Riptide Hope to Bite the Spiders

By Scott Lewis

At 6 p.m. Saturday night at Swangard Stadium, the Vancouver Riptide will be trying to win their first game of the AUDL season when they host the San Jose Spiders for what should be a spirited game, in all senses of the word.

San Jose has a proud history in the league. In their first season, in 2014, they went 13-1 on the way to topping the Western Division and eventually taking the AUDL Championship, repeating the double in 2015. But last season their best players signed with other teams and they had a mediocre year, going 5-9.

So the 2017 season will be a search for a return to past glories for the Spiders, a journey that has started off well with the Spiders losing a close game to San Francisco on the road, then winning home games against San Francisco and San Diego.

San Diego’s Tyler Bacon describes what his team faced in their loss to the Spiders last weekend.

“San Jose might be the most athletic team in the division. Their offense just took what we gave them. If they got receivers behind us, throwers got the disc downfield. When we played the cutters tight, the handlers consistently found open break space with soft throws. Their D-line attacked us very well in transition, consistently converting our turnovers into four or five passes before we even got a mark back on.”

So for the Riptide this weekend, one key will be exhibiting defensive pressure to control that athleticism, something they were inconsistent with in the loss against Seattle in the home opener last Saturday.

“Communication and the right mind set is the key to our defensive pressure,” said the Riptide’s Brayden Gee. “As our coaches have been telling us all season, we need a different mindset whenever we go out on the line on offense vs. defense.”

“When we were in the right mindset, we stayed tight to our marks, communicated if we needed to switch, and made Seattle throw into tighter windows which lead to blocks and turnovers. The times where our defense seemed to disappear was when our mental state of getting a block wasn’t present.”

Coach Troë Weston elaborates.

“Switching your mindset from D to O in seconds on the field is actually a hard skill to master. You have to be at a high intensity level to play your best D, but to play your best O you have to be calmer. So making that switch is definitely something we need to work on because when our team is in the right mindset on O, the flow is there, the passes are there and we score much more easily.”

“Defense is really a team skill. When everyone is working hard on D, it really puts the pressure on the other team and forces turnovers. Our defense was doing well when everyone on the field was focused on doing just that.”

The Riptide’s Alex Davis thinks he knows why the defensive pressure was inconsistent.

“The biggest difference between our good defensive stands and our weaker ones was probably just the number of practice hours represented on the field.”

“We have a big roster with a lot of individual commitments, students in exam period, and university athletes focusing on their varsity season. So at this time of year, it has been difficult to get everyone on the same page and practicing the same habits. If someone forgets to shoulder-check, or bites on a fake at the same time as someone else chooses the wrong field position, that’s all it takes for the defense to crumble.”

“Sometimes we had seven people on the same page, and sometimes we didn’t. Especially since we’re trying to roll the lines as much as reasonably possible right now, we just have to accept that those errors will sometimes align.”

On the other side of the disc, the biggest problem for the Riptide so far this season has been their end zone offense. At least a half dozen times last Saturday, the Riptide wasted a great scoring opportunity by trowing the disc away in the Seattle end zone eventually leading to a Cascades goal. If even half of those opportunities had been converted, the Riptide would have won the game, and if they had managed to convert them all, the game would have turned into a rout in their favour.

Last weekend Seattle’s veterans, who have played together for years, were able to establish offensive flow when their team needed it the most, carrying them to the win. In contrast, Gee points out the difficulty of creating smooth offensive flow with so many new players on the roster.

“There are times where our cutter movement is being aggressive and anticipating the next throw to create seamless flow, but when our O isn’t looking too hot, cutter flow is stagnant and waiting/reacting to our handlers. This week we need more movement, more aggressiveness in the lanes, and better execution.”

Given the repeated failures to convert good scoring opportunities last weekend, it is no surprise that Weston said that one emphasis in practice this week was on end zone O, particularly communication and decision making, which as Davis said, “was characterized by impatience from nearly everybody”.

Davis points out another surprising weakness to the Riptide’s offense so far this season.

Although our offense generally looked better in open space than it has in a while, we still struggled to set up well-timed strikes, which is a bit peculiar considering the speed we have on this team. That said, we finally calibrated the hucking component to our long game, which was nice to see.”

One factor in the Riptide’s favour is that the Spiders will be coming off what should be a difficult game against Cascades in Seattle the night before.

Will that, plus a week of focused practice be enough to garner Vancouver their first win of the season? Play your part in helping them win by coming out to Swangard Stadium to cheer them on. You can buy tickets here.

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