Friday began early for the Fish. We woke up, some hitting Panera up early, other cooking breakfast themselves, and all doing their own thing until game-ready time, 9am. Getting some drilling then game-speed reps in, everyone was doing what they needed to do to prepare ourselves for a very strong opponent, the undefeated Ironside.
This Ironside would be very different from the team we beat in the quarterfinals of Worlds. Adding to major defenders in Will Neff (6’4″) and Colin Mahoney (6’5″) gave them not only strong deep defensive coverage, but major targets for big throwers like Muffin on a turn. With the decently-strong upwind-downwind that had begun that morning, this could prove crucial. They also now had Josh Markette (Cricket) from Chain Lightning, a versatile cutter and thrower, as well as the ouststanding player and person Jeff Graham. This was a smart, patient, yet deadly team, as proven in their wins over Revolver, Chain, and all other comers in this post-Worlds season.
Our defensive mandate was simple: try to take them out of their comfort zone. Their game was smart, calculated, ivy league, and our hope was to try to force them into looks and throws that were riskier, lower percentage, or unconventional. Make them play our game… dumb. Offensively, we came in knowing they would be physical on our downfielders and handlers, and that we would need to grind it out this game.
Our warmup was below average, perhaps a foreshadowing to our performance this game. Guys had nervous energy, not necessarily a bad thing, but we lacked a focus as a team and it carried over onto the field. Ironside capitalized on our offensive miscues, and the most notable difference between this game and the rest of our Nationals performances was our low defensive conversion rate. We forced multiple turns, often in one point, but we had far too many poor or hurried decisions when our D team had the ball to give ourselves a fighting chance. Ironside was by no means unbeatable or perfect that game, but they were certainly not a team you could beat with as many unforced errors as we had. Further, we failed to effectively prevent their A-game at times, allowing Muffin to hit a few deep shots without an effective mark and bungling defensive assignments. This was not Sockeye’s best showing, but, as it was in Power Pools, it was not a necessary win, and became an effective motivator for our coming challenges. Ironside wins 15-10.
Next up: PoNY. We’d seen this team previously at ECC and knew they could play, having given us a double-game point nailbiter. They were a balanced team, offensively, able to use the deep game, the break side, the underneath– you couldn’t simply take away one thing, because they could effectively do the other. Therefore, on D, we knew it would be our intensity and our legs that would earn this win, rather than subtle strategic devices. Brains off ultimate. On O, we would focus on moving the ball quickly and on our own game. Guys were psyched for this game.
It showed. Sockeye jumped out to a massive lead early with a gritty, hungry defense and a number of miscues by PoNY (including an unfortunate dropped pull). Our defensive O looked fast and nimble and really showcased why quick disc movement makes for a pretty game. However, and this is something we certainly learned from, we became a team (especially our D-team) that succeeds with incremental goals, dividing the game into segments that you can really wrap your head around. Saying we want to get 6 breaks this game is tough to conceptualize… but saying we want to get the disc twice and convert at least once within the next 3 defensive points is a clear, short-term goal, and one that we can reach and reassess with time and energy to spare. This game we set clear and attainable goals early, but failed to create goals or provide a clear storyline of what we expect in the third and fourth quarters, and it showed in our loss of focus and a small run by PoNY to get a couple breaks back. What could’ve been a 15-6 win ended up a 15-10 win, and we took that experience with us.
Our final goal to seal the game and send Sockeye2010 to the quarters at natioals was celebrated not with a scream but with a smile, clearly demonstrating that while we had just cemented our success in reaching the quarterfinals – the goal we’d set for ourselves coming into the series – we also had come to realize that we could do better, maybe far better. We knew we could do it, and while we did enjoy the success, everyone was immediately remembering Worlds, remembering the tooth-and-nail fight with Chain at 8:30am in the massive Prague stadium in front of almost no fans, remembering that game as one of the best that many on Sockeye had ever played in, and mentally steeling ourselves for that fight.
That night, many more ice baths were had, good food was eaten, and our team meeting focused on preparing ourselves to take on a Chain that was on paper taller, faster, and more athletic than us, player-for-player. We had a game plan, but needed everyone’s best to compete. I’m not sure about everyone, but I know a lot of people didn’t fall asleep for a good while after going to bed that night.