The rowdy boys from the Windy City traveled to Minneapolis this past weekend to attend the final regular season event of the USAU Triple Crown Tour, the Pro-Flight Finale.
Machine came into the weekend with little to lose, as the Great Lakes Region had a firm grasp on two National bids, but were still looking to put together a complete performance, and test some new strategies going into the series.
However, many of those strategies would not be utilized due to the extreme winds that blasted Blaine, MN through the entirety of the weekend. Consistent winds of 20+ mph set Saturday as an up-wind/ down-wind affair, prior to Sunday's winds shifting to a cross-wind.
Machine's first game on Saturday came against Portland's Rhino (northwest rowdy boys in their own right). Machine started out on O, with the wind at their backs, and quickly moved the disc with short chip shots and an early score. On Machine's first D point, they would pressure Rhino into several turns, but could not string together enough passes to make it to the end zone against the strong winds. After the first point, Rhino's offense would find their groove, hitting players in space, and leaving the Machine D searching for answers as they were unable to generate turnovers through the rest of the first half. Machine's offense continued to look smooth, but an early second half execution error was capitalized on, as Rhino used the width of the field to cut across the wind, eventually converting a huge upwind score. Rhino would follow the upwinder with a subsequent down wind break. The teams would then trade until Rhino closed the door with a game winning upwind break to end it at 13-10.
In game two, Machine took on a depleted GOAT team, missing several key players on the heels of their Canadian National Championship the weekend prior. Strategy adjustments helped Machine generate more down-wind turns, and on the turn, increased handler activity helped lead to manageable mid-range shots against the wind. Breaks continued to come in pairs, with up-winders followed by down-winders, and Machine ran away with 13-4 victory.
Coming out of a 3rd round bye, Machine faced off with Raleigh's Ring of Fire, in a game that was live streamed by Ultiworld. Machine was excited for a chance at redemption against the team that knocked them out of the Nationals bracket in 2014. Unfortunately, this game would be all Ring of Fire. Machine started on O going downwind, but a hand block on a scoober for the first throw of the game gave Ring the disc at mid-field. Ring would then find an unguarded receiver who was lost in transition for a big upwind huck, leading to an immediate break. Ring would follow up with the down-wind break, before the two teams then traded. Ring's down-wind strategy involved plenty of punt and zone, giving the Machine D Line chances with the disc, but the wind continued to pick-up, the D line struggled to move the disc, and a few opportunities just outside of the upwind endzone were squandered. Unable to convert breaks, the Machine O-line had to endure multiple long points, eventually ceding another up-wind break. It was not until the tail end of the second half that Machine was able to break back after a grueling up-wind point, which was followed by a down-wind break, but it was too little too late, as Ring won 12-8 on hard cap.
The final game of the day against San Francisco Revolver was rescheduled to Sunday morning due to inclement weather, with lightning storms rolling through the area, and a tornado watch being issued.
Saturday night featured a team dinner, ice cream party, and swimming pool games. Grown adult stuff.
On Sunday, winds shifted across the field, with a slight up-wind / down-wind tail. Going into the game, Revolver had locked up first in the pool, and Machine's chances to advance to bracket play had closed. Despite this, both teams came out running full lines, and Revolver jumped out to an early lead. A shift in Machine strategy put more Offensive players on the up-wind line, and would prove to pay off, as Machine would break back during the latter parts of the first half. Machine continued their momentum out of half-time, breaking again and eventually taking a 12-10 lead. An unforced drop near the upwind endzone gave revolver a big score, leading to a down-wind break to set-up a 12-12 universe point. Receiving the disc with the wind at their backs, Machine quickly moved down the field and hit a streaking receiver for the win. 13-12 Machine.
Machine and Ring of Fire would both finish 2-2 in their pool, but Ring took the tie breaker with their head to head win. Having finished fourth behind Revolver, Rhino, and Ring, Machine would move to the 7th place consolation bracket, with a game against Chain Lightning from Atlanta.
Machine started out hot versus the Chain team who had yet to win a game on the weekend. An early 4 point lead slowly evaporated, as heavier winds rolled through, and a series of miscues got Chain back into contention, tying the game at 8's. Again with the disc and the wind at their backs, Machine would punch in the game winning point, 8-9 with the hard cap.
The final game of the tournament would again feature Machine and GOAT squaring off. Much like the first game, Machine would find success working handler movement through the gale force winds, converting breaks early and often. Final score 13-6 Machine.
Machine is now tuning up for the series, with Regionals taking place in the Cincinnati, OH area the weekend of September 12th/13th. Because of Machine's "Elite Flight" status, they will not be attending Sectionals.
This upcoming weekend the team will head to Whitewater, WI for a team retreat featuring practice, competitions in alternate sports, crew vs crew mental challenges, and plenty of opportunities to build camaraderie.
*Thank you to Luke Johnson for Rhino footage. (Full tournament highlight video to come)