Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I love the Wednesday before Club Nationals. Most the team arrives Tuesday, but we arrive to our beach houses late and tired and do little other than mill around the rooms and establish pecking order for the best sleep spots in the house.

But we get all Wednesday, and it's all about business. The day is electric, I walk around the whole day with the hair on my neck on end, the feeling I'll static shock anything I touch. Most of that whole day is committed to visualization, trying to control the emotion of the upcoming days, and it's under this lens that I go grocery shopping. The trip to the neighborhood Publix is my favorite part of the day.

Unless you've never been to Club Nationals, you know that the "cool" place to stay while there is Siesta Key. I went with Madison one year, stayed at the tourney hotel inland, and finished in 16th place. Horrible time. But Siesta Key's where it's at—you even play better if you stay there. A few years ago if you were extra-cool, you stayed at the Surf & Racquet Club on the Key. But a hilarious story involving an uncontrollable but illustrious Hodag alum put an end to any chance of ultimate players staying there again.

Anyway, Siesta Key is mostly just residential development with a few bars and breakfast places (The Daiquiri Deck, the it-place to celebrate the victory Sunday or mourn the defeat, but both leading to the same dark pile of vomit you wake up in). As such, it has no major grocery store of its own, forcing Siesta Keyers to drive up the road and stop at the nearest Publix. And on Wednesday, preparation day, that funnels representatives from nearly every team at Nationals to the same spot.

A curious game of people-watching develops. If you're a young rookie on a happy-to-be-here team, sent to do bitch work, you may be awestruck to share the crackers aisle with the best cutter in the game. By the time you're getting eggs you're tweaking about all the players you recognize by picture alone. But if it ain't your first time around the block, you know the game. You know you gotta strut, cuz the other team is watching you and they're sizing you up. Now, I'm not saying you break out the pimpwalk, but your posture is as erect as it's ever been and you look like a motivational speaker about to start his speech. No part of you is sagging; you betray no doubt or weakness.

You can't help but glance into the carts of your competitors. That cart contains everything that will be fueling them for the next four days. Where have they placed their trust? Red Bulls in Sockeye's cart, imitation Rockstar in Boston's. Who's buying up the Slim Fasts, who went with the megaprotein shakes? What are the best using to power their bodies? Who's scooping up vaseline? A deeper level of competitor analysis.

Running into all these people is strangely awkward for everyone because you're running into tomorrow's competition and already chomping at the bit. You're probably great friends with them in the off-season and early season, but fraternizing with them this close to game-time would ruin some of the mental exercises you've been running all day. The anxiety over the next day tweaks some out: they're overly nice, others go silent. A friend I know stares everybody down. Positioning in the mental game at Nationals begins between the dairy and produce sections.

You check out, and the clerk asks you what team you're from and do you think you'll win. They end with a "good luck" and "hope you win," but it sounds hollow. They know the drill: this time every year a mass of hoodlums descends on their piece of picturesque and buys up everything. They nod, feed you the line, smile, and send you on your way. As you leave, others from another team are entering. Their tour is just beginning.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Today the UPA announced that College Nationals '08 would be changed in two significant ways: (1) it will be a week earlier, and (2) it will be held in conjunction with a multi-sport event produced by CSTV, the UPA's broadcast partner for the 6th straight year. Some background, and then some issues. Note: These opinions are mine alone and do not represent an official communication from the UPA or tournament staff.

CSTV's Collegiate Nationals is a championship event for a variety of non-varsity sports. The ultimate competition will take place at the Pleasant View soccer complex in Boulder—home to 1999 College Nationals, 2006 H.S. Westerns, and Colorado Cup since 2006. One thing I was wary of was having multiple events at Pleasant View, but we will be the only sport there.

Nationals will take place May 16–18, the weekend before Memorial Day. I searched RSD for any reference to a past College Nationals that wasn't on Memorial Day weekend but I didn't find anything. Is this a big deal? Maybe, maybe not.

The TDs have worked on Westerns and Colorado Cup, plus we have UPA staff down the street, so I am confident this will be a well-run event. Disclaimer: Yes, I am involved in the tournament (though I am not the TD). I was enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing Nationals to my back yard, so perhaps I was a bit blinded by the detrimental effects of moving the event and incorporating into a larger event. In many ways ultimate is entrenched in various habits, for better or worse, and these two steps are pretty big. Let's have a look.

Issue #1 – Bumping Nationals up a week
This move—to accommodate an event that we have no ownership over—will probably be seen as the less desirable one. There are some unavoidable problems with the move in schedule, but they are problems we will overcome.

There are no plans to move up the start of the College Series (some Sectionals are held in crappy/cold weather anyway), and qualifiers from the second round of Regionals will face a tight window in which to get plane tickets. Will travel costs increase for players? I think not, for a few reasons. As the SW RC I am going to try to have Regionals on the first potential weekend and I will encourage other RCs to follow suit. Perhaps an airline discount can be arranged for players to take a bite out of costs. I also assume that airfares are lower on this weekend than they are on Memorial Day, a holiday and the traditional start to summer vacation season. (I checked some travel web sites. This far out they are the same.)

It's not a three-day weekend, but does that matter? We play on Friday and finish on Sunday in either case. Yes, the buffer travel day is nice, but I know last year Match Diesel had lab on Monday morning. We may hit a few more graduations, but there are some on Memorial Day too.

And the last issue, which has surfaced more recently, is that of competing events. Not with the other CSTV Nationals events, but specifically with lacrosse. The NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships are always held Memorial Day weekend. If we are to assume that we are actually competing with other, non-football & non-basketball events (i.e., every other sport yearning for coverage) for media exposure and television time, then moving college ultimate's premier tournament makes sense. Turns out the Div II and III lax finals—which take place the same weekend and as part of the same event as Div I—are airing live on CSTV on Memorial Day weekend. Good move moving us.

Issue #2 – Incorporating into a larger event
I think this is another good move. Yes, we lose some autonomy, but we are also exposing ourselves, as it were, to similar athletes (those that have chosen alternative sports) and increasing the size and scope of audiences and sponsors alike. I think the absolute worst case is a neutral effect, but the overlap is likely going to be a net gain.

Take, for example, the fraction of good coming from our internet exposure. How many people last year do you think found information about UPA College Nationals? I'm betting pretty much the people that were looking for it and no one else. But this year we have video highlights and cross-audience exposure on a site that garners over 3 million hits per month. Internet broadcasting is the future of every sport. Sign me up.

Does the sport sacrifice anything by joining forces with other sports? I don't think so. As I said above, the ultimate competition—the gist of the weekend for ultimate players—remains the same. And does the larger event lend any authenticity or credibility to the sport? Yes. Snowboarding, skiing, beach volleyball, weightlifting ... several of the sports at CSTV's Nationals are Olympic sports and those clinging to their coattails (ultimate, wakeboarding, adventure racing) can only benefit. You could think of this as the X-Games for college sports.

This tactic of combining resources also stands to benefit every club sport in the eyes of college administrators. Club sports occupy a gray area on many campuses. More than intramural rec, but clearly inferior to varsity athletics in terms of administrative & financial support. If X University previously had three unrelated club sports teams going to their respective championships in three different places, but now has three teams going to one huge championship event, shouldn't the admin sit up and take notice? I hope so.

The college nationals "social event," which has understandably* been handcuffed, ridiculed, and demoted from "party" to "event" in the last three or four years could be part of something half-way interesting. Go watch another sport? Have an awards ceremony with other sports? Have split parties (over- and under-21) with a thousand other athletes? I don't know, but it might be cool.

*Liability is a bitch.

Normal gripes
People will complain about the location because it is far away from them, or that airfare to [fill in the blank—DEN this year] is high, but the only legitimate gripe is that we are at altitude. Yep, Pleasant View is about 5,300 feet above sea level. Sorry about that, but every 7–8 years (Ft. Collins 1992, Boulder 1999 & 2007) is not that often for great fields, a great ultimate community, and the UPA's back yard. Plus Denver/Boulder is more central than many locations.

An annual tradition on this blog since 2006, we now present what every ultimate player on your list wants (besides those tickets to Kaimana).

Patagonia Stellar Black Hole Bag
Maybe you get a discount on this, maybe you don't. It doesn't change what comes in the mail: a waterproof, bomber bag. It's perfect for traveling, leaving on the sidelines, or a canoe trip. It holds 6,800 cubic inches and has backpack straps for portability. Tater took one to Japan and had one thing to say: "Arigato!"

Buzz Bullets Disc
No Bunka Shutter jerseys, no official gloves, but their web site does have one merch item: the Buzz Bullets disc. If you want to support the 2006 Club World Champions, this is the way to do it. Note: I do not know how successful you will be ordering from their site. It appears to be in some foreign language—perhaps Japanese. Google would love to help though.

SmartWool Crew Socks
They may be $15/pair, but that's because SmartWool makes the best socks around. If you order three or more pairs from REI you get 10% off, plus a tiny bit of that back on your dividend. Go ahead, pull the trigger. (They make skiing & snowboarding socks too. Also expensive; also worth it.)

Hodags Replica Jersey
Surprisingly this gift guide is not being written by Hector. But as my man BJar, former Central RC, put it (with reference to Minnesota's burgeoning youth scene): "They all aspire to be Hodags." And you thought the Patriots were on a run?

I Am America (And So Can You) (Audio CD)
Stephen Colbert's shtick wears on me sometimes. I know this is a sacr
ilegious thing to say in the face of Colbert's truthiness, but that's just how I feel about him. This version of his bestselling book, however, is absolutely hilarious. Not quite suitable for pre-game warm-ups (unless your game face features uncontrollable laughter), but very suitable for the plane or car, in which case you may also want...

Bose QuietComfort 2 Headphones
According to CNET, the industry standard for noise-cancell
ing headphones have only improved. Unfortunately their cost ($300) remains prohibitive. If you are like me—unwilling to spend anything close to this much—you might check out David Pogue's review of comparable but less expensive noise-cancelling headphones.

UltiVillage DVDs

A version of this gift guide was posted wi
thout this obvious choice. Apologies, Rob. You will not err if anything you give comes from UltiVillage. Countless hours of labor have gone into producing the most dedicated discs around. UV covers the best college, club, international, and youth events.

Captain's Chair
Boring but important. My first was a ground score at Poultry Days a few years back, but it's good to buy one once in a while.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Off-Season

Since my ACL reconstruction on Aug 21 things have been a bit like the mountains around here: rocky. Everything was great for about three weeks, then I had PT one Friday morning and the knee blew up, culminating in a second surgery on Oct 19. While I would love to have such a simple scapegoat—some bad therapy or massage or, worst of all, a bad physical therapist—it seems that I was fated to struggle.

Aug 22–Sept 14 had me progressing at an above-average rate. Nothing amazing, but better than many recoveries. My extension and flexion (how close my heel comes to my butt) were improving each week, and my strength was returning like refugees to a war-torn homeland: the landscape was familiar... changed for the worse, but familiar. On Sept 14 I went into PT and had some swelling—normal, certainly, for 3.5 weeks out of surgery—and a stiffer than usual knee cap. We did the routine things that day as well as some massage around the knee cap trying to loosen it up. Next day my knee was extremely stiff and the swelling increased. My extension and flexion regressed to where one would expect to be several days out of surgery, not several weeks.

Weeks 4–8 were downright depressing. I would fight and fight for 1 or 2 degrees of extension and the stiffness and swelling would knock me right back. Fears crept in: Are we pushing too hard? Are we not pushing hard enough? Is my body rejecting the allograft? That would fucking suck. Am I not doing enough at home? My surgeon and I booked a second surgery for Oct 18. We weren't sure what the surgery was for ... making sure the ACL was solid, I guess, seeing if it was infected, maybe. Whatever. It was comforting to know in early October that if my struggles persisted for several weeks more there might be a silver bullet.

But there are no silver bullets in physiology. Every 3 seconds you take off your 200m time requires weeks of training, and lifting in the months prior just to make sure your body could even shave any time off. Every 3 degrees of extension or flexion I gained required weeks of stretching, patience, and pain.

Oct 15, three days before surgery #2, I met with the surgeon and it happened to be a good day. In the up-and-down wave of my recovery he caught me on the upswing, marked by slight gains in extension/flexion and a decrease in swelling. We called off the surgery.

Friday Oct 19 I had a regularly scheduled PT session and the 24 hours prior had been the hardest since surgery. I called in "sick" to work on Thursday, but I wasn't sick, I was nearly incapacitated, immobile. Then Friday morning my knee capsule was bigger than a softball. My PT said he couldn't do anything and called in the PT center's physician's assistant to evaluate the knee. They called my surgeon—caught him scrubbing in, minutes from being unavailable—and he advised to drain the knee, have the fluid sent to the lab. "That is a big syringe," I said to the PT and the PA. "Better to have the RV than the Pinto I guess."

Twenty minutes and two syringefuls (110 cc's) later we had some fluid in our hands and I had a lot less in my knee. Went home. PA called: "By the way, you can't eat anything starting right now in case you need surgery." "Okay." Awesome. It's 10 a.m. and I've eaten cereal and coffee. Later the PA calls ... Lab report says the white blood cell count is very high in the fluid, they suspect infection. Instructed to report to the hospital at 5:00.

Surgery finally starts at 8:30 or 9:00. I&D, irrigate & drain. Knee-related fears being not assuaged at all (It is the allograft. Will I have to start over? Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck shit), my only comfort was the promise of a new Vicodin prescription and, if I was lucky, some ice chips and a snack as soon as I came to. Surgery went fine and they cleaned out the knee, checked on the graft. Everything seemed okay except the white blood cell count from the drain sample.

But lab cultures never replicated a bacterial infection from the blood samples drawn over the course of three weeks. Apparently microbacterial science, in the year of our Lord 2007, is an imperfect science. Yesterday's chat with Alex, a PT student:

11:02 PM me: knee's ok
11:00 PM infection might've been, might not've been
they're not really sure
apparently that field of medical science has not yet been perfected
I'm like isn't it 2007?
11:01 PM but -- getting better now, slowly but surely
11:02 PM Alex: haha
unfortunately the big money is not researching microbacteria stuff
me: where is the big money?
11:03 PM Alex: anti-depressants, fat burners and male erectile dysfunction
So I was on antibiotics for a 3.5 weeks. Better to treat a possible infection than not treat an imperceptible infection.

The last 5 1/2 weeks have yielded steady improvement with a slight plateau in the last week. I'm hitting the YMCA 5–6 times a week, PT now down to once a week. Just began introducing cardio to my routine, did some speed ladder–like exercises, slideboard, and lunges. Good shit.

I am optimistic now.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Oh god. I feel it coming now. Nine days removed from Finals and the tips of my fingers are beginning to tingle. I move away from the computer but the keyboard keeps pulling me back.
I've been dealing with the demons and adjustments of another season finished day and night and today I awoke feeling ready.

So here it comes, these next few weeks: The season, and national championship, in review.

We'll be talking about:
The Curse
My Teammates
Me and my future in this sport.

Let me start this next creative output by saying thank you to all my teammates for my favorite club season to date. We had a fucking blast, and I couldn't have wanted any more from you guys.

Alright, when I've more time this week, more to come.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

After discovering Ultimate during my senior year of high school, it quickly began to overtake my other passions and interests. So it was only natural that after my only high school campaign culminated in a state championship over Colin Gottlieb and his West High teammates, I sought another forum where I might showcase my mad skillz.

It was then that I first made the acquaintance of the Madison Ultimate Frisbee Association (MUFA), MUSL (summer league), and MUSL's coordinator, Robin Davies.

I knew nothing of organizing a team, deadlines, or fees. I didn't even know most of the rules then. I predictably missed the registration deadline, and showed up at a house on Jennifer Street in Madison guarded by two of the most intimidating German Shepherds I'd ever seen. Afraid to even knock, but knowing that it was the only way to have a chance of playing Ultimate that summer, I braved the canines and rang the bell. Robin answered the door. I apologized for our tardiness, explained our situation, and begged to be let into the league. He took our half-filled roster form, smiled, and told us our first game would be the following week on a Wednesday. I left elated.

Back then, $25 got you a disc, a team t-shirt, two games a week, and two free pitchers of beer and two free appetizers from the Great Dane after every game for the length of the summer. That was 10 years ago. Inflation has taken its toll. Now, for $25 you get...the same thing, minus the apps, but the t-shirt is now a 5 Ultimate jersey. And the finals is an open-invite bash with incredible food and drinks served on a gorgeous Madison evening with a boisterous crowd, exciting play, and not a mean-mugging hater to be seen. $25. That's not a typo. My first year MUSL was around 16 teams playing 5/2 coed. This year? 88 teams, 1750 players. The man responsible? Robin Davies. For 8 years he held down the MUSL director position and groomed that little plum into one of the best summer leagues anywhere in the country. That was his baby, and it grew into a mature, stable beast.

Now I pick up my latest UPA newsletter and see Robin Davies is running for an at-large position for the board of directors. I couldn't be more elated. You want someone with a different perspective from all us tired, "elite" ultimate players that care only about the fall series and Nationals? Robin Davies. You want someone with a proven track record of waxing a little league into a self-sustaining powerhouse among everyone from casual city to college-champion players, and having everyone involve enjoy themselves immensely? Robin Davies. You want someone that has spent the last 10 years of his life listening to and addressing the needs and wants of every category of player and person? Robin Davies.

I know most of us are more concerned with not turning it over in pick-up than we are with voting for UPA board members. For some reason we don't care. But, hey, for just one moment, take a breath, click on this sentence right here, and vote. Vote for Robin Davies. I am not the type that endorses shit lightly, and definitely not the person who will recommend someone just because they're a friend. For disclosure, we haven't spoken in over a year and as I type now, no one in Madison knows I'm writing this.

Robin is going to get shit done, he's going to put in the work, take care of the little things, and make sure the voices of the mass number of players get heard: the players out there enjoying the beautiful afternoon, caring less about winning a national championship and more about expanding our base, promulgating the love, and having a good time.

It's a voice seldom heard above the din of the needy "elite", and Robin is a man to represent it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Game Ready

I apologize for the title of this post as it belies the content. If you were expecting something like Hector's recent pieces on tournament preparation you will be disappointed.

To the 5 of you still reading, congratulations. Two months ago my right ACL was torn by a somewhat late bid on defense. I see no point in excoriating the team or the player here, as they have been shat upon in private. (Though I would like to give a shout-out to Blackfish, who offered me shade and ice — from their beer no less — on the sideline following that painful pop.) But also it is a disservice to think about that time you got hurt. Lingering on that instant of pain and the dread of a season ending in June do very little to rehab your ______.

No, Hector's season and mine are very different now. But to be sure, they weren't the same from the beginning, having different team and individual goals. Johnny Bravo would do well to win Nationals; Sack Lunch would do well to qualify. Those of you playing this Series have practices and workouts, while some of us have PT workouts. We (the injured, editorial we) are putting in our time and it couldn't be more important. You will not keep a good mark in your last game at Regionals if you do not work out in the next 6 weeks. If we do not work out in the next 6 weeks we never play again (at an acceptable level for the elite ultimate player). Relegated to league and disc golf? No sir. I'll be back. You just won't see me at Solstice... twice attended, twice injured.

As for the Game Ready, I recommend this for anyone who injures something that requires constant icing. "Game Ready" is a bit of a misnomer, but I suspect the origin for such a product was the need to ice professional athletes like baseball pitchers. And besides, "Injured On Your Ass" didn't make it out of focus-grouping.

I am also participating in a long-term study for ACL reconstruction patients. Why not help the torn ACLs of 2017 if all it takes is four surveys (present, 2 years post-op, 6 years, 10 years)? Plus the stipend is off the hook... $80 or something.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Oh, oh. It’s happened. There’s been a break-up, and now your fellow ultimate player is no longer together with his hot girlfriend. Which means only one thing to the predators circling her chum-infested aura: the hunt is on.

You’re resisting, though. You’ve always thought she was cute. Busty, great smile, maybe she’s got some dimples you find irresistible or you have a thing for the way she moves when she’s playing disc. Because, of course, she plays. You all play. And maybe, you and him play together. That’s the sticking point, isn’t it? You’re not quite sure if you should go after her, after all, how will he feel? You’re not like, super close to him, but you’ve hung out. You kinda like the guy. And lately, since the break-up, he’s been looking a little forlorn.

You hem and haw for a while, unsure of whether to go for it or not. Meanwhile, other guys are cozying up, taking test bites to see if they can approach for the kill, but so far she’s politely resisting. It’s been too soon. But at the very next disc party the ex checks out early, heartsick from watching dudes strike at his former girl all night. And somewhere between the third Long Island and the fourth Jaeger Bomb, you say “fuck it” and approach.

Her face is flush with the new attention, her complexion rosy, her quivering smile betraying her own mix of rum and shots. As you approach, Timbaland’s "Way I Are" blares from the house speakers and you blend bodies and start to grind. It’s fun, it’s comfortable, you’ve known each other since she was a freshman and you’ve gone out in big groups before. The song is bangin’, as they say, and the flirting is fun.

And as your cheeks get closer and the Malibu bouquet of her breath whispers down your spine, you remember old John Lyly’s Eupheus: the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war. Love, in these circles, is a math equation whose range is limited by the number of available mates at any one time. There are only so many hims and hers. And with so much time spent around disc and its people, meeting others outside the scene is tough. It requires effort. So as Timbaland fades to Rihanna and you begin to make out, looking for an appropriate exit to quit the evening and find comfort in each other, you tell yourself the harsh reality of our dating scene:

It’s not your girl, it’s just your turn.

And if it wasn’t your Schwinn she’s precariously trying to balance on as you coast downhill to her place, it’d be someone else’s. You know that. The ex knows that. And somewhere in her subconscious, she knows as well. That’s why he had to leave the party, that’s why you had to act, and that’s why you’ll remember bitterly those sweet beginnings of your relationship the day you jet out of a club with your throat in knots and her arms wrapped around some buddy of yours. It’s tough. But you’ll get used to it. After all, another couple is looking like they’ve hit a rough patch, and you and she have always been close…

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I've been watching this clip all day. I can't stop staring at the power of sheer determination and grit.

The clip is of the last lap of the 10 K in the Sydney Olympics. It shows an epic battle between Kenyan Paul Tergat in a red shirt with black shorts, and Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie in a green shirt and red shorts. With a lap left to go, Tergat finds himself boxed in and realized he has to make a move to the outside. A hundred meters later, a hole opens to his right and he blasts through it. Coming from so far outside and and blowing past everyone, he's striding and feeling confident he may have gotten a surprise jump on the front runners. Gebrselassie, then in second place, catches him in his periphery, and realizing the danger of letting him go, unblinkingly follows, leaving the current leader behind.

At 1:35, you can watch him turn to look at Tergat, then, as if knowing what was ahead, looking down at his legs and demanding that they give everything they have now. He begins to sprint all out to keep up with Tergat, who's increaing separation. They're still hopelessly far away yet they find themselves at top speed. Keep in mind these are the last 300 meters of a 10,000 meter race. Being passed is a psychological letdown in distance running that's proportional to the difference in speed between you and the guy burning you. It's hard to stay focused or not lose heart. That makes Gebrselassie's immediate reaction initially admirable. But watch closer. For the first two hundred yards of that sprint, he makes up no ground on Tergat. In fact, Tergat increases his lead. But Gebrselassie doesn't stop. He holds that pace because he knows, deep in his lungs, that he will do whatever it takes to hold this pace - his maximum effort. And he knows that Tergat, at some moment before the finish, will slow.

As they round the last bend, even the paraplegics in the crowd are on their feet. No vocal chord stilled. The mass gets louder and louder as the legs of the two runners get heavier and heavier, but they keep going, seemingly pushed by the very shockwave of sound the fans are creating. With 50 meters left Gebrselassie pulls even with Tergat and they begin their test of wills, measured side by side, stride for stride. As you watch the last hundred meters, notice how the announcer hasn't stopped talking but aside from slight feedback his voice has been overrun by the unbelieving mob. The cheers seem to peak the moment when, 10 meters from the finish line, Gebrselassie pulls slightly ahead of Tergat, but then defy their own logic and find one more level of volume as both runners cross the line, Tergat bowing his head slightly at the finish either in one last gasp for victory or a reverent pose of concession toward his competitor.

Gebrselassie wins the gold by 9 hundreths of a second. By .09s. The 10K. Pause it at 6:01 to see how close the finish was. There's a different angle that begins at 4:20 with Tergat making his move, and shows them on the final kick stride for stride until Tergat's feet slacken just a hair and Haile pushes that much harder. Tergat's face after the race is a mixture of incredulity and abject defeat. As soon as I stopped rewinding it I went and immediately worked out, hard. Unless you're dead to the world and its constant struggles, I guarantee your reaction will be the same.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

(continued from Part 1)

You see, despite the fact some our most committed organizers are gone and behind bars, I began to think of the ways that my own personal interactions with ultimate will be affected. And after doing some soul searching, I realized the immediate effects won’t be much.

Thoughts first turned to the Open division of Club, since we’re in the season’s full swing. Without the UPA, there will obviously be no Championship series. But that’s hardly gonna dampen our desire for competition. Since the ‘elite’ nationals qualifying teams are all colluding buddy-buddies anyway, there’s going to be a flurry of emails while they decide which tourney will be the “championship.” We'll probably go with a points-based series comprised of Colorado Cup, Emerald City Classic, and Labor Day Invitational with maybe one or two east coast or larger tourneys thrown in there. The new championship will be held sometime in October at Whitaker fields in Austin hosting Open, Women’s, and Master’s divisions. Due to field constraints the Mixed championships will be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And you better believe the Cultimate TDs are gonna be all over this one.

Then I thought about my high schoolers and the team I coach. “Oh no, their season is ruined,” I lamented. But I gave myself some time to step back and think about how things would really change. Here at Colorado Youth Ultimate no one’s waiting for permission from the UPA to get things going. We’re already forming this year’s league. Captains and coaches like myself are voting on issues of gender divisions or co-ed play, we’re announcing the existence of our teams, and creating schedules, all without UPA oversight. Aside from this season’s trophy not reading “UPA” just before “Colorado High School Championships”, this coming season is going to run just like the last.

Then I thought of my beloved Hodags and the very fun college series. The UPA’s control of the legitimacy of college rosters is not going to be immediately replaceable, unfortunately. This will be a true test of Spirit of the Game, and a test the players of this sport have not always passed. Can 100% of the players be trusted to be legitimately eligible players? Probably not, and history might asterisk the next few seasons till we develop a framework for college validation again. But Easterns will still go on. Centex will draw teams looking to scrap. The Stanford Invite will keep inviting and High Tide will still send an underage college kid or two to detox from excessive partying on a Savannah St. Patrick’s Day. College players will still find ways to play.

The UPA is a repository of information, but it was put there by the players. There are now differing opinions on what the best way to play the game is that throw into question basic well-known rules or even the tenet of SOTG. And sure, in the vacuum of one real governing body of the sport in the US, people will begin to organize their own version of what the game should look like and seek disciples. But I wager when the sediment settles and people have voted with their membership, the body of governance chosen by the vast majority of players today will play by rules that look pretty gosh darn similar to the ones we’re using today.

The UPA does a lot of work, but there aren’t very many of them. I believe that the grass-roots enterprise of this community would pick up the slack and unify in time to pick the sport up and get it running again. New faces, new boards of directors, maybe even new ideas, but the same level of commitment, tenacity, and love for the game. Under-age players will still drink at tourney parties if they’re committed to it, over-age players will still use craftiness to win, and I’m still going to be on the field, as a player, coach, or fan, watching plastic thrown around.

Monday, August 13, 2007

From the comment section of Match Diesel's blog:

“The biggest difference on this issue between Purple Valley and a UPA event is who feels the impact if something goes wrong. If something tragic happens at Purple Valley and the Williams team gets sued we're talking about one program of maybe 100 guys and girls and a couple of tournaments that are affected. If something tragic happens to an underage player at a UPA event and the UPA gets sued and loses we are talking about serious impact to an organization that hosts almost all of the competetive structure of the sport in the US and serves over 25,000 members.” –Kyle Weisbrod
By now I’m sure you’ve all read on CNN and Fox News that tragically on Saturday night, eight seniors drunk off Schlitz and shots of Goldschlager they acquired at the UPA sponsored Youth Club Championships party commandeered two golf carts used by the UPA officials themselves for quick access to any field at the tournament site. They decided on racing as their fun for the hour but lasted only 3 minutes, when one cart hit a moose during a hairpin curve, clipped the other, and both flipped into an irrigation ditch. The carts having just been refueled for Sunday’s tournament needs, they exploded in a ball of flame and only one of the eight players survived, albeit with burns to 90% of his body.

The response, and litigation, was swift and furious as the sun rose on Sunday. Games began with a moment of silence but it was obvious to everyone the feds and suits would descend on the party soon. Descend they did, and buried Phil Q and the rest of the UPA in enough litigation to ensure it was expunged from history’s books by today, Monday. Even as I write this Will Deaver and Sandie Hammerly are answering questions in front of a congressional panel, and the Blaine Police Dept is pursuing charges against Meredith Tosta, who left the keys to the golf carts in the ignition. Our sport is in deep shit.

Or is it? I know all of you ultimate players out there are in a state of panic thinking ultimate is dead, but hear me out! Stop running around the room like chickens with your heads cut off. We’re fine. Ultimate’s fine. Yes, it’s highly likely that most of the current UPA employees are going to jail because of criminal negligence and the government will dissolve the players’ association, but the sport is far from dead. In fact, it may only get better. Let me explain.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Just a minor point.

Stop talking about "Team X". You know your Team X. In your message boards and team emails you keep talking about how you're going to pound them in the showcase game, how you're taking them down in finals.

"I'm going to shut down John Doe, man!"
"Fuck yeah! I'ma point block the shit out of Joe Smithy, dog. They're going down in finals, fo' sheezy."

Ahem. Cough. Excuse me, I have a question. What if they don't make finals? Will you be prepared for your opponent then?

It may not seem or feel like it, but all this talk about how you gotta beat Team X is just another way of joining the worldwide dick-suck on that team. Your mouth says, "We're gonna trounce 'em in Finals in front of friends and family," because you're psyching yourself and your teammates up. But what you're really telling yourself, deep down in your primitive cerebellum is, "Team X is 100% making finals. Hope we beat them if we get there."

Talking about that shit is inconsistent with the "it's about us" philosophy. I don't care if it's Finals, the showcase game, or pool play and I don't care if it's Bad Larry, Observer Dave's summer league team, or NYNY in their prime, I wanna squash that bug. I wanna play my best and hardest and I wanna do it by sticking to our team strategies and executing everything that's asked of me as flawlessly as possible relying on solid fundamentals. I'm gonna keep it boring.

But if you're telling me how we gotta take down Team X, you're just getting yourself overworked about that game. Relax, think about what our game play should look like all weekend, and put something in your mouth. 'Cuz I don't want to hear it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I am feeling yesterday's workout, let me tell you. There were some times where everything was hurting and no matter how hard I pushed my body kept decelerating, wanting and needing to stop.

"Enough," it said.

"No," I responded.

I leaned harder on my body, pushing it more and exhaling deeply. I completed all the sets - barely. I don't go this hard too often, I'd break down, but from time to time you need to find the walls of your limits and push against them.

For some background, I wrote here a while ago how my brother, training for his last season, had enrolled in a 16 week strength and fitness program with a personal trainer. All season long, as the Hodags' fitness coordinator, he brought what he learned from professionals to the team and designed the workout program that laid the foundation for the Hodags' dominance of their competition. That same knowledge and philosophy, continued by Muffin last year and this coming year, led to one of the most dominant runs through Nationals competition ever. And now, with my brother's arrival on Bravo this year, he has resumed that role in weekly (and optional) workouts for the team. It's beginning to pay off, several teammates have said. And why?

It's not a secret, but it bears remembering: If you do not flirt with pain and exhaustion in your workouts you won't know what to do when they start a conversation with you on the field.

This is perhaps the hardest thing to do with my high school kids. Many of them pull up at the first sign of pain or exhaustion, the moment their bodies start taxing. I understand, when I was their age I rarely wanted to push myself too hard. It takes work. Gritting your teeth and going that one level up is something our body naturally resists, and will whine as much as it needs to place itself out of harm's way. But it can be practiced, and each time your mind and body get more comfortable with performing under duress. You focus less energy on how you feel and more energy on performing well.

Naturally, nutrition is as important as your workout. If you don't eat something with protein and carb within 45 minutes of the end of your workout, you'll be doing more harm to your body than good. You might as well not have worked out and stopped your body from consuming its own muscle mass. Food and stretching after workouts like these are vital if they are to be beneficial instead of detrimental.

Your ability to push your body past the point where it wants to quit is a skill that can be developed like any other. But when the moment comes it is entirely about will. You have to block out the desire to quit as you do other distractions and focus on the correct form of your movement. It feels a bit like taking your body off autopilot and manually working each of your muscles. Teams love players like this, because it shows a conscious unwillingness to quit, and that's a powerful intangible. When you complete a season with only one loss luck may have something to do with it, but it's those invisible mental pushes for more - a renunciation of your body's discomfort for the sake of your common goal - that fill out the W column.

I'm getting ready.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Deja Vu

"You've been here before."

It’s a little something I say to myself from time to time on the ultimate field, when adrenaline pulsates the veins in my temple, my legs and lungs burn hot, and I feel my field of vision narrowing. It’s those moments when stress and stakes are highest that I need to remind myself of my ability to perform the task at hand and, more importantly, recall each step required using a quiet analytical mind. That mantra, “you’ve been here before,” allows me to find that quiet space and remove myself from the emotion of the moment while remembering the fundamentals.

These little pauses, the two second study sessions, serve me best when I’m with a disc. In positions when I have the disc on the sideline with a four-man cup trapping, I know when the disc gets tapped in there’s going to be a burst of noise and movement, a hundred distractions all pushing themselves over for my attention. Going over personal and team strategy just before making my decision allows me to deal with only the distractions that impede my throw. Setting up on defense and being isolated in the middle of the endzone, I know that when the disc gets tapped in if I’m going into it without a plan, I’ll get easily beat by just reacting instead of anticipating. The moments on the line before pulling or receiving are also among my favorite times to recite this and start visualizing my plan.

Minor conscious adjustments in my positioning and technique just before the disc gets tapped in greatly increase my success rate in completing the throw or taking away and shutting down the cutter’s first few moves. In short, repeating to myself – You’ve been here before – is my own little mnemonic device that allows me to recall quickly and efficiently the plans and strategies I’ve learned for problem-solving on the field. This in turn has helped me get out of sticky situations and allowed me a modest level of success at this playing level.

“But what if I haven’t been here before?”

Here are a few points I think about in those tight must-have situations.

When I’m about to tap the disc in while marking I…

  • remember team marking strategy. Is the dump defender taking away up the line? Am I shading upfield or downfield?
  • think about what this teams tends to throw. Am I taking away the inside-out or the around break to start?
  • See if he’s a lefty. The type of throw (forehand v. backhand) they’re likely to throw can affect the mark positioning as much as the force can, so if it’s force flick and I’m on a fellow lefty, I cannot mark him the same as I’ve been marking others. His bigger threats will release from different points.

When I’m about to check the disc in trapped on the sideline I…

  • identify what will probably be my two most likely targets.
  • think of the marker and team. Is he consistently stalling too quickly? Are they always double-teaming? Does he foul late in the count? Is he a flailer, or someone with a plan and control of their bodies?
  • square my shoulders to the marker and have him engage me at a different angle than he was anticipating.
  • Remind myself to commit to the dump reset the moment it’s obvious there’s nothing open upfield, and certainly no later than stall 5.

When the cutter I am defending and I are isolated in the endzone, I…

  • position my body so that their first option is blocked by my body and they must run through me to get there.
  • make sure I’m close enough to dissuade throwing an inside-out break up the gut.
  • focus on not getting caught chasing the cutter to the open side, but to use my body to constantly force him break-mark.
  • check to see if Whit’s marking. If he is, then the break side is closed.
(photo taken by Rick Hodges)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

As Thursday arrived, I found myself inside my new room, on the top floor of Mitch’s house, staring at several haphazard piles of clothing and boxes that I’d packed in a rush just the day before. Wanting to do anything but unpack, yet knowing my Madison friends both on Sub Zero and Madison Club would be arriving soon, I reluctantly set about the task of arranging my life back in order under the more constricting constraints of my new digs.

No matter, once I got going and set up my sound system and computer I blasted some Little Brother and let myself get caught up in the few days ahead. Andrew Brown, ultimate’s Best Man You’ve Never Heard Of, was arriving that night and about 20 Hodags from this year and last weren’t far behind so I wanted to exude some measure of control over the mess that’s followed me since the Black Bear attacked my 4Runner two weeks ago (true story – for later). Though Brown got to the Arnett House early in the afternoon, it wasn’t until later in the evening that my room was unpacked, clean, and ready for living in. I drove to Arnett, hung out, and shared stories for the rest of the night with Brown, getting more excited about the tournament and the weekend in general.

Friday saw the Hodag Love arriving in staggered groups, and each went to stay at a house of a friend or Bravo teammate. Tripoli had done his best to get the Wisconsin boys on floor space for free out here, but despite that we still had three tent-loads of duders come and crash in our backyard, even though we were already hosting nearly a dozen girls from Texas. After we finally got on the same page, the entire Madison contingency, representing three different tourney teams, made our way up the mountain to play a round of disc golf at Ned.

The course, which lacks nothing in its adventure and creativity departments, was awesome. And though some played with ultrastars (the preferred disc for this short, but obstacle-rich course) and others with actual disc golf discs, it seemed everyone was having a great time, staggered through the course as we were. As we neared the home stretch, we detoured up the mountain to play the course’s Hidden Holes and hike to the summit. The view from the top at around 8300 ft, with ridgeline after ridgeline slowly fading into the midst of encircling rainstorms, and the pictures we took of the group while up there, were classic. It was a moment for me as an alum to connect with an increasingly younger team and tan in the warm glow of their recent season. Possibly the most fun I had all weekend, and that’s with us winning the tournament to boot.

After the photo session, clouds and wind moved in on us with the speed of conviction. Brown was on pace to challenge the course record, so it became imperative to hike back to where we’d left off and finish the round. In the end Brown’s -15 wasn’t enough, but the rain held off until the moment we began driving back down the mountain to Boulder. It would begin a pattern all weekend of the rain holding off until the last possible moment. We returned, everyone hung out and passed the time fidgeting restlessly, counting seconds till tomorrow.

I awoke without any effort the next day at 6:40. If you know me and my morning habits I don’t need to tell you that I was excited. I had it in my head that I would prepare all my things early, shower up, and load my things into Mitch’s truck so I could ride my bike to the fields. Pleasantview Soccer Complex, that pristine pitch that’s a privilege to play on, is only 3 miles from my house and entirely downhill. The plan was to use that light wind created from cruising down hills to slap my mind into a centered state. I’ll be playing on the O line this year, and there’s an invigorating feeling I get from an early morning bike ride that I wanted to feel. Without it being too hot that early, I worked up a nice sweat and passed several cars of players headed for the fields. I was glad I’d ridden.

If you haven’t had any for a while, when you find yourself about to get some again you’re having trouble stopping all that excitement from erupting out of you all at once and spazzing everywhere. You can’t help it, you’re so jacked you’re bound to blow your wad too quickly. So it was no surprise to see us faltering against the Condors in our first game. For many it was the first competitive game they’d played since Nationals, and we were all over the field at all times, but never on the same page. The result was failed opportunities to break when we had the chance and stupid mistakes that led to us being broken. Highlights during that stretch include me throwing a hitch pass to Ryan that got monstrously blocked and the handlers refusing to complete easy passes to each other. It wasn’t until late in the game, too late, that we settled into a rhythm and got our mojo back but by then we couldn’t overcome the horn. The hard cap blew as our defense broke them again with a long huck and the moment we caught the disc, the game was over and we’d lost 13-12.

Here I must get cliché and say losing to the Condors was the best thing that happened to us all weekend. Certainly, it focused me. I’ve been nursing an undefeated Colorado tournament record since I moved here and the thought of it ending because we came out flat in our first game was chilling. I resolved to reduce my errors and tighten up the defense when we turned it.

Predictably, we sought to correct our errors from the Condors game and used Truck Stop players as props to this end. I was really unimpressed with their level of conditioning. I understand we’re at altitude, but it’s not that big a change that you can’t run anymore two games into a tournament. In a very telling development later, as I walked past their fields shortly after they’d lost to Boston on double game point, A.J. was trying to bring his team in and one of them kept yelling at him, “Why? What are you going to say? What are you going to say? What the fuck do you have to talk about?” Sounded like a rough weekend for them, though they did nip Machine by 1 for their only victory of the weekend.

Andrew Brown - Photo by Rick HodgesAfter Truck Stop we felt warmed and ready, and I assumed Sub Zero would feel the same way after their own 15-7 drubbing of regional rival Machine. I knew they’d be fired up to play us and prove to us they can actually hang, and hang they did – for a while. But then intimidation set in, as it so often does to them when they play us, and they began to give us the disc. Their offense locked up like cheap brakes, and soon they started dropping easy passes and turfing open throws. Brown was, as usual, the only Snowman making any noise, including a couple nice catches for scores. A late-game lapse by us allowed the final score to seem mercifully closer than the game had been and the hard cap ended things at 14-10.

We finished off the day with an exhausted Revolver, lacking any ammo to mount a real fight. In a game where both D’s were too tired to effectively break the offense we came out on top 14-11. At the end of the day the four games had taken their toll and all teams were glad to be done. Plans to cheer the Rare Air ladies in the showcase game were scuttled quickly as an afternoon storm settled above us and began pounding the fields and players with monsoon rains. I watched several hard-fought but sloppy points, ate free Glacier Ice Cream, and headed home.

We started out Sunday with a Machine team that played like they wanted no part of us. Not sure what happened to them here, because it wasn’t like they played us so hard they were too exhausted to continue. But, sure enough, after we dismantled them to the tune of 15-7, they went on and lost the next game to Truck Stop on double game point. The Windy City players just got blown all over the field that day and closed out their weekend on a 0-3 run.

Dave Popeil - Photo by Jessica CampioneThat brought us to the Jam game, which was billed to us as a must-win to assure our passage to finals by the captains. We came out hot and stayed that way. Sack Lunch acquisition Dave “Popes” Popeil had a coming out party as he went deep for the first several of our offensive points. He’s going to be a monster this entire year. Personally, I toned down the risk Sunday and kept the disc moving with passes to open hands, which helped me establish a rhythm and reduced my turns from this game onward to just one. Felt good. Mangry played awesome defense and toward the end of the game I began to feel Jam slacken a bit as it cut this one loose and focused on our eventual rematch in finals. 15-10.

The last round of games would not affect the finalists, and both us and Jam phoned in our performances, leading to double game point victories over Boston and Truck Stop respectively. As a note, all three of Truck Stop’s games Sunday were decided by a point. They must have been plenty frustrated. On our end, we played haphazardly and let Boston come back in the second half after bursting out of the gates on a little 3-0 run. The final point was a backhand Parker huck to Popes, who used every inch of his tall, lanky frame to snag the disc near the back of the endzone on a game-saving layout. As I tracked the disc behind him I was thankful he caught it, somewhat unready to start playing defense in the event of a turnover.

The finals vs. Jam wasn’t much different from our pool play game aside from the crowd looking to heckle. The game was played pretty cleanly and only a few early calls went to the observers before both teams settled in. Zwick had a huge sky D in the endzone that was not converted, Mangry pressured Gabe on nearly every pass, and our offense was broken once, I believe. I threw a huck to Beau that felt silky from the moment I released it and somewhere in the background people were still talking about the fact I was wearing pants. The last two points were not, as reported, hucks to me, though in the first one Beau called me off and in the second, on game point, he asked me if I wanted it or not. Too busy thinking of catching the disc, I said nothing and he felt liberated enough to go and get the disc over me and two Jam players. This is how Beau operates on and off the field: if he asks you something and you say nothing he will proceed as if you’d given him the thumbs up.

Beauned - Photo by Rick HodgesWe won, my Colorado tournament winning streak extended to 16-0, and we celebrated with free Flashflights and car bombs on the sidelines. With rain looking to threaten our parade again, we left the field for the Boulder Creek and some Qdoba burritos. But first, I had to ride my bike back home, which in this direction is three miles uphill. I didn’t intend for it to get as serious as it did, but alone with my thoughts and a little high on victories and such I started to talk to myself about finishing the ride and before I knew it I was scaling the hill, legs pumping on the easiest gear I could find, trying not to let my legs cramp up. When I finally came up over the hill and coasted into the driveway, I was sweating and feeling a thrilling sense of accomplishment, the last of my endorphins released. I dropped my bike off, got in the car with my brother, and headed to the creek where the Sub Zero Madison boys took turns jumping into the cold water to reset their souls before the drive back. Like before, as we were getting ready to leave the rain came in force. We said our hurried good-byes, got into our cars, and drove to Qdoba to eat and relax. Later we drove up the canyon to Beau Esrey’s house and met up with people from Jam, Texas, Ozone, Colorado, etc for some relaxing games and drinks. I laid my head down that day thinking not of our accomplishments that weekend, but of the work still left to put in before our trip to ECC in two weeks.

We’re coming in numbers and we’ll be ready. Out.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Now that the UPA has finally bent to our deafening clamor for numbers on shorts, I can peruse the various galleries of Nationals pictures and know without hesitation the players involved in the plays captured by our talented photographers. Amazing, and a uniform requirement long overdue.

But then, as I made me way through the pictorials, another problem began to present itself, no less annoying than lacking numbers on shorts but just as easily fixable.

I found that for most of the pictures that captures the play in its dynamic intensity, it's very difficult to discern who is on offense and who is on defense.

Incredible bid to maintain possession? Errant throw directly to defender? Wrap-around layout block? Who is the one getting shat on? Whom deserves praise and who deserves my deriding laughter? Without knowing who was on O and D, I risk getting the two switched.

So I propose that with the other, currently unused shorts leg, we add a patch. I'm envisioning a square patch sewn to the shorts on one edge, and on either side is a big "O" or "D" and velcro along the edges, so that when you switch from offense to defense you can quickly flip the patch to reflect your current status on the field. That way, as I look at these pics, I know who's the one getting tooled and who's doing the tooling.

I commend the UPA for finally listening to the players and having the numbered shorts requirement finally echo the will of the membership. But let's not stop there, let's finish the job. Let's put adjustable O/D patches on the shorts as well.

Who knows? Once the benefits of the adjustable patch come to full light, we can continue with the adjustable "poacher" patch on the jerseys, and so on.

The sport will be better for it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

In my mere eight years of competitive ultimate I have noticed significant change in the way tournaments are operated and organized. "Ultimate Time" is an unknown phrase for the youngest current players, while tournament directors (and therefore tournaments) are increasingly professional. In the last few years we've seen the first private company whose product is a top-notch tournament as well as a moderate increase in the corporate sponsorship, the darling of which is clearly Chicago's Sandblast.

I don't know if other tournaments have begun partnering with commercial airlines, but they should. Attention Wiggins, Idris, Akira, Dave Branick, and the rest of you: get an airline on board with your tournament. Colorado Cup is pleased to partner with Frontier, a small, Denver-based airline. Every player who books through Frontier using our specific discount code will get 10% off their roundtrip airfare. And while 10% isn't a huge sum, anything helps. Most airlines have a groups and meetings office that will set up a discount code for your tournament. Check out examples at United, Frontier and Continental.

Perhaps your TD hasn't set up an airline discount. You're still okay. Most airlines offer 10% off roundtrip airfares for groups of 10 or more traveling on the same itinerary. Again, check the examples on United and Frontier.

Want the best teams at your tournament? Want your team to travel for less? Let's make airfares cheaper.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

(with your head)

Chapter One: Remember

You've all put in incredible hours and calories this entire season training. Now you must perform at the peak of your game. With such a long season, it can be difficult to do. So do this: remember back to when you started playing the sport and fell in love. If necessary find a pick-up game and tear the shit out of hapless players. Compare yourself to those that merely play recreationally to notice the incredible accomplishments you've achieved this year. You all have improved. A lot. But sometimes practice can seem like a job and everyone needs to have the fresh feeling of playing disc. Isn't this sport fun as fuck? Do you all remember? Think back to when you didn't know what the fuck a stack was and this game was sunny days after classes in the mud with your friends.

Chapter Two: Prepare

The Hodags have the physical talent and skills to win this year's national championship. But in the heat of a game at nationals, it can be hard to recall strategy, positioning, etc. This week should be head week for all of you. While you sleep, dream of being down by two and catching back-to-back-to-back callahans for the winner. Dream of skying someone a foot taller than you with your nuts over his eyebrow, or laying out past their best player. However, when you're awake and thinking disc, visualize reality. You busting out of the throwing lanes. You turning upfield, seeing no cuts, and dumping immediately. You completing the swing and continue after catching the dump. Never having the disc past stall 7. Never looking off an open receiver. Never being too deep as a stack. Clearing hard. Imagine yourself in the positions you will be in going through the correct motions in your head.

Chapter 3: Strategery

The game-by-game strategy will be decided by your leadership depending on opponent and weather. If this does not include you don't ever think about it - just do as you are told. Even if it's a mistake, as long as everyone is on the same page it'll work out. Problems arise when 7 players on the field are implementing two different schools of thought. As an individual, your strategy consists of personal match-ups and positioning. From the sideline identify players you will likely guard and see what their tendencies are. For the top 2-3 defenders, this will be hard to stomach but believe me: YOUR JOB IS NOT TO GET D'S. It is likely you will be guarding the best college players in the nation and it's fucking hard to generate turns on them. You will still get blocks but you must focus on containing them to doing what YOU want them to do, and above all forcing their superstars to get the other 4 chump players on the field involved as much as possible. For defenders 4-7, all you dudes who may only be getting 2-10 points per game, YOU are the most important players on the team. You will be guarding those chumps that don't want to be involved in the offense, and it is there where you must show your depth and conditioning and squeeze. Hard marks and constant pressure on their weak players will win you a championship. In '03, unknowns JoeyD and Gigo blew up for +15 in the semis and finals while Grant, myself, Carrington, and the other studs just kinda held things down. Who's the mid-level hodag this year that's going to be next year's go-to stud based off the nationals launchpad?

Chapter 4: Intangibles

You want to win a championship. You know there are some teams out there you'll have to beat to do it. Fine. But it doesn't matter who the fuck they are, got it? If it turns out you're playing Brown in pre-quarters, or Colorado in quarters, or you run into a good team early - DON'T FUCKING PANIC! Never base the hopes of your success on when you might play a team, and don't be caught off-guard if you're playing someone sooner (or later) than you expected. This rule is a *fucking team killer* if not followed. #2Colorado '02 lost to CUT in pool play and realized they'd have to play Stanford in semis. What happened? They lost to UNC-W in prequarters. Wisconsin '03 was playing 10-seed and small-rotation Colorado in semis.
What happened? Colorado took half and almost beat us because we expected them to fade. Don't worry about the "who" or the "when", upsets and seeding are out of your control and the only focus should be playing as efficient and aggressive as possible and beating every team you encounter, regardless of who they are and what round it is.

Chapter 5: Sidelines

Sidelines. If there's a hodag with a mouth off the field and he's not shouting encouragement and awareness to a Hodag with legs on the field - if this is you - you are an idiot. Sidelines win games, help the defense know what's happening, and can tangibly account for several blocks per game. It's easy. Do it. If you don't play too much, be a stud on the sides and help your family. DO IT.

Chapter 6: Conserve

When playing against weak opponents and you are comfortably leading, you may conserve energy. This is different from slacking off. Conservation requires quick points with clean offense and intense defense. This means you can stop worrying about who's up two fields over or what team just reamed the top seed or whatever. Just relax, play loose, and run through your points like drills with complete catches and solid fundamentals. This will soften your mind a little and allow you to rest mentally before you have to refocus on the next game.

Chapter 7: Nutrition

Half a nalgene of water per game. Gulps every time you come to the sideline. Salt and potassium tablets every day. The equivalent of one packet of GU per game. Gatorade. Eat after every game, drink always, and listen to your body. Start eating well now, like NOW, so your body is tuned and ready for three grueling days of ultimate.

Chapter 8: Enjoy

Follow these rules, play your hardest, and enjoy the weight of the championship medal around your neck. Good luck to all of you this weekend, and know that you will all hear me from the sidelines. I want you to win a national championship more than you do.

Hodag Love

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jonathan Opie O'Connell, the red-headed fool that can be seen crying after our regionals loss to Iowa in '99, my freshman year, has written something for the Hodags, and all elite teams really, that he wanted me to reproduce for you here. Feel free to read and comment. I am behind his message as if the words were my own:

To the current Hodags: Remember what this is really about

When I was a freshman at the UW, in 1998, during a three-year streak in which the team didn’t even make nationals, UC Santa Barbara won their third title in a row (and sixth overall). Talk about dominant.

Before Santa Barbara’s three-peat, ECU (East Carolina), had won two in a row despite coming out of an outrageously difficult Atlantic Coast region. Another utterly vicious team.

Upon arriving at the UW, I quickly learned from Jammin, Rez, Simon, etc. that everyone knew these teams. They kicked ass and won titles, so naturally all the other teams followed them and tried to figure out how to replicate their dominance. Other teams also, for the most part, disliked them. Partly this was because of jealousy – people tend to bitch about whomever is at the top – but partly it was because both Santa Barbara and ECU were cheaters and assholes. They rammed cutters, intentionally hacked throwers and screamed at opponents all the time. Particularly ECU.

The first time I played either of these teams was when I was a sophomore and we played ECU in South Carolina. Our team was in good physical shape but was very low on throwers, particularly those that could throw forehands. ECU decided they would front the open side and not allow us to attempt a break throw. In the first half, every time we pivoted over there, they hacked, the stall went to zero, and they called us pussies. We called lots of fouls, but in the second half they started bitching more, we stopped calling fouls and they just trampled us. They bullied us out of a fair game, even though they were better than us, and we felt cheated. They didn’t care because they were big dogs with a high seed.

A decade later, the Hodags are the big dogs with a high seed. The pride that this brings me, a former player on the team, is tremendous. Knowing how bad and disorganized we were then, and how unbelievably good the team has become recently, compiling outstanding numbers of victories and tournament wins, really makes alumni feel as though they were part of building something special, even if they had no direct hand in any of the games (i.e. we give ourselves too much credit). We keep tabs on the team, we root you on, and if we can, we come to nationals to cheer. Some of us have Hodag tattoos (and would consider more if we won more titles). One particularly generous alumnus is even setting up a foundation for the team, for god’s sake. You make us very, very proud.

What doesn’t make me proud is the idea that Wisconsin ultimate handles the spotlight of being a top team the same way Santa Barbara and ECU did. There is a big difference between truly expecting that you will win and believing that you are pre-ordained to win. Let me be clear about something: You are not god’s gift to ultimate. You didn’t invent it and it will be going on long after you are done with it.

I don’t pretend to know if any of the many rumors about the Hodags being a bunch of cheating egomaniacs on the field are true or not, and it doesn’t matter. For one, there is always more jealous criticism of the big dogs. And moreover, what really matters is that you feel – that you really believe – that you are treating the game and your opponents with respect. And as you sit atop the competition, I hope you consider this even more than we did when we toiled away in obscurity.

We have all played with bad spirit. I played a point against some terrible team at college sectionals with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my hand. My teammates like to joke about it – and it is funny – but I would undo it if I could. I have in one way or another, bullied teams that we were better than to let them know we were going to win. Would I undo those transgressions now for whatever advantage our team gained? Absolutely. It's not something to cry over, but I would undo them if I could.

My point is when you’re at the top you need to be particularly concerned with being stewards of the sport. Strangers come to watch you play. Probably, even, people who have never seen ultimate before come to your games. Acting like a dick is never good, but it’s particularly harmful to the game and to the Hodag name when you do it at the top level. Remember Joe DiMaggio’s quote about why he played so hard every game? "I always thought there was at least one person in the stands who had never seen me play, and I didn't want to let him down."

I read the post about Dan Heijmen for Callahan on the Hodag web site. Sounds like an awesome player. But given that a third of the award has to do with sportsmanship – something you mention nothing of in a 1,000-plus word write-up – someone who really cares about the game is unlikely to vote for him. And if that’s the way the team he leads acts and portrays itself, in my book he shouldn’t win. Simple as that.

Just remember that as you (hopefully) blaze your way to glory this weekend, how much it will mean to the sport – and to alumni – when you do it with class, and with a smile on your face. Imagine the tremendous good step you take for the game and the Hodag name when you resist making a ticky-tack call or – can you imagine? – take back a bad call on the biggest stage in ultimate. Shaking an opponent’s hand after a good play is also excellent, though it is certainly not required.

I promise that it will make all the memories and friendships far warmer. And you will still dominate.



Monday, May 14, 2007

Seeds for Nationals are not up yet, but just now as I slept I heard that familiar, cursed voice from the velvet bag in my closet.

Damn it, my crystal ball was speaking again. And it had a lot to say. "Lisssssssten. You sssseeek the sssssssseedssss. I can take you only ssssssso far, the resssssults are for you to dissscern on your own."

Waking in feverish sweats, I woke up, went to the closet, and removed the bag. I took my computer into the bathroom and locked myself in, where I sit now, typing away the images that vaporize in this ball before me. As best I can, I reproduce them now:

Pool A
Wisconsin (1)
UNC (8)
Pitt (12)
Kansas (13)
Pool B
Florida (2)
Oregon (7)
Delaware (11)
Indiana (14)
Pool C
Colorado (3)
Texas (6)
Brown (10)
OSU (15)
Pool D
Stanford (4)
CUT (5)
Georgia (9)
Williams (16)

In Pool A, Pitt will consider tanking their first game against Wisconsin and hope for a tight Kansas-UNC match in a bid to upset UNC in the second round. A good idea on paper, but even that wasn't enough to overcome their opponent. Having thrown everything into the game, a heartbroken Pitt loses to a Kansas team that has been resting after their assdrubbing at Wisco's hands the round before. Pool goes Wisc, UNC, Kansas, and Pitt.

In Pool B, it's gonna be boring until the final round when Indiana and Delaware play Russian roulette to see who drops quicker than the other. Indiana scores one for the Great Lakes, momentarily passing the "Worst Region" baton back to the ME.

Colorado dominates Pool C and thanks Texas for coming. Mamabird will start slow in the Brown game but recover to win. Ohio State rallies the home crowd to beat Brown as they beat them at Stanford. Texas is unfazed by Brown and OSU.

Pool D is rather frightening at first glance, and if you're Williams now's a great time to go to your underwear drawer and put on a new pair of shorts. Here not even a crystal ball could help you, but the stars are crossed this month, which always means point differential. Georgia will surprise CUT early in the morning and get handled by Stanford, which will bring us to Friday's Game of the Day: Carleton looking to force the tie with a win over Stanford. CUT wins, but who takes the pool? Georgia ends up on the ass end of the deal and takes third; Stanford floats to the top. Williams retires the number of that guy who scored Friday's goal.

In pre-quarters, look for Georgia over UNC in the game where Dylan remembers he's at his last Nationals, CUT throttling Kansas, Texas following suit with Indiana, and Oregon completing the trifecta by beating their second OSU of the year. This round will showcase the disparity between quarters teams and the rest.

In quarters Ben Wiggins will be reduced to tears and hysteria as he relives 2003 Finals all over again, with Wisconsin stomping Oregon. Texas, aware of Stanford's consecutive semis appearance, will bow to tradition and move out of the way. Florida now owns Georgia, hands down, so that game won't really be surprising. The game of the round will be Colorado-CUT, and my brain trembles just thinking of the match-up. Such contrasting styles, such difference of strengths. And the history. CUT has simply owned Colorado at Nationals in recent years. CUT is disciplined and short. Colorado is unwieldy and tall. Neither is too deep, and both will rely on their top lines early and often. If the sun is shining in Ohio, Colorado moves on. If it's windy, CUT advances. For now, I see CUT's 4 games weighing down their legs, and Beau finally coming to life and taking over, so my pick is Colorado.

In semifinals one side of the bracket is all huck-n-hope, the other blue-collar business. With the game quickly devolving to monster hucks and athletic play after athletic play, the Colorado-Florida match-up will certainly be entertaining. And with Beau, Jolian, Martin, Gibson, and Brodie on the field at once, the bitchings will come early and often. But Colorado has been doing this shit for longer, and they're more familiar with muscling for victories. Colorado wins the most photog-friendly game of the tourney.

Stanford and Wisconsin will dump and swing until deep shots open up and then will put their speed on display. Breaks will be as rare as black voters at the RNC, but Wisconsin is confident and determined. Despite Sherwood's huge game, Wisconsin pulls away slowly and takes it. Fans scream in excitement and immediately start shotgunning beers as a way of dealing with the fact their dreams have come true. Wisconsin and Colorado will meet in the final, to consolidate the belts with one team.

Wisconsin and Colorado have more history than Pamela and Tommy Lee, and is similarly ugly, with each teams taking turns fucking the other out of the tournament. To explain the excitement with which I visualize this game I'd have to come to your house and have you read this while I repeatedly jam you with Epipens. Callahan-winner Dan Heijmen plays up to his top billing, and Colorado gives everything it has. This game's bigger than Mayweather/De La Hoya. It's what the fans wanted. And it shows Wisconsin's depth and maturity overcoming Colorado's intimidating height and athleticism. Wisconsin wins one of the best finals ever.

And with that, I'm spent. In a moment I'll stand up, legs cramped, from the bathtub I've been sitting in. I'll close this computer, throw the ball into the velvet bag, bury it deep in the closet, and hobble to bed. It won't be a restful night. Layouts and skies will trouble my dreams, and the haunting voice of that infernal orb will keep me tossing and turning. Soon, I hope, I'll again be able to rest.