Tuesday, July 22

Championship Saturday Brunch

So, at some point between my writing this post for Major League Ultimate and it getting properly posted, I failed at some part of the connecting process or somesuch.  I think it was the outbox of my gmail.  Point is, through all fault of my own, it was not published and was never really finished being polished.  Nonetheless, here it is unedited in mostly plain text form including my prediction and some observations about VAN.

If you've been wondering what, if anything, I've been writing about ultimate of late, it is all over at my page on MLUltimate.com.  It has been a fun season of work and the like with the MLU. I have some other things planned for the space over there and then I should be able to get some writing down over here over the offseason.

Menu: Coffee, Sweets, Eggs, Waffles/Pancakes, Drinks


Short Sips of Hot Bitter Blackness. There is a hint of far-off stone-fruit sweetness. A smoky thickness lingers from the roast.

Kolick OUT.

That is big. D.C. is great all-around but, for my money, Kolick is the league MVP. You can't lose the most valuable player without missing a step. He's the unstoppable break, the unslowable cutter, the surprising defender, and the perfect player to start a team with.

That said, D.C. is far from a one-man team. Kolick's success relies on his teammates in part because of the structure of the sport (only one way to score on your own: Callahan) and in part thanks to the quality of this D.C. team.

To illustrate, a thought exercise. Which of these players has scaled back his role in order to let Kolick be Kolick?

Markham Shofner *
Jeff Wodatch *
Sean Keegan *
Calvin Oung *
Tom Doi *
Peter Prial
Lloyd Blake
Paul Grabowski
Eddie Peters

* - Returners

While one could argue that Prial, Blake, Grabowski, and Peters have also reduced their contributions, they are new players in this season and joined a team on which Kolick was the main option. The first five players, on the other hand, have crafted their respective games over two seasons to mesh well within the gestalt of the offense.

Shofner would be the primary handler on most teams.
Keegan would be a primary handler on many teams.
Oung, while he might be dragooned into handler duties, is more of a cutter. His many roles in this offense, while non-negligible, are less reduced by Kolick's presence than they are changed.
Wodatch and Doi, on the other hand, are pure cutters. Their involvement in an offense missing Kolick wouldn't increase as dramatically as it would if they filled handler roles, but their roles will still change. There will be more space for under cuts without Kolick skittering upline. Deep cuts will be a little harder to come by, as those same upline cuts (and break throws) compress the field for better deep spacing.

The thing is, none of these players lacks the ability, skill, or desire to fill these roles, if not excel at them. They have each had games or stretches over their time in MLU in which they have been not just competent, but dominant.

D.C.'s Offense Prepares for Morgatron

While it will clearly be important for DC's offensive rotation to prepare for Hibbert's defensive ability, by the time the opening pull goes up, it would behoove them to have assiduously prepared for how Hibbert plays after his team generates a block. Thus far, D.C.'s offensive rotation has feasted on the weaker or tired offenses that teams allow on their defensive rotation in return for a high level of defensive competence. (Not every player can be great at everything.)

That defensive rotation players tend to be less aggressive and skilled at offense allows offensive players to better establish team-level defense. Engaging seven-on-seven rather than as a series of one-on-one matchups helps get blocks.

Against the Nighthawks' defense, D.C.'s offensive rotation would be well advised not to rely on getting the disc back before Vancouver scores. The frequency with which Vancouver's D rotation takes shots into the endzone can result in a three- or four-point run without the O line ever getting a chance to regroup and dig in on D.

Vancouver's Pulls and D vs D.C.'s Pull Play
Vancouver's second most consistent defensive weapon (after Hibbert) is their ability to consistently pull with enough depth and hangtime that their opponents must move the disc for 80 yards into the teeth of the defense. While the pressure starts with the pull, it also relies on one or two players covering enough ground to contest the first pass. Commitment to disrupting the pull play is the opening gambit of every Vancouver D point. When done right, it makes the first throw uncomfortable and distracts the offense from reading other defensive schemes in the offing.

D.C. has made hay by aggressively attacking upfield on pull plays. They generally get one or two free passes before the defense is set, suggesting they might be unaccustomed to consistently great pulls. But it also means that D.C. has a plan and executes consistently. Their offensive pull play motion, which I've covered before, starts with an upline handler cut. Few teams attacked Vancouver with this sort of motion – the West seems dedicated to using cutters early in pull plays – yet there are a handful of examples. Here's an instructive one:

[VAN v SEA Week 5]

It's from a Week 5 game against Seattle. Using Adam Simon as the upline option, Seattles scores to make it 14-16 in two throws. He gains a massive chunk of yardage, continues upfield with his momentum and throws a goal. Two throws, 69 yards, six seconds.

This is very close to the D.C. offensive rotation’s pet pull play, although Seattle's version sends the handler directly upfield. D.C. tends to run this cut at an angle somewhere between Seattle’s vertical route and Vancouver’s horizontal handler route run off of pulls.

Should Vancouver overcommit to getting down on the pull, D.C.'s offense is designed to produce a quick away look from handler motion to aggressive cutters. Defenders sprinting down to cover the pull are at risk of having their momentum used against them.

As the game goes on, O and D will strike a balance between running down hard on the pull and moving the disc quickly, both at a measured pace. Vancouver will put themselves in excellent position to win the title if they can generate a few early break chances before this balance is reached.


Tastes good so far. Future health consequences are sticky. Like this icing lingering on my fingers.

This section is going to focus on the Nighthawks, as I've had the opportunity to write about the D.C. Current all season.

Morgan Hibbert

He’s the focus of every point he plays. In some ways, he’s the most similar player to Alan Kolick in the MLU title game, possibly in the MLU. They both do things you think you've seen before, but with a new twist.

Hibbert on offense is a strange mix of giant, gangly limbs; happy to get in a full-speed race or use a forward-pivoting, two-handed, low-backhand style to irritate unprepared marks to no end. I think he's got the title of MAP (Most Ambidextrous Player) in MLU.

He pulls (and throws deep) with excellent form and power. On defense, he actively discourages opposing throwers from getting isolated deep looks; although when he focuses in on one man, he's tough to get open on and will make bids on under cuts. If you get the disc on him, he's also a large intimidating mark.

Perhaps the right matchup for him won’t be one of D.C.'s top four on offense, affording a little more freedom to roam and help on defense. Ultimately, there are no ideal matchups on D.C.'s O. How Hibbert’s D assignments play out will have a significant influence one Nighthawk success.

Brendan Wong

Wong is a very aggressive cutter, aware of the disc's movement and ready to set up his cuts for a throw or two down the road. He’s also prepared to get open later in the stall count, as Vancouver throwers trust that a downfield option is bound to emerge.

Wong is also an underrated thrower. While his statistics indicate that he's not the highest-percentage player on the line, his creativity with the disc is above average and he doesn't seem averse to taking the easy option.

Either way, Wong is defensive matchup #1 for D.C. to lock down. I assume this will be a primary defender, but expect that he will see different looks against different lineups as the game goes on.

Keane Knapp

A nice, calm, high-percentage core on which to build an offense. Knapp is as dangerous as the rest of the team throwing deep or over the top, but his key skill within the Nighthawks scheme is making well-timed reset cuts. His ability to know when the thrower is going to turn and look – or when the thrower is expecting a cut – smooth the timing and disc movement on offense.

This is necessary as the amount of time each downfield cutter receives in this offense removes precious seconds from how long a thrower can spend looking for the reset. By way of timing and ability, Knapp keeps Vancouver's offensive style, which can become a herky-jerky, stop-start affair, running smoothly.

I expect to see a variety of handler defenders on him like Kantor.

Kirk Savage

While he's a highly aware handler (like Knapp), Savage is more adept at creating space or plays with positioning and a creative set of throws. While Knapp is usually in motion just before the thrower looks, Savage often waits until whenever he is needed and then goes. Both take advantage of minor missteps or poor positioning by defenders, and both are calmer with the disc than the rest of the lineup tends to be.

The extra pressure that Savage tends to take on within the offense includes more aggressive over-the-top throws, finding poached offensive players, and finding spaces to attack in zones. Their respective skills and timing complement each other well.

A variety of handler defenders.  Possibly starting with Miner.

Gagandeep Chatha

As tough matchup for D.C. as he’s been for every team in the West. Over most of the season, D.C. has had the athletic advantage over the offense of most opponents. While they still retain an overall advantage over Vancouver, they lack a player to match Chatha.

While D.C. has players who can challenge him in the air, none of them are as persistently athletic and as large. I suspect that Chatha, like Wong, will see a rotating cast of defenders, and that he will still come down with a deep shot or two over the defense. (The Nighthawks season was a blur of MORGATRON and Chatha skying the bejesus out of hapless foes, while Wong was a threat all over the field on O.) While Chatha will earn clear matchup victories, he will also risk some kind of disadvantage against every defender D.C. puts on him. The Current have put heavy pressure on every opponent's primary options through strategy and athleticism, and Chatha qualifies for the defensive spotlight.


Ah, the core of a non-veganoid breakfast. Boiled. Scrambled. Poached. Fried. Loco Moco'd.

No eggs today folks.  The chickens must be unhappy.  Or at least it means that these teams have never played before, and neither has been in an MLU title game. Everything we're about to see is unprecedented.

Waffles or Pancakes?

This is far closer to a home game for D.C. than it is for VAN. While D.C. will be without their hometown game crew and crowd, their fans will be within a easy drive, bus or train trip. The Nighthawks fans, however, are a continent away. While it isn't a true homefield advantage, it's analogous to a team in the NCAA basketball tournament playing a game within easy driving distance from their campus. The closest school maintains a majority fan stake. Even unaffiliated fans are familiar with one of the teams and not the other.

That the Nighthawks have no idea what, exactly, the D.C. offense will look like absent Kolick may prove to be more a burden than a blessing. The Current know how they'll change their roles, and have had some time to work on the necessary adjustments. But neither the Nighthawks nor any other team in MLU has seen the Current without Kolick.

The challenge for D.C. is in the execution. Consistent handler play and familiar timing are the engine powering most easy downfield gains, most easy field reversals and many quality deep looks. When that timing changes, how will D.C.'s offensive cutters adjust? How will each thrower adjust his progressions without the single most reliable reset in MLU?

We don't know. VAN doesn't know. Only D.C. knows, and we will all find out on Saturday what's been cooked up in the District's top-secret frisbee lab.

I don't think that either team is prepared for the level and focus of the opposing team's defense. More than that, they are in no way prepared for the rate at which the defensive lines create and convert breaks. Both teams will attack quickly off a turn, work their asses off to score every break, and then put another challenging seven on the line for the next point. Complacency or apathy on offense will mean losing this game as both defensive rotations are accustomed to having their way with the opposing offense.

D.C.'s offense (1.92) and defense (2.26) have converted at a low rate of possessions per goal. Vancouver's defense (2.22) has scored points at a lower rate than their offense (2.34). This will likely be the deciding disparity. And, for better or worse, it all comes down to how effective D.C.'s offense is without Alan Kolick. If they play at or above their usual level, D.C. will win. If they sink a little, they might still win. But if they fall off significantly and score fewer than 13 goals, Vancouver will win.

I don't believe D.C.'s offense will sink that far. I believe that both offenses will turn the disc over at about the same rate. However, as has happened all year, D.C.'s offense will get the disc back enough to keep the game close, and their D will make an unendurable run at some point in the game. That – and not Alan Kolick, despite his brilliance – has been the Current's calling card all season.

This looks to be one of the most defensively fascinating games of the season. Both offenses will be fully tested. In the end, Vancouver's offense will be found wanting and D.C.'s offense will do just enough in their new clothes.

D.C. wins, 19-16.

Beverage of Choice
Players or matchups to take in.

Hibbert vs. Shofner & Keegan

These matchups could decide the game. If you had to pick one player in the game who can out-throw the coverage, you'd pick Shofner. Asked to name the player to get a block on anything shy of a perfect deep shot, you'd pick Hibbert. And as for who might rocket a huck past both the defender and receiver? Keegan. VAN and Hibbert have previously been beaten by this type of throw (see Zemel, Matt, Week 5 SEA @ VAN)

These matchups could decide the contest dramatically or quietly, whether through a huck looked off or thrown, or how the geometry of the game changes any time Hibbert is on the field with either of the other two.

Peter Yu vs. D.C. handlers

No matter who on D.C. ends up with the most touches this game, Yu will be right there pressuring and looking to jump routes and get handblocks.

Throwers should not test his mark as the count gets high. He has an active mark that takes advantage of stationary throwers, and a ready understanding of offensive structure. The latter allows him to gamble on anticipated throws, forcing throwers into sub-optimal choices or execution even when he doesn’t get the block.

D.C.'s offense doesn’t hold the disc as long as Vancouver's does, but they do fall into stretches in which individual players will trust themselves a little too much while their teammates stagnate downfield. If Yu can force two or three high-stall throws from the D.C. handlers, and Vancouver's D can turn one or two of them into defensive possessions, it will help hold off D.C.’s offensive defense and produce fast breaks.

Yu also tries to anticipate handler motion in the backfield for poach blocks, any of which could be the advantage Vancouver needs to build a lead.

Vancouver throwers vs. D.C. marks

This heading is somewhat misleading: The game is really about Vancouver’s multiple huckers against D.C.’s team defense.

Offenses in the East tend to have one or two serious threats with the disc. These players do the heavy lifting as deep throwers, but together tend to account for high percentages of team throws and assists. Often you’ll see one thrower with a ton of throws and another with a ton of assists. Countable throwing statistics dwindle after that.

The Nighthawks have a primary handler through which the offense flows first (Kevin Underhill) and, indeed, he leads the team in assists with 22 (on 315 throws @ 92.46%). But he shares the lead with John Norris (on 275 throws @ 85.82%).

Underhill and Norris are spots 9 and 10 on the MLU assists list. Tied with Jeff Graham and Eli Friedman for 11-14 on the list are Kirk Savage (on 250 throws @ 94.00%) and Aaron Loach (165 throws @ 89.70%) with 20 assists each. So the Nighthawks are the only team with four players in the top 15 , and all of them are on Vancouver's O-line. This might help explain how Wong and Chatha combined for 71 goals caught. 

Speaking of Wong (16 assists on 142 throws @ 88.03%), he's tied with Prial, Jake Rainwater (PHL), and Adam Simon (SEA) for spots 20-23 in assists league-wide. Of players with 15 or more assists, 25 are O players and three are defenders: Hibbert, Eddie Feeley (SEA), and James Yeager (SF).

The breakdown by team:

Players in Top 28 - Individual Assists (15 or more) - Total Assists - Ast/Player
VAN 6 - 22, 22, 20, 20, 19, 16 - 119 - 19.83
POR 5 - 28, 19, 15, 15, 15 - 92 - 18.40
DC 4 - 30, 30, 16, 15 - 91 - 22.75
SEA 4 - 26, 19, 17, 16 - 78 - 19.5
BOS 3 - 28, 26, 20 - 74 - 24.67
PHL 2 - 26, 16 - 42 - 21.00
NY 2 - 23, 20 - 43 - 21.50
SF 2 - 18, 15 - 33 - 16.50

Of the teams with the most players in the top 28, three of the top four are VAN, POR and SEA.


Week 11 Place to Be:

PPL Park. Philly.  Championship Saturday. Yes.

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