Solstice Champions

If anything was learned from Solstice this past weekend, it’s that the two-bid Northwest Region is going to be a battle.

This year’s Summer Solstice Tournament in Eugene, Oregon served as Sockeye’s first tournament as a fully rostered team. There were notable absences from the field, including Eddie Feeley, Spencer Wallis, Andrew Fleming, Matt Rehder, Dave Bestock, Alex Nord, and Phil Murray, as well as Erik “The Kraken” Doesburg and Sam Harkness on Sunday.

Saturday was rainy. To begin the action, Sockeye faced an equally new Voodoo team who would use this tourney to find their playing style and identity (quite well, I might add, but I’ll get to that later). This first of undoubtedly many encounters, Sockeye found an early rhythm and capitalized on Voodoo’s mistakes and jitters quickly to the tune of a 13-5 final. This was not Voodoo’s best showing, and it was clear they were unhappy, but they kept their heads up.

This led to Sockeye’s second encounter with Rhino, having seen them two weeks prior in Vancouver’s Flowerbowl. In speaking to Matt “Milkshake” Mastrantuono, he recounted that the list of players out with injuries could potentially beat their current roster – including Jacob Janin, Dylan Freechild, Matt Melius, Cody Bjorklund, himself, and more. This left a great deal of work up to playmakers Tad Jensen, Dan Suppnick, and Mario O’Brien. Sockeye’s downfield defense proves stifling, especially in the hard-to-huck rain, and hard dump defense created numerous late-stall punts (what we call “coverage sacks”). The final score of 13-5 is hardly indicative of the Rhino we will face come Regionals, especially given their injured players are expected to be back in action by then, and this early season PT for their younger players should certainly pay dividends later.

During our Bye, we put our Caddyshack theme to use by hitting foam golf balls and enjoying being a team together for the first time at a tournament.

Next was Boost Mobile, an athletically capable team that seemed a bit disjointed. With hard man D and crisp offense, Sockeye came away victorious 13-3, and could then focus on another Flowerbowl rematch, Furious George.

Still slightly rainy when the last round started, Furious immediately looked different, playing with more swagger and adding Gabe Saunkeah to their roster. Sockeye came into this tournament knowing we had not seen Furious at their best (or even close) at Flowerbowl, noting especially numerous endzone drops that, had they been caught, would have made for a very different game. Furious did not disappoint, earning a break on the first point. It was clear they were hungry. Responding with a good O point, Sockeye broke back on their first D opportunity with a poachy defensive look, and went on to earn another break before half. The addition of Gabe certainly helps Furious, as he made one spectacular layout catch in the endzone, just barely saving it before it hit grass. This game also saw the Kraken begin to find his place on the field, throwing a picture perfect forehand bomb to Ray Illian. Final score, 13-8 Sockeye. Interestingly, this was a very break-filled game, with 8 of Sockeye’s 13 goals coming from their D line.

That evening Sockeye cheered on Riot as they made an epic, highlight-reel-filled comeback against a very strong Traffic team. Riot’s offense looked disconnected between handlers and cutters for much of the game and Traffic was killing it with their fast IO forehands, but once Riot began looking deep, their comeback was sparked by an absolutely incredible skying grab by Keely Dinse, that got the crowd on its feet and was called by numerous people the best play they’d ever seen in Women’s Ultimate.

On Sunday the sky cleared and the sun beat down. It was hot, with little wind. Sockeye had used Saturday night as a team bonding night, loving the massive 70’s style rental house (complete with indoor pool and diving board, amazing 70’s decor and stylings, shag carpet galore), and so many began Sunday in a bit of a haze. First up was Voodoo, and they brought it. Sockeye went up early, taking half 8-4, with good defense and efficient offense. The second half, though, was a completely different story. Voodoo seemed to find their rhythm, and were hitting massive deep shots at will, especially Ted Werbel and Xtehn Titcomb finding receivers Sean Sears, Jacob Spiedel, Todd Sliva, and others. Sockeye also began making uncharacteristic errors and reacting poorly, losing the focus we’d shown in previous games and getting broken back-to-back for the first time this season. Final score 14-13, Sockeye. This game was a wake-up call – we can’t take anything for granted.

Utilizing a bye, Sockeye ate and rested, composing ourselves for the finals, against Furious, who had beaten Rhino after coming back from being down four breaks.

NexGen was filming the finals, so you can watch it for yourselves soon, but I will tell you this – that was an exciting game. Sockeye broke early with a big layout poach block from Tim that nearly separated his shoulder. Furious broke back, and Sockeye broke back. There were big plays galore. Furious’ offense was strong, finding the poached man against Sockeye’s clammy defensive looks, and stringing together three pass bombs against Sockeye’s man defense looks. On D, Furious utilized their own poachy, zonish defenses as well, forcing Adam Holt, Mike Caldwell, and Chris Kosednar to go over the top with hammers and blades multiple times before the offense began to flow. Taking half 8-5, Sockeye felt in control.

But it wouldn’t end that easily. Receiving out of half, Sockeye was broken once, then again. Furious earned some great D’s, but Sockeye also showed some strange turns, turfing two easy throws and doinking a wide open swing pass on our own endzone line. Furious also made great plays themselves, especially Morgan Hibbert going up huge for a huck break goal and giving the crowd a show, to bring the score from an 8-5 half to an 11-10 battle.

However, Sockeye’s D would take control, sparked by a massive Tyler Kinley layout block on a swing pass and a bookends endzone goal. Stopping flow with a poachy downfield and applying tough dump pressure, Sockeye forced a questionable hammer look into a big Reid Koss D and Aly Lenon found TK again in the endzone. To finish the game, a great Nate Castine pull pinned Furious on their own endzone line and after tough D pressure, Sockeye got a short-field turn and TK punched it in to a wide open Aaron Talbot for the win.

Coming into this weekend, Sockeye had a few goals – to build team chemistry and bond with the new group we have, and to use the tournament as a lab to tinker with offensive and defensive looks, to figure out the best team culture and atmosphere, and to find potentially new roles for our players. In the end, we felt very successful in these respects, and go into a mid-season break looking forward to getting better with this new, 2011 Sockeye team.

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