According to the weather forecast, it looks like the Seattle Rainmakers will be living up to their name when the Vancouver Nighthawks pay a visit for a Major League Ultimate game on Saturday night. Players, be prepared to compete in a good old-fashioned West Coast drizzle.
Fortunately, this is a situation all Seattle- and Vancouver-based ultimate players are more than used to, so it should be a good battle amidst the raindrops.
Both teams are coming off losses in their first games of the season last weekend. Seattle was spanked 21-12 by the Stags in Portland, while the Nighthawks were edged 15-14 in San Francisco by the Dogfish, meaning both teams will be spoiling to get their first win. Additionally, while retaining a core of veterans, both suffered heavy roster turnover during the off-season.
According to Nighthawks captain Morgan Hibbert, this makes it hard to prepare for this game.
“We haven’t done anything specific to get ready for the Rainmakers. They could be so much different from last year that it is really hard to prepare. Instead our focus is primarily on ourselves and what we can do to be successful. Any Rainmaker-specific adjustments will have to be made during the game.”
Coach Andrew Lugsdin has more specific ideas based on playing against Seattle teams dozens of times over the years.
“Seattle always has an offense that moves the disc quickly, constantly changing the angles that defenders have to cover. We’ll have to try and slow that down as much as possible. Offensively, we simply need to focus on ourselves right now and strive to be consistent throughout the game.”
Hibbert thinks this young Nighthawks team, featuring so many players who haven’t played in MLU before, will do better this weekend.
“In San Francisco our team played nervously at times which is not unexpected given we have so many players new to the MLU. I don’t think we were fully prepared for the task at hand, which is a failing on my part as a leader. I guarantee we’ll do better at that this week.”
One of those new Nighthawks players is Nathan Lam. Although he is 29-years-old and has played in many different venues and formats over the years, his impressions of his first game serve as a reminder of the difficulties in transitioning to the MLU.
“The approach is different both mentally and physically. Since in the MLU you play only one game rather than multiple games in a tournament, you must be ready from the first point to the last. There isn’t any conserving of energy; you empty the tank during every point you are on the field.”
“Furthermore, the preparation is different; adapting to strategies for different opponents, reading scouting reports, studying matchups and watching game film. Since I haven’t yet experienced a Nighthawks home game, playing on the road with so many fans in the stands was tough. You have to learn to tune out the crowd and focus in on playing your game.”
“And the MLU field is huge compared to regular ultimate fields, so playing defence is more difficult. You have to be more aware of your position on the field and make the appropriate decisions to take away the threats.”
Multiply those factors by 20, the number of MLU rookies on the Nighthawks, and you can see why they were tentative and nervous at times in their first game.
Fortunately the Nighthawks can take several positives from the loss in San Francisco; their defence, and the team’s competition level.
“I felt our defence was our staple in the first game,” said Lam. “We forced the Dogfish into tough positions, caused confusion and never let their offense settle into a comfortable groove. We were adaptive with different defensive looks and kept our aggressiveness and intensity up for the entire game. Even though we were trailing at the end of the game, we never gave up.”
While Coach Lugsdin is proud of his team in their first game of the season, he expects the team to improve starting on Saturday night in Mount Vernon, Washington.
“We need to improve on our chances off turnovers,” says Lam. “We were unable to capitalize on our turnovers and convert them to scores during critical points in the game. As we continue to play more together as a team, we will clean up many of our offensive mistakes.”
Lugsdin also zeroed in on these lost opportunities as one of the keys to winning on Saturday, extending it to the Nighthawks O-line.
“What we need to improve on is converting at a higher percentage when we have the disc. There were some good sequences but too often we didn’t have very good continuation cutting so we made things tougher for ourselves.”
We’ll find out how well the adaption to MLU play and the integration of all those MLU rookies into the team has gone for the Nighthawks when the final whistle blows in the Pacific Northwest drizzle on Saturday night.
The Nighthawks open their home season against the Portland Stags at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 3. You can buy tickets here.