A Quick Look in the Rear-view Mirror – Open Tour 2013

A Tour, Chesapeake Invite, Chevron, Clapham, EMO, Fire of London, Open, xEUCF
James Burbidge looks back at 2013 from the Open division perspective.

Another year another national championship for Clapham, followed up by another European title. With their sights firmly set on Worlds, and a two-year plan in place, Clapham were a dominant force, even by their own standards. Aside from their obvious additions to the trophy shelf, one of the highlights of the year must have been a strong performance at the Chesapeake Invite where they narrowly missed out on a spot in the final, facing up all weekend against some of the toughest US club teams. You can read more about that weekend here.

Clapham take the European title for the second year running. Photo courtesy of Get Horizontal.

Beyond the obvious however, Open ultimate in the UK was in a state of flux. With split Euro and World qualifications, Tour took on a significance perhaps greater than Nationals, and was made all the more complicated with the inclusion of the non-Tour-point-scoring GBu23s.

The result? Whilst Clapham and Chevy qualified for both Euros and Worlds, the remaining Worlds spot went to EMO – a team who failed to qualify for Euros behind Brighton, Devon, Fire and Ka-Pow. EMO’s strong performance at Tour (up 8 spots on 2012) comes despite internal fluctuation as their GB players (including captain Joe Wynder) rotated in and out of the squad. There is no doubt that a Worlds spot in the bank eased the sting of failing to qualify for Euros and that they’ve plenty to look forward to in 2014.

On the opposite side of the see-saw, Fire (1 at least) went through a difficult transition year, losing 9 experienced first team players, with new captains recruiting from far and wide. Whilst they finished a disappointing 7th at Tour, a Euro-qualifying 5th at Nationals and a strong performance at Euros (9th) will give them hope for the 2014 season. 

Elsewhere, it seems promising that strong bubbles of Ultimate are forming away from London (and telephone teams). Manchester Ultimate had a strong season, capped perhaps by taking the Regional title over Chevron. Devon finally broke through as they have been promising to do for years, and a Euros spot is only going to encourage them. Meanwhile, despite rebranding, Brighton have quietly continued to go about their business, consistently producing upper-level ultimate (and players to be snapped up).

Further down, the bottom half of A-tour was in a more normal state of flux, and received opinion is that the top half of B-tour has become significantly stronger with a roughly equal bracket of 8 stretching between the two divisions. Flump’s charge up the rankings from C to A-tour (and Nationals) provided some seeding headaches for the competitions committee and it will be interesting to see where their season goes next year. 

So whilst the top of the table remained stable, it seems that in 2013 anything beyond that was up for grabs – will this trend continue in 2014? Stay tuned, we’ll be taking a look shortly.

Watch out for James’ preview for 2014, here on theShowGame.

Clapham at Chesapeake: Is the Gap really closing?

Boston Ironside, Chesapeake Invite, Clapham, PONY, Ring of Fire, Sub Zero
Sion “Brummie” Scone, continues this seasons analysis of Clapham Ultimate and their run up to WUCC 2014 in Lecco, Italy. 

Previously, I wrote about how much potential I thought Clapham have in 2013, tempered with the fact that they still have work to do if they want to have an impact at WUCC, to avoid a repeat of their disappointing results in 2006 & 2010.  With this in mind, I watched footage of their games vs Ring & Ironside, to find some insights into the question posed by Pichler recently as to how big the gap is, and to work out whether that gap is being closed by the efforts of Clapham, and if not, what they need to do to achieve their aims of a semi final berth at WUCC.

Firstly, let’s look at the stats (note: “Scoring %” differs slightly between O and D lines; it is the number of goals scored / number of points played for O, and the number of goals scored / number of points where the D line forced a turnover for the D line.  The number of possessions required to score a goal are therefore irrelevant for this stat… a deeper look could get into this in more detail!  I wanted to ensure that this statistic reflected the scoring rate where each line had the disc):

The results are pretty interesting.  I posted the scores for Sub Zero’s final-winning game in order to provide some comparison.

The Ring game was very sloppy from both teams’ O lines, and the real star here was Clapham’s D line who rattled off 4 breaks in a row after half to pull into a 3 point lead; still, Ring had the disc to tie the game up at 13-12, but Clapham’s O held and the D line broke again for the 15-13 win.  Clapham’s D line scored 7 goals from 8 attempts, which is a phenomenal rate of 87.5% and proves they are a world-class unit.  The same cannot be said for the O line, who scored 8 goals from 16 possessions, meaning 1 turn per goal on average, and considering that just 5 of the 12 points played resulted in goals without a turnover, there is a lot of work to be done if they want to compete at WUCC.

The Ironside game stats show where Clapham’s reliance on their D line will cost them when playing elite opposition, as they simply do not turn over with anywhere near the same frequency.  Clapham’s D line were only able to get the disc in 5 points, and scored 3 of them.  This is probably in line with the scoring rates required of elite level defensive units – Ben Wiggins believed that 3 breaks should be sufficient to win any game, as the strength of his then team Sockeye meant they were confident in their offence’s capabilities, and were therefore not reliant upon their D line to win games – but Clapham’s O line again shows that they racked up 13 turns to score 9 goals (compared to 5 turns from Ironside’s O line who scored 10 goals).  In fact, in the first half, Clapham’s O line scored only 1 goal without turning over (from a total of 6 goals), and their D line scored 1 break from 3 points where they had possession.  The second half saw 100% offence from the Clapham D line (2 breaks from 2 possessions), and 3 goals without turning from their O line, yet the remaining two points saw multiple turns from Clapham’s O and both led to Ironside breaks, allowing them to to keep their lead and take the game 14-12.  Saving just one of these breaks would have been enough to take the game to sudden death.  

Comparison of Clapham’s scoring percentages to Sub Zero’s in the final gives an idea of where “the gap” lies; O line turnovers; Clapham need to be aiming to halve the number of turnovers per game if they want to be successful next year.  The positive is that Clapham’s D line show a similar, or even better, scoring ability than Sub Zero, and certainly better than Ironside (3 goals from 11 attempts vs Clapham), and were capable of getting enough blocks to keep them in games until late.  The quality is evident in Clapham’s O line, what is missing is consistency, and given how close the North American teams are to each other, Clapham need to try to emulate the consistent, high-level play of the Pro Flight teams.

The spread of turnovers indicates early game nerves, turning into second half confidence – and possibly over-confidence. I spoke to Markian Kuzmowycz, who plays for PONY – a team that beat Clapham twice at Chesapeake – for some thoughts.  “In my opinion, they played like an “American” team, like club teams I’m accustomed to facing. Physical D without calls to slow down the pace, mostly man-to-man, and an offence that works to set up a deep shot. Where they were a little weaker was in 1:1 defence on the downfield cutters. Also, Clapham missed a lot of hucks“. European readers may be surprised to find that Kuzmowycz believes that Clapham lack the fitness they need to win late in the day: Clapham imploded in our 3rd place matchup … last game of the weekend, they looked tired”.

And what about their chances at WUCC? It’s great to see the results Clapham had, especially beating Chain in a must-win game, and giving Ironside such a tough game, as I would like to see more clubs internationally playing at this level of ultimate. Do I think they could make semis? Not at this time, no. Quarters? Maybe.” “I would say the ceiling for them is probably somewhere in the 5-8″.

Jolian Dahl of Chain Lightning had this to say: “I was impressed with the poise of Clapham’s offense; they made it far more difficult for our defense to get turnovers than in years past. The times Chain was able to get turns came from situations where Clapham’s offense was prevented from swinging the disc. My take on the effectiveness of Clapham’s deep game: all of the uncontested hucks were mid-range and were thrown off movement after the offense had moved the disc 1/3 to 1/2 the way down the field.”

From watching the games (all available from UltiWorld), there are a number of things that stood out to me:
  • Clapham show that they are the athletic equals of the US teams that they are striving to beat, play some tight handler defence and get more than enough blocks to win games against even the best.  Clapham also pull off a number of highlight reel plays to rescue poor throws, more so than most of the other teams at Chesapeake; this is a positive, but reaching out for players to make plays is a dangerous strategy.  US teams seem to use athleticism as the safety margin, not an offensive tactic.
  • In the Ring game, and the start of the Ironside game, there are very few picks (unlike their opponents).  This means that Clapham are not stifling their own flow.  The number of picks increased dramatically as the Ironside game wore on, showing that as Clapham tire, they lose focus & structure.
  • Clapham struggle to create and maintain flow, resulting in lots of players sat on the disc aiming to create something downfield. There also seemed to be a reluctance to reset early; Sub Zero and Ironside tended to reset after 2-3 seconds of looking downfield. 
  • Clapham play their dumps noticably closer to the disc than any of the other teams there, which means they did not use the width as well as the other teams, and it also makes it more likely that the throwing lanes are clogged by an offensive player.  Even if the lanes are open, they are very narrow & therefore throws are more difficult to execute.  Clapham players need to trust in their team rather than crowding the disc.
  • Clapham’s D line offence is vastly improved from 2011, and is probably the reason that they have won games comfortably this year.  Now the O line need to catch up.
  • 1-2-1 cutter defence is poor; teams like Ironside that rely on repeated isolations downfield had little trouble getting open for big yards.  Clapham defenders have a tendency to turn their attention away from their mark, and smart cutters use this opportunity to get open.  It seemed like Clapham were not communicating very well on defence. I saw very few switches, and only occasional useful poaching, despite playing against Ironside who stick all of their players out to one side and play with one guy in isolation.  They need to be more adaptable than this if they want to challenge at WUCC.  Ironside, in contrast, were able to stall Clapham out on their own goal line with some intelligent switching and poaching. Clapham’s poaching more often looks like lazy defence than intelligence. Clapham need to be able to play better shutdown on the unders and rely on team mates peeling off the back to cover, especially when they play with a force-upfield mark that gives no protection downfield.
  • Compared to Ring, Ironside and Sub Zero; Clapham don’t move the disc aggressively enough off the pull, nor do they generate any big gains before the defence is set.  They could use a pull play that will allow them to utilise the free space that comes with pulls that come in low and hard.
  • Clapham’s successful deep throws mostly came directly from flow, thrown on stalls 1-2.  When they threw deep from static, they had a lower completion rate.
  • Ironside were without 3 of their starting 7 offensive players and fell to their worst defeat in 3 years at Chesapeake; Chain were missing a World Games player and offensive stalwart Dylan Tunnell. Likewise, Clapham sent only a small number of their players, with some missing out because of U23 Worlds.  But where were the others? Clapham will never succeed without total commitment from all of their team, so to see so many players missing in a non-GB year was a little surprising. Perhaps Clapham need to select players who can commit more if they want to make the breakthrough?
Clapham Ultimate at Chesapeake 2013. Photo courtesy of Kevin Leclaire Photography.

So the question is: are Clapham closing the gap?  It is hard to answer; after all, this is not the first time that Clapham have made semi finals at a US tournament.  The fact that everyone was treating semi finals as an amazing result – and not just an expected one – indicates that people believe the gap has increased since 2007.  If this is true, then perhaps Clapham are closing the gap.  The strength of their D line firmly suggests that they are.  But the disparity between Clapham’s O line performances and that of their opponents shows that any gap is real, and vast.  


Comments welcome! DP @ tSG.

The Grapevine – 15/08

Chesapeake Invite, Clapham, Iamultimate, The Grapevine, Truck Stop, u23, UKU Nationals, Understanding Ultimate., world games

This week’s Grapevine has an international flavour, looking at some US perspectives on Ultimate in the UK and the world…

Clapham take on some of the best club teams in the US this weekend at the Chesapeake Invite. They are also playing in a fund raiser show game against Truck Stop. See Charlie Eisenhood’s preview of the Open division.

Iamultimate presents an interesting view from above the recent World Under 23 Championships in Toronto.

Lou Burruss gives his two cents on the various nations’ styles post World Under 23 and World Games – an interesting (if brief!) counterpoint to Dave Pichler’s recent piece discussing international competition.

Benji provides us with two pieces this week looking at the sport from a wider perspective. The first is a piece on the unique element that Spirit of the Game brings to Ultimate, and the second approaches the increasingly relevant question of the need for observers.

UKU Nationals is approaching – keep an eye out for previews from tSG in the coming week!

Do you read an Ultimate blog that you think should be on here? Let us know! JCK @ tSG