Chicago Machine finished 2nd out of 16 teams at this weekend's Elite-Select Challenge in Columbus, OH. The top two finish qualified Machine to participate in the Pro-Flight Finale the weekend of August 22nd/23rd in Blaine, MN.
Most of Machine drove out from Chicago to Columbus on Friday night, taking advantage of a rare opportunity to avoid flying to a major tournament.
On Saturday, the team arrived looking good in their new reversible jerseys (based on the design of Richard Taylor, our contest winner).
Machine started the weekend (and season) with pool play on Saturday against Sprawl, a team from Phoenix, AZ. With little wind and plenty of sun, the conditions were very nice early in the day (before the heat began to exact it's revenge later in the afternoon). Despite giving up a break on the first point, Machine jumped out to an early lead, kicked off by a callahan on the first D-point. Tight defense would be a staple through out the tournament, generating multiple turnovers each game. Despite an arms length lead, Sprawl stuck tight to Machine down the stretch, employing an effective zone defense that slowed the pace of play. Machine's O-line looked very comfortable against the zone, with several points featuring an extraordinarily high throw count, as the offense patiently chipped it down the field for goals. Final 11-8 Machine.
Game 2 pitted Machine against a familiar friend from the north; Madison Club. Dave Wiseman and Pat Shriwise (from Machine's 2014 campaign) returned to Madison Club this off-season, adding depth and top end talent to the team. Having faced Sprawl's zone the game before, Machine was warmed-up and ready to handle the very effective Madison Club zone. With such little wind, Machine was able to move the disc around the field with accuracy, and Madison at bay through the entirety of the game, largely in part to a stellar performance from the Machine D-Line. Madison made a late push to close the gap, but a Bob Liu callahan sealed the game at 13-10 in favor of Machine.
After a third round bye, Machine squared off with Boston's Garuda. Due to an upset from Sprawl over Madison, Machine had already won the pool going into the game, but was not looking to waste a valuable opportunity to continue to develop chemistry and timing as a team. Machine would jump out to a very fast lead, up 3-0 to start the game, but some mental lapses at the tail end of the half allowed Garuda to claw back into the game. Machine would go on to clean up play in the second half, expanding the final score to 13-8.
Going 3-0, Machine advanced directly to quarters, avoiding a 4th game on Saturday. This would prove very helpful, as Machine was running with a smaller squad due to injuries and players being away for the U23 World Championships in London. Instead, Machine enjoyed the incredible barbecue thrown by the tournament organizers, and watched on in support of Nemesis in their Pre-Quarter match up during the final round on Saturday.
Due to some upsets in pool play, all four number one seeds ended up on one side of the bracket going into Sunday. Machine vs Prairie Fire in one Quarter, and Sockeye vs Doublewide in the other.
Saturday night Machine would find plenty of time for fun, relaxing at the team hotel, and exploring the surrounding neighborhood (including the batting cages at an adjacent family fun center).
Sunday's weather brought rain early, but fortunately the thunder storms missed, avoiding any delays in play. With sloppy weather, slick fields, and shorten round times, many games would be capped.
Machine came out prepared on Sunday morning, catching Prairie Fire off guard en route to a 4-0 lead. The defense was very efficient, converting every time they got the disc. Prarie Fire would finally hit their grove, and then responded by stealing a few breaks in the middle of the game to creep back into contention. Machine's O-line steadied in the second half, and despite another late break, managed to hold Prairie Fire off as the hard cap sounded at 10-8 Machine.
Machine then took on Doublewide in their semi-final, as the skies began to clear. Both teams were missing key players, with Doublewide only having a cast of 18 in attendance. As was the case all tournament long, Machine would strike first, getting two early breaks, and creating a small bit of separation. Towards the end of the first half, Doublewide would break back, and eventually things got to serve coming out of half. Some unforced errors put Machine in serious jeopardy, as DW would convert to take a 9-8 lead with the hard cap approaching. Machine's O-line would tie it up with a hard fought upwinder that featured multiple turns. The universe D-line would then go on the attack downwind tied at 9-9. An unforced turf flick gave Machine the disc at mid-field. After calling time out, Machine set up and looked to get the disc off the sideline. Doublewide's defense stifled the play, and with a quickly rising count, Goose Helton through a bail out huck towards the end zone that dropped between two DW defenders into the hands of Kevin Kelly for the win.
The win sealed Machine's fate as a qualifier for the Pro-Flight finale, but the celebration was short lived, as a Final's match against regional opponent High Five (from Michigan) awaited them just moments later. The talented High Five squad had a deep roster ready to go, and their legs were too much to handle from the get go. Machine struggled to get open, and forced careless turnovers. On the turn, Machine could not keep up, as High Five hit multiple away shots to open receivers. The Machine D-line, which had generated blocks all weekend, came out flat and could not slow High Five down. On the few occasions the D-line did get the disc, they were unable to execute and capitalize on the opportunities. High Five ran away with the game and cemented a 13-7 walloping of Machine. (Footage of the game will be available online via Ultiworld's video subscription service: http://ultiworld.com)
Machine learned a lot at their first tournament of the season, and has a better understanding of the team's weaknesses and strengths. The next two weekends will be crucial in the team's development, with another challenging tournament awaiting on August 1st/2nd, in the Pro-Elite Challenge.
Fortunately, the team should be well rested...
Expect a highlight video in the not too distant future, but as a note, we were only able to record footage from Day 1, as Sunday morning's rain put our camera out of commission.