Riptide Head Back to LA for a Must Win Rematch
By Scott Lewis
With their playoff hopes on life support , the 6-6 Vancouver Riptide head to Los Angeles to play the 7-5 Aviators this Saturday night, oddly their third meeting in three weeks.
The Riptide need to win in Los Angeles and then next weekend beat the Cascades in Seattle in the last game of the season, and hope that the 1-11 San Diego Growlers can somehow take down the Aviators in Los Angeles to finish their respective seasons. It’s a long shot, for sure, but the Riptide players aren’t worried about that. It’s one play at a time, one quarter at a time, one game at a time from here on out.
“Yes, this is a do-or-die game for us,” said Ari Nitikman, “but it would be a mistake to focus on that. It’s just another game, just another point. Focusing on how ‘big’ a moment or game is usually leads to unfocused mistakes.”
That’s a pretty mature attitude for a player who just turned 20 years old and is in his first AUDL season, but that’s the way it’s been for the Riptide for large parts of the season due to the veterans being off on Team Canada duty. The kids have had to step up, and step up they have. No matter the final outcome of this drive for the playoffs, they have proved they have what it takes to succeed.
Indeed, that’s the silver lining for the 2016 Riptide season, a bright shiny 24-carat silver lining at that.
“Our vets Gagan Chatha and Darren Wu — vets at the age of 23 and 21! — have really stepped up in terms of leadership,” said Nitikman. “Gagey was much more vocal than he would normally be with the TC guys here, while Darren didn’t lead with his voice so much as his plays, both on defense and offense.”
Yes, that’s right. The veteran leadership for this group of young players, who have more than held their own against seasoned veteran AUDL opponents, has been supplied by a 21-year-old and a 23-year-old!
“I’ve been impressed with the young guys’ desire to get better,” added Assistant Coach Matt Doyle. “That to me is the biggest thing in sports, that continuous examination of how to improve one’s game, something very evident among the younger contingent on the team.”
There is indeed a bright future looming for the Riptide, but let’s follow the player’s example and return to the present.
After being defeated 31-24 in Los Angeles two weeks ago in a game that was closer than the score, and then losing to them 21-20 last weekend at Swangard Stadium in a game that could have gone either way, the Riptide know exactly what they need to do against the Aviators’ handler-oriented offense, which seems content to give up ground in order to keep possession of the disc.
“We have to stay tighter on our handler covers and need to move on the mark,” said Brayden Gee, at 23 another member of the Riptide’s youth contingent. “When we do both those things, lower percentage throws are the result and it gives us a chance to get a block.”
“We believe that keeping a tight gap on the handler coverage will give us the opportunity to force some harder reset throws,” agreed Doyle. “The strategy did provide us some turns when we used it, but it is a challenge with the smaller roster to keep that high intensity defense going point after point.”
“Generally we want to force harder reset throws.”
“Los Angeles is very patient around the end zone,” added Head Coach Tasia Balding. “Our D needs to shut down their primary options by win the one on one match-ups. It’s just plain hard work. “
“It’s going to be a challenge,” is how Doyle summed it up. “We need to execute at a high level. L.A. will give us chances to break, but we need to turn those opportunities into goals.”
Although some of the Team Canada contingent will be back in time to play this weekend, some of the youngster like Wu, Jordan Dhillon, and Ben Burrelle are unable to make the trip, so the team will still have a short bench for this important game. This will make it harder to generate the defensive pressure the Riptide need to disrupt the Aviators’ offence, but it also has its positive sides.
“In terms of development, in a way it can be nice to have only 14-16 guys,” said Nitikman, “because the team, especially the handlers, are able to get into a rhythm of every other point and develop some chemistry. Handlers played in the same threesome for most of the games we have been short-handed, and I think because of that, we have a better understanding of how the other handlers move and operate.”
“The return of the vets will also allow some players to return to roles where they are more comfortable, and have been more successful,” added Doyle. “And it will be exciting to catch up on what occurred in London, so I expect some new energy to be brought by the returning players.”
The two teams will hit the field on 7:30 Saturday night.