Stunners & More : California Road Trip Recap
This past weekend, the Vancouver Riptide had the biggest and most exciting road trip of the regular season. Coming off two decisive victories in Vancouver against Seattle and Salt Lake, this California shakedown would be significant for earning a playoff spot. It was a double header, with a game against western conference leader San Jose on Saturday night, and their close second – by point differential alone- the San Francisco Flamethrowers on Sunday afternoon. Thus far, though the Riptide is clearly ahead of the bottom half of the conference, Vancouver has had a hard time challenging these top two teams.
Saturday night in San Jose the game was televised on ESPN3, and excitement was running high in the stadium. Riptide was ready to pull out an upset, on top of their game with nothing to lose. San Jose’s dominance was threatened for the first time last week with a loss to the Flamethrowers, and the Riptide was looking to repeat the feat.
In the last match-up of these two teams, Vancouver went down early and was unable to make up the point difference. This time, they came out strong. Refusing to be underestimated, Riptide’s chemistry was clear as they led the first quarter. To quote an observer, ‘everyone was playing their top game, but Darren Wu played the game of his life’. Already some highlights have been posted, and if those catches are any indication, this young player is really making a name for himself. Currently tied for 6th in the league for goals with Spiders superstar Beau Kittredge, Wu is clearly able to compete with the best.
Working off the energy and intensity put forward by their top players, Riptide was able to take half with an impressive lead of 17-14. Throw percentages were high, and smart plays with few mistakes contributed to their lead. Additionally, while in the previous match-up San Jose brought down most of the deep looks, Riptide was able to use their long game with great success on the windless day. Defensively, Mads Gotlieb played a stronger deep game than in the previous games, bringing down an impressive four Ds.
The second half was when the Spiders began to fight back, forcing more turnovers as the crowd chanted for the defence. Unsurprisingly, they also tightened up their roster, especially in the final quarter, and Kittredge played 10 of the final 12 points. Riptide’s top players responded with stellar performances of their own, with Tim Lavis standing out as an excellent o-line initiator, and Derek Fenton and Ryan Lee once again racking up the assists. San Jose caught up to tie the score 21-21, and in the dying minutes of the game the two teams traded points, taking it to 25-25 with less than a minute left to play.
Kevin Lore had just scored the tying goal with some smart handler movement, so the Riptide was on defence to start the final point. The D line was able to force #22 Marcelo Sanchez on the Spiders to make a heroic grab to maintain possession. No more errors were made, however, by the talented San Jose offence, and they snatched the final point for the win with half a second remaining on the clock. Final score, 25-26 for the Spiders.
Despite how hard it is to lose in the final seconds, the Riptide should be proud of the game they played. It has been called the most exciting game of the year, and it makes it clear that despite the gap in the standings, the Riptide are not a write off in any game. There was no time to recuperate, as after a late dinner and a short sleep, our boys had to face the Flamethrowers the following afternoon.
The roster was smaller and drained after the heroic effort against the Spiders, as key receiver Darren Wu did not dress for the game after aggravating an injury the previous evening. Regardless, once again the Riptide came out hard and led, this time by a single break, for most of the game. The back-to back performances showed, however, that the Riptide did not quite have the stamina to pull out a victory. Other that Wu, other players were playing through bruises and strains from the night before, costing the offence in speed and productivity- from 71% in the previous game to 50% in this one. Defensively, Jasper Lu and Samson Ho stepped up to make an impact, as Jasper led the team in Ds and Samson got a massive highlight-reel worthy layout D. Max Hunter and Graham Landon are also worth mentioning as the consistent core of the D-Line.
It may have been that more mental toughness was needed to stop the momentum which the more experienced Flamethrowers gained in the final quarter. From a tie game at 15-15, the Flamethrowers scored 5 of the final 6 points to make the final score 16-20. This second loss made the Riptide’s season record 5-4, which may have put them out of a playoff spot. Though nothing is certain yet, with the Spiders and Flamethrowers both sitting at 7-1 records, there will have to be more than one upset for the Riptide to break the top two in the West.
Kevin Lore asked me if there was a stat for hammers thrown or hammer scores- pointing out that if there was, Riptide might be leading the league. In fact, the enthusiasm with which they throw the now-famous ‘stunner’ is what makes them an exciting team to watch. I hear Reynaldo Artega is a big fan of ESPN announcer Evan Lepler, who was covering the game, and the Riptide gained some more fans of their own this weekend with their exciting and athletic style of play. There’s more to them than stunners folks!
Despite how difficult it is to come home with two such hard-fought losses, there was more optimism than disappointment in our returning heroes. Between ice baths and trips to In-n-Out, they have come home more of a tight-knit team than ever, having tasted what it is like to compete at the top level. If they maintain it, the rest of the season should be great ultimate to watch.
Next weekend is an important one in the Vancouver Ultimate scene. The annual Flowerbowl tournament brings the top club teams from the Pacific Northwest out for their first tournament of the year. As many teams often use it as a final round of tryouts, it can be as much of a good time as it is intense. To add to the festivities, The Riptide will be moving away from their home stadium to play a showcase game in UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium at 1pm, in the midst of the Flowerbowl tournament. It will be their third time facing the Salt Lake City Lions, and they will be hoping for a third victory, even more thorough than the last. I hope to see you there!