Last year, for the first time in nearly a decade, Ring of Fire made the semifinals at Club Nationals. They upset Machine in pool play to earn a trip to the power pools, and took down Johnny Bravo 15-11 once they got there to earn a trip to the quarterfinals. It was the fifth consecutive quarterfinals appearance for Ring, and they went up against a strong Sockeye squad. Sockeye was the favorite, but Ring took care of business, winning 15-10. In the semifinals they fell to the two time defending champions Revolver, but Ring of Fire had broken through to the semifinals, which would earn them a trip to the US Open the following summer.
The US Open was held in Raleigh, and with the home field advantage and a full turnout, some expected Ring to surpass expectations and make a run at the championship. It made sense to expect Ring to come out strong. Doublewide wasn’t coming to the tournament full strength, missing key players like Kurt Gibson, Will Driscoll, Rory Orloff, among others. Ironside and Revolver were both in the middle of MLU seasons, and in 2012 Southpaw demonstrated at Chesapeake and Labor Day that transitioning between Pro and Club Ultimate is easier said than done. Add in that hometown team Johnny Bravo had won the US Open in 2012, the time seemed right for Ring to make a statement. Their performance in pool play ended up disappointing though. While they easily took care of Mephisto, Euforia, and Chicago Club (15-6) and beat Ragnarok 15-12, they lost to their fellow Pro Flight teams, Revolver, Ironside, and even the not at full strength Doublewide team. They still ended up in the semifinals against Ironside, who they had lost to 10-15 in pool play. For the first time at the Open, things started to click for Ring against an elite opponent. Ring took an 8-5 lead into half, and didn’t stop after that, leading 12-9 late in the game. At that point Boston started to clean up their play, and also started playing George Stubbs on both O and D points. Down 9-12 Ironside would convert 5 out of 5 chances for scores, while Ring converted only 1 out of 4. Ring lost on double game point, 13-14. Even the point they did score to take a temporary 13-12 lead wasn’t easy, as they were unable to get the disc off the sideline. Even after the late breakdown, they had played Ironside extremely tough, and it seemed like Ring of Fire had made a statement that they were a factor in the title conversation.
The next tournament Ring of Fire attended was the Chesapeake Invite. Though the Invite wasn’t part of the Triple Crown Tour, it still attracted top competition. Of the 12 participating teams, eight ended up qualifying for Nationals, Clapham was the top club team in Europe, High Five was ranked in the top 16 by USAU, and Cash Crop and Oakland both had been playing deep into Sunday at Regionals the past few years. Ring went in seeded second, behind only Ironside. The year before the only team to beat them at Chesapeake was Ironside. Ring entered with high expectations, and had the most disappointing tournament of any team. In pool play they not only lost to regional rival Chain Lightning, but also to PoNY and Clapham United. That relegated them to the fifth place bracket, where they lost to GOAT and High Five. They ended up eighth out of twelve, a very disappointing finish. Entering the Pro Flight Finale, the closest thing they had to a signature win was a 15-11 victory over Madcow.
On Saturday at the Finale, Ring played their best Ultimate of the season. They beat Chain and GOAT, and barely lost to Revolver 14-15. In the quarterfinals they played Sockeye, and had control of the game, leading 13-10. But just like the loss to Ironside at the US Open, they couldn’t hold on, losing 13-15. They showed progress in that they were usually able to work the disc toward the end zone this time, but they had difficulty converting once they got there, too often opting for low percentage looks. In consolation play they were able to take down Ironside 15-13. It was just another loss in a disappointing weekend for Boston, but it must have felt more important for Ring, at least for the veterans on the team. Not only because of their early season loss at the US Open, but also because of the dominance Ironside has demonstrated over Ring over the last six seasons. Since Ironside’s start in 2008, before that loss they were 9-0 against Ring of Fire. After the win against Boston, Ring lost to Revolver once again, this time not nearly as close, 10-15. It was their ninth consecutive loss to Revolver, who they have not beat since a win at the Chesapeake Open semifinals in 2009.
At Regionals Ring was able to cruise until their final against Chain Lightning, their third match so far this year. Chain ended up winning the rubber game 16-15. Going into Nationals, Ring has a few quality wins (GOAT, Chain, Ironside) from the Finale, and some close losses to top tier teams like Revolver (14-15 at the Finale) and Ironside (13-14 at the Open).
What Ring of Fire brings to the table is well established. North Carolina has a reputation for a more physical, athletic style of play that Ring of Fire lives up to. Noah Saul and Brett Matzuka are their primary handlers, and this year the team has been operating almost entirely using a vertical stack. With more video available on teams than ever before, here’s a look at what Ring has accomplished this year.
Pool Play loss to Revolver at the US Open, 11-15
O-Line conversions: 9-19
D-Line conversions: 2-3
O-Line 2nd chance conversions: 5-5
Red Zone Scoring: 5-5
In this game Revolver led the whole way. Though the game was close early in the second half, with Ring only trailing 8-9, Revolver ran off a couple breaks to take a 12-8 lead which essentially sealed it. This wasn’t a bad game for Ring, though they did only convert half of their possessions into scores. They didn’t generate enough D’s, though they were going against the very efficient Revolver offense. Their second chance conversions are a tremendous 5-5, but that still doesn’t make up for how poor their first chance conversions were, 4-14.
Pool Play win against Euforia, 15-6
O-Line conversions: 6-10
D-Line Conversions: 9-13
O-Line 2nd chance conversions: 2-3
Red Zone scoring: 7-10
This game Ring wasn’t playing an elite opponent, though the Colombians did beat Mephisto and Ragnarok. If they were playing in the series, Euforia would most likely be a team in the mix Sunday at Regionals, playing in the game to go but not winning it. Because of the weaker opponent, Ring’s strong defense generated many more turns, which they converted at a high rate. They started off hot, taking a 6-1 lead and never looking back. Their red zone scoring is actually lower this game than against Revolver, and should be above 70% against a team like Euforia. Their hucks were still above 50%, and they completed a very elite 95% of their throws.
Semifinal loss to Ironside, 13-14
O-Line conversions: 10-15
D-Line conversions: 3-8
O-Line 2nd chance conversions: 1-1
Red Zone scoring: 7-7
This was the game that Ring of Fire had the 12-9 lead and ended up blowing. Interestingly, their strengths were mostly different than they were in their pool play loss to Revolver. Their D-Line generated more turns, but didn’t do nearly as good a job converting them. Conversely, their O-Line did a better job scoring on their first chance, but was much less likely to get the disc back after turning it. In both games they performed well in the end zone, converted over 50% of their hucks, and 90% of their total passes. They actually had a higher completion% than Ironside this game, who completed 92.31% of their throws. Part of that goes to the Ironside offense, which despite their Boston Ultimate reputation, actually hucked the disc more than Ring. Ironside went 8-11 on hucks this game. A lot of those hucks were coming from George Stubbs.
Pool play loss to Chain Lightning at Chesapeake Invite, 9-15
O-Line conversions: 7-19
D-Line conversions: 1-3, plus a Callahan
O-Line 2nd chance conversions: 1-3
Red Zone scoring: 3-5
This is the worst yet of the four games examined for Ring. They lost to a team that isn’t of the same calibur as Revolver or Ironside, and it wasn’t particularly close. Ring led early 6-5, but Chain went on a 7-0 run to put this game well out of reach. Ring converted the lowest percentage of hucks and red zone scores yet this game, and unsurprisingly had the lowest completion percentage yet as well. Besides the Callahan, there wasn’t much positive to take away from this game for them.
Pool play loss to Clapham United at Chesapeake Invite, 12-15
O-Line conversions: 8-18
D-Line conversions: 4-8
O-Line 2nd chance conversions: 0-3
Red Zone scoring: 7-10
This game we saw a bit of a different look from Ring, with more hucks than usual. That could reflect Clapham’s huck happy nature. Clapham had bigger receivers and was happy to look deep early and often, and in this game they went 10-15 on hucks. The more huck happy Ring wasn’t altogether a failure, converting over 50%, and they converted 70% in the red zone. Though that was on par with the Euforia game and better than their loss to Chain, elite open teams should still be converting those opportunities at a higher rate. They didn’t generate nearly as many D’s this game as the loss to Chain, in part due to Clapham’s more efficient play.
There is a strong contrast between the US Open games and Chesapeake games for Ring, most notably red zone scoring. At the US Open in the three games examined, Ring went 19-22 in the end zone. In their losses to Chain and Clapham, they were only 10-15. One startling stat is that in only of the five games looked at here did Ring’s O-Line convert over 60% of their opportunities. Three times it was below 50%. That isn’t sustainable. Of course this isn’t an entirely fair look at Ring’s season so far, since none of their games from the Pro Flight Finale are available on video. It also happened to be by far their strongest performance yet this year, only finishing sixth but with a 3-3 record with wins over Chain, GOAT, and Ironside.
Up Next: US Open Reunion
Ring is in Pool C, along with Doublewide, Ironside, and the Condors. Frankly, this isn’t a great pool for Ring. Though they beat Ironside at the Pro Flight Finale, but they’re still 1-9 against them in their last ten games. And a full strength Ironside team (which wasn’t present at the Finale) beat them twice at the US Open. Doublewide, a team that is far better now than the team that showed up at the US Open, is a heavy favorite against Ring. Though they haven’t played each other since the Open, there Doublewide beat Ring 15-12, and that was without quite a few of their strongest players. However Ring should be able to take care of the Condors, who have dropped games to teams like Voodoo, Chicago Club and Inception, n’t beat any team in the field other than 13 seed Florida United.
If they finish third in Pool C, that most likely sets them up with a pre-quarters match against Sockeye, though it could turn out to be GOAT or even Sub Zero (remember, Sub Zero did beat Sockeye in pool play at Nationals last year). Ring beat GOAT at the Finale, but lost to Sockeye. They have yet to play Sub Zero. If as predicted they finish third in Pool C and win their pre-quarters match, that would almost surely put them in the semifinals against Revolver. Ring’s struggles against Revolver are already well documented here, so if they want to earn a trip to the semis and get a WUCC bid they probably have to beat Ironside in pool play to finish second. That way if they win their pre-quarter match, they face the top team from Pool D, which could be anybody, but would probably be Bravo or Machine. They have yet to play either of those teams this year, and they both make for a much more appealing opponent for Ring than Revolver does.