Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Hodags 2011-12

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.