Monday, March 24, 2014

Advanced Handler Cutting: Part 1

Almost two years ago, I put up my initial Handler Cutting blog post. The purpose of this second entry is to take some of the handler cutting ideas initially outlined and take them a step further. This entry is going to be diagram heavy and I'm hoping to make my diagrams more clear than in the past, so please post comments if the diagrams are confusing in any way.

To start, let's break down man-defense to the absolute basics: the marker is forcing the disc to one side of the field. The defender is taking away the cutter's space to that same side: voila, defense! Where the core concept starts to become complicated is when we start dealing with dump defense; because unlike down-field D, the dump defender has to cover both down-field and backfield space to shut his man down.

I'm not going to get too much into dump defense; I could write a ton on that subject alone (hey, another blog entry!), but the idea I'm trying to get forth here is that getting open on a dump is easy because there is far too much space for a defender to reasonably cover. However, so many handlers eliminate this advantage by simply setting up their initial spacing incorrectly. So, a large portion of what I outline below will be where to setup and why.

Before we actually begin talking about setup and execution of dump cuts, I have to reiterate what I've said in so many entries before: take what the defense is giving you! Don't feel like any kind of default positioning or preset cut supersedes how the defender is actually playing you. If someone is playing five yards off, don't cut into them, take the free pass.

Also, think about what you're trying to gain from a reset of the disc: you want an advantage on the field, just like with any other pass. It's not just about a new stall count, it's about putting yourself into a position with the disc that benefits your offense more than the previous position.

Ok, all of that aside, let's talk about some actual handler cuts. I'm going to default to a vert stack two-handler set for my examples, as it's what I've run most consistently for the teams I'm coached/captained in the past several years. That being said, there isn't really any big difference between what I'm going to outline here and a three-back setup, except with three you are slightly more limited in your horizontal space.

Part 1: The Disc is in the Middle of the Field


Let's start with the disc in or near the middle of the field. Given the opportunity to set up ideally, you want to be on the FORCE side of the disc as a dump (three handler sets will obviously have handlers flanking either side of a centered disc). One reason to set up force-side, is if the handler-defender poaches off into the lane, you would rather have them poaching the force-side than the break side lane. But Katfish, why would I want a poach cutting off my force-side cuts? That's my first look!

There are two reason's you'd rather have a force-side poach than a break-side poach. First of all, with a break-side poach, to actually get the disc to the poached handler either your dump has to move, or you have to break the mark, both of which take time. Additionally, you don't gain a whole lot, and the poach has effectively disrupted your offensive flow.

Second, with a force-side poach you can immediately hit that poach without interference from your mark and take off up the line for an easy give-and-go, securing yourself power-position (catching the disc with your body moving in the direction of your next throw).

Note: In all of my diagrams the lines are defenders, the circle X is the disc, the X is the dump, and arrows indicate potential disc or player movement. 

The diagrams above are assuming that the handler-defender is poaching into the lane with a home (righty-forehand) force. This should always be an advantage for the offense because you're getting free power position. In the left example, you can see that the thrower started with the disc in the middle of the field, immediately hit the dump (red arrow), took off up line (blue arrow), and got the disc back (red arrow), gaining yards and power position. This is great because it's a no-hesitation play. There are no fakes that need to made or adjustments by the poached dump; it's something the defense is giving you by making the decision to sag into the lane.

In the right diagram, the defense is sagging into the break lane. To take advantage of this poach, the thrower has to turn away from the down-field and either the dump has to run horizontally across the field (blue arrow) to get the disc behind the thrower, or the thrower has to break the mark slightly (red arrow) to get the disc out to the dump in space. Even if the disc does get to the poached dump in this scenario, very little has been gained. The continuation break is easily stopped and you don't gain power position. Your best bet here is to ignore the poach. However, doing that eliminates a portion of your break throwing lane, which isn't good for any offense, horizontal or vertical.

In a three handler-set, simply prioritize looking to the force-side to beat the poach rather than the break side to keep in line with what I've talked about so far.

Bad teams run into problems with a force-side poach (and thus argue that you should set up break-side for your dumps) when they stare down-field into that poach or hit the poached dump without making the continuation cut up the line. In these cases you're either throwing into a poaching defender, or moving closer to the sideline without gaining yards or power-position, aka it's bad. Don't be the bad team, throw and go!

Learn the Angles

The second reason you want to set up your dumps on the force-side, is that it makes for the simplest and quickest reset. The key principle here is understanding the dump's positioning relative to the disc-marker's positioning and how that affects throwing angles.

When setting up for your thrower as a dump, you want the line between your shoulders to stay parallel to the the disc-marker's shoulders. Assuming you are on the force-side of the disc, this positioning keeps an equivalent throwing angle to either down-field or backfield space for the thrower to make for an easy reset. Obviously, the mark will not be completely stationary, but you still want to maintain the parallel setup as best you can as they shift.

As you can see in the above diagrams, the specific force is not important. What's important is that the dump stays parallel to the disc-marker, so that there is always equal space to either side to make an easy throw. In all three examples you can see that the thrower can throw to equivalent space on either side of the dump, without interference from their marker, as long as the parallel positioning is maintained.

In the above diagrams, the dump has failed to maintain  proper position relative to the disc-marker, and has made the throwing angles nonequivalent. A smart dump-defender in this case will shade their defense toward the side where the marker has more throwing space, which opens up the potential for the dump to be shut down, or at the very least, makes for a more difficult throw.

While it's reasonable to expect a thrower to be able to make slight break throws, we're trying to simplify the reset process as much as possible. Just like with our force-side poach, if the thrower can just turn and hit the dump (because the disc-marker is a non-factor on a force-side throw), it makes the reset a no-hesitation play; fakes don't need to be made, the dump doesn't have to do anything but wait for the space throw to the appropriate side. This has the added benefit of avoiding miscommunication turnovers where the dump effectively out jukes their own thrower.

Space Throwing

Ok, we've established proper positioning and why we're doing it. Let's now talk about this "easy space throw." When you've set your dump up correctly on the force-side, the defense will play you one of three ways (assuming they're not poaching):

1) The defender has conceded the down-field space by opening their left hip. Here, the thrower leads the dump out into that down-field space, a few yards are gained and the new thrower will have slight power-position.

2) The defender has conceded the backfield space by opening their right hip. Here, the thrower leads the dump out into the backfield space. This is now a great opportunity for a continuation break throw, and the disc is kept near the middle of the field.

3) The defender is keeping their hips parallel to the dump's hips or "faceguarding" the dump. Here, the thrower has the option to lead the dump into either down-field or backfield space, as they will have the reaction advantage since their defender has no vision of the disc. (To gain vision of the disc the defender HAS to turn one hip or the other away from the dump.)

To make this kind of reset work, the dump needs to stay close to the disc. The farther away from the disc you are, you the longer the throw will be in the air and the longer the dump-defender will have to find it and block it. The initial separation advantage won't be huge, whether it's from the defense's initial setup (the first two examples above), or from the delay in knowing the disc is in the air (the third example). But with a decent throw, even a less athletic handler should have plenty of time for an easy reset, as long as they aren't off 10+ yards away from the disc, allowing the faster defender time to react and overtake them on the throw.

Some throwers aren't completely comfortable making a space throw to a stationary receiver, but with the proper positioning and a little practice, this type of reset is easy and automatic. Resets in general shouldn't take long to develop and should always be an easy throw because they are gaining you little relative to a down-field completion. With this setup and assuming your throwers are comfortable with an easy, space throw, resets from the middle of the field rarely will result in a turnover and will usually gain your team more than just a new stall count.

In part two, I'll discuss resetting the disc from the sideline.

Disclaimer: Everything I write is my own opinion about Ultimate tactics. Many teams run different setups than what's outlined in my blog with great success. If you disagree with anything written, please post in the comments as I always love to learn about new or different concepts. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Trouble In Vegas - 2014

Trouble in Vegas is a tournament that started in 2006. In its early years, it was easily the biggest and most competitive college tournament of the spring season, and Colorado State attended every year from 2006-2011. After a couple of big rain outs and some internal issues within the organization that put the tournament together, it came to end. It was quickly resurrected as a much smaller, far less competitive tournament that went under the radar for a lot of schools (We didn't even know it was still going on for a couple of years).

Anyway, given the turbulent weather in the Midwest, we decided to make our triumphant return to Vegas after a three year hiatus. We rolled in around 8pm on Friday night and after picking up a couple stragglers from the airport, settled in to our hotel to get some sleep for the 8:30 start time Saturday morning. 

For anyone who hasn't been to Vegas, the field complex is enormous, but the fields tend to be dry, hard and dusty. This year, a rainstorm the day before had softened the fields up nicely. The only issue we ran into was a broken bottle on our field, which I spent the first 30 minutes cleaning up, then placed a broken down cardboard box over. Not the best solution, but better than nothing. 

We were the one seed in our pool, which included George Washington as the two, Santa Clara as the three and Arizona-B as the four. The top two seeds from each pool would advance to championship pre-quarters, while the bottom seeds would battle it out in placement brackets. 

Our first game of the tournament pitted us against Santa Clara. They won the flip and elected to take defense. Our offense came storming out of the game with a crisp, flawless point that concluded with an easy score to Hollywood. Our starting D-line for this tournament consisted of fourth year lefty handler Oliver Feind, second year Easton Archibald and five freshmen. Despite the lack of experience, they played stifling defense, forcing turns on every single offensive point for Santa Clara. However, that lack of experience made completing the break difficult, and while we did force a lot of turns, we only were able to secure two breaks by half, leaving us with only a 7-4 lead. 

In the second half, our offense, which didn't have a turn in the first half, got a little bit sloppier and a couple of miscommunications on deep looks and a drop led to a Santa Clara break. The defense continued to force turns on practically every point, but continued to struggle offensively. We finished the game out 13-11. Despite the close final, I never felt pressured to sub O players in on D, rather electing to allow the young guys to work out their offensive issues.

The second game of the day was against a young, small Arizona-B squad. Their A-team had trounced us pretty badly at the Santa Barbara Invite several weeks before, so we had motivation to come out with a lot of intensity even against their younger guys. The game itself wasn't very exciting. We were able to practice our 3-3-1 contain zone a bit, as well as shore up the man defense and work on completing the breaks. The highlights of the game were Hollywood taking half with a Callahan and Wheels finishing the game with a Callahan. The final was 13-3. 

Our final game of pool play was against George Washington. Both teams entered the game 2-0. I can't confirm completely, but GW had one stud who I guessed to be Chris Kocher from NexGen. However, I don't know faces well enough, and I had thought he'd graduated. The game was contested early on with a quick break from us to open things up, but a break back from GW before half would put everyone back on serve with us leading 7-6. The downfield defense on our end was stifling and GW often had to reset the disc 3-4 times before getting a breakmark look downfield. But behind Kocher's (?) extremely patient play, they were eventually able to find open men and punch in scores.

The second half their defense ramped up and our defense struggled offensively as we had against Santa Clara. They broke our offense three times, and we weren't able to break them in the second half, allowing them to run away with the game 13-10.

This was a disheartening loss, but still left us in the championship bracket. After a bye round we traveled across the field complex to play Cal State - Fullerton with a quarter-finals berth on the line. They ran an H-stack with a lot of people very close to the disc. This allowed our tight man defense to smother them most of the first half, but the offensive struggles continued for the D-line and we only took half 7-4.

In the second half, their spacing improved and they managed to break our O-line a couple of times to make it a better game. But we closed the game out with some experienced D lines to score the final three after being down 11-12; winning 14-12.

Saturday night I battled horrible tech support people for the hotel wifi (100% useless for half the team), and Sunday morning we got the fields for our quarterfinals game against Claremont. We opened the game with a break, and took the early lead, but our offense sputtered and we gave the break back midway through the half. Senior handler Oliver Feind went out with a bad ankle sprain midway through the first half as well and 5th year captain Matt Marrapode had knee locking issues from the previous day. We ended up finishing the half on serve, 7-6. In the second half their defense really started ramping up, and coupling that with our tendency to stare downfield and ignore our resets (especially in the red-zone) they took the game 10-13.

This bumped us down in to the 5th place bracket game against Occidental, who had been eliminated by San Diego State in their quarterfinals matchup. They were a very huck-oriented team, with good disc movement and bumps. Their one big athlete downfield scored 4-5 of their first six goals deep fairly easily before our defense clamped down on him. Offensively we struggled a bit as our handler depth had dipped due to the previous injuries and fatigue from the weekend left our remaining throwers making a lot of poor decisions.

We were down at half 5-7 and we had lost our top defender when Scott Wheeler went down with a hamstring strain on a big defensive bid. We shook off the mistakes and injuries in our half-time huddle and rallied around high energy play from our first and second years and a commitment to our resets from the older players. Our defense clamped down on their hucking game (first year Noah Budd absolutely shut down their main deep threat), and we did much better in the second half, taking the game 14-13 at hard cap.

The game for 5th place was against a well-rested Utah State team who had gotten to the game via a forfeit from an exhausted, injured Montana squad. Utah State had some big-play guys down field, but our first years stepped up to the challenge and the game was hotly contested game from the start. I was proud of the guys for not losing any intensity after the close win against Occidental, and we ended the first half on serve 6-7. However, we lost both Jordan Trepp to a left shoulder injury and Noah Brown to a knee issue after a big collision on a poach D. This left us with senior Stephen Gross (callahan nominee) as our only significantly experienced thrower.

Despite that, the young guys played absolutely fantastic throughout the entire game battling hard with Utah State. The game ended up with USU on top 13-12 in a hard fought, spirited game. A loss was tough to stomach, but I was very proud of our young players, especially the guys that stepped up into a handler role, never having done so in a tournament setting.

This left us with a final 6th place finish out of 33 open teams there. We did our tournament wrap up and props circle and hurried into the vans to stay ahead of the weather, which we miraculously did. Next tournament: The Rocky Mountain Invitational March 29th and 30th.