Photos by Jeff Bell – UltiPhotos.com
After a big win over the San Francisco Dogfish last weekend, the Vancouver Nighthawks were unable to score the crucial upwind break points on the way to losing to the Seattle Rainmakers on a windy evening in Mount Vernon. The inaugural Border Bid, held halfway between Vancouver and Seattle, went to the host Rainmakers 20-15.
After jumping on San Francisco for an early lead and building on it through the entire game last weekend, the Nighthawks got off to a slow start this game. The Rainmakers received the opening pull and scored first when Danny Trytiak completed a simple backhand to Khalif El-Salaam. On the next point Seattle’s Bryson Uhrig-Fox got a D which eventually led to a break for Seattle, scored by Uhrig-Fox on a pass from Henry Phan. On the third point Vancouver’s Nick Menzies passed the disc to a Seattle player, after which a grateful Trytiak sent it on to Isaac Entz for another break and a 3-0 lead, prompting the Nighthawks to call a timeout.
This seemed to wake up Vancouver, as they scored the next goal, and although they gave up another break in the quarter, their huck offence got rolling. Though not always leading directly to a goal, the Nighthawks offence started moving the disc far enough down the field so that the player who caught the huck was in excellent position to pass the disc for the score. The last goal of the quarter was a perfect example: Jordan Tessarolo got a D for Vancouver, leading to a Morgan Hibbert huck to Tessarolo who had an easy pass to Allan Cowan to tie the score at 5-5.
The Nighthawks took their only lead of the game on the first point of the second quarter when, after several turnovers, Cowan passed the disc to Rumi Tejpar to make the score 6-5 on another break. But then the freshening wind and the Rainmakers’ junk zone defense started giving the Vancouver handlers a lot of trouble. “Seattle’s zone was effective largely because, sadly, we weren’t mentally prepared for it,” said the Nighthawks’ Alex Davis. “We don’t see a lot of wind in Vancouver, so we don’t practice holding a zone formation for very long. In these conditions, with our lack of practice, we failed to see the opportunities that were right in front of us. We could see the holes from the sideline, but we just didn’t recognize them in the heat of the moment.”
The wind was starting to play havoc, and several points in the second quarter featured multiple turnovers. One point lasted so long that both teams took timeouts, the second called by the Nighthawks leading directly to a Brendan Wong pass to Matt Berezan to make the score 9-8 for Seattle with less than three minutes left in the half. Mario O’Brien passed to Donnie Clark to make it 10-8 with a minute left, before Wong scored with no time left on the clock make the halftime score 10-9 for Seattle.
It’s actually pretty remarkable that the Nighthawks were this close at half, since they did not do well at one of the basics of Ultimate, holding the force. “That was a major disconnect between our defensive strategy and our defensive execution,” said Davis. “We had determined that in that wind, we wanted to force OI-edged throws as much as possible, as they generally aren’t as resilient to the wind. The Pulsar [the disc used in MLU] generally cuts through the wind effectively with flat or inside-out edge. The inside break was deadly. But despite that strategy, we generally jumped too far over on the mark, an instinct that tends to get ingrained from playing defense on a wide field, and it was killing us.” (For a right-handed backhand throw, an OI or outside-in throw will first curve left of a straight line to the target and then come back right, while an inside-out throw will first curve to the right and then back to the left.) The wind continued to pick up as the second half got underway, but this did not deter Nighthawks handler Kirk Savage from breaking out his repertoire of funky scoobers and hammers, including a hammer huck to Kevin Underhill to make it 11-10 Seattle after the Rainmakers had scored the first point of the half on a break. After trading scores, the teams embarked on another marathon turnover-filled point. After a Vancouver timeout, the Nighthawks finally scored an upwind point on a Savage hammer to Aaron Loach, and it looked like the rest of the game would be a close battle. But after Seattle scored the next point on an upwind huck from O’Brien to Trytiak, they scored a pair of breaks, the latter after Brendan Wong dropped a catchable pass that would have been a much-needed upwind goal, to take the lead 15-12.
This meant the Nighthawks desperately needed to score a few upwind breaks, but the wind continued to wreak havoc. They did pull it back to 15-13 on a spectacular Hibbert sky over two defenders in the Seattle end zone, to 16-14 when Mark Leduc made a nice layout to catch a Hibbert pass, and to 17-15 when Tessarolo found John Norris in the end zone, all three on downwind points; but after another turnover-filled point, Khalif El-Salaam provided the dagger. After making a great layout D against Hibbert – Hibbert asked for a foul call in vain – he sprinted downfield to create a bookends on a huck from O’Brien. This left the Nighthawks in desperate straits, down three goals with just two minutes left, so they had to take some chances which didn’t work out, and Seattle cruised to their final winning margin of 20-15. Khlif El-Salaam was all over the scoresheet for the Rainmakers, totaling four goals, two assists, and a D, while Donnie Clark scored five goals and Henry Phan had five assists. For the Nighthawks, Brendan Wong totaled three goals and an assist, while Kirk Savage scored four assists.
The Nighthawks have a bye next weekend, affording them a good opportunity to work on problems in practice. Coach Lugsdin will focus his team on getting the disc into the end zone on upwind points, something they managed to do only once in this game. “Honestly, I think that we were playing afraid of their defense,” said Davis. “Our D-line is most effective when we have momentum; starting from stagnation in those conditions is tough. And I suspect we were afraid of letting the defense catch up and re-establish their strength. So even though we were running out of targets as we approached the endzone, we took 70% shots instead of regrouping. That’s a mental weakness; when circumstances are challenging, you can’t meet them with fear. We just need to remind ourselves that we’re strongest when we commit to our systems.” “Our defense was strong. It was not perfect, by any means, but we applied pressure to the handlers and we generated risky throws and turnovers. That’s a crucial component to the D-line’s game; now we need to revisit the second half – converting under pressure.”
After a bye week, the Nighthawks next home game will be against the Seattle Rainmakers at the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Stadium on Saturday, May 10 at 7 p.m. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more stories about the 2014 Vancouver Nighthawks.