Sunday, May 25, 2008

Making the Cut

Recently, I was approached by an elite level open player and he asked if I wanted to do a write up on how to make a competitive ultimate team (which makes sense because it's that time of year again). A lot of it is purely based on your abilities but there are things to think about going in. Some are obvious, some are subtle, but there are important things that cannot be stressed enough. I asked him to give me the body of the piece and I would fill in the gaps. Here is what we came up with.

At concerts, it's the guy with the t-shirt of the band he is seeing. At parties, it's the guy with the aviators and the popped collar. And on the ultimate field it's the handler that can sometimes cut.

There is nothing more useless from a tryout than a handler/cutter. Every team has an offense (or at least should) and the last thing they need is to teach more people how to play their offense. A friend/team mate of mine once told me that for the best teams you don't get to play offense until you prove yourself on defense. So, word to the wise, don't offer yourself up as a handler/cutter right away. Sorry if this is the bulk of your talents, but if you really want to make a competitive ultimate team you need to offer yourself as a commodity that every team needs more of, DEFENSE.

This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be the best defender but if the captains ask where you like to play on the field, say something like "I will get a block/force a turn. I am more than willing to guard the guy on the other team that no one else wants to and if given the chance, I will be instrumental in scoring the goal after said block/turnover." This kind of statement displays a number of positive things, one being intensity. Every team needs intensity on defense because that is what can frustrate an offense and generate turnovers. A player that produces breaks in this game is THE most valuable element on the line and every team wants players like this.

What's also really cool about ultimate is that you can never tell where skill will show up. The reason I use the word "skill" rather than "talent" is because the most important thing in this game is drive. I bet everyone reading this knows of some former track stud or basketball player that would be awesome at ultimate, if they just cared. However, I bet you can also think of a few other guys that might not fit your average ultimate build but they are amazing players because they are motivated to play. There is a kid trying out for Colt this year who is a little thicker than most but the guy wants it more than anyone else on the field and that kind of commitment is a rare commodity and if you really want to make a team you really have act like you want it. Captains love seeing this and just because you aren't a highlight reel doesn't mean you can't play a pivotal role on an ultimate squad.

Believe it or not, captains don't know who you are. They have a million things to pay attention to and "non-descript player X" is not going to stand out, unless they make a point too. Yes, playing amazing is a good way to do this, but that is still tough in a tryout format unless you are Brodie Smith. There are a few ways you can do this, one being your presence on the line. Don't be afraid to request an assignment. Ask to be part of the string, if not THE main guy that goes deep or whatever. On defense, don't be afraid to pick out the toughest assignment. Even if you get pwned, this shows captains that you are willing to be challenged. You aren't a pansy, you are a tough mother that wants his/her shot at glory. In a tough game, every captain wants a player like this to call on the field and you might as well make your presence known early.

Now this could also be taken the wrong way with people being too chatty on the line which you don't want to do. The worst way to tryout is to be annoying and over step your boundaries. The balance is up to you as a tryout. Realize what your future captains are looking for so when that opportunity presents itself, take it, because there will be a line of people ready to take your spot if you don't go for it.

Another way to stand out is to take chances on offense. Yes hammers and hucks can get you into trouble in a game situation but when you are practicing/trying out, you need to show what you can do, which means not being timid. Now this doesn't mean play summer league style with 50/50 throws left and right, but it's ok to throw a huck, it's ok to go for a strike. It shows that you are competent and have a decent mind for the game. If you have a decent hammer or flick huck don't be afraid to let it rip, especially if you are a cutter. There is nothing better for a team than to have cutters that can turn and put it. Your handlers will be a bit jealous because you took their job, but you will show the powers that be that you are an asset that can continue the offense, even toss a score or two. This kind of contribution is awesome because a lot of teams already have their offensive assignments established and if you show versatility then your stock will rise considerably.

Lastly, be aggressive. On offense, cut fast and frequent. Run, run, and run some more. Make your defender's life miserable and even if you don't get the disc, cut, clear and show that you are motivated to do your job downfield. Same thing as a handler. There is nothing better than power position in an offense and if you can get a reset at stall 3 and set up a great downfield strike, go for it. Show that you can manage an offense and produce results when/if cutters get stagnant. Leadership like that is something few teams have a surplus of. Lastly, bid on defense. There is nothing better than a tryout that hits the ground. Even if you don't get the D you are showing the selection team that you are willing to sacrifice your body for the disc and given the right circumstances, thats a D and your captains will be thinking that. However, like everything else, pick your battles. Don't bid for stuff that you have no shot at because you are risking your and your team mates health, but don't have regrets. There is nothing worse than questioning whether or not you should have bid. I can still remember a huck I didn't bid for in SW Regionals against Santa Barbara in 2004 and ever since then, I never second guess myself when a disc is close, I just pull the trigger.

Bring the Intangibles
There are a lot of little things that can really help you out and allow you to be a positive entity on the team that your captains want. A lot of people have amazing athleticism and talent but even these players need to use their mouths and every tryout should as well. This could be something small like positive reinforcement. There is nothing like a cheer from the sideline for a bid you make on the field. Maybe you get the disc, maybe you don't but that positive feeling from the sideline is a great motivating source. If you can provide that, you are already useful. Maybe you aren't in the top 7 on your roster, maybe you don't get the huge sky or D, but if you can get your team fired up or even maintain motivation you are an asset. Every team needs every element to be a good team, one being a positive sideline. If you show that kind of commitment to your potential team mates, you are valuable.

Along these lines, be helpful to your team mates as they play. Don't hesitate to call out those "No IO's", "UP!", "No Break" or just echo the major calls on the field. If you are practicing zone, help out your cup or your deep-deep by letting him/her know what's around them. Don't over do it (along the same lines as talking on the line), but let your future captains know that you are paying attention and you have competence on the field. The tryout process doesn't begin and end with you on the line. It also includes those times when you are waiting for your turn to get on the field.

Sticking with this "fire" theme, maintain intensity. Run out to the line when given your chance. Run drills as you would run cuts. Have a snap in each step, in each cut, in each throw. Look like you want it, because captains want to give roster spots to the guys that want it the most, not necessarily the best players. This is also really important for those moments when you are gassed. We have all been there. The marathon point, the 7 in a set of 10 sprints. Those are the times when the fire is the most important. Cheer yourself and your team mates on. "Just a few more", "win the long one", "don't be the one that quits". These are the kinds of statements your captains want to hear because they know this sucks as will those moments when winning isn't easy. If they have a team with guys that are willing to suck it up when it hurts, to push threw the pain, to remain focused when all you want to do is not focus, they will have a team that can win.

Lastly, stay positive and don't pout. No one likes a Bitter Betty, so don't be that. If you drop a disc, if you get skied, if you screw up, it's ok. Don't let it dome you. Stay positive and just run. If you get D'd, don't stare at the disc on the grass while your man charges for the end zone. Pick yourself up and get your head in the game. Every player has been there, every player knows how it feels, and every player has heard, "get your ass up and play D". The point doesn't end with a drop, it ends with a score and no one wants a player that stops when they screw up.

(Along these lines, something I have wanted to write about as well is that it's ok to screw up, thats how you learn. I know this sounds like I talking to an 8 year old but if you fuck up, its cool. The pain is good. If it didn't sting, you would have no motivation to get better. Do yourself a favor and learn the lesson. If a huck sucked, if you drop a disc, if you get blocked, remember it and do your best to improve.)

Same thing with heated situations. Every team has a stubborn ass and most captains aren't looking for more. If a call is made and you don't like it, simply contest, don't make a scene. No one wants to baby sit egos and THERE IS NOTHING WORSE THAN BEING A BIG LEAUGER. Just because you think you are good does not mean you are impervious to error. Don't be a douche about calls and if someone gets the better of you, the best thing you can do is commend them for it and let it motivate you to not make the same mistake again. Remember these are your future teammates and a team needs to get along. You never know what people will remember and you are better off being pleasant more often than not.

Be Fun
This will be easy for some and the hardest thing for others. We have all had that team mate that may or may not be good, but he/she is just a buzz kill. Regardless of how he/she plays no one enjoys their presence and no captain wants to bring on another player like that. Conversely, there is sometimes that player (and this is often times me) that might not be the best athlete or player but really brings the "spittle". This is what I call the banter, the ruckus, the fun. Despite not being the most talented player, if people like being around you, then odds are they are happy when you are there and having that kind of player is so valuable. You want players that keep people motivated and happy because it is those players that keep a team from burning out. This goes for teams at all levels because constant friction can really add up and cause team problems. However, if you have a team jester or a few guys that are just fun to be around, it is a great way to get through the tough times. I love filling this role and it is something that a lot of captains won't look for, but they'll know it when they see it.

Now don't take this to mean that you have to be a jackass or make an idiot out of yourself. Everyone is different. Some people are Michelangelos and some people are Rafaels. The main thing to keep in mind is that you should stick to your guns. Be and act confident. If you like to wear something stupid or throw a certain way, don't back down in the face of resistance. Socks, from Dartmouth, is on my club team and is a perfect example. The guy plays with socks on his arms, what the hell? Believe me, I gave him shit for it at his first practice but he didn't back down. He did what made him feel comfortable and now I respect him for it.

There is also this new kid on the team that wears a wool shirt before and after every practice (when it's chilly) and the guy has never washed it. In 2 years, he has never washed the damn thing! However, he sticks to his guns. He has his thing and we all shake our head at it, but as a captain I love seeing it because I know he brings the spittle. He has his little character attributes and rather than blend in with his surroundings, he tries to find a place for himself and that is something that every team wants.

Closing Thoughts
To sum up, I think every tryout should try to be the team mate they would want. It's not about being the best player on the field or the guy that gets the D AND the score. It's about being a good team mate. For a lot of the really elite teams you won't get enough points to make an impact right away anyway, so you might as well aim for the little things. Maybe you won't make the starting line but there are a lot of parts to a team and everyone is essential. Defenders don't work with out offensive personnel. Leaders don't work without followers. Play makers need a supporting cast.

Do your best to fill the void. Few captains are looking for a Callahan nominee, but rather a motivated entity that will see the season through. A person who will be at the track workouts, someone who will handle their assignment, someone who is there when they are called upon and just a guy that is fun to hang out with because lets be honest, ultimate is just a game and games are supposed to be fun.

just my and phil's thoughts

match diesel

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Final Thoughts on 2008

Wow, what a year. It began with my team write-ups and it ended in the best way possible, a front row seat at College Nationals in Boulder, CO. I wanted to comment on some things that really stuck out for me throughout the season and I suppose it’s a good way to end the college year.

Wow, this team was so much fun to follow. Not only did I get to write about them after Vegas and throughout the year but I also got to hang out with them in Boulder and they are such a class act. Their team has such a collection of entities that really facilitates their synergistic development.

Chris Shepard is such a phenomenal leader. He isn’t the teams highlight reel but everyone likes and respects him. Everyone depends on him to lead the team on and off the field and he kind of reminds me of myself with the teams I have played for. It was pretty awesome to share shots Saturday night and from what I can remember, I think we had a really good time.

Joe Kershner is also such an amazing person. I got the chance to talk to him right after he got the Callahan award and it was so cool to see a guy like him win it. Nothing against previous winners but people like Ben Wiggins and Zipp must have known it was coming. Likewise, Richter was such a big leaguer that he wasn’t even there to accept the award in 2004 but Loppi embodied how most players would feel if they got the award. He was absolutely speechless and for a guy with so much heart and commitment to our sport, there is nothing better than seeing someone like that get the award.

Another Sunburn player I really like is Austin Gregersen. I have been talking him up a lot and the thing I like the most about him is that he is so humble, not unlike the rest of his team. He is such a baller and can handle just about anything on the field but he is still so chill and down to earth. I was this crazy red head that came into Boulder and was all in his, and the rest of his team’s, face and he just took it in stride and had a good time with me. Thanks again Austin, you’re a champ.

Lastly, I want to thank the team as a whole. Gafni, Scharf, Palmer, Husid, and everyone else on this team really accepted me and that was a validation I needed. I work so hard to do this and feedback from the players is something I really enjoy. Some people get on my case for not talking up this team or that or for not saying what they want to hear, but when the players support me, it makes it all worth it. Sunburn really gave me the reassurance I needed. I am all alone at this and despite my confidence in my opinions, I still feel it when people criticize me. Thanks again guys, it’s been a pleasure.

These guys are absolutely crazy, but they are a ton of fun. Their team mentality is something I cannot even begin to transcend here. Travis Smith is such a great character and despite Dempsey’s and Swason’s amazing skill, they are very down to earth guys. Ben Morrissey is also a great guy to chill with, as is Will McDonough and when you see Georgia mixing it up with this team or that off the field, it is obvious that they are easy to like. Alex Deckhard and AJ Tiarsmith coach a great team and I can only imagine the stories this team has. I have always been a big fan of Jojah and it was really nice to hear positive things tossed my way this weekend. Thanks again guys, it means a lot to me.

Magnum didn’t have the best weekend but they are a team that isn’t finished. Ryan maybe done but their young talent will get Michigan back to Nationals in the future. One person I cannot say enough about is Will Neff. I suppose I don’t expect much from superstars, but his demeanor is really refreshing. I talked with him after pool play on Friday and despite the fact that he had no idea who I was (sort of), he was willing to talk shop with me. I am not out to bug these people or follow them around like idols. I just really want to give "you" the reader a sense of what the Nationals experience is like. Like Chris Shepard, Will is a great leader that has the ability to make his teammates better by simply being himself. They can turn to him on and off the field and despite his obvious talents and experience, he is right there when they need him. Great work this year and I’ll do my best to hype you up in 2009 so you can get a spot at the podium.

I have a complicated relationship with Carleton. I will admit that I have not talked them up much and from what they had to say to me in Boulder, I got the feeling they knew they weren’t my favorite. However, the main reason it went down this way is that when I did my team write-ups, they were the only team that didn’t take me seriously. I am a young aspiring writer, I know, but every team from Florida to Wisconsin to Stanford all talked to me with respect and CUT didn’t.

However, I think things are drastically different now. I have had the chance to see them at their best and I can say that I was wrong in doubting their talents. In addition, I got the chance to party with them and I hope they know now that I’m not such a bad guy. Baylis, Lindsley, Fagin, Evangelides and the rest of CUT are great guys and I now hope that there is some mutual respect there. Maybe in 2009 things will be different.

Also, I want to offer a formal apology to Jacob Goldstein for implying that he was fat. I can’t even remember what post I said he was “stocky” but I meant no disrespect. I actually meant quite the contrary. So many players out there, especially on CUT, are scrappy twigs and for us bigger kids, it’s tough to compete in this game. I think Jake is a great player and I really enjoy watching him play both for Boston and when he was at Carleton. Best of luck in the coming club season and sorry you don’t like my flames. It’s my flare and I would be doing myself a disservice if I sacrificed what I like because some folks don’t.

The Callahan
Wow, this was probably the biggest surprise of the weekend. I have heard from a variety of sources that Kurt was really trying to change his image to get this award but despite his efforts Kershner’s likeable nature was the determining factor. I suppose, in this case, it all boils down to appreciating what you have. Despite the fact that Loppi now has a huge trophy to take back to Tucson, his team never played in the finals after Vegas. I am sure all of Arizona wants to be National champs but it’s not something they could ever do. No matter how hard they worked, it just wasn’t in the cards. It took each of these players 5 years just to make Nationals and despite the fact that they were rewarded with a Callahan and team spirit awards, they still were watching ultimate on Sunday instead of playing it. Conversely, Kurt is a National champ and has had more success than most other players out there would even dream of. It is nice to have it all but truth be told, it just doesn't work that way. Kurt will have a great club career playing with the most elite players in the world and Loppi tells me he is probably going to take some time off. Regardless, congratulations to both players, you've played a hell of a season.

On a more general note, the Callahan is really just a popularity contest. I think people try and put too much focus on it, especially the online community. Remember, most of these kids that are voting have no idea what the hell they are doing. Most vote with their hearts instead of their heads, because they haven't paid as close attention as people like myself and have nothing else to go on. Most people will agree that Kurt was the best player hands down but a friend of mine once told me that when choosing a Callahan nominee you should think of who you would most like as a teammate. Nothing against any of the other candidates, but Kershner is such a great guy and I can only imagine how awesome it was to be on the line with him.

In addition, people seem to always want to perfect the voting system or promote this or that way of choosing a candidate. Bottom line, it is a lot like the BCS. Computer based and most of the time, someone is always going to have an argument to bitch. Every year something unpredictable will happen that will influence the Callahan like Arizona's performance at Vegas, Wisconsin ('07) and Florida's ('06) romp, Zipp's polished character in 2005, Richter's leadership in 2004, and Wiggins' popularity in 2003. This marks the 13th year of the award and with the rise of ultimate media and nation wide discussion/tournaments, the award is still as subjective as it was when Keith Monahan won it 1996.

In the end, people see a title like "MVP" and they all respond differently. Some people vote based on their hearts, their spirit, what their captain told them to do, what they read or just randomly. Trying to perfect the award to mean "the best player" over the most spirited player or whatever runs much deeper than the award. In order to walk down that road you would have to change the values of the game and who votes for this award. Take the NBA, MLB, or NFL. In most cases the main value is to win and sports writers get to vote on who wins MVP. In ultimate that isn't the case. Spirit seems to be the underlying value and the players get to vote. So unless you want to change things around, expect these sorts of results. They aren't better or worse, they are just their own breed.

It is funny, so many people in this sport want it to be more competitive or objective yet they still demand intangibles like spirit and no refs. The later relies on emotion and gray area mind sets which are going to result in emotional and gray area consequences. You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you want a black and white objective award, you have to let it stand for something black and white (ie winning) and voted on by objective people like media personal because they spend their time watching/following the sport, not playing it. This title is more or less the NUMP team which is not the Callahan and never will be. It will never replace the Callahan because the Callahan award pays tribute to a great man who stood for things like spirit of the game. College kids are too inexperienced in this game to understand these kinds of implications and by the time you realize everything that goes into this and what it takes to change things, the end result is to just be complacent and laugh at the Callahan dicussion that rises and falls every spring. Just like those "Who are the best 10 players of all time?" or "who would win in a match up, Alex Nord or LeBron James?" these are arguments that come up on RSD every year and before you know it, you won't care. Just enjoy the game folks, winning isn't everything, games are supposed to fun and we all should try and party/get laid more often.

Freshman/Junior World's Kids
I am really glad I had the chance to research, watch and talk with some of these kids. Andrew Vogt, George Stubbs, Grant Lindsley, Andrew Hollingworth, Hylke Sneider, Ollie Hondred, and the rest of these guys are really amazing. My relationship with Kyle Weisbrod and Tiina Booth has more or less revolved around them talking up their Paidea and ARHS kids and juniors talents all around and seeing that I have seen it in the flesh, it is really awesome to witness. These kids are the future of the sport and I laugh when I think back to when I started playing ultimate and how little juniors talent I came across in San Diego. Over the last 6 years the sport has changed so much and I can only imagine how much the sport will continue to change in the future.

Ultimate Media
Ultimate coverage has really exploded over the last few years. I can remember the very first COTD (A UCSD guy getting skied in Corvalis) and now 4 years later, Rob has really changed the way people watch ultimate. Likewise, people like myself, the mssui crowd, and my fellow blogger homies like Ryan and DLK, have really tried to make the delivery of ultimate information credible, objective and interesting. I like to think that this is only the beginning and hopefully as you readers look back over the last year you can appreciate the product that we have developed. These kinds of things can potentially change the sport in good and potentially bad ways but believe me when I say that these new media friends of mine are good people and we are just trying to package ultimate the way it deserves.

College Nationals
Natties was pretty sweet this year. I think the whole CSTV/CBS thing was a waste of time but thats just my opinion. The only people at the fields were ultimate people and despite the fact that there could have been other athletes, we as ultimate folk like to congregate with ourselves becuase lets be honest, we are a bit weird and despite the fact that the ultimate subculture is bad ass, it isn't for everybody.

I am not sure where Nationals is going to be in 2009, but hopefully its more towards the East coast. Driving/flying to Columbus and flying to Boulder has been tough and it would be nice to have nationals back in Boston because Devens is legit and it is only 2 hours away from me. I think Atlanta would be a good spot as well, although it might be just as hot as Austin back in 2003. Who knows, but folks out there, if you have the chance, really try and check out Nationals, it's a great time. So much energy, so much fantastic ultimate and for you veterans out there trying to get your rookies more fired up about our sport, take a road trip with them and show them what it's like at the very highest level. You never know what impact this kind of experience can offer. Plus I want more fans to read my drivel.

Club Season
I am not sure what is gonna happen this summer. I have a few contacts scattered across the country in the elite club scene and hopefully it's enough to put some good stuff together. I think the Boston crowd is still steamed at me from a year ago and hopefully they have seen that I have changed a lot since then and will talk to me.

On a more personal note, certain things in my life have been incredibly frustrating this year. My lab work has not been as promising as it once was, my grandfather passed away, and my foot injury has not healed as I would have liked and I will be out for most of the summer, ie no Potlatch :( . This might be my body's way of telling me to slow down and focus on things that don't involve cleats and grass. However, I am lucky that I have met someone who has made me happier than I have been in a long time. She has been so great in keeping my motor running and I am very thankful to have her.

Closing Thoughts
It's funny, I think more people know me as Match than my real name, Michael Fiedler. I have met people from all over the country and at all levels. The best thing about this is that I am nothing special on the field. I work really hard, I condition a lot, but I wasn't a teenage athlete like most of you out there were. However, I have had the ability to develop a name for myself in this sport. This isn't meant to be an egotistical statement, but rather an affirmation out there to everyone in this sport. Just because you aren't a highlight reel doesn't mean you don't matter. I was a B-teamer and I have never played at a level that I write about. However, I have a passion for this game and I put it to good use. I used a free blog to change the way people read and follow ultimate. I am not unique. Nothing I have done requires a significant amount of skill or money. Anyone can do it and I really hope more people do so.

I get asked to write about Women's ultimate or to focus on certain regions or teams, and my simple response is, if you want something written about this sport, do it yourself. I am lucky that I have a lot to say and if you've ever talked to me in person, I never shut up. However, if you want ultimate content, take the Rob or Gambler initiative and do it yourself. It isn't easy, it doesn't pay much/at all. It takes a ton of time and you will never get the appreciation you want. However, if you are passionate about it, it is truly rewarding.

To sum up, thank you to all those players out there that made ultimate fun to follow this year. Thank you to all my readers and supporters, without you, this wouldn't be possible. And lastly, I want to say thank you to all my haters. You have motivated me to work harder than I ever thought possible to create and package a beautiful thing that is read by people all over the country/world. Once upon a time you may have rattled my confidence, but in the end, more people know and like me. Wear it bitches!

just my thoughts

match diesel

PS Not that anyone is going to do this, but if you are on a team that has appreciated some press from me over the last year or just likes my stuff, feel free to send me some of your team merch. I love to sport jerseys, shirts, shorts, hats or whatever from organizations that matter to me and it really is the only payment I want for putting this stuff together.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Blue Caller Rivalry Comes to an End

All season I have discussed Wisconsin and their dominance but I really did not understand their team dynamic until I had the chance to talk to some of these guys in person. Jim Foster, Muffin, Shane, Mahowald and the rest of Wisco are not only incredible players but they are actually a great bunch of guys and regardless of what people may think of the Hodags, this is great example of a TEAM and good one at that.

The weather in Boulder was really erratic. It was hot, windy, cold, rainy, the works. The showcase field was buried inside a collection of burms that really shielded it from the wind coming over the mountains and despite a really powerful crosswind, the game was not adversely affected.

Finals Analysis
Coming into the finals, Wisconsin was clearly the fan favorite. Despite haters throughout the year, most people were pulling for the ‘dags. Muffin had been heckled during the Colorado game but as for the finals, most people wanted to see him and his team do well. I think most people, or at least me, were surprised at how un-douchey Wisconsin was. They are as intense as it gets but like Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, etc… they are really friends first and teammates second. There is a lot of camaraderie among baby blue and it really helped them stick it out and succeed.

As could be expected, Wisconsin came in fired up. They started on offense and quickly asserted themselves as the aggressor. Before Florida could even get into any sort of rhythm, Wisconsin was up 4-1. Kurt was trying to send hucks deep to Brodie but Wisconsin was ready. Shane lined up well on #21 and was never caught out of position. Brodie is an amazing downfield weapon but Shane had the ability to get into position and despite the fact that Brodie reeled in a few huge skies, he also got D’d a fair amount. Putting pressure on him to make a huge play was effective and it kept Florida from scoring.

On the other side of the disc, Wisconsin’s offense was just more fluid. They didn’t rely on a ton of hucks but rather good disc movement between Rebholz, Animal and Muffin. They were very patient and did their best to convert on Florida miscues. In addition, Florida was not playing tight man D in the first half. Underneath cuts came left and right and with Wisconsin’s exceptional throwers and hands, a 70 yard field quickly became 10. Wisconsin had some difficulty on the goal line but their ability to put constant pressure on every Florida player allowed them to correct their mistakes when/if they turned it.

I would like to say that Lokke or Foster or Gaynor had a huge game deep but that just wasn’t the case. Wisconsin spread the disc around a ton and most scores weren’t exactly exciting. Florida converted on a few 50/50 tosses but much like the finals last year, Wisconsin just came out so fired up early and Florida was constantly playing catchup.

Wisconsin took half 8-4 and they knew they had Florida on the ropes. They came out furious in the second half and Florida’s lack of composure was evident right away with a silly turnover on the first throw, which resulted in another break for the Hodags. Florida stepped up on their defense and had huge incut bids from Brodie and Cyle and they tried to go with their zone when they pulled. There was a stretch of 2 points where Florida’s D was exceptional with two stall outs on back-to-back Wisconsin possessions. However, Florida had a few suspect marks from Cole Sullivan and they really did not help themselves by playing overly physical ultimate. It was evident that they were frustrated and couldn’t contain Wisconsin’s flow.

In the end, this game seemed to be textbook Wisconsin. They came out fast and hard in the first half and basically set the tone early. With such a lead to work with there was no pressure on their offense and considering that they were up against a team they absolutely hate, their focus was really an advantage. Florida could have played a great game but Wisconsin was not going to give them any chances. Their defense was top notch and their offense clicked allowing them to collect break after break. This facilitated their second half success because it was all on Florida to D up and get breaks back. Florida had a few hail marries late but at 12-9 Brodie tossed a questionable 50 yard hammer which resulted in another Wisconsin break. I don’t care who you are, at 13-9, the game is over. The last few points were just a formality and Wisconsin claimed their second title in as many years.

Wisconsin/Florida Final Thoughts
I talked with Foster after the game and he told me that intensity was definitely their game plan. Come out with passion and fire and try and put Florida down early. Apparently it was effective. Wisconsin wanted to bring the intensity start to finish and he told me that they kept focus by saying things like “another game to 3, another game to 3”. In looking at the game so few points at a time, Wisconsin’s ability to constantly demoralize Florida was really apparent leaving the Gators with no possibility for a comeback. I also asked Foster what they took from their Centex experience to which he simply replied “motivation”. I can remember thinking in Austin that a quarters exit was definitely better than another tournament win because Wisconsin has a tendency to slip when they aren’t paying attention. Lowly Stanford gave them their closest game of the tournament right out of the gate and considering that Wisconsin had to push right away, their focus never dwindled. A quarters exit in Texas was the reality check they needed and I am sure the Hodag Love movie Muffin and Mahowald are making will articulate that.

As for Florida, they absolutely rolled for most of the year, especially since Centex. Quarters and Semis at Centex were both close games against Wisconsin and Colorado (respectively) but the series was a cakewalk for them. Taking out Georgia in the regional finals 17-5 is not exactly a challenge and I think Florida’s inability to assess their weaknesses hurt them in the end. Their run at Nationals reminds me of Furious back in 2006 when they steam rolled through pool play, power pools, quarters and semis and got beat by Sockeye in the finals. Alternatively, Sockeye had a dogfight with Bravo in Semis giving them the ability to realize where they were vulnerable. I kind of feel bad for Kurt because I know how crushing this weekend was for him but he has a national title, 2 trips to the Finals and more exciting ultimate experience than most players in the country ever dream of. Remember Gators, 99% of the ultimate community sat and watched on Sunday and things could be a lot worse.

I think the epic story of the Blue Caller rivalry has finally reached its climax. In 2006 Wisconsin and Florida were both independent entities with 1 goal in mind, a national title. They met 3 times that year and by Memorial Day, they both knew that the golden disc was going to one or the other. The 2006 Final was one of the better finals I have seen and Florida’s highlight reel offense got the best of Wisconsin’s depth. Much the way Colorado was in 2004 with Beau, they just had a series of offensive weapons that no one knew how to handle.

In 2007 turmoil struck the Gators and Wisconsin took control of the ultimate scene in their slight dip in success. I think the development of Brodie and the return of Cyle really helped Florida get back on top in 2008 and as if it were scripted, these two teams would face off once again. With so many 5th year veterans looking to end their careers with another national title, everything was left on the field. Both sides really gave it all they had and I think Florida’s obvious offensive tendencies allowed Wisconsin to make the adjustments to take them down when it mattered the most. I would like to think that the take home message here is despite personal or the appearance of invincibility, good team ultimate can overcome just about any obstacle.

Completely peripheral to the results of this weekend, both of these teams were exceptional examples of talent and dedication. Whatever you think of these two high profile programs, you have to respect them. In 3 years these teams only have a handful of losses and more wins than any other college program has mustered in a 3 year period. It has been a privilege to see these two teams fight tooth and nail and we as ultimate fans are in their debt. Congratulations on a not only a great season but great careers as college flatballers. Enjoy the time off, you’ve earned it.

Closing Thoughts
As I have already said, 2008 has been such a fantastic season to witness. From Arizona to Michigan to Colorado to Stanford to Tufts to Florida there have been so many stories and it has been so much fun to write about these teams. I will have a second nationals post with some Callahan talk and personal thoughts on how Nationals and 2008 went down. Stay tuned.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Pre/Quarters and Semis

Sorry to my readers out there. I wanted to get something up last night but I decided to go party and yeah, we all know how that goes.

I usually don't get up for pre-quarters because, well, it's pre-quarters but after having been to this whole nationals thing a few times, I can say that it is one of the better rounds of the tournament. You have a bunch of teams that are really close in ability and they duke it out in double game point barn burners, and what could be better?

I mainly watched the Arizona/Dartmouth game because it was the best game to watch. When I showed up Dartmouth was up 11-7 and the sentiment among the audience was sheer shock. Could this Cinderella season end like this? Everyone likes an underdog but everyone likes Arizona as well.

In any event, the game boiled down to Arizona's ability to adapt in the second half. I talked with Chris Shepard (Arizona) after the game and apparently Dartmouth's boring old vertical stack and ability to break the mark was something Arizona could not handle early. Socks and Sam Haynor are amazing offensive leaders and spectacular defenders once their opponents have the disc and I am not surprised that they gave Sunburn trouble. Ultimately the route Arizona took was to force middle and keep Dartmouth from swinging and breaking the mark for huge break side slashes.

Down the stretch Arizona rode their two best, your new Callahan winner Joe Kershner and my new favorite man crush, Austin Gregersen. The last point could point could not have been scripted better. Sadly, Dartmouth turns it on double game, and Arizona starts to role. They get about 5 yards out and just like they have all season, they went for the upside down. Loppi and Austin have been team mates for so long and when the pirate makes eye contact with the humble superstar, they both know whats coming. Kershner tosses up a huge, crowd pleasing hammer and in the pile are a bunch of white ivy leaguers and one #8. Austin reaches up with his huge arms and reels in the game winning score. I loved it.

But as far as Dartmouth goes, someone called me out for not mentioning Pain Train's success and I have to say that they have played an awesome tournament. I know a few of their players and despite the fact that I have a southwest bias in these situations, it was really awesome to see a team that few had to make any noise at nationals threaten Arizona. Their heart was awesome and their sideline is probably the best of any team in the country. I called a friend and team mate who was a Darmouth alum when they were up 13-10 and as I called him I knew I was potentially jinxing green and white's chances. I suppose it turned out that way, sorry guys. In any event, Arizona and Dartmouth would trade jersey's later in the day and the spirit between these two teams was was amazing to witness.

With the top three teams at Nationals being so dominant, most of quarters was a foregone conclusion. Arizona had nothing left after their DGP win and Florida steam rolled them. The only thing worth mentioning from this game was that Brodie went down with a knee injury but he would rally and played a big part in Florida's semi final performance.

The best quarters game was the dog fight between the pool D winner, Georgia, and Carleton. I have spoken with Kyle Weisbrod on multiple occasion about Carleton and I now believe that they are one of the best peaking teams in the country. Their O-line with Sam Roberts and Grant Lindsley is phenomenal and their D-line is so fast. Kanner, Fagin, Foster, and the rest of the furious little guys have so much speed and their ability to put pressure on every cutter had a lot to do with their success.

Georgia went up early 3-1 but Carleton's depth and composure allowed them to take advantage later in the game. No one on Georgia had an answer for Grant and despite the fact that I owned him in a shotgun race, he cut as if there was no defense on the field. He reminds me of Kevin Cissna and with very little wind yesterday, Carleton could send him deep over and over and he made more than a few chest level pancake catches for goals. He also has unreal quickness and once CUT got it 2-5 yards out, you knew he was going to juke the hell out of Dempsey or whoever else got stuck with the matchup. Needless to say, CUT played a very good game and despite me giving them shit all year, they deserved their seed and their semifinals birth.

I also want to say that I continue to love Georgia. Greg Swanson, Peter Dempsey, Ben Morrisey, Will McDonough, Travis Smith, Alex Deckhard and the rest of red and white are an awesome collection of flatballers. They have such an awesome team mentality of friends first and team mates second and their ability to cohesively bond off the field really helps them depend on one another on the field. They really enjoy eachother and it was a real pleasure to hang out with them during the showcase game. Plus they hooked me up with beer and that is always nice. Congratulations on a great season.

I kinda figured that Florida's height and speed would be wayy more than CUT could handle so I camped out at Wisconsin/Colorado and after Florida went up 5-0, I was pretty sure I made the right decision.

The crowd for the Hodag/Colorado semi was pretty sweet. Most of the folks were pulling for the home team but Wisconsin brings an army of fans so they were not short of noise. I talked to Muffin before the game and his main thought on Colorado was "they don't have Beau". I wasn't sure if this was a good or bad thing and neither did he. Wisconsin wasn't exactly sure what Colorado was going to do and I think that helped them because it forced them to concentrate on their own game which worked out for them.

The start of the game was all Colorado. They went up two breaks early and after a dropped pull by Kevin Riley, it looked like they were going to pull off a huge upset. Martin had a huge down field D early and Colorado's D-line was converting Wisconsin mistakes into breaks, something they didn't do last year in the finals. One name I like to drop because he continues to amaze me is Kevin "Pebbles" Schipper. #16 is so fast and so versatile. He carries Colorado's offense along with Chris Wicus (#34) and despite his smaller size, he can cut deep as well as he can break the mark. He had an amazing sky score over a taller Tom "Animal" Annen, and I am continually impressed with his play making ability.

Despite Colorado's success early in the game, however, Wisconsin rallied. Their O-face turned it up a notch and Rebholz's conservative no turn play along with Muffin's power flick really made things tough for Colorado. James Foster played an amazing down field game with an unreal ability to cut deep and catch discs at chest level despite the fact that he can get up and over just about anybody. Shane also played an awesome game and down the stretch had 2 epic D's and one huge sky score that put down the Colorado threat.

After getting back the two break they lost early, Wisconsin took half 8-7 and going into the huddle, they knew they had the momentum. They came out faster and harder in the second half and really frustrated Colorado's offense. Muffin, who usually gets offensive nods, played a great defensive game and despite leaving the game late with a hamstring cramp, he played a great game. He had an awesome layout D on Pebbles and tossed more than a few scores. In watching his play this game I was convinced that a Callahan RC nomination was justified and I am continually impressed with his competitive ability.

In the end Wisconsin's biggest strength, their depth, helped them stiff arm Colorado. Tim Murray is an incredibly fast player and his build is very distinct amongst an army of 6' bulky bad asses. Ben Feldman also played a great game and his cutting ability was something Colorado could not handle. Once he got separation from his man their was no catching him and despite only being a sophomore, he is very composed in the air and snagged one deep shot after another. The crowd was definitely pulling for Colorado but Wisconsin was the better team. They get a bad wrap (from people like myself) but they aren't that bad. Their team dynamic is up their with Georgia's, Michigan's, Carleton's etc.. They care more about their team than anything in the world and despite the haters, just want it more. Everyone can/should take a lesson from baby blue, and whether or not you like them, you have to respect them. They do not rely on 1 or 2 players and despite the fact that one of their best deep threats, Drew Mahowald, was not playing 100% because of a knee injury, their play is seamless. Congratulations on a great season and best of luck in the finals.

Finals Thoughts
I went over to talk to Muffin after the game and he asked me "you've watched a lot of ultimate. how are we going to beat Florida?". Florida has been on fire all tournament and with Brodie and Kurt leading the charge, stopping them will be a tough pull. It seems like the best way Wisconsin can win is to isolate everyone that isn't #20 or #21. Taking players like Cyle and Travlagini deep while Kurt and Brodie are stuck covering backfield players is definitely a strategy I would recommend. In addition, taking advantage of the few Florida turns is also something Wisconsin needs to do to be successful. Their offense is just as powerful as their D but they need to value the disc because Kurt won't screw up often. I think it is on Wisconsin to stay in the game late and considering that there isn't a lot of wind today they can and should tire Florida out. I think the one advantage Wisconsin has is focus. They are a team that is so intense and when they can channel that intensity and apply it well, they are unbeatable. Their losses at Centex seemed to boil down to looking past opponents and now that they have some red on their score reporter page, they have been humbled. They will come out fast and hard and will definitely want the win as much, if not more, than their bitter rivals.

As for Florida, they look unstoppable. Two years ago it was all about Tim and Kurt and Brodie has really stepped up this year. I think he was just a deep threat last year which forced Kurt to hang back with the disc. However, his throwing ability in 2008 has really caught up with Kurt and he can set up his team mate just as well as Kurt sets up #21. This is something Wisconsin will have to try and keep a lid on but considering that Brodie and Kurt seem to be able to run all day and are unbeatable in the air, the Hodags will definitely have their hands full. The finals is their to lose and despite a whole country of haters, if they stick to their game, they will win.

Closing Thoughts
I have a ton of Callahan thoughts and that will have to wait. This tournament has been unreal to watch and I can only imagine how today will unfold. Thank you to all my supporters and players that are willing to talk to me. I couldn't do with out either of these things and I will continue to do my best to cover this sport the way it deserves.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pool Play Wrap Up

My god, as I write this I know it's gonna be a long one. The last 12 hours have been pretty epic and I did my best to cover as much disc as possible. Here is what I got.

First off, the weather here has been pretty crazy. At times it was as hot as Columbus with still air that made your skin scream in agony. At others, the wind picked up and you were graced with cloud cover that made it somewhat ok that you hadn't greased up since round 2. All in all however, teams seemed to be more or less indifferent to the weather and considering that there were only 3 games today, bodies weren't too torched.

Round 1 - Michigan (13) vs Georgia (15)
This game was all it was cracked up to be. The two superstars from Magnum (Neff and Purcell) were set out to face the Red and White army from Athens. Georgia's depth was something that really blew my mind today and their defensive ability was something I could have expected but was still nothing short of spectacular.

Very early in this game it was obvious that both team had the jitters. The first point was filled with throw aways and drops and it was obvious that Michigan knew they were a 1 seed for the first time and Georgia had Dylan Tunnell but he was wearing sweatpants and tennis shoes. Georgia started out on D and with repeated opportunities for both teams, Georgia got the early break. When Michigan had the disc it was very obvious that Will Neff was a threat they were afraid of. Purcell and Will are both incredible at organizing an offense and Alex Deckard (one of Georgia's coaches) told me that they wanted to keep them downfield. Will's hucks are incredible and when Purcell has the disc it is very easy for him to launch it to Will for an easy score. In putting pressure on Magnum's other offensive personel to put up the bomb (ie Ollie Hondred) Michigan's hucks were less than perfect and Jojah veterans like Ben Morrissey, Peter Dempsey and freshman Charlie Herrig reeled in D's.

For the first 10-12 points, Georgia enjoyed a two break lead. Ryan Purcell had a tough time getting into his offensive flow and was hand blocked more than a few times and put up throws he immediately wished he could take back. However, with the experience that #1 brings to the game, Will took over on both O and D. In the air he is probably up there as one of the top 3-4 players in the country. What makes him even more spectacular is that he isn't all that flashy and is one of the those every 3-4 throw kinda guys that makes good decision after good decision. Outside of Will and the lefty, sophomore Patrick Collins and senior Dave Fumo made their presence felt offensively and really got Michigan's offense back on track with 3 straight scores on a few great deep bombs from Will and Ollie to take half 8-7.

In the second half the D that had been the saving grace for Georgia in the series would show up again. Greg Swanson lined up on Will and despite his glass like tendencies, he didn't buckle and he kept Neff just out of his element and forced him to go for tougher options like his famous hammer, but even with the best hammers, you are going to turf one or two eventually. As points were traded, it seemed Purcell could feel the pressure and struggled down the stretch. He was hand blocked again in the second half and that is something that really seemed to rattle him. Will had more than enough on his plate and at this point Georgia's D really turned it up a notch.

At 12-12 I knew the game was going to come down to composure and one of my favorite Georgia players, Will McDonough stepped out onto the line and I knew that this senior was going to come up big. Georgia pulls and Will comes up with a huge poach D and then turns and burns for the house. Swanson picks up and launches and huge huck to the 5'9" speedster and as if he had done it a 1,000 times, snatches a huge sky score to put Georgia up 13-12.

Michigan would answer back with another spectacular sky score from Patrick Collins but at 13's Magnum could not keep a lid on Georgia's momentum and the Dawgs put the 1 seed away in a spectacular 15-13 showdown. This would be Georgia's 4th year in row in pool D, 2nd as the 3 seed. Last year they got pwned by Stanford in Round 1 but today it was all Jojah. I caught up with them after the game and asked them about their seed this year and despite my hope to have them be #6, they seemed to be very happy with #9. Apparently being under the radar has been excellent for them this year and despite some criticism, they are one of the best peaking teams in the country.

Outside this game, there was a nexus of spectacular ultimate happening all around me. On the field behind me Stanford was taking Wisconsin down to the wire 15-13 and on the adjacent field, Harvard stunned Texas with a miraculous double game point victory. Stanford came out fired up wanting the chance to take it to Goliath. Ryan Thompson (Stanford) told me they were extremely amped to play and gave it everything they had, something that would haunt them in round 2 against Arizona. Red Line lead most of the game and despite some poor decisions by their elite freshman tag team of George Stubbs and Andrew Vogt, they got it together and lead their veteran line to glory.

Round 2 - Arizona (15) vs Stanford (12)
After the first round craziness I headed over to the showcase fields to check out the 2008 Cinderella Story, Sunburn, face off against a team that had just taken the 2 seed to the brink of defeat.

At the outset it was very obvious that Sherwood was absolutely gassed. He had just played an epic game and it was clear that for the first half he was taking it easy. However, in his absence Tom James, who I have been waiting for all year to blow my hair back, stepped up huge. His backhand huck was spectacular despite the steady increase in wind and Nick Schlag and Ezra Schiff really took control of the offense. However, Arizona came to ball and they did not disappoint me or the Southwest.

The first thing I want to say about Arizona is that they are really a dynamic team. Several of their players have had their turn in the spot light with Chris Shepard's scoober, Erik Gafni's deep threat heroics and Loppi's flare. However, one player that has been consistent from Vegas to Southwest Regionals has been Austin Gregersen. Degs picked him for his SW All-Region team along with Kershner and when I talked to Chris Shepard after the game he said Austin was their best player but he is so humble. Not only is #8 a gigantic 6'5" deep threat and defender, he is also a fantastic handler with endless composure and his flick is right up their with Muffin's and Kurt Gibson's.

In any event, the first half was basically on serve. Arizona was trying to stack their lines early to handle fresh Stanford legs, but as the half wore on, they opened up their lines and let Stanford's major players exhaust themselves. Arizona mixed things up a lot with Austin and Scharf cutting with Gafni back handling. They stuck mainly with O and D line sets and despite their season long propensity to go for the upside down puts, they were composed in the wind and on the goal line and managed to maintain possession in the face of staunch Stanford defenders like Derek Frome and Ben Kengisberg. Arizona took half 8-7 and after watching Sherwood rest on and off the field by poaching and avoiding tough matchups I was curious to know what the second half would bring.

As Arizona pulled to start the second half, the wind really began to pick up in the late morning/early afternoon. After having opened the lines for the middle 1/3rd of the game, Arizona was now ready to go for the throat and stuck with their main weapons. Sherwood was weary of the deep threat and consistently gave up underneath cuts which allowed Gregersen to send upwind hucks to Gafni and Kershner and despite a few injury bids by a variety of Arizona player, they looked to step on the gas.

Sherwood had a great sky over Kershner to make it 10-8 but that would be the end of Stanford's success. Arizona converted on a few Stanford miscues in the wind and an upwind break quickly turned into a second break for Sunburn. At 11-9 Sherwood coughed it up on his own endzone and before he knew it, he was walking to the other side line down 12-9. Stanford would answer with a few spectacular hucks to Steve Scardato, but it was too little to late and Arizona's fire would not be denied. Their intensity and experience was amazing to watch and they reminded me of UCSD in our hayday back in '03-'05. No coach, a ton of veterans, and just more spittle than you could shake a stick at. I talked with Shepard after the game and when I asked him about the 4 injury calls they made (Shepard x2, Kershner, and Austin) he just told me that they came to play and were not going to leave anything on the field.

Outside this game, North Texas turned some heads and took out the 2 seed in their pool, Illinois. I spoke with Brodie Smith (Florida) after Florida fought off UNT 15-10 and he told me that they were going to be trouble for a lot of teams. They took Florida to an 8-7 half and K-Rich and the rest of the Eagles did their part coming out second in their pool. Great work.

Round 3
Round 3 was a bit crazy. I started things off watching Santa Cruz and Carleton and despite my hopes for DLK, CUT really made things tough for the Slugs. Sam Roberts is a spectacular all around player with great offensive presence and the ability to snag D's when/if CUT turns it over. Christian Foster's pulls are also something I have a tough time wrapping my brain around and Alex Evangelides speed on D made life difficult for Santa Cruz's deep game. In addition, Kanner, Potter, Fadin, Lindsley, Baylis and the rest of CUT just came to play and the only thing more prominent than their obvious intensity and focus was that stupid cow bell they kept ringing. Anyway, Santa Cruz seemed flustered and despite valiant efforts, had a tough time setting up their offense and could not play their game very well. At 8-3 I started to wonder.

Next to their field was Florida vs Illinois and the only thing I can say about Florida is that they really only play well when they want to. Both UNT and Illinois played great first halves against the gators and it really seems like they phone it in some times. Pavan Sarguru (Illinois) really lined up well with Brodie Smith and took quite a few discs away from Florida's offense. However, Gibson, Chris, not Kurt, had a great game with several hucks thrown to him and he did a great job of boxing out his defender and making his brother proud. Kurt was his usual self. Absolutely unstoppable deep and never hesitant to let his team mates know when they screwed up. Another name that doesn't get mentioned much for Florida but who also played great defense when Florida's O phoned it in was Dustin Travaglini.

Towards the end of the round I found myself back over at the pool of (D)eath where Georgia and Texas were duking it out. When I got there the game was already close, tied at 11's. Not soon after I got there, I saw arguably the best defender in the country, Peter Dempsey (Georgia), take over for Jojah's D-line. Texas was working their dump swing back and forth across the field when #11 came out with a HUGE layout D, followed by a bolt to the house for a double happiness sky to take the lead. Texas would rally on the back of Stephen "Franchise" Pressley and despite his endless legs and ability to reset the offense and make strikes downfield, Texas could not convert down the stretch. Chase Hudson (Texas) played a great game with one deep score after another but on game point, Peter Dempsey again showed why he is such a valuable asset for Georgia and got himself another layout D and Georgia gave Texas their second loss of the day, 16-14.

Round 4/4.5
Because seedings were fairly crazy due to the parity associated with 2008, a lot of the 1 vs 2 games were not all that good. It was pretty clear that Florida, Wisconsin, and Colorado are in a class all their own and when looking at their last game of the day results, it should be pretty obvious to you as well. The Wisconsin vs Arizona rematch went as I expected with Wisconsin coming out red hot. James Foster, who does not get enough attention, played a fantastic deep game along side a "playing" but significantly limited Drew Mahowald, coming off a knee injury. Will Lokke played a great game with his fair share of deep scores and Shane was his usual dominate defensive self with a Callahan late in the first half. I took off at half time to go check out Colorado vs CUT which wasn't much better.

When I got over to the showcase fields the score was already 5-2 and after a few additional scores by Colorado it was obvious that CUT had no deep game against MB's endless lines of 6 foot studs. At 7-2, Hlyke Sneider got a big deep D and dished it to Jolian who sent a huge backhand bomb to Martin Cochran. While waiting for the disc to come down a few CUT players assembled in the end zone and out of nowhere Brian Clarkson (Colorado) skies the pile to take half in front of a huge Colorado crowd. Needless to say CUT was shattered and Colorado seemed like they would take their pool AGAIN.

I wandered back over to pool D once again and this is when the day truly climaxed (sorry, I know I am wordy but it was awesome). Texas vs Michigan and Georgia vs Harvard were side by side and each team was duking it out to see who would take the pool, who would make pre-quarters and who was out of contention. Georgia and Harvard were much farther along and when I showed up Georgia had a 2 goal lead 11-9. Apparently Peter Dempsey had a hamstring injury and sat out at 9-6, at which point Georgia felt they were in control. However, George Stubbs, Zirui, Andrew Vogt, Phil Roebuck, and Dave Lipson would have other plans.

Harvard was down 12-10 but took advantage of Georgia mental miscues and tied it at 13's. Georgia's offense seemed a bit flustered and Harvard's Obi Ugwu-Oju (yeah I can't pronounce it either) came up with a great heads up D which allowed Harvard to get a break followed by another score off of a hammer score to Obi from Phil. Stubbs and Vogt lead the Harvard D-line and kept pressure on Swanson and the rest of Jojah's O-line to convert. In the end Jojah's freshman Charlie Herrig had a fantastic game with a game saving D and catch to send Georgia to the one spot out of pool D for the first time in their history.

The Michigan vs Texas game was offset by 30 min and was at 11-7 when I came by. I went over to talk to Skip Sewell (seattle sockeye) who was a Texas Alum ('00) and former coach and that is when things got interesting. Magnum and TUFF traded points but then Franchise began to will his team back into the game. Texas rattled off 7 goals to only 3 by Michigan and suddenly a game that seemed out of reach was tied at 14's.

Rather than have this game end quickly, each point seemed like one marathon after another with endless turnovers by both sides. There was one moment of light when a Texas D followed by a cross field hammer ended up with a TUFF player with the disc staring at a wide open cutter in the endzone for a 15 yard score. He lets go of the back hand despite bulging eyes from the crowd behind the endzone because unbeknownst to this poor Texas player, Michigan Senior Dave Fumo was just about to come out of nowhere for a chest high, game changing, gut wrenching, crowd pleasing, earth shattering layout D. The disc sailed 20 yards into the neighboring field where Georgia had just put down Harvard. Just when we thought Texas was pulling away, Michigan hit the reset button.

After a few throws a huck from Ollie Honderd went deep to a streaking Will Neff. This disc was a lazer headed straight for the grass but the 6'5" Neff made a huge diving grab and raised his white prize to the sky resulting in thunderous applause from the crowd. The Northeast legend had done it again. All he had to do was do it again.

But Texas would have other plans. They came back with a vengence and Jeff Loskorn (Texas) who had the poor duty of gaurding and getting owned by Will previously, took Neff deep for a great sky goal to bring the game one step closer to double game point. After scores were traded Texas was receiving at 16's, hard cap blown, the whole crowd has outlined the field. This is nationals, it's DGP, there is no sideline, there is just green and then flesh.

Franchise is in control, he is working the offense and standing on the sideline was Harvard's Coach, Josh McCarthy. This guy is the craziest coach I have ever seen, and he is going nuts because if Texas wins, they go 1-2 along with Harvard but because of point differential, Texas takes 3rd in the pool sending Harvard to consolation. If Texas turns it and loses, Harvard is 1-2, and Texas is 0-3. The pressure is mounting, each team knows the stakes.

However, despite Franchise's efforts an errant throw results in a Texas turn and Michigan works it up to put in the final score. It was a less than exciting possession but after all the excitement of Pool D, more excitement would have given me a heart attack.

After the game I spoke with Dave Fumo and Will Neff. I asked Dave where he got the energy to outlast Texas and all he had to say was "We have worked so hard this year and when you don't think you have anything left, you just have to will yourself to win. I don't know where it came from but we just pulled through". Great work Dave, my opinion doesn't matter, but we are all supremely impressed.

I only had a few questions for Will, mainly, what was it like to play elite college after playing elite club? "It's bizarre because there is a lot more pressure on me in college to make the play as opposed to club where I just need to do what I can and not turn it over. It is an experience that is difficult but it is something I am glad to have". Will continues to impress me both as a player and leader and I have really enjoyed watching him take Michigan to a whole new level.

Closing Thoughts
Its 10:45pm. I am exhausted and hungry but I have finished my first entry. I am going for Jack in Box and beer. More to follow.

match diesel

Monday, May 12, 2008

Boulder: Spectator's Guide and Pool Play Predictions

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am getting seriously fired up for Nationals this weekend. The weather in Boulder looks like it should be pretty sweet which is nice because I'm not going all the way to Colorado to stand in the rain. I want to try and get as many posts out as possible this week, and I thought I would start with my schedule for Friday and who I think is going to make it into pre/quarters. I will have another one up Friday night recapping the action and hopefully I can get another one up Saturday night after Quarters/Semis have been played and the Callahan award announced. And Sunday night I should have a recap of the finals and any closing thoughts on the 2008 season.

I agree with some of the seeding choices and not others. I am having a hard time swallowing Carleton as a 6 seed. I do not think they are the best backdoor team at Nationals and seeing that they have a head to head loss against Arizona, I think it's pretty bogus that they got this seed. I think Georgia has a good claim for this spot because of their series performance over UNC and seeing that CUT doesn't have a big win since Centex, I think they are over seeded.

Other than that, I am pretty cool with the seedings. I didn't have Georgia at 9 but I think they will be happy with that seed (again) and I would imagine Illinois is stoked about a 2 seed. Lastly, I like that UNT is a 3 seed. I think they could turn some heads this weekend and I am glad they were given the 12 spot because it shows that the TD has confidence in them despite not a lot of games against teams at Nationals.

Pool Play Schedule
Round 1 - Michigan vs Georgia
Right out of the gate, Magnum and Jojah go head to head in one of the best games of the day. Michigan has had a steadily improving season since their indoor tournament back in January. They had an unreal Centex and Nationals could be their best tournament of the year (not a bad time to peak).

Georgia on the other hand has been a bit up and down this year. They started out well making the finals at Florida Warm Up and lost a DGP semifinal game against UNC at Queen City. They would take a second step back at Centex where they didn't exactly dominate with a 3-5 record and lost to teams they should have beat in Harvard and Cal. However, rather than continue the slippage, they finished strong and beat UNC twice at Regionals to make the show.

When considering these elements, I think it is difficult to deduce who comes out on top. This will be Georgia's 3rd D1 v D3 first round game in 4 years and they are 0-2 so far. They lost to UCSD when they were the 4th seed in Corvalis and I watched Stanford run up and down on them last year in Columbus. In addition, I think Michigan's offense is going to be incredible which is one of the reasons I want to catch this game. They took their pool and made semis in Austin without Ollie Hondred and I think they have improved since March. I think Peter Dempsey (Georgia) will have his hands full against Magnum's O-line and Jojah's offense better value the disc because Purcell and Neff are not going to give it back. I think in the end, Michigan takes out Georgia. Georgia has a lot of depth but considering it's the first round of the day, Magnum's relatively shallow rotation won't have much trouble.

Outside this game I will be eager to check out frisbee central. North Texas faces off against Florida and while I think Gibson, Brodie, Cyle and the rest of the gators won't lose, it will be an indication of what North Texas is capable of. In addition, games like Arizona vs Pitt and Illinois vs Delaware will be interesting because each team has wins that put them above the other and considering Delaware beat Florida in Round 1 last year, I would not be surprised if some 1 or 2 seed got their tits lit because they were over confident.

Round 2 - Arizona vs Stanford
A rookie team at nationals vs a veritable ultimate institution. Arizona has been up there as one of the more consistent teams this year and Stanford has been anything but. However, this is Nationals. Making the finals at TiV or Stanford Invite doesn't mean anything and all that matters now is winning at The Show. My first thought is that Stanford's experience could hurt Arizona's Nationals jitters but in reality, it is quite the opposite. Arizona has several fifth years and only half of Stanford's roster has played at Nationals before. Had Arizona bombed at Centex, I would question their ability to win with this much pressure on them, but with a 4-1 record in pool play and good showings against Colorado in the series, I like their chances.

I think the biggest advantage Arizona has is at the handler position. Chris Shepard and Austin Gregersen are both very good and this allows Gafni and Kershner to just get open down field. Likewise on D, all of these veterans will be able to put pressure on a slew of Stanford rookies and I think it will take some serious composure on Bloodthirsty's part to win this one. Sherwood will need to play his typical work horse ultimate but with so many Arizona weapons and very few Stanford options, I think Sunburn gets a big win in round 2.

Another thing to watch for in round 2 are Illinois vs North Texas. North Texas could show why they beat Texas a month ago and give Illinois some pool play woes. Illinois has experience however, and runs a sophisticated offense that will take advantage of over aggressive UNT athletes. This will be North Texas' chance at their first nationals pool play win and Illinois' time to show why they should be a 2 seed.

Round 3 - Carleton vs Santa Cruz
I am interested in this game for a variety of reasons. First off, I gotta see my boy, Danny Boy in action again. His leadership has corralled a very talented Santa Cruz team this year and I want to see what kind of fire they bring to Boulder. Second, I have been really critical of Carleton since Stanford Invite and I want to see them when it matters. They have experience and after a tough Friday at nationals last year, Potter, Kanner, Baylis and the rest of CUT will want it more than most.

Both teams run very similar offenses. They have a ton of squirrley handlers that like to jack it to spectacular deep threats. Grant Lindsley (Carleton) vs Cassidy Rassmussen (Santa Cruz) is arguably one of the best freshman match ups at Nationals and I can't wait to see some fireworks. I think this will be the common theme to this game and whoever is more successful in the air will win. Depending on who has the composure in the air, either team could reel in a bunch of scores or give the disc back a bunch of times.

I have really liked Santa Cruz's "confidence not cockiness" attitude this year and I wonder how it pains out for a team with no nationals experience. Every Carleton player will be ready and waiting for an opportunity to take it to the Slugs and I hope each team remains focused. I like CUT in this game just because they are experienced and while Santa Cruz has had a great series, they still have a tendency to slip mentally at times. If they play their Regionals UBC game they could be headed to C2 status, but they better be prepared to keep up with a fast Carleton team that will take advantage of every mistake.

The other big game this round is Texas vs Georgia. Both teams have their fair share of fire power in Pressly (Texas), Dempsey (Georgia), and Swanson (Georgia) not to mention the fact that these powerhouses are 2 of the deeper teams in the country. Pool D has a tendency to be crazy with a lot of 9 seed upsets the last few years. If Michigan slips at any point on Friday, the results of this game will decide who takes the pool and who has to play early on Saturday.

Round 4 - Wisconsin vs Arizona
Round 4 at Nationals is weird because Pool B is off set by 1/2 hour from Pool C and D. This is actually a good thing for us viewers because it gives us a chance to figure out if the B1 vs B2 game is worth watching, or should we head over to Michigan vs Texas at 430pm.

Aside from bracket play, this is Wisconsin's biggest game of the tournament. They won in Vegas but everyone talks about how close Arizona got, not the fact that Wisconsin won the tourney. I think Wisconsin will want to silence the haters out there and will be hungry as hell to put a beat down on Arizona.

Outside the 1 seeds, Arizona has the best chance at beating Wisconsin. They have confidence and that is one thing that Wisconsin struggles against. Florida is unafraid of baby blue and that is why they are the 1 seed this year. Likewise, Arizona knows they can keep up with the 'dags if they play their game. Gafni lines up well against Wisco's deep defenders and if Mahowald is still out, Foster, Shane and Lokke will have to take turns covering #49. I am also curious to know who they put on Kershner. Maybe Muffin, maybe Rebholz, wouldn't that be sweet? 3 Callahan nominees tearing it up.

Once again, what I think gives Arizona a chance outside their Vegas confidence is their handlers. Last year Stanford had one of the best handler lines of anyone but they didn't take enough chances and got steam rolled in semis. Sunburn on the other hand likes their upside downs and hucks. They could frustrate Wisconsin's D and if they stay on serve, Wisconsin's O-face will have to get it done, something they couldn't do against Michigan.

Despite Arizona's experience, confidence and handlers, I still think the Hodags own them. Wisconsin thrives on intensity and Arizona has a HUGE bullseye on their backs as far as the Hodags are concerned. They will be focused, determined, and ruthless. Good luck to Arizona, you've got your work cut out for you.

Round 4.5 - Michigan vs Texas
It is around this time on Friday where the previous 3 round results will have an impact on what games to watch. If Texas gets the better of Georgia and Michigan does not slip, this game will be an awesome 2-0 vs 2-0, with Texas depth up against Michigan's skill. Despite the challenge of seeding teams at nationals this year, this 4 vs 5 seed was guaranteed and I will have a front row seat for the action.

Each team will have a lot on the line. Neither one has made semifinals and the opportunity to take the pool will really be a motivating force. Whoever comes out #1 will get a first round bye on Saturday and play a lower seed in quarters while the D2 or D3 will have to go through either Colorado or Wisconsin to make semis, yikes. I am glad these two are in the same pool because I really want one of them to make semis and as long as they don't suck in quarters, whoever takes the pool has a chance.

Depending on how each team does against Georgia and how many points each team has to play on Friday, each team could win this game. I like Michigan's skill and 3 pool play games should be a cake walk relative to getting through Wisconsin, Oregon, NC State, UCSD, and Cal in one day. However, Pressley will be one of the best players on the field and his speed makes him as dangerous as Will Neff's hammer. If Texas can play a good game start to finish, they have a chance, but if they try and pull a UNT comeback move, they haven't got a prayer. Word to the wise, don't take chances you don't have to. Hold onto the disc and try to score effectively, not quickly.

Aside from this game, the Colorado vs Carleton game is pretty epic.  These two teams have been ultimate powerhouses for many years and, historically, Carleton has had the upper hand, especially in 2001 when Nord, Sam O'brien and Chase beat them in the finals in Devens.  The last time they played each other at Nationals was in pool play back in 2003, with CUT taking out Colorado 15-12, but both made semis.  Since then, Colorado has 3 Finals appearances ('04, '05, '07) and a National Title (2004) while Carleton has only made quarters once (2006) during that same stretch.  CUT bested Mamabird in Vegas 11-9 but the Bird answer back in Austin 13-12.  Both teams are confident and experienced and while Carleton may be due for a victory, Colorado is 12-0 on Friday at Nationals since 2004.

B2 vs C3 - Arizona vs Santa Cruz
I like Arizona to go 2-1 on Friday. I think their experience will be more than Stanford can handle and despite a good game with Pitt, Arizona should come out 2nd in this pool. All year I have been waiting for them to slip and they haven't and even though they are new to the show, I think they can get 2 wins on Friday

As for Santa Cruz, I think they take out Dartmouth but thats about it. Carleton will be so hungry because last year they lost 2 DGP pool play games to Georgia and Stanford and they are due to take second in their pool. Lastly, Colorado doesn't lose on Friday and despite going 1-2 in Pool Play, Santa Cruz should be happy to make pre-quarters, something a team like Delaware has yet to do.

C2 vs B3 - Carleton vs Pitt
I think one upset for Friday will be Pitt over Stanford, which is ironic because Ryan Thompson (Stanford) loves Pitt. Pitt slipped in 1 game in the series and are better than a 14 seed. They made quarters at Centex with a win over Texas and their victory over Wisconsin has given En Sabah Nur the confidence to make it out of pool play, FINALLY! Meanwhile, Stanford has Sherwood, but not much else and the B3 vs B4 game at the end of the day Friday will be a tough one for Mark. I did see him outlast CUT last year down to the wire but Stanford had two big wins going into that game (Georgia and Williams) and this year they could be 0-2 going into the last round.

D2 vs A3 - Georgia vs Illinois
I love the 9 seed at Nationals. In 2007 and 2005 the 9 seed beat the 4 or 5 seed (UCSD over Georgia and Georgia over Carleton) and I think Georgia gets past Texas. Texas has been a consistent program all year but Georgia is peaking perfectly and unlike Texas, Georgia has made it past quarters (2006). I think Georgia should have been seeded 6th and like Pitt, I think a lower seed helps them leap frog the 2 seed.

As for North Texas, they do not strike me as a team that will be unprepared for Nationals. I think they have the height and the speed to take it to a deep Illinois team and considering that North Texas has yet to play anyone at Nationals but Texas (they played Illinois at Mardi Gras and Dartmouth and Harvard at TiV, but a lot has changed since then and I figure tournaments before March are pretty suspect), I think we have yet to see their best and they have a chance to take 2nd in their pool. Conversely, Illinois' close losses seem to speak louder than any of their wins and I wonder if they have the ability to handle a heavy deep threat team like UNT. I would not be surprised if Illinois came out guns blazing and took this game easy, but I like upsets and considering that seeds 5-12 are pretty up in the air, the 2 seeds are going to have their hands full all day Friday.

A2 vs D3 - North Texas vs Texas
A game that no one will want, but I think could very well happen, is UNT vs Texas. What I find interesting is that if my Georgia/Texas and UNT/Illinois upsets are both wrong, this game could happen anyway. In this game, I think Texas has the advantage because of experience and despite the fact that sectional/regional rematches at Nationals suck, this game will be Texas' warm up for their usual quarters exit, this time to Wisconsin.

So for those that don't like to read all this crap, my Friday predictions are:

Pool A
Florida 3-0
Illinois 1-2
UNT 2-1
Delaware 0-3

Pool B
Wisconsin 3-0
Arizona 2-1
Stanford 0-3
Pitt 1-2

Pool C
Colorado 3-0
Carleton 2-1
UCSC 1-2
Dartmouth 0-3

Pool D
Michigan 3-0
Texas 1-2
Georgia 2-1
Harvard 0-3

Closing Thoughts
This year's pool of death seems to be pool B. With Pitt and Stanford both playing against their histories and Arizona making Nationals for the first time, who knows what will happen in this pool. Likewise, teams like UNT and Santa Cruz will look to make some serious noise but they could also crack under the pressure. Hopefully they don't think about their schedules as much as I do.

Another really bad ass thing about Nationals this year is that in pool play, many games we haven't seen yet will unfold. Michigan, Texas and Georgia have yet to play each other all year, likewise with Carleton and Santa Cruz. A Wisconsin/Arizona Vegas rematch and Florida va Delaware are also 2 games with some history behind them and with some new faces at Natties this year, Friday will be the best day of disc yet.

In the end, I think this weekend will go down like 2006 with Florida winning Nationals and the Callahan by obliterating the competition in pool/bracket play and an encore Blue Caller Rivalry Finals. Considering that the Centex Curse is no longer in effect, Florida has nothing in their way and like 2006, the shallowest team in the country will be in a show down with the deepest.

Good luck to everyone and have a safe trip to and from Colorado this week.

just my thoughts

match diesel.