Riptide Look for Revenge in Rematch with Aviators
By Scott Lewis
It’s going to be a tad tense with a lot on the line on Saturday night at Swangard Stadium when the Vancouver Riptide host the LA Aviators for a key AUDL match-up.
At this point of the 14-game season, the Riptide hold third place, the last playoff spot, with a 6-5 record, with the Aviators close behind at 5-5. If the Riptide can win their remaining three games, two against Los Angeles and the other against Seattle, they will definitely be in the playoffs and would have a decent chance of catching Seattle for second. There is even a slight possibility they could tie San Francisco (9-3) and/or Seattle (8-4) for first place.
But first they have to win their last home game of the season on Saturday, and that’s where their focus lies.
“This is my first season with the Riptide,” said Trevor Knechtel “and to be honest this past couple of weeks have been the first time I had heard about playoffs or our rankings from the team. Right now we aren’t worried about finishing in a certain position. Our only focus is winning the game every time we step out on the field.”
Assistant Coach Matt Doyle would be pleased with that response.
“As has been our process through the season, we’re focusing more internally on what we can control, and what we can do. Obviously there is some scoreboard watching, but we’re keeping focused on Saturday’s game.”
Only last Saturday, the Riptide played the Aviators for the first time this season and crashed to a 31-24 loss in Los Angeles, but given the conditions, this wasn’t all that surprising an outcome. The team was already short-handed due to a number of players being over in London playing for Canadian teams at the WFDF World Championships, and then Peter Yu went down early in the first quarter with an injury.
(Yu’s participation this Saturday is a game-time decision depending on how well his recovery has gone. Cross your fingers and beg the physios to put in some overtime, because the team needs every healthy body it can get right now.)
As so often this season on the road, the Riptide hung in until the third quarter, when the Aviators forced 5 breaks while outscoring the Riptide 9-4.
“The third quarter problems in Los Angeles consisted of us having a lot of execution errors.,” said Gagan Chatha, who thanks to the absence of so many veterans finds himself as one of the experienced leaders on the team right now at the ripe old age of 23.
“We eventually got out of the funk, but by then, it was too late. “
Special mention should be made of the performance of Ben Burrelle, who led the team with seven goals and three assists in the game. As if that wasn’t enough, he was playing while sick, pushing through a fever to give his all until he sat down after the outcome was no longer in doubt. Drained by the effort, he was only able to play a few points on Sunday.
It certainly wasn’t an easy weekend even for the players who were healthy. They left Vancouver on an 8 a.m. flight Saturday morning, then hopped on a bus after the loss in the Los Angeles for a two hour ride to their hotel in Escondido, north of San Diego, arriving at 1 a.m. In the morning they checked out of the hotel at 10 a.m., picked up supplied, and arrived at the field at 11:30 to prepare the 1 p.m. start of the game against the Growlers.
Although San Diego has won only one game all season, the Riptide arrived at the game shorthanded, tired, battered and bruised, and certainly not used to the 40-degree temperatures at game time. Things got even worse when it turned out that Jordan Dhillon would also be unable to play, trimming the roster to 14 healthy bodies plus a few brief first half appearances by Burelle.
The game started out even, with both teams committing errors by trying difficult throws through swirling winds. San Diego gradually pulled out to a 4-point lead over the shorthanded Riptide in the second half, but at the same time a quiet confidence was growing among the Vancouver players, and the coaches made a key change in defensive strategy.
“We increased the pressure on their under cuts which led to numerous turnovers,” explained Doyle. “We stayed calm on offense, and were able to capitalize. I was extremely proud of our third quarter. We could have easily mailed it in, and come home with two losses. All the excuses were there for the taking, but instead the team took it on themselves to ignore all that and come out strong.”
Still, the Riptide were down 22-20 with only a few minutes left in the game, but then all the hard work the team had put in started to pay off.
“We played tighter and harder as the game wore on,” said Chatha. “It almost felt like the scorching heat helped us forget that we were actually down, because at that point, it was hard to think about much. We really kept it simple. We hit the first open throw and by the time we knew it, we had scored and it was time to play defence again.”
We just kept chipping away at the lead and eventually, we were up.”
The Riptide went on to pull out the win, 25-23. It might seem like not that significant a result, a surprisingly small margin over a team having a poor season, but Knechtel and his teammates who were there see a lot more in the final outcome.
“The game against San Diego could be a defining win for Riptide this season. With a tiny roster of fourteen and a half guys, playing in the San Diego heat, and getting our first win in California, we couldn’t be more proud.”
“That was an amazing display of grit by our team,” added Doyle.
With almost half the roster out and few of those will play on the walking wounded list, the Riptide will need all that pride and more to beat the Aviators this Saturday night. They know what they have to do and remain confident about turning the tables after last weekend’s loss.
“We’ll need to improve our marking by staying tighter, because L.A. is a very unforgiving team if you give them any room,” said Chatha. “They have all the throws and the athletes to come down with the disc when it goes up.”
“Our focus and strategies have not changed,” added Knechtel.”We still want to play smart and fast paced offence while putting the pressure on LA with our aggressive defensive sets. Combining that with a little more focus on the execution of every little pass and every defensive match-up, and that should line us up for success on Saturday.”
Of course, the Riptide will have a not so secret weapon on their side; Swangard Stadium, where they are 6-0 this season.
“Playing at Swangard has been incredible,” said Knechtel.
“The routine and familiarity of our home games is something I always look forward too. The energy that the fans bring absolutely pushes us to do better and behind the scenes the Riptide staff do an amazing job of keeping everything organized so that on game day the team has nothing to worry about except playing our best.”
“We are really looking forward to having home ‘turf’ advantage and playing on the amazing grass for the last time this year,” added Chatha. “Our fans have been really great and the grass has been good to our bodies.”
After a rainy week in Vancouver, even the weather forecast is on the Riptide’s side for Saturday, promising almost perfect conditions for players and fans alike. Don’t bet against the Riptide pulling out a big win no matter how many bodies they will be missing from their line-up.
And if it’s a perfect world, a win over Los Angeles will cap off a day that includes their absent teammates having nailed down some world championship medals in London.
You can buy tickets for this, the Riptide’s final home game of the season here.