Thursday, February 26, 2009

Note: Bravo captain Ted Tripoli attended Team USA's tryout weekend in LA in anticipation of the World Games, and after a little prodding shared with us his thoughts. —Ed

As a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in this article are mine and of no one else.

World Games Tryout Weekend

Let me start by saying what I told everyone else and what I told Richter repeatedly by text over the course of the weekend: this was the hardest weekend of ultimate I have ever played, both mentally and physically. I won’t get into to many specifics of the weekend, so as not to ruin the surprises that await next weekend’s East Coast tryout team, but I do want to write about my experience.

My weekend begins with me packing Thursday night. I decided that I didn’t want to check my luggage, so I planned to pack everything into my backpack and cleat bag. I had it all laid out in front of my bedroom door, ready for when I’d leave for work the next morning. Friday morning arrives; I’m tired as is normal for me when I get up a little before 7:00 every morning to get to work before 8:00. I brought all the bags I had packed downstairs, ready to bring out to my car. The morning had gone smoothly. I remembered the lunch I made the previous night, loaded my car, and drove toward work.

I work in Commerce City, a small city north of Denver resembling Gary, Indiana. My office is probably 15-minute drive from the Pike’s Peak satellite park & ride. As I’m making the drive, my head is swimming in scenarios. What if I forgot this? What if that happens? What are my contingency plans? It was your run-of-the-mill paranoia surrounding a weekend of this caliber. The drive, although slow and stressful, goes fine. As I park my truck and head to the bus stop to wait for my ride to the airport I get a sick feeling in my stomach. Cleats! Look in my bag - nothing. Sprint back to my truck, hoping I forgot them there - empty. The worst scenario I had imagined, aside from forgetting my contacts, had come true. No cleats. First thoughts that go through my head are how do I get my cleats to Los Angeles, with my flight being the last one with players/UPA workers to leave Denver. I make some phone calls pursuing the next logical step, locating a pair of cleats to use in LA. After getting phone numbers of friends who live in the greater Los Angeles area and sending probably 50 texts within an hour’s time, I finally get a hold of Bert Kang, ex-Hodag, who lives in Arcadia. Several texts later he volunteers to pick me up a pair from the store. I end up getting a new pair of Nike Mercurial Talaria at a small cost of $106, and for karma gave Bert a few extra bucks for driving and going through the trouble of, essentially, saving my weekend.

Cleats On
My room of Colorado people wakes up at 7 am to get breakfast at the hotel and get the fields by 8:30. The World Games team hopefuls show up in groups from their respective city, aside from a small Bay area contingency that arrive a little before us. After the Colorado crowd, the remaining Bay area group arrived, followed by the Seattle group. My first impression was that no one is really nervous, but more overly excited about the opportunity that has been placed before them. I felt that Greg Connelly, or Coach as many of us had begun to call him, did a great job of assuring us that everyone who stepped onto the field would have an equal opportunity to make the team.

We begin with the warm up, only a taste of what Ron “The Curse” Kubalanza has in store for us over the course of the weekend. After running several basic drills to get our feet underneath us, we went into a combine-like atmosphere with four stations: an individual interview/speech about our role on the team by Greg; a shuffling/marking drill; timed 70 and 40 shuttle runs (there and back); and an overly exhausting shuffling drill with tennis balls (seen on an ultimate training video for coaches I guess). My first station was the interview. Greg told me I would be a cutter, no big surprise. He also told me that he knows I’m short, but have the capability to play big and he needed to see that over the course of the weekend. We parted ways, and my group of ~8 people moved to the shuffling/marking station, which proved to be the easiest and shortest one. It didn’t concern me at the time, but my lactic acid limits would be tested with the 70’s and 40’s. My legs felt tighter and tighter with the 2nd 70 and into both of the 40 shuttles. My training leading up to weekend had focused on straight, shorter sprints and lifting. My legs weren’t ready for that kind of distance, after all, it is the off-season. The tennis ball drill proved to be tryout’s hardest drill, and my group does it last. First time through hurts, my legs were tense but nothing too bad. I completed it in a decent 44 seconds. Half way through my 2nd attempt, my legs were cramping and I was struggling to place the tennis ball on the cone correctly, but I wanted to break 40s, which seemed to be the standard of excellence among all the groups. I ended up misplacing a tennis ball and running a 42 second time, which was ok, but this is the event I thought I could beat everyone on, so I was nothing but disappointed.

By the time my group had finished the station, the other three groups had been done for 10 minutes or so. It was time to go on to our first scrimmage, and I happened to placed on a team that was savage for guys. Normally, when you think of scrimmages you can try to take a point or two off when you guard someone that isn’t as good, or as smart. Every team has them, but not this weekend. Point after point tested our ability to stay focused, get open in a somewhat unfamiliar atmosphere of coed ultimate and stay with your guy. These scrimmages pretty much rounded out the Saturday morning session which couldn’t come quick enough for me.

Back To It
After a Panera lunch, without hesitation we swung into the afternoon session with a short warm up. It started with a few more drills to test many aspects of the game, from cutting and throwing to marking. During the marking drill is when the nightmare began for me. I stepped out like I would for any other break mark throw, and the back spasms I’ve been unsuccessfully running from caught up with me. For the remainder of the day, you could see me lying on my back with my knees pulled to my chest when I wasn’t out on the field. The back spasms where making it nearly impossible to take deep breaths, I sounded like a K9 German shepherd after a drug chase. Short, quick breaths were all my body could handle. I did my best to keep up with the best in the game, but I’d say that effort was less than anything Team USA would consider. As the afternoon session wore on, I wore down, to the point where I was beginning to lose a lot of strength. With the day almost done, Ron got one more crack at us. Exercises with 40 yard sprints in 45 second intervals, which seemed to last 15 minutes, but in hindsight was probably more like 7 or 8 minutes. I sat down, barely able to move with knees pulled close to chest stretching my back so I could breath somewhat normally, and looked and Mac. We were both in agreement; that was the most tiring day of ultimate we had ever been a part of, but also one of the best.

Surviving Sunday
After spending much of Saturday night relaxing my back or doing Tina-prescribed stretches, my back was still tight as an E string, but feeling better. After Sunday morning’s warm up, my back loosens and is no longer a factor. This day’s main focus is winning one-on-one match ups. Both in drills and scrimmages, we were challenged mentally and physically by our teammates to win the matchup we were assigned on that point. All our drills and scrimmaging focused on that one goal: win your match up. My day is progressing much better than Saturday. I’m able to cut normally, and for the first time in 6 months I was able to jump normally. My ankle was messed up for a while, and was a very limiting factor in what I’ve been able to do over the past months. I was on cortisone for this weekend. And it felt great. The day would wind down with scrimmages and one more running drill at the end. They knew our legs were dead, and our minds were tired, but wanted to see how we would react against a set of long sprints and jogs. I’d say just about everyone reacted the way the coach wanted to see us. I believe Greg just wanted us to give 100% effort, whatever that might be at this point. The weekend was good and everyone definitely showed themselves as one of our sport’s elite.

In Reflection
After thinking back to Saturday and looking in on Sunday I realized there were only 3 or 4 layout D’s in over 6 hours of scrimmaging over the course of the weekend. I finally came to the conclusion, through pep talks by Coach and through observing the best in the game, that better decisions by throwers and the willingness of every player to always win their matchups on D were just not allowing tight D-able throws. You were either open or you weren't. A smart thrower wasn’t going force the issue when they have another superstar getting open at the same time. There was never a reason to throw something that wasn’t 100%. Most turnovers weren’t cause by D’s, but by poor throws or drops. The weekend’s mental and physical pressures began to wear down on everyone as the weekend wore on, and you could see decisions and execution suffer.

At the end of the weekend I felt euphoric, my dream of getting the chance to play for a team to represent the USA had come true. Though I thought my weekend could have gone better, I was happy for the chance. I never thought, through my years of playing hockey and soccer, that I’d ever get the chance to earn something with the letters USA on it. But I believe there is a sport in which everyone has at least a chance at greatness, and ultimate is mine.

For those in this weekend’s tryout, some friendly advice: take care of your body!



Anonymous said...

I wonder how unbiased the selection is really going to be. You're telling me that some UPA darling superstar who has a shitty tryout isn't going to still get picked up on the team? We'll see.

Breathing said...

omg... HH, think about blocking anonymous comments, please.

Brusssucks said...

Yeaaah. big shout out. I'll have you know I bought some tasty mcnuggets with that bit of karma

Vector said...

Great post Ted. It's interesting to read what you guys went through. Best of luck in the selection process.

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