Monday, March 31, 2008

August 2–3, Boulder, CO

The 6th annual Colorado Cup returns to the pristine Pleasant View complex (also home to UPA College Championships '08 and annual GRUB). We will once again host 32 teams broken down as follows:

  • 8 Men's Elite
  • 12 Women's Elite
  • 12 Men's Open

Amenities will include trainers, massage therapists, discounted airfares to Denver, food & drink, plus a showcase game featuring great ultimate and Boulder Beer.

Information on bids will be available soon, but mark your calendars for one of the summer's best tournaments. From the indicators so far, the Men's Elite div will be a tough nut to crack. But the Men's Open div is getting stronger each year (and any bailers in Elite will be filled from the Open), so I would encourage men's teams to get out here in any case.

Friday, March 28, 2008

I recently spent a couple of months in Los Angeles with my bro Bert. Of all the sweet things I got to see/experience there, the defining role I played while in LA was that of co-coach with Bert of a little team in Eagle Rock, Occidental College's Detox.

I've got mixed feelings about the stint from my end, mainly because it was so different from my own college ultimate experience, and I found myself fluctuating between feeling proud of and frustrated with the players on the team. I think their experience is similar to what many other small teams are going through around the country, so I'm going to write about my observations.

Occidental College is tiny, 1,800 or so students, and walking around campus feels like being in high school all over. Indeed, the campus has been used by Hollywood to portray bourgeois HS life before (Clueless was filmed on campus) and in my last days, production crews were turning into Southeast Cheering Competition station for the next three-word-title dance movie (Bring it on, Step Up 2, etc). Most students live on campus all 4 years, a fact that I could barely stomach or believe, which leads to massive personal growth retardation, giving the general school population a young, naive feel. From this stock Detox chooses its members.

Detox has a long team history (but the name is only ~2 seasons old), spotted with good players but never too many at the same time. Because of this and Oxy's small student body, Detox has never had the critical mass necessary to build a program. They're a team alright, but a program has levels of continuity that these guys don't even know about. Lacking a critical mass of core players and any solid recruitment strategies, the 8 or so committed players make due with another 10-12 who show up when it suits them and these employ a tired litany of excuses to reason out their absences.

The overall effect this has is that the team cannot decide if it wants to be a competing team regionally or just a bunch of dudes that get field time from the school to play some pick-up disc. You can imagine that this might frustrate the most committed members of the team that want to compete interscholastically, and it makes continuity from practice to practice nearly impossible. This makes implementing team-wide strategy likewise unlikely. Not knowing these things, I arrived for my first practice with the team.

My friend Bert gave me some backgroud deets. Having coached Georgetown in D.C. before his move west, a Georgetown player who transferred to Oxy named Neil Oakey wanted more structure to practices and asked the Bert coach them. Bert, Hodags '98-'01, agreed and gave them the rough framework for being good, and indeed they have some capable players this year.
He brought real-world experience playing for a good team and coaching a team in a similar evolution back east. Neil and fellow captain Andrew stand out on both sides of the disc, rounded out by Leor, Jeff, Dan, and maybe a few others. From our first practices together it was clear they liked playing frisbee and they'd never really been shown what real frisbee is supposed to look like. The typical newbie errors - excessive poaching, poor match-ups, weak marks, nonexistent dump defense - were mitigated somewhat by their desire to play. We worked on basic positionings, the awesome Whit's Marking Triangle, and defensive footwork, along with breakmark throws. For the first few weeks we made steady progress, and always had around 12-15 guys at practice. Not huge numbers, but enough. Bert and I cleated up for most of the drills to model proper technique and fill out the numbers.

The real breakthrough I felt I had with this team came at College Trouble in Vegas. Free from the constraints of short practice time, the 15ish players who made the trek with Bert and I got three full days of us being in their ears, and being able to give immediate direct feedback to players as they subbed out; it's the closest thing we had to studying video as they do in football.

Alongside the improvements we also saw some of the hangups that plague the team: poor leadership caused us to be 45 minutes late to our final game Friday, with most of the team having left the fields after the captains announced we were done for the day, and Bert and I discovering later we were supposed to be playing and scrambling to get the cars back to the fields. It's this kind of planning that last year caused them to miss the rostering deadline and as a result, the series (can you believe that? and talking to a few of them about this, they seemed like it only kinda sucked. if that had happened while I was on the Hodags, heads would have rolled. devastation everywhere). Yet despite this, they played well above their seed (we did come in seated dead last in pool XX) and showed the kind of promise that got me excited to work with the team for the following month and a half.

And then, nothing.

That's it, just nothing. After an awesome showing at Vegas and watching the team poise themselves on the edge of improvement people just stopped coming to practice. After Vegas we rarely had more than 8 players show up to any given practice, and soon midterms, papers, work, drama productions, homework, winter league games, dates, and plain old lethargy took precedent. For having a month's worth of practices planned out, running the drills I wanted to became impossible with such low numbers, so Bert and I scaled back demands and expectations to try and coincide with the majority's attendance.

At this time I abandoned my earlier plans to actually pass down strategy and information to them and decided that the few showing up were more entitled to a free-for-all scrimmage than a skills clinic, so we stopped drilling except for during warm-ups and then just played, 5 on 5, on a small field. We even worked on resets and swings and weaves sometimes. It was fun, a lot of fun. It just wasn't very satisfying or rewarding as far as my other coaching stints have gone, with the Pimpdags and Fairview High. There's something intoxicating from pooling so many different energies and personalties together toward a common cause.

Thankfully at around this time I also started to spend a lot of time with the dudes off the field, and our friendships tightened even as the general dedication to ultimate waned. I would have loved to stay with the team through the end of the season, but I would also have loved 14 dedicated players at every practice. Regardless, I learned a lot about the team and became good friends with several of them. How they do this sectionals remains to be seen, but I hope they come prepared and do well. If any of y'all Oxy kids are reading, I'm rooting for y'all to make regionals this year because you've got the tools to do so.

The pitfalls holding Oxy from being the program they could be are probably similar to small schools across the country. Low interest and attendance at practice. Inexperienced leadership having to figure things out on their own. A host of other problems come from these but they're the big roots.

A young team needs a solid nucleus of players equally committed to buying in to the team concept, and those players are going to have to do a lot of leg work. Making posters, distributing them across campus, and talking to friends and dorm mates over and over again are necessary to making sure that you start and end the season with good numbers. Recruiting is the number one goal here: get enough people interested, and they can turn the tide on the school's mentality to lend the team a little recognition. This in turn helps recruitment for later years.

The veterans on Small College also need to play club, on any team provided that they are not the best player there. Being in the bottom 3rd will help, where you still get playing time but learn from the majority of your teammates. This will first off help All-Star disease, where your best player just starts trying to make ridiculous hucks work because they've convinced themselves a blady huck from their hands is more of a sure thing than a 5 yard reset from a novice teammate. It might be true, but it's not going to make the team any better. Learning technique and strategy from veteran players can't be beat, because you can begin to understand the matrix for doing what is supposed to be done.

In fact if you're a college player looking to move up in the world, playing on a mid-level to elite club team is the guaranteed best way to shoot your stock up. I've got so much more to say about this point that I think I might make it its own post, the gist of which will be "if you want to make college feel easy play club."

Go Oxy.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Some thoughts, getting off the phone with my Hodag contacts in Austin.

  • The Hodags lose, and get it good. A 4-point loss in a game to 13 isn't that close, and they lose to a team no one had mentioned as having that potential: Michigan. Not only that, but Michigan stays the course and finishes undefeated and riding momentum into a quarters match-up against Arizona. The end of the pursuit of an undefeated season should redirect Wisconsin's attention to where it really needs to be: a series championship.
  • The westernmost team in Quarters is Arizona. What an abysmal showing by the Northwest region, when your highest finishers will meet in the semis of 9als and you have a combined record of 5-20. At this point Las Positas is looking good, with former favorites Stanford, UBC, and Oregon plumbing Centex depths.
  • This amounts to a run on the bank at Santa Barbara & Co. They're on a sharp 2-10 skid and they haven't touched bottom yet. Bottom is up for grabs tomorrow, with little else, as they meet in consolation play against San Diego. Loser gets no better than 24th. Does Claremont have entitlement to the 3rd seed in Southwest regionals?
  • No bigger victory today, for its possible future ramifications, than Colorado's beating of Arizona to start the insanity. After getting poo-pooed all season by haters and doubters alike, while watching Arizona gets treated to verbal back massages, they came out to christen the day with a statement win for the region. Unless they meet in finals, they likely won't see each other again until the regional finals, and short of an Arizona victory Sunday they'll have the SW 1-seed.
  • Oh yeah, and Martin Cochran is BAAACK! Don't be a fool and think Mamabird's day and Cochran's return is a coincidence. Boy can play.
  • All Georgia had to do to make the championship bracket is not tank a game to Harvard. They had one loss to Arizona but had beaten both CUT and Mamabird and would have had the head-to-head advantage. Just don't lose to Harvard, the team that allowed sorry-to-be-there Kansas more points than anyone else. What did Georgia do? Lay a shocking 7-13 loss. Welcome to consolation.
  • Pool C is nothing but heartbreak for Texas and their fans. One 2-point loss, and they're out of contention. I agree that this pool was the hardest to qualify from, but after UBC dropping like ballast and UCSB again failing to show up this pool is looking weaker in retrospect. UNC has the potential to ride a weaker side of the bracket to finals, maybe, but Pittsburgh is going to be swallowed in the first round by Colorado, I bet.
  • Minnesota advances to the championship bracket after a 1-point squeaker over Illinois. They didn't have a particularly impressive day; although they played Florida close they lost their first game against Georgia Tech. UNC will not be as merciful if they come out flat again in quarters, the score won't be close.
Northwest regionals — I mean, the bracket for 17th-24th — is a sad place, where teams are too afraid of losing to win. I think it'll be UCSD (dump your UCSB stock! Sell! Sell!) vs Stanford, Oregon vs UBC, Stanford takes it from UBC. Or I could get every pick wrong. Who's actually going to come out and play with heart (dignity hardly now being an option)? Kansas, rightly so, will take last. Austin appreciates your tourist dollars.

For 9als, I like NCSU vs Carleton, Texas vs. Georgia (ed: correction, thanks Kyle). NCSU takes if from Texas.

I like Michigan vs UNC in one semifinal and Wisconsin vs Colorado in the other. Assuming Michigan doesn't run out of steam it'll be a rematch against Wisconsin in finals, at a time the odds of victory will seem directly proportional to the rewards reaped from it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I'm pretty sure ultimate players lean left, and I know even some Republicans are done with being Republican for the time-being, but I'm curious as to how this poll will break down.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What an incredible weekend; sunny and in the 70's with only a scant trace of wind coming and going during semifinals. I got my tan on, people watching were happy, and teams hucked ruthlessly. I mostly followed the Hodag games, but snuck out from time to time to witness the carnage being visited on other pools. Some quick thoughts I have.

1) Parity, parity, parity: Texas beat Las Positas beat Colorado beat Oregon beat Texas. Santa Barbara beat the pool winners and lost to everyone else. Oregon and Cal, both 2-2 in pool play, were eliminated from contention by Saturday afternoon. These uneven results point to one thing: a lot of the traditionally premier teams are very young right now, and thus inconsistent.

2) ... and then, there are the Hodags: The Hodags, now two tourneys into the season have shown a) an ability to lose any given day to the top 10-12 teams and b) no one comes even close to them in terms of consistency of play. Their tight games against UBC at the Invite and Arizona at Vegas shows that they're not by any means unbeatable, but they've found a way to win those games regardless while other historical powerhouses have dropped games to anyone around. Are they easily the best team out there right now? Yes. Are they vulnerable to a loss at the hands of a red-hot team in elimination in Nationals? Yes.

3) Global warming: This winter has pounded cold-weathered climates. Madison destroyed its old snowfall record this year; at Colorado's last outdoor practice it was 25 degrees out; and the Northeast can't get clear to spring. Those teams still haven't gotten a chance to go outside and begin gelling in actual playing conditions. So, you can attribute some of Colorado's struggles to that (some, but not all, see below) and some of Wisconsin's inconsistencies on offense against UBC to the same; not only have they yet to practice outdoor, an administrative scuffle between them and the Wisco Athletic Dept lost them their last two indoor practice times. I expect those teams frozen in with cabin fever to improve at a much quicker pace than those outdoors year-round.

4) Which makes me ask, has Arizona peaked? I saw them play very well in Vegas, at a moment when most teams hadn't trekked outside and only hours away from their home turf, two things that certainly helped them. And I was incredibly impressed by their ability to make big play after big play. The problem is they were making these plays on the backs of shaky throwing decisions. The top of the College game has begun resembling elite Club in that turns and breaks are at a premium and high-power teams can string together a game with no offensive mistakes, and riskier throwing decisions will unravel a team unless they're converting nearly every one. Kudos to Arizona for converting nearly every one in Vegas, but the play that comes to mind is with them trying to tie at 11-12, throwing a risky hammer to a stationary target, and having Will Lokke fly through the air for a game-changing D. They have the ability to beat anyone because of their athleticism, and they are disciplined enough to not play themselves out of games, but win the championship? Nope. Qualify from their region? That's a different story...

5) The Southwest: I'd like to meet the actuary who has to break down odds in this region. Mamabird is playing like shit but should improve. Question is how much? Black Tide just stared into Tommy Lee Jones' and Will Smith's little red penlight after losing all but one game this weekend. Claremont is beginning to believe after victory over Tide, but how much should we read into it? The team looking most consistent is the one I just called inconsistent in the last paragraph, Arizona. They need to buckle down their offense and hope the other teams don't catch up, and they'll be going to Natties. Mamabird needs to find two consistent handlers that will not turn the disc, can make easy break-throws, and are able to find Jolian and Mack cutting into power positions. Their hucks need to come from those two as cutters to keep their threats dynamic. Otherwise Degs may have a glut of depressed volunteers at Pleasant View Soccer Complex mid-May. Santa Barbara embarrassed themselves this weekend; they need to put it behind them and hit the weights because they're undermanned against the big teams. I don't think Claremont has a chance of qualifying, but they'll likely mortally wound one of the top three teams at Regionals. My early predictions are Arizona winning and Colorado taking the second. Notice how no one mentioned San Diego.

6) The Northwest: another clusterfuck. Oregon, Cal, Stanford, UBC, Las Positas... no one declared themselves the front-runner. I thought UBC played the best as a whole, but they still managed to lose to the one team everyone beat on, Santa Barbara. Stanford, despite sloppy play, found a way to win. Not impressive, but it counts for a lot. Oregon is suffering from Mamabird disease: over-reliance on frustrated superstars. That never bodes well at Regionals. Cal was far, far too turnover-prone to contend with anyone and Las Positas is untested, but from what I saw of their quarters game vs UBC they can beat anyone in the region.

7) Florida dropped out of the Invite after their quiet exit in pre-quarters in Vegas. Why travel to Stanford if you've basically submitted the prize money to the Hodags? In other news, the Hodags don't even have to go to Centex to win the prize money. Here's another $5,000 to add to your Mardi Gras prize money.

Moral of the short story is that the inconsistent play and rookie mistakes all these teams seem prone to make for unpredictable — and thus exciting — watching. The race is too early to call, because the Hodags have been tested to double-game point in elimination games twice now, but as a whole no other team matches up against them for an entire tourney. They'd beat any other team in the country at least 8 of 10 times, but it's for those 2 anomalies that we watch, and they train.