Monday, February 06, 2012
When I was a sophomore in college, I lived in the "frisbee house" with five other teammates. We had a stacked line. 5th Year Senior Grant Zukowski was dominating the basement. 4th Year Senior Rodrigo Valdivia roamed the kitchen and first floor. Fellow 4th year seniors Ted Tripoli, Nate Hurst and Jon Schutkin lived upstairs. Sophomore Muffin was last to arrive at the house and was crammed into the smallest room. I was in over my head. These guys were awesome. A 19 year old acting like a rock star. I held a high estimation of my ultimate prowess and had the mouth to back it up. But occasionally, I could not always back up my mouth. It was a hilarious place and the battle was for the Hodags. We lived, breathed, slept, ate, worked, studied ultimate. There was no down-time, it was one team function to the next. I was focused on school, becoming the best, and learning as much as I could from my roommates - some of the best players in the nation. Grant was the most interesting. Having transferred from UW-Whitewater his sophomore year, a road paved by Andrew Brown a season earlier. And best of all, Grant was a teacher. He could break down any concept to the simplest of terms, so that the smallest child could understand as well. He made me think outside the box and filled me with confidence. I learned so about ultimate that season and Zukowski was showing me the way to play on the field. Complete Confidence. A Stud 24/7. Handling, Cutting, Hucking, Defending, Skying, or just plain Shutdown - Grant could excel at all functions. "What do you need done?" "I got it!" We sprinted hills together, battled at practice and both wanted to get that National Championship. We thought we were the best, NUMP poll and everything. Well 2005 happened and we lost in pool play to Stanford and then to Colorado in Quarters. It was disappointing and Grant moved to Portland the next year.
I'd ask about Rhino and he described it as weird. I was confused. How could it be weird? It was ultimate right? And Portland has tons of good ultimate! It must be spectacular, way better than Madison surely. He said something about cutting lanes being different... describing the horizontal as spread across the field with vertical cutter lanes. I thought he was fucking nuts. He went on, unbelievably talking about how ultimate wasn't as much fun when you weren't playing with your best friends. I wasn't sure at first. I again confirmed that we were playing ultimate. Then speculated that ultimate was ALWAYS fun. Grant was recovering from an injury at the time and ended up not playing club his first year out there. I was shocked. This was Zukowski. Cold Blooded Killer. Dominator. Game Changer. But apparently it just wasn't as fun because the "teammates" were not as connected.
I take for granted how awesome the relationships I had with my teammates. We were committed to the same goal and played for each other. It built a trust on the field that was overwhelming. I got your back as a teammate, as a friend, as a roommate, as a mentor. It was the best support system you could ask for. Hodag Love.
Coming from Madison Club to Boston in 2010 -- adjustments were made to my playing style. Vertical stack rather than horizontal offense. Possession instead of field position. Position man defense instead of space/lane poaching. However, the biggest difference is the effect I can have on a game. In college, if I played well, we won. In club, if I played well, we usually won, but not always. In elite club, it seems not to matter. Remove one or two players and the result is largely the same.
In elite level club, making a difference is hard to do. Sometimes impossible. Ironside lost only twice in 2010 -- once in quarterfinals of worlds to Sockeye 15-17 and once in Club National Finals to Revolver 10-15. Of any game that season, those two were the hardest to be on the field and make a significant impact. The game-changing, momentum-swinging knockout-uppercut to propel the team to victory.
This last season specifically -- I felt like my fantasy value dwindled, as I found it more difficult to land power-punch impacts constantly. The large turnover of the roster, developing roles and overall immense talent of the team, made superstar players difficult to generate consistently. Perhaps there are just less touches at the highest level. I can't get over the feeling of not winning my battle and playing a major role in our success. On every ultimate team I've ever played on -- I was one of the main contributors. In college and club in the Midwest, I was driving the offense, getting resets and completely controlling the game. Last year, I felt like I wasn't able to finish at to the level I've come to expect from myself down the stretch.
I've always prided myself in being a deadly weapon. Threatening the ability to throw a goal from anywhere on the field, at any moment. That was high school, then college, then club, but not so much elite club. The windows are smaller, the defenders faster, the deep cuts not as often. That's what frustrates me the most. When I have the disc, why are the cutter's setting up for 5-10 yard under-cuts? It doesn't make sense. I have a rocket launcher with a scope. A loaded arm cannon with a loose trigger. Get the disc in my hands.. and let the magic happen. But Boston runs a different "ultimate brand." It is consistent, conservative, dependable and most importantly, boring. The odds make sense actually. 22 passes for 4 yards at 99.8% completion percentage will amount to more goals than 1 pass for 75 yards at 80% completion percentage. I get that.
I'm not sure I'm cut out to just be one of the sailors. I've always had the rage of a massive wild Hodag. Having a smaller role, watching plays happen rather than doing, it all feels like a step backwards? I can contribute more; I can win those battles to 15. I have every throw. Complete confidence, total control. Breakside, deep, open side, resets.. I know them all. I can drive an offense, take over a game and mentally win each crucial moment. Developing in a midwest was the best situation for me. It's always windy. Most players struggle in high winds. Soon I realized the swing off the sideline is 50/50 at best. Sometimes I don't completely trust my teammates, because I've learned their tendencies and can predict their bad habits. I realized as a sophomore in college that the most difficult throw is usually the first one. Especially for the D line bringing the disc up to the cone. I call it the cone of death with Worcester Flatball. The one place on the field where no one has throws. However, that is my favorite place to be. In the pressure cooker, forced to make plays in brutal conditions. These are the situations that make you stronger. Because if you can execute here - everywhere else is a breeze. I know I can do it because I've done it so many times before and in all sorts of high stress situations. The stronger the wind, the bigger my advantage is. I like the responsibility of having to do the heavy lifting, especially when the pressure is on. Rising to the challenge and embracing the moment is where glory happens.