Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No egos on EGO

Another team on my list for college write ups is University of Orgeon's Eugene Gentlemens Organization or EGO. Their team contact, Kevin Minderhout, was helpful in answering a few questions for me and I thought I would share some things about the boys in green.

Oregon History
Like Georgia, I figured I would start with why I wanted to write about Oregon in the first place.

Back in 2003 Oregon was one of the premier teams in college ultimate. This was
Ben Wiggins' 5th and final year and this team was ridiculous. This roster included current club stars, Seth Wiggins (Sockeye) and Doug McKenzie (Rhino), as well as Justin Grishkin and Jeremy Forrest. I watched them win Pres Day my fish year and they managed to win their region, mainly by beating Stanford in the semis, to take the sole bid out of the Northwest. They came into Austin seeded 2nd and managed to sweep through their pool and quarters with a combined score of 60-27. They faced Carleton in the semis, which I believe to be one of the most exciting games in college ultimate history, and they won 15-13. This put them in the finals against Wisconsin, where their epic season success came to an end and they lost 15-8.

After this year however, Oregon definitely suffered some performance woes. The Northwest was the strongest it has ever been in 2004 producing two #1 seeds at nationals, Cal (1) and Stanford (3). This proved to be quite the challenge and without Ben, Oregon lost two 14-13 heart breakers to Washington in Quarters and UBC in backdoor semis. 2005 would be the same story, different verse. Despite 3 bids out of the NW, Oregon lost to UBC in semis (15-10) and Cal in the backdoor semis (15-8). They would have to go another year without a trip to nationals which must have been even more difficult considering nationals was played less than an hour away in Corvalis, OR. However, Seth did manage to break into the Callahan top 5 that year.

In 2006 things started to change. Aaron Bell came over from PLU as a grad student and managed to lead Oregon back to the promise land. They won the NW region for the first time in 3 years with a 15-10 routing of Stanford in the finals. This set them up to be the seeded 4th at nationals where they won their pool and were set to play quarters against Stanford. This time Bloodthirsty would not be denied and Oregon would fall 15-11. They then went on to play UCSD in a game to determine where the strength bid would go, NW or SW, and EGO won 15-11 (bastards) ensuring 2 bids for the NW the following year.

In 2007, it was all about the handling of Dusty Becker, a former South Eugene High School standout who led the Oregon offense back to nationals. They didn't win regionals but they did beat UBC convincingly and were the 7th seed last year in Columbus. Aside from Stanford and Colorado, I believe Oregon had the toughest schedule at nationals having to play Florida (pool play) and Wisconsin (quarters), losing to both. Another year, another quarters exit.

2008 Standouts
The first question I had for Kevin was who we can expect to be fantasy players for Oregon this year. Aside from losing only 2 major players from last years team (David Needleman and Adrian “The Bruce” King) Oregon is returning a hell of a roster. First and foremost, Dusty Becker is back for his senior year. Despite his goofy hair-do at nationals last year, he still is extremely composed on the handling front and has very good vertical ability despite his Jacob Goldstein-esk build. Eli Janin will also be a go to offensive threat for EGO this year. Another spectacular threat for Oregon will be Kevin Stout. He has the height and the speed to not only own on D but utilize the throwing threats on Oregon.

Young Guns
I was also interested to know who will be keeping the Oregon flame burning in the future. Oregon is very similar to Colorado and Stanford in the sense that they always seem to have generation after generation of talent. After Ben it was Seth and then Aaron Bell and now Becker and Stout. This is what Kevin had to say about EGO's young talent:

"Cody Bjorklund is a sophomore this year who played big points in big games as a first time (first time playing ultimate) freshman last year. Also look for John Bloch, freshman from South Eugene HS. He’s got both the throws and the athleticism."

I will say that it looks like Oregon definitely benefits from having stellar high school ultimate in the area and I am sure they will continually develop the best in the game.

Tournament Schedule
Oregon's schedule is nothing new in the sense that they will be going back to TiV, Stanford and Centex. I am sure most teams would love the opportunity to play in 3 CCS events, but thats what you get when you continually make nationals. The one thing that I will say that is interesting about their tournament schedule is Stanford Invite. The major players in the NW have already seen each other a few times at Sean Ryan and Santa Barbara. Cal, Stanford, and Santa Cruz have all had a chance to beat each other up but the other major NW powerhouse really has yet to show what they can do in the spring. At SI we will see how Oregon matches up to the rest of their region and we may begin to see what we can expect for the series.

Challenges and Goals
The major hurdle for Oregon this year is to prove that they are better than a 5/8 team at nationals. Their main goal is to "[win] big games. We need to come up with big wins that will allow us to get past quarterfinals at nationals this year." This may seem like a no-brainer, but it will be on Oregon's shoulders to show that they have what it takes to be elite. With big wins at TiV, Stanford, and Centex, they may have the ability to develop the confidence among their team to know that they are a semis team. No one on this roster has made it past quarters and therefore they have no egos. They just want to win and Kevin tells me that "we've got a deep roster, full of athleticism. Every player on the team makes a contribution". This could not be better for Oregon because they need to do this as a team. They have some stellar Rhino experience in Dusty, Janin, Stout and John Block but no one has been as far as they want to go. They have the memory of better Oregon days, but if they want to get to the next level, they are going to have to grind it out together.

College Nationals
I like to ask this question a lot and this is what Kevin had to say about the change:

"It’s a tough call. Boulder is a nice place and will host a great tournament. I’m down with experimenting with new things that might help to increase the exposure of ultimate. As long as the quality of the tournament isn’t worse this year then I have no problem. Its hard to make too many comments until it happens."

Kevin said that they view "every team as a challenge" so it is not surprising that he isn't looking that far ahead. Hopefully school and ultimate do not conflict as with other teams and this will be what Mike Payne wants, "the most enjoyable experience possible".

Closing Thoughts
Oregon definitely has their work cut out for them. The Northwest has always been a power house but their dominance has slipped slightly since 2004. However with Cal's resurgence, potential upsets circa Santa Cruz, and Stanford's usual elite level play, getting out of the NW is going to be no easy task. Not only does EGO have to deal with the best in the country, but they also have to deal with rivalry games and when it comes to rivalry games, all bets are off. This is what Kevin had to say when I asked him to comment on the relationship between EGO and Stanford:

"Stanford is a talented team with talented players, but there’s nothing Ego likes better than to send them home with an L. Our two teams have had historically similar styles of playing and we like to show Stanford that we do it better"

I have never been much of an EGO fan, mainly because they always owned UCSD, but I will say that I like their team dynamic. Like Stanford they really try and spread it around and have the ability to grind out games. Despite losing in quarters this past year, they did manage to score the most points of anyone against the Hodags (9) and their team is more or less the same as it was in 2007. With more experience and constant talent, EGO has the potential to show that their team deserves to play late on Saturday in Boulder. However, they will need to fight for every win and with the each player leaving their egos at home, they may have the chance to use their roster top to bottom to take it to the best in the nation.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Monday, January 28, 2008

UGMO, back in blue?

Back in 2004 Cal was royalty. They were the most feared team in the country. After graduating from Stanford, Bart Watson saddled up with UGMO as a grad student and led them, along with Dan Hodges and Gabe Saunkeah, to a phenomenal season. They won Santa Barbara. They won the very first Centex tournament. They won the won the Bay Area section, something that Stanford had done the previous three years and has done every year since. They also went on to beat Bloodthirsty at regionals earning the #1 spot at nationals. They swept through their pool and bracket play until meeting their match against Mamabird in the finals. However, since then UGMO has dropped off the radar. They haven't made nationals since losing to Colorado and have yet to even make a game to go.

However, I believe that this year can definitely be different. My attention was drawn to Cal when they won Sean Ryan over an equally up and coming UC Santa Cruz team. This tournament featured the best west coast teams such as Stanford, Oregon, and UCSB, all of whom will probably be at or close to making nationals this year. I have some family in the bay area and I managed to get ahold Choon, their team president, and he answered some questions. I am really excited to see what UGMO can do this year and I would like to share my thoughts.

Club Experience
I think the one thing that has really helped UGMO break back into elite level discussions is their chemistry and their synergy. I am lucky that I have a lot of ultimate contacts and my cousin Alex at Santa Clara has been helpful in giving me some tid bits on Cal. UGMO did something brilliant in that they formed their own Club team to play through the summer, THBC (Thunder Hatchet/Bear Claw). For teams that want to improve (and I mean truly want to improve) this is the best fucking idea to get your undergrads to play club. The only way people get better in this sport is to play club. Think about it, when you came out as a freshman you got schooled by some junior or whatever and you learned from him and now you are on the same level. Learning how to play ultimate does not stop at 20 however. The next step is to find more people to play against that school you up and down the field so you can learn more. It is no wonder that Stanford has dominated, they have their best players playing for Revolver over the summer. Brown does the same thing with the Providence Pack Dogs, Mamabird has Bravo, CUT and Wisconsin have Sub Zero, Florida has Vicious Cycle, Texas has Double Wide, etc... It is year around ultimate, it is tough, but it is the only way to get better.

Ok back to UGMO. So in forming a club team, players like Charles Denby, Choon, and Alec Berg basically extend the college season another 4 months and make Cal ultimate a year round experience. This has the benefit of getting touches between team mates. Believe it or not, aside from drills and conditioning, just playing together A LOT really helps a team improve. That is why teams like Furious do so well. MG, Lugsdin, Oscar, Shank, Savage, Al Bob, etc... can basically read each other's minds making their offense intensely fluid. In ultimate, offense is your biggest concern. It is the only sport I can think of, where good offense beats good defense. If your college team can figure out a club level offensive feel, then you will be able to take down teams that may be faster and more athletic than you simply because you don't turn it over. THBC was nothing to write home about in club circles but they did qualify for NW regionals (thats club mind you) and got experience playing the best teams in the world. This experience is invaluable. Do you think Alec Berg saw a mark as good as Oscar or did Charles Denby have to shake a defender as good as Roger Crafts at Santa Barbara? Probably not.

Roster Status
As far as departing talent goes, Choon told me that the only real loss Cal has to deal with is grad student Rob Tipton. However, he also told me that they have reeled in some new talent and "have a large team with a good core group of rookies. Expect some big athletic plays from Andrew Hagen and ridiculous throws from Erec Hillis". I suppose this and their club experience I mentioned previously is why Choon said "everyone" when I asked who will be the standouts for Cal this year. However, in talking with my cousin, he told me that Cal's offense runs through Charles Denby, a 5'7" grad student with great throws, hands, and cuts. In addition, Alec Berg seems to be Cal's premier handler, nothing flashy, just consistent, confident and dependable. I think most teams could use more of these. Choongil Fleischman, or Choon, is one of Cal's best defenders and despite only being 5'11" has incredible ups and speed. Another bonus that I am sure Cal is using to strike fear into their opponents hearts are the twins John and Scott McLaughlin. Not only are these kids seniors with experience and talent, but they are both 6'7".

Tournament Schedule
Cal will be attending Santa Barbara as well as 3 CCS events, TiV, Stanford and Centex, before starting the series. If they can reproduce their success at Sean Ryan I think Stanford, Oregon, UBC and Santa Cruz will have another team to worry about. I keep mentioning Sean Ryan because this tournament was a big deal to these guys. It was their first tournament win since NW Regionals back in 2004 where, like I said, they were royalty. Their tournament schedule is no different than years past but this year they hopefully will pull out their established chemistry and show the rest of the elite a thing or two. There will be a lot of pressure on them in Santa Barbara to prove that their Fall success was not a fluke or just pre-season laurels. If they do well they can write their own ticket, if not, they have 3 years of disappointing seasons to motivate them. Either way, I will be paying close attention.

I will say that Santa Barbara this weekend seemed like a bizarre experience. From what my undergrad buddies told me, the weather was fairly crummy with wind and rain to deal with. However, I think the major issues is the cap situation. Games were played to 9 or 10, maybe sometimes 13. Not unlike Vegas, I think you get less than representative scores. In addition Cal only lost to SW teams which is good for them and they also managed to beat both Santa Cruz and Stanford. Aside from their 10-4 loss to UCSB, they had a decent weekend.

Challenges and Goals
The major challenge for Cal this year will be to overcome injuries. Several sources have informed me that Cal's health status is questionable. Apparently Choon is routinely injured which is not surprising for a defensive specialist. Alec also has foot problems and his status could affect Cal's ability to generate scores on offensive points. Aside from injuries however, Cal really controls their own destiny.

As can be expected, the major goal for Cal this year is to qualify for nationals. A lot of teams have come out the NW since I have been watching ultimate. Stanford and Oregon are always at the top but teams like UBC, Washington, and Cal are always waiting for a chance to break out. I am not positive as to bid status, but I am guessing that the NW has 2 bids to nationals. If Cal can generate the fire power they might be able to sneak past Oregon or Stanford in that game to go. I don't see Stanford losing 2 games to go, so Cal's best bet is to hope that Oregon slips. With three years of regional woes, I am sure Cal wants to show the rest of the NW that UGMO didn't die with Bart, Gabe and Dan's eligibility. With this motivation I think Cal has a shot if they stay healthy. They have nothing to lose and like CUT are ready to strike at the regions best to show their worth.

College Nationals
When I asked Choon what he thought about the new college nationals schedule he said:

"It’s pretty weak; right in the middle of finals. Of course there are always conflicts in scheduling but this is one that affects a large number of the participants and seems very easy to avoid."

Hopefully the motivation to make nationals is peripheral to the draw backs. I am sure with their level of commitment the weekend nationals is will not be a concern.

Closing Thoughts
When I talked with Mike Payne I asked him about Cal and he told me that they were definitely on Stanford's radar. Apparently Cal alum and Revolver teammate Ryo Kawaoka is coaching UGMO this year and Payne definitely expressed considerable respect for his club and coaching peer. Hopefully the series will be good to these kids. Like the rest of the NW, the AC, the SW and the Central regions, Cal will have to face the best just to get a shot at Boulder and come April/May, all their work will be put to the test. Hopefully they are ready.

I also asked Choon if there was anything he would want the rest of the country to know about UGMO in 2008, to which he replied "If you don't know, you'd better ask somebody". I didn't know and had to ask Alex and Mike Payne.

Just my thoughts

match diesel

Sunday, January 27, 2008

UCPC thoughts

So I managed to make it up to Boston for this UCPC thing and I am really glad I did. It is more or less a convention of frisbee nerds talking about how to make all aspects of the game better. At first i was hesitant to go (I have no idea why, I think I am one of the biggest ultimate geeks) but I am really glad I made the trek from the Have.

Opening/Keynote Speaker
My first real experience at this conference was when George Cooke came up and introduced himself to me. I was very surprised mainly because he is much less intimidating in real life then his blog picture would have you believe. It was nice to chat with him and I will say that he (and Tiina) ran a great conference. We as ultimate players are in their debt.

Next came the keynote speech by Dr. Alan Goldberg. First, this guy was really entertaining to watch. I think he is about as close to a John Wooden as I am ever going to see in the flesh. This guy was a true competitor's competitor. He started with a story about getting his ass handed to him by some punk in tennis when he was a kid. Then he talked about how he trained for months and months (12 hours a day) and a year later, he still got his ass kicked. However, after much more training and hardship, he managed to take it to this little shit and tore him a new one. I loved it, great story (I am not doing it justice). In any event, the main message that I got from his speech was that being a champion is about suffering and failure. It is about getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself through hell. Being complacent is death and the only way to truly dominate is to suffer, both physically, with endless training, and mentally, with failure and defeat. However, if you truly learn from your trials and tribulations and really put in the hours, you can succeed (wow, saturday morning special alert).

Another important lesson that I got from Dr. Goldberg was that it is really important to have goals and "why's" when you are training and preparing for competition. You can't have somebody tell you why you are working hard, it has to be your own personal reason (regardless of what it is), because that is the only thing that will motivate you through the pain and soreness. In addition, he also said that once game day comes, forget your goals, forget your "why's" and just play. "Leave emotion at the door" to quote Ocean's 11, and just execute. Forget about opponents and results, and more or less attempt to be a machine in motion. In only that manner can you really avoid letting pressure get to you and choking. Great work, I loved his over head projector too, who needs Powerpoint?

Mingle Session #1
The next thing up was the vendor display which included several booths from teams and companies. Also among the crowd were some of the biggest names in ultimate including Rob (ultivillage), Gwen Ambler, Kyle Weisbrod, Miranda Roth, Al de Frondeville, Sam Rosenthal, Seigs, yada yada yada. I was a bit star struck and had trouble breaking into the mingle session (at least this one). Sorry folks, I am a bitch. What made matters worse was after this pathetic social display, I felt like I was back in 7th grade and I went wandering through the halls to find my chosen seminar hanging my head. However, as I rushed through the halls, I passed a gentleman carrying a laptop, who stopped and said "Match?". Yeah, it was Ben Wiggins and I about fell over. I must have looked like such a tool. I suppose I don't like to be surprised because I like to give things a lot of thought before I do them. When I am caught off guard I don't have a chance to let things pass through the ol filter and I look like an idiot. But, I would collect myself and rally later in the day.

Seminar #1 - Speed, Agility, and Quickness (Michael Baccarini)
I never played any sports in high school so I am not in the know when it comes to complex bio-mechanics and training methods. I was curious to know what information was out there and, wow, is this guy knowledgeable. First off, I want to say that I won't be able to do his talk justice but I am going to buy his (and Tiina's) book. The main message that I got from his talk that I will articulate here, is that you really need to train in a manner that is fitting for ultimate. Because I never played in HS sports, I don't really know how to train. I would just run a lot and Michael said that just logging miles really won't help much. It is good for overall fitness, but it won't improve your game. This makes total sense considering that endurance running and ultimate running are completely different. Needless to say, this guy knows his shit and I think his book will really help me out.

Seminar #2 - Preparing for Ultimate (Gwen Ambler)
This was a great talk by Gwen that was filmed by Rob. It basically discusses how her team, San Francisco Fury, prepared for their 2007 season (where they won nationals). At first I was a bit skeptical about getting anything out of this talk. She plays for a world class team that has world class talent and world class goals. I play for a cute little club team that no one cares about. However, the lessons are still there and she was very helpful. The main message that I gathered from it was that you can't over prepare. Team politics, goals for the season, weather, everything can/should be approached objectively before/during the season. Another big lesson is that only a small subset of the team needs to be involved. Not every player needs to know the details of "THE PLAN" but they need to know that there is "A PLAN" and their responsibility is to execute it. Another thing that made this talk interesting was that in her strategic analysis she talked about how Stanford handled Miranda Roth (UW) in the finals after getting worked by her in pool play back in 2005. What was really funny was that Miranda was in the audience, I loved it. In any event, i finally mustered the nuts to introduce myself to Gwen after her talk and she was very nice. God I am such a wuss.

Lunch/Mingle Session #2
We had lunch in the cafeteria, it had been awhile since I had been in one of those. I didn't remember what I had registered to eat so I just had pizza, sorry if I took someone else's food. This is also when I sacked up and told myself "get your fat read headed ass out there and talk to people". So I started with Rob. I feel like he sees the game very similar to the way I do. We are both avid disc fans but not exactly elite level players. However, we want the game to be followed and viewed just like baseball or football. You could say I sort of look up to him. In any event, if you ever get the chance to see Rob in person, don't hesitate to talk to him, he is such a nice guy and is very willing to talk to anyone. So I introduced myself and we talked for awhile. I had so many questions and he was very genuine. I talk a lot about ultivillage here and I was curious to know if he was OK with that. To my surprise, the main message he had for me was that he just wants to have people discuss his footage. Good, bad, ambivalent, he just wants people to know it and I think that makes sense. It is his livelihood and if people are talking about it, that means they watch it and hopefully that means Rob gets some sort of financial benefit (which he could use now that he is a daddy).

Another name that I wanted to talk to was Kyle Weisbrod. He is more or less the Juniors aficionado considering he was the Youth Director for the UPA. I really feel like I don't know enough about Juniors and have really not given the demographic enough attention. However, after playing with some Juniors kids, I can say that they are definitely the future. In any event, I managed to talk to Kyle. He was very nice and I found myself talking more about ultimate than I had initially expected. One thing I underestimated at this conference was how much people just want to talk disc. I love to talk ultimate but few people around me really have any input because being an ultimate fan takes so much work. However, at UCPC, I felt like a Greek mathematician hanging out with the Pythagoreans. We talked a bit too much and missed the first 15 minutes of my next seminar.

Seminar #3 - Business in Ultimate: A panel discussion (Ultivillage, VC Ultimate, Breakmark, NUTC)
This was probably my favorite meeting because it was one that I think I had the most to contribute. The format was basically 4 reps, 1 from each company (Rob, Victoria(?), Matt, and Tiina) that answered a series of questions and then the small audience would ask more questions and we would talk. I was late so I missed most of the initial questions but Rob did say something that I wanted to mention here. He said that the way to make it as a business in ultimate is to create something that you and only you can offer. Something that you love, some thing that you know, something that you are driven to do, and something no one else is doing. He said that he was never a video kinda guy, just a business person, and he never dreamed he would start a company like Ultivillage. This struck a chord with me because, like Rob, I never thought I would be a writer. I just love to talk about ultimate and now I have aspirations to carry this lame blog thing to another level. So for people out there, it should not be about money, but more or less doing what you love and offering a premium product. With companies like CSTV, Nike, Addias, etc.. we flat ballers cannot offer the least expensive product because we don't have the infrastructure to produce mass/cheap quantities. But what we still have a competitive advantage because we know and love the game. Bill Mill is doing this exact thing with Force Middle and I think like most of these vendors, he has a great idea in front of him that the ultimate community could use.

Another thing that was discussed here was the idea of fans, which is where I came in. A lot of these vendors have enough trouble getting teams to buy their stuff but the true future is to market these items to fans. However, most ultimate players don't know how to be fans because there is such a lack of information. This is exactly why I write this stuff. I want to offer an ESPN feel to ultimate so that people can follow their favorite players and teams, just as they would Tom Brady and the Patriots.

Lastly, I introduced myself to Tiina and she told me that she reads my dribble. That was very flattering, especially when she said that sometimes she is upset with what I write, HA...even better. But my main question for her was the role her college index plays in her kids choosing what colleges to go to. Apparently it is a very big part and she encourages all schools to really keep their information updated on this directory. I also got the chance to meet Andrew Hollingworth, a Juniors team USA standout and captain of Tufts. A great kid who volunteered for this conference who I hope to work with to discuss juniors ultimate in the future.

Seminar #4 - Defense: Getting Goals from your D line (Ben Wiggins)
I went to this talk mainly because I wanted to see what Ben had to say. I am not a big fan of O/D lines, mainly because I play offense and I do not play at a level that I feel requires set O and D teams. In any event, Ben gave a very interesting talk concerning how to generate scores once a turn is generated. One of the more interesting things about this talk was that a few Boston Ultimate players were in the crowd, I suppose they want a peak at their competition. In any event, the main message that I got from this talk was that when it comes to scoring goals, especially with a D line, a goal is a goal and that is all that matters. D-line offense is exactly that, D-line offense, not O-line offense. It doesn't have to look pretty, it doesn't have to be organized, it doesn't have to be planned or crisp, you just have to score goals. This was a powerful message because I feel like the main folly of D-lines is that they try and run their team's offense once they get a block. This is pretty impossible though, especially if these players don't practice their team offense all that much. If the best players to run the offense are not on the field, how can you expect to run a fluid offense? What you can do is take advantage of certain situations quickly (key word being quickly) and get the score unconventionally. He emphasized high release breaks, hammers, quick goal line toss/scores, NOT going through on a turn, but utilizing the momentum shift, etc... All in all, it was a nice seminar and I got to talk to Ben a little bit. Hopefully we can share some party stories next month in Hawaii beause I have my fair share and I am sure he has his.

Back to Lab/Chipotle
I had to go to work and I wanted to hit the Chipotle in Medford, so I didn't stay for the last talk. I felt bad for missing the UPA discussion but I figured I would be able to get the information on RSD or somewhere soon enough. Plus I got to dine on a steak burrito which I don't get anymore now that I am stuck in New Haven. It was beautiful. Work was work, then I crashed hard and slept through my older brother's drunk dial. He left a good message though.

Closing thoughts
I really had a great time at this conference mainly because I was surrounded by people that love ultimate as much as I do. I have always been very self conscience about my interest in ultimate mainly because it goes way beyond most people/players. This conference however was like my Shangri La. If you ever get the chance to go to one of these things, really utilize it. The experience is so invaluable and you really never know what you can get out of it unless you try. I should have gone last year, but it wasn't my time. I am so glad I went yesterday and I really think most ultimate players would enjoy it. Also, Rob's footage of the talks will be available on his website. Check me out while I stutter through my question that I asked Gwen Ambler in her talk.

Just my thoughts

match diesel

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Stanford: Putting the Payne back in SMUT

Stanford has always been one of my favorite teams and I was really interested in finding out somethings about them. Mike Payne, the coach of Stanford and President of the UPA Board of Directors, was kind enough to do a phone interview with me and I thought I would share some thoughts on Bloodthirsty for 2008.

Coaching Status
The first thing that I wanted to discuss was the coaching status of Stanford. This team has had their fair share of leadership changes over the years. Last year they were coached by Jit "Jumbo" Bhattacharya who currently plays for Revolver and was an undergrad/grad student at Stanford from '97-'02. I have never seen such a little guy have such a big voice. I think he lost it faster than I lost mine at College Nationals this past year. Evan Pearce and Dan Maidenberg have also been around to coach their alma matter. However, this year will see the return of Mike Payne who will co-coach along with Nick Handler who also plays for Revolver and has been apart of Bloodthirsty as a player and coach since 2000. Mike played for Stanford from '93-'98 making the finals in '94, '97 and '98. He also started Jam as well as contributed to the formation of Revolver for which he is the current captain. In addition to being the highest officer of the UPA. Mike previously coached Stanford from '00-'03, winning nationals with "the Faceless Army" in 2002. After a 4 year coaching hiatus, Mike is back to coach Bloodthirsty. There are a lot things that make this interesting but the one thing I will mention here is that with Mike's return, Stanford may have the ability to break into the finals, something they have gotten so close to doing the last 4 years but haven't.

Player Departures
Stanford had a fantastic 2007 where they won Santa Barbara, made the finals of both Stanford Invite and Centex, won the NW region and made semis at nationals (again). However, 12 players will not be returning in 2008, arguably the biggest loss of any team I will write about. Notable departures are 2003 NW FOTY and 3 time NW all-region, Robbie Cahill, superstar handler and defender, Nan Gao, defensive stud Doug Allen, and 2003 NE FOTY and 3 time NE all-region, Will Chen. I will say that this significant loss in talent seems to happen every year at Stanford yet they seem to reload as easily as they win their section. Mike told me that despite losing a dozen A teamers, B team prospects, new recruits and grad students will fill the void.

Play Makers in 2008
Considering that Stanford lost a significant amount of stellar fantasy players from last year, there are some new faces that will be turning heads this spring. 2008 will be the 5th and final year for all region and 2007 Callahan nominee Mark Sherwood. Mark is probably one of my favorite players to watch (despite the fact that he looks like a rooster) because he seems to never run out of gas and has so much composure. He has picked up another year of club experience playing with Revolver and should dominate on both sides of the disc. Look for Tom James to have a break out year as well as 5th year and stellar deep Ezra Schiff. Mike also informed me that Stanford will be looking to up and comer Nicolai Schlag and grad student Dan Silverstein (University of Chicago) to make plays. Another player that I think is also very dangerous (and I love to watch this kid) is junior Steve Scardato. A seemingly harmless cutter at 5'7" but has insane ups, and is a vicious deep threat.

Young Guns
Sophmore James Hansell has recently come up from Prision Experiment, Stanford's B team (good work, I always like seeing that, especially from a fun rival from my undergrad days) and will help carry the torch for Stanford in the future. Nick Greenfield, a freshman from Maryland, has exhibited great throws so far and should play a solid handler role for Bloodthirsty this year. Derek Frome is a new sophmore recruit who could be a devastating cutter, deep threat, and defensive presence.

Tournament Schedule
Stanford usually attends many tournaments per year, some that are not UPA sanctioned. This weekend they will head down to Santa Barbara where they have won the tournament the last 3 years. Next month they will make their annual trip to Hawaii for the Kaimana Klassik where they made the finals in 2002. In March they will have their home and first CCS tournament, Stanford Invite. They will then head back to Centex in late March and attend the Davis Ultimate Invite (DUI) before starting the series. DUI has always been a tourney on Stanford's radar because it gives them a great chance to play against some tough club competition, not unlike Texas with Live Logic.

Challenges and Goals
There are a lot things that will be different about ultimate for Stanford this year, the first being the line up at Stanford Invite. This year Wisconsin, Florida, and Colorado will be in attendance. Wisconsin and Florida have both won the tournament recently but have never been there at the same time. Colorado has not been to Stanford for several years and it is easy to see how the competition is going to have a "Sunday at Centex" feel. Another team that will be in Palo Alto this spring that is beginning to turn heads is Cal. So far UGMO is Stanford's biggest concern and front runner in the Northwest, in addition to perennial rival, Oregon. Santa Cruz and UBC have also looked good and Stanford is aware that their competition could be considerably different than a year ago. When I asked Mike what he thought about the teams at Stanford Invite he said, "We are going to approach Stanford Invite the same way we approach Santa Barbara or Centex. We are going to try and implement what we have learned on the practice field and at the track." Very clear, very concise, and very intense.

Another challenge that is facing Stanford is how they are going to improve. They have made semis 4 years in a row only to lose to the eventual national champ and Callahan winner. Considering that Mike was not coaching any of these 4 teams, his opinion is slightly mal-informed, but when I asked him how Stanford approaches this situation, he said:

"The way you break into the finals is to invest in the bottom 2/3rds of your team. If you continually develop talent and work your young players in with your veterans the cohesivness and synergy of your team drastically improves. Perhaps it will take time, but in the long run you will see results"

This was not an answer I was expecting. I have written about this many times and always thought that Stanford just needed a better standout, "go to" player, a Jolian Dahl, or maybe a Kurt Gibson. Cahill broke into the top 5 in the Callahan voting in 2007 but recently Stanford has failed to really produce a serious MVP candidate, at least as far as voters were concerned. However, after watching Sherwood, Cahill, Gao, and the rest of Bloodthirsty last May I can say that they are in no need of more talent. I think Mike definitely makes an interesting point and I think with his return we may see more SMUT on Sunday.

College Nationals
Aside from my continual curiosity as to what elite team representatives have to say about the new college nationals weekend, I also figured I would get an insider's perspective from the president of the UPA. When I asked Mike about the change he said:

"The UPA's mission with this change is to give the participants of college nationals the best experience possible. In joining CSTV, ultimate players will have the ability to be exposed to a larger sports media forum and this might result in a more full filling experience"

I have my issues with CSTV and they are no secret but I will concede that I think this change in college nationals is a good experiment. As a scientist I am all for new approaches and I can say that this could potentially be a huge success or a huge mistake, and the only way to find out is to try. As far as Stanford goes, their academic calendar extends well into June so discussion concerning finals is completely peripheral to college nationals. Unlike Wisconsin, Stanford will not have to worry too much about school during nationals.

Closing Thoughts
In looking at Stanford's Fall record, I was a bit worried about their season and in looking at who they have lost, it is no wonder. However, Bloodthirsty is never down and out and I am sure that they will develop the talent necessary to compete this year. I also was unaware of their coaching situation until I wrote this article and I think that Mike may play a very large role in Stanford's ability to improve in the next few years (he better, he's the freaking UPA president). Revolver has also helped keep Stanford players active through the summer as well as sharpen their disc skills.

My last question for Mike was one that I have been curious about for a long time. How does Stanford manage to stay on top of arguably one of the toughest and deepest regions year after year? He told me:

"The trick is to not focus on the short term. Teams try and rely on a pair or trio of talent to carry them for a year but after that what happens? Teams have trouble competing, recruiting and fund raising. A team needs to have long term goals and aspirations to develop a "program" not just one good season. Aside from the type of full-roster player development, we focus on here, another example of this long term commitment comes in the form of the Stanford Men's Ultimate Endowment, which is on track to reach $100K by 2010"

I have always thought Stanford to be the true example of a "polished team" and in talking with Mike, I can begin to understand the why and hows. I think we will see a lot of red and white on Sundays this year and not just because they are two most popular team colors in ultimate.

Just my thoughts

match diesel

Monday, January 21, 2008

Jojah: Light at the end of Tunnell?

I wanted to get this post up right after Warm Up because Jojah played very well and I wanted folks to have something to read about after checking out the Florida Warm Up results. These guys have a great program and they are a lot of fun. One of their reps, Travis Smith, answered some questions for me and I thought I would share.

Jojah History
So before I go into the whole college preview, I thought I would talk a little bit about why I care about this team. They broke into the frisbee elite in 2003 and made nationals in Texas. Dylan was a freshman and despite being a relatively low seed (14) they finished tied for 9th with Michigan. They lost 2 games to go and didn't qualify for nationals in 2004 but had a break out year in 2005. Dylan was a junior and they managed to beat North Carolina winning regionals and were a 1 seed in Corvalis. They were up and down in Oregon in that they lost to 9th seeded UCSD but beat 5th seed UBC, on their way to a 2-1 pool play showing. They beat UNC in pre-quarters but drew a tough Stanford team in quarters. They lost on double game point (I won't mention how) but they proved that they were the real deal. It was after that weekend that I really started to pay attention to Dylan and the rest of Jojah. The following year was probably Jojah's best. They managed to scratch their way to the semis by beating Black Tide and a stellar Mamabird team, on double game point no less. However, with the rise of Florida and the toughness of the AC, Georgia really had a rough road back to nationals in 2007. In Dylan's final year they barely made it back to Columbus and grabbed the 3rd and final bid out of the AC, which is ironic becasue they themselves earned the necessary strength bid the previous year. They did fairly well however and managed to make quarters against Colorado. This time however, Beau, Rabbit and Jolian would not allow Jojah to advance. They did however win the spirit award which is interesting because I think it's the first time a bracket team has done so. In any event, #78 is now gone and in 2008 we will see what a team Dylan built can do in his absence.

Coaching Status
One thing that has really facilitated the development of this ultimate team are their coaches. First and foremost, Stu Downs. This George Lucas look-a-like has been at the top of the ultimate scene for years and has influenced great players like championship director and Jojah alum, Will Deaver. AJ Tiarsmith and Dusty Smith have also been a big part of Georgia's team development and recently, former player Alex Deckhard has signed on to help organize and lead this team. When I asked Travis about his coaching administration, this is what he had to say:

"Having these incredible coaches takes a lot off of the captains’ shoulders, leaving them and the rest of the team able to focus on playing. Each of these men has his own talents which he has given to Jojah. They have given us endless inspiration and the tools to be successful: motivation, strategy, and condition. They have been through everything that we are going through now, and they were some of the best. These are men that we can and do trust to make us better players and better people. Also, they are more fun than most of our players. Stu can throw a nilla wafer 60 mph and is well versed in comic books. AJ is very good at riddles. And Dusty has never lost at trivia night. It is incredible to be associated and to hang out with these guys on and off the field. Also, we cannot leave out our new “Vice Coach” Alex Deckard. He has offered to help us out this season, and we could not be more excited. He plans on getting good use out of his two degrees from UGA by staying in Athens and coaching and not getting a job."

With a crowd like this it is easy to see how Jojah has developed into one of the best, largest and most fun ultimate teams in the country.

Player Departures
It goes without saying that the biggest loss to this team is Dylan Tunnell. His departure is probably the biggest loss of any major elite program in the country. One thing that I didn't know about Georgia is that they only choose a callahan nominee by unanimous selection and in Dylan's absence, such a candidate probably will not manifest itself. Another huge impact he had on this team was spirit. It was easy to see that no team was having more fun at nationals than Jojah and Travis tells me that "the truth is when you have the chance to play against the top teams in the nation, it is impossible not to have a good time. But to be completely honest, it was Dylan. He was our spirit leader." I will say however, that it looked like Dylan was not 100% in Columbus back in May and Jojah still balled with him off the field. In addition to Tunnell, Paul Schrafft, Chad Borer, and stellar deep Frank Wooten will not be coming back.

2008 Play Makers
Despite these player losses, Jojah is still returning a ton of talent and given their 100+ person program, I would hope so. One of my favorite players to watch on Georgia is Senior Will McDonough. This fro-ed out flat baller always seems to have his head in the game. I can remember the few times UCSD and Jojah played, I hated him, but every other game, he was a lot of fun to watch. Despite his smaller stature, he plays spectacular defense and has great composure on the offensive front. Two other standouts for Jojah will be senior offensive specialists, Greg Swanson and Louis Gutschenritter. Look for Peter Dempsey and Ben Morrissey to anchor the D line. Aside from these veterans, Georgia has 10 new A-teamers that will hopefully give them the talent and the depth to make it out of the AC region.

Tournament Schedule
First and foremost, congratulations to Jojah (and of course Florida) for both making the finals of Warm Up. Both teams played very well and beat some good east coast teams to make the finals, which Florida won 15-13 over Georgia. I want to do the math for the CCS point totals but I am afraid I will screw it up. I'll leave that to Skip.

Georgia has a unique tournament schedule in that it is significantly different from most elite programs. They played in their first CCS event at Florida Warm Up. However, unlike most teams, they are not headed to Vegas. They will however be one of the favorites at Queen City Tune Up in Charlotte, NC (2/9-10). They have two more tournaments before Centex, Mudbowl and Terminus. Mudbowl will feature two Georgia teams, an O and D team, which could yield some interesting results. Terminus in Atlanta, is a tournament that Georgia usually attends, which makes sense considering it's in their state. Wisconsin usually makes the trip South and a Hodag vs Jojah final is not uncommon. However, Wisconsin will not be in Hot-lanta this March, but neither will Dylan, so a lot of teams could potentially end up in that Final. They will then head to Centex before starting the series. Hopefully they will have what it takes to compete in one of the toughest sections in the country which houses teams like Georgia, Florida, Central Florida, and Georgia Tech (the 4 teams that made semis at Warm Up).

Goals and Challenges
One major goal (as well as challenge) that Georgia has, is to develop a more consistent offense. Travis told me that "historically, we have not been very good at throwing and catching. More importantly, we want to play every single game this season with the same effort and enthusiasm as the game before and the game after." With the newest crop of superstars in recent years, this seems like a fairly reasonable, albeit difficult, goal. One of the major challenges associated with this is that "with Dylan and Frank gone, we no longer have mentors and leaders". In losing some of their top level players, the majority of Jojah's roster is going to have to take it upon themselves to make a play. This is really good for talent development because it sets up a high yield, low risk situation. If you work the hardest and put yourself out there, YOU might get to make the big play. If not, no one will notice. Hopefully it works out well for them.

Another major challenge for Jojah (and most teams) are injuries. Travis told me that, "the biggest factor for us in the past has been injuries. We have more than a few players with brittle or glass bones. If we can keep Swanson in bubble wrap for the rest of the season, he might avoid getting hurt". With the rigorous tournament schedule that Jojah is boasting, keeping players healthy will be a concern. Travis said, "we stretch a lot and encourage wrist-guards and helmets when we are around campus, seriously." Hopefully they have lady luck on their side and stay healthy.

Paideia Pipeline?
One thing that I was interested to know was what sort of impact Paideia has on Georgia's ultimate program. Considering that this high school has generated greats like Jolian, Dylan, Chicken, Moses, and Kyle Weisbrod, I figured Georgia would be reeling in the recruits. To my surprise, despite the proximity, Paideia doesn't send many kids to Georgia. This is what Kevin had to say about it:

"We don’t get many Paideia recruits. Most of them go to “smarter schools.” However, having a dominant high school team in our area promotes the sport to high school students all around Atlanta. This is the first year in a while that we have taken so many talented freshmen. It takes a while for freshmen to adapt to Jojah’s style of play. They have the basics, but college is much different from high school. We also play a different kind of game then Paideia teaches. We are not a pretty team, but we are working on it. Who knows, maybe the young blood will bring some of Baccarini’s influence, and I don’t think that could be bad for us."

I suppose juniors ultimate in the area, in general, is good for Jojah, but I found this surprising. This makes sense though. However, I think the two teams that benifit the most from Paideia Ultimate are definitely Brown and Colorado. Why? I don't know but I am working on it.

College Nationals
Concerning the college nationals change, this is what Travis had to say:

"I don’t think it makes a difference when Nationals takes place. Every weekend is a bad weekend for somebody. The teams that are lucky enough to qualify will find a way to play. I also think it may be a positive change to get some coverage on our sport. Although I imagine it will turn out much like past years with CSTV, and we will not be able to find ample coverage to watch. I am hoping for the best though."

I concur with his fears concerning CSTV, but like Travis, I think most of us are just hoping for the best as well.

Closing Thoughts
I think Georgia really has the right idea concerning ultimate. They seem to have more fun than anyone out there and I think more people should strive for that. With stuff like dune diving or lay out practice, it is easy to see that they are really enjoying themselves. I think I would have loved to be an undergrad player at Georgia. With that in mind, I really want to see Georgia remain an AC power house. They won Stanford last year and made quarters with a less than healthy callahan nominee. I hope to hear more spittle from the Jojah crowd at the Callahan ceremony in Boulder this year. Best of luck to you guys.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Friday, January 18, 2008

Gibson and his Gators in 2008

Another team that I really wanted to get some information on this year is Florida. Kurt Gibson and Windham were kind enough to answer some questions and I thought I would share.

The first thing I wanted to know was where the hell Florida came from? I can remember a time, and I am talking 3-4 years ago, when Florida was never mentioned among the top teams in the country. However in 2006, they shocked the country (or at least me) and put together an almost perfect season and won a national championship. I have speculated as to what precipitated this jump to success. People like Kurt Gibson and Tim Gehret must have shook things up, but I was still unsatisified with that answer. So I went to the source. This is what Windham had to say about it:

"Honestly, it was a little bit of good luck to start out with. I think having talent like Tim and Kurt on the same team in college is every program’s wet dream. Once everyone else on the team realized though that these were some of the best guys in the country, it was a little bit of a priority shift. Previously we had been the team who went out to the tournament partys and drank ourselves stupid and let the dice fall where they would the next day. Once we realized that we had some special talent though we all committed ourselves to doing something with it. We stopped going to the party (sorry ultimate community) and began focusing more on training and conditioning throughout the season. I know this may not seem like a big deal, but to anyone in the ultimate community I think you can see how this might be a little bit of a paradigm shift. I guess to sum it up, once we realized the talent we had at the program, we knew how far we could get with some hard work."

Gibson had some follow up remarks:

"I believe that in 2005 we were a better team than we were in 2006. To be clear, we had more talent on the team in 2005. We should have beaten Cal and Colorado at Centex that year. We had no training, barely practiced and didn’t dedicate ourselves to be winners. In 2006 that changed by bringing in a coach, Kurt Dahlenburg, who pushed us on the track to get ourselves into phenomenal shape and be very mentally tough. Bill, Cyle, Tim and I developed a very good chemistry together after playing for three straight years together. Cyle also did a great job in making us play together all the time."

Player Departures
Luckily for Florida, a lot of their players are in the meat portion of their college careers. They are returning 12 players from last year and their only real losses are Gray Kirkmyer, "a solid O-player from the national championship team" and two defensive studs in, Joel Crandall and Tommy Rush (guy can pull like none other too).

2008 Stand outs
Without a doubt, most people will be looking for Kurt Gibson and Brodie Smith to make big plays. Kurt (5th year) is an obvious choice. He was Tim's go to cutter in 2006, he led Florida last year and has gained some serious disc experience playing at the highest level with the Southeast MLU team in 2006, and with Boston Ultimate this past club season. Brodie Smith (junior) is my pick for biggest threat in the AC. He has the same overall build as Kurt but really has a lot of pressure taken off of him by having Kurt as a team mate. I have had the privilege of watching Brodie play many times and I can say that his composure in the air is unreal. He will definitely be a part of a few double happiness points.

Young Guns
A school like Florida definitely has the ability to recruit and train the next all region caliber players and I was curious to know who the next crop of blue and orange studs would be. First and foremost Cole Sullivan will look to have another spectacular year. He was the AC's freshman of the year and this 6'2" defender will attempt to rack up fantasy points on Florida's D line. Another up and comer is Alex Hill, who Windham has pegged for the 2008 AC freshman of the year. Alex used to play for Sack Lunch, a mid level open team from Colorado, and I am sure with his initial experience, Florida's stringent conditioning, and his supporting cast, we will be seeing a lot of this kid on Rob's footage in the future.

Tournament Schedule
Florida is one of the few teams that will be able to attend all 4 CCS tournaments and are set to be at Warm Up, TiV, Stanford, Centex and of course the series. Florida is in a unique position to see the best in the country many times over but they definitely have a chip on their should to deal with. They won Warm Up last year and they come in seeded #1 this year and it is theirs to lose this weekend. Expectations for Florida are going to be exceedingly high at TiV because they have won it the last two years. With Wisconsin playing Mardi Gras before making the trek to the desert, Florida's year long sunshine might not prove to be the advantage it once was. I am glad Florida is going back to Stanford. In 2006, they showed that no amount of wind could shut down their game, a true test of the best. Their combination of composure and talent in 2006 was astonishingly impressive. However, SI has seen 4 different winners the last 4 years and I think in addition to Florida, the Hodags, JoJah, and Stanford will all be chomping at the bit to win that title again. Centex should also be a true acid test for Florida. Texas has been somewhat hard on these kids. They have lost in the finals twice and had a heart breaking loss to CUT in quarters last year. They came back and avenged their March loss with a sick layout D by Phil Vozza in quarters at Nationals, but many other teams will want to spoil Florida's fun in Austin.

Challenges and Goals
Florida definitely has some challenges this year. Their main tactic in 2006 was to rely on superstars and in 2007 they figured their reputation would earn them the W's to make the finals. However, with the loss of Tim Gehret and a shocking pool play loss to Delaware's Sideshow, Florida must commit to a more team oriented game. This is what Windham had to say about that Florida loss and their outlook for 2008 in that regard:

"It was a wake up call more than anything else, not to be cliché. After we won the championship in ’06 I think a lot of our guys felt like we were entitled to win more games, and often times throughout the ’07 season we did not bring enough fire to the games (notably the Delaware loss at nationals and the Carleton loss at Centex, though Carleton played a great game). Our philosophy in previous years had been to ride our big players and I think that those games showed us that winning at that level takes a full squad committed to working hard and showing up fired up every game. I think sometimes it easy to forget when you step out on the field that the other team really wants to win too, no matter who they are, and they are not going to hand you a title just because your shirt says Florida."

As with most teams at this level the main goal is always to win nationals. However, like Wisconsin, Colorado, Stanford, Oregon, CUT, UCSB, etc... just making nationals is extremely difficult. These teams have to play the best to even earn that spot in Boulder and playing in the AC region is definitely a humbling experience. The AC has been so dynamic, with teams like NC State, William and Mary, UNC, Georgia, Florida, and UCF all rising and falling, and teams must be really sharp to make it out of regionals. Windham enjoys the competition however and said that the AC is "very tough. For the past few years we have come from the toughest section and the toughest region in the country. Playing all those good teams throughout the season though I think helps, because you know you are going to be ready for whatever comes at you from across the country". It is easy to appreciate Florida's focus especially with words like "No game is ever a cake walk, and if you think it is going to be, then it definitely won’t be."

Closing Thoughts
I will say that Florida definitely has been humbled since memorial day 2006. They have fall losses to Georgia, UNC, and UNC Wilmington not to mention a perennial rivalry with Wisconsin, the top team on Florida's radar. I think if Florida spreads the disc around more than they have in the past and potentially open their rotation and give points to some young blood, they will definitely have the ability to make it back to sunday at natties. One last question that I ask every captain concerns the new college nationals date to which Windham replied:

"Personally I like the date. I know for us it is hard to keep some guys around after graduation and the semester is over and keep practicing. We have had multiple people living on teammates floors for two weeks since their lease was up or the dorms are closed, so I think pushing it up was a good move."

I think this Florida team will be better than 2007. Kurt is at his best, Brodie is as good as it gets, they have the young legs. However, with a national title in the trophy case they still have that red bulls eye over their head and every opponent they see will want to stick it to this seemingly seamless ultimate team.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Thursday, January 17, 2008

CUT's got me in stitches

First off these guys are entertaining. I wanted to continue my collection of objective ultimate material with who I believe to be the #2 team in the country right now and these guys crack me up. I got a hold of Patrick Baylis, Carleton's captain, and he answered some questions of mine and I thought I would share them with you.

Player Departures
Jacob Goldstein seems to be the biggest name that is not coming back to Carleton this year. I am a big fan of this kid because he gives hope to the stockier players out there. In watching him at college nationals and club regionals this past year, I was very surprised at how well he plays D despite the fact that he isn't the standard 6'2" 160 lbs twig that many elite disc players are now a days. Two other names that aren't returning are Keith Christianson, a spectacular down field defender and Craig Hogle, one of CUTs veteran handlers.

Talent for 2008
Despite player departures, Carleton still has a very young crop of players. I went back and watched what I believed to be the best game at college nationals last year (Stanford vs CUT) and most of the guys making plays will be suiting up for CUT this year. One of the bigger stars will probably be Sam Kanner (sophmore #33). This kid lined up against Robbie Cahill and Mark Sherwood a lot in that game and his fellow head band wearing team mate, Jerome Potter (junior #11), was also in that mix. These two heavy hitters, as well as Baylis, all played for Sub Zero this past year and are definitely ready to break some hearts. It is also worth mentioning that Kanner was on the juniors team USA that won gold in 2006 and runs track at Carleton, yikes. Another club player that has definitely picked up some experience over the last two years is Adam Fagin (sophmore #6) who suited up for Mischief the last two years. All in all, the best of Carleton is still very much a part of the team and will definitely have the ability to break into games late on saturday at nationals.

Tournament Schedule
Carleton has signed on for the CCS and will be attending Vegas, Stanford, and Centex in addition to the series. I suppose these 3 tournies are the best out there but I wonder if CUT would benefit from another tournament in that mix. Stanford goes to Santa Barbara, Wisconsin goes to Mardi Gras, Florida has their Winter Classic, etc... I am sure that this team will be focused and ready, however, and I think that the annual regional match up with the Hodags will continually be as exciting as ever. I asked Baylis to give me some thoughts on Wisconsin and this is what he told me:

"Nobody knows this, but the way Wisconsin plays defense is particularly vulnerable to the now-forgotten “Trident Stack” popular in the ’80s. We have revived that offense and added a top-secret wrinkle, called The Reversal, which eliminates the primary weakness of the flip-side poach draw without requiring the handler to scuttle his D1 and D4 options so early in the count. This really opens up the inside flick dump to the broadside hucker coming across for E2. And of course, our failsafe is still flying in on the diagonal to bring down the easy crabwise floater. As far as we can tell, it can’t be beaten. And we haven’t even mentioned our defense (nor will we)."

Hilarious, I love the spittle.

Goals and Expectations
Not surprisingly, Baylis and CUT are true competitors. When I asked him what his goals were for the season he told me "Three wins on Friday, two on Saturday, one on Sunday". You gotta love the black and white intensity. What I think is interesting is that they seem to focus their attention on nationals where as Wisconsin seems to focus on winning the region. I suppose there are different ways at looking at the same sets of goals. In any event, I think CUT will definitely have what it takes to make a run at the golden disc. They have the talent (which is now more experienced) and definitely have some painful memories, Phill Vozza's (Florida #26) layout D in quarters, the double game point loss to Stanford, and the JoJah upset, to motivate them to condition, improve, and stay focused. I am excited to see what they'll do especially at Centex when they will face their toughest competition until Regionals.

College Nationals
I was also curious to know how CUT felt about the new change in when nationals will be played. This is what Baylis had to say:

"We’ll see how it goes this year. We wish it wasn’t two weeks earlier because it limits our outside practice time even more than usual, but as far as the event itself goes we don’t really know what to expect."

Closing thoughts
I definitely think that CUT can give Wisconsin a run this year. They have a Fall tournament win over the Hodags, which Baylis says was no big deal, but I think it still gives CUT the notion that Wisconsin is not invincible. CUT has nothing to lose and everything to gain and the Hodags are not in that boat anymore. I think the best disc is played when players are truly motivated. Nothing can replace that sense of focus on offense and that intensity on D. One final question that I had for Baylis that I think most people are curious about is, how CUT continually manages to stay at the top of the ultimate community despite being a really small school? Baylis said that it's all about "Heart. (And Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water)". Ha, I love it. Thanks for being entertaining and good luck.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hungry Hungry Hodags

I thought I would get the college discussion ball rolling with a little bit about Wisconsin. One of the captains of the Hodags (James Foster) was kind enough to answer some questions and I thought I would share some initial thoughts about their 2008 season.

Player Departures
The first thing on my mind for the upcoming year is who are they losing. Now I know that there are some obvious players like Callahan winner Dan Heijman who just finished his 5th year at Wisconsin and Jack Marsh is out of eligibility. Another really huge name that isn’t coming back is Dan Miller. I have been blinded by this kids nuclear hair color for a few years and his defense and all around intensity will be missed. Bobby Lau and Matt Scallet are also done but aside from these, Wisconsin is still returning a ton of experience.

2008 Play Makers
Two major players from last year that will definitely be striking fear into the hearts of opponents are Brandon “Muffin” Malecek and Shane Hohenstein. I feel like Muffin is like the Barry Bonds of ultimate (just physically, not all that lying stuff). I have seen some pictures of him from a few years ago and he looks like a completely different person. Then he had non-descript hair, he was slimmer, and generally not all that scary looking. In 2006 he sported the cornrows, and he still has the Oakley shades, and the Hodag headband. That and he is freaking jacked. Guy definitely did his ultimate homework and is committed to absolutely dominating on all sides of the disc, more power to him. Shane is also a scary mofo. I mistakenly thought Heijman got 3 layout Ds against Stanford in the semis at college nationals, but it was actually Hohenstein. I was far away and they both wear head bands, but after really watching Wisconsin and Sub Zero footage, I can definitely say, this guy is one of the scariest defenders I have ever seen. He literally killed Stanford in the semis all by himself. His man defense is through the roof. I will say that there are usually 2 kinds of good college defenders out there. There are the really fast guys and then there are the crafty ones. The best defenders are both and Shane definitely is and he brings the hurt, just watch the Fall tounrey footage from the Classic City Classic. I asked Foster who he thought were going to be the big play makers for Wisconsin this year and this is what he told me:

“Matt Rebholz and Kevin Riley will be holding down the O Line, breaking the mark at will and sending it deep to our athletic cutters like Will Lokke and Tim Pearce. Muffin (Brandon Malecek) and Tom Annen will be anchoring the D Line throwing to some of the best defenders in the country in Chris Doede, Andrew Mahowald, and Shane Hohenstein.”

What I think makes Wisconsin so good is that they are the poster team for athleticism as well as commitment to the game. Because Wisconsin is a state school they have such a large population to draw from and the chance of finding an all-state soccer player (Dan Heijman-Connecticut) or some Winona State transfer students with disc experience (Hohenstein and Miller) are much better than a small school like Carleton. With these kinds of athletes coming into town, your odds of finding one that likes ultimate and will work at it are much higher. It also probably helps that a top 8 team at Club Nationals is based out of Minneapolis. I wonder how many Sub Zero teammates are bitter Wisconsin/CUT rivals?

Young Guns
Another thing that I was interested to know about Wisco this year was who their next crop of all-stars is going to be. I remember the days of Tyler Spindler, Grant Zukowski, the Valdivias, and Tripoli. Now it's Heijman, Miller, Muffin and Shane, but I wonder who will be the next big leaguers? When I asked James this question he told me “Cullen Geppert and Ben Feldman will certainly be noticed this year by playing great defense and then cutting people up after a turn.” Ben was a member of the Junior Worlds team in 2006 and Cullen was a very solid defender for Wisconsin during the series last year. Hopefully they will carry the torch well.

Goals and Challenges
Another thing that I find interesting are Wisconsin’s goals for the year. When I think of the Hodags outside of college nationals, the first big goal I think of would be to win Trouble in Vegas. This team has been absolutely dominant the last two years and has lost only in bracket play or the finals of the first tournament of the year. In 2006 they lost to Carleton 6-5 (what kind of a score is that?) and last year 12-11 to Florida in the finals. They then went on to sweep the rest of the season in 2007 and lost only once more on Sunday at nationals in 2006. One thing that I think really helps Wisconsin this year is the fact that for whatever reason, Mardi Gras will be before TiV. Wisconsin usually kills people at this 60+ team tournament and gets cash in the process. I dunno how they travel so much but they have won Mardi Gras a few years running and only have a few teams like Texas and Kansas in their way. If they can get the dust off early and warm up in Louisiana, they might be able to work out the kinks and get fluidity in their offense to handle the high winds in Vegas. However, despite my focus on TiV as a goal, James said that “Our main goal for this season is the same as it always is: Win the Central Region.“ This I think is really interesting because it shows how much tension and history is in this region. This is not the AC or the NE where the teams on top routinely shuffle around. This is the Central Region, which is a lot like the SW. Wisconsin and CUT have been beating each other up in this region for like 20 years. For the majority of that, CUT has absolutely dominated with routine classes like Roger Crafts and Mike Caldwell in the late 90's followed by the Nord era, then Chase, Jimmy Chu and Sam O’Brien. However, it is without question that the last few years, Wisconsin has really showed themselves to be the big bad wolf in the upper mid west. However, despite a recent college national championship (their 2nd in 5 years) and 4 trips to the finals this millennium, they still focus on winning the central region. I love it.

I was also curious to know what sorts of challenges Wisconsin has. What does a team that is something like 110-3 over the last 2 years fear? Is there anything that can rattle a team like this? Apparently the main concern is “to stay focused as a team and not let any of the hype effect how we perform or how we go about accomplishing the goals we have set as a team.” How very Belichick of James. Their focus, again, is not to win TiV or repeat at Centex, not even to win another national championship, but rather earn “the right to play CUT in the Finals of Regionals.” What an epic saga CUT and Wisconsin have. It must be nice to have to struggle so hard with a team in your own region and know that in prepping to just make it to nationals you are beating a team that could beat half the teams in Boulder next May. I suppose this is an advantage to teams like Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Stanford, Oregon, etc.. because they have to work so hard to get out of their region that they end up getting better competition in the regional finals than in pool play at nationals. I don’t know how Zipp and Brown did it in 2005. I guess that just shows you how good the Amherst→Brown→DoG ultimate program is.

Callahan Watch
One thing that I wanted to know but was very doubtful to get a straight answer about, was who the Callahan nominee for Wisconsin is going to be this year. I understand not wanting to name a specific person because they probably don’t know yet and I totally respect that. But I also want to say that whoever Wisconsin nominates will be in the top 3 Callahan finishers if not THE winner. If you look back over the last 5 years, whoever wins nationals or is close, usually wins the Callahan. Wiggins in 2003 was the last Callahan winner to not win a national championship but he still played in the finals. Since then it was Richter (champion ‘04), Zipp (champion ‘05), Tim Gehret (champion ‘06) and Dan Heijman (champion ’07). Callahan voters are not smart, they vote for the guy that is nominated by the best team. Players like Dylan Tunnell, Tank Natenberg, Oscar Pottinger, and Seth Wiggins are great, great players, but if you aren’t going to make the Finals, you aren’t going to win the MVP. Nothing against people that vote, but the information gap is so huge (which is why I write this stuff) that no one knows anybody outside their region so they just vote for the players from the best teams. In any event, I just want to say that whoever Wisconsin does nominate, has a good chance of winning. One thing that I really liked about Heijman when he won was the he told Rob that he thought he was only the 4th or 5th best player on Wisconsin. If you watched them play, Heijman was definitely a source of assists, scores, Ds and ZERO turnovers, but the Hodags had a lot of other guys reeling in the fantasy points and a lot of them are still on the team. They still have a ton of talent left and if something like the Robbie Cahill/Mark Sherwood thing happens again, you might see 2 Callahan nominees getting votes. Regardless, James told me to start prepping my ballot for “Matt Rebholz, Muffin Malecek, Shane Hohenstein, Andrew Mahowald and Will Lokke”. What a PC and respectful answer. I am sure he is a great captain.

Tournament Schedule
This year Wisconsin is playing in Mardi Gras, Vegas, Stanford, and Centex. This is definitely a different schedule from last year where Wisconsin went to Terminus in Georgia and Easterns in North Carolina. I like that they are going back to Stanford. Once again I don’t know how they fly to all these tournaments. Colorado usually doesn’t go to a lot of tournaments like Stanford (until this year) and Santa Barbara because it is too much to fly but I am glad Wisconsin is going back to Palo Alto. It is one of the most elite tournaments in the country and Wisconsin has a tradition of doing very well at it.

College Nationals Thoughts
One thing that has been an extremely controversial issue is the college nationals debate. Since they are changing the weekend it is this year, as well as piggy backing with CSTV, there have been a lot of contrasting opinions concerning it. I heard that the UPA surveyed teams that were at nationals in Columbus but I will say that this is what the captain of the current national champions had to say:

“I am extremely upset about the schedule change this year. I do not like to look ahead that far but we have players that are scheduled to take finals during bracket play at nationals. If we are successful at Regionals it is going to be very difficult for our entire team to make it to Colorado in time to play on Friday and getting there a day early to practice is almost entirely out of the question.”

Closing thoughts
I think Wisconsin is the real deal again. I think they were as good in 2006 as they were in 2007 (Florida was just better). I think this year will be no different. I think CUT is definitely better this year (that will be another blog article-tune in tomorrow) and there will be some great teams out there, but if Wisconsin can stay focused, you will see baby blue play on May 18th. When I asked James if there was anything he wanted the rest of the country to know about Wisconsin in the new year he said “The Hodags are still hungry.“

Just my thoughts

Match Diesel