By: Matt Goisman
San Diego (Oct. 27, 2019) – Seattle Sockeye looked firmly in control at halftime of the USA Ultimate men’s division championship, then watched their four-point lead dissolve beneath Chicago Machine’s intense defense and a string of unforced Sockeye turnovers.
Facing what would’ve been a heartbreaking loss, Sockeye regained their offensive rhythm when they absolutely had to.
Dylan Freechild completed a game-winning backhand pass to Jacob Janin, and Sockeye won their fourth national championship in program history with a 13-12 win over Machine on Sunday at Mira Mesa High School.
“When you are confident in what you’ve created and what you’ve built, there’s no time in wasting any mental energy questioning it,” Freechild said. “These guys found a crack, and they pushed us as hard as they could, but as long as we didn’t waver or question what we had built throughout the season, it wasn’t going to matter.”
Sockeye capped a season in which they also won the U.S. Open with their first national championship since 2007. The Seattle squad finished 6-0 at Nationals, including double-game point victories against Boston DiG in pool play, Raleigh Ring of Fire in the semifinals and Machine in the championship.
“We’ve been talking about and learning how to practice resilience all year,” said Sockeye head coach Mike Caldwell. “All credit to Machine. They are an incredible team, incredibly talented and incredibly scary when they get rolling like that. I was just incredibly impressed and thankful for their heart and their ability to shake all that off, basically start over and execute the way we know we can.”
Four straight defensive breaks by Machine turned an 11-7 Sockeye lead into an 11-11 tie late in the second half. Von Alanguilan came up with steals on back-to-back defensive possessions, the second time leaping into his own end zone after a Sockeye foul call was upheld by the observer at the goal line.
Walden Heiwa Nelson recorded another D later in the possession, then scored on a throw from Kurt Gibson (two goals, three assists) to tie the game.
“It was a huge momentum shift, and it was in our favor,” said Machine captain Pawel Janas. “The whole crowd sensed it. We definitely sensed it on the sideline, and I think Sockeye sensed it too.”
Machine had a chance at a fifth consecutive break when Nate Goff intercepted Brice Dixon’s huck to Trent Dillon in the end zone. But Sockeye broke up a similar downfield huck from Sam Kanner, and this time Dixon found Dillon (three goals) for the hold and 12-11 lead in a race to 13.
Janas completed a scoring strike to Yiding Hou for the hold, setting up double-game point with Sockeye receiving. Fairchild and Matt Rehder worked the disc up the backhand sideline, then Janin gained inside position on his defender and sprinted for the near corner.
Freechild floated a chest-high backhand, and Janin caught it with both hands moments before running out of bounds.
“Jacob was my first Frisbee coach,” Freechild. “There was no way I wasn’t giving him the Frisbee. That catch for your life, he’s not going to miss that.”
Machine forced five breaks in the second half, overcoming a first half in which Sockeye only turned the disc over once and held on every offensive possession. An early steal by Duncan Linn led to Ben Snell scoring on a break for a 2-0 Sockeye lead, and Dongyang Chen’s D and a turnover on Machine’s next possession eventually ended in Sockeye going ahead 6-2 on a Billy Katz’s pass to Nathan Kwon.
Sockeye led 8-4 at halftime, then Freechild picked off a Machine pass in his own end zone and later hit Rehder for the 9-4 lead to open the second half.
“We just are a super mentally strong team,” said Rehder, who finished with two goals and two assists. “We’re resilient, and it showed throughout the course of the season. We’ve had many tight, tight games, but we’ve come through on almost all of them.”
Jack Shanahan had four goals, and Joe White added four assists for Machine, who was playing in their first national championship final. Sockeye and Machine will highlight next year’s Triple Crown Tour Pro Flight, along with semifinalists Pride of New York and Ring of Fire.
“The fight that we showed, being down by five points in the second half and making it to universe, you can’t ask for more perseverance and more guts than that,” Janas said. “We’re definitely proud of it.”
Washington, D.C. Truck Stop beat San Francisco Revolver 15-12 for fifth place Saturday, while Portland Rhino Slam! and Minneapolis Sub Zero won their seventh-place games for the final two spots in the Pro Flight.
All eight Pro Flight teams will receive automatic bids to next year’s U.S. Open and bid priority for the Pro Championships.