Our 6th seed placed us in Pool C, below Doublewide and above Ring of Fire and Madison Club.
First game of nationals: the boys from Madison. Our scouting report told us that their main threats were throwers Tom Annen, Ben Feldman, and Hector Valdivia, with large downfield threats and speedsters like Hector’s brother, Rodrigo (Gig0). Capable of throwing from both upline cuts and standstills, their deep game was their main threat, and so our goal was to limit this as much as possible and push their handler resets backwards. This proved effective and our deep D rotation of 17 pairs of legs wore them down over the span of the game. Our offense was also cruelly efficient, punishing Madison’s fronting and backing with accurate deep shots to space or quick disc movement across the width of the field respectively. Final tally: 15-10.
Next up was Ring of Fire. We’d seen Ring earlier in the season at ECC, in an epic, gruelling battle that found Ring the champion, but didn’t represent Sockeye very well as we were incredibly hobbled with injuries. We entered this game knowing that Ring was a team with the potential to crush you or themselves equally, much of it based on the emotion of the game. Our game plan was two-fold; control our actions and our reactions. They’ve got ridiculous athletes and we knew they’d make plays, so we decided early to react with positive energy when they made these plays. Similarly, we’d try to limit these plays by backing their main athletic targets in Thomas Ward and Ken Porter, and utilizing a flatter mark in key areas of the field that we’d expect a huck to come from. This plan, coupled with uncharacteristic mistakes from Ring and efficient and patient defensive offense, led to an 8-0 run in the middle of the game and a final score of 15-9.
To end the day, and in the hottest part of the day, we faced Doublewide. Having beaten us on their home turf before Worlds, then at Labor Day, we knew we’d have a battle in front of us. Brodie Smith, the biggest addition to any team this year in ultimate, had become a fixture in Doublewide’s already strong rotation, and coupling him with receivers K-Rich and Jake Anderson, as well as handlers Max Cook and Salad (David Melancon), they were a formidable team. Defensively we also knew they’d flowin in their former Florida coach to teach the Florida 4-man cup, and we knew to expect it. Our goals in this game were nothing crazy– limit Brodie’s impact by preventing him from hucking easily, and make them go through the rest of their team (and our defense). If they had to run, we’d have a much better chance at utilizing our depth and fitness– this was true on both sides of the disc. This game proved as exciting as billed. Their offense was strong, and our handler defenders had their hands full trying to make difficult the resets to Salad and Max. Kurt and Chris Gibson were both absent this game, so their offense had to adjust slightly (without Kurt especially, as a formidable thrower and cutter). They forced turns, and we lofted a few deep shots too floaty, putting them up a few breaks. Throughout, we were able to force turns, but had difficulty converting, and simply weren’t efficient enough on our defensive offense to produce the comeback we needed. Doublewide ends our Thursday with the win, 15-13.
Ice baths, good food, and game-planning for the next day began immediately. We also got to watch the end of the Chain-Truck Stop game, immensely exciting because of its point-diff implications… if Truck Stop won by 4 (which they could have), they would push Chain to the lower bracket. If they didn’t, they themselves would go down. In the end, they won, but not by enough, and it was both humorous and heartbreaking to watch from afar their celebration transform into angry frustration as the news spread. Given the day’s results, we’d see Ironside and then Pony, and we all went to sleep with thoughts of a Prague rematch going through our heads.