…And the Season Has Begun

Flowerbowl is the first tournament for Sockeye each season, and this year gave us an opportunity to not only test our tryouts (final cuts coming in 2 weeks), but also to gauge our fitness and abilities against two Worlds-bound teams, Revolver+ as Team USA, and Furious+ as Team Canada.

Starting things off with a bang, Sockeye matchup in under the Friday night lights in Thunderbird stadium against Team Canada in an Ultivillage-streamed showcase game, coincidentally a rematch of the two teams on the very same field where they battled for a World Championship in 2008. That game left a bitter taste in Sockeye’s mouth; however, very few of the players from that game remain on the 2012 Fish roster (Furious has seen substantial turnover as well, but not as much). Thus this game was as much new as it was a rematch.

Sockeye’s leaders made a few things clear before the game: first, we had nothing to lose, with no expectations on a tryout heavy roster, while Team Canada had expectations to live up to, and was the favorite coming in. Second, we can only control ourselves, and the focus was defensive energy. Finally, hey, it’s a showcase game, in a stadium, under the lights, streamed on the internet– have fun!

The game began in Sockeye’s favor, with the Fish earning multiple breaks to start off of great defensive pressure team-wide, and good blocks on floating hucks from the Canadians. Sam Harkness made his presence felt early, going up huge for a massive block on a Team Canada huck, and then getting the double-happiness goal from a huck from Tyler Kinley, again going well over a couple defenders for the break. Multiple rookies also made big plays to keep the Sockeye energy high, including a Wes Simons ho-block on an in-cut, and a couple big blocks in the air from Jacob Speidel. Mark “Hero” Burton and Donnie Clark made their presence felt offensively in the endzone, catching goals on deep looks, and after fending off a multiple-break run from Team Canada, The Fish rattled off a few more breaks at the close of the game to take a smattering of revenge against our Canadian rivals.

And then there were two. After the showcase game, Sockeye split into two smaller squads for the rest of the tournament, Team USA (a more D-based roster) and Team USSR (with more O-players). Each performed well, with both teams besting a tryout-heavy Rhino squad, and Team USSR beating Team Canada and taking Revolver to double-game point on a Revolver late-game comeback. Team USA gave both Revolver and and Team Canada good games, losing to TC by 2 and to Revolver by 3.

To finish the weekend, Sockeye reunited its split squads for a final against Revolver. This game, from a fan’s perspective, would presumably be called a drubbing by Revolver, who capitalized quickly and at times quite easily against a miscue-riddled Sockeye team. However, this was also a test for the Sockeye legs and bodies, as many had gotten quite banged up over the weekend and were nursing injuries or tweaky muscles. Revolver took this game handily, at a count of 15-6.

Notes on teams:

Rhino- This squad, led again by Mario O’Brien and Seth Wiggins, clearly took Flowerbowl for exactly what it was – a testing ground for its tryouts, an opportunity to gauge their current strength and fitness, and a starting point. Reading much into their performance would be at any team’s peril. Seth and Mario ran much of the show offensively, and their offense utilized a side stack much similar to their strong system from 2011 that earned them a top 10 ranking at points during the season. Once their roster is finalized and they get their legs underneath them, their systematic offense will be potent and their additions of athleticism will create a physically imposing D line.

Revolver/Team USA – First things first, their absences: Robbie Cahill, Bart Watson, Beau Kittredge. So, yeah. These three are major contributors to Revolver’s offense, and without them they were still quite strong. Especially notable were the performances of Ashlinn Joye and Kurt Gibson. Ashlinn’s hucks were impeccable, putting a massive backhand on a shelf in front of a deep cutting Kurt Gibson downwind (trust me that this was a very, very difficult throw), and a huge upwind forehand for a break. Mac Taylor also played quite well, and the addition of Kurt Gibson is a strong one — they effectively side-stacked and gave a massive field to Kurt as the isolated cutter, and coupled with throwers like Ash and Mac and Adam “Chicken” Simon, it is very difficult to stop Kurt from either scoring goals or gaining lots of yardage. A lineup of Mac Taylor, Bart Watson, Robbie Cahill, Kurt Gibson, Eric Halverson, Ashlinn Joye, and Mark Sherwood is perhaps the most potent defensive lineup in the world. 6 of these players have very big hucks on both sides, and all of them are threats with both speed and size. Add to this Revolver’s depth in speed and size and I don’t see any team truly challenging them on the worlds’ stage. Go Team USA!

Team Canda/Furious – It was clear that they haven’t yet found their rhythm offensively. This doesn’t shock me, as it’s exactly what they looked liek last year. What did surprise me was the lack of a massive impact from Hassell, who is a more potent threat offensively than his impact this past weekend would’ve suggested. I’m sure it has to do with integration into the system — they don’t have a ton of time logged in as a team yet — and this weekend will help with that surely. In addition, it was more often than not execution errors that made the difference in their losses, rather than systematic or decision-based errors, and execution is the easiest thing to correct. For instance, Oscar had a few hucks in the Friday showcase game that were simply uncatchable. With some more touches on the disc, he’ll dial those in quickly and all of a sudden its a tie ball game. This is very much what Sockeye saw last year at Regionals – their former miscues and execution errors disappeared, and their system became incredibly potent and difficult to slow down. If they can find that rhythm and eliminate their own errors, they may be the only team in the world that could challenge Team USA in Sakai.

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