Photo by Scobel Wiggins –

These Don’t Lie

Come back later, Stags and Whitecaps are out for runs.

– The Portland Stags went on a 16-5 run over second and third quarters vs. the Vancouver Nighthawks
– The Boston Whitecaps went on a 15-5 run over the second and third quarters vs. the New York Rumble
– The Stags went on a 12-4 run over the final 14:10 vs. the Seattle Rainmakers

The first two runs listed elevated wins to cakewalks. They also helped established the early standard by which we must judge the opponents of the Rumble (Philly started their Week 1 game with a 10-5 first half) and the Nighthawks (San Francisco closed their Week 1 game with a 15-7 second half). The ability to go on extended defensive runs separates the wheat from the chaff in the MLU.

As the season moves forward, look for which teams spiral out of control when the opponent strings a few breaks together and which teams wilt. Ultimate, in large-scale terms, is a matter of patching together stretches of positivity.

The Portland Stags had only one player (Aaron Adamson) who played more O-points (7) than D-points (6) against the Nighthawks.

This is what happens when a team ahead uses that leverage to increase the margin rather than cruise to a comfortable victory. It is also a likely product of the small roster that Portland used, dressing 21 players for each game, and 23 total over the weekend. This tighter rotation is bound to create stronger bonds over the course of a given weekend (and eventually the whole of the season) than would a larger group of players. 

The seemingly obvious risk, of course, is a touch of exhaustion late in the game on Sunday. In watching the Stags turn a 13-18 score with 4:10 left in the third into a 25-22 victory either calls the whole notion into question or makes the Stags an outlier.  

Dropped Pulls

There is no lie at all in a dropped pull. At least until the disc comes to lie on the ground silently taunting the dropper. Each and every player who has spent significant time receiving pulls has dropped a pull, so this is no knock on the folks who dropped pulls this past weekend. That said, I like to call attention to things which I enjoy. Like these two separate dropped pulls:

– Boston (Foster) pulled to New York (Xu)
– Seattle (Harmoush) pulled to Portland (Shaw)

Pulls seem an easy thing to field, as there is no defense to deal with. However, there are a few complications:

– The pull is not thrown with the notion of it being caught. That is, the person who pulls the disc has no incentive to make the pull catchable, unlike literally every other pass thrown in ultimate.
– The midfield pull rule.  That is, in the MLU teams can take timeouts after scoring a goal in order to pull from midfield. This creates more opportunities for difficult-to-catch pulls occurring in moments which are best served by a a quick and clean fielding of the pull via catch or bounce. Both of these drops were on midfield pulls.
– The pull is a canvas for errors, very much of a kind with the rest of ultimate. That is, game-changing plays in ultimate are, as often as not, as much a product of error as they are of positive play.

In the specific case of the pull, the situation is unique in that every person paying attention to the game is paying that attention to the fool attempting to catch the pull. Which is precisely the sort of thought which flits through the mind as the disc approaches.

These Do Lie

Icing Your Own Offense

When I was watching this live late Saturday night, I responded in childish fashion: I threw something at the screen. It was, admittedly, a mere star-crossed grape. And it was thrown with all of the velocity of a slow pitch softball offering. That said… I still threw something. Why?

Well, the Stags, in this clip, threw “The Worst Turnover in Frisbee” (That is: A turnover which is not only a turnover, but travels toward the end zone you are defending. The worst of the worst are catch blocks on resets.) to the Vancouver reset defender. Why is this the WTF? Because the now-offense has a perfect set-up for a dominating fast break. A thrower with a ton of space, an off-balance mark, and a defense which, even if good, is not all on the same page. There is also often a vast expanse of field with nary a help defender nearby. Not only that, but different parts of the team which just turned the disc are likely still playing offense or letting the experience of not-scoring affect their focus on getting not-scored upon.

This is the moment to pounce. A split second of confusion for one defender is a moment to pounce, and in this scenario the entire defense is experiencing a moment of confusion. However, the WTF was not the cause of my acting out. The WTF happens with regularity across all levels of ultimate. The timeout by Vancouver was what sealed the fate of that poor seedless grape (which was a bit doomed with respect to “meaning” and “purpose” at the very moment of its creation). The power shown to an opponent by the clinical execution of a fast break offense is something greater than the a simple break. It is a reminder of how quickly the tide can turn.

To go further: If the defense was empowered to call timeouts when the offense is in possession of the disc, this is one of the moments they would consider. In this case? No need. The Nighthawks called a timeout for the Stags. To double-down on that? Rather than completing an easy pass right back to the player who was previously marking and fast-breaking, the Nighthawks turned the disc over on a drop of the first pass out after the timeout.  

This is like leaving a Smirnoff Ice in your own bag with the purpose of icing someone else and wholly forgetting about it until you open your bag with others around and honestly ask “Alright, who iced me?”

With no mark, comes no responsibility to pivot

So… why not choose to throw a flick like a baseball player and step with the opposite foot from your throwing hand? This is the way to drive more energy into the throw. Literally the only argument against throwing your flicks this way is that there can be a mark in the way. In this clip, there is no mark. Or defender. Anywhere. So, why not step with the left foot on this throw?

If he had done that perhaps Timmy Perston would only have had one defender to sky. That portion of the play worked out just fine, but the fundamentals can be better executed.

Do or do not, there is no try.

Small man marked by a large Woodside. In this situation, the smaller thrower (Aaron Chan) has a few advantages with respect to quickness as well as balance and forcing the mark to crouch to match the thrower’s height. That said, a good, strong, large mark is one of the most frustrating things for a smaller player to deal with. Often, smaller players need to go deep into the bag of tricks seeking fakes nearly forgotten to memory rather than relying on release point and quickness.

In this specific case, Chan reached down past all of the throws he knows unconsciously, past the throws he’s still learning consciously, and latched on to a throw whose very existence he was unconscious of to release a perfect centering pass. He thought he was trying to pivot to the backhand. What he did was throw the forehand. 

This is my new most favoritest throw in ultimate. I hope I can learn it.

My Ways are mysterious / Sometimes even to myself

The Vancouver Nighthawks scoring to end quarters

One indicator in a close game of which team will likely come out on top is which team gets the final score in each quarter. This is a way to, over the course of a game, have as many as four more scoring opportunities then your opponent. It is often the result of a well-scripted play from the coaching staff, but it is frequently also a moment where “big time players make big time plays.”

Against Portland, the Nighthawks managed to score the last goal of the first and second quarter.

With 20 seconds left in the first the Nighthawks intelligently took advantage of the poaching Stags defense to move up the field until Taylor Nadon eventually finds a soft spot between defenders to Einer Lim at the front of the end zone.

With 28 seconds left in the second after a midfield pull the Nighthawks moved up the field against a vanilla man defense from the Stags until Sascha Lo finds Ty Barbieri in the back of the end zone.

Absent these two goals, the Stags would have been up 10 at half rather than 8. In a close game, this sort of play can make a difference. In a blowout, it can save some face and give both teams areas to focus on. One as an area for improvement, and the other as a ray of light.

Midfield Heave as Time Expires

After an out of bounds Rainmakers pull with 11 seconds on the clock, the Portland Stags cast a Summon Woodside spell strong enough to wrest the disc from a Perston of interest!