Wednesday, December 28, 2011
2012 approaches, and it's time to take stock in where we are and where we want to be.
Our first tournament of the year is 5 weeks away. As short a time as 5 weeks is, it's even less when you consider that we won't be reunited for another 3 weeks at least. Any opportunity that you might get to throw a disc outdoors, take it. I played pick up yesterday and have this to share: outdoors is not the McClain. Not even close.
People have always touted sports as a way of understanding yourself better, and growing as a person. Repeated often enough and it becomes cliche, like any word repeated it loses is meaning to us. But the truth of the statement remains: playing for the Hodags will teach you a lot about your personal limits, about your capacity for dedication, organization, and sacrifice. In order for us to win the championship this year we will all need plenty of each.
Most of you are young, all of you younger than me, so please listen not to me, but to years of painful experience. You will reach your limits. You will question yourself. What this team demands from each of us will, at times, seem more than what you can give. This may happen at a tournament, a practice, a workout, a test, a class. The location, even the reason for your self-doubt, is unimportant. You will be pushed and will be given an opportunity to give up and stop trying.
The desire to accept that opportunity is natural. No creature willingly hurts itself. We are equipped with a strong sense of self-preservation, and for many thousands of years it helped us to survive from generation to generation. But our genetic code is millenia behind our new purposes and endeavors. We are privileged such that merely surviving is no longer enough. And each of you, by accepting the challenges of this team, have signaled that your goals in life are higher still: you want to explore your boundaries and push beyond them. You want to become your best self.
By definition, this is not easy. The artificial limits our brains place for us are a powerful illusion to overcome. But they can be overcome. Do not hide from your fears of failure - acknowledge them. With the support of our teammates, our wills will strengthen. Resolution is not a word to be paired with the coming of a new year, it is a skill to be practiced and honed. For these next 5 months we will do just that. This team has 27 talented people but zero champions. When Memorial Day ends, I do not want to measure this team on its capacity, but on its accomplishments. Get ready to work. Get ready to grow. Who you are today as you read this will be a shell of who you become in this next semester. Relish it.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Hucks. Booms. Bombs. Rips. Biscuits. Headshots.
My favorite part of the game is throwing it deep.
I've been learning to throw an ultimate disc for 12 years now and I'm still discovering new ways to improve; still experimenting within the smallest of intricacies to find ways to toss a perfect biscuit. Every day is different and each day provides a new challenge of "relearning" how to release a perfect throw. Which edge holds best in today's air?
I tend to think of a disc flight in the same terms as a disc golf. There is speed, lift, turn, and break. For almost every pass, I have an idea or plan for the entire flight of that specific throw. I'm in love with my IO edge. It lasers fast into space, lifts ever so calmly with the same speeding velocity. It catches the edge and fights with every rotation of spin, before turning sharp over the defender. The most import ingredient to this 4-part approach is putting enough Z's on the disc to turn it over in soft air.
My backhand is all bark and no bite. It floats rather than kills. It will wait for a receiver though, like an open elevator door at a two minute stoplight, it will rise and sit. But to be fair, the backhand has more power and can be thrown consistently farther. I attribute this phenomenon to a single receiver - former roommate Andrew "Skywalker" Mahowald. A rock climbing jump snatch specialist. The catch of preference: Float. Big and floaty. At 6'2, lanky and able to single hand snatch dunk out the planet, then big and readable hucks are just fantastic. I always try to get feedback from my cutters -- so we both know beforehand when the defender is going to get pwnd!
If you haven't had the pleasure of watching the boom headshot video, for shame. It started as an inside joke at Wisconsin about hucks that slowly matriculated into my favorite slang word -- murderballs. The word choice is both funny and appropriate as these long distance throws are game-changers, point-enders and momentum swingers. They are one shot kills, headshots in first person shooters, executed with a long range sniper rifle. I have spent a fair amount of time evolving my throws and searching for the best angle and power combinations for the disc to travel maximum distance. It's like the power-up meter on Tiger Woods golf. You must find the sweet spot between the full red power bar and the release point angle.
As a casual poster on rec sports disc -- I found one thread particularly interesting this past summer. The BroMan was posting his usual onslaught of instructional throwing videos. Hall of Famer Mike Gerics, relentless poster on rec sports disc, made a comment about the power and coordination of a backhand throw. Eventually, my curiosity drove me to trying out "Mike's Tips." What I realized is that Geric's had indeed been correct on his analysis. Instead of rotating the disc in a curve around the torso, there was more power generated by bringing the disc way back and then directly forward in a straight line and snapping your wrist like a wet towel. Over several weeks, I began experimenting with this slight variation and discovered that my distance increased by 10/15 yards and the time in air another second. The difference between warning track power and the Mannywood Free Hamburger's Jackpot Home Run! This subtle change of technique adds valuable air time on pulls and a formidable difference in overall distance.
I was comparing forehands with Ron Kublanza at Poultry Days one year, seeing who had more power and how the mechanics of each thrower differed. I still owe Cash a nice ass golf disc. However, Ron is a slippery fish to disseminate information from. Ron has had the pleasure of playing club in Madison, Chicago, Boston, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and now Minneapolis. (Side Note: Chicken still has a ways to go before he overtakes Ron as HOF'er most-traveled journeyman). I was able to wiggle a couple concepts out of Kubz, most interestingly the prowess of his forehand and excelling in different systems. Ron has a huge "shoulder jerk" as his elbow comes far past his torso, making for a fearsome elbow jerk. It seemed to me that the movement between the elbow and shoulder was twice as far than with my lightning release. The increased overall distance that the disc traveled before release had the "Gerics Effect" with more spin and superior distance. It was like the wind-up distance actually accounted for a bigger and more powerful release.
Another aspect of developing a murderbomb is learning how to rip a disc golf disc. My sophomore summer I lived with Ted Tripoli, Grank Zukowski, Nate Hurst and Rodrigo Valdivia - all avid disc golfers and I was eventually allowed to tag along and "learn" how to play. It took a summer or two to really identify the benefits of power and control the disc golf game evolved into my ultimate throws. I bought myself 5 Roc's all weighing over 175 grams and went nuts. When the pins were down during winter, I would throw 3-4 drives each hole. I can still feel the difference in my ultimate pull after a solid round of 15 drives.
The second big development of my deep game was thanks to 2006 Hodag captain Tom Burkly. Bearclaw was able to convince me to only look deep out of solid positioning and advantageous situations, helping me change my deep throwing decisions and cutting down on my turnovers. It was a necessary change as I had loose trigger finger in my high school days. As a primary deep thrower, it decidedly took a large share of the reps and essentially disc-hogging as I nearly bombed it every time I held the rock with determination on my mind. In many cases, I trusted myself to take the shot rather than trust my teammates to make the right decisions with the disc. I wanted the responsibility to win the game and I didn't care what other people thought. I was going to make sure it was finished.
One final consideration while jogging down the field is to let your opponent know that they need to fire up, after delivering your best looking biscuit by reminding your opponent that, "Muffin is the shit!"
Friday, November 11, 2011
"Victory and defeat are each of the same price."
A full club season is exhausting. A part time job, easily 18 hours a week. The challenge of exerting 100% effort into every single small facet of the cumulative season is daunting. Every workout, every dynamic, every single marking drill - can you consistently perform with the same high energy & execution? Occasionally the "long" winter provides the proper perspective with ample time away from the game. Often the beginning of the club season is the easiest time to renew the youthful energetic feeling,. I'm referring to the third grade recess type excitement, a certain kind of building in your stomach as your reach the doors leading to the fields, the spacious green space better known as freedom. The joyous feeling of walking onto a perfect open field eager for practice and perfection. The question persists, can this energy and focus be sustained day-in-day out? What makes the difference from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning? Besides the 4 hours of sprinting, changing direction and pivoting. Excuses aside, if you can bring the energy and excitement -- your sore hamstrings and screaming calves make no difference. The hours of competition, the full purpose of winning each scrimmage to 5, completing every single rep of break mark attack drill.. The desire to win.
The first point of national finals, I was jacked up and ready to play max out. Heart slamming, testosterone at Chuck Norris levels -- ready to give it everything. Revolver scores in 5 passes, kicking the disc out for a perfect cross field huck. Now, is that energy and focus still there? I immediately went to our trainer/massage tent and flopped face down, peering under the tent flap as the next point began. The pull came, we centered the disc.
Now, is that commitment to excellence still aflame? Are you pivoting and faking just as hard as you did the first day of the season when you saw the fields after the off season months of the snow and rain and cold? The mark bids on the open side throw and gets the block near our brick line. I breathed out and swore to myself. Game over. That was the closest we were all game at 0-1. The overall finals performance can't feel like anything but under-performance in the clutch. Our play was consistent, but not overwhelming. The defense allowed quick strike goals and costly drops on offense yielded too many break opportunities.
But that's not what really happened.. We had fallen in love with our man defense because it had worked so well. Soft or hard marks both, it didn't matter, many D's were earned with honest-hard-nosed-effort-man-on-man-grindin-in-your-shorts-defense. It worked in practice, it worked the first game of the year against Sockeye after going down 1-5. We could beat every single team man-to-man, even if you knew exactly what we were going to do. It became the norm as the match-ups had been solid. But against Revolver, there were major letdowns in 1v1 coverage, especially in being able to effectively stop the initial set play. No help on the man. If the match-up was favorable and the throw went up into good space, points ended. It felt like getting pounded by your kid brother.
Ironside has now lost in the club championship to Revolver by the score of 10-15 for the second years in a row.
How do you rationalize defeat?
You put in the work. The hours of preparation.
But when you get to the last 70 yards, you falter and fail.
When your goal is to be the best - how do you deal with the letdown of second or third or fifth place? As it turns out, “Victory and defeat are each of the same price.”
Having the opportunity to win a title, twice, and falling short both times is extremely disappointing, more-so for 2010 than 2011 to be honest. Especially, I feel bad for Captain Mike Zalisk. When I was in the process of coming out to Boston, I flew into Philadelphia to play the tryout tournament Bell Crack. I actually met his mother before I met Mike as I was staying at his parent’s house that weekend. She served me a late dinner and began recounting the various injuries Mike has overcome since as early as high school – including multiple knee surgeries and slow-going roads of rehabilitation. Mike made the trip to Prague and essentially coached the Boston team to our 5th place finish at World’s. He was at every workout, every practice, every tournament, but only able to contribute so much on the field due his recovery schedule and doctor’s orders. There were practices that lulled to only 13 players and Zalisk was forced to play despite his noticeable limp. Towards the end of 2010, Mike was getting healthy. Regionals looked good and he was playing faster at practice, often catching glimpses of his powerbomb throws and savvy physicality.
The first game at Nationals in 2010, Mike re-aggravated his hamstring and was done for the tournament. If Will Neff was one of the more prominent huddle voices in 2010, but Mike was definitely the voice of 2011. At every significant practice – he was the voice describing the process – challenging the team. When the moments for team reflection surfaced, Mike was the vocal point. Stressing that for how many great seasons and incredible teams he had been a part of – but he had never won a club championship. During one of our last practices of the season – he made this point with passion in his voice and it really stuck with me. How many opportunities do you get to win a National Title? How many title games do you get to play in a career? From that perspective, I can look back on these past 2 years with Boston Ironside and come to only one conclusion, “Man, we missed when it meant the most.”
“The entire season, we’ve kept ourselves hungry. When we do something good, we say ‘silver medal’ to remind ourselves of falling short in 2009." This was Revolver's response to losing in the finals of 2009 to Chain Lightning. Always a reminder, always staying hungry. After 2010, Ironside reloaded the cannons, with 10 players moving on from a team of 24. Adding 13 new faces is nearly half the ship's crew.
"When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans and set sail once more toward your coveted goal."
This is amusing for two reasons.
First, Ironside is a boat and second, sailing to our coveted goal is competing for a national championship. As it turns out, championships are much easier to collect in college. But it's often difficult to reconstruct plans that are entrenched in history and success. The offensive system, pioneered by Death or Glory is possession ultimate. It won 6 championships in the 90's. I'm finding the reset pattern outdated and narrowing.
Flashback: I am 18 years old and playing my first ever club season with Madison Club. I'm a freshman, my eyes are wide, and I'm soaking in ultimate like a sponge, about to ride the wave of 7 ultimate tournaments in my first 9 weekends of college. At this point, tryouts are in process for the Wisconsin college team. Chicago Heavyweights begins. Madison Club loses 3 straight universe point games in power pools and is in danger of dropping down out of the elite bracket.
Players are falling one by one, now deep in the 5th straight game on a hot September afternoon. Madison is battling Illinois Alumni and morale is waning. 9 times out of 10 we crush Illinois, but we are on the dregs as the losses have sapped our conviction. Halftime happens and we made a futile attempt to focus on just one aspect of the game. Swing the disc off the trap sideline and reverse the field against a crosswind. The only point stressed is to swing the disc off the line early in the count.
To no avail.
"Off the Line!"
"Off the Line!"
That offensive possession must have lasted a half an hour.
That cooler took the beating of its life -- for failing to concentrate on the simple concept of swinging the disc off the line. Thanks to Hector's visual outburst, I will never forget the life-or-death importance of swinging the disc off the line, early in the count.
Friday, November 04, 2011
I guess I'm getting old. At the very least, I'm older. I returned from my 12th straight club championships Monday evening, taking in a full day of overcast skies and mellow pacing in Sarasota before calling the whole thing quits. I arrived a week prior, late in the Tuesday night, because the years' experience have also taught me a thing or two about the ins and outs of the tournament.
I love the time at the beach, and the sand hot or cold either way. It is fine and white and light between my toes, and the beaches tease you with bits of sand dollars but rarely the dollar whole. The walk along the beach south, after a Sunday stumble down the steps of the Daquiri Deck, teammates - or, if you're lucky, a pretty face - in tow, head buzzing from a powerful admixture of satisfaction and Electric Lemonade. The end-of-day chill session by your team tent with a few friends, foot free of cleat, privates finally ventilated after a harrowing day tossled and smothered and in a dank darkness.
I used to be the guy that showed up and asked who to pay and to be pointed to his match-up. I had no idea who rented cars, or put down deposits for houses, or called other adults and negotiated financial transactions. I woke up to a breakfast. I arrived at the fields and was told where and when we'd be playing. I had no idea which way was north, where I-75 was, or how to get to the Publix and back. I rode my share of pine, but every time I was called in to play it was a special event. One of my first points ever on those pristine fields ended with Parinella taking me deep. I remember the way I felt running down the play, too far behind to D it. My second or third point ended with me throwing an I/O backhand break for a goal, also against Parinella, and I certainly remember how that felt. Oh, to be a n00b again!
I remember the distinct feeling I had after each of my playing seasons. From my freshman year of college until our loss in finals against Sockeye with Bravo, I ended each season a better player than I'd started. Then I played Sub Zero '08, one of the greatest team to squander a fortune. We were like Harry Potter's boggart; scary as fuck but ultimately without much punch. It was frustrating being a team with immense talent but unable to find a common groove, and the season's saving grace was that despite our underperformance, we were great friends and loved to hang out.
After Sub's subpar performance, and exacerbated by the departure of good friends Dan Heijmen and Andrew Brown, the tenuous fiber connecting Sub's roster to some of the best of Madison's players snapped, and after several years of playing under a variety of systems, I felt I had enough knowledge to try and captain Madison Club back to the national spotlight. With players no longer commuting away, we built a team that could compete on the national stage and won our first regional crown since 2001. I brought an amalgam of ideas for running practices, offense, and defense that was informed by the systems of my prior teams and the pedagogy from my experiences as a teacher. During those first two seasons with Club, the bulk of my time and energy went toward my captaining duties, so much so that in my second year they encroached on my conditioning time. Coupled with the demands of coaching the Hodags, this meant that I went into the club season in substandard shape. I tweaked my back early, and that injury nagged me in one form or another for the rest of the season. For me, going 3 seasons without feeling I was improving as a player took a toll, and I gave up my captaining duties for this season and went on a long summer road trip to get my head right and to help Alex move to Madison with me.
It was just what I needed. I drove almost 7000 miles this summer, stayed in shape, and cleared my thoughts. When I returned, I had no responsibility on the team other than to play my best. I did. After our victory over GOaT to end our club natties, I felt like I had another 5 games in me. I was able to apply my knowledge of the game to my on-field performance more directly, and this was my best and most consistent season so far. More importantly, realizing that I could play better yet renewed my faith in myself and my love for the game.
I'm feeling good right now, coupling all my experience with the passion of my naive youth. My career, my journey through all the levels of this sport, has been such a rewarding gift. I am thankful for all my teammates and opponents that have pushed me to continue learning and improving. I feel young, I feel grateful, I feel hungry, and Mooney's record 19 consecutive natties appearances is only 7 years away...
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Hodags are forged at a variety of heats, and having returned from another fantastic trip to Sarasota, I got enjoy watching six of them tempered under the hottest flame.
The symbiosis of the Hodags and Club has long been established. Each has been dependent on the other for continued competitiveness and success. Each year the college team sends its best to Club to be schooled and steeled, and this year was no exception. What was incredible was how well they played, how much they contributed, and the size of their development from June to now.
Shortly after we were done playing on Saturday, one of the young Dags on the team asked me, "what is harder, winning a college championship or quarters of club natties?" Well, the former's a lot more prestigious but the latter is significantly harder. That's why a season on the club team is worth two years of development; all your on-field mistakes are immediately punished; your lazy poaches are quickly exploited; a higher level of consistency and excellence is demanded to make the jump from college to club.
And I am sitting here typing, and my mind is tounging around dozens of plays so tasty it makes me gleek, and on the business end of each of those plays is a man that will be wearing a Hodag jersey this spring. You've got to be kidding me. And we get six of them? Wiseman, Jake, Simmons, Colin, Hart, Coolidge?!?
One thing you notice when you go from watching club to college is the speed of the game. When the Hodags head to MLC in a little under two weeks, those six are going feel the game slow down for them. Ten seconds feels like fifteen. The mark seems predictable and lethargic. After having ran their assess off guarding and being guarded by some of the best athletes in the game, their match-ups are going to feel like recess duty. And this year we get six of them! For a moment try to imagine what it feels like to play at a fall college tournament, when for the last 5 months you've been competing against the best, when just the week prior you were drawing Ironside's best defenders.
All of my Hodag teammates played exemplary this past week. They have been rocks on the team all season, and we've relied on them in a variety of roles and asked them to contribute. They all have. Wiseman and Jake have not yet found a ceiling on their skills downfield as cutters or defenders, and both can go up with the best jumpers you've got. Hart and Colin are going to throw to each other downfield for two more springs. That's frightening. Simmons alternated catching pulls and catching hitch passes on the O-line, and had hundreds of reps reading downfield junk sets devised by the best defensive minds. I think he's going to be ok with the disc in his hand and a college team trying to play zone. These dudes are all ballers.
But I want to signal out and give respect to Coolidge, my unanimous Most Improved Player for the club team this year. For me, it's not even close. Two years ago, Coolidge had what would have been his first season with the Hodags cut short. This last year, he began contributing solidly and played well at college nationals but questions remained. He became in that year a dependable defender that could make plays from time to time, but still mistake-prone. He entered the club season with the full steam of the college season behind him however, and the immediate transition to the adult game was exactly what he needed. To say he took it to the next level would reduce him; he took a quantum leap in every facet of the game.
I remember the exact practice it happened, too. On a weekend full of small-side scrimmages, we were paired on the same team and I watched him, all day long, complete around breaks off the line. He just lit up, a box of oil and kindling in the dry August sun. Two months prior, occasional drops and turfed passes clouded his game. The heat of his flame burned them away; he has not looked back since. He erased some of the best handlers from hopeful Sarasota offensive game plans. If you thought you were starting on D above Coolidge on the Dags this season, think again. It's his throne right now, and I'm incredibly proud of him.
I'm just fucking jacked for this college season! At the start of my last club season I considered hanging them up at its end. I stuck around another year and I am bought in as hard as ever. I still have legs, I'm finding more and more heart in the unlikeliest of places, the game is making so much sense to me, and I'm having a shitload of fun again. It's just that, for me, getting older has been feeling so good; all my kid emotions and curiosity, but a self-control that allow me to use my gifts for the pursuit of daily wonder. And this college season can't start soon enough! I get to help lead a group of dudes that work so hard most of them haven't looked up to see how good they are! Are you kidding me? Fucking fantastic!
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
The 2011-12 Hodag roster is set. And, Jesus, that process takes a long time.
Tryouts for the Hodags began the first week of the school year, with two weeks of open sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays. The leadership junta convened then and made an initial round of cuts, removing players that are still learning the basic rules of the game or who weren't ready athletically. We went down to about 60 from 100.
The next two weeks the intensity ratchets up as we begin to sprinkle match-up drills into the sessions that allow us to assess people directly against each other. Our scrimmages feature team focuses and a few strategy points and we look to see who can take and implement them in the game. This year's tryout group featured a higher level of basic skills across all players, if not a player clearly rising above the rest. It made for some great practices and scrimmages between teams, as we split into 4 squads and perform drills and warm-ups with our respective teams. The games give us an opportunity to watch tryouts' sideline game, to qualify intensity as it's shown. During the meeting to cut from this group, these types of intangibles count for a lot and can mean the difference between making the cut and not.
The final round of cuts goes for two more weeks, still on Mondays and Wednesdays, and culminates with our tournament No Wisconsequences. We attend in split squads that have been divided for a week and play. Last year featured both squad in finals after a surprising loss by CUT against Ball State, and finished on universe point. This year both squads again trampled through the competition, but captain Simmons' team overpowered captain Liu's easily in the wind to take the tourney.
Immediately after the fields were cleaned by both tryout teams, the junta got in a car and began the drive back to Madison, beginning the conversations about who had stood out and who they wanted to take. I'll admit that before the tournament I hadn't been too excited about any one player; I had seen good play but my jaw hadn't dropped. No Wisconsequences changed that quickly. The weekend had a stiff wind that came and went, and made the flight paths of even the best throws unpredictable at best. This meant that during any given point the odds that a pass would sail away from its intended target were high. And that means that time and again, those that showed the most tenacity were the ones frequently catching garbage throws. I'm a firm beleiver that attitude is contagious, for good or bad. I will take someone with grit and tenacity but iffy throws over someone with pretty throws but poor sideline presence and body language, any day. Being part of a team that has carved a lot of success out of sleeves-up, suffocating man D,
(Let me interject the tryout story here. Do this on your team: next tournament, take a photo (real or mental) of what your sideline looks like at random times. Choose a game and do it like every 4 points. Pay attention to your teammates' body language; what are they saying? Where are they in relation to game play? Describe your sideline in one word to yourself. It's amazing what a sideline says about the seven players on the field.)
It is crucial that you possess at least a glimmer of Kill Mode to be considered on the team at this point. As the junta debated, a few unanimous players rose from the stack, and everyone spoke of them excitedly. These are the easy rounds. We returned 19 players from the year prior and had so much talent at each position already that we could afford to take from the top of the board without having to think much about positional needs. When we reached 5 remaining players for 3 spots, we began to measure all the intangibles. Are they a good teammate? Do they march the sidelines throughout the game? Do they take initiative to contribute in small ways to the team's overall needs? We also look back and read the answers to a survey all tryouts take, paying close attention to questions that ask about team attitude, goals, and reasons for wanting to play on the Hodags. At this stage in the game, those answers can make or break someone's chances. This year, choosing the final two spots took as long as everything that had come before it. That speaks to how equivalent several candidates were in regards to their tangible skills. For a program that puts the team before the player, sideline presence ends up being the most important factor that differentiates between those vying for the final spots on the team.
This year we're fortunate to have a fantastic rookie crop, full of upbeat youthfulness that will pay big dividends to the success of the team in the spring. We took several true freshmen with a wide-eyed excitement that was contagious, and with incredible upsides. We filled out the roster with an admixture of athleticism and experience, and the final product is scary. It also underscores why gritty attitudes are so mint for this year; we have an incredibly talented team, and one danger is that we convince ourselves that talent can supplant hard work. The college season is a long one, and we've got the time to do it, but we will need to play a selfless game with iron trust if we want to cleat up on Memorial Day again. So far, I like what I see.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
I am a bandwagon fan. Having grown up in Iowa - with zero professional teams - I had no loyalties except for the Hawkeyes. I quickly found myself rooting for the Bulls, Cowboys, Yankees and Red Wings. When I moved to Wisconsin -- I found myself rooting for the Packers, Brett Favre and even the Brewers. Now that I've landed in Massachusetts -- it's all Patriots, Red Sox and Bruins. Tom Brady is cool enough, but not as good as "Touchdown Packers!"
This brings me to collapse of the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday.
"When things go bad your true colors show and I was bothered by what was showing," Francona said. "It's my responsibility to fix it."
Francona time and again over the last few days has talked about his inability to reach the players when the season was slipping away from the team.
"Don't forget, a month ago this team was on pace to win 100 games," Francona said. "When things started to go, I wanted desperately for our guys to care about each other on the field. I wasn't seeing that as much as I wanted to. I tried to help make that better, the coaches also, it just wasn't ever comfortable. You've heard me talk all the time about going in one direction and getting through challenges and meeting them together, but I just didn't think we were doing that. That's my responsibility to get them to do that and it wasn't happening to my satisfaction."
When reading this article, one line struck me in particular -- I wanted desperately for our guys to care about each other on the field.
I've been coaching a small technical school (WPI) for the past two seasons. Having played at Wisconsin and on some solid club teams -- being a good teammate was almost second nature. Yelling from the sidelines, rushing the field, picking your teammates up -- it was all part of the process of winning. It was second nature.
However, I'm dealing with freshman who have never played competitive sports and have never had to deal with the team aspect. When things are going sour, I see a bunch of players by our sideline, not paying attention, not picking up their teammates. They weren't there for each other. This affect seems to compound when the other team goes on a run. Once we are down -- we cannot pick ourselves back up. I find it ruthlessly frustrating. I try to lead by example - stalking the sideline and yelling my support.
When I ask the players why they don't contribute, the reply is, "I don't know what to say."
Something as simple as yelling their name works the majority of the time..
Thursday, July 14, 2011
You stand alone, ten plates in the hole.
It's you versus the weight.
You're thinking, "I'm gonna get friggin' crushed."
You're thinking, "I'm not gonna get up."
But you will.
Yeah, you'll puke.
Yeah, it'll be hard getting off the crapper the next couple days.
But it'll be worth it, cuz when there's chalk on your hands and sweat on your back, there's no better place in the world.
This is pain.
This is Animal.
Can you handle it?
I've been killing the my new Lifting Program.
Front squat is my new fav.
Reverse Lunge is taking me to bed.
Don't even talk to me about Wall Ankle Mobs.
And STFU about the PallofPress Holds!
But for serious.
This squat til you puke picture is hilarious. This wedgie is too good to be true.
I'm also loving this quote: (although a bit blunt)
-Put More Weight on the Fucking Bar – Lift heavier, get stronger. Fucking magic.
In the last 34 days I've put in 96 hours of "fitness" -- with my activities including sprints on the track, pick-up ultimate, throwing murderball huckbombs with Julie, winning tournaments (#8&counting2011), weekend practice or scrimmage, and weight lifting - specifically front squat, power cleans, dead lifts, reverse lunges, pallopressholds, bench press and DB military press. I kinda want to power/hang clean 225 (see animal video). My abs look so good, I could win a bodybuilding contest.
I put down 108 Murderslams on the Wednesday prior to Potlatch.
Wisconsin then pwnd on Muckamuck as I could hit the back cones all day!
I found this picture in a Rodrigo muscle magazine under his bed.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
For the last three days I've been feeding my body a steady supply of dayquil to suppress a flu that began shortly after the tournament. Nationals nights have always been restless for me. As the culmination of months of training and preparation, my mind races through a year of memories and a tournament's worth of scenarios. As it is, I have a restless inner monologue, and on those nights there's no stilling it. And this season has been an incredible journey, so long and endless until suddenly, it ended. I have people to thank and give credit to, some improvements I'd make to myself, and some great memories, and I want to get them down while they're fresh.
I'm going to sit down with my little netbook after work for the next few days and get as many of them down as I can, and I plan on sharing many of them here. So be it.
This was the question that Billy Stone, CBS Sports representative, posed to us, the captains and coaches meeting before the beginning of the championship. By far the most dynamic and exciting of the speakers at the captain's meeting, he had everyone present fired up to finally get some real exposure for the sport. Frequently stressing the need to tone down the language in huddles and on the field, he was adamant that having seen the footage from last year's natties, the top brass at CBS Sports was ready to double down this year with their coverage and exposure of college Ultimate's hallmark event.
"And next year, we want to go...live!" His energy was infectious. Hell yes, of course we want to go live. We all do. It'd be great to have a well-produced live showing of the championship games for the open and women's division. After our incredible semifinal game against Colorado, in my opinion the game to watch of the tournament, Peggy, a Wisconsin alum and producer of the Alt Games footage, said that in production meetings they had talked about adding more footage of Ultimate to their CBS broadcast, from the planned 6 minutes to as many as 9. This would be the footage that gets televised to 120 million homes.
But all of this was before finals against CUT. Carleton vs. Wisconsin, the rivalry and history promised to make this game one to remember. Then the winds came racing down the foothills, shearing the support cables from the Alt Games inflatable arch and sending it tumbling end over end above the fence behind the north end of the fields. I could see our team game plan fly away with it, and I'm sure that Tom Crawford and the rest of USAU saw the promise of a watchable game of Ultimate soar away as well.
Jack Marsh, Harvard Red Line and Wisconsin Hodag alum summed it up best, watching online from NYC and tweeting his opinion, "I can hear @cbssports shredding its @usaultimate contract from here."
Nationals was an incredible experience, so much fun and so rewarding for many reasons, but that wind made the open finals game unwatchable. It certainly wasn't Ultimate in the way every game beforehand had defined it. Are we ready to go live, Billy Stone? I am, I certainly want to be, but then again I won't be the one watching, I'll be the one living it.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
No way to sugar coat it, we got worked over at the Stanford Invite a couple of weeks back. Whether one chooses to blame the Pacific time zone, or a depleted squad, or an ingrown toenail, the fact remains that for the whole of the tournament we were listless on the field, lacking energy and playing complacent.
Perhaps a solid outing at Florida Warm-Up made us feel that we were well on our way - a way that like a greased slide would effortlessly lead us to Regionals. What we proved is that no matter how much talent we have, we are only as good a team as the effort and work that we put into each point of each game. We eked out a few victories, but it was the resignation during our losses that was most troubling. We came back from Stanford with only a week before Spring Break, and a lot of work to do.
The Hodags left icy Wisconsin to their beach house along the shores of the Atlantic in Myrtle Beach. In contrast to last year's destructo-fest, that left little of the house intact, this year's week of bonding was filled with throws and touches. Beach time was an opportunity to throw with a brisk breeze, and the team organized a few team-wide practices to stay fresh and to work on fundamentals - an important focus for any team.
That work paid dividends at Easterns where, team-wide, unforced errors diminished. We found ourselves in a dogfight against Colorado to take the pool but could not convert the score on double-game point, so despite a win against pool winners and eventual semifinalists Michigan we played a prequarters game and faced Florida in quarters.
Our eventual 7th place finish was disappointing to much of the team, because we played well for 4/ 5ths of every game, but we were unable to close games against our stiffest competition and it cost us dearly. However, the silver lining is that our defense generated turns and breaks against all teams present, and we led late in the second half of every game we played. Being able to stay tenacious and shut the door on teams once we've established a lead will be crucial for our success, and we're currently placing our O-line in do-or-die situations at practice where they must convert in straight possessions or lose the game.
Arriving back from Easterns, we were greeted by a sunny spring in Madison. The weather has been brisk, in the 30s and 40s, but when the sun is out we get sweaty and it feels like summer is around the corner. The weather's cooperation has been a blessing to us as a team, and we're outside taking full advantage. Considering that we've only had 5 outdoor practices since the beginning of 2011, we're nowhere near our ceiling and we leave each practice a little better than how we arrived.
Up next this weekend is Huck Finn, a late addition to our schedule to get the younger players on the team reps, and to help us gel on the field. While I won't be in attendance, I think that will probably work in their favor, as each player will have to step up and be accountable for themselves, to each other.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
The thermometer outside threatens to dip below 20F, and the clear skies belie cold gusts that slap at the UW students' faces as they walk to class. Although spring is technically three weeks away, its warm temperatures and tree blossoms don't seem any closer now than they did a month ago.
Still, the impending arrival of several cairns signal that spring is in fact rapidly approaching. Daylight savings time is 10 days away. Our sectional tourney, and the college series for everyone, begins in little over a month. And in two days, we board a plane for SFO and the Stanford Invite.
As I mentioned before, with Lent starting so late this year our annual pilgrimage to Mardi Gras fatefully conflicted with the Stanford Invite. We made the difficult choice of foregoing a geographically closer tournament to play against west coast teams we won't see otherwise until, if all goes well, Memorial Day weekend in Boulder. But this has shortened our pre-series schedule by one tournament, not insubstantial, making each game more important to our development.
Compounding this, last night was our final indoor practice of the season in the McClain Center. Last year, the women's rugby club dropped a serious ball and missed the deadline for reserving space and time indoors. Their loss was all other club sport teams' gain, and even late in the season where we and several other teams gave them some of our indoor sessions, we had plenty of opportunities to meet. Needless to say, the rugby team didn't make the same mistake again and that, along with a reduction the the number of total dates available to all teams, meant that we had only 4 total sessions indoors. The end of our indoor practices came so suddenly that Feldman and Cullen didn't realize the significance of it being their last indoor practice ever until midway through last night. Cullen worked accordingly, scoring and spiking goal after goal and, at practice's end, spending a few wistful moments reflecting on 5 years of Hodag service before checking back into reality and realizing that he had to get home, at 12:45am, to do some homework.
We can't well spend the time between Stanford and the arrival of warm weather waiting for opportunities to throw outside, so in Wisconsin winter spirit we have to make them. So take some gloves, some Patagonia gear, and 20 minutes outdoors before the cold makes the Ultrastar's plastic so stiff and brittle it could shatter from an dropped pass, and you've got yourself a 'Sconny throwing sesh. We're not a pretty team, but the college series ain't a beauty pageant.
Follow the Stanford Invite here, and check the Hodag twitter feed for frequent updates (or my feed for infrequent but typically wittier quips). See you in California.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I've been following Lou Burrus' writings at Win The Fields as he discusses several reasons why referees aren't the panacea to Ultimate's ills, and I certainly agree. He mentions in two different posts the strongest points I have for continuing our current observer system, but having the observers perform the duties as they're prescribed.
The first point he addresses is the time between when a call is made and its resolution. I am in favor of the observers giving some time for players to work out an understanding of the play in question, but in my opinion observers have shied away from stepping in when it's clear the disagreement between the players won't be resolved. This can start with all players keeping in mind that in many contested fouls, a call/contest response is acceptable. But observers, perhaps afraid of being too large an influence, have developed a neutered style where they'll sit back and, only after minutes have been whittled away, step in and make a call. The observers need to be ready with a ruling, then interject and either rule one way or send the disc back.
Secondly, I am all for observers wielding team and personal misconduct fouls with greater frequency as a way to dissuade players and teams from forcing stoppages of play with bullshit calls and fouls to dictate the pace of the game. Right now the threshold for TMFs and PMFs is so high that only egregious violations seem to merit them. While observers have in the last year been more generous with TMFs, I don't think it's been enough of a change yet.
Lastly, as I perused some write-ups from Warm-Up, I read this breakdown of teams on No-Look Scoober, where the writer Stonewall Jackson conflates some heated intra-teammate talk with "issues being a unified squad". He goes on to write, "In one instance, negativity seemed to go over the top, past teammate to teammate heckling when members on the sidelines expressed their discontent with some turnovers colorfully."
I couldn't disagree with this more. It goes without saying that the writer was nowhere near the fields, or even Florida, during the tournament, but there wasn't a single instant all weekend where I thought any Hodag went over the top in criticism of his teammates and, had I felt that was the case, there would have been immediate and significant consequences for doing so. This Hodag squad is fantastic; I couldn't be more happy with or proud to coach them, and each of them would go to the limit of their abilities to help any of the others. If teams are looking at our unity as a possible place to get an edge or incite divisiveness look elsewhere, because you'll be wasting your time. If there's one things the Hodags have never lacked, it's strength through unity, and indeed our most common cheer, and the bedrock of our team philosophy, states it. Hodag Love.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
After two days of rest to allow the knots and tightness to dissipate, the Hodags reconvene tonight at their winter lair, the Shell. With a long list of things to improve on but not much opportunity to touch on those that require discs, we can only turn our focus toward the one thing we have control over: team-wide fitness. Tonight Jerrybomb sets about as taskmaster to the team's athleticism. In his tenure as team fitness coordinator he has established himself as an efficient trainer with a splash of sadism that his civilian acquaintances, unfamiliar to the rigors of competitive Ultimate, don't get to see.
I drift now to moments on the sidelines this weekend whenever a call was made, in our games or otherwise, that nullified a score or big play made by one of the teams. Mostly I think of all the incredulity and snark that comes out of the mouths of players too far away to see any part of the play with clarity, or senseless noise coming from players who didn't see what happened at all.
It seems now we're at a moment where everyone provided with vocal chords claims as their right some permutation of best perspective; where every call's legitimacy is argued if it goes against your team; where even the worst calls a teammate can make are upheld as manifest truth.
It reminds me of a moment in Steven King's The Stand where the survivors of a biological apocalypse, after enjoying a period of camaraderie and tight communion, begin to lock the doors in their Boulder, CO homes as the size of the settlement swells, and distrust once again takes root within the cracks of unfamiliarity.
On the heels of the UPA (oops - USAU -old habits die hard) announcing that membership has reached an all-time high and junior memberships have now surpassed those of adults, I'm wondering if we're losing some of that closeness that allowed self-officiation to thrive, that community which allowed each of us as players to leave the doors of our trust unlocked during games.
At the captain's meeting this year at Club Nationals, there was nary a peep about the future of referees in Ultimate - quite the opposite, the corporate line from CEO Tom Crawford and everyone else who spoke from headquarters stressed the future of the sport as predicated on self-officiation as the keystone in the arch of selling points the USAU is using to push Ultimate to a wider market.
And I don't want you to get me wrong - I love self-officiation in this sport. But it's been my experience lately that the familiarity between players nationwide has diminished as our numbers have grown, and now the hardest thing to find on the field the moment after a contentious call is civility, and players with unsubstantiated opinions and no desire to base them on any hard reality sprout like uncontested weeds from the green of the pitch and sidelines. If our civility holds its current decaying trajectory, we're going to need to modify our rules eventually to allow for more observer empowerment, and not because self-officiation is dead or impossible, but because new generations of players simply aren't putting in the effort necessary to make it work. Trust and democratic spirit within a game are as difficult as any upfield break or off-handed sky, but while the latter two bring instant glory and praise, the former two affect the game with a subtlety not immediately tangible. It's only during the handshakes between teams, at the end of a long and hard-fought game that both felt was called fairly, that their true value comes to light.
It's my responsibility, and a primary focus since taking the helm of the Hodags, to make sure this team enjoys and promotes a style of play that is aggressive, intense, and competitive, but also fair, honest, and full of the sportsmanship that Spirit of the Game upholds but has hardly cornered within our sport. For the Hodags and teams nationwide, the challenge remains.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
We returned from Florida with 9 games under our belt, 6 victories, 3 losses, and for my part, one hell of a shirt tan. Most importantly, as we boarded a giant team flight on AirTran back to Wisconsin we had a long list of things we needed to work on for these next three weeks, before the Hodags once again board a plane and head to the opposite coast for the Stanford Invite.
We arrived at the field complex of the University of Southern Florida on a morning that could have been warmer. With our breaths barely visible at our faces and the thermometer pushing the bottom 40s, teams warmed up in full pants and jackets, and hands were kept warm between drills within the heat of our crotchspace. UNC-W coach Tully Beatty complained that, aside from the fact it wasn't raining, the weather had not improved on their long drive southward. The Hodags were happy to feel even the lightest touch of warmth though, and we set about getting our legs ready for the weekend.
We began round robin play with the host team. My concern was our rusty throws would be an even bigger disadvantage playing against home field, and true to form our defense's O had trouble converting. Our legs carried us though and we were able to generate many turns. Our O-line looked sharp however, and carried the half without a single break to its detriment. When the second half started, our D finally got its throws together and we eliminated casual turns. The result was rattling off several breaks and taking the game 13-7.
We had a brief break before playing Cornell who, despite having made semifinals of Natties last year (can't believe it!), came with maybe 13 pairs of legs to this tournament. It was the 2nd game for both teams, but they were already looking tired, and by this time the D squad was humming along. Despite the efforts of a few astute throwers on Cornell, their defense was unable to generate any breaks all game and we took it in hand 13-6.
Our next game against Virginia was the first real test. We went into halftime with a lead that felt comfortable, and when our O-line was finally broken our defense was too lax to respond. A few sloppy points in a row by our O-line, and suddenly we found ourselves down a point neediing to tie. The game evened at 10-10, then we broke to take advantage, and traded to the cap, with our team receiving tied at 11s. The hard cap had come on, and with only 5 minutes until the start of the next round we scored to win on double game point. There was contention, however, as Virginia was unaware that we'd been playing under hard cap for the last two points (they scored to tie it at 11s, forcing the final point), and they complained. There was nothing to be done with tournament director Cyle Van Auken looking on, and as they bitterly asked him, "what more can we do?" he answered them deadpan, "keep track of time."
Here I'll interject that while it is each team's responsibility to do so, I understand Virginia's frustrations. There was no loud horn indicating soft or hard cap, and teams were left to manage time themselves. And normally, I would have talked to someone on the other team to ensure that both teams know the situation but this was our first tournament, and I'm becoming comfortable with my own duties, and in the moment it didn't cross my mind. So, apologies to Virginia, but that's how it goes. Keep track of time.
I'll also mention that the amenities for this tournament were what amenities.
Two port-a-johns, 200m away from the fields, both out of toilet paper by the second round. These boxes of filth were brimming beyond their capacity by the 3rd day, and attempting to deuce at the fields on Sunday became a challenge in careful placement, lest you bottom out too soon and find yourself with no place to go. Only at a tourney with no women's division could you even hope to get away with this. The captain's meeting consisted of a USF player clearly in over his head rattling off rules that he thought were right (he was proven wrong later, his stated 1TO/half + a floater became 2TO/half by the end of the tourney), and the trainer was available whenever we didn't need her. She was contracted to arrive after the start of rounds, and left before the end of the day, along with whomever was taking care to fill water jugs. Not that you can ask for much with a low tourney fee, but I think as a sport we need to get used to paying a little more and having, at bare minimum, a trainer present ANY TIME players are running on the fields, and bathroom facilities that can withstand the copious fecal production 9 teams generate. Just sayin'.
Our final game was against Colorado to end Friday's play. They took it to us fairly well, capitalizing quickly on unforced errors by our O-line. We hardly played our best game, and a couple of breaks in the second half by the D gave us confidence going into Saturday that we could generate goals against any offensive line, however our O-line execution faltered in the second half of the day and we needed to address those struggles. We had drops and throw-aways that are unchacteristic for this team, but with wind playing with the disc's path and edge, our lack of experience outside showed when we played against teams with more aggressive defenses. The day closed with food, and a delicious couple of Bell's Two-Hearted ales for me and Scotto back at the tourney.
Saturday showcased the Florida weather we expected, with not a cloud in the sky. Perhaps it was that distraction that caused us to lay an egg in the first game, or perhaps Harvard's junky 3-3-1 gave our team fits as we faced the first zone of the season. The cutters downfield failed to attack the poaches aggressively, and instead languished behind the cup playing it as a true zone, which allowed the Red Line ample time to switch and clog lanes. Despite several opportunities to bring the game back into the fold, it was the O-line who ultimately folded and we lost 13-8.
This loss put our backs to the wall, needing to generate at least one victory and looking down the mouth of a Sunday that held CUT and Florida, our two biggest rivalries (Colorado being the other). I've called our team young, and having had CUT and Colorado hand it to us at MLC in the fall, and then faltering at the end of Friday vs Colorado, and laying an egg vs. Harvard, we reached a point of crisis. Are we as good as we think we can be? The short answer is not yet, but our potential is essentially limitless at the college level, and the second half of Saturday bore that out.
Our offense put together its finest effort in a classic game against CUT, with neither team blinking in a staring match that lasted until 9-9, when we finally got our first break, then piled on 3 more to take the game 13-10. The game began as contentious as our games always do, but by its end both teams were letting their hard effort do the talking for them. The exhilaration of this victory buried any disappointment in the loss to Harvard, and we carried that momentum directly into our game against Florida an hour later.
Florida is still Florida. They're still just a few players deep, but they're good players, and Troll Sullivan and Alex Hill anchor a team that would otherwise not chart in the Illboard Top 20. But the team is lacking the strength they've had in role players elsewhere, and their one-dimensionality proved their undoing. While other teams might struggle against the Florida image, to us it's always been a rallying point, and our O-line cutters had a field day with a downfield defense too soft to generate pressure against them. Florida basically waits until you make a mistake, and then tries to force something deep to or from Sullivan. Alex Hill plays the role of comic foil and looks to establish power position for himself and Cole as often as possible. Against a Hodag team hungry and smelling victims, it wasn't often enough. We won easily 13-9.
It's not everyday you can beat CUT and Florida within 2 hours of each other. Although too early in the season for either win to mean anything substantive, what we did learn is that we're as real as we thought we could be, and that despite our youth we have a lot of positives working in our favor. We also proved to ourselves the power of an engaged and vocal sideline; a lesson crucial for a team of this size and age. With everyone following the play and communicating to teammates, defense downfield suddenly seemed like a group affair. This lesson, and the confidence it provided, will have to remain with us for the rest of the season if we mean to accomplish the goals we've set for ourselves.
Sunday came with the best weather of the weekend, though not our best play. A young UNC-W team kept it close against us during the first half before surrendering too many breaks on unforced (and forced) errors, and despite some tit-for-tat calls early we ran away with it in the second half 13-7. Meanwhile Colorado lost to a fired-up Virginia in the field next to us, with the game going to the end of the round. Perhaps someone on Night Train finally brought a watch.
We secured a spot in semifinals against CUT, and never took it for granted that this game would be a tougher challenge than our first battle against them. The offense didn't have their best game though, and despite the defense generating turns we weren't able to convert on many of them. Lowlights included 5th year captain Ben Feldman joining an illustrious line of Hodags (2007 Callahan winner Dan Heijmen among them) that have caught a gorgeous pass in the red zone and immediately spiked the disc, before realizing they were well outside the endzone. In this case Feldman's elbow spike placed the disc about 10 yards out. Such was the nature of the D-line offense, coming close to a few breaks but not able to finish, and we lost the game to a fired up (and Grant-less) CUT squad, 13-7. The rivalry remains heated.
CUT took that victory and piled on top of it a complete game against Mamabird in finals. Norden does a lot of the heavy lifting for CUT on the throwing end, and Julian seemed like he was at recess downfield, running around unopposed and catching everything thrown his way. A well-earned victory for CUT over Mamabird 14-12, and for those keeping track, the Central remains the strongest region, or most top-heavy, nationwide.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Follow the Hodag twitter feed, along with the twitter account of the other 8 teams at the Leagevine website for Warm-Up, A Florida Affair.
The 'Dags are en route to the airport as I type this, office full of students stuffing their faces with the a la carte offerings of the high school deep fryer. I'm finding it's taking all I have to focus on the school work here and not the sun and ultimate awaiting us tomorrow.
Our schedule for the weekend:
10am vs South Florida
noon vs. Cornell
2pm vs. Virginia
5pm vs. Colorado
noon vs. Harvard
2pm vs. Carleton Poopstains
6pm vs. Florida
8am vs. UNC-Wilmington
10am placement games and semis
Rivalries everywhere. I love the round robin format. At this early juncture, it gives everyone plenty of games. It also makes every game carry weight, not only in victories, but also point differential. Every point counts, literally, because you never know when you'll need to win by one more or lose by one less to come out on top of some convoluted tie that is settled by point diff. We're aware of the stakes and we need to play with them in mind. See you down in Florida, where I will be tweeting from my account occasionally and the @hodaglove account will be active with updates.
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Yesterday the Hodags swarmed the McClain Center for our final cleated practice before A Florida Warm-Up.I had spent the previous three hours in the library of my high school beginning the 3-part mediation between two rival gangs, represented by students at my high school and another in the city, in an effort between the school, the police department's anti-gang unit, and neighborhood intervention groups, to squash the beef between them. Tempers between the two gangs had flared earlier last year, culminating in the murder of a former student from here as he relaxed during a smoke break outside his workplace. Now, the police were seeing the same level of activity they'd noticed before that murder, and little fights and shit-talking were escalating just as they had then, and the three nights of talks are efforts by a wide range of concerned adults to broker a loose truce before things again get out of hand.
These were the thoughts in my mind as I drove downtown toward practice, and they were locked in step with me during my warm-up jog around the Shell's 200m indoor track.One of the blessings of a positive, high-energy activity like Ultimate (or any sport, for that matter) is its ability to clear your mind of things otherwise too heavy to shake before bed. After two miles of jogging, my mind, like a stiff and sore hamstring, finally released and the endorphins put me back where I wanted to be, excited and anxious as we prepared for the season's first tourney.
The focus was squarely where it needs to be for a team locked indoors during the harshness of winter: throws and touches. We approached the first half of practice they way we will our Friday morning warm-up, building speed, intensity, and demand of skill throughout the drills we executed. Although the winter months can sometimes lead to indoor fatigue, and sloppy and distracted play, the team knows that each minute in McClain is precious, and veterans kept the pace flowing. Although our ability to account for wind indoors, where every throw is unadultered, is next to impossible, by emphasizing crisp throws and sure hands we're able to at least prepare our minds and hands for the speed of the game.
And the best part is that this team has speed in spades. We're fast. That extra gear was on display as we moved to the second half of practice, which consisted of scrimmaging between the offensive squad and our defense. Although we looked a bit rusty at times, everyone approached each point as an opportunity to win their match-up, and our defensive aggression shone through. Colin Camp set the tone early with a full layout D on a huck that reminded me of Charles Woodson's diving effort that cost him his left collarbone in the Super Bowl. Colin paid only with some skin off his knee, and the team responded to his example. Although only a sophomore, Colin is already showing national-level superstar caliber, and it's these little inspiring plays like his that this team rides and requires for momentum.
Faces were exhausted and layers of jerseys soaked in sweat when 12:15am arrived, but everyone felt better about our readiness going into this weekend. We're going to be rusty, and our throws in wind will feel like we're learning to walk all over again, but our team is athletic and more importantly, determined. Can't wait.
For a nice study in contrast, take a look at today's weather in Madison, WI vs. Tampa Bay, FL.
Saturday, February 05, 2011
The damnedest thing about writer's block is that it doesn't stem from a lack of things to write about. Writing requires you to summon the energy necessary to relive the memory, and revisit its emotions, and that process is exhausting. It's kind of like why I haven't gotten around to watching Hotel Rwanda or Blood Diamond yet; I want to, but I know I'll be spent when I'm done, and I'll do it later when I have some more energy, ok?
In my absence Muffin's stream of conscience, like kudzu, grew outward without check and my blog has become an ill-kept garden. The links need weeding and pruning, the masthead a dusting, but mostly I just need to sit down and with the regularity of a drip irrigation system water the keyboard with my words. Yet that takes time, and the catch-22 I'm in is that while I am doing a lot I'd love to write about, the time required to do those things leaves little for their writing. And this being a new year, I toss my resolution to take time to write into the ring, there to rest with everyone else's.
So, aside from it generally being agreed upon that I'm on of the coolest people at my high school (by both fellow staff and students), I've been getting caught up in some Ultimate. I am the coach of the Hodags for the second year in a row, I reprised my role as counselor at Next Level, a camp for high school players, and I also completed my second year with Club as its captain, and we returned to Natties, for my 11th straight appearance. It's been a great experience, with a lot of learning along the way, and I'll entertain the thought that some of you voyeurs out there might be interested in reading about it.
Now, the Hodags are a week away from the first tournament of the spring, Warm-Up, A Florida Affair. We've been busy here in the taiga, alternating digging ourselves out of snow drifts and working out. This year's team returned 18 players from last year - a larger number than many other team's total rosters. Still, an overwhelming number of them were hard-nosed role players from last year. Our success this year will be predicated on these players emerging past their comfort zones and filling out into larger roles.
The departure of both of last year's captains, Matt Crumb and Jake Smart, along with losing the anchor of our offense, Callahan nominee and former captain Evan Klane, left a void at the top of the leadership. However, we have a crop of juniors and seniors that have been hungry to fill these places, and the emergence of Zach Alter and Alex Simmons as trailbreakers has made the transition easier.
Our main challenge has been dealing with the invernal elements. Practice time is at a premium here at UW-Madison, with excellent facilities but armies of club teams fighting for indoor time at the McClain Center. We again took a full roster this season, expecting attrition (but not so early in the season - we've already lost one player we were counting on), and what we need most now is time to play the sport and get used to each other. With Mardi Gras falling later than usual this year on account of this year's liturgical calendar, it conflicted with the Stanford Invite. It was a hard decision to pass up on Mardi Gras, considering that having won the money for like 8 years in a row now they should just rename it Mardi Gras Presents: The Hodags, but we have few opportunities to travel to the west coast and we had to take the one that fit us best.
We find ourselves again this year a young team, with more true freshman than in several years, but our athleticism has increased and our Sophomore/Junior classes are stellar. Provided we're able to put all the pieces together, we will again find ourselves competing against the best teams in the country for a shot at the national championship in Boulder, my second home, come Memorial Day.
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