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.