Following consecutive blowout wins, and with four games remaining on the schedule, it’s time to take a look at the Dogfish’s keys to success and speculate about the end of the season.
San Francisco has recently been playing like the dominant team everyone expected them to be, and the team’s strengths have been major factors in the 23-13 win over Vancouver and the 31-13 victory over Portland. Right now the only thing not in their favor is that the Dogfish may be playing too much Ultimate.
The San Francisco Dogfish came into the season as one of the favorites to win the Western Conference based on the success of the teams from which it was sourcing its roster. Bay Area Club Ultimate teams have been a constant presence at the USA Ultimate National Championships for over a decade, sending perennial contenders in the men’s, women’s and mixed divisions.
The Dogfish draw heavily from San Francisco’s top men’s club team, Revolver, who were champions in 2010 and 2011, and runners up in 2012. Four of the Revolver players on the Dogfish roster were invited to play on the USA Ultimate National Team and will represent the U.S. at the World Games this summer. Dogfish players who are not also on Revolver are primarily the top male athletes from area mixed teams Mischief, Polar Bears and Blackbird, three out of four semi-finalists at nationals in 2012.
The assembled roster differs from Revolver’s, but the Dogfish have inherited much of Revolver’s leadership and character. Not only is the Dogfish first line world-class, the talent and athleticism of the bench competes with other teams’s best players. The result is depth that provides the versatility to respond to just about any matchup or style of play that their opponents can present and wears down opponents who depend heavily on a short list of stars.
Coaching and Leadership
The Dogfish are talented and experienced enough that they could neglect practicing and still compete, and yet the team views planning and execution as essential to their success. Coach Justin Safdie, the assistant coaches and team captains have instituted discipline and professionalism into the Dogfish game plan.
Before the season started, the Dogfish considered the MLU rule changes and how these would affect the game. At tryouts they ran drills using a clock. They were just ahead of the curve in deploying and handling double-teams on the mark. They have implemented zone defenses that introduce sophisticated switching strategies that are not yet mainstream. A tell-tale sign that a team is organized is how well they execute their end-zone sets, and against Portland last Saturday the team was automatic.
Windy Home Field
It has not made for the prettiest Ultimate ever played, but the wind in San Francisco has been an advantage for the Dogfish. Not only are they more familiar with the conditions than visiting teams, the wind limits a lot of throws that would otherwise generate offense against the Dogfish. The gusty conditions also increase the number of turnovers a game, giving San Francisco more opportunities to score on their opponents.
The Dogfish defense is so fundamentally sound that opponents must get to the break side or take deep shots to really move the disc, but the breeze in Kezar and Boxer Stadiums takes away scoobers and hammers, and makes hucks tough to measure. Visitors find themselves forcing break throws through a combination of wind and tough Dogfish marks that have produced a large number of drops.
Too Much Ultimate
The biggest risk to the Dogfish’s success right now is fatigue from too many Ultimate obligations. May in the Bay Area is the time of year that teams conduct tryouts, and practically every Dogfish player is attending multiple teams’s practices. In addition, the National Team members have to manage USA Ultimate commitments and have missed several Dogfish events. The Dogfish have played two games without these four players, but this has also allowed other players to gain valuable experience.
Looking to the Western Conference Championships
The Dogfish are currently 5-1, a half game back from the Seattle Rainmakers for the top spot, and the two teams have secured a date with each other in the Western Conference Finals on June 29. While Vancouver could win out and San Francisco could lose all their remaining games, their records would be identical and the Dogfish own the tie breaker. Seattle has six wins and mathematically is guaranteed finishing first or second in the conference. What remains to be seen is how the teams close out the season and what sort of momentum each will carry in to the championship game.
The Rainmakers and the Dogfish have two more regular season games this season including the final regular season home game for the Dogfish on June 15.