2023 National Championships: Offensive Mastery Drives Truck Stop to National Final (Men’s Semifinal Recap)

Truck Stop earn the chance to redeem last year's finals performance with a 15-13 win over Ring of Fire

Jonny Malks catches the game-winning goal to send Washington DC Truck Stop to the 2023 Club Championship final. Photo: Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com

Ultiworld’s coverage of the 2023 Club National Championships 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.

This was the third Raleigh Ring of Fire vs Washington DC Truck Stop matchup of the 2023 season and each game was decided by a margin of two or fewer goals. These programs have a long history together and the rivalry continues to provide us with some of the highest quality frisbee that’s ever been played.

“It feels like for my entire career it’s been DC and Carolina,” said Tuck Stop captain Tyler Monroe. “They’ve pushed the level of the sport with their high school, college, and club and we love measuring ourselves against them. It’s great to come out and battle against a great team like them.”

The game started off as the incredible showcase of offensive efficiency we’ve come to expect from these two programs. Indeed, in many ways, the teams’ offenses are built similarly: they both let their gifted young players cook and use them as feature players despite being early in their careers.

For Ring, it’s Rutledge Smith and Ben Dameron. They’ve looked like the strongest players on the team this Nationals. Rutledge has been so tough all tournament, with each and every defender practically unable to limit his impact. Dameron, meanwhile, is an unstoppable and violent cutter who stampedes through the cutting lanes like a rhinoceros. “As always with Ring, this is a super young team [and] seems like it’s getting younger every year. The way we produced this dynastic Darkside pipeline makes us feel really optimistic about the future,” said star offensive cutter Eric Taylor. “We are really invested in making this a truly homegrown team.”

For Truck, it was Gus Norrbom, Jonny Malks and AJ Merriman who impressed the most. Malks was used in more of downfield role this game, so while he didn’t get as many touches as usual, he was still extremely productive with four goals and an assist. He usually drew handler defender and used that to his benefit, gaining advantages with his speed and high pointing the disc well. A downstream effect of Malks exiting the handler space was Norrbom getting more run. Sometimes playing second fiddle to the other world class handler talents on Truck, he crushed in his increased role. This is common knowledge at this point, but he’s got one of the most explosive upline cuts in the game right now. It’s tough to stop him from taking you upline even if you take a fair amount of buffer.

On the defensive sider, Merriman leads the division with eight blocks, putting him firmly in the discussion for defensive player of the year. He registered the first block of the semifinal on a contentious play which led to a Truck break for the 6-5 lead.

The point began smooth offensive flow down the field from Ring. Dameron found himself on the goal line and attempted to sneak a backhand in to a striking Ethan Bloodworth. Merriman played him physically and landed a swim around defensive block. Bloodworth called foul, but it was overruled by the observer which registered an abhorrent reaction from the Ring sideline. Unperturbed, Truck marched it down and David Bloodgood hit a difficult long upline assist to Jasper Tom.

Bloodgood impressed in the semi as a matchup defender and skilled D-line quarterback. “He’s the best break thrower I’ve ever played with and I play on Truck with some of the best throwers in the world,” said Truck’s Monroe. “He has release points no one else has and a great sense of the moment, gauging what needs to be thrown and what doesn’t. He’s clearly one of the most under-the-radar players in the entire division.”

Ring got their break back after Matt Rehder fingertip handblocked Andrew Roy, impacting the throw enough for Trevor Lynch to catch up and intercept the pass. Sol Yanuck, Trevor Lynch, and Matt Gouchoe-Hanas ran handler sets before Gouchoe-Hanas put a perfect flick to Suhas Madiraju at the open side cone to take the lead back, 7-6.

Truck responded with a pull play. Christian Boxley went deep and Rowan McDonell ripped a hellrider of an inside out flick, which Boxley came down with over two Ring defenders.

Two Raleigh Ring of Fire defenders aren’t enough to deny Washington DC Truck Stop’s Christian Boxley the score in the 2023 Club Championships semifinal. Photo: Meg Hofner – UltiPhotos.com

Truck then sent out a stacked D-line and Merriman made another huge defensive play, breaking up a deep shot intended for Bloodworth. He then threw the assist to Thomas Edmonds to take half.

Truck would storm out to 12-9 lead on the back of their defense making plays and their disciplined counter attack which made Ring pay for their mistakes.

It was Truck who ultimately showed they could execute through the smothering defensive pressure both teams were applying. The body blows from the DC defense were too difficult for Ring to endure for the duration of the game. When every Ring undercut had a Truck Stop defender glued to their hip or sending a bid, there’s just a big enough window to hit on some of the downfield options.

Ring really fought to keep them in it, but Truck would seal the game with a high-stall punt to Malks who made a great read for the score. “We had a wild ride through bracket play, but this year we’ve stressed being a mentally tough team that doesn’t just front run or write story book narratives. We’re going to have to bounce back at points, and we’ve shown we can do that this year,” said Monroe.

Truck Stop had a difficult road to the finals, having to go through prequarters after not winning their pool, but turned it on in bracket play to defeat Atlanta Chain Lightning, Boston DiG, and now Ring. They’ve proven they can dispatch the best teams in the country this season and will go into the final as a slight favorite over Chicago Machine, who won their semifinal on universe against last year’s champs Denver Johnny Bravo.

Truck Stop are surely happy with the results they’ve had so far. A finals run is a incredibly impressive feat to accomplish. However, they are the one seed for a reason, and they’re gunning for the championship. This is no cake walk however, because the pressure is on; they were here last year and did not get the job done. We’ll see if they can seize the moment or if the tension will send them home empty handed once again.

  1. Jake Thorne
    Jake Thorne

    Jake Thorne is a staff writer for Ultiworld with a focus on the college division. He is a graduate of Cal Poly SLO, where he played for four years. He now lives and works full-time in sales for a fintech company in San Francisco.

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