Looking Back on the Season So Far
by Scott Lewis
Photos by Jeff Bell
As the Vancouver Riptide prepare to head to California for another weekend doubleheader, this time against San Francisco and San Jose, their 2017 season is half over. The 1-6 record doesn’t look so hot, and certainly isn’t something to be proud of, but let’s dig a little deeper into what happened during those seven games.
We’ll start with a high note; the very last play of the half season, the goal that garnered Vancouver their first win.
Evan Lepler does a good job of describing the goal from Morgan Hibbert‘s POV in his Tuesday Toss column, which you can find here. Scroll about two thirds of the way down this page to find the section on the Riptide. Keep the page open after reading his account so you can replay the video as you read on further here.
To complement Lepler’s account, we’re going look at the goal from the POV of the man who threw the disc, Will Vu.
First take a look at Vu’s season stats for the Riptide. Open this webpage, then click on the Passing tab, and finally click on Assists until you have the big numbers sorted to the top of the list. Vu is far in the lead in Completions, but also has the most Throwaways and stands only third in Assists. But there are times in a game and season when a higher risk thrower like him is just what is needed.
I have watched thousands of ultimate players over my almost forty years of involvement in the sport, but Will is one of the most unusual. First there is his left-handedness. There are of course plenty of left-handers playing the sport at a high level, but few that have the variety of throwing skills he has. Take that scoober to Hibbert to win the game, for example.
Then there is his field vision. If you get a chance to watch him in a Riptide game, it’s worth your time to observe how he manoeuvres around the field, where he sets up to receive the disc, and where he looks to throw it once he has caught it. You’ll begin to sense that he is seeing things the rest of the players don’t, that he sees a number of plays ahead like a chess master. That is part of the reason for his high turnover rate; sometimes he outsmarts his teammates because they miss the opportunities he sees.
And Vu is one of those sneaky fast guys, who moves so languidly he just seems to arrive at his destination without effort, almost surprising opponents. And he is better in the air than he seems as evidenced by this big sky earlier in the game.
And on top of that, Vu is one of those players who loves to play in the big moment. Some players freeze when everything is on the line; Vu is the opposite, cool as a cucumber when the chips are down. Rather than avoiding responsibility, he embraces it
So when, after a timeout, Tim Tsang picked up that disc with a few seconds to go in overtime last Saturday, Vu was the perfect choice for the first cut. When you watch the replay, from the end zone angle you can see Vu give a quick signal to Tsang to put it up towards the corner of the end zone, but when the throw comes low, Vu figures out what is happening before the defender does, brushing by him like he isn’t even there and catching the disc just outside the end zone.
“Tim and I both saw that the front right corner was open,” said Vu “but the throw came short and the defender was clearly not expecting it to be so short. I just had time to react to the situation.”
Here is where Vu as a secret weapon comes into full force. Watch the way Hibbert drifts to the far side of the end zone while teammate Ty Barbieri does a little end zone curl to draw Hibbert’s defender a little further away. And watch how after catching the disc Vu immediately rises up and releases his favourite throw, the scoober, leaving the beleaguered San Diego player who is supposed to be marking him flailing fruitlessly and the defender who thought he was marking Hibbert helpless..
“All I know was that I had very little time left,” said Vu. “From what I could see no one was close enough to my only option, Morgan, and the angle was perfect for the scoober.”
Hibbert knew the deadly scoober was coming, Barbieri knew it was coming, the defenders didn’t. Game over.
Let’s look at some other stats from that game.
Click on Games at the top of Ultianalytics webpage, and then make sure you are on Game 7 vs. San Diego using the dropdown at the upper left. Then click on Points, and finally on Expand All. This will reveal all Riptide actions, point by point.
At 1-1 O-Line, the Riptide have a decent offensive point, albeit with a turnover and recovery in the middle, but the only other points where the Riptide complete a decent number of passes in the early going end up with turnovers and San Diego scoring a break.
The offense starts to come together at 4-7 O-Line. Although there is a turnover early on, the Riptide are starting to get the give and gos working, and they convert the point after recovering the disc. By the time we get to 7-9 O-Line, in the middle of a string of breaks, the offense in humming, completing 18 passes in a row, with lots of give and gos. If you continue to scroll down the page, other than during a brief period in the third quarter when San Diego pulled ahead, you will see plenty more outstanding O points, Even when the offense does turn it over, they usually get it back and convert the score.
Now click on Team at the top of the page and again select the most recent game against San Dieho, and you will see how important another veteran is to the audience even though he doesn’t put up big stats.
It is no surprise that Tim Tsang, who has become the centrepiece of the Riptide offense, led Vancouver in te ame in both assists and hockey assists with six of each.
But look at who got the hockey assists on Tsang’s scoring passes. Joel Bellevance, who didn’t get a goal or assist the entire game, got the hockey assist on four of Tsang’s six assists. Bellevance is the kind of glue player who does the unsung work that allows a team to win. He understands what his role is what he needs to do to make is teammates better.
Now let’s widen the scope and compare the first half of the Riptide’s season with that of their West division rivals.
One thing that has made it very difficult for the Riptide to succeed has been roster churn due to injuries and international duty. How many players have managed to play in all of their team’s games so far thhis season?
San Francisco 8
San Jose 7
Los Angeles 12
San Diego 9
Yes, Vancouver has had the most unsettled season compared to their divisional rivals, exacerbated by many of the missing being their top players, veterans who have been injured or missed games while away on international duty. Since there are so many American teams compared to Canadian teams in the AUDL, the burden of staffing their respective national teams is much heavier for the Canadian teams.
Now let’s take look at how the various teams’ offenses function. The raw stats from Ultianalytics were converted to per game stats for comparison.
207 passes completed leading to 20 goals
252 passes completed leading to 27 goals
226 passes completed leading to 26 goals
322 passes completed leading to 28 goals
283 passes completed leading to 24 goals
256 passes completed leading to 23 goals
You can see that Vancouver scores the fewest goals and makes the fewest passes, but the last three quarters of the win over San Diego show that this can be remedied. Improving the offensive play, be it by the O-line or by the D-line after they force a turn, will be the key to winning some games the rest of the season, keeping in mind that defensive pressure can be the key to creating positive conditions for an offense to flourish.
And here’s one last positive to take forward into the second half of the season; the statistical domination by rookie Ty Barbieri. He is leading the Riptide so far in goals with 19, in plus/minus with a +20, and in Ds with 10 in spite of only ranking 8th in number of D points played. Yes, this is in part due to the absence of so many of the big guns, but still a very promising harbinger of things to come.
The next Vancouver Riptide home game is on Saturday June 3rd at 6 p.m. at South Surrey Athletic Park, where the Riptide will once again play host to the San Diego Growlers. You can buy tickets here.