long from Pat Earles, a huck too low from Nicky Spiva, and a bad reset pass into the wind from Brett Hulsmeyer – to give their super-powered D-line offense a shot at the goal.
Word to the wise: do not, if you can help it, give Truck’s defense the disc. The odds of regaining possession are slim indeed. With the likes of AJ Merriman, Thomas Edmonds, and Jasper Tom running the point at a blistering pace, they were 8/14 on break chances against #3 New York PoNY in the semis, and they blitzed their way to converting 3/5 against Chain to start the final. The upshot? A 6-2 Truck Stop lead and a clear sightline to the tournament title.
The funny thing about the 2023 edition of Chain Lightning, though, is that while they can sometimes be a bit error-prone, they don’t know the meaning of the word ‘quit.’ Demonstrating perhaps even more mettle than what they had already flashed in a thrilling come-from-behind win over #4 San Francisco Revolver the day before, they began to chip away at Truck’s lead. It started modestly enough: Parker Bray calmly guided a counterattack from midfield after a rare Truck unforced turnover on a simple under.
Truck Stop held the two-break advantage through halftime. Their eighth score came with Jacques Nissen making an athletic possession-saving sliding grab on the goal line and putting a short blade1 to space for Christian Boxley without even bothering to get up off of his haunches. Nissen had played something of a conservative role in Truck’s offense last year, but in 2023 he is much more dynamic. Watching him, you get the sense that he has opened up his arsenal all the way. Nissen’s play at times teeters right at the edge of reason without crossing the line into recklessness. He’s dangerous.
“Jacques is wild. You should see him at practice,” said Truck Stop captain David Cranston. “He plays with so much confidence and energy. Our offense really feeds off of that. He’s a superstar…A fired-up Jacques is hard to stop.”
The margin would hold for another five points to start the second half. That’s when Chain started to heat up. It began with Jeremy Langdon taking the disc right out from under Rowan McDonnell’s nose with a torpedo of a layout block.2
“The last time I played with Langdon at [Uihlein Soccer Park] before this weekend was the semifinals of [College] Nationals 2015 against UNC,” said Chain captain Michael Fairley. “I’ve played with him for a long time, almost 10 years now. And there’s nothing he does that doesn’t surprise me. He is a gamer in all aspects. Once he gets to this moment…when the lights are on, [he’s] locked in on the matchup and wants to prove something every single time he’s out there.” Bookmark that note on Langdon now – it will come into play again later in the second half.
The takeaway was, of course, only half the job: Chain still needed to score. Fairley led the offense into the red zone before DC’s O-line tightened the screws all the way. He looked off covered end zone cuts and both of his dumps before finding Tanner Robinson’s last-second bailout for the score. The break brought Chain within a goal for the first time since the game’s third point.
It wouldn’t be long until they found themselves with a chance to tie. Jonny Malks responded to Chain’s break with a hair-trigger power position flick to Nissen to give Truck an 11-9 lead. With Tyler Monroe isolated deep, he fired a power position huck from the backhand side. It didn’t quite match the pace of his previous throw. Chain were able to pressure Monroe into an early jump and follow the play on the backside to prevent a second-attempt catch. Chain progressed slowly – their high-viscosity possession was like an ultimate frisbee take on the University of Queensland’s famous pitch drop experiment – and eventually reached the red zone.
Fairley, holding the disc during a stoppage, called out to head coach Miranda Knowles to ask whether they had any timeouts. “Yeah, you have one,” confirmed Knowles. “But I think you can score.”
“It has been a lot of Miranda trusting us this weekend,” said Fairley. “When she says that, it provides a lot of trust and comfort. So when we have the disc, it’s like, ‘You know what? We are going to hit the open person… ultimately we’re going to score.’”
As it turned out, Knowles’ faith was well-placed. But could she possibly have known how her team would engineer the score? Langdon gathered the disc at the flick-side cone just outside the endzone and spied Fairley on the goal line in isolation. Fairley stopped dead in his tracks from full speed to open up a big window for the scoring throw, but Monroe, who had been defending the cut to the cone, managed to reverse direction and layout quickly enough to block the pass. It was an incredible defensive play – and it wasn’t enough. His block MAC’ed the disc just high enough off the ground that Langdon, using every last millimeter of his length, recovered possession with a huge layout. He stood up and tossed in the tying score.
Both teams played superb offense the rest of the way out. Truck Stop were their typical selves, pushing the pace to the seat of their pants and taking a no-holds-barred approach to what they were willing to throw. It wasn’t apparent which of Monroe’s nearly vertical up-and-down scoober and the Nissen hammer that had to be rescued by Aaron Bartlett from sailing out the back was the boldest look. But for this high-flying Truck team, those are both essentially system throws.
Chain were more methodical and equally efficient. The threat of their deep game kept the unders available – and Hayden Austin-Knab (6 goals, 3 assists) had as close to an unstoppable performance as you’ll see in club. He found Kenni Taylor (another of the best performers for their O-line in the game) with a well-measured swing forehand to knot the game at 14-14.
Unfortunately for Chain, though, there were simply no more turnovers to wring out of Truck’s O-line, who improvised all the way to the goal line before Malks beat his matchup out of the stack to receive an inside forehand.
“[The O-line was] playing with a ton of confidence. Our offense likes to move the disc very quickly… and being able to move the disc across the field regardless of wind conditions is really hard to defend,” said Cranston. “I think a lot of offense is just taking what the defense is giving you. They can’t cover everything.”
The close nature of the final stands in stark contrast to Truck’s overwhelming semifinal victory the day before. It perhaps had something to do with their relative unfamiliarity with Chain Lightning. They had not played them since the semifinals of last season’s US Open3 – a far cry from the high number of in-game reps they have had against PoNY over the last calendar year.
“It was a good test for us because a lot of times at Nationals, if we’re in a pre-quarters or quarters game and someone is coming off of a win that maybe we haven’t scouted as thoroughly in the year, it’s really important that we’re able to come out, understand their offensive flow and key matchups, and adjust accordingly,” said Cranston.
Coming back from three breaks down to force universe was a positive test for Chain, too. Fairley credited Chain’s younger players – Franky Fernandez, Scottie Whitley, Adam Miller, Adam Grossberg, to name a few – for keeping the energy up in a way that helped the whole team claw their way back into the game. “That kind of hunger to be on this stage… [it] says that no matter what the score says against a really good Truck offense, we like our shot one-on-one, and we’re going to claw to the very end. That’s the grit that we have on the team this year,” said Fairley.
That grit has carried them to a great height to close out the regular season. Could a similar climb at Nationals be in the works? The product on the field at Pro Champs was already highly promising – they earned a win over PoNY in pool play and Machine in the bracket before their two universe point thrillers to close out the weekend. Crucially, we haven’t yet seen their final form: “We’re still missing John Stubbs and Max Thorne, who are not slouches in any respect,” said Fairley. All of a sudden, they may be in position to jockey for semis – or more.
the official throw of Truck Stop ↩
It would be fun to see that block and Thomas Edmonds’ similar one on Jimmy Mickle the day before side-by-side for a comparison. ↩
a 15-13 Truck Stop win ↩