By Steve Lienert
PHILADELPHIA – Ultimate had been waiting 45 years to go pro, so what’s an extra 30 minutes between friends?
The Philadelphia Spinners’ inaugural game against the Buffalo Hunters of the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) was delayed to accommodate the line of fans stretched around the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field who came to witness history.
For the 1,700-plus fans in the seats for the Opening Pull, it was worth the wait.
Sean Murray led the way with a team-high four goals, Trey Katzenbach scored twice and had four assists and both Alex Grintsvayg and Jake Herman added three goals each as the Spinners defeated the Hunters, 26-14, on Saturday night. Greg Owens notched a team-high three blocks on defense in the win.
“We were definitely psyched,” Grintsvayg said. “We kept hearing the numbers for the people in the stands. We were like ‘Wow.’ I think it was the same for (Buffalo).”
Spinners’ GM and head coach Jeff Snader has never been happier to be late in his life.
“We say that if you are early then you are on time, if you are on time then you are late, and if you’re late, don’t bother.” Snader said. “That was the best late ever. I had no idea that the line would be out and around the corner. It was great to be late.”
Nerves were prevalent at the start as both teams traded multiple turnovers before Buffalo pulled down a 50-yard flick huck in the end zone for the 1-0 lead. The Spinners answered right back after Herman recorded the first goal in the history of the franchise to tie the score.
That was before Leon Chou raced down on the ensuing pull and got a first-pass diving block that set Philadelphia up near the Hunters’ end zone. Mike Baer picked up the disc and found Chou in the goal on an easy backhand for bookends (Ultimate term) to give the Spinners a 2-1 lead. Philadelphia held its first lead of the game – a lead it never relinquished.
“You can definitely tell there were some nerves playing in front of that many people,” cutter Jake Rainwater said. “I think it showed on the first point. – I think it lasted four minutes. Leon’s play obviously got the crowd pumped up, but everyone on the bench stood up. It made us realize that, ‘Hey, this is Ultimate. We’ve been doing this our whole lives’ and settled us down. The crowd being so loud after that play was a big part of that.”
Captain Nick Hirannet’s diving layout defensive catch on a would-be dump pass highlighted a first quarter that saw both teams try to adapt to the swirling winds inside Franklin Field. Philadelphia held a 6-4 edge to start the second quarter and, thanks to a goal at the halftime buzzer, the Spinners held a sizeable 13-8 lead at half.
“We talked about how Spinners never follow, how Spinners always lead,” Grintsvayg said. “We talked about their offense and how they were running four handlers in the horizontal (offense) and the adjustments we needed to make for that.”
Those adjustments worked out fine as Philadelphia jumped out to a 16-8 lead midway through the third quarter before Buffalo, who brought just 15 players to the game, converted two breaks to get within 16-12. Unfazed, the Spinners scored the next five goals bridging the third and fourth quarters to take a commanding 21-12 lead late in the game en route to the win.
In the end, it seemed as if the combination of the larger field coupled with a full Spinners roster may have taken its toll on the short-handed Hunters.
“I think they seemed to not necessarily play to the high level and speed that they did in the first quarter,” Spinners handler David Brandolph said. “We came out a little flat because it was our first professional Ultimate game playing in front of (approximately) 2,000 fans. A lot of the Spinners have been playing together and training together for the past three years and we emphasize being fine-tuned athletes. We know how important it is to play that first point at a high level, but we also know that we have to play that last point at a high level as well.”
The Spinners next game is at home at Franklin Field on Saturday, April 21 against the Connecticut Constitution starting at 8 p.m. Connecticut defeated the Rhode Island Rampage, 29-23, in its inaugural game.
“I know they got some big guys and really good deep threats,” said Snader. “They are a totally different team to prep for.”
The story of the evening, though, was how the Philadelphia Ultimate community came out in support of the AUDL and, specifically, the Spinners. Players stood signing discs and programs for fans until they were forced to leave. Snader said that it was something he will never forget. The same went for his players.