After a successful yet unfulfilling Emerald City Classic, Sockeye came in to Labor Day focused and ready to do battle with the 5 teams in our pool, and anyone who challenged us after that. Sockeye arrived at the fields after 2 byes to start the day feeling fresh and well rested. The fog had yet to dissolve, and the heat of the day was yet to arrive. Up first would be PoNY. After taking a big lead against them last year at ECC, PoNY came back to force double-game point, with Sockeye winning only after a BJ footblock. Once again, Sockeye would take a big lead against the east coasters, but there would be no let down this time. The Sockeye D-line was able to patiently work the disc after the turn against the PoNY O-line’s junk defense, and one break often led to another in the 15-9 victory.
After a bye came Bravo, another team that Sockeye had a victory against last year at this tournament, but couldn’t afford to take lightly after Bravo took down Doublewide fairly handily in round 1. At this point in the day, the sun had broken free of the fog, and it had brought some wind with it. This led to a back and forth game where teams that could break upwind often were able to follow it up with a downwind break as well. With Jimmy Mickle throwing huge pulls in both directions, nothing was going to be easy for the Sockeye offense. After a first half filled with a ton of breaks, lots of long points, huge grabs and D’s on both sides of the disc, and Skip somehow not breaking his leg after Reid fell on it from about 5 feet in the air following a huge sky D, Sockeye was able to go into the break up 8-7, on serve. The multitude of long points in the first half meant there was little time left on the clock for the rest of the game. After each team was able to score downwind, Sockeye managed to break upwind just before hard cap, and put the game away with another downwind break for the 11-8 win.
The last game of the day would be against Doublewide, a team that Sockeye would need no motivation against. Doublewide beat Sockeye at Labor Day last year, and proved it was no fluke with a win in pool play at nationals. At this point in the day Doublewide had lost Kurt Gibson to injury, but with Brodie on the field, Doublewide was still a threat to score at any moment. Sockeye came into this game with a strong game plan to stop the aggressive Doublewide huck game ,and with Ray Illian playing strong man-D against Brodie, the fish were able to keep the hucks to and by Brodie to a minimum in a strong first half, taking it 8-6. DW scored first to start the second half and get it to 8-7, but that’s as close as they would get, as the Sockeye D ratcheted up the pressure and a 14-9 win. Day 1 was over, and the fish were feeling like they had their swagger back, but they had a long way to go.
Day 2 started with a challenge before we even stepped onto the field to face Cash Crop. After a day that exceeded expectations, Skip challenged us to not rest on our laurels and to be prepared for a team to step up and punch us in the face, because no team will get through a tournament like this without being hit at least once. Sure enough, Cash Crop came with their gloves on, and when Sockeye went up 2 early breaks, Cash Crop punched right back to get their breaks back. The story was the same in the second half, as each time Sockeye tried to pull away, Cash Crop answered, to the point that they were winning 11-10. Sockeye finally got the message that Skip was trying to deliver though, as they rattled off 4 straight breaks to take the game 15-11 and clinch a spot in semis.
Last game of pool play was against Rhino. Our previous meetings this seasons had been rather easy wins for the fish, but this was clearly not the same Rhino team that we saw in June. Seth Wiggins was now anchoring the O-line (while making plenty of appearances on defense) and Dylan Freechild was playing a ton as well. By now the teams were fairly behind schedule, and the game was sure to be a short one, making each break extra valuable. The game started well for Sockeye, as they were able to stifle Rhino’s offense early and often on their way to a 4-1 lead. Rhino was just waiting for an opportunity to get their D-line on the field, and once they did, they showed patience with the disc and a willingness to grind out a point that is rarely seen nowadays from a D-line (See: Chain Lightning). Sockeye managed to take half up 8-5, but the Rhino defense continued to be a pest, and when Sockeye’s O-line started misfiring on hucks, Rhino had no problem going 70 yards and throwing as many passes as they needed. Sockeye suddenly found themselves receiving going down wind on double game point. An out of bounds pull let Rhino set up their defense, and they quickly forced a turn from Sockeye’s handlers. One upwind huck later, and Rhino had shocked the world by taking the pool, meaning the matchup against Revolver that the fish had been eagerly anticipating would have to be put off at least one more round.
The fish would quickly regroup and turn their focus to their next opponent, Chain Lightning. We played Chain twice last year in important games, first in semis at worlds, then in quarters at Nationals, with the fish coming out on top in both games. Knowing the recent history between the teams, and the fact that Chain had beaten Revolver earlier in the tournament, Sockeye came in to the game expecting a strong challenge, which was exactly what they got. The game started off fairly even, with each team holding serve downwind, and neither team able to convert their upwind break opportunities. Eventually Chain was able to break upwind, an converted the ensuing downwinder for a 2 break lead. While Sockeye had been waiting to score upwind before throwing their vaunted 4-man cup zone, it was decided that we couldn’t wait any longer, and tried it with Chain going downwind. It paid off, as Sockeye got their first break, and quickly got the downwind break as well to get it back on serve until half. Sockeye came out strong to start the second half as well, with their mix of zone and junk defenses creating turns, including a mind-blowing out of nowhere layout D from Tim Gehret to stop Chain from scoring upwind. Sockeye eventually broke upwind to take a 12-10 lead, game to 13, and the team was feeling confident. But you can never count out a team with the amount of athletes that Chain has, and their offense scored upwind and then once again converted the crucial downwind break, meaning Sockeye found themselves going downwind on double game point for a second straight game. After a huck to Andrew and a contested, and contentious, foul call, Sockeye was able to work the disc downfield and found an open breakmark through to 2 open cutters. Unfortunately the disc was just outside the reach of one cutter, and it got tipped just enough so neither player could catch it. Chain was quick to respond with a 50/50 huck that their player came down with to take the game 13-12.
The tangible end results of the tournament were not what we had hoped for after our strong Saturday, but the intangibles that the team had developed throughout the weekend were evident, and all 27 fish knew that the weekend had been a success. There would be no rest for the weary though, as sectionals was right around the corner, with a strong-looking Furious George team awaiting us.