Wednesday, April 16, 2014

~July 2013

My wireless headphones are awesome.  The best pump-up songs blast me through my lifting sessions easily.  Then, I wore them that one time in the rain... and the volume "up" button stopped working and once you volume "down" -- there was no going back.  My workouts dragged, especially when I needed Lil Wayne Beast Mode the most.  But today, as I was contemplating how much weight to add to the bar, a miracle occurred.

My headphones sprang back to life, volume increasing a notch every second.  I took it as a sign from above -- better put on the big plates.  I had no excuse now, I had to go hard.  As I stared into the mirror, the moment before the truth, I have a habit of imagining a rival competitor.  Like an instinct, visualizing us battling so intensely I believe it to be true -- ensuring my best effort, an emotional response screaming to hit KillMode right NOW!  But as the years wear on -- this rival competitor morphs each season -- to the most important game or individual match-up.  I've literally been training against the mental image of my strongest competition since elementary school.  It comes naturally to me - especially when I'm weary of the task/lift before me and need a shot of adrenaline.


So today, as I stared into the mirror, I realized two extraordinary things.  For one, when comparing myself to the best in the game, I don't need to look far.  The 4 USA World's teams went undefeated in dominant fashion just last week -- so the competition is there to behold.  As I started looking at this team, seeking a rival, it became clear.  The players who motivate me the most -- are the ones on my very team.

I say nonchalantly that I played with my captains Matt Rebholz and Jimmy Foster at Wisconsin all the time.  But to be honest, we never played together because they played offense and I played defense.  The real answer was -- that I matched up against them every single practice for 4-5 years with the Hodags, but we rarely actually played "together."  It was a completely different way to think of "teammates."

Suddenly, I knew who I was imaging as my rival competitor.  It was Stubbs - someone I see in practice, at workouts, in the gym, all the time for the last four years.  I wasn't imagining Sockeye, Chain Lightning, Revolver or Doublewide - I was imaging Ironside's offense as my competition - because for the majority of the season -- those are the players I'm battling day-in-day-out.  

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

From Dan Heijmen ('03-'07, Callahan '07). He wanted me to pass this along to the CUT world at large.
*********************



From the first day of my first tryout I heard about CUT. It was the Fall of 2002 and the Hodags had come off their most successful season in their history: losing in National Finals to Stanford (a bitter pill) but more importantly, beating CUT in Regional Finals for the first time in over a decade. The Hodags went on to back up that win in National Semis, beating Carleton again and cementing Wisconsin as a national power.

This would have never happened without CUT.

If you’re a Hodag, there is no bigger game than Regional Finals, and no bigger rival than Carleton. At Wisconsin, scrimmages are held where both teams are told to play like CUT, and the week leading up to Regionals is a mix of anxiety, intensity and sleepless nights. The faces of their studs pop up in your head during workouts and practices - obviously - but also when you least expect it:  daydreaming in class or when you’re trying to fall asleep.

You dream about getting that block or throwing that goal that will claim this year for the Hodags. Or worse, the nightmare of getting D’d, or giving up a break that loses the game. You know that CUT will demand your best, but that it might not be good enough to win.

In my 5 years playing for the Hodags I had a losing record against CUT at Regionals . My first year was a typical epic. Guys like Chase, Masulis, Phil, and Jimmy Chu from CUT going up against Tyler, Paradise, Brown, Tyson and Hector for Wisconsin. In all my years of sport I had never participated in such an incredible atmosphere of pure competition. And when it was over and we had lost, I watched as Tyler and Chase looked each other in the eye and embraced. They had each given their all against the man they’d been preparing for and training against all year. They had earned each other’s respect and admiration. They had pushed the other to new heights and brought their teammates along for the ride. Both teams gave their all, and CUT came out on top. We went on to win Nationals that year, but we had still lost to CUT.

As a Junior, playing in Carleton Stadium I suffered a compound fracture going up for a disc against a CUT opponent. I was rushed to Northfield Hospital and was in surgery while my team played and lost for the 3rd year in a row. CUT rushed the field and celebrated (or so I was told) another Central Region Crown while I was hooked up to a morphine drip and barely knew where I was. But when I woke up, who did I see come through the door but Chris Rupp, one of CUT’s captains. He wasn’t with his teammates, celebrating a Regional Championship, a trip to nationals, and a victory over his fiercest rival in his home stadium. He was at the hospital, visiting a guy he barely knew. At the time, I knew Chris only as an opponent. He was my year and the guy I measured myself against. I imagined the work he put in on the track or in the weight room and used it as my motivation during our latest, awful, gut-churning workout. That he came to see me said everything about his character and reflected everything that was good about CUT and our rivalry with them.

He kept the visit brief, saying how sorry he was and that he hoped I would heal up in time for Nationals, 5 weeks away. His visit meant the world to me, and deepened my respect for him and his team. But more than anything, it made me want to beat him even more. I wanted to show him my best. I respect the hell out of Chris Rupp and I wanted to prove that to  him by playing my balls off at Nationals.

We matched up in Pre-Quarters that year, knowing that because of the draw and tournament format, that there would be only 1 bid to Nationals from the Central Region the following season. Both teams fought hard, with alumni screaming on and tempers flaring up. I caught a 50/50 disc in the endzone with my good hand and spiked it down with my cast, the bones in my forearm being held together by 2 plates and 12 screws. My teammates swarmed me, ranting and rabid with joy. This was why I played. To compete against the best, and to lose myself in pure competition against a worthy opponent.

After that college season was over I decided - with a few other Wisconsin guys - to try out for Sub Zero, our chilly neighbors to the North. There was some definite tension in the air when I first got out of the car and put my cleats on. What was it going to be like to catch passes from CUTboys, instead of trying to D them? What about high-fiving after our scrimmage team scored?

The tension lasted for about 3 minutes. These were good players: fast, smart and hardworking. They were easy to play with and they were fun to play with. The guys on CUT moved the ball quickly and yelled a ton from the sideline. Sure, they were weird liberal arts kids and probably played a ton of Magic the Gathering, but that didn’t change the fact that they could ball. I credit my first season on Sub Zero with instilling in me the awareness that a strong, supportive and intelligent sideline was paramount towards building a winning program.

The Hodags were good at being loud. We were good at being crazy. We were good and jamming our bodies in a mob and screaming absurdities until we lost our voices. We were good at freaking out at all the right times. At that point, we weren’t great about constructive sideline communication. On Sub Zero, my CUT teammates made me a better player when I was on the field. They told me where the disc was on defense and when I was hot. They cheered for me when I denied my man an under and fired me up when my legs started to go. The feedback and insight I got when I came off the field helped me develop into a cerebral player, someone focused on the details while always remembering the big picture: every time you step on the field, get better.

The CUT influence on the Hodags cannot be overstated. Of course they pushed us to be our best. They forced us around the track for another 200 and told us we had another rep in us when it seemed we were spent. But we also borrowed and stole from them, unabashedly. They had good ideas, and we took them. And guess what, it worked.

The joke with CUT was that the team you saw during the regular season was not the team that showed up at Regionals. They’d come to Stanford or Centex in white, v-neck t-shirts they decorated themselves and go 4-2 or 3-3. Pretty underwhelming for a team with their talent. Their rookies would get a bunch of run and in general they seemed vaguely apathetic about winning. I think I’ve only lost once to Carleton in a non-Regional game. They had a plan, a trajectory for the season that said, early tournaments don’t matter, let’s improve and keep our eye on the prize.

At Regionals, everything was different. They had slick-looking jerseys and made their annual sacrifice to the Midwest weather gods. The rain fell and the wind blew hard, but CUT was fast; their throws were crisp and they were ready to win.

Winning Nationals will always be the highlight of my Ultimate career, but I’ve never been as happy on an Ultimate Field as when we finally beat CUT at Regionals. The weather was so horrible that the University of Iowa closed their fields. We played the game, Regional Finals, essentially squatting at a city park where the dandelions came halfway up our shin. The game could’ve been on the moon, it didn’t matter. To make the stakes even higher, our win over them at the previous year's prequarters meant that only one team was going to Natties. 2 teams enter, 1 team leaves.

The game had everything. Lead changes, amazing grabs, great blocks, upwind goals and a fair dose of controversy. The sidelines were packed and alumni were racing onto the field after scores as though they were playing in the game. When the dust settled, we had won by 3, scoring an upwind break to take the game 15-12. I was elated. I found my best friend and co-captain Tom Burkly and hugged him as though he just returned from war. “ I can’t believe we did it. “ he said, “I can’t believe we finally beat them.”

It was hard to imagine what the CUT players felt. We shook hands and hugged after the game, but something that year was different. We had ended their season. In other years, when we had lost, we still had nationals. We had beaten Iowa or someone else to make it to she show. Sure the loss hurt, but we had more to play. I realized that Nationals wouldn’t be the same without CUT there. It would be watered down, less intense and less vibrant without those crazy CUTboys.

I watched as the CUT players, friends, families embraced each other much the same way that we were. Obviously, there were more smiles on our sideline than theirs, but there was something almost uncanny in the similarity of each teams’ reaction. There was a realization that maybe this was it. This was the game, this was the opponent. This was why we played.

Many Hodags and CUTboys have chosen to mark their bodies with their team logo. Many haven’t. I got one and I see it every day. But even if I didn’t have it I would still remember. I remember my teammates. I remember the workouts and practices, the tournaments and games, the wins and losses. I remember what it feels like to be pushed to be your best, and I remember our rivals.

The CUT community lost 3 brothers on Friday and it sucks. It hurts and it doesn’t make sense. I didn’t know the players personally and haven’t overlapped with any college players for some time now. But I can picture them in my head. I can see their faces in teammates past and present. I imagine that they brought the same fire, smarts and relentless energy that’s become a defining characteristic of every CUTboy I’ve played with and against.

We, Wisconsin, mourn your loss. But we celebrate our rivalry and remember it every day.

Hodag Love to Cutboys everywhere.

The real grieving, the kind when you realize time refuses to stop and the world in all its capriciousness demands to keep going, hasn't even begun yet. Having grieved like this before, I know this, and the thought now is sickening.

I'm trying to just hold on to little pieces, going through some motions, looking for the appropriately sized frame. I sent the Hodags an email last year shortly after the New Year, and I'm not sure why but I'm compelled right now to share it with you it its entirety. I'm gonna ask that the current Dags read or re-read it, and you're free to read as well.

Also, the next post I put up momentarily is a letter from Dan Heijmen, former Hodag captain and '07 Callahan winner. He too is mourning.

Hh


From: CoacHh

Subject: Bromo Throw Sesh Philo: YOLO, (iow, DevChem)

Hodags,

Happy New Year to all of my working blues. Damn have we got a lot to do in these next few months. Because of the volume of information we'll need to take in, my goal is to send you this in manageable chunks via correspondence to supplement the limited time we have together as a group during practice. From a practical perspective, there will be times when much of this information will seem tangential to our larger goal of winning nationals; I offer that the opposite is true - winning nationals will be a tangential product of taking many of these little lessons to heart, and working hard to implement them in your lives.

In other words, if some of this shit seems ridiculous and overwrought, trust me, it ain't.

Today, I want to discuss your philosophy at throwing sessions with your brothers: what do I think about when I go throw with my teammates?

Ask this question of yourself and you're already on your way - the thing is, most people do not have anything in mind when they go and throw. They think nothing beyond "I'm going to throw some passes. I'm going to make some catches. I'm going to do it with my buddy." For most people, I advocate nothing further - chasing frisbees is fun as hell and being outdoors doing it when it's nice even moreso. If you're trying to win a national championship, however, more is required. First, though, let me talk about the concept of "you only live once."


"You only live once" (I will abbreviate it to YOLO, if I may), has been used often to justify behavior that is the *antithesis* of YOLO - to excuse stupid actions that lend themselves to, not only wasting precious time, but also severely shortening the life of the person yelling it out moments before they're killed. What should the fact that we only live once actually teach us? The prevailing philosophy is that you should do everything at least once before you die, and while that will definitely lead you to some exciting moments of adventure, it will often also lead you to moments where you're making decisions that run counter to a lot of other shit you hold valuable, like community, your health, respect, ethics, and a spotless criminal record.


But it is true - you only live once - and it's also true we're all going to die, soon. So maybe YOLO isn't meant to give us a pass on our mortality - maybe YOLO hints at something deeper and more humble. Perhaps, YOLO is there to remind us of our mortality, not forget about it. And if that's the case, maybe it's also there to keep us present and aware that our last action, our last effort, and our last impression, may be how we're remembered. And so, rather than try to do everything once, we are free to focus on the few things we do, so that we may do them as best as we can.


So what should you think about when you go throw? We should start by thinking about what we know of ourselves as throwers. Are my release points variable? Am I doing well when I throw away from my pivot? How windy does it need to be before my throws crap out? What was similar about my turnovers near the endzone at the last practice? By identifying areas where we'd like to improve beforehand, we're already giving our time throwing a purpose and focus, two things crucial for those looking to separate themselves from the challengers. Take moments during your throwing sessions to throw, attack, jump, and catch, as you would expect yourself to games.

As you become better at being self-aware, and fine-tuning and learning become as much a part of your throwing routine as the reach for a nalgene and disc that commenced it, you'll arrive at the real sweet spot of a throwing sesh with teammates - when you begin to adjust and fine-tune not for your own sake, but so that you can fall into sync with your teammate. When you learn to read his tells as well as an airborne disc; the shift of his weight as he pivots for his around flick; the speed, fluidity, and range of his backhand hucks; his go-to pump fake just before his i/o break; you reach a level of communication that plays out at a height above what our opponents can reach and adjust to.
In other words, an explicit focus on developing chemistry, first within ourselves and then outward with our teammates, is where our focus should lie. Happy throwing.
YOLO, Brodags,

Hh

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

As many of my Whitecaps teammates can attest, I’ve been in a continuing love-hate relationship with the Innova Pulsar.  For starters, I was definitely intrigued that the MLU was using a different Frisbee.  At first touch, I was pleasantly surprised by the increased lift and smooth release of the disc.  It was new and different, which was exciting -- like throwing a brand new disc golf for the very first time.  This feeling lasted for maybe two weeks, before I had accrued enough touches to realize, that this Pulsar was very different than the Ultrastar.  During the early practices and scrimmages, multitudes of throws careened out-of-bounds, missing their targets by 30 yards.  During one particularly windy deep drill, there were at least 10 straight throws that floated, turned and veered away from their target.


My suspicion grew.

But after several weeks, the throws began to straighten out and play appeared almost normal again.  Initially, I was intrigued at the prospect of being able to throw the Pulsar farther than the Ultrastar – something that appealed to me greatly.  For another several weeks, I was whole-heartedly convinced that the Pulsar was a superior Frisbee – a big boy disc that held its edge and was destined for max distance.

However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a foolish conclusion.  Thus, our relationship flipped-flopped and flipped again.  I had to re-crunch the numbers.  It wasn’t until I was able to get onto the turf with a bag of Ultrastars and my 2-3 Pulsars that I came to several horrifying realizations.  For most throws, ranging from 5-15 yards, the difference in flight is barely noticeable.  Once the range hits 20-40 yards, there is a technique change, but nothing revolutionary, as long as there is enough spin.  However, anything over 40 yards is completely reverse – and this is my biggest gripe.

When maxing out the distance on an Ultrastar (which is under-stable), the initial edge must be Inside-Out (IO or hyzer).  But to max the distance on the Innova Pulsar (which is over-stable), the initial edge must be Outside-In (OI or anhyzer).  Splitting hairs on the angle of release sounds tedious, except when the flight plan is aimed for 80-100 yards.  Even the slightest difference on the release, can yield a yardage difference anywhere from 20-40 yards.  Still, changing the angle of release is normal in ultimate, depending on the target and distance – so nothing THAT revolutionary right?  If you're new to the basics, then this difference is minor, if not completely irrelevant, to you.

However, I make my money on big throws – rocket launcher with a sniper scope.  I can huck it 80 yards on the money, either way, boomheadshot.  The key to my success is having the biggest throws any way – upwind, downwind, crosswind, no wind.  Despite almost any conditions, I had the biggest throws on the field – especially upwind.  And here is the biggest difference and my pet peeve:  The Innova Pulsar was designed to max its distance when thrown like a disc golf.  Anhyzer edge, laser straight, S curving and tailing left on the backhand.  For going downwind, great – it goes 100 yards and floats forever!!  But now try throwing the Pulsar upwind.  Go ahead – straight upwind.  And… Oh, it only goes like 60 yards before it blades and dies.  That is my issue.  When throwing against the wind, the OI (anhyzer) edge is naturally pushed down – and therein lies the problem.  The Pulsar was designed to max out with the OI edge, which coincidentally doesn’t happen when going straight upwind.  The difference for the Ultrastar is the versatility and ability to turn/aim/airbounce the disc – moving it around targets more effectively and the ability to control the flight plan all the way through the S curve.  When throwing upwind with the Ultrastar, the edge has to be severely IO (hyzer), which is the way to max the distance for an Ultrastar regardless. 

Obviously, this is a big difference when trying to throw hucks with a Pulsar and Ultrastar – because the angle of release is completely opposite.  Not a little different; it's completely 100% opposite.  This realization was cemented several months into the season, when Ironside tryouts and MLU games were in direct conflict.  Suddenly, I was hucking Ultrastars like a Pulsar and Pulsars like an Ultrastar.  Neither disc agreed – and my rage and frustration with the Pulsar grew.  This Pulsar is a fake, beginners disc with a fat rim and extra float.  You could grip it like a cantaloupe the rim is so deep and every pass is destined for extra air time.  I didn’t care if I could throw it farther than an Ultrastar anymore.  I had lost my total control of the disc and my muscle memory.

At first, I started getting angry with the disc and just trying to throw it harder.  I had been just killing it in the weight room, so why not just go beastmode on the grip?  If there was enough spin, the Z’s could turn the edge naturally...  So, I started squeezing harder.  This had two immediate effects.  First, the rim was soo deep, it began bruising my hand from how hard I was gripping the disc.  Second, the massive rim was changing my grip to such an extent that I was now missing my power point (the very last point of contact with the disc before release).  Perhaps my friction gloves could be the solution?  Not remotely.

I can recall the exact instant when my loathing for the Pulsar climaxed.  During a long scrimmage at Ironside tryouts, I threw my fourth flick huck to a wide open deep target and for the fourth time, the disc turned, bladed, and fell.  Incomplete.   I was throwing the Ultrastar like a Pulsar.  Suddenly, I felt like a beginner again, frustrated with my inability to adjust and angry for playing so poorly.

Coincidentally, USAU has been exploring new disc options for the last several years.  Apparently, the original Discraft Ultrastar mold has fully depreciated and lived its last days, spurring the need for a new plastic mold to fill the shoes.  Originally, USAU sent 5 test flight discs last year for feedback.  I was impressed with some more than others, but generally hesitant to approve just any old Frisbee for championship use.  I wasn’t the only one, as 43% of testers failed the current Ultrastar (one of the five test flight discs) for championship use!  So for the second round of testing, I was more receptive to change and passed the next 3 discs with relative ease – as they were adequate enough.  However, one more disc came up for testing and I immediately recognized it as an Innova Pulsar-esque, which I relished denying for championship use - although it was just as adequate as the others.   

Overall, the MLU is awesome and clearly top dog over the AUDL.  The professionalism and excitement created for the sport of ultimate is amazing.  The new sponsors and increased competition make sense, but from a handlers point-of view, at least choose a Frisbee that doesn’t compromise play in the sense that I have to relearn how to huck the darn thing.  For 90% of players – who like to run lots, chase players on defense, make under cuts and throw dumps – this will hardly affect you.  But my favorite part of ultimate is throwing the disc, and overall, this disc is completely different to throw deep. 

Lately, I’ve decided to take that Pulsar where it really belongs-- the disc golf course.  I nailed some trees, but also some birdies.  It's actually a very effective mid-range disc.

It’s mid-April and I’m already 9 weeks into the season.  My first game is this weekend against NY, but I can already tell it’s going to be a long season.  Every Wednesday evening for two months now, I’ve battled traffic and stormy weather just for the opportunity to murder my legs on a gigantic ultimate field.  The extra 10 yards of length and 13 1/3 yards of width are surprisingly large factors on the professional stage. There is no shortage of space anymore.  Defense is nearly impossible.  

But the biggest travesty thus far, is changing the Frisbee.  Good intentions aside, this new disc will undoubtedly affect the level of play.  It’s no wonder the Innova flies like a golf disc; Innova is a leader in disc golf discs.  The rim is huge, bulky, and abrupt in comparison to the Ultrastar rim.  But the biggest difference is that the Pulsar holds its edge, despite the spin on the disc, making IO throws stay IO.  Even a flat IO will fade away, making the majority of huck drills unmanageable as disc after disc strays out of bounds.  At first, due to the Pulsar's ability to hold its edge, I thought it could be thrown harder and farther.  That was foolish optimism.  There is no S curve.  Throwing IO with the intention of turning the edge over isn’t an option.  With an Ultrastar, ripping the hyzer and playing out the S curve makes for the biggest throws.  But with this Innova, the only option is anhyzer.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Never with head in sand
In order to describe to you Brian Hart, and explain why he's a candidate worthy of the award, I need to first tell you about two other people: Henry Callahan, an Oregon player; and Kevin Crowley, a Wisconsin player.

If you belong to the tiny subset of humans that play competitive Ultimate you've heard of the former and if you belong to a small subset of that subset, players from Wisconsin, you've heard of the latter. There's a reason for that, and for all the on-field heroics both were, in their time, famous for, you'd be hard-pressed to find mention of some specific play. Talk to people who knew them, and you're a dozen stories deep before some play either made on the field comes up. They're known now as ambassadors, as people, and are remembered not for their plays but for the way they carried themselves and they way they treated others. These are people now remembered by those who never met them, because the ripples of effect they had on so many created a wake of influence behind them.

This year the Hodag program is inaugurating the Kevin Crowley Spirit Award, our in-house version of the Callahan, to be voted on by the outbound seniors to give to a returner; the one who carries the fire of the team within them, who can not only make plays but lead others to elevate along with him; it's the person you entrust with the future of the program. This being Hart's last year, it comes too late. And, "the Callahan trophy is presented to the man and woman who combine superior athleticism with outstanding sportsmanship, leadership and dedication to the sport of ultimate. In the eyes of his or her peers, the Callahan winner is the personification of the ideal ultimate player." Both awards ask their recipients to live up to incredibly lofty standards, and in order for them to mean anything, to act as a relic for the people they're named after, we must uphold those standards as voters.

That's why I want to tell you about Hart, who's so unassuming that you might walk by him tomorrow on your way to work or class and not even know, not have any idea how he lives his life.

roostering at his 1st PDs
But I want you to know, because it's worth telling, and for our program (and yours), worth emulating. Hart missed his first year with the Hodags because he accidentally showed up to the C-team's practice and didn't know any different until it was too late. He was about to get cut from the club team the following summer because he tried out as a handler. My fellow captain Seth and I threw him downfield on a whim and couldn't get him to stop scoring goals. In those years, he was a kid with staggering promise who had no idea how good he was, nor how good he was gonna be. It's only been three years since and the same holds true, only now at the level of the very acme of talent in our sport. In a time when we're bombarded with messages telling us to take credit and get ours and suckle beams of spotlight for attention, you would never know how good he is by the way he carries himself.

I guess that's because aside from incredible talent and panther instincts, he also has humility, which day in and day out seems to be the most difficult thing to cultivate and nourish in ourselves. And he's that rare person who figured out how to interweave humility and leadership into the same concept. Hart has been an exemplary teammate and friend to all the Hodags in his time here, leading by words and example. There are plays his teammates make that can be attributed to 9 months of being challenged by Hart in practice, always encouraging his match-up, and always winning it.

And there's another rare gift he shares with Crowley and Callahan, simple but elusive to so many: consistency. If you know Hart you know Hart. He's as respectful to people on the field as he is off of it, calls games the same from beginning to end, will give you props for making a play on him when you best him, and retain your respect the overwhelming majority of the times that you don't.

I love Hart and I'm thankful we had the opportunity to work together like this. He's a brother that I've adopted with a spirit I hope my son will have. When I think of Henry and Kevin and the legacy they left for us, which we nurture and grow every year by awarding an honor in their name, no more fitting a person than Hart comes to mind. It's not so much that his skies and layouts and hammers and catch Ds will fade with time, only that the shine of contributions to us as people will blind us to them.

Hodag Love,

Hart For Callahan 2013


p.s.
"Click on me to see what i do on the regular," Hart said never.