Monday, April 28, 2008

My Callahan Talk

Now that most of the teams at Nationals have been figured out and the Callahan candidates have all been finalized, I thought now would be a good time to throw in my two cents as to who are the strongest candidates for the Callahan and who I think will finish 1 through 5.

Three Things
First I thought I would start off with my criteria for winning the Callahan in the first place. In order to win this award, you need 3 things: 1) Player Talent 2) Team Talent and 3) Hype. First and foremost you have to be an absolute baller which makes sense but you also have to play for a contending team. Over the last few years, most Callahan winners are playing in the Finals at Nationals (Safdie, Nord, Wiggins, Richter, Zipp, Gehret, Heijman) and I'm sorry to most elite players out there, but if you aren't on a top 1 or 2 team, you are lucky to just make top 5 in the voting. Lastly, hype. It would be nice if player and team talent were enough but a lot of the time you need to have a buzz associated with your Callahan nominee. Sometimes this takes years to establish but it is necessary because with the information gap the way it is, a lot of voters never see the people they are actually voting for. In any event, things like UltiVillage and mssui are changing that and hopefully in the future there will be universal exposure of all top teams across the country. In some cases, a lack of one criteria can be made up with an excess of another, such as Tim Gehret in 2006 and Dan Heijman last year where their team talent made up for the fact that no one knew who they were before their epic championship seasons.

Callahan Top 5 (in ascending order)
5) Stephen Pressley (Texas) - I had the privilege of seeing Franchise play in Austin and he is such a dominant offensive threat for Texas. If TUFF had more weapons on O his defensive ability would also be more prevalent but this guy made top 10 in the Callahan nomination last year and Texas is having a great year with a 36-7 record going into Nationals. They may have slipped at Sectionals but their Centex and Regionals performances are spectacular. They had the 2nd best record at Centex (7-1) and Franchise led a huge comeback against UNT avenged their sectional setback. In taking the region Texas will probably be at least a 5 seed at nationals this year. As far as my 3 criteria go, he has a lot of player talent and hype but not enough team talent. Texas is a consistent program that makes Nationals and quarters every year but that's about it. Players like Tank and Salad have come and gone and have had great careers but without at least a semifinals birth, you can't expect voters to put your candidate as #1. This isn't necessarily Texas' fault because they haven't (historically) had a lot of sectional/regional competition, but if teams like UNT, Kansas and Oklahoma can step up and challenge TUFF consistently, Texas could become an even bigger powerhouse in the future. As far as votes go, the bulk of Franchise's votes are probably going to come within his own region which is nice but it should also be assumed. He will have a tough time getting #1 votes in other regions, but he could get #2 or #3 honors from teams that have played against him in the Southwest, Central, and AC regions. In the end, he should hear his name called on Saturday and that is an honor in and of itself. He will continue his career with DW and will be an even better club player than college.

4) Joseph Kershner (Arizona) - The Cinderella team that everyone has been pulling for since the first NCUS tournament has been Sunburn, led by Joe. He has such an aura about him and in just watching him play one game, it is easy to see why people like playing with him. Arizona's romp in the desert jump started Arizona's season much the way Florida's was in 2006. Joe also has the luxury of being an extremely talented 5th year and his team has not let him down. Arizona has not faltered all year and despite not making a return to a tournament finals, they have not disappointed and have yet to have a bad tournament. Joe has also led Arizona to Nationals for the first time and everyone in the country has been pulling for Sunburn all year. In Joe's case, this kind of hype will definitely compensate for his team's lack of historic dominance and I think across the country, voters will be looking for "the pirate guy from Arizona" on their ballot. He has done a fantastic job and I think he deserves to break into the top 5. I have him as #4 over Franchise because Joe and Arizona's hype are intertwined and I think people will reward Sunburn's epic season with votes from every region. Franchise is limited by his team's reach but Joe will get votes up and down both coasts. If I am right, I think Joe owes a big thank you to Rob for putting together these three clips.

3) Jolian Dahl (Colorado) - I had Jolian pegged to win this award back in February but MB's slow start really was a monkey wrench in that plan. For most of the year folks have been scratching their heads and wondering what has happened to the gold and black and despite winning the Southwest, Colorado really did not look as dominant as they have in the past. Peripheral to this, Jolian has never been nominated for the Callahan but he has been well known in elite circles for several years. He was on the 2004 Championship team and his exposure on Johnny Bravo only helps him in this race. However, Jolian is not your sterotypical Callahan nominee for 2 reasons. 1) He doesn't play all that much. Unlike Kershner, Pressley and some others I'll mention, he usually only comes onto the field for offense. Maybe he comes out on both sides of the disc late in games, but for the most part he is strictly O-line. This is not a criticism to him or Catt Wilson, their game plan is their game plan and it has worked this far. However, it just doesn't give Jolian as much of a chance to shine. 2) Jolian is not a highlight hog. He does a really good job of setting his team up for scores and D's and players like Pebbles, Wicus and Mac Taylor have had great years because Jolian has supported them throughout the year. I think this element of Jolian's game helps him get this high on the Callahan list, but not much further. I would be willing to bet that a lot of voters out there have not seen him make ridiculous plays, they just know that he is good and he is on an epic team. His hype helps him a lot here as does his team talent, but because Colorado has lost their historic handler core, his ability to exhibit his player talent has been reduced. In any event, I like him as #3 which is still an amazing accomplishment.

2) Mark Sherwood (Stanford) - Mark has been the superstar Stanford has always needed but now, they don't have their usual supporting cast. In every discussion of Stanford this year, Mark has been the answer to the "how's" and "why's" of Bloodthirsty's success, mainly at Stanford and Regionals. Sherwood is probably one of the best players to ever put on a Stanford jersey and he deserved the teams' nomination last year despite Robbie's success in the voting (Robbie was nominated by the NW RC). In any event, Mark has the talent and the hype to get him this far in the Callahan voting but his team talent and this guy Kurt Gibson, prevent him from getting much further. Unlike Jolian, Sherwood carries his team and unlike Pressley, Mark is known for his abilities on both sides of the disc. The only thing that has hurt Mark's chances is Stanford's lack of consistency. This isn't necessarily his fault, he just had the misfortune of being born a year after Nan Gao, Robbie Cahill and Will Chen. In any event the one thing that will allow Mark to make it this far is that Stanford made nationals. In beating UBC voters will see that despite Stanford's lackluster season, they still made the show. They peaked well, they battled back and got back to Nationals by beating the 1 seed out of the NW. If Stanford had failed, Mark's chances would have plummeted dramatically because his talents would be doubted simply because his team didn't make the show. In any event, flat ballers across the country will be putting him as #2 and this will get him near the top of the podium on Saturday night.

1) Kurt Gibson (Florida) - I don't even have to say anything about Kurt but I had some thoughts anyway. Yes, Kurt is by far the best player in the country. No one dominates the way he does and his ability to throw, jump and run is unparalleled at the college level. What makes him even more dangerous is that he never comes off the field. He is more or less the Kobe Bryant of ultimate, especially Kobe in the 4th quarter. Kurt wants the disc all the time and if he could pull, get the D, throw AND catch the score he would. This is nothing against his playing style, but it will attract haters, not to mention the fact that he isn't the friendliest player and he sports a glove when he plays. However, I think the negative feedback he gets only fuels him and despite verbal attacks from a variety of sources (including myself) there is no denying his talents. In addition he also has more than enough team talent and hype to get the award and nothing short of a Nationals Disqualification will prevent him from getting the Callahan this year. In watching Kurt play however, I do have one question. What happens to Florida next year? Kurt and Brodie are definitely the heart of this team's success but Kurt sets up Brodie like none other and Cyle, Chris Gibson, Cole Sullivan, and Alex Hill all benefit from easier matchups and Kurt's monster flick. When Kurt leaves, what will happen to their program? Kurt has gobbled up all responsibility on this team and I wonder, who will carry the load next year? Florida is definitely the #1 team in the country right now but so much of that depends on Kurt. More so than Colorado's dependence on Beau, Florida lives and dies with #20 and I sincerely hope their glory days don't leave with Kurt. But that doesn't matter now. In 2008, Gibson is the best and so is Florida. Good luck to Kurt and Florida at Nationals, you won't need it.

Out in the Cold
Wisconsin - In my opinion, the Hodags have made an interesting choice in selecting Rebholz for the Callahan. Matt is a 5th year captain who has been a composed handler and defender for baby blue for years. However, he has very little hype associated with him and I am willing to bet that most voters don't really have an opinion of him one way or another. Nothing against him, but there are several players on the 'dags that could get more votes, such as Will Lokke. Will has been the best thing about the Hodags all season. With Muffin and Shane being the up and down emotional entities that they are and Foster and Rebholz being the silent leadership of Wisconsin, Will has been the consistent work horse. When Wisconsin needs a D, he's there, when they need an epic score he's there, when they need someone to just save the day, he is there. Go back and watch the UVTV footage of Wisconsin vs Arizona from Vegas. Will gets the game saving hammer D that would have tied the game at 11's and given Arizona a crucial break. If you switch over to the Stanford Invite footage, in the DGP semi-final between Wisconsin and UBC, Will skies the crap out of 2 UBC defenders to bring down the game winner. A more clutch player on Wisconsin or any other team, there is not. Initially I thought the Callahan race within Wisconsin would be between Shane and Drew but with Mahowald breaking his knee, Will has really taken on the brunt of the Hodag work load. He is also extremely composed and is never mentioned in the Wisconsin hot head discussions. In any event, because of these circumstances, I think Wisconsin gets snubbed this year and doesn't get a nominee at the podium.

Dusty Becker (Oregon) - When Dusty is on, he is one of the best handlers in the country, but when it really mattered this year, his composure has really gotten the better of him. From what I have seen and heard about him, it seems that his intensity is his biggest strength and weakness and his decision making reflects Oregon's poor showing at Centex and Regionals. He is a phenomenal player and I think his talents are better suited for Club. He puts up a lot of difficult throws and with only a few really dominate cutters, it's tough to reel-in those throws. Another thing that also makes his life difficult is that for a handler, breaking into the Callahan voting requires a lot of team success, positive hype and defensive ability. Nothing against Dusty's talents on the defensive side of the disc, but without the dialog we saw back in 2003 for Wiggins and 2006 for Tim Gehret, it is really tough to get voters to put you #1 over players that are more composed and on better teams. In any event he has had an awesome college career and I hear he'll be back next year.

Greg Swanson/Peter Dempsey (Georgia) - There are two phenomenal players one Georgia that carry complimenting roles. Greg on offense and Peter on D. However, Georgia does not nominate a Callahan nominee unless there is a unanimous pick. Over the last few years that has been Dylan Tunnell but this year, I think Georgia's talent is spread across these two studs as well as Will McDonough, Ben Morrissey and too many other players for such a nomination to arise. Despite this, these two entities for Georgia have been amazing this year, when they are healthy. Greg Swanson is an awesome offensive threat and it was a pleasure to see him play at Centex. On the other side of the disc, Dempsey had a phenomenal Regional tournament with several layout D's against UNC. In any event, there is no clear front runner here but with Georgia's ability to make Nationals by finishing 2nd, you have to wonder if they have improved in Dylan's absence. I figured #78's departure would put more pressure on each player to carry their own water and it looks like it has worked out well for Georgia. Each one of these players deserves high honors for their efforts this year and I look forward to seeing JoJah and the ruckus they bring at Nationals.

In the Foyer
Danny Karlinksy (Santa Cruz) - Danny is a superb player and DLK has been a very prominent force on the on-line ultimate experience. However, I think that is where his hype begins and ends. He is a very talented handler and is an even better leader but I wonder if enough people know who he is on the field. Santa Cruz has done well down the stretch but it isn't enough for Callahan recognition, in my opinion. I know he doesn't have this, but with a year or two more to develop his reputation Danny would have a chance at the top 5 (including some consistency from Santa Cruz) but his playing hype just isn't where it needs to be. It would be nice if this didn't matter, but it does. Kids who play for teams like Swarthmore and Florida-B need to know who you are and unless you are making highlight reels for Rob and getting talked up for a huge sky or D on RSD, you just aren't in the running. He may be able to crack the top 10 because he is well known and liked among informed cirlces. Making the top 5 though, especially with people like Pressley and Purcell to compete with, is a tough pull. I will say that Danny appears to be the 2008 version of Ben Wiggins. He is a fiery handler with a lot of team pride and he has motivated his team to stiff arm the competition in one of the toughest regions in the country. However, Oregon in 2003 won a much harder NW region and was on their way to a finals appearance and Santa Cruz just isn't that good yet. Check out his NW regional write-up. His team history is really interesting and I bet it makes just as good a story as Muffin and Drew's Hodag Love. Congrats again Danny, I'll be rooting for you on the inside in Boulder, but heckling you just like everyone else.

Ryan Purcell (Michigan) - I am not sure how Ryan will do in the Callahan race. He has been the heart of Magnum for 5 years and he is one of the many reasons why Michigan will get a 1 seed in Boulder. His talent is incredible, both defense and offense, and it has really been awesome to see him lead his team from a 13 seed in 2005, to an 11 seed in 2006, not making nationals in 2007, and now probably the 4th seed this year. Late last night his name still didn't appear on Charles Kerr's list and considering that he was THE last person nominated, you can imagine why I almost missed him. Michigan, like Arizona, has been on a serious high, especially since Centex. Will Neff HAS panned out and players like Ollie Honderd (freshman) will keep Michigan at the top of the region for years to come. As far as Ryan's chances go, I have no idea, which is why I have him in "the lobby". I think he breaks into the top 10 but top 5? I dunno. He could leap frog Pressley because Michigan has done a little better than Texas this year but Franchise has been in Callahan discussions since last year and I think Ryan is new on the scene. He also doesn't have the luxury of 3 COTD's like Kershner does and he is a little guy who is more known for his breaks and in-cut defense which is the glue that holds a team together but it doesn't get you on the highlight reel as much. He is still a top notch player though and I really like watching him own. Hopefully they can take the Pool of (D)eath and have a shot at semis because the little south paw deserves it.

Closing Thoughts
I think the Callahan has been somewhat of a bogus award but it is improving. Historically, it has been extremely subjective because it relies on so many variables, some of which don't involve ultimate talent what so ever, and team politics like that of Carleton and Georgia. However, with the advent of ultivillage, mssui, quality bloggers, and an increased fan base, the ultimate knowledge of your average college player is expanding and that is a good thing. Maybe in a few years my criteria will go from 3 to 2, with hype being inconsequential because all players will get the exposure they need. However, like Baseball, Football and Basketball, you need to play on a playoff contender to get an MVP award. Hopefully Gerics sets up some sort of 1st/2nd team All-NUMP like back in 2005 because those lists will truly be an objective indication of who is the best in the country. Best of luck to these competitors at Nationals, NO ONE GET HURT.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The field is set...

...or at least 14 of 16 teams.

Wow, what a great day for ultimate. The series is so exciting because it is the time of the year where results matter the most game to game. Yes, you need to win to advance but leaving it all on the field and losing in a final is a risky venture. It's like bidding on an incut when you are covering a guy with great throws. Yes you may get a huge layout D but if you come up short you are vulnerable to a huge strike your defense can't stop. Georgia understood this and can get their tickets for Boulder. Maryland? Not so much. Here is a run down of Sunday's results.

Florida takes the region for the 3rd year in a row. Great for them. They will be the 1 seed going into Nationals and the golden disc is theirs to lose. Congratulations. I don't need to say anyomore.

On a more exciting note, WOW, go Georgia. Like Delaware, JoJah really showed up when it mattered. At Centex and Sectionals they did not look like the team that could take the 2nd spot out of the most competitive region in the country. While they were losing to Cal, Santa Cruz and Harvard at Centex, UNC was making the finals. In addition, when UNC was murdering UNC-W and NC State at sectionals (two teams in the top 20), Georgia struggled against Georgia Tech.

However, come regionals, the dogs were let out and JoJah came to play. They take out UNC 15-12 on Saturday which is good but it doesn't mean anything. They gave UNC a taste of their strategy and also gave them fire because both teams knew a rematch was coming. However, one of the most interesting moves of the day was Georgia in the Finals. Losing 17-5? Yeah like that's a representative score. There is no way Georgia was going 100% and it makes sense. You have a team with guys like Greg Swanson who are amazing but injury prone going against a team that will frustrate you and run you into the ground if you let them. Georgia must have known this game was not within their grasp, but it didn't need to be. Making it out of the region is all that matters and 2nd is better than not qualifying.

In letting off the gas, it is really easy to stay motivated. You know your weaknesses and you can take some chances in a game you know you are going to lose. Maybe feel out the wind, maybe get some young legs warmed up, get your rookies some experience against the most elite competitions. Meanwhile, UNC is duking it out with Central Florida in a game they HAVE to win. Let them get gassed, let them leave it all on the adjacent field because in an hour or so, we are going to eat them alive and that is exactly what Georgia did. Hats off to the red and white. I look forward to seeing them with their extremely spirited banter at Nationals next month.

Probably the least exciting regionals all weekend but I am sure Wisconsin is thrilled right now. This is their 3rd Regional title in a row ('06-'08) and despite a few mental lapses this year, they were very prepared for Carleton and achieved their primary goal. Good work. They'll be the #2 team at Nationals and we might see a Blue Caller game in Boulder.

As for Carleton, they made the show and that is all that matters. The good thing about making nationals is that it doesn't matter if you struggled against a regional foe because odds are you won't face them in May. The good thing about CUT is that they are only going to improve. Wisconsin is riding several 4th/5th years in Rebholz, Muffin, Shane, Will and Foster and the grunt work for CUT is coming from freshmen and sophmores. I hear Patrick Roberts (freshman) is unreal for CUT, scoring 5 of CUT's 10 goals in the regional finals and with Lindsley, Foster, Fagin, etc... Carleton is only going to get better. Look for them to get some serious experience in 3 weeks, competing at the highest level and I sincerely hope they take notes because next year can/should be an improvement from 2008, but they are going to have to remain focused on their weaknesses as a team in the off-season.

I am really happy for Magnum. I know I keep talking them up but when you have a team that makes nationals every year but gets snubbed out in pre/quarters and then doesn't qualify, it is really nice to see them bounce back. Purcell is a great player and I am really excited to see what Michigan does at Nationals. I see them as the 4th seed with only Florida, Wisconsin and Colorado above them. They are playing incredible disc and their program is ready to take the semis step. However, this is a tough situation to be in. In 2005, Georgia was in the same boat. They won the AC for the first time in recent years and came in as the 4 seed at Natties riding hype they had never seen. However, they came out flat to my alma matter and got stuck playing a dominate Stanford team in quarters instead of Texas. I hope Michigan doesn't go down because they could face a 5th seeded Santa Cruz team and that could give them trouble. However, I think with the team's already experienced roster, they are in good shape to come out hot in pool play.

As for Illinois, I really think they played incredibly well considering that the back door bracket was filled with 15-12 games. All of these teams were close in skill and Illinois' 26 points of ultimate after a finals loss to Michigan to beat an experienced and talented Ohio State team was very impressive. I would have loved to have seen the hand shake after that back door final. Both teams put together great seasons and this was their first meeting. Both had played and lost to Michigan by almost the same score and were so close in ability. This might have been one of the best games of Sunday and I'm really stoked for Illinois. The last time they were at Nationals was 2004 when they finished behind Michigan State at Regionals. This year they have looked good from start to finish and with great leadership from players Joel Koehneman, I am not surprised that they managed to make it back the show.

In addition, I want to give props to Notre Dame. This region has been Michigan, Michigan State, and sometimes Ohio State and Illinois. Now it looks like another team is taking shots at the top. Much like North Texas, they are coming out of the woodwork and I like to see shifts in the hierarchy. Send your kids to club practice in the summer and stay hungry. You played great and do yourselves a favor and get better for next year.

Hats off to Side Show, they are the surprise of the weekend. I look forward to seeing the squirrley Dan Cuoco at Natties, now as the experienced senior making his 3rd trip to Nationals. I don't know if a Florida upset is in the works again, but they are definitely playing their best disc of the year and what a great time to peak.

On the other hand, I feel really bad for Maryland. They come out hot and look like they can make a run for a natties birth but they hit a tough situation. They are going against a team that is historically better than they are but hasn't had nearly the success throughout the season. They then get stuck with a tough time cap situation and get the hex of all hexes, a DGP loss in the regional finals. In playing the cream of their line up, I am sure a 27 point final right before their last chance at nationals was NOT what the doctor ordered. Conversely, i am sure Pitt was absolutely ecstatic, once they realized that they had the legs to walk all over Maryland. Hopefully the Space Bastards learn their lesson and take the Georgia initiative the next time out. Not that they needed to tank that game, but their is no excuse to get so close and then get blown out. Constructive play calling has to come into play because winning does not matter as much as making nationals.

Lastly, wow Pitt. Some day you will make nationals by winning the region. Yes they get their shot at Boulder but their seeding has plummeted because of their loss to Delaware. Had they swept the region they could have been looking a 1, but probably a 2 seed at nationals, something the Metro East hasn't done recently. However, now that they are the 2nd team out the ME, they will be lucky to get a 3 seed. This might not be a bad thing however. In looking up at teams they have pressure taken off of them and could be in a "beat Wisconsin at Centex" mode. 2nd seed teams like Santa Cruz, Georgia, Texas or Arizona are not going to want to have to struggle with pesky 3/4 seeds and Pitt could play spoiler Friday at Nationals.

I might be a bigger fan of DLK than he is of me right now. I am so impressed with the season he and the Slugs have put together. Santa Cruz has not come out of the Northwest since this guy Sammy CK went there and they were riding Stanford's coat tails back then. They took the Northwest for the first time and won their region for the first time since 1995 when it was just "the west". This year Santa Cruz has been in elite discussion, partially because Danny has verbally put them there, despite not really dominating until sectionals. However, they got it done. I hear they played great in the wind yesterday and with no wind today in Davis, they just out hustled UBC. Congratulations and hopefully their Centex, TiV and Stanford experience will make up for their lack of Nationals experience.

Stanford over UBC, wow. Folks, that's Sherwood with an "S" for your Callahan ballot. This guy's back must be so sore. It is weird to see Stanford rely on a single player when my critique of Bloodthirsty is there lack of a superstar. Each of their semis' exits was to a Callahan winner, but at least they were in semis. Depth was Stanford's strength and despite now having a superstar, they will be lucky to make quarters (Watch them make it back to semis, they got up and over Oregon after losing at Regionals in 2006 and got the chance to get pwned by Florida). As far as Stanford's Nationals chances, I have no idea. They have SO much nationals experience and this is where they play their best. Maybe this is a peaking issue, maybe they just don't go down quietly, EVER. I will say that there will be a lot of teams at Nationals that have beaten Stanford (Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Carleton, and Santa Cruz) this year and the confidence Stanford has locked up with their endowment better outshine their apparent lack of confidence in 2008 if they want to play late at natties.

Way to get that W back TUFF. For the non-believers out there, this kid Stephen Pressly, is the real deal. Franchise and Texas came back and avenged their sectional defeat with a great come back win over UNT and I think #22 deserves some serious attention. Texas needed to snap out of it and they dodged a serious bullet and took the South again. I am sure a DGP win is not what they were hoping for but it doesn't matter how close the game is, as long as you have smiles when the last goal is scored. Good work, I can't wait to see what they bring at Nationals.

As far as UNT goes, they have nothing to be upset about. They earned their first trip to Nationals and despite losing to Texas, they are still a great team. They probably won't see TUFF at Nationals and considering that most teams in Boulder haven't played UNT, they will be ready to play spoiler. I think they will look good against teams, especially from the Northwest because they like to huck as much as Santa Cruz but they are BIG and will be able to get up and over Stanford. They will own the skies if teams let them and I would not be surprised to see UNT make it out of pool play next month.

Yes the Bird pecks here. Colorado does it again. They might have looked bad at Vegas and Stanford, but they are never down and out. I am curious to know what they will be like without Martin and Jolian (the few relics from the '04 championship team) next year but that doesn't matter now. Colorado will probably be the 3 seed because they were absolutely dominate in the series and beat Michigan in consolation at Centex. They also took out everyone as usual at Fools Fest, and despite a slow start, they have finished as hot as ever. However, I am curious to know how they do at home. They made the finals last year by beating Florida. In 2006 they lost to Georgia, a team that seems to give them trouble, in quarters. In 2005 and 2004 they were in the finals and if you go way back to 2003, they made semis. But this year? I think they are better than losing in quarters but getting out of semis? I've got them as the 3 seed behind Wisconsin and if they play to seed we might get to see a Hodag vs Mamabird battle, something folks always seem to want but doesn't happen often enough. That matchup is awesome because Colorado is a lot like Florida in the sense that they are all business and line up well against an intense Wisconsin team.

Congrats to Arizona, they have got to be on cloud 9 right now. They played a great second half against Colorado and stuck it to Tide in a game that they have never had the chance to play in. I think they are definitely fortunate to have all their talent peak in their 5th year when the SW had two bids (HINT: 20 TEAM NATIONAL FORMAT). If this Sunburn team had shown up last year, it would have all been for not. I met a few of their guys in the airport in Austin and they just seem so content with their program and I really like seeing that. I think they have the best handling squad in the country and they play great ultimate, regardless of pressure. Despite the fact that they have never been to the show, they won't buckle. Yes, they lost to Colorado, but they beat Tide when Tide looked like they were back in black after dismantling Claremont. Good luck to them at nationals, they won't need it.

Closing Thoughts
So with most of the series over, we can start to think about Nationals and how teams will do. I think the matchups this year are going to be some of the best I have ever seen. Teams like Oregon and Santa Barbara have slipped letting teams like Santa Cruz and Arizona have their chance at glory. A lot of these teams will be seeing each other for only the 2nd or 3rd time in their programs history because most of them are relatively new to the national scene. I love this kind of ultimate because it changes paradigms and forces us to change how we think and feel about the game. A decade ago, it was all about Stanford and Santa Barbara and in the last few years new powerhouses have emerged like Florida and Wisconsin. The end result is an ever changing sport that is now being chronicled by some great minds and now, instead of having hearsay history and RSD rumors about teams like LPC '94, Chabot CC '87, UNC-Wilmington '93, East Carolina '94/'95, and so on, we now have several years of documented footage of teams coming into their own.

2008, in my opinion, has been the best year for the ultimate fans. Rob's footage has become a staple over the last few years and his ability to deliver information as opposed to just entertainment has allowed bloggers and websites like mssui to discuss and articulate this sport in a manner that has never before been possible. More and more people are going to Nationals just to watch and because teams have been discussed since January, many of these people have witnessed the up and down emotional roller coaster of teams like Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, Colorado, Tufts, Stanford, Ottawa, Georgia, NC State, UNC-W, Claremont, etc.. This year, every team at college nationals will be known. Every team will have a history that people can recall. Every spectator will understand what it took for each team to get this far and how much each had to invest in their program to succeed. I love it and I hope Northeast regionals is just as exciting.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ok, here we go

Tonight is the eve of the most exciting day in ultimate to date this year. The semis have been played across the country and tomorrow will showcase the 1s and 2s across 7 of 8 regions and we'll get to see who makes the show and who gets a head start on a year's worth of preparation.

Hats off to Georgia. My loyalty to them has been up and down all year but in beating UNC they have shown themselves to be a better team today then they were last year. Last year, they struggled to get out the region and had to take the 3rd bid (which they themselves earned). However, they took it to Darkside today with a convincing 15-12 win. I'd like to think that their chances of making nationals are significantly better than I thought, but this is still regionals and they haven't won anything yet. Tomorrow they will go against Florida, the #1 team in the country and a squad Georgia has not beaten in some time. Tomorrow's competition will be all about mental toughness. A win against the gators is going to be tough and the true test will be Georgia's ability to win the backdoor game. They will probably face UNC again and, like I have said before, beating a team twice is REALLY tough. A 15-12 win is big but it's not like a 15-8 win. Tomorrow, both teams will be fighting for the last spot out of the AC. Everything will be left on the field and I wonder if Georgia has the depth. This is an exciting time and I hope we see more fireworks tomorrow in Statesbro.

The game that has been branded on everyone's calendar is set for tomorrow, Wisconsin vs Carleton. All Wisconsin cares about is winning the Central Region. Winning nationals is nice, but winning the region is what these kids train for. They hate CUT and this game matters more to baby blue than any other game, save maybe Florida. However, a DGP semis is not something Wisconsin was expecting. I have no idea where the hell Iowa came from, but wow, this is confidence you can't buy. It is awesome that Iowa ended their day with this game because playing after a DGP loss sucks ass. However, they have the knowledge that they took the former champs to the brink of a game to go situation. This game result is good for both teams. Wisconsin knows they're not impervious, even in their own region and Iowa knows that their offense can handle the most intense D in the country. However, with as many close calls as Wisconsin has had the last few times out, I think this goes to show you the value of a coach. Muffin suggested this in his Centex writeup and I wonder if things will change in the next year.

As far as Carleton goes they look as good as they need to be. Centex and Stanford were not kind to them but with as much ultimate knowledge as these kids have with as many alums drooling to drop constructive help, they should be as good as they can be. I think their game plan should revolve around taking advantage of Wisconsin's aggression both on O and D. Put up great fakes to get Wisconsin to bite, opening up break side strikes and on D they have to take advantage of Wisconsin's throw-a-ways. They will give you chances, but Carleton must make intelligent choices. I think a coach would help in these situations but I'm sure getting a stable veteran to hang out in Northfield, Minnesota is a tough pull.

In any event, I really hope Carleton gets their shot at Wisconsin. Michigan, Pitt, UBC, Arizona and now Iowa have beaten or have been close to beating Wisconsin and I hope Carleton can break into this club. Wisconsin will be focused but I hope their Saturday night talk is not negative. Getting down on yourself is not a way to win in a situation like this. They won and thats all that matters. Their preparation has been unparalleled and all they need to do is focus. Hold onto the disc and your defense will get you the breaks you need. Wisconsin has been all over CUT these last few years but the 2006 Final was close and this year could be more of the same. Regardless, this could be the best regional final of the weekend or the 7th best of tomorrow, it all depends on Carleton. These young kids are going to play the game of their life, I just hope their leadership can set the example their young legs need.

This region has gone as I expected with Michigan on top so far. However, Notre Dame, Illinois and Ohio State all look good. I think Michigan takes out Illinois in the Finals tomorrow but the semis of the back door bracket will feature the 3/4 teams in this region (OSU and ND) with no clear favorite and the 2/3 game with Illinois will be anyone's game. I am curious about Ohio State because they have yet to play Illinois this year and they both have solid claims to #2 in the region. Good luck to Michigan in the finals. Purcell deserves the regional title and I want to see them take this region. However, among the other 3, any team could come out on top and I really hope we see some fireworks. Ultimate is the best when teams play above their expectations and all three have that opportunity tomorrow. I hope the winners of the first round save enough to win in a game to go situation. It's gonna come down the wire and I'm sure they wouldn't have it any other way.

Yikes, who had these results pegged? Not me. Pitt was supposed to be the #2 guaranteed team to make nationals but hype means jack shit if you can't get it done. This seems to be Pitt's problem. They have the talent, but winning the region is something they struggle with. Peripheral to Pitt, go Delaware. I dunno where the hell Side Show has been all year and I suppose things like peaking at the right time can come into play here. Maryland has been consistent this year with a finals appearance at Hellfish and quality wins over Wesleyan, Penn and Delaware at sectionals. That 15-11 win means a lot more now, but Delaware won the region last year and Maryland has yet to make the show. I think the loser of this game is in deep shit because Pitt is going to come out hot tomorrow and I wouldn't be surprised if they took the 2nd spot.

As crazy as the NW has been this year, things have gone to seed for the most part, hats off to the TDs. From what I hear, Santa Cruz has looked awesome. Karlinsky's hucks are as good as they need to be and with guys like Russell Wynne, I am not surprised. I also love seeing a truly committed captain lead his team. Muffin seems to be the heart of Wisconsin, Kurt Gibson for Florida, Sherwood for Stanford, Purcell for Michigan, Kershner for Arizona, etc... However, DLK seems to be a different breed. He draws a lot of attention but he's modest. Good shit but don't fuck it up.

Regardless, Santa Cruz is going to get one hell of an opponent in UBC. Stanford's young legs are strong and fast but their mental game is not as sharp as the Thunderbirds. These 5th years know what they are doing and I think they can handle speed. They also don't have to play anyone before Santa Cruz so they are going to be as fresh as they need to be. I think they aim for Santa Cruz's favorite weapon, their hucks. If they can put pressure on Santa Cruz and get hucks to float or go out of bounds, they'll have the chances they need. Their D is also going to be as good as it gets Sunday morning and even if they go down to Santa Cruz I think they can handle Stanford, Oregon, Whitman or Cal, teams that don't have the experience or depth to beat the birds. Seeing that Santa Cruz took out Stanford with authority I think they are also in good shape to make the show and I do hope they do. There's nothing like a new face at nationals.

Texas Sectional finals part 2. I like the strength of UNT so far. They are big, bad and fearless. They have swept through their competition and are as close to taking the South as they ever have been. Texas on other hand, has been here before. They took it last year and the year before and yeah, they have the experience and UNT does not. I think TUFF is ready for this game. They have had the memory of a UNT loss for 2 weeks and hopefully they will have the offensive composure to take advantage of UNT's inexperience. Franchise needs to put this game on his shoulders because he will be the most talented give and go player on the field. If he gets the touches, Texas' offense should roll. However, UNT will test Texas' composure. They're tall and fast and like the deep game and will try and take the wind out of TUFF's sails. If they can get rolling, they may have the ability to lead the whole game, but Texas' depth and focus could give them the boost to avenge their sectional woes.

Yep, it's Colorado and Arizona. Back at Vegas folks, like myself, wondered if Sunburn was the real deal. Could they keep it up all year? And they did. They have played as well as anyone could have hoped this year and getting to nationals is there for the taking. They may have gone down 5-0 to Colorado and lost at Centex, but Arizona has a team of veterans that have seen the best in the country. TiV, Stanford, Centex, the gambit has featured Sunburn all year and they have all the pieces. Their front 7 will be able to score on Colorado's D-line especially considering that Gafni and Kershner play great D themselves if they lose the disc.

However, like I said last week, this is MB's house. San Diego, Santa Barbara, Colorado, wherever regionals is, Colorado has won. Their hype will get the respect of any opponent and all they need to do is play their offense. Pebbles and Wicus are having great years and Mac and Jolian are the play makers they need. Martin runs a great D line and even if he doesn't generate the D himself, he takes pressure off his team mates because their matchups are easier. They also have the luxury of playing with no pressure on them. Their game is their game, nothing new, nothing exciting, just play the way you have in practice. Arizona will have to play the game of all of their careers to get past Colorado under these circumstances. I remember in 2003 when I watched my A team play in the same situation. We had never been to natties and Arizona has yet to break their cherry. I wish them luck but I also wish them legs. Keep it together, think about that game to go. Claremont, Santa Barbara or whoever else will take advantage of any weakness and I hope they don't go down like they did at Centex, losing twice, once they lost once.

Yeah Dartmouth pwned as usual.

Closing thoughts
Tomorrow will be a great day for some and a bad day for more. I think Florida, Wisconsin and maybe Colorado are basically shoe ins. They bring a confidence no other team has in their respective regions and I think at the college level, this is a force that is tough to dodge.

I am really impressed with Delaware and Georgia. They are both teams that have been at Natties consistently over the last few years and despite less than stellar seasons, they showed up when it matters. I think both are in danger of a 1-1 situation because both Pitt and UNC are ready for redemption.

I think the two best finals will be the Northwest and the Central. UBC vs Santa Cruz is going to be a great game with UBC's precision and Santa Cruz's speed. Wisconsin is ready for this game and despite mental slip ups at varying times of the year, they will be ready. Carleton however is loaded with talent and have the potential to play as good a disc as any team that has raised the pulses of the hodags.

I would like to say that it's just a game. Win or lose, players need to remember why they first started playing ultimate in the first place. However, with as much commitment as it takes to win at this level, one cannot win without investing an over abundance of time, energy and emotion. Good luck to everyone out there. I look forward to seeing the winners next month and to those that are not as successful, remember that there are hundreds of teams that don't get to play tomorrow.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sectionals Wrap Up and Regional Preview

So all the sectional tournaments have been played. There have been some upsets, some broken hearts, and some truly spectacular sectional showdowns. I love this time of year because we get to see who are the contenders and who are the pretenders. Here are some final sectional thoughts and some regional previews.

This was the best sectional tournament of the weekend and it lived up to the hype. Tufts and Harvard came into this tournament, one with success this year and one with experience in the series over the last few years. Tufts hasn't been to Nationals since 2004 and Harvard went in 2006. Tufts has been riding momentum since Vegas and while Harvard has the personnel to make it to Nationals this year, they have been a bit up and down. However, with Coach Josh McCarthy leading Red Line, I am not surprised that they edged past the E-Men this past weekend. Harvard has several club players and I am sure with the right regiment, they have peaked at the perfect time and will probably be the 1 or 2 seed going into Regionals. Tufts was not as dominant as I am sure they would have liked with close games against BC and MIT and a loss to Harvard who they beat two weeks ago. Regardless, this is series. All that matters it that you make the next round. They have things to think about and with the NE being the 2nd craziest region of the year (behind the NW), nothing is set in stone.

I think both Harvard and Tufts (like Williams and UMass) have an advantage that Brown and Dartmouth do not and that is a challenge at the sectional level. With close games before regionals teams can really figure out where they are weak and get an idea of what kind of mental preparation is still in order to win when it matters. I want Tufts to make it out of the NE and I hope their stellar coaching squad can get the right things up on the chalk board this week.

This was another great sectional tournament because it showcased two teams with historic teams in the series that have been relatively quiet throughout the season. Williams went to a soggy Santa Barbara and got rained out again at Terminus but when they finally got their chance in their region, they took it to the NE and won Yale Cup. UMass has been in a similar boat. They are routinely a powerhouse in the NE (despite not making nationals since 1988), and have had mixed results all year. However, pit these two foes against one another in a sectional barn burner and you'll see some fireworks. Williams won the first contest with a 11-9 victory, but games to 11 are bogus. I think UMass actually benefited from having Middlebury make it farther at Yale Cup because Zoo Disc was then relegated to a 2nd seed where they got to see their biggest challenge twice, winning in the encore game. Williams is still very much in the hunt for a Boulder berth. They came in wayy under the radar last year and took the 2nd spot to Columbus and 2008 could be the same thing.

UMass, on the other hand, has been in this position before, only to lose when it mattered. I have played for perennial choke teams and I can say that the only thing that can help UMass out in two weeks is to just execute. Forget emotion, forget history, the season, and just play your game.

These were the no surprise sections with 3 national contenders winning out. Michigan and Wisconsin played as they should with blowouts at basically every contest and they are each peaking perfectly. Hopefully Wisconsin's mental state is stable because they will need flawless offense to get past Florida next month. Likewise, Michigan has been outdoors for a little while and needs to get their wind game up to par. I am not sure what sort of weather awaits in Boulder because the biggest question is not wind but rather altitude and no team outside Mamabird will be accustomed to the low air pressure. But then again, it might not mean anything.

As for Carleton, I think they are in a position to make nationals, but they have yet to put together a performance that can challenge Wisconsin. A 13-10 win over Minnesota is a mixed bag. At first glance, some might think CUT should have won 13-8 or better but Minnesota is good this year. They made semis at Centex while CUT was playing in the finals of the 9-16 bracket. However, if Carleton wants to challenge the Hodags, they need to stomp these teams. I like that they got back on top of their section but with so much talent and NO coach, the physical AND mental preparation for regionals is something I don't think CUT has in them. Yes they will make nationals, but I think they go down fast and quiet in the finals. Hopefully they have the depth to win the backdoor game, something they have had to do several times the last few years.

This was a weird tourney. I figured Illinois and Notre Dame would go 1 and 2, which they did, but where the hell did North Park come from (check this)? I wanted to see Illinois and ND duke it out to see who was going to challenge Michigan next weekend, but that didn't happen. Instead North Park came out of nowhere, riding some serious pool play momentum into finals. After a marathon 17-16 DGP finals, I am sure they used up just about everything they had and got rocked 15-1 by ND. I suppose Illinois is still the biggest challenge for Magnum, but I am unsure what to make of these results. Hopefully one of these 3 teams makes a regional run worth mentioning, but maybe Ohio State will just come out and show why they should have been at Centex and that they belong at Nationals again. Either way, Great Lakes Regionals is going to be a great tournament not only because the competition is close but the 1 AND 2 team could have pool play wins Friday at Nationals.

Regionals Talk
First I want to say that Ryan put together a great write up already for each regional tournament but I have some thoughts to add.

This tournament will be good, but not great. Each team knows their respective place in this region and I don't see many upsets coming. Florida is easily #1 and their talent is only eclipsed by their consistency and like Wisconsin, I think they take this region without much trouble. has temps in the 80's with little wind which is good for UNC because their depth could make Florida run more than they want. However, with enough time to prep, Brodie is probably back in the shape he wants after having mono, and Florida is ice cold when it comes to getting out of regionals the last 3 years and I think 2008 is more of the same.

The big story in this region will be UNC. They have had a great season with finals appearances at Centex and Queen City and quality wins over Michigan, NC State, UNC-W, and Georgia. They took the toughest section this year and with authority reserved for prison guards. On paper, they have all the pieces to make nationals but hey will have to go through NC State, UNC-W and Georgia to do so and I think this is a task Darkside is ready for. They slaughtered their sectional competition and Georgia is injury ridden and studs like Greg Swanson are going to need some divine healing to give JoJah a chance at getting back to the show. It also helps that UNC took 2nd in this region last year and every person on this team will have nerves of steel against these challengers.

Like AC regionals, this region will be the battle for 2nd. This region is very similar to the Southwest in the sense that 1 and 2 are relatively easily predicted, but there is a 3rd team waiting in the wings. Wisconsin has won the region the last few years and nothing short of Florida changing regions will change that. It seems like Wisconsin can win when they are prepared and confident. At Centex they had both but not at the same time. They looked past Michigan and were bullied by Florida, but neither situation will happen in Decorah.

Carleton is getting heat not only from above but from below. For years it has been CUT and the Hodags, but Minnesota is banging on the door. Carleton has been good at times this year as has Minnesota and despite CUT taking the section, both teams could make runs at Regionals. If I had to guess however, I think CUT takes out the Gray Ducks 15-11ish. CUT has been in this position many times and Minnesota has not. Carleton has veterans albeit short veterans, and they aren't going to crack under pressure. I see CUT being much more composed in a game to go situation than Minnesota simply because they have been there before and won several times.

I am really excited for this tournament. I have had a close eye on Michigan all year and I really want to see them back at Nationals. I see them taking this region but Ohio State has yet to have their chance at teams in their region. They have no sectional challenge and while Illinois, North Park and ND were beating the snot out of each other, Led Belly has been preparing and preparing. They made natties last year and their challenge then was Indiana who barely made regionals. In looking at these 4 or 5 teams, it looks like the region is Michigan's to lose and Illinois and Ohio State will meet at some point to see who will follow Magnum to Colorado. I really don't care which team makes it because both are playing good ultimate.

Ohio State has been to the show, but Illinois was there in 2004. This game will come down to fundamentals. When I saw Illinois play at Centex, it seemed like they had up and down focus. They took Florida to DGP with razor sharp offense and careful execution of each throw. However, some cavalier play allowed Minnesota to come back and beat them on DGP later that day. Ohio State did not have the luxury of playing at Centex and I am sure their experience and talent has allowed them to get to a 36-7 record. However, I wonder if they have learned enough tough lessons to beat out a confident Illinois team. I should also say that ND is ready and waiting and could catch either one of these teams sleeping and I am sure Michigan State wants to get back to nationals after missing the show in 2007.

This is another great region. Pitt has been the front runner all year but has not won the region in the last few years. Their competition has bounced around and teams like Penn and Maryland want a chance to make it out of the region. However, I remember last year watching Cornell kick ass up until regionals. They shocked Pitt in semis and made the finals against Delaware. However, after losing to Side Show they had to face Pitt again and lighting did not strike twice. Likewise, with two teams like Penn and Maryland so close in talent, we might see a 1-1 situation. I would think that the team to win the first contest would NOT make nationals because trying to win after losing is harder than winning after winning. 2/3 games are a bitch but the better team will win. The only commentary I can add is that I saw Aman Nalavade (Penn) play this past weekend at Henelopen because he is trying out for Pike and that kid can play. Yikes, hopefully you have a squirrley as hell defender to shut that speed demon down.

This is probably the best regional tournament this year. Things like precedent and history should be tossed completely out the window. Teams like Oregon and Stanford have yet to live up to their historic roots and teams like UBC and Santa Cruz have won down the stretch. The match up between Santa Cruz and UBC is interesting. The Thunderbirds have experienced veterans and Santa Cruz has firey athletes. This game will come down to composure. Karlinsky likes the bombs and with downfield receivers like Russell Wynne, I can see why. However, silly turnovers will be eaten up by UBC like french fires and mayo in the Maple Nation. UBC offense is fluid and Santa Cruz has intense man D, a fantastic combo. Hopefully neither team gets caght by a Whitman or LPC team in their hopes of asserting themselves.

If things play to seed, the 2/3 game, like everywhere else, will suck for the finals loser. If its UCSC, playing a team like Stanford in a 2/3 game will blow, especially if they are close in the last game on Saturday. Stanford has been there before like when they took out UBC in 2006 after losing to Oregon. Santa Cruz has yet to get this close to Nationals in recent years and hopefully the hype that DLK has generated over the last 6 months has convinced his team mates that they CAN beat anyone in this region. I think UBC can take out anyone in a 2/3 situation. They are confident and experienced and unless they are playing in the Austin heat after 4 other pool play games, they should be ready for Oregon, Stanford, Cal or whoever makes it as far as Sunday afternoon. Their challenge will be to keep up with a fast Santa Cruz team. Considering they held onto Wisconsin as well as they did, I think this puts them in a good position. Their handling core is stellar and in watching their disc movement it is easy to see that every played is comfortable with the disc and every cutter is a viable deep threat. If they can find the holes, they will exploit mismatches all day on offense and take advantage of college mistakes and generate breaks.

I think Stanford has the best chance of anyother team outside Santa Cruz and UBC. They have better athletes than Oregon and despite their poor season, Sherwood and Ezra are a great 1-2. Tom James has yet to really fill the handler void that Mark has been stuck with but if Bloodthirsty has the depth they should when it REALLY matters, they have a shot.

North Texas the 1 seed, wow, I never thought I would see the day. However, it just goes to show you what hunger and motivation can do for you against teams that think they have everything locked up. I think Texas is angry however and they will come out with guns blazing. Both of these teams could make nationals but I wouldn't be surprised if Texas went #1 and UNT #2.

In addition, Oklahoma is having a great year. They edged out Kansas and are as close to making nationals as they are going to get and it's their turn to leave it all on the field. I think their biggest threat is North Texas. Yes UNT is the 1 seed but I think Texas' experience gets them the region (sorry, prove me wrong) and I think their height and firepower will result in a good game against Oklahoma. Neither one is an under dog and both really want to make the show. This game will come down to, guess what, composure. Yes I say that word a lot, but it's the most important thing in this game. Athletic ability, speed, a great flick break, all that crap means nothing unless you can separate mind and body and just execute. I fear that UNT will blow out Oklahoma because they will have the experience of beating a team like Texas when it mattered and Oklahoma's biggest win is Kansas, a team that has not been as good as they were in 2007. They also got rocked by UNT 7-12 at Frostbite. Either way, I hope we see some new faces at nationals because a team that really earns that honor really brings it and I hope they get to Boulder and edge out more hyped teams.

I like how SW regionals has pool play Saturday unlike the Northwest and the South. Peripheral to format, the Bird stomps here. MB will come in ready and confident after their usual Sectional and Fools Fest romps. Catt Wilson will have this team prepared and their high flying talent in Jolian and Mac Taylor will be well supported by Wicus and Pebbles. I think the only way they go down is if Arizona can capitalize on MB's O-Line turnovers. Colorado will come at you with a great defensive D-line who will aim at 2-3 breaks to beat you but you could just as easily stay on serve because their D-line offense is ehh. The true test will be first half. When these two team played at Centex, MB started off 5-0 nothing and no team comes back from that. Arizona needs to stay close early and get a 1st half break. If they can do that, their offense is good enough to keep up with Colorado as the game wears on.

Despite the hope, I think Colorado takes the region. The last time they lost in the Regional finals was 2004 to Santa Barbara and Arizona is not as good as that Black Tide team. The game of the weekend will be the 2/3 with Claremont. I had some friends at SoCal sectionals and the consensus seems to be that Stout is unreal and Claremont has the tools to put a run together. However, it seems like Arizona has the same tools with players like Gafni and Kershner. If Arizona can get it together early, they'll take this game. They are 3-0 against Claremont this year and this game will be theirs to lose. However, if Claremont can catch a break here or there, momentum will be on their side and in a game-to-go where neither team has been, momentum is all you need. I don't care which one of these teams makes it because both will have earned it. The Southwest sucks and making it out of your section and getting past teams like UCSB and UCSD that have dominated for so long is awesome. Good luck to both of these teams and hopefully the results will reflect well on superb seasons by both teams.

Lets see what happens at the last sectionals first.

Closing Thoughts
Like I have said before, 2008 has been awesome. Their have been so many great stories with Michigan and Arizona's rise to elite status and the continuation of the epic Blue Caller rivalry between Florida and Wisconsin. The completion of regionals will cap off a great season of teams trying to get to the show. Nationals will be icing on the cake for most teams that will be happy to just be there. Teams like UNC, Texas, UBC, Pitt, etc.. all know the chance of playing on Sunday is pretty small but in just making Nationals, they are given the opportunity to improve beyond the scope of 95% of other college programs. The bottom line to all the teams out there is that no matter what kind of a season you have, if you want to earn the hype, the gold standard is to make semis. Be in the final 4, thats all that matters. You do that and people will be watching you right out of the gate next year.

Good luck to everyone in the coming weeks, now is the time to put the strategy and emotion of 2008 away and just execute. Play your game and hopefully your preparation and effort will get you the W's you need to make nationals. If not, let the drinking start early.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Upside of Winter

Now that it is April, we are starting to get some good weather here in New England. For the last 3 years or so I have been stuck up here and have bitched about the winter non stop, despite the fact that it could be a lot worse. However, the other day I had a realization that I think is interesting, especially for the warm weather folks out there.

Cold Weather Powerhouses??
My first big question is how the hell are cold weather teams any good at this sport? How is it possible for Wisconsin, Carleton, Brown, Harvard, etc.. to compete with the rest of the country when they are trapped indoors for 5 months? This is something that warm weather teams will never understand, because I sure didn't. Think about not being outside from November to March/April. No full track work outs, no throwing in wind, no scrimmages, no drills, NOTHING. It's basically like being injured every year for 5 months. Maybe you are lucky enough to be at Michigan or Harvard and have HUGE indoor facilities, but most schools, even Yale, have ziltch. Basically the winter is one big conditioning session. Maybe teams play indoors, maybe they even have some artificial indoor turf, but come on, none of that stuff is at tournaments and basically becomes a crutch at best. So how does this pose an advantage?

One word, MOTIVATION. The biggest challenge for any ultimate program is to have motivated players. It is at the core of everything from conditioning to fund raising to recruiting. The main reason why Wisconsin is so good is because every team member lives and breaths Hodag disc. They live for it. They work their asses off in the summer with club teams like Subzer0 and hit the track in the winter. My main critique of weak teams (ie Yale) is that the game doesn't matter enough to players. They treat it just like any other extracurricular activity and then when they get rocked at tournaments they come to me with questions as to why they got pwned. My answer is always the same. How can you compete against teams that live and breath the sport when you guys barely make it to practice? The game has to matter more to you.

Ok, so what am I getting at? If you are a cold weather team, whoever sticks with the program come Spring is a true solider. After months of track workouts and stair sessions I am drooling for Henelopen this weekend (well not so much anymore because I am broken). Never in my years of ultimate in Southern California was I as motivated to play as I am now. If you are committed and ultimate matters to you, getting through the winter has such a Rocky 4 feeling. You are so amped, so ready, so fired up because you have basically been in prison for half the year. And when these teams get their chance to get out of the cold for tournaments like Vegas, Centex and Stanford, it is no wonder that some can tool on warm weather teams. They are ready to go. Coming out flat is something none of them is prepared to take lightly because there is no practice next week. It's not like they can take what they learned back with them. Every Saturday at these tournies is pool play at Nationals. There is no tomorrow, because tomorrow is a track workout, or a scrimmage in a gym. No bids, no wind, no nothing. At Kaimana I turned my body into burger and my teammates were like, "why do you hit the ground so much?" to which I responded, "try NOT being able to for half the year". And I think this is something that Winter teams definitely tap into.

Motivation = Performance?
So how does this motivation turn into performance? Ok, so you are motivated so you hit the track and are in shape, and I think this is where warm weather teams stop analyzing the situation. Motivation gives a player focus. All they can do is think about their game because they can't play it. Everything is analyzed in detail because you have nothing else to do. This is also a powerful force in unifying a team. When I was at UCSD there was so much drama bullshit amongst the A-team. I fucking hated it and now they all get a long and it's great. Adversity is one of the easiest ways to unify people and battling the snow definitely has this affect. It also sheds bullshit and bullshit players. For warm weather teams, half assing a season is easy. Practices are consistent whether it is Spetember or February and staying partially committed is possible. However with players that quit mid season or just don't buy into their program, on cold weather teams, they won't make it through the winter and teams can distill their program down to the most committed/motivated, the bread and butter of any college team. In addition, I think warm weather teams are conversely at a disadvantage because they are susceptible to complacency. They may think their game is A-Ok but when tourney time comes, they get out played, and this brings me to my next point.

Ultimate is a REALLY hard sport. There is such a small margin for error, at least at the highest level. In good weather, 2-3 turns can make the difference between a 15-14 game and 14-15 game. I think very few sports punish mistakes as much as they do in ultimate. Take basketball for example. They have turnovers, ie a ball out of bounds, or a steal, but missed shots are not considered turnovers. Possession changes but its not a turnover. In disc however, you drop a disc, you get D'd or you toss a disc out the back, it's still a turn and you better keep them all at a minimum or you are going to be watching the finals instead of playing in them. I think golf is the closest thing to ultimate in this sense. Second chance opportunities are very rare and you need to play perfect beginning to end to come out on top. So cold weather? Being trapped inside really allows a team to not only focus on improving their game, but it also pushes players to really play their best. As with any sport, you have to want it. Physical ability and success are only bridged when someone is motivated to play their best and when your opportunities to compete are relatively few and far between, when that chance comes you are going to give it your best, even subconsciously. I think this is partially how northern teams catch southern teams sleeping. Not to say that it always happens, but this is the pipeline that cold weather teams need to tap into to win in the Spring.

Lastly, I think the best contribution cold weather has on teams is that it pulls players out their comfort zone. When I saw Alan Goldberg talk at UCPC one thing he stressed a lot was playing out of your comfort zone. He talked about how Tiger Woods would hit balls in the pouring rain just to give him a taste of what kind of distractions and challenges he may face in the future. At UCSD, the weather was always perfect. Nice and pretty year round. Not a lot of wind to speak of, not much heat, not much rain. This made practice fun, but if we went to a windy or a cold tournament, wow, our performance dropped. This is tough to remedy and I am not going to discuss that here. However, with cold weather teams, when you finally get outside it's not like someone hits a weather light switch. Things go from unbearable to just-bearable. The 30 to 40 degree barrier is significant and it is definitely a threshold teams have for practicing outdoors. In addition, transition seasons like Fall and Spring have a lot of weather catalysts like wind and this is very prominent in the North. Not to say that there isn't wind in Texas or California or Florida, but when you have cold, wind and rain, you are about as distracted as you are ever going to get and you are basically McGyver, you can make do with just about anything. Sunday at Nationals last year was really windy and I think it affected Colorado dramatically. With an offense that relies on superstars, the wind threw them a curveball they couldn't hit and Wisconsin was seamless.

Cold Region Mentality
I suppose another thing I can say about this is what it's like to play ultimate in a cold region when it isn't cold. Never have I seen people take advantage of good weather when they get it. People here are so hell bent on getting as much out of a good day as possible, that even the workplace suffers. People just ditch and soak up the sun because for a lot of the year, they can't do it. This makes for interesting summers. In San Diego I did the college ultimate thing a lot but come the summer, I played some club, maybe went to a tournament or two, but nothing exciting. However, here, my god. I am going to a tournament every freaking weekend. Henelopen, White Mountain Open, Ommegang, Boston Invite, Jazz Fest, Wildwood, Ow My Knee, and this is all well before the series. It has really been an amazing experience. I was already an ultimate nerd before I got here, but being pushed in this way has really accelerated my playing ability and my interest in the sport. Maybe I was running with the wrong crowd and things are the same in San Diego, but it is no coincidence that close to half the people at Kaimana were New York, Pennsylvania, or some sort of cold weather residents. Being trapped inside has a way of getting you out of town if at all possible.

Closing Thoughts
I love trying to understand this game. Maybe thats why I write this stuff. How to beat Wisconsin, who are the best teams, why do some teams win and others lose, everything. The one thing that I think really separates ultimate from most sports is that their isn't really a season, it's just the post season. Everything is prep for sectionals/regionals/nationals. Furious doesn't beat GOAT 15-8 in August and then gets rocked in pool play for no reason. They prepared for Canadian Nationals and they achieved their goal. GOAT made semis but Furious is in World's. Along the same lines, these cold weather teams prepare and prepare and the weather is an obstacle but it's a constructive one. Motivation is one thing you can't teach and you can't buy. You can only hope your teammates have it. Weather is a useful hurdle and if teams can utilize the opportunity they can succeed in May.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday's Big Winners and....non-Winners?

Wow, great day for ultimate (not for me, I broke my foot) but a great day non the less. Lets talk some sectionals' results with who looked good and who got "no-cigar'd".

Biggest winner for this weekend was definitely North Carolina. Putting them as the 3 seed in this "love-triangle" with NC State and UNC-W seeded above was an arguably good decision but I am not surprised that Darkside pwned. North Carolina made finals at Centex and despite the fact that the bracket was pretty lopsided, it is still a spectacular achievement and a huge step for UNC in their hopes of stiff-arming JoJah and making nationals again. I think they got sent down to the 3 seed because of their Easterns results which is ok, but I think they were better than both NC State and Wilmington. They did better than the Wolfpack in Austin and were playing in the finals at Centex while UNC-W watched the finals at Southerns. Their depth and Nationals experience is something neither NC State nor UNC-W have and I think the pieces fell into place for them. I am curious to know how close the weather was to for Greenville, NC, because if the wind was significant, I would think UNC-W would have put up a better fight. Regardless, good luck to them, they are the #2 team in the AC and hopefully they can just play their game and make it past Georgia.

Wow, way to go Claremont. Taking your section for the first time, at home no less. I hope they carry this momentum and continue to play their game. Arizona, take notes, this is the team to beat. Arizona took out the Braineaters twice without Kershner at Stanford and once at Pres Day, but Claremont has only improved with every tournament this year and Arizona is still riding their Vegas high. Sunburn may be 3-0 agaisnt the boys in orange so far, but the series is all that matters. I am basically assuming Colorado will win the region as usual, but I suppose each team has a shot, especially considering the fact that Colorado squeaked past Colorado State 15-13. The seedings will probably pit Arizona and Claremont against each other in semis (assuming they are 2 and 3) and I wonder if we will see some 1-1 records between these two. If either team wins and then loses to Colorado only to have to play that team again, wow, beating a team twice is tough. I think Arizona has a little more experience at this point but Claremont has fire power. Southwest Regionals is definitely going to be interesting and bizzarre this year. Both Claremont and Arizona have never gone in with this much success and each team has been consistent all year. Awesome!

Phew, way to raise some pulses JoJah. Georgia Tech really brought it and I think this was the 2nd best sectional final of the weekend. I love Georgia but I think they have their work cut out for them. They have been treading water all year and have really slipped right when they needed to take a step forward towards Boulder. However, I will say that a sectionals win is a win and because of rivalries and emotion, scores get a little crazy. However, I will say that a 13-14 score against UNC or Florida would mean a lot more than struggling against a non-Nationals contender.

Alright DLK, way to go. Santa Cruz really impressed me today. With the top slot in Frisco up for grabs, Santa Cruz was really not the team I thought would take the section. What is intersting, is that if you go to their scorereporter site, there is a lot of red there. What does that mean? Lesson after lesson and finally, when it mattered, they took everyone to school. They haven't seen Cal that much this year and they didn't play at sectionals but now the Slugs are probably the #1 seed going into Davis. This is new territory for this Santa Cruz team but I really hope they keep it together. LPC showed that they are good but don't have it when they needed it and Stanford is not Stanford this year. They figured it out in Palo Alto, but this is the 3rd tournament where they should have done better, the other two being Santa Barbara and Centex. This sort of inconsistency is not something I have seen from Stanford and now that they are headed to the next round, the level of comfort among the team will be slim to none.

Ah, TUFF, you're killing me. Now is not the time to slip. Congratulations to North Texas, I remember a few years back when they went to Santa Barbara and made life hard on some west coast powerhouses. I am not entirely surprised they took it to the Austin crowd, but this result is my #1 sectional finals this weekend. Biggest upset of the weekend, and what I find interesting is that the last time North Texas played in a tournament was Frostbite (which they won) in Missouri and Texas has played at Stanford and Centex since then. Perhaps Texas looked past North Texas but I am sure they learned their lesson and will bring it at Regionals. This makes the South yet another wildcard region. Texas and Kansas made it out last year but Texas is now not #1 in the region and Kansas has been ehh, this year. Can we begin to talk about Oklahoma and North Texas as top seeds in the region? Who knows? Going into regionals as a top seed without Nationals experience is a tough position (unless you are Tim Gehret). Both Texas and Kansas have been there and this will help them. However, if these two new faces can keep their composure, we might see some new threads at Natties.

Washington/BC Sectionals
I feel bad for Whitman. They are a young, up and coming team and they played like it. Made the sectional finals and played UBC great. But after a close loss, I am sure depth and emotion were a bit low and they lost to a team they should have beat in Washington. I think they have what it takes to beat both teams in Davis, but going against veteran teams like Oregon and maybe Stanford will be tough for Jeremy Norden and the rest of the Walla Walla Sweets. With Oregon looking as dominant as they should, and Santa Cruz winning the Bay Area Barn Burner, their is still no clear front runner for the NW region. My god, it could be so many different teams.

Closing Thoughts
There was some talk on RSD recently about scores and what they mean. I personally think they have some but not much predictive power. A win is a win and depending on the match-ups, a close score at Sectionals is not a score that is duplicated at Regionals. I think Colorado is fine, this is their month. However, the SW region is all about Claremont and Arizona. Claremont is looking up to Arizona who is looking up to Colorado. Like Centex, I see Colorado's experience and relatively veteran roster getting them the success they need to take the region again. However, neither Arizona nor Claremont has been in this position and I think that the rematch after a Colorado dominant final will be THE game of the weekend.

Georgia has their work cut out for them and UNC has to be salivating at the chance to convincingly demolish the AC outside Florida. I had Cornell pegged as Penn's big challenge for the 2nd spot out of the Metro East, but now I am not so sure. They got unlucky and lost on double game but beat out RPI after a tough loss to take #2 in the section. Brown looked good but I think the Metro Boston Section is looking the best out of the NE.

Games still to watch for are Carleton/Minnesota, Tufts/Harvard, Illinois/Notre Dame and Wisconsin/UW-Whitewater. Carleton can begin to get their hopes up for nationals if they can handle a confident Minnesota team. Tufts and Harvard, wow, no idea here. Illinois and Notre Dame are two hot Great Lakes teams and the winner will be the challenge for Michigan. Lastly, I am really curious to see what Wisconsin puts together this weekend. After Centex, they have probably done a lot of bitching and yelling but I hope they still have high spirits. They will come out angry, hungry, and, most of all, ready to begin the series.

just my thoughts

match diesel