Thursday, July 31, 2008

Twas the Night before Worlds...

...yeah I'm not going to do a whole night before X-mas thing, that'd be weak.

However, I am fairly stoked about this whole Vancouver thing and I leave tomorrow. I'm probably gonna write a fair amount while I am there. I'm stuck in Vancouver airport from like 2am to 530am waiting for a rental car so I'll have some time. I'm thinking of covering a bit of everything outside Open for the first few days. Catch Juniors, Women's, Mixed and Masters before bracket play, yikes thats a lot. Actually to be totally honest, I have never seen Furious or Sockeye play in real life so I might just have to watch Open the whole time. We'll see.

Anyway, so I was packing and I couldn't help but feel a little fearful. I'm sure I'm gonna sound wayy weak when I say this, but I've been looking forward to this thing for a long time. I can remember watching score updates online during the Finland games and I can also remember thinking, "Wow, what an incredible experience that would be to watch". So now I find myself 4 years later and I leave tomorrow. Holy shit, are you serious? I'm not even playing and I'm nervous.

Then I also thought, now I remember why I got into this whole nerdy fan business in the first place. I can actually retrace every step to the very beginning and deduce how I came to be such an avid follower of this game. In putting jersey after jersey into my suitcase (in the hopes of trading off a few) I couldn't help but walk down memory lane and I thought I would just talk a little bit about where I came from and how I came to write about our sport.

My story of ultimate begins with my first year of college. I was a total nobody in high school so when I got to college I went out for everything. Student council, Programming crap, all that weak shit and I hated it. I also had a long distance girlfriend who was a waste of space. Bottom line, I didn't do much cool shit freshman year of college outside school and work and I didn't make too many friends. I spent the summer alone in San Diego and I remember telling myself, "I need to find something fun to do".

Then came Sophomore year. A friend of mine from high school who also went to UCSD told me to try out for the squids. He had all these crazy stories about how they partied and it seemed like fun. I went out in Fall and wow, what a good time. The game was great but the people were just fun and I felt at home. My first or Fish year was pretty stellar. I partied hard with the guys, won the drinking award, went on my first spring break trip, just the works. it was a great time. However, as far as playing goes, I knew fairly early that I would never step onto the same field as our A team.

This is what Fall Quarter at UCSD was like. 100 guys come out at the beginning and they all get along. Very little drama but the team was MASSIVE and it stayed that way. Of the 100, about 40 are returners (from the A and B team) leaving about 60 tryouts. Now there were no cuts, just an A team and B team. The A team was called Ice and the B team was called Lite, after Natty Ice and Natty Lite. Of the 60 tryouts about 5 made the A team. These were called Ice fish and they were royalty on the team. Everyone looked up to these kids, even if they were shorter than you. Some of these Ice Fish included Kubiak, Wormser, and Chucky. They made the top 20-30 on the team and they were the hot shits.

If you didn't make the A team, you were on Lite, which was actually more fun than anything in the World. We were a huge team of partiers that loved to play and we were good. I was B team captain my second year and we were the best B team in the Nation. Every Fall however, the team would blend again and take 5 more Ice fish and maybe 2-3 sophomores. Needles to say, if you didn't make the A team by your Sophomore year, it wasn't gonna happen. This really wasn't a problem though because Lite still went to sectionals and regionals as well as a bunch of other tournies and we were more fun than the A team. However the take home is that very early on, I realized that I was never going to make Ice. No matter how hard I worked I couldn't make the team and considering that I had plans outside UCSD, I didn't really have the time or energy to even try. I still conditioned because I wanted to make B team captain, and I did. But I knew because I was too old that I would never get to play in those big time games.

This was OK though. I knew I wasn't a jaw dropping athlete which is fine, I have many other talents. However, I was relegated to sideline status come crunch time, because after all, we had a Varsity team to root for. I was there for epic games with Colorado and Santa Barbara. I can remember Beau's first year and our first trip to Nationals, but I was always the spectator. I was always a voice instead of pair of legs.

This wasn't too big of a problem, but I wanted more. The game had given me the good and loyal friends I had always wanted, but because I couldn't play for Ice I needed to find another way to appreciate the game. So I became a fan. If our A team was in the upper echelon of teams, then who was the best of those? What college teams were at the top? And then soon after I got into this, I realized that there was this whole league above college called Club and they were even better. Holy crap, talk about not knowing how far the rabbit hole goes. I was hooked.

The two teams that won nationals the year before I played were Stanford and Furious so I was like "Ok, those are the best, I'll root for them". I wasn't on any of these big time teams and if our A team wasn't contending for a title, then why couldn't I root for someone who was?

Being a fan in Ultimate however was tough. There wasn't a lot of information out there. Rob, the score reporter, bloggers, a lot of this kinda stuff didn't exist back then, or at least it was very cryptic and difficult to break into. I can remember the first time I heard about Paganello or Kaimana. I can remember reading Chasing Plastic and being one of the thousands of silent RSD readers out there.

Anyway, over the years, I began to pick up a lot of information. Stupid stuff that no one cares about anymore but I do. Epic stuff like Bart Watson going from Stanford to Cal and leading Cal to the Finals ahead of Stanford. Richter and Zip duking it out in the Finals in Corvalis. Callahan winner vs Callahan winner. Beau as a freshman, as a freshman!! He never was more amazing than his first year. Took the Ultimate World by storm.

Blogging? Really?
Then Nationals 2007 came around. I had moved to grad school a few years earlier but like I had in '05 and '06 I made the trip out to Nationals. It was just too much fun. Nationals 2005 I got to see Stanford play for the first time. This was when Nick Handler was still there and I saw him lead Bloodthirsty over Wisconsin on universe in pool play. I was so hooked, I was always coming back.

By my third trip out to Nationals, I had met a fair amount of people and had a lot of people listen to my drivel. On the drive back from Columbus after Wisconsin won it all, a friend of mine said, "Dude you should start a blog about all this crap". I was really hesitant at first, I mean come on, a blog? How lame is that? But the more I thought about it the more curious I was. I tossed up a singular post on RSD and I was off the races.

About two weeks in I get an email from Idris asking me if I want to be on Ultimatetalk. I figured, what the hell? Before I know it I get a decent following and then Club Nationals comes around. I know some folks there and I think to myself, "I wonder if I could email some of them and get some information and write about it?" Holy shit, I could do that. And the next thing I know I'm doing team write ups for the college season. Wow, this was getting pretty F-ing cool. I also got to write one of the most important stories in the sport and what I believe to be my best work.

The more I write the more I can't stop. 2008 was so epic too, I couldn't believe it. Arizona, Wisconsin, Stanford, Colorado, such great stories. And to top it all off. Worlds was on the horizon. Really?!?! Worlds? You mean that thing I followed online 4 years ago? Where is it this time? Vancouver? August? Hell thats doable.

I send out some emails. I start writing international stuff. I'm emailing the media personal at WUGC headquarters. Holy crap, this is getting cool but a little weird at the same time. I mean can you imagine the looks I get when I tell my co-workers about this little hobby I have? So I've got stuff on Australia and Japan written. I even got to do an interview with the captain of my favorite team.

But now, its tomorrow. Holy shit? Tomorrow? As in 24 hours from now I'm headed to an event I've thought about for 4 years? When I first got into Ultimate media I imagined a day where I could be in a stadium watching the two best teams in the World have at it. Standing on the sideline as Furious, Sockeye, Japan, hell I didn't care, compete for the most difficult title in our sport. I just wanted to be there. Like any football or baseball fan would want to be at the Superbowl or World Series, I just wanted to witness the best my sport had to offer and now you're telling me it's here?

Stay Tuned Folks

just my thoughts

match diesel

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I gotta see a man about a Wallaby

Hands down, my favorite Aussie expression and now that The Dingos are all done with their US tour I thought I would offer some thoughts about the Thunder from Down Under.

Previous Results
I suppose the first thing to stress is that Australia is not a newcomer to international success. Maybe they are attracting attention now but they have done very well over the last few years. In Finland (WUGC 2004) they earned the bronze medal by beating Sweden in the the 3/4 game 17-11. In 2005 they turned major heads by taking the Silver Medal ahead of Team Canada in Duisburg, Germany and the following year they beat out all US and Canadian competition by making the finals against the Buzz Bullets in Perth. More recently, Australia won Beach Worlds in Brazil last year.

Player Selection
Unlike the US and Canada, the selection for the Australian National team is selection based, not team based. Players are hand picked from teams and organizations all over the country, thus giving Australia a truly National feel. Unlike previous years, the main tool for the selection process has been the National Ultimate Frisbee League or NUFL. This organization was started in 2005 for the sole purpose of enriching ultimate talent in Australia by distilling the nation's talent into 6 teams that duke it out every other weekend in the winter (our summer).

After the country's Club Nationals, which is typically in April, 12-14 players from the top 6 finishing teams are chosen to play in the NUFL. In addition, roughly 40 more players are pooled together and drafted by the 6 best club teams to fill the league. This league runs from May to July and the country's selection body observes all NUFL events as well as club and mixed tournaments in order to find the Nation's best.

In addition to NUFL events, there was also a massive selection camp of interested players that happened last July. There, players vying for a spot on The Dingos participated in drills, clinics, and scrimmages to determine the best of the best. In December, around 50 players were chosen to compete for spots on the National team at another training camp this past January, and the Dingo team was finalized in February.

Not surprisingly, the training regiment for The Dingos is quite rigorous. Because the team is not as unified as Team USA/Sockeye or Canada/Furious, individual work ethic and commitment is crucial. Every other weekend the team is brought together in Sydney for training camp. The goals for these camps are very ambitious and players focus on everything from strategy, to fitness, to team bonding. These camps are intensely important because they are one of only a few opportunities to unify the team before Worlds. Peripheral to this, most of the conditioning, and training is done apart.

Aside from these every other weekend trips, each player competes in a variety of other venues to prepare for Worlds. There are local competitive leagues that most players participate in weekly and NUFL has weekly high level training sessions that further cement strategy, skills, and fundamentals. Each player also has weekly track and weight lifting sessions not to mention NUFL tournaments on "off" weekends. All in all, it is easy to see that each of these players is in peak physical form and has invested as much time, energy and effort as anyone into their Nation's team.

Strategical Approach
For all intents and purposes, Australia's offensive and defensive approaches are not too dissimilar from the United States or Canada. They enjoy their horizontal as well as vertical stacks and despite familiarity with a "spread" or "split stack" offense, they typically shy away from it. As for defense, they utilize more or less the same zone/man defense theories as teams in North America and as any veteran will tell you, it's not your game plan, but your execution that matters.

As for the brains behind The Dingo operation, Johnathan Potts seems to be the man. Pottsy is the founder of The Dingos and not surprisingly, is responsible for anchoring the organizational workload for Team Australia. However, that isn't to say that Australia doesn't benefit from some outside help. Several North American players have found their way down under and have offered strategical help when and where they can. Notable US contributors include Texas Alum and Doublewide standout Michael "Tank" Natenburg and Michigan Alum and former captain Ryan Purcell. Nick Menzies of Furious has also made the trek down south and all 3 have been valuable in giving the Aussies an outside perspective on our game.

The Australian roster is as loaded with talent and skill as any other team in the World. The team has a roster of 24 players, 12 from WUGC 2004, and 12 "rookies". Here are some notes on each:

Johnathan Potts (#2) - Pottsy is a defensive handler that captains and carries this team with as much skill as experience. His height allows him to be a valuable break mark thrower and his crafty veteran nature makes him an extremely valuable defender. He will typically carry the toughest defensive assignment, so look for great matchups against the likes of Ray Illian and Sammy CK from Team USA, Mike Grant and John Hassell from Team Canada, and Mashiro Matsuno and Yohei Kichikawa from Team Japan.

Chris Warris (#12) - Despite being the smallest player on the team, Warris is one of the most experienced. He, like Pottsy, is a big time veteran and his agility and talent puts him center stage for handling assignments on offense. His defense is also top notch with great field sense and awareness. Look for him to catch any opponent sleeping on a sick layout poach D.

Owen Sheperd (#1) - One of two Shepards on The Dingos, Owen was part of the '05 team that won the silver medal. As a defensive handler, he dominates with pin point accuracy and his ability to spot and manage poaching defenders makes him lethal with the disc. His vision for pesky defenders makes him a valuable throwing threat as well as a brilliant defender himself.

Jonno Holmes (#14) - Holmsey seems to be The Dingos "Big Man". His height and vertical make him a major fantasy point player and his Worlds experience puts him up there with Chase and Nord. In addition, like these and other world class players, he is just as capable with the disc and routinely launches hucks after underneath cuts. Look for him to be cutting option #1 and going up top for posterizing goals.

Mike Neild (#7) - Mike is a former Australia Football League player and his "Beau Kittridge" athleticism earned him the nickname Space Needle. He routinely goes up for discs before all others but seems to always be the one to land last, with the disc. Likewise, his closing speed makes him as good a defender as there is and a ruthless deep threat when given the opportunity.

Tim Booth (#0) - Timmy is the Australian equivalent to an Andrew Fleming or Josh Ziperstein, the absolute work horse that will run his defender into the ground. He is as useful on O as he is on D and will muscle his way to the disc despite impossible odds.

Tim Lavis (#5) - Lavis is one of 12 Australian "pups" that is representing his country for the first time. He is another tall downfielder that has the naivety to cut wherever he choses. Lucky for him, he has the legs to get him the disc despite any defender in his way.

Joel Pillar (#23) - Joel is a new Dingo pickup but is far from "newbie" status. He is a transfer from Barramundis and was a primary scoring threat for The Mundis. He carries a Tyler Grant build with the ability to body out just about anyone and can launch as many hucks as he reels in.

John Liddicoat (#21) - JLiddi is another Dingo pup and carries a work ethic similar to that of Tim Booth. Like an Adam Sigelmen (Boston) or Josh "Richter" Ackley, his middle of the road height and athleticism has motivated him to outwork his opponents and will have the ability to catch unsuspecting defenders off guard.

Ken Sheperd (#10) - The other Shepard on the Dingos, Kenny brings a "DoG" like awareness and poise to The Dingos. Notorious for his cunning offensive abilities, he will anchor the Australian O-line and make team mates like Space Needle and Holmsey look good.

Abra Garfield (#20) - Bra is an Ex-Pat and Amherst alum that will be on the line with Pottsy as another defensive handler. Like myself, he lives frisbee and enjoys intense play with tons of bids and long range looks.

Pete Gardner (#15) - Pete is another '04 Dingo that carries a Mike Caldwell role for The Dingos. A brilliant offensive player with arguably the best backhand in the Southern Hemisphere. His "Shangri La" is in zone offense, making cups and wings look silly with spectacular break throws and field awareness.

Paul Denyer (#36) - Paul is another Dingo pup and is the only representative from Western Australia. He is damn proud of his roots and is equally content on D-ing up on the best our sport has to offer. In addition, he carries the composure to find his place in the D-line offense and will be as good at keeping the disc as he is at earning it.

Dave O'brien (#16) - Along with Kenny Shepard, Dave is the focal point of the Australia offense. He is more or less your end all bail out when/if things get hairy. As a veteran Dingo, he handles with exceptional poise and execution, as he makes one good decision after another.

Andrew Glover (#13) - Andrew may be a Dingo pup but he carries the "fastest man" in Australian Ultimate label. Much like a Fortunant Mueller or Adam "Wormser" Bunn, once he is gone, he is gone. Look for him to earn one step on his defender and be off to the races. Likewise, on D, he routinely runs right past his opponent for easy catch blocks.

Dan Rule (#26) - Dan is the youngest player on the Dingos but is one of the most experienced. He was part of the '06 Junior Worlds team and his veteran abilities will keep him ice cold when the pressure mounts. Like an Oscar Pottinger or Andrew Vogt, his throwing abilities at such a young age are just unfair.

Steve Antonopoulos (#81) - When he lived in San Diego we called him Aussie Steve and after years of experience with PBR and more recently with Brass Monkey, his size and throwing skills make him an amazingly valuable offensive threat. Look for him to come out of the stack with a crafty break side cut and rip a full field break huck to a streaking cutter downfield.

Jonathon Tatham (#3) - Tats is a proud pup and Newcastle recruit like Lavis, Warris, and Holmsey. He has one of the best combinations of cutting and throwing abilities on the team and will be a vital downfield throwing threat, tossing scores before the defense even knows what hit it.

Mark Taylor (#11) - Tubby is a rookie for The Dingos but was part of Thong when they made the Finals in Perth. He is a silent but violent threat on the field and will snatch jump discs when given the opportunity.

Matt Dowle (#9) - Labeled as one of the best players in Australia history, he is a Veteran's Veteran with a Ron Kubalanza or Andrew Lugsdin laundry list of experience. An all around standout, Matt will be instrumental on every point he plays and will be an asset both with and without the disc in Vancouver.

Anothy Dowle (#4) - Like the Patisteas, Anthony and Matt Dowle are identical twins and threats on the ultimate field. Ant carries all the skills of his brother, just a different number. Look for him, and his brother, to line up on the likes of Chase and Nord.

Gavin Moore (#19) - Gav is another Thong '06 pup and not only is he a great defensive play maker, but he also has the speed of Glover and the hops of Mike Nield. A very committed yet experienced player, he is another "rookie" that isn't exactly a "rookie".

Angus Keenan (#29) - Gus turned heads in 2006 when he made his famous layout save/goal in the finals at WUCC, featured on Ultivillage. In addition to being a workhorse, he is a brilliant cutter and will play a big part on The Dingo O-line with Tats, Dowles, and Holmsey.

Brett Matzuka (#45) - The American Face of The Dingos, Brett is a lethal 5'8" handler/cutter. He is as springy as it gets and his all around offensive abilities earned him 75 fantasy points in Perth (28 Goals, 47 Assists), the most of any player in any division. Brett has been my liaison and without him, none of this would have been possible. Thanks homie.

Challenges and Goals
The Dingos are definitely poised to make another medal run, but their main goals are peripheral to their eventual finish. They want to win, as any team at WUGC would, but they are set on achieving personal/team goals within their grasp. Things like team chemistry, desire, and execution are all things Australia is putting high emphasis on but they are difficult to quantitate with wins and losses. Like Japan, Australia has come up through the ranks in World competition and are hoping to utilize every opportunity for not only their current campaign but those to follow as well.

In my opinion, I see Australia finishing 4th/5th. The main disadvantage that The Dingos have is their experience with one another. Like Boston last year, they have as many weapons as a team needs to succeed, but putting all the pieces together will be a challenge. Sockeye, Furious, and the Buzz Bullets are all teams with years of established chemistry and half of the Australian roster has yet to compete with one another. This isn't to say that they stand no chance against the other powerhouses, but I sincerely hope they utilized every training opportunity and scrimmage as a team to all get on the same page.

In addition, Australia has not had the puddle jump opportunities that Japan and England have had. Clapham/Great Britain has come over to Boston Invite several times and are very aware of how they stack up against North American teams. Likewise, the Buzz Bullets have made it out to ECC several times and have even had Furious and Sockeye come their way. However, Australia has only seen a handful of American teams, none of which will be in Vancouver. But as any coach will tell you, it isn't about your opponents, it's about you. If The Dingos play their game and execute their game plan, who's to say they aren't gold medal worthy? With as many athletes and veterans as the Aussies have, they stand just as good a chance as any to be playing in the Finals on the 9th.

Closing Thoughts
Judging from their US tour performance, Australia looks as good as they need to be. I spoke with Idris about their game with Jam and the consensus seems to be that neither team played their best and things like jet lag cannot be left out when talking about the The Dingos performance.

I think their best performance was against Revolver, a team as young and wirey as they are and despite playing on foreign soil, the Aussies came to play. As for the Condors and Bravo, I think Santa Barbara has yet to prove themselves so it's difficult to determine what a close game with Australia means. Conversely, Bravo is my pick to win Nationals this year and I hear JB's defense was more than The Dingos could handle. They were successful breaking the mark around, however, and were composed enough to shy away from huck and hope turnovers. All in all, a 2-2 record against 4 quality teams is quite an accomplishment and I think they will have more confidence in Vancouver than they did when they left Sydney.

My one fear is that Australia is the gentle giant playing against teams that know every trick in the book. Australia is notorious for playing a more spirited game than North America and I really hope this doesn't turn out to be a liability. Things like travels and fouls that are called all the time in the States may be overlooked by the green and yellow and I do hope that the Universe will unfold as it should. The Dingos commitment to their sport and their country is truly fantastic. Their US tour is a great gesture to the Ultimate community worldwide and considering that no one is sponsoring this team in their efforts, my hat is really off to them. Best of luck in Vancouver, I'll be rooting for you guys, unless you're playing Canada, sorry.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back to the Basics

Recently, I was doing some research for my Ironside (Boston Ultimate) article and I did an interview with Jim Parinella. Given my suspect history with Boston, I really wanted to get it right this time, so I pulled out all the stops. However, in discussing a variety of topics with Jim, something really stuck out for me and I wanted to discuss it here.

I asked Jim about changes that have occurred in ultimate during his playing tenure and two things that he seemed to notice were that 1) there is a much larger prevalence of the "athletic big guy" in the sense that the bigger, more jock like athlete has become more popular on ultimate teams and 2) teams seem to rely on this kind of play more, in the sense that raw athletic power, speed, and strength are more useful now, potentially more so than overall mental ability. Jim spoke fondly of DoG days where the team was very smart and understood spacing and movement over pure speed and I wonder if those days are long gone?

This got me thinking a fair amount because I was one of those guys that didn't have the varsity athletic set that a lot of players have nowadays, but that doesn't necessarily mean that people like myself cannot compete at the highest level. What separates the elite from the novice in ultimate (and most sports) is not a 40 time, or a vertical, but your understanding of the game and your ability to integrate your mental acuity and your physical execution. A good cut is a good cut whether it comes from a Beau like athlete or a heavy set old timer. Conversely, no amount of athleticism in the world can compensate for a clumsy cut and despite the fact that we all might like emphasizing track workouts and lifting, fundamentals and mechanics cannot be stressed enough.

In addition to this tangent associated with Boston Ultimate, I was also invited to visit the National Ultimate Training Camp (NUTC), held in Northfield, MA by the director, Tiina Booth. I had been curious about this organization for some time and considering that I had just spoken with one of the game's best regarding the average intelligence of players, I thought now would be a good time to check out the Rolls Royce of Ultimate training environments. Yesterday (Sunday), I made the trip up to NUTC and I wanted to share some of my thoughts regarding the development of fundamentals and the camp experience overall.

Camp Experience
NUTC may be an ultimate camp, but it is still a camp. Tiina, George Cooke and the counselor crew have really done a fantastic job of not only educating these youngsters regarding ultimate, but they have also provided a safe and secure camp experience. I did the camp thing a ton when I was growing up and have had every experience from the very popular kid all the way to the excluded fat kid with no friends. Avoiding the later is something that every camp should do, but many people slip through the cracks. The fact that this is a sport based camp makes this even more difficult. Naturally, the more athletically gifted participants will draw more attention, will have an easier time developing confidence and will probably enjoy the experience more. However, those that are not as coordinated, experienced or athletic, may have trouble hitting their stride and with a week long overnight camp, this can be an incredibly fearful experience. Considering the age group of these kids (13-17), the far reaching implications of this experience can be very damaging if things go poorly and I know from experience that a bad week at 13 or 15 or whatever can really stick with you the rest of your life.

That being said, Tiina and Company have really done a fantastic job of avoiding these circumstances. First off, they really stress the break up of social cliques. Obviously schools like Amherst and Paidea are going to be represented highly and this can easily set up social islands and what not. In addition, solid ultimate programs throughout the country also have this affect and right off the bat, players can/will gravitate to those that are like them. This is a situation that most camp administrators would like to avoid and NUTC really does a great job.

First off, they really focus on dividing up the kids constantly. There are several rounds of reorganization that involve what floor kids are sleeping on and what team they play for. Two players might have different sleeping arrangements and be on different teams at first but player shuffling occurs often and new teams are picked half way through the week. With this sort of blending, campers are constantly re-directed and poor social infrastructure (ie cliques or bullies) really have a tough time manifesting.

Secondly, a major source of social control comes from the counselors. I don't even need to mention how sterling these folks are but when your camp has instructors like Miranda Roth, Andrew Hollingworth, Sam and Patrick Roberts, Adam Fagin, George Stubbs, etc.. it becomes really easy for campers to respect their leaders. Tiina accentuates this, not only by having a camper/counselor game (where the kids get pwned) but also by having posters describing the ultimate resume that each of these players has, inside the dorm. The reason this is so important, is that campers need to respect their leaders, not only for directional purposes but because they will emulate their behavior. It becomes "cool" to follow appropriate social trends like encouragement and inclusion and each counselor, in addition to being amazingly talented, really emphasizes team spirit, equal opportunity, and camaraderie between players. Things like poor language and verbal abuse are very taboo and this sets up a very comfortable environment for those that need it. I was one of these kids that could have benefited from this and it was really nice to see a camp environment where horror stories that I have in my past, could not develop.

Lastly, it seems like the best way to organize these kids (and this goes for most kids) is to run them into the ground. NUTC may be a young camp but it is a well oiled machine. Every 30 min time slot is filled with drills, scrimmages, and sprints. These kids come for fun but they get a workout in the process. Judging from the age group, I would have expected a fair amount of night time shenanigans, but Tiina and George shrugged, "they are too exhausted to cause trouble". These kids hit the ground running at day break and by 10pm every night they are absolutely comatose and it is easy to see that they are getting their money's worth.

Fundamental Emphasis
The more obvious theme I observed while visiting NUTC was their fundamental emphasis. Everyday begins with a 630am wake up call and by 8, all the kids are cleated up and drilling. I was only a witness to throwing, cutting, marking, and dump/swing drills but these kids also participate in offensive strategy clinics, defensive positioning, and zone O/D discussions. All in all, what most college freshman learn in the Fall (outside throwing because these kids already have flicks) is picked up in about 4 days at NUTC. This is a fairly tall order, but as most know, kids are like sponges at this age and the only thing more prominent than their skill development, is their desire to simply play better.

What I really liked about this camp is that it is on the counselors to put together a training program that can be taught to every camper from the fastest to the slowest. With this in mind, things like pure athletic ability must be weeded out. Basic cutting fundamentals are meticulously practiced and drilled and considering who is doing the educating, these kids are getting the best possible start to their ultimate careers. In addition, elements to the game that involve a more cerebral approach, such as where to set up one's cut or even posture and foot work, are stressed in great detail and this is great to see. With this sort of approach, all campers improve their game and each participant gains confidence throughout the week.

Watching all of this go down really made me think about what Jim was saying about mental ability in this game. With programs like Wisconsin and Florida being so athletically developed, I feel like youngsters that pick up a disc Freshman year of college are really getting the wrong message. I feel like so many people fail to realize that their weaknesses are not their speed or even their jumping ability, but more their fundamentals. I have played in places where my 6 years of experience is at the top and bottom of the average persons and I can say that teaching fundamentals and basics in this game cannot be stressed enough. I feel bad for college kids that hit the track incessantly because they feel it will improve their game, but most of the time, simply focusing that energy on the details of Ultimate would be a better use of time.

What really sucks is that most programs that need this sort of shift in focus are coachless (or poorly coached) and no one is really there to tell them what they are lacking. Most of the time, these programs are short sighted and try and get youngsters to use their legs on defense in the hopes of improving single season performance, but in the end you have 2nd and 3rd year players with atrocious skill sets. To make matters worse, players that are 18 or 19 years old really don't have the patience to focus on the details of their game, and bad habits have a tendency to show up easily. Young players simply want to play and a lot of the time that can lead to issues if good leadership is lacking. Both Tiina and George told me that the main goal of NUTC is to teach good habits and attempt to work out bad ones and their week long program does just that.

My only regret is that I won't be there to see these kids at full speed in the tournament which culminates the whole camp experience. However, Tiina has assured me that it is top notch and I am inclined to believe her. There were definitely some grade A flatballers out there yesterday and I wonder if I witnessed a future Moses Rifikin or Miranda Roth in the making. Only time will tell, but for night now, these kids are just happy to run around with each other

The Future?
I suppose with things like NUTC, the future of ultimate is in good hands. I have played with so many different types of players and I know that a lot of them would have benefited from things like this, hell they could still use it today. I like that Ultimate is moving towards the training camp setting because that is something that most mainstream sports have. Tiina has really done a fantastic job and hopefully, players that come up through these sorts of camps will realize their value and start some of them on their own. Having a widespread fundamental knowledge base in our sport will drastically improve the level of play, especially at the college level. More programs will be able to climb out of their respective cellars and begin to challenge established powerhouses that have stressed fundamentals for decades.

However, the one thing I wonder about, and Tiina and George both agreed with me, is how these camps will be run. NUTC is a utopia in that campers are taken care of very well and given the relatively small number of participants (~90), this is possible. However, if camps were to spring up like this in the future, the attention to detail can potentially diminish. Camps are all different and some are better than others. A hundred NUTCs scattered across the US would be nice, but camps with other objectives in mind (ie money) could fall short. The dynamics of NUTC are very amazing, and despite the fact that they seem intuitive and straightforward, putting together these pieces to give every kid the best experience is no easy task. The amount of work and focus all these directors and counselors put into the camp experience is astronomical and it is not surprising that these poor folks are just as tired as the kids come days end. If the model that Tiina has developed can be put to good use, I can imagine a bright future for ultimate players. However, without the same attention to detail and commitment to excellence, many kids will be discouraged from our sport and we will see an enriching of the jock mentality, something ultimate has fought since it's inception.

Closing Thoughts
The people in Northfield are really what make this camp experience work. Kids like Hollingworth and Stubbs were campers themselves and having them come back just reaffirms the purest intentions that Tiina started out with. Likewise, the brilliance of this camp is that folks outside the New England system routinely come in and share their knowledge. It was a pleasure to finally meet and talk with Miranda Roth and she really did a fantastic job bringing in the Seattle cutting strategy to NUTC. Despite the fact that her box drill lacked a disc for a significant amount of time, the lessons concerning timing and simply valuing the disc were well received by these eager youngsters. Hopefully they have the capacity to spread their newly acquired knowledge in an equally effective manner.

I also wanted to thank the directors once again. Tiina and George are really great people. I really enjoy people with a great deal of depth and Tiina and George are definitely that. Yes Tiina has coached Amherst to greatness and developed a fantastic camp like NUTC, but if you take those things away from her, she still is fun to talk to. Likewise with George. It is always easy to like people for their talents, but in talking with each, it is obvious that they bring a lot to the table and at no point do either of them feel superior. We are all Ultimate junkies and they both did a great job of making me feel comfortable in this experience. I don't need to advertise for NUTC because it's reputation speaks for itself, but I can say that the experience they give their campers, top to bottom, is one that will help them in their ultimate progression, as well as the sport itself, for years to come.

just my thoughts

match diesel

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sockeye Invite Preview

One of the biggest ultimate tournaments this summer is also the smallest. Only 7 teams are set to descend on Monroe, WA this weekend but the results will have far reaching implications for Worlds and the UPA series. Instead of ECC in August this year, we have Sockeye Invite in July and each team attending this barn burner has a lot to gain and a lot to lose. Lets take a look at each team according to their seed.

Santa Barbara has slowly been slipping out of the elite discussion since they last made the Finals in 2003. Since they earned their Team USA status for Finland, the Condors have yet to really challenge the top 4-8 teams in the country. In 2004 they lost in quarters on DGP to Pike and they have yet to make it back to the elite 8. For the last few years they have hovered around 9-11th place and it is only a matter of time before another team in the Southwest brings the pressure of "not making nationals". Since '03 they have seen some serious departures with long time Santa Barbara greats like Greg Husak, Mike Namkung and Brandon Steets all moving to Jam. Likewise, JD Lobue is now playing for Bravo and periodic pickups like Jimmy Chu and Idaho have left the team for a more lucrative opportunity in Seattle.

Steve Dugan is more or less the core of this team and despite his efforts, the program has not produced like it once did. I think this has something to do with the fact that Black Tide has failed to remain as contenders in the Southwest. To make matters worse even when they were at their recent best in '04, players like Asa Wilson did not suit up for the Condors in the Club season. I can remember back in college when we feared Asa big time but despite his amazing cutting ability, composure and defense, he played co-ed out of college with Gendors and then Rival. Now Chain gets his talents and will be looking to Asa to fill the void that players like Grant Lindsley and George Stubbs have left behind.

However, the main thing going for Santa Barbara is their reputation. This helps them both locally and abroad. In Southern California, players will come up from LA to play with the Condors which makes sense considering the draw that a nationals level team has. Abroad, they can always count on TDs to let them into tournaments like Labor Day, ECC and Elite Colorado Cup which allows them to continually compete with the best. However, Santa Barbara really could use some big wins. They picked up DLK who will be a valuable handler and defender, and they do have the experience to make Nationals again this year but I think they are going to have to get their motor running if they want to avoid oblivion. Sockeye Invite is definitely a chance to do this and if they can secure a win against a team like Furious or Revolver, they can show once again, that they still have what it takes to win in Sarasota. However, if they fail to compete with the best West Coast teams, I would expect another mid level finish in October. Even if they beat teams like Voodoo, Rhino or PoNY, they still won't have the knowledge that they are a quarters team. They'll have other chances at CC and Labor Day, but I think it is time for them to either re-secure their spot at the elite table or get comfortable with the idea that their elite days are numbered.

This team reminds me a lot of UCSD when I was there, close to making nationals year in and year out but continually stuck behind regional Juggernaut, Boston, and whatever the Canadians put together. I think the Northeast has 3 bids this year because GOAT and Boston both made quarters and with this extra bid, PoNY can get comfortable with the idea that Nationals is whithin their grasp. However, Bodhi has really begun to make some noise and it will be a battle of youth vs experience this Fall.

The main advantage PoNY has over Bodhi is reputation which they have cashed in with 3 tournament opportunties that Bodhi doesn't have, 1) Sockeye Invite 2) Elite Chesapeake and 3) Labor Day. It would appear that the main goal for PoNY is just to be competitive at this tournament. Jody, BVH, Bailey and the rest of these guys are taking a big risk signing on for these West Coast tournaments because these are squads they have never really played against, especially considering that they haven't made Nationals. They definitely have the individual experience with guys BVH playing with DoG and Bailey with Twisted Metal and Pike. However, as a unit, the overall team experience is very heterogeneous.

With that in mind, it seems like the main goal for NY is to begin to close the gaps between team mates. Even if they go 0-7, they still need to collectively gel as unit and Sockeye Invite will be a great opportunity for this. Teams like Revolver and Sockeye will play at a pace PoNY hasn't really seen before and hopefully they will pick up the lessons they need to be competitive later this year. I don't see them (or any team for that matter) going 0-7 because I think they have a shot at Rhino, Voodoo and maybe the Condors. Any win at this level will be a bonus because each team has a lot of experience either at Nationals or against Nationals level competition. If they can get a big win or at least prevent the 15-7 losses, they will gain some much needed confidence that will help them secure a bid out of the Northeast this October.

Now this is a team I know basically nothing about. I am aware that one of the Titcombs runs the team and they are more or less a feeder team for Sockeye. However, as an experienced B-team player and after seeing teams like Twisted Metal come and go, I can imagine how frustrating this sort of label can be. No matter how hard you work or what wins you secure, you are still pigeon holed because of the team above you. Now I highly doubt that there is any friction between Sockeye or Voodoo but I can also imagine that a lot of the Voodoo guys have come to grips with the fact that they aren't going to play for Sockeye and instead of constantly looking up, they should start looking forward.

With that being said, Sockeye Invite is really Voodoo's opportunity to break past the feeder team label. Much the way Kaos/Revolver has done in the Bay Area since '04 (maybe even before), with the right pieces it doesn't matter how good your surrounding teams are, if you put together a motivated bunch of flatballers, you can compete. If Voodoo can secure a big win, they will not only have the knowledge that they are better than just a "triple A team" but their reputation abroad will improve. I know that because Boston and Machine aren't at Colorado Cup, the TDs are still looking for an 8th team to fill the elite division. If Voodoo can perform well this weekend, that spot could be theirs. They are competing with teams like YR and Madison who each have legitimate claims to the final elite spot, but Voodoo has the luxury of a tournament to determine their worth.

I think their biggest game will be against the Condors. Realistically, I think Sockeye and Furious have way to much experience and talent for Voodoo to handle. Other teams like Rhino and PoNY have unclear performance potential in 2008 and I think Revolver is going to be incredible this year. That leaves the Condors who have been great in the past but have seen better days. Voodoo could give them a loss that will push them up and conversely shove Santa Barbara down. With a big win like this the 2nd tier Seattle Crew will know that they have what it takes to challenge the rest of the country but a loss will show a major disparity in mental toughness between a young Voodoo team and a veteran Goleta program.

I think this team is one of the most motivated programs in the country right now. They first made Nationals in 2006 and definitely made their presence known with a pool play win over 1 seeded DoG. They also only missed semis by 2 points and on top of all of this, they missed out on Nationals in 2007 because of the NW Regional cap situation in the 4th/5th place game against Rhino. Now in 2008, each Revolver player is incredibly focused and determined to make the show once again. With only 3 bids out the NW, this will be quite the challenge because they will have to compete with Jam, Sockeye and Furious, the 1st, 2nd, and 4th overall seeds at Sarasota last year. However, with the Stanford pipeline and Mike Payne leading the charge, each player will easily have the motivation to put in the work to challenge the best.

In my opinion, the biggest story surrounding Revolver is their roster in 2008. Seth Wiggins (Sockeye) and Tyler Grant (Mischief) are suiting up for the Palo Alto crowd this Fall and with their already existing talent pool, they could be deadly in the Series. I'm not sure who Seth is going to play for this weekend (probably Sockeye) but it doesn't really matter. Revolver is a great team and one player is not going to make that big a difference. Seth's and Tyler's presence does more for overall team confidence and I'm sure Revolver will tap into that even if they have to play against little big Wiggins. I'm sure guys like Sherwood, Wisemen or Handler can say to themselves, "I know what Seth likes...he's not that scary" and that kind of confidence will help them against not only Sockeye but teams like Furious and Jam later in the year because each kid knows they are the real deal and just because an opponent has experience or age on them, doesn't mean they can't pwn them.

With all these things to consider, I think Revolver finishes 2nd/3rd at this tournament. They easily have the depth and the speed to get past anyone outside Sockeye and Furious and if they have done their homework, they can and should be successful. However, striking a blow against 1 of the big 2 will be huge for Revolver. They knocked out Furious and both Sockeye teams at Cal States, but they were beaten handily by the Monkies at Solstice. This is their chance to show that they are either the Cal States team or the Solstice team. Their schedule is favorable with 2 games to warm up before Furious and a Sunday game against Sockeye. They might slip to someone else this weekend, which is ok because it is just a round robin set of scrimmages. However, they should have their cross hairs aimed at Team USA and Canada and if they play their game, they could really rattle some Worlds cages.

Furious is probably the team with the most to prove this weekend. Tournaments like Cal States, Flowerbowl, and Solstice are nice but they still have an early season "tryout" feel. Sockeye Invite is anything but that. This is their last chance to prepare for Worlds and this will be the most focused Furious team anyone has seen since Saturday of NW Regionals when they beat Sockeye. Sarasota '07 is a memory each of these Canadians want to shake and this will definitely be an opportunity.

I wish I could see some of their games because I know that this will be a huge opportunity for Furious to open up their roster. This is a tournament that will be huge for their "out of province" players like John Hassell and considering that Furious has 10 new comers, I would imagine that they all will get their opportunity to see points. I wouldn't be surprised if this hurt FG's record a little but because they will have a looser rotation which may hurt them against teams like Revolver and Sockeye, but who knows? Perhaps the new blood and Nationalistic feel will compel them all to play out of their minds. Only time will tell.

With all this to consider, I think Furious' goal should be to win every game they want to win. This is kind of a bizarre concept but I have been watching Furious for a number of years and it seems like there are 2 kinds of Monkey teams, the one that wants to win and the one that wants to play. They are a methodical team that wants to peak at the right time and I think that they are excellent at bringing it when they want to. They have epic 15-13 wins over Sockeye in the Finals at Sarasota but they also have atrocious 15-6 losses to them at sectionals. I can imagine Luggy in the huddle saying something like, "This is the day we get our confidence back. If you want it, you have to go take it. If you want to erase a bad memory and give yourself the opportunity to go into Worlds with the confidence to win, now is the time." I can imagine not wanting to go full throttle against a team like Sockeye right away, but I think Furious' goal should be to gain the confidence to compete at Worlds which means achieving your performance goal, whatever that may be. I could see them making the Finals and losing, making the Finals and winning, and even not making the Finals. No result is better than the other, because after all this is just July. However, if they get what they came for, they will be successful in Vancouver and hopefully in Sarasota this Fall.

The home town heroes. Sockeye always seems to do well at home. They have won ECC the last few years and I don't think they will slip this weekend. This team has set the bar for polished club teams with arguably the best website and probably the most professional feel of any team right now. I have never seen a team look this put together and I think all the work that each player has put in will pay off in the end. Work like this keeps teams from slipping into oblivion because people will always gravitate to a team that looks the part.

As for the actual tournament, I wonder what Sockeye's approach will be. Like Furious, they have to think about opening their lines because guys like Matt Rehder, Aly Lenon, and Sam Harkness are all new Fish (no pun intended). Having a tight rotation may be nice for winning purposes, but the Fish need to know that both Seth's and Chase are not going to be there for the Series and they will have to give their new players opportunities to gain the confidence they need to come up big in the Series. Likewise, this will be their last chance as a team to prepare for Worlds and they must take chances to expose any and all weaknesses before Vancouver. A conservative team that wins now, may end up having a weakness that is taken advantage of by a team like the Buzz Bullets, Australia, or Canada at Worlds. Now is the time to get the bugs out so I wouldn't be surprised if Sockeye wasn't as dominant as they will be next month.

However, peripheral to all of this, they are still the best team in the World. Mike Caldwell, Roger Crafts, Will Henry, Sammy CK, Blaine Robbins, Andrew Fleming, these guys have all been there since well before Sockeye won it all in 2004. All they want to do is win and what better place to compete than a very comfortable atmosphere. I think they will have a focus and a determination that only teams like Furious can have or even understand. They have the Team USA label and they will play with pride this weekend. I like them to win the tournament but that doesn't mean they go undefeated. Look for Revolver to make a charge in pool play and maybe Furious in the Finals.

Now this is a team that hasn't exactly earned their spot at this tournament. From what I hear, Rhino is now only a shell of what they used to be with players like the Janin brothers, Kevin Stout and Dusty Becker playing elsewhere. They definitely have the experience as a team to take out PoNY, Voodoo and the Condors, but I wonder if they have the talent. Solstice, their first tournament, was not good to them, and I wonder if their legacy has gotten them a seat at a table they aren't ready for.

I could however, be totally wrong. I know enough about Club Ultimate to know that roster statuses change with the winds and teams have a tendency to come out of nowhere. A year ago I never would have pegged Rhino to take Revolver's spot in Sarasota and who knows what will happen this year. However, what I do know is that a lot of questions surrounding Rhino will be answered this weekend. With a tournament like Solstice you get chances at weaker teams and despite the fact that Rhino doesn't have a big win this year, they still have A win and a legacy. However, they cannot hide at Sockeye Invite. Round 1 they get a team that hates them, Revolver, and this will be Revolver's first shot at Rhino in a major tournament since they lost to them in the 4/5 game at NW Regionals. They dominated them 19-10 at Solstice and I wonder if this weekend will be worse. I hope for Oregon's sake (both the state and the college team) that Rhino competes at a level they have historically earned, but it will not be easy.

Closing Thoughts
Bottom line, this weekend is going to be sick. Every game is exciting and when folks are talking about predictions for the series or seedings at Nationals, this tournament will come up again and again. Each team's performance will be remembered long after this weekend and hopefully each has the focus and determination to make it a good one. Teams like Voodoo and PoNY are out to make a name for themselves while Rhino and the Condors are trying to hold onto what they have earned. Sockeye and Furious are prepping for the biggest tournament since Finland 2004 and Revolver is drooling at the chance to put the hurt on everybody. The only other big question about this weekend is Jam. They aren't here. In a year where there are 4-5 teams vying for 3 bids to Nationals every competitive chance matters and I wonder if Sockeye, Rhino, Revolver or Furious pick up something this weekend that they will use against Jam in the Series.

All in all, this should be a sick weekend and believe me when I say I will be glued to the score reporter. Keep your eyes peeled folks, its going to be an awesome summer.

just my thoughts

match diesel

PS For those that missed it, I made another blog called It is for anyone with input or commentary or corrections or whatever for anything on mssui. Right now there are 3 threads open for the 3 articles I wrote for Skip. Each has the general idea behind the article and where I got my information. Feel free to critique or comment on any and all of them. We need feedback to improve our literature and you guys are all we've got.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tournament Shakeups in 2008

If you've grown accustom to the general summer schedule of elite teams, 2008 is a bit irregular.  This comes as no real shock because of Worlds and teams like Sockeye and Furious have slightly different goals this year than the rest of the open division.  To complicate matters, considering that Sockeye runs the most elite tournament of the year, ECC, their change in focus has had a significant ripple effect that has modified the major tournaments throughout the country.  Lets take a look at what this summer is going to be like for the next two months.

First lets take a peak at this month. In years past July has been a relatively slow month for the elite. Tournaments like Solstice and Cal States are in June and ECC, Colorado Cup, and Labor Day are in August. However, Sockeye is throwing one of the most exciting tournaments of the summer, the Sockeye Invite, so that they can get some serious competition before they set off for Vancouver.  This tournament is more or less the ECC of 2008 because ECC this year won't have an open division.

Of all the teams coming to Seattle, I think PoNY is the most interesting. The Condors, Revolver and Rhino have all had their chances at Nationals and are all in the 8-12 range. Likewise Furious and Sockeye are perennial contenders and Voodoo carries a feeder team label. PoNY is the one team coming from outside the west coast and they have yet to make Sarasota. The story surrounding PoNY this year (and keep an eye on mssui for more) is their quest to take 3rd out of the NE this October ahead of Bodhi. Bodhi is the new kid on the block in New England and have looked good thus far. However, in making the trek across the county, PoNY is giving themselves an opportunity to expand on their experience, which they can/will use at Regionals.

Peripheral to my own interest in PoNY and Bodhi, the biggest story from this tournament will be Furious and Sockeye. Furious has 2 tournament wins (Solstice and Flowerbowl) but also has 2 losses to Sockeye Y. They have yet to play Sockeye at full strength since a 2/3 game at Regionals last year and this will be their/our last chance to see them before Worlds. Likewise, Sockeye has been fairly under the radar this year. They were split squad at Cal States and didn't make an appearance at Solstice as a team. They haven't played as a total unit since Dream Cup (and even that team was missing players) and this tournament will be their first time competing as a team in '08 and the last chance they have before they make their gold medal run.

Next month, the multitude of teams not competing at Worlds will have their fair share of competitive chances. Colorado Cup is one of the best tournaments of the year and will feature 7/8 Nationals contenders and 2 of 4 semifinal teams. The only teams that aren't back in 2008 are Boston and Machine but the tournament does have a second division with teams from both coasts, good work Degs. 

In addition to CC, Chesapeake Open in the middle of the month could be one of the most competitive tournaments of the summer. Because ECC isn't happening, teams like Bravo, Ring, Boston, and Chain are in need of another regular season tournament and will take their chances in Maryland. The elite division of this tournament will have 10 teams (BAT, Boston, Chain, GOAT, Bravo, Machine, PoNY, Ring, SubZero and Truck Stop), 9 with Nationals experience. Like the Sockeye Invite, this will be another opportunity for PoNY to improve while Bodhi competes in the Open division.

At the end of the month we will see the best Club Tournament short of Nationals at Labor Day. The line up for Santa Cruz is unreal with 12 out of 16 teams from Nationals (no Chain, VBB, Pike, or Machine) and there is no doubt that we will see some serious fireworks. In addition, 2 teams that are close as any to the show this year, PoNY and Revolver, will be in attendance. Once again, another opportunity PoNY has that Bodhi does not.

Closing Thoughts
Wow, this is a short piece, like it KG? In any event, this summer is going to be weird because of Vancouver, but the usual epically fun tournaments are still happening. Potlatch, Poultry Days, and Wildwood are the cornerstones of why summer ultimate is fun and no Worlds tournament is gonna screw that up. I missed out on Potlatch becuase of my damn foot, and god willing, I might finally may get to compete since Kaimana at the Wood. It's the best/worst idea ever, sorry TiV, but it is. Stay tuned for more content. Most of my really indepth stuff will be on mssui, but my spittle will find its way here in one from or another. Enjoy.

just my thoughts

match diesel