Last Road Trip of the Season – VS Cascades
Over the course of the last weekend, the Vancouver Riptide played in their final two games of the season. Fittingly, both were to be against their most significant regional rival, the Seattle Cascades. It has been a stormy season for the Vancouver Riptide. The last road trip down to southern California meant a dashing of their remaining hopes for the playoff bracket against Big Sur cliffs. However, despite Seattle’s comparatively strong position in the conference, the two teams usually appear to be quite evenly matched, and tend to trade victories like O points. Therefore, though all serious strategy slipped out the window on the drive down Saturday afternoon, the Riptide still expected to perform at the level they are capable of in the final Seattle home game of the regular season.
Most of the team had spent the morning watching their friends and teammates on Canada’s U23 contingent suffer a difficult loss at the Worlds finals in London against a powerhouse American squad. Riptide members Chatha, Icy Bryson, Yu and Guo deserve a mention for their exceptional performance representing Canada, but were missed on the Riptide’s short weekend roster.
The weather was hot for an evening game, with a swirling breeze collecting in the stadium under the Space Needle. Upwind and downwind kept threatening to emerge but did not, keeping the throws unpredictable and the turnovers frequent. The first few points of the game were a scramble as both teams struggled to get into the game. The second point had five turnovers, a high number by elite ultimate standards. It was a race to which team might find their rhythm first. Within a few points, despite a connection from Gailits to Lee putting Vancouver on the scoreboard, it was clear that Seattle was that team.
Over the course of the first quarter, Seattle cleaned up their offense to play an efficient game of ultimate. After the sloppy first points, the Cascades took the game to 2-8 by capitalizing on Riptide errors without a single additional turnover of their own. As the first quarter clock ran down, the Riptide managed to play a point of clean offence so perfectly within their system it was incongruous with the 6- point deficit. Kevin Underhill brought his first point of the game down in traffic after a series of full- width swings carried the disc across the field. The quarter ended 3-9, the worst 1st quarter deficit the Riptide had seen so far this season.
The rest of the first half was much the same. The Riptide had moments of clear-cut offense which allowed them to put a handful of additional notches on the scoreboard. For the most part, however, their lack of consistent decision-making and blatant execution errors kept the Cascades comfortably in the lead. When Kevin Underhill ripped out a surprising cross- field throw to Kevin Lore deep in the Seattle endzone near the end of the half, it seemed for a moment like yet another unforced error. However, Lore proved that Underhill knows his receivers well by making up the distance with an impressive burst of speed and a layout for the score.
The energy on the sideline took a leap, and the D line went on the field pumped to maintain momentum, but with seconds left on the clock. Frantic offence failed to capitalize on two of Seattle’s turns before Captain Alex Davis got a D as time ran out. The handlers attempted to work it back up the field, but with no time for a reset Fenton was forced to put up a hail-mary pass. Underhill brought it down with a classic snatch, and the half finished 9-15, the same deficit as the first quarter. The Riptide were playing a better game, but it was not the exceptional game they would need to play in order to claw back six points.
Though the team came out of the locker room to throw cracking jokes and positive, that did not translate to better play in the second half. In the third quarter, they managed to keep the gap to six for most of the time, with a couple key defensive plays. Notably, Ryan Lee had a solid handblock on the endzone line, and Darren Wu used his speed to make a run-through D happen which looked impossibly far off. However, these defensive plays were never for breaks, but rather to make up for offensive turnovers.
The third quarter started with the Riptide down by 7, and it seemed for a moment that the energy they had to start the quarter might help Vancouver regain momentum and play for the sake of their bruised pride. A double stunner from Bellavance to Fenton and then again from Fenton to Gailits opened the scoring, bringing reactions from the crowd like only a hammer-scores can. However, this point was followed by a series of unforced errors, and Seattle proceeded to run away with the score for good. Many Riptde stars were racking up stats in the negatives, with more than one player setting personal season records for throwaways and drops. When the game finished, the Riptide were a full pool play game of ultimate behind, at a score of 17-30.
Some days, nothing seems to click. The best teams in the world have these moments. As the level of play gets higher, and the completion gets fiercer, the mental game gets more and more important. The Riptide had very little to play for coming into the Seattle game, and ultimate is a sport which traditionally does not contain many opportunities to play games which have no meaning going forward. On Saturday night in Seattle, it was very clear that the Riptide boys did not know how to turn their mental game back on once they had checked themselves out.
However, this particular group of players is not one to take such an unjustified stomping lightly. There is a fair amount of pride in playing the game well among them, which came to the surface while examining their breakdown in execution. The team had one more chance to play together well the following afternoon, for the closing home game in Vancouver. Building on a loss like that requires a challenging mix of humility in acknowledging your failures and confidence in your capacity to succeed despite them. The Riptide boys were determined to do it.