Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sufficiently warm

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.