Photos by Scott Houghtaling – UltiPhotos.com
The drizzle promised by the meteorologists for last night’s Major League Ultimate matchup between the Vancouver Nighthawks and Seattle Rainmakers did not materialize, but the Nighthawks still managed to rain on Seattle’s parade by beating them 22-20 for their first win of the season.
This particular matchup is known as the Border Bid because it is held each year around this time not at Seattle’s usual home field, but in Bellingham, just south of the Canada-U.S. border, due to a top level junior tournament, Spring Reign, which draws teams from both countries.
Held nearby, the tournament provides a flow of enthusiastic spectators for the MLU game while giving the best up and coming players in the area exposure to top level ultimate. And as a bonus for Vancouver, there are also guaranteed to be lots of Canadians down for Spring Reign in the stands to cheer on their Nighthawks, something that Kirk Savage says was definitely noticed by the Nighthawks players during the game. What all those Canadian and American fans saw during the first quarter last night were dominant offenses trading points, with the only break going to the Nighthawks, allowing them to exit the quarter with a 7-6 lead.
But things changed during the second quarter when the Nighthawks made a change in their defensive tactics. “The difference for our D line was that we started playing more man D,” says Nighthawks coach Andrew Lugsdin. “We were mixing things up in the first quarter but weren’t doing a good job whenever we played junk. Once we were in man we were able to get consistent pressure and then we got a few breaks.” You can tell that D-lines are getting the upper hand over the O-lines in a game of ultimate when the teams start making scoring runs rather than just trading points, and runs were the order of the day for the rest of this game. What put the Nighthawks over the top was that their scoring runs tended to last a point or two longer than the Rainmakers’, so their lead was 14-11 at the half and 18-14 after the third quarter.
After the Nighthawks extended the lead to five well through the final quarter, the Rainmakers scored the last three points of the game but never really threatened, making the final margin 22-20 for Vancouver. A big part of the credit for the win goes to the Nighthawks’ deep D-line. Savage noticed that they did really well against the Rainmakers in the air, getting a number of blocks on high throws, while Lugsdin singled out a few D-liners who have exceeded expectations. “We ran a pretty deep bench because we had a bunch of guys playing well,” said Lugsdin. “Ari Nitikman, who is one of our youngest players at only 18-years-old, had a great first game after missing the trip to San Francisco for our opener. Nathan Lam has been a big surprise in both of our games. He’s got that great relentless attitude that all good defenders have.”
But Vancouver can’t win on defense alone, and improvement from the week before was also noticeable on the O-line. Both Savage and Lugsdin singled out the strong play of the O-line cutters, particularly the return of Nighthawks veteran Jordan Tessarolo, who missed the game in San Francisco but chipped in this night with five goals, two assists, and two blocks. “Having Rolo back with the team made a big difference,” said Lugsdin. “He was getting open all game for big gainers under and then making big plays in the end zone.” Savage, whose 57 throws, 54 completions, and 9 points all led the Nighthawks stats as he played his usual key role quarterbacking the offense, really likes what he is seeing from his O-line cutters. “Having Rolo back in the line-up makes our lane cutters a formidable force. I think that Brendo [reigning MVP and scoring leader Brendan Wong] is the shortest lane cutter on our starting O-line, which is pretty awesome for our handlers. And we had a good number of points tonight where once the handlers got the disc to the lane, our lane cutters were able to tic, tac, toe it into the end zone with good timing and flow. When this happens, it is a real confidence builder for the team.” Wong, signaling he will again be in contention for the scoring title, led the Nighthawks in goals with five, giving him a team-leading nine for the season. Wong also notched two assists. Lugsdin also made special mention of another veteran O-liner, Bobo Eyrich, noting that he threw a number of great hucks to that tall crew of cutters. Eyrich ended up with three goals and four assists. Savage, always a student of the game, had some perceptive observations to make on the two teams’ disparate use of timeouts. “It was a chess match of coaching between the two teams with respect to the strategic use of timeouts,” said Savage. “The Nighthawks used their timeouts very effectively to get the O-line on the field after our D-line had forced a turn, while the Rainmakers used their timeouts very differently, but to equal effect.” “They made use of the new rule this year where if you call a timeout between points and you are on defence, you can pull the disc from the centre line. Seattle did this three times in the game with good success. Their defence was able to get down on the pull and pin us in the back of our end zone to start each of those three points. It certainly created some tense moments for us!” Strategic niceties aside, Lugsdin was very satisfied with the effort from his team during this year’s Border Bid. “I’m really pleased with how the offense moved the disc,” he said. “It was lane cut after lane cut after lane cut and we were able to get the disc where we wanted it. Our defense was able to switch it up and put pressure on those throws to create turns. It all looked much better than last week in San Francisco.” Let’s hope the improvement continues for next week’s home opener against the Portland Stags, an afternoon game to be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 3 at Thunderbird Stadium.