Riptide Head to Victoria Home (Game) Away From Home
By Scott Lewis
It’s likely that one or two of the Riptide players would prefer to be preparing for this Saturday’s AUDL game against the unbeaten San Francisco FlameThrowers by snoozing on their couches rather than riding the ferry to Vancouver Island, but I am sure once they hit the field and hear the crowd in the friendly confines of Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park, any resentment will quickly dissipate.
After all, the Riptide are taking Ultimate back to its provincial roots. An Ultimate precursor its inventor called Frisbee Football was being played regularly at Willows Beach in the mid-1970s, the first ever game of ultimate in B.C. was played in the Victoria suburb of Esquimalt in 1979, and the first ultimate team in the province, the Flying Islanders, was formed in Victoria in 1982.
It will certainly help that at least half a dozen of the Riptide players have ties to Victoria. Oliver Telfer is a perfect example, having played five years for the varsity team when he attended the University of Victoria.
“There is a great Ultimate community in Victoria, and I’m lucky to call many of them my friends. I certainly hope they will be in the stands, though I am sure they would be there anyway just to take in the game.”
“And I’ve never played in Royal Athletic Park. It’s a great venue, and I’m definitely excited to play there.”
Telfer and his teammates will be taking part in the most important game so far this season in the AUDL’s Western Conference. Considering San Francisco’s 6-0 record so far this season, it won’t be an easy task to send the fans home happy about a Vancouver win.
Stop and consider this list of Riptide players who missed last week’s match-up against San Diego due to national team commitments — Rumi Tejpar, Morgan Hibbert, Myles Sinclair, Kevin Underhill, Anatoly Vasilyev, Fred Lam, and Alex Davis. If – or, according to Riptide GM Brian Gisel, when – the Riptide were to be playing in the 2016 AUDL championship game with a minute left and the score tied, those seven players might be who the coaches sent out on the line to win the big game.
But here’s the thing. The line-up Gisel has built is so deep that even though all those players and a few more missed last Saturday’s game against San Diego, the Riptide were able to win that game handily by a score of 27-19. A big part of that win was that even as the experienced crew off on Team Canada duty went out, in came a gaggle of younger players back from duty with the UBC varsity team, which this year made it as far as Regionals before being eliminated.
The chief contributors among the returnees last Saturday were two players, Peter Yu and Brayden Gee, who recently played their last games for UBC due to graduation. Both are extremely quick and very fit, and their presence helped the Riptide throw San Diego off their huck game right from the opening pull.
“Our start to the game was one of our better ones since the start of last season,” said Assistant Coach Matt Doyle. “Getting some big contributions from Brayden and Peter helped immensely.”
“It seemed like San Diego may have been a little unfocused at the start, possibly from playing the night before in Seattle. Once we were up a couple of breaks, it became a more predictable game, which our guys handled well. Our pressure on the handlers seemed to limit their deep game, which is something we’ll be continuing to work on throughout the season.”
Both Doyle and Head Coach Tasia Balding were very impressed with what Gee accomplished in his first game back.
“His pressure in the first quarter propelled us into the lead, and set the stage for the win.”
Peter Yu is in a sense a bit of a coach’s dilemma. His unique quickness and sense of anticipation allow him to sometimes play in ways that any coach would forbid other players from even thinking of trying. A perfect example is that one of his team-leading three blocks against San Diego occurred when he laid out while marking the disc, something you almost never see in top level Ultimate.
“Peter brings an energy level that infects the whole team,” said Doyle. “He doesn’t take any points off, and is a battler. He is sometimes a little unorthodox, but that works for him, and works for our team. But even with his contribution to the win, I saw some rust around the large field, so expect him to be an even bigger impact player as he reacquaints himself with the larger field and AUDL game through the rest of the season.”
Yu agrees with that assessment.
“I had a couple of hiccups offensively, so Saturday’s game wasn’t quite as seamless as I would have hoped. Nevertheless, when you win, most issues get ironed out, so here’s hoping I’ll play a little more efficiently next time, and that we’ll keep winning.”
Doyle was also impressed by the showing of a youngster still getting his AUDL legs.
“It was great to see Jordan Dhillon get a couple of goals. He’s been working hard, getting used to the big field and playing in front of a crowd.”
But when you talk to any of the Riptide players or coaches, they quickly steer the focus from individuals to the team as a whole. Given that the coaches have reorganized the way they allocate playing time, dispensing with traditional O- and D-Lines and spreading playing time out more evenly among the entire roster, you might expect a little resentment, but there has been no sign of that.
“In general, I was really impressed with everyone playing the team game,” said Doyle. “There have been some comments in the locker room surrounding the distributed playing time and the number of players sharing goals and assists, but they’re all positive. The team has really bought into the process, and it’s a really supportive environment.”
Handing San Diego their sixth loss in seven last Saturday was one thing; beating the San Francisco FlameThrowers with their 6-0 record and +34 scoring differential so far this season will be another. No fewer than 15 San Francisco players have compiled a double digit positive plus/minus so far this season. In their last game, a 32-25 win over San Jose, Simon Higgins scored seven goals, two assists, and 2 Ds, a number of those goals on assists from Robbie Cahill and Eli Kerns, who quarterbacked the O-line, totaling 12 assists and 78 completions in the win against only four throwaways.
Those are some fancy numbers, but given this is the team Vancouver expects to meet if – sorry, Brian, when — they make it to the West Division finals, the Riptide would like to make a statement. Brayden Gee will not be available in Victoria, but the good news if that most of the veterans who were off with Team Canada last weekend will be back in the fold, so the Riptide will be fielding what is almost a full strength team for the showdown.
Doyle certainly isn’t worried about a lack of effort from his charges at Royal Athletic Park.
“We’re a competitive team.”
“This weekend’s game will be the first true test of where we are a complete unit. We know that San Francisco is the favourite to win the West, maybe even the AUDL as a whole. As competitors, it is always exciting to match up against the best. While our focus will, as always, continue to be on playing our own game, we do have some strategies that we think can limit some of what San Francisco wants to do to be successful.”
To beat the FlameThrowers, the Riptide will need not just every ounce of smarts and effort they can muster, but enthusiastic support from the locals in the stands. But even if they don’t pull off the win, you can bet that it will be an exciting game, and that the spectators will head home happy and entertained.
You can buy tickets for the game in Victoria, and for the rest of the Riptide’s upcoming home games at Swangard Stadium here.