Riptide Wrap Season at Winona
by Scott Lewis
Photos by Jeff Bell
The Vancouver Riptide’s final game of the 2017 AUDL season, against the San Francisco FlameThrowers, encapsulated the way the entire season in one game.
First off, they lost, for the 13th time in 14 games this year.
Of course there are various reasons for each of those losses, but the biggest one was constantly missing players, often their best and most experienced players. As has happened all too often this year, last Sunday Vancouver was minus a large number of players through injury and obligations to other teams, in this case the Canadian World Games team. In fact, it can be argued that they were missing their top five players for the game, and several more among their top two lines.
Would the missing players have been enough to put the Riptide over the top and get them their second win of the season? Perhaps not, but the final outcome would definitely have been much closer. It was noticeable that the Riptide had more of their throws end up out of control than their opponents did in the very strong and gusty wind. Of course San Francisco is more used to dealing with wind — it is always windy in the Bay Area – but it was their experience, and not just with the wind, that allowed the FlameThrowers to make safer throwing choices when it really counted.
It was not just the players who were missing for this game; Manager Brian Gisel and Head Coach Tasia Balding were also in Poland for the World Games, and even behind the scenes much of the usual group of staff that help make Riptide games an enjoyable experience for both players and fans were also not there. Heck, even usual home Swangard Stadium was MIA. Thanks to the infield track being replaced, Swangard was unavailable, so the game itself was moved to Winona Park.
A more positive constant this season was that even though the Riptide have lost so many of their games, almost all of those games, and every game at home, was competitive, and this was again true at Winona. The Riptide were able to put a scare into the FlameThrowers, but in the end the team that finished 10-4 to win the West Division was able to pull away and handily dispatch the Riptide 26-18.
The most positive constant this season was that the fans have remained loyal throughout in spite of all the losses. Even though the move to Winona meant the team was unable to offer many of the extras that normally keep the fans entertained, the large crowd enjoyed themselves all the same, taking advantage of the closer than usual proximity to the playing field by bantering with referees and players.
Missing so many important players so often is an issue team management and the players will have to sit down and discuss in the off season. Look at these numbers.
Brendan Wong played seven games.
Morgan Hibbert played nine games.
Gagan Chatha played three games, two and a bit really.
Toly Vasilyev played five games.
Tim Tsang played six games.
Rumi Tejpar played four games.
If each of these players had been there for, say, twelve games apiece, this team would have won a lot more games. These guys are veterans who, to put it simply, know how to win, and besides the skills they bring to the field, their mere presence would have inspired the less experienced players to perform with more confidence.
Vancouver will get some help in that regard from the AUDL, which has recognized that the Riptide and Toronto Rush face a much higher burden while supporting national teams than the rest of the teams in the league, so plans are afoot to do some schedule tweaking to help mitigate the burden. And the major world event next year, the Under-24 Championships, will be held in January, so we can expect that Vancouver will be able to field a full line-up more often next year.
There are other hopeful signs for 2018. Ty Barbieri had an outstanding rookie year, leading the Riptide in offense and plus/minus, with fellow rookie Patrick Church also has an excellent season. In the absence of the veterans, Peter Yu showed he has strong leadership ability to go with his skills on both sides of the disc, while Fred Lam became the leader on defense.
With a stronger line-up, a friendlier schedule, and another year of experience for the young guns, the Riptide are certain to be a much better team in 2018. Can they rise all the way to the playoffs? That remains to be seen, but it is certain to be a much closer race next year.