Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some Actual Ultimate Discussion

I can't help it, I gotta talk some college disc. Here are some region to region discussions.

Holy Cal! Wow, I suppose my Cal writeup came a year early. They are red hot right now with back to back tournament wins at Santa Barbara and Pres Day. I don't know what happened against Black Tide at Santa Barbara but their encore performance at Pres Day is very impressive. Way to go Choon. They came out this hot a few years back when they made Finals in '04 and I think they are #1 in the Northwest right now.

Outside Cal, Orgeon seems to be the other major NW contender. Their performance at TiV was very impressive but great Vegas performances have a tendency to matter a lot more in February than they do in May. I think Oregon is tired of being out of the Nationals discussion and I think Dusty is ready to end his career with Ego with a trip back to Columbus. Hopefully they get a shot against Cal at Stanford or Centex.

Stanford, eshk, these guys have been quite the wild card the last year or so. This year they turned a few heads by making the trek to Vegas and Ryan Thompson told me they did so because they wanted another tournament under their belt. Given the conditions and the fact that this was their first non-Kaimana February tournament since I've been paying attention, I'm not surprised they got worked. They did make Finals in Goleta, big surprise, and in doing so, proved that they've got the chops to compete in the Northwest, but also that Cal is legit in '09. They always seem to play well at home regardless of previous tournament performances, but then again Stanford Invite has 48 teams this year, so yeah, no idea whats gonna happen.

Outside these three, I've got nothing. LPC seems to make some noise at every tournament save Regionals, so I'm not surprised they've got a few big W's. UBC had a decent Vegas but they always seem to suck when the weather warms up. Hopefully they ditch the shants this year. Santa Cruz...I've gotta see it to believe it. Do something interesting at Stanford or you are going to be left out of any major Nationals discussion this year. More of the same with Davis. Decent SBI, decent Vegas, but not too many great wins to boast. I hope they get a chance to secure a few big wins at Stanford and potentially confirm who's who in the NW. Lastly, Washington... had Wisconsin played a little better, that W might have meant more, but oh well, the Sundogers, like everyone else, will have their chance to catch malaria, I mean earn W's, in Bum F$%@, Egypt next month.

Big surprise, Colorado is good. Mac Taylor, Brian "Kibbles" Clarkson, Ted Phillips, Martin "Duke" Freeman, and Hylke Snieder are all ballers and will be the veterans that continue to dominate the SW region. They are going back to Stanford, which I like, but given the fact that the tourney is 48 teams this year, I have no idea what to expect. Most of the best teams will be in attendance, but predicting mactchups is impossible and given the question marks associated with the Hodags, who knows who will give Colorado a challenge? Carleton? Florida? Georgia? Regardless, I can't imagine anything less than another Regional title and trip to semis or better.

The rest of the Southwest is pretty tight with UCSB looking ok, when they actually compete as UCSB. Personally, I think outside the Fall, the whole UCSB-X thing is pretty weak, especially if their isn't a UCSB-Y. They handed Cal their only loss of the year which is commendable and they were one of the few SW teams to do well in Vegas. I'm getting tired of saying this, but Stanford will be a toss up, so I'm waiting until after Centex to make any sense of these gargantuan tournaments.

My squiddies are actually looking pretty stellar thus far, don't screw it up! Big wins over Claremot (loved that score) and Arizona, so they are no longer the pee-ons they have been the last 2 years. They got a big confidence win over UCLA but have yet to play SDSU so I think they still have a chance to slip. They also lost their only game against Black Tide this year but so far they are 9-0 in power/pool play so that's pretty sweet. Probably came out flat Sunday morning at SBI, so here's hoping they keep the Saturday night shenanigans to a minimum in the future. Regardless, with 3 bids out of the SW a return to Nationals for the first time since 2006 is definitely in the cards, but I'm sure they'd like to stick it to Tide in the Series and maybe even get a shot at Mamabird at some point this year.

Arizona, yikes, I was afraid they'd have some trouble without some of their 5th years. I don't think Austin Gregersen is on the team this year leaving just Erik Gafni as their primary threat and despite his talent (and enthusiasm) I think Sunburn's in for some trouble. They'll have their chances to rebound at Stanford and Centex, but I'm guessing Stanford will be another shit show and Centex will be brutal to a team that has lost a lot of it's depth.

Yeah, I'm still waiting for Texas to make an appearance. They'll be at Mardi Gras and Stanford so check back in a few weeks. North Texas, Texas State, still waiting for some clarity, sorry.

Wow, Wisconsin feeling the fear a little bit eh? I had a feeling the 'Dags were in for some L's and now I'm waiting to see what they do in the face of some adversity. Animal and Foster are a great set of captains and I'm sure having Gaynor back for another year will help them remain confident. However, guys like Feldman and Geppert have never been in this situation with Wisconsin and a lot of people are interested to see how they handle it. I don't think Vegas is as indicative as some would like, because I get the feeling they opened their bench up in the face of some uber bad weather, but if they suck again at Stanford, the fear they once instilled in their opponents will be long gone.

Alright Carleton, way to not screw up my predictions. With only one loss against Colorado and the only team to beat Florida at Vegas, CUT is looking like this could be their year. They'll be another in the 8-10 bad asses at Stanford trying to solidify some sort of hierarchy and considering the fact that CUT usually peaks late, I'm sure we haven't seen the best the Northfield flatballers have to offer. Given the fact that they were ehh at Centex last year but still made Semis in Boulder, I'm not sure we'll know just how good CUT is until they potentially take the region back in May.

Considering the fact that the CN gets 20% of the teams at Nationals this year, the door is really wide open for a lot of teams. I was stoked to see Iowa take Warm Up and given last year's Universe finish against Wisconsin in Semis at Regionals, I will be paying close attention to IHUC.

Minnesota seems to be the only other team to jump out at me from the Central Region. They had a decent year last year with a great Centex, but so far they haven't done much. Hopefully they get a chance against Wisconsin at Mardi Gras and given the fact that the Hodags usually own Baton Rouge, a win over baby blue could be huge. Likewise, Mardi Gras will be Wisco's chance to get their demons sorted out before the wolves come-a-callin at Stanford.

Great Lakes
This region is going to be exciting. I've been a big Magnum fan since 2005 and with Will Neff as my pick for Callahan, UM will be a team to watch this spring. However, Notre Dame is hands down the team to beat in the Great Lakes. They had a great Fall and made the Finals at Queen's City Tune Up, while Magnum lost in quarters after taking their pool. Both Papal Rage (sort of) and Magnum will be in Louisiana this weekend so we'll have an idea of who's who in a week or so. Notre Dame doesn't have the rep to get into Centex or Stanford just yet, so they'll have to hope for some great games at Huck Finn, which is surprisingly loaded this year with Colorado, Wisconsin, Georgia and Michigan all coming out of the wood work. I suppose Fools Fest in Kansas wasn't good enough.

Anyway, I think Michigan has got the schedule to really test their squad and given their late-ish peak last year, it might be just the gauntlet they need to prepare for Regionals. Likewise, I think Notre Dame has a rough road ahead of them because they've got all season to lose their steam and they'll need to play as well in the Series as they are now if they want a crack at Columbus. Meanwhile, Ohio State is still very much a contender and after their experience at Nationals at home in 2007, I'm sure they are fired up for another shot at being the home town heroes in May. Bottom line, Great Lakes Regionals is gonna be sweeeeet.

Atlantic Coast
God damn it Florida, you were supposed to suck this year. What am I supposed to do with a 15-13 loss to Georgia but a tournament win at Vegas? I get the feeling like Stanford at Stanford, Florida just doesn't lose in Vegas. They've won the tourney 3 of the 4 years it has been in existence so who knows? I do know that Brodie seems to think that '09 is the new '06 which could mean another Stanford title, and given the fact it's not in Palo Alto this year (like 2006), he could have his senior year end up like freahman year. Anyway, I was very impressed with the way they finished out Vegas and hopefully we see another game against CUT at Stanford or Centex to see who's actually better. I'm not sure what kind of rotation they are using now that Cycle, Windham, and Gibson are gone, but success early is something Florida seems to be good at the last few years. Stanford Invite probably won't give us the answers we want, unless they win it all, so we'll have to wait until after Centex to see if they are title bound once again.

Alright JoJah!! My Athens boys are kicking ass this year and I love it. Maybe they came out flat against Iowa in the Warm Up Finals, but a split squad Mudbowl win and a dominating performance at QCTU is just what the doctor ordered. They took out Florida in their only meeting this year, which is actually a big deal because last year Florida had their foot on Georgia's throat wire to wire. I don't like that they aren't going to Centex (at least according to the score reporter), but considering the fact that they are on the Huck Finn badwagon, I'm sure we'll get an idea of whether or not Georgia is ready to pull a 2005 move and take back the AC by April. Regardless, I'm hoping for a Colorado/Georgia game in bracket play at some point (Stanford or Huck Finn) because fireworks always seem to fly between gold and red.

As for Virginia and Tennessee, ask me after Centex. Viriginia got a bid to the battle in Austin and Tennessee has a guarunteed game against Wisconsin in Baton Rouge, so the AC could have a few new faces this year. However, I still have no idea what to make of the NC crowd, and given the fact that things were fairly ambiguous up until Carolina Sectionals last year, I have no idea what to expect from NC State, UNC-Wilmington and UNC.

Metro East
Cornell is looking good early this year, especially with a close game against a juggernaut like Colorado. Pitt got themselves a few quality wins in Vegas as well with W's over Stanford and Santa Barbara. Delaware had a rough weekend in North Carolina and Maryland could be a contender, despite coming and going historically. However, despite all of this, things are still wayyy to early to tell in a region as volatile as the Metro East.

Huck of the Irish will be the first real opportunity we'll have to see most of the ME duke it out (save Pitt) and my guess is that Delaware will squeeze in between some of these teams, if not take them all by storm. Because the Centex team list isn't complete yet, I'm not certain which of these squads will be in Austin but I'm guessing most. Hopefully they all show because this region is usually quite the spectacle and I'd love more fuel for the Regional Prediction fire.

North East
Like the Metro East, much of the North East still has yet to come out of hibernation. Harvard had a great Vegas once again and Middlebury went 9-2 which is impressive but they never seem to make any noise when it matters. Tufts didn't do as well in the desert as they did a year ago but I'm sure A-Hole has got them focused for whatever tournaments they decide to go to. I like that Dartmouth is going down to Mardi Gras which should be all the competition they need to get the dust off the cleats. Perhaps they will do as well as Brown did at Warm Up and give some non-Regional teams a scare. My dark horse for the region is UConn because they have really come around as a program and even won a Fall Tournament (Coffee Cup). They have never made Regionals but this year could be one for the books. I'm sure Brown is unafraid though, considering the fact that they've taken the South NE Section every year since the beginning of time, but who knows? Everybody loves an upset.

Closing Thoughts
The main thing on my mind after looking at all this is that I really hope tournaments don't all become 50-80 teams. I mean having Vegas as the one early season tournament with a million teams is fine, but 48 at Stanford and Centex?! Not sure how I feel about this. As a NUMP voter, it gets hard to make sense out of a bunch of 9-6 scores and what not. It seems like 5-6 years ago players wanted to face off against teams across the country before Nationals but I wonder if it is beginning to be too much of a good thing. I like the 16-24 team tournament format with 3-5 pool play games, pre/quarters, semis, finals. When the bracket takes 30 minutes to even begin to understand, I lose interest quickly.

There was beauty in the distilled talent at Stanford and Centex because teams that were "in" felt a sense of pride and teams on the outside had a reason to play their hearts out in January. You know, the qualifier days? In addition, with the best teams heading off to their own special tournies, other events such as Southerns, Terminus, and Ultimax had their own 20-40 team showdowns and it was fun for all. Now with 48 teams at Stanford and Centex, I wonder if something is lost. Oh well, the new Stanford and Centex haven't even happened yet and maybe at the end of March I will be singing a different tune. Best of luck to all the teams and NO ONE GET HURT!!

just my thoughts

match diesel

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Take on Team USA

This Winter/Spring we will see one of the biggest events in our sport, the selection and preparation of Team USA for World Games in Taipei. I'm really interested in this series of events because I've been around long enough to see a few Worlds come and go and I also remember when Team USA had their fun back in 2005. From the looks of things, 2009 will be considerably different than a few years ago but the excitement and anticipation is ready and waiting.

So I've written about this a number of times, but it never loses it's importance. Worlds? Didn't we just have that last August? Yes but there are also 3 kinds of Worlds, each happening once every 4 years so there is a Worlds event 3 out of every 4 years.

WUGC ('00, '04, '08)- World Ultimate and Guts Championships is the World Cup of Ultimate. Each country is responsible for selecting one team to represent it's Nation. Some countries pick the winner of their country's National title (USA, Canada, and Japan) and others select an All-Star team to represent their Nation (UK and Australia). Either way, this is usually the best tournament from a team perspective. It has every division, Open, Women, Mixed, Masters, and Juniors (boys and girls) and there are usually a fair amount of teams competing. In Vancouver, there were 18 in Open, 15 Women, 12 Mixed, 10 Masters, 8 Junior Boys, 7 Junior girls for a total of 70 teams. I also think the team rivalries are the strongest here with USA (Sockeye) vs Canada (Furious), USA vs Japan (Open and Women), Australia vs Great Britain, etc...

World Games ('01, '05, '09)- This is a tournament that is more or less all the games that aren't in the Olympics, at least that is how it was explained to me. Each sport is given a certain number of players that can be present which drastically limits the number of competitors and the number of divisions. Also, Ultimate is only a small part of this Worlds event, unlike WUGC and WUCC, and because each sport is limited by participants, the Ultimate is Mixed. This tournament is probably the best from a player's perspective because it is such an honor to be selected. In the US there were hundreds of applicants for less than 20 final spots. The selection of the team is almost like American Idol, in that the hype and preparation for the tournament is probably more exciting than the tournament itself (or in the case of AI, their music career). Another major restriction for this tournament is that only 6 teams get to play in it, the top 5 finishers at WUGC and the host country. It is for this reason that the 5th place game at WUGC between Australia and Sweeden was such a big deal. Because the Aussies won 16-14 they get to go to World Games along with the other 4 semifinalists (Canada, USA, Japan, and UK) and Taipei.

WUCC ('02, '06, '10)- World Ultimate Club Championships is a bit weird. Some Nations send several teams, some Nations send one team and other Nations are only represented in some divisions or not at all. This tournament seems to be the most fun for players because the people that really want to be there are usually in greater numbers than people that should be there. For whatever reason, it does not have the draw of WUGC, so a lot of the best teams pass on the tournament (Furious, Sockeye, Fury, Riot, Jam, Boston, etc..) giving other teams an opportunity. This tournament will be in Prauge in 2010 and despite the fact that there is probably some sort of selection process, I do not know what it is.

Here is a website that discusses this in greater detail.

2005 vs 2009
In 2005, things were fairly different from this year. 4 years ago, the only selection criteria was an application process (no tryouts) which resulted in some interesting choices. For starters, without a tryout process, it seemed like the UPA wanted to give Open, Women's and Mixed representation. This made sense, but it was easy to see right off the bat that the team selection was going to be a bit more political, as opposed to strictly talent based. In addition, it seemed like service to the game was a big part of the selection process, which is fine, it just highlighted the idea that this particular Team USA had diplomatic goals in mind as opposed to just winning Gold.

Some of the roster choices in 2005 were easy to see and some not so much. Chase Sparling-Beckley and Josh Ziperstein made the team which seemed very appropriate because Chase had just won a club title with Sockeye and Zip the Callahan and College Title (Brown). Mike Namkung was the veteran captain which was also understandable given his experience with Black Tide, the Condors and Team USA (WUGC 2004). Will Deaver was/is a Bravo standout and given his role as Championship Director, it looked like he was a good choice for diplomatic reasons.

As for the woman, they were as strong as the men with Miranda Roth ('05 Callahan Winner), Deb Cussen (Riot, Club Champion '04), Angela Lin (Ozone), and Gwen Ambler (Stanford and Fury) but with Gwen came alternate issues. She, like Alex Nord, was an alternate for Team USA which at the time didn't make a lot of sense to me because few players in the game were as talented/decorated as Nord or Gambler. I don't think anyone including the participants were certain what alternates, if any, would make the Final team but in the end Nord and Gambler didn't go to Germany, which was more evidence that the team selection was fairly subjective.

Now many people will will quickly say that Ron Kubalanza or Dominque Fontenette deserved their spot on Team USA (and I even forget now who was on the team and who were alternates) but my only point is to just show that there were all kinds of players that were and were not on the team and this completely omits all the players that had their applications rejected.

With this background, I think the UPA is now more interested in selecting a team based not only on their on-paper accolades, but their full speed capabilities as well, hence the two tryouts. This is a huge step forward in the selection process of Team USA and is a major reason why 2009 will be so exciting as well as more objective.

The first round has already taken place with offers to 80 players or so and despite the fact that I know a few players that should be on this list and are not, I think the chosen few are fantastic and the whole process will be an experience each participant will never forget. The first tryout will be for West Coast applicants February 21st and 22nd at Cal State Northridge. The other will be the following weekend at the Polo Fields in Sarasota for the East Coast participants.

Former Members
In looking at the list, my first concern is that several players from the 2005 team are trying out again and that doesn't really seem fair to me. Considering the fact that only a select few can even tryout, seeing people like Jeff Eastham, Bart Watson, Mike Namkung, Miranda Roth, and Dominique Fontenette on this this list makes me kind of cringe. Players like Adam "Wormser" Bunn didn't even get a chance to tryout so in my opinion, giving spots to former Team USA representatives and not up and comers is a bit bogus.

I discussed the same argument when I wrote about Junior Worlds because there were several players from the Boys team in Vancouver that were on the Gold medal team in 2006. George Stubbs and Grant Lindsley had two chances to win Gold and I don't really think that is right, given the level of talent that was rejected and the fact that their closest game in Vancouver was 17-7. Because the 2009 Team USA will only have 15-20 players, it seems a bit unfair to give a roster spot to a person that has already filled the seat much less a tryout opportunity. Given the quality of players on the list, I think a Gold medal team could be selected without choosing any former members and I hope in the future there are restrictions on being selected more than once.

Who I want to see in Taipei
With that being said, I am kinda going back on my last point with this next one because the first person on my list for this team is Gwen Ambler. Seeing her as an alternate in 2005 sucked because I thought she deserved to go to Germany and despite the fact that I hoped she'd get a roster spot come tourney time, it didn't happen. She did just win a Gold medal in Vancouver but Taipei is more or less about being chosen by the UPA and there is no one that has put more into this sport than Gwen (male or female).

Another name that jumped out at me was Mike Caldwell. Mike represents the core of Seattle Sockeye's success the last 5-6 years and MC has been a fundamental part of the best team in the world for nearly a decade. Sockeye's example as a program has raised the bar in the Club sphere the way Wisconsin has in the College scene. Mike's role as Fish Captain, in my opinion, makes him a front runner to make Team USA and be chosen as one of the veteran leaders. Plus, I also think he got a raw deal in Vancouver because his wife gave birth the night before the Gold medal game with Furious. Now I know that this is a miracle of life and I am sure he loves his new child as much as his first, but I think his performance in the Gold medal game suffered because of it. I think a second opportunity to represent his country would be fitting and well received. Plus it'd make a great story.

Team Representation
Another issue that has come up with respect to Team USA is the number of tryouts that come from the same team. Johnny Bravo has quite a few, as does Sockeye, Jam, and Ironside. This makes sense though because they represent the best Open teams over the last few years and using Club experience as a major selection criteria is pretty objective and fair. The same could be said for San Francisco Fury, which makes even more sense because they are the most dominant team since the glory days of DoG.

However, the issue then becomes, who do you pick from these teams? Greg Connelly and whomever else is picking this squad, cannot pick 3 players from Bravo and zero from Ironside, or at least I don't think they will, so the question becomes, who gets chosen? Who do you pick from Sammy CK, Ben Wiggins, Mike Caldwell, and Seth Wiggins? I think the tryout process will streamline things but it will be a real challenge to figure out who you want handling, cutting, D-ing up, etc... If you pick a Bravo handler like Parker Krugg, can you pick a JB cutter like Mac Taylor? If you go for Dylan Tunnell does that mean Greg Swanson doesn't have a chance. I think this is the scariest case. Teams like Bravo, Ironside and Jam have made semis and finals but Chain has just made semis and isn't in the hightest tier of elite teams yet. Does that mean they can only hope for 1 player on Team USA and not 2? Once again, the tryout process will definitely help but it is still a dicey issue.

Along this Chain Lightning point, the issue of regional representation gets interesting. Ultimate hubs are in places like Seattle, Atlanta, Boston, and Denver, but what about guys like Tank and Muffin? Do you try and get players out of the South, Central, or Southwest (excluding Colorado)? Is that a selection criteria? Again, I think a tryout process streamlines things, but it will be really tough to pick 5 or 6 players (out of 20) from one region and completely pass up another one.

And what about Mixed? You have National champion players (or close to it) in the Smith brothers (Mischief), Kendra Frederick (Slow White), Mike Miller (Slow White) and Rusty Ingold-Smith (Slow White). Do they stand a chance? I am glad to see that a few tryout spots were offered to Mixed players and I wonder if their experience will help them in a tryout process that will require great skill across sexes.

With all of this to consider, the drama associated with Team USA is through the roof. The tryout event will definitely be a sight to witness/participate in because it will be one of the best showcases of talent since MLU back in 2006 and it will represent both Men and Women. The next round of selections, like the first, will say a lot about the players on the next list and more importantly, what kind of team the UPA wants representing the Red, White and Blue.

Closing Thoughts

The last thing to consider when looking at potential tryouts is their diplomatic skill and players like Ben Wiggins, BVH, and Gwen Ambler have a huge advantage because of their contributions as coaches and media sources. I'm not certain this will be a major selection criteria but it has me wondering. Players like Muffin, Seth Wiggins, and Tucker all have distinct personalities and I wonder how that will factor into player selection. I'm sure each tryout is humbled by this honor and will be on their best behavior but balancing personalities is a big part of building a team and will be important in defending our title.

In the end, this process is just exciting. Pretty soon we'll have an idea of who will be selected to the top 20 and following them through their preparation will be exhilarating. I remember when Team USA won Poultry Days 4 years ago and I was there when they beat Team Canada at Potlatch but lost in Semis to Vagabonds. However, they won Gold over Australia in 2005 and there is no reason why Team USA can't do it again in 2009.

just my thoughts

match diesel