Photo by John King – Ultiphotos.com
The Seattle Rainmakers (7-3) had a great year. After starting off slowly with two losses to the Portland Stags, they won seven straight games before falling to Portland again. They played the Stags in the Western Conference Championship.
The 2016 Seattle Rainmakers started off with a core of returning players from previous years, including handlers Henry Phan, Clay Dewey-Valentine, and Daniel Trytiak and superstar cutters Khalif El-Salaam and 2015 Rookie of the Year Evan Klein. A notable loss was scoring powerhouse and offensive linchpin from 2015’s Rainmakers Mark Burton to the AUDL’s Seattle Cascades. Former Stag and Coach of the Rainmakers Rainmakers Steve Gussin returned to the field to play for the team this year. Kate Kingery and Fiona McKibben stepped up to fill Gussin’s shoes, returning after being Assistant Coaches in 2015 to Co-Head Coaches this season, and along with Assistant Coach Bert Abbott, they worked to incorporate fresh talent and new mental game strategies into the 2016 Rainmakers.
The Rainmakers had a strange schedule this season, with their first two and final regular season games against the Stags sandwiched around matchups against the Vancouver Nighthawks and the San Francisco Dogfish. The Rainmakers won the Western Conference Championship against the Stags in 2015, but they struggled in their games against Portland this season.
In the first game, the Rainmakers scored well in the beginning of the first quarter. Portland adjusted their defense and kept Seattle from scoring much in the second and third quarters. The Rainmakers found their offensive groove in the fourth quarter and outscored the Stags for the first time in the game, but there wasn’t enough time to catch the Stags, falling 16-22. The second game was played in record heat, reaching a sweltering 80 degrees at Rainier Beach High School for the Rainmakers home opener. The Rainmakers came to play in the first half of the game, outscoring the Stags and entering halftime up, 13-10. They lost momentum in the second half and got in their own heads. At the end of the third quarter the rivals were tied at 19’s, and the Stags came back for the win in the fourth quarter, ending the game 22-25. The Rainmakers showed that they could outscore the Stags, but they also showed that they struggled with their mental game, which they worked on throughout the season.
The Rainmakers met the Nighthawks for a three game series in Weeks 3-5. The Nighthawks saw many veteran players leave the team this year, and their short amount of time playing together showed. The first game against the Nighthawks was the annual Border Bid game in Mount Vernon, timed to coincide with the DiscNW Spring Reign youth tournament. Many of the players had coached earlier in the day, so the Rainmakers were a little slow to get into the game. Spurred on by the roar of their young fans, the Rainmakers went on to win, 19-10. In Week 4, the Rainmakers had their highest scoring quarter, with nine points to start the game. Seattle led Vancouver by ten points at half, ending the second quarter at 16-6. In the second half they lost focus and let the Nighthawks score eight points, but they still trounced the Nighthawks, winning 28-18. The last game of the series was in Vancouver, and the Nighthawks were burning to get their first win of the season. The Rainmakers had a number of injuries and inactive players in Week 5, with especially low numbers on defense. The Nighthawks gave the Rainmakers a little trouble, but Seattle kept the Canadians to only one break point in the game and won it 21-15. Coach Kate Kingery said that the Rainmakers and the Nighthawks worked on their Spirit of the Game throughout the series. The first game was a little chippy, so the teams came together in spirit circles at the end of each game.
After a bye in Week 6, the Rainmakers came out fresh to play the Dogfish for the first time in 2016. The Dogfish, however, had played a game that went into double overtime the night before against the Nighthawks and it showed. The Rainmakers were a scoring machine, forcing the Dogfish to turn the disc over on defense and getting it over the line. In the second half, the Rainmakers lost focus and started throwing some questionable shots, but they had their highest scoring game of the season, finishing it off at 29-16. Week 8’s game saw the Rainmakers last game against the Nighthawks on a very rainy Vancouver night. The Nighthawks led in the first quarter, 3-4, but after the first quarter the Rainmakers made a mental adjustment and came out strong for the rest of the game. With the wind and the rain there were a lot of drops, but the Rainmakers overpowered the Nighthawks and won 20-11.
The Rainmakers met the Dogfish twice in Weeks 9 and 10. After starting out Week 9’s game slowly, with a first quarter tied at 3’s, the Rainmakers turned up the intensity, getting turnovers and scoring with ease. They won the game 20-12 and clinched a spot in the Western Conference Championship by mathematically ruling out the Dogfish. In Week 10, the Dogfish had the momentum in the first half of the game, challenging the Rainmakers and leading by six at halftime with a score of 9-15. After a zen locker room reset, the Rainmakers came out hard in the third quarter and scored eight points while stopping the Dogfish from scoring at all. The eight point shut out quarter broke the previous record, and after scoring another five points in the 4th quarter, they won 22-18. By overcoming the seven point deficit they held in the second quarter, the Rainmakers broke the record for the biggest comeback win in MLU history.
Week 11 saw the final game of the regular season, as the Rainmakers once again faced their rival for west coast dominance, the Portland Stags. In the first quarter the Rainmakers challenged the Stags, almost keeping pace with a score of 5-7. The Stags adjusted their defense after the break and left the Rainmakers behind, keeping the Rainmakers scoring to a high of two per quarter for the rest of the game. The disappointing 10-20 loss broke the Rainmakers seven game winning streak, but the Rainmakers were excited for another crack the following week when they met the Stags in the Western Conference Championship in Portland.
In 2015 the Rainmakers beat the Stags in the conference final, as they played spectacular ultimate that kept the Stags on their toes. The beginning of the 2016 Western Conference Championship, in contrast, started off poorly for the Rainmakers, as they only scored one point in the first quarter while allowing Stags to score five. In the second quarter the Rainmakers rallied, and they were only down by three in the second quarter when the score went to 5-8. The Stags soon pulled ahead, however, and never let the Rainmakers get in contention for the win again. At the end of the third quarter Portland had more than doubled Seattle’s score at 6-14, and even with a pick up in scoring at the end for the Rainmakers they lost to the Stags 9-18. The Rainmakers tried to mix things up to stay competitive with the Stags this game, but their zone defense and switch up of offensive handlers did not work very well. They had a hard time getting the disc down to the red zone, and an equally difficult time of actually scoring when they were in range. If the Rainmakers had played their best they might have been able to take the West Coast title away from the Stags for the second year in a row, but the 2016 Portland Stags were too good for the Rainmakers to play mediocre ultimate and win. Evan Klein said that the Rainmakers, “played horribly inconsistent offense, and gave the Stags too many opportunities to break us. We did a good job of pressuring on defense, but only converted 2 breaks all game, which isn’t enough.”
When asked what he thought the Rainmakers biggest challenge was this year, Klein said, “Injuries! Point blank. At times, we were down to 14 players at practices, even with carrying a 26+ person roster. We lost a lot of handlers to injuries early in the season, many of whom never returned to full action. Other players were limited all season or late in the year by lingering problems. It hurt our practices, hurt our continuity, and hurt our product on the field.” Julian Peterson was injured the whole season, and Gavin McKibben and Christian Brink were also inactive or injured for a large part of the season. Another disappointment was that veteran handler Ben Wiggins was not able to play for the Rainmakers this year. He was signed this year in the hopes of becoming an offensive handler, but injuries kept him on the sidelines all season. A midseason signing of Daniel Walton helped to beef up the handling line somewhat. The college ultimate season and WFDF World Ultimate Championships kept impactful cutter El-Salaam plenty busy this season. He only played four games, but boy did he play well, earning Player of the Game for the Rainmakers three times.
The Rainmakers defensive line had a great year. They worked very hard to turn the disc over and capitalize on the opportunity to score break points. They had quite a few games this year where they scored the same number or fewer holds as their opponent but their higher number of break points won the game. They had the highest Break Possession Scoring Efficiency in MLU history at 55.4%. They had the second fewest turnovers in the league (210), had a team completion percentage of 91.2%, and was one of only three teams to finish the regular season with a Defensive Scoring Efficiency of over 40% (41.5%).
Individual players on the Rainmakers did awesome this year as well. Brad Houser stepped up his scoring this year, becoming a powerhouse player. He finished second in the league for scoring (goals and assists) with 45 in the regular season, and tied for the lead in goals scored with 29, earning recognition as the Western Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Klein came in third in the league for blocks with 17. Eddie Feeley showed that he was a go to handler by tying for first in Touches Per Offensive Possession (TPOP) with 1.599 for the season. Dewey-Valentine won the Western Conference’s coveted Spirit Award, which is voted on by the players.
The Rainmakers have a lot to be proud of this season. They improved their standings from last year, going 7-3 compared to 2015’s 5-5 record. They did not win any games against the Portland Stags, but they certainly put a lot of pressure on them. Houser says that he considers 2016 a year of growth for the Rainmakers. “I hope that many of my teammates return for the next season,” says Houser. “I consider this a building year because we all have such a vast background of playing.” El-Salaam, Gavin McKibben, and Feeley are expected back in 2017 as part of multi-year contracts with the Rainmakers. We are sure to see some returning talent from this year’s standout team and maybe we’ll see some new talent join as well. Klein is optimistic about the outlook for next season. “A lot of Rainmakers players are currently excelling with club teams around Seattle, so the prospects look good! Depending on who returns and what new players we may be able to add, things are looking up.”