Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fort Collins Club Ultimate - The Katfish Written History - Part 1: 2004-2005 - DTL Shoots for Worlds

I was chatting with a player on the CSU team today and somehow I started down the nostalgia road, barraging him with the history of Club Ultimate in Fort Collins. This is turn led to me looking at old UPA score reporter results and a flood of amazing memories coming back from the past twelve years of playing ultimate in Fort Collins.

Let me preface this (like I do with so many entries) that all my details most likely aren't 100% correct. I'm not a journalist. This is mostly being done from my own personal memory and experiences. Some things may be off, some things I may not have the full story on and there may be some details here and there that may be a bit foggy.

2004 - A Fresh Face (The Daredevil Cats)

I played organized ultimate for the first time during the 2003-2004 college season. I absolutely fell in love with the sport and my captains left me with a resounding "play as much disc as you can, wherever you can" message as we wrapped up that college season.  My buddy Dan "Rambus" Delude and I promptly signed up for Boulder summer league, Fort Collins summer league and began practicing with the local mixed team, the Daredevil Cats (DDC).

At the time, DTL (Drive Thru Liquor) was the elite mixed club team in Fort Collins (there were no open or women's teams). They were made up of many of the best players in town including two of my college captains, Mickey Thompson and Ben Aldridge. As a young player, I was in awe of DTL as they had been nationals qualifiers in both '02 and '03.

Having just finished our first college season, Rambus and I settled onto DDC nicely. The team practiced twice a week, but it was pretty laid back with a lot of people coming and going. It was an opportunity for the non-DTL players in town to still play club. There were no tryouts and the energy surrounding the team was very positive.

The clearest memory I have from that season was from the "Lungbuster" tournament in Breckenridge, Colorado. It was a rainy weekend up at 9600 feet. We were playing at a very nice local school complex that had raised fields for drainage.

Rambus was always a big bidder (he had a skating background and as such, had no qualms about throwing his body around). Somebody threw a swing pass to him and he had a monstrous layout to make the catch, sliding down the sloped side of the fields a good 10-15 feet. Right as he bid, a huge lightning strike clashed and I have this perfectly ingrained picture of Rambus, fully horizontal, with the lightning streaking across the sky. The tournament was put on lightning delay after that of course.

Anyway, DDC was a great group of people. I learned a lot and even got to take on a bit of a leadership role, helping develop their horizontal stack with my experience from college. It was a great introduction to the club scene and I have so many fond memories of that season, even though the team didn't participate in the series.

Meanwhile, DTL finished 7th at nationals, losing in the quarters to the eventual second place finisher the Chad Larson Experience (CLX) from the Midwest.

2005 - Moving On Up (DTL)


After finishing the 2004-2005 college season, our college captain and my mentor, Adam Zwickl, got me and another friend from the college team, Joey "Griz" Griggs, an invite to DTL tryouts.

The tryouts were intense. Every DTL practice started out with a TON of throwing with a heavy emphasis on varying release points, throwing angles and throwing velocities.

I remember warming up with Zwickl for college sectionals in April of 2005 and the conversation turned to throwing as we tossed back and forth. I had a disc golf background before playing Ultimate so I came onto the team as a first-year with a bit of a leg up on many of the other raw players from a throwing standpoint. Anyway, we were chatting and Zwick asked me how I felt about my throws. I responded with "they're good enough." He just laughed.

Fastforward to DTL tryouts and I finally realized why he laughed. Watching the best throwers on the team (like Brian "Rup" Rupert). I knew my "good enough" was a complete joke. Throwing with Rup was just another level. He'd wing the disc at you at 50 mph. He'd get low and flick his wrist on his backhand for ridiculous rotation while still keeping his momentum moving forward for the throw-and-go. He could bend his flick inside, flat or outside, while still staying balanced.

We had a good college team, but the focus that those DTL practices had on fundamental specifics was fascinating and challenging. They ran a similar horizontal offense to what we ran on the college team, but the added dimension of mixed gender and the differences in the strategic approach both as a mixed team and with a much higher fundamental baseline, were excellent for a young player eager to learn.

Despite this, the biggest thing I took away from tryouts was that the reason this was a good team was the fundamentals of the established players. These people were simply a heck of a lot better than what I was used to: everyone just had all the core ultimate skills.

The Season (through Regionals)

I knew that this was a qualifying year for worlds in Australia and the team had their sights set on a top four nationals finish and worlds qualification after finishing 7th in the nation the previous two years.

The season was a blast. From the outside, the team had seemed intimidating and unapproachable, but from the inside, it was both a wonderful group of players as well as friends. There was some mid-season drama that led to Zwickl losing his spot on the team, but other than that hiccup, the team was doing extremely well heading into the series.

Denver had it's own elite mixed team, Bad Larry, with whom we had a healthy rivalry (or so I learned as the season progressed). The previous year Bad Larry had beaten DTL at sectionals, only to stumble at regionals, finishing second behind DTL without a rematch, but still earning one of three nationals bids. At nationals however, Bad Larry had exacted their revenge, beating DTL 15-4 and finishing tied for 5th.

This year we had split the regular season games with Larry, 1-1, and heading into sectionals the team was intent on winning the section and taking a top seed into regionals. Larry had very strong women and usually played their O points against us with a 3/4 split. DTL had added Jess Kuzma to the roster this season, a 5'11 beast who had previously played with me and Rambus on DDC. After breaking her collar-bone on a layout at our first tournament back in June, Kuzma was finally healthy by sectionals and the team felt like her size and athleticism would help to mitigate some of the advantages Larry usually had.

We stomped through sectionals, capping it off with a 15-9 victory over Bad Larry in the finals. I wasn't super involved in the history of the rivalry, but I knew this was a big win. This secured us the top seed heading into southwest regionals. The seed gave us a nice advantage as the two pool format at regionals left Bad Larry and the Gendors (the other nationals contender) in the same pool.

We rolled through our pool, meeting Gendors in the finals after they dispatched Bad Larry 11-2 to win their pool. The winner of the finals would be the first nationals qualifier for the southwest. Gendors was a super top heavy team out of Santa Barbara with ultimate legend Steve Dugan and Asa Wilson, arguably the fastest player in any division, being on the receiving end of the most of the Dugan bombs.

The game was played out in dreary, rainy conditions and Asa had suffered a hamstring tweak in one of their previous games, significantly slowing him down. With their top receiving threat slowed and with depth significantly in our advantage we dispatched them 15-7, in our most complete game of the weekend, securing our nationals bid.

Bad Larry again showing they could win when it mattered, beat Gendors in the backdoor game, 15-4, taking the second bid.


The final tournament of the season started off poorly. Griz and I arrived at our captain, Chad "The Difference" Smith's house at the correct time to leave, but Difference seemed to have miscalculated how long we would need to get to the airport in time to catch our flight. He drove like a crazy man down the interstate, but we still didn't arrive in time to check bags and unfortunately we had the team shade tent and other gear that could not be carried-on.

Difference stuck with the original flight while myself, Griz and the team gear got onto a later flight which routed us through Philadelphia. We finally got to Sarasota and settled into our beautiful rental condo, the excitement of the day behind us.

The nationals format at the time was a four day romp: day one was standard pool play, day two power-pools/pre-quarters, day three quarters/semis and day four was finals.

We were seeded 7th overall, leaving us in pool B which included Hangtime, CLX and Mischief. Hangtime was the overall two seed, a (physically) huge team from Dallas. CLX, from Iowa, was last year's runner up and to this day is a perennial nationals powerhouse. Mischief was a new team from San Francisco in their first year at nationals. They would make a huge leap in the years to come winning it all in 2006 and being another perennial contender to this day.

Our first game was against Mischief. They were young and bit outmatched as far as big game experience and we easily dispatched them 15-9.

My first nationals points came in this game. I got my shot on an early d-line, spelling one of the veteran guys after we scored two breaks in a row. We got the turn and marched down to the Mischief goal-line. I attacked up the line from behind the disc and caught the pass five yards out from scoring. Clayton "The Ageless Wonder" Hurd was open for an easy score, attacking horizontally across the field. I threw the pass slightly behind him, giving the Mischief defender a layout block... a legendary start to my nationals career.

Game two was against CLX who had eliminated DTL the year before in quarters. It was a tight game from start to finish with layout Ds and big skies going both ways. My favorite moment of the game came with CLX's 6'4 deep threat streaking downfield and my old college captain, Ben Aldridge, covering him. Benny was a fairly tall guy with long arms, but wasn't necessarily known for his deep defense. He maintained perfect position on the CLX receiver and got the D, despite being 4 inches shorter and forty pounds lighter. Me, Griz and his roommate and college co-captain, Mickey Thompson, went absolutely nuts. We ended up taking the game on universe point 16-15, which secured us a spot in the power-pools for Friday.

Our final game of the day was against Hangtime. The winner would take the pool. They shellacked us 15-8. A lot of our offensive success, previous to this game, came from the dominance of our downfield height. Unfortunately that was also Hangtime's strength and they were way taller than us (3 guys 6'5"+). Mickey told me after the game that we'd lose that one 9 times out of 10.

At least we had finished second in the pool, securing us a place in the power-pools for day two:

1) Hangtime 3-0
2) DTL 2-1
3) CLX 1-2
4) Mischief 0-3

Over in pool C, Bad Larry would finish third-place with a 1-2 record.

The nationals format placed the top two finishers in each of the four day-one pools into power-pools (4 teams in each pool). You entered the pool with the other top-finisher from your pool, and your day one result against them would either set you up to start 1-0 or 0-1 in the pool (in our case 0-1, having already lost to Hangtime).

The bottom two finishers in each day-one pool (CLX and Mischief for our pool) were placed into their own pools of four, with the two overall winners of those two pools playing the last-place finishers of the power-pools in a "pre-quarters" play-in game. What this meant was that if you didn't make power- pools, you had to win-out to get to bracket play against the team that had finished last in one of the power-pools. The top three teams from each power-pool went straight to quarters.

This left us in a power-pool with Hangtime, Six Trained Monkeys and Ror$hack (originally Whore$hack before the UPA forced a name change for nationals), and an 0-1 record to start.

Hang-time steamrolled the pool, taking first, while we struggled mightily against the other two teams losing to Ror$hack 15-11 and Six Trained Monkeys 15-7, finishing last and dropping us into pre-quarters.

Power-Pool Results:

1) Hangtime 3-0
2) Ror$hack 2-1
3) Six Trained Monkeys 1-2
4) DTL 0-3

Across the complex, Bad Larry had finished 3-0 in their non-power pool, securing their spot in one of the pre-quarters play-in games. CLX, meanwhile, went undefeated in the other non-power pool, and, to avoid a pool play rematch, we ended up against Bad Larry in the first elimination game of the tournament, Friday afternoon.

After the 15-9 victory at sectionals, the team was confident heading into this game. But Larry had proven time and time again that they play their best when the most is on the line and this game was no exception.

It was a battle from start to finish. It remained tight with a couple of our main players struggling with turnovers, perhaps fatigued from the other two games that day or just from the strain of the elimination situation.

When your main players are struggling, your role-players need to step it up and my college teammate and fellow first-year, Griz, played amazing. He took on significantly more of a thrower's role than he had in any previous game and made many clutch plays, shining under pressure.

The game came down to universe point, with us pulling. Larry turned the disc over on a deep huck before forcing a turn and getting the disc back. Their main handler, Beebee (I never knew his real name), took off deep with our main handler, Rup, pursuing. A forehand huck went up with a slight outside edge to the disc. Rup layed-out shoulder-height, and hit the disc, but was only able to get a finger on it, knocking it further down-field. Beebee layed-out and grabbed the trailing edge for the score and the win.

In that single play we lost our season and chance to be one of the USA's representatives at worlds. Larry went on to beat Slow White in the quarters before losing in the semis to Ror$hack. However, the top four finish secured their 2006 bid to worlds.

I don't believe there was any ill-will towards Bad Larry for ending our season and for qualifying. They had played extremely well and proved that being able to play at the top of your game when it mattered most was a huge strength of their team. There was a lot of respect between the two teams both after that game and in general.

For Saturday's placement games the captains opened up the lines and everyone relaxed a bit in a couple of meaningless losses to Method and Hot and Sweaty for a 12th place finish.

In bracket play, CLX ended up winning the rematch against Hangtime in quarters before losing to eventual champion, Brass Monkey in semis, leaving them tied for 3rd with Bad Larry. I know there are several factors that played into the nationals format change, but this specific year, with both Larry and CLX making semis after not making power-pools, the powers that be had to re-assess the value of the format.

It was a disappointing end to the season, but I had a wonderful time and I learned so much. I don't know how much would have been different had we won that final game against Bad Larry, but DTL was headed for some drastic changes in the years that followed... part II.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Missouri Loves Company 2015 - Colorado State Write Up

Colorado State finished the 2014-2015 college season 6th in the South Central region and 57th in the country. We wrapped up our regionals experience with a loss to Wash U in a rainy, Sunday morning game that saw us rally from 7-12 to tie it at 12s, only to lose 12-14. We graduated only two players from that squad with the majority of our team core playing club together over the summer and maturing their disc skills.

Our only fall tournament prior to MLC had been the Manhattan Project in Kansas. We went split squad, with our X squad eliminating our Y squad in quarters and CU-X in semis before falling in finals to the K-state alumni team for a 2nd place finish. Y went on to finishing 6th, losing in the 5th place game to a combined Kansas squad. 

We went into MLC as a one seed in pool H, which would leave us in a pre-quarters match up against the winner of power pool A. A pool that included both Colorado and Wisconsin. 

I'll elaborate at the bottom about my thoughts on the format, but it was a disappointing draw, knowing we'd face an elite program in pre-quarters if we managed to win our pool. We certainly wanted to play the best teams the tournament had to offer, but not in an early elimination game which would limit our ability both to place high in the tournament and to play the other top programs. Despite fielding an O-line made up of 6 first and second year players and junior captain Luke "Fitz" Doyle, we were confident we'd be able to hang with the established programs. 

Game 1 vs Air Force

We haven't played Air Force much since the 2010 split of D-I and D-III college teams removed them from our conference. When I was in college they were always a big, physical team in dominant shape, usually rounded out by a few skilled throwers. This year's edition of the team was no exception. 

The game was tight from start to finish. Air Force struggled with turns against our defense, but their athleticism and fitness forced a ton of turns as we struggled to get open against high pressure D. They bracketed our pull plays to disrupt our offense and stayed tight after transitioning. 

Their throwing ability wasn't deep across the team, but the newer guys were quite disciplined with their resets and they were able to keep the disc in the hands of their main throwers. 

We opened the game with a break on a nice huck to a diving Daniel "Chuck" Crump. We traded to 5-4 before breaking them again to take a 6-4 lead on a goal-line handblock from Matthew "Cookies" Bush, leading to a quick score. 

Air force's offense held and the next point they broke us to tie it at 6s. We swapped in our D line for an O point and dominated the field with a bevy of  break-mark throws, culminating in an easy score for half.

To start the second half Air Force again broke our O to tie the game at 7s. We traded to 10-9 before we finally punched in another break on a nice around break to make it 11-9.

Cap went on during the ensuing point and Air Force had the disappointing result of scoring the final point in a loss for an 11-10 final.

We didn't have a lot of time before our next game versus Indiana-Wesleyan but we committed to a more disciplined, focused offense after 27(!!!) turnovers in the Air Force game. Props to Air Force for finishing second in the pool and going 3-1 Sunday, falling on universe to Iowa for 18th place.

Hib 1-0

Game 2  vs Indiana Wesleyan

I hadn't previously heard of this team or school. Jake informed me they had one stud who played for Chicago Machine (updated!) and for the Indianapolis Alley Cats (Travis Carpenter, I believe). Normally, our game plan against teams with a specific stand-out player is to have 2015 all-region defender Cody Spicer match-up on them from start to finish with his incredible combination of length and quickness making their lives difficult. However, Cody hadn't practiced all fall due to lingering tendinitis in his knee from club season so our plan shifted to rotating different players onto Carpenter - the one common trait among them being a high-pressure, lanky mark. 

IWU started the game strong, breaking us early and taking a 4-2 lead. After our offense held to make it 3-4 we reeled off a quick three breaks to take a 6-4 lead. IWU wouldn't break us again and after an additional break in the second half we finished with a 13-9 victory heading into our bye. Freshmen Jake Marrapode had an absolutely monstrous sky to get the disc back for our O-line on a second half point. The region (and country) should be on notice: the kid can jump through the roof, has an absolute cannon forehand and played a key role on our O-line despite being hampered by a brace from a broken wrist suffered at club regionals. 

Props have to go out to Carpenter as he was involved in just about every score (either as a thrower or receiver) for his team. IWU was a good, young (?) team, and if they can develop players around him they'll be a very strong D-III team. 

Hib 2-0

Game 3  vs Harding

I won't elaborate much on this game. Harding was a fun, good-spirited team with some strong players, but they struggled against our pressure D and motion offense and we ended with a clean 13-0 victory.

Game 4  vs Minnesota-Duluth

This was the game we had circled in pool play as our make-or-break game. Ultiworld and other ultimate speculators had predicted Duluth would win our pool and make some noise in bracket play. We figured it would be a tight game and after the quick Harding game, the team was fired up to win the pool and finish Saturday a perfect 4-0. 

They had a couple of standouts on their team including the North Central freshmen of the year Marty Adams. We started the game on defense and opened up with a nice break. They held the next point and then immediately broke back putting the game back on serve. We traded to 3s, then the our dynamic marks took over. We rolled to half scoring four breaks in a row with multiple hand-blocks from freshmen James Bryce, taking a 7-3 lead halftime lead and receiving in the second half.

We punched in the first second-half O point in with crisp movement; all 7 members of the line getting at least one touch and that seemed to be the final straw for Duluth. With the exception of a nice run through callahan they would not score again. We finished out the game with our old blood/young blood line (5 first years and 2 fifth years), and a 13-4 finish. 

Duluth was a good team and played well. I think the fatigue of their travels coupled with some tough games against Air Force and IWU didn't leave them with a lot left in the tank for our game. 

I trotted over to tourney central, after the high-five line, just in time to see Wisconsin beat Colorado on universe point, and solidify them as our pre-quarters match-up Sunday morning. 

Hib 4-0

Game 5  vs Wisconsin (pre-quarters)

We arrived at the fields with a beautiful, chilly Sunday morning awaiting us. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the wind was very slight.

We were confident, even against a very good Wisconsin team, that we would compete, and knew that this was our chance to make some early season noise and secure our "up-and-coming team" status heading into the spring.

Wisconsin had steamrolled their power pool 13-3, 13-4 and 13-1 before the final game against CU to win the pool. Their warm-up was very heavily focused on their handler swings and rotations which I knew we be critical, as we specifically run disruption aimed at containing handler movement as much as possible. 

The game started out on serve, with both offensive lines having a few early miscues before settling on serve for a 3-3 score. I've been coaching and playing a long time, and generally in games like this (where the teams are still settling in and gauging each other), trades early are pretty common, before the better team pulls away. The wind had picked up a bit, not enough to change the complexion of the game, but it certainly made the upwind endzone tougher to huck towards.

On the ensuing offensive possession we bombed a down-wind huck short and Wisconsin got a power position up-wind huck on a quick transition which led to a break for them. The next offensive possession with us going upwind was brutal. There were 4-5 turns for both teams with us getting close to the upwind endzone several times only to have Wisconsin's D clamp down with excellent marking (two red-zone handblocks). They ended up finally taking the point and putting us into  a two break hole. 

We swapped in the primary D line for the next O point and freshmen Hudson Martin caught  a nice lay-out score on a deep. Wisconsin's O held on the next possession, then again broke us upwind to take a 4-7 lead (we played this game to 15). The offense answered punching in the upwinder on a nice 40 yard huck from last year's all-freshmen team standout Jake Servaty to last year's all-freshmen snub Jack Hinchsliff.

The defense took the opportunity provided with big man Sten Larson getting a run through D then catching the score for bookends 7-6 Wisconsin. 

We stacked a D line to go for the tie, but lost contain on a Hodag huck and Wisconsin punched in an easy, downwind score to take half 8-6. 

In the second half, Wisconsin look more comfortable against our disruption D. They aired out some crisp down-wind hucks through our poaches and we traded to 11-9 with Fitz making a crazy grab over 3 Hodags for the final offensive point.

With cap approaching and the ease Wisconsin was scoring I wanted to throw something different at their downwind O to try and get a transition freebie. We threw together a zone D (our one and only zone point of the tournament) to throw them slightly off their game and were rewarded with an uncharacteristic drop near mid-field on a low swing pass. The D punched in the break to make it 10-11 with 15 minutes to cap.

They scored their next O and broke us on a huge layout catch-D as cap sounded making it 10-13. We decided to play out the final point anyway, with the primary D line receiving the pull. After our pull-play huck score came back on a travel, the Hodags again broke us, for a 14-10 final. 

Congratulations to Wisconsin for a good game and for a smooth tournament victory as they went on to beat Minnesota 13-9, Missouri 13-6 and CUT 13-9 for an 8-0 weekend. 

The loss was disappointing but we were happy with our performance and enjoyed playing against a very good Wisconsin team.Thanks for the shout-out from Hodag Captain Craig Cox: "They were a huge surprise to us, we did not expect to have to play hard against them. The best thing they have going for them is their junky handler defense because it crushed our inexperienced players. A little more confidence and practice and the team could make some noise this year for sure."

Hib 4-1

Game 6  vs Wash U

We quickly moved from our pre-quarters field across the complex for the quarters of the 9th place bracket against Wash-U who had eliminated us at regionals the year before.

The team came out on fire taking half 8-3 and wrapping up the game quickly 15-5. We had opened the lines up a bit after a tight Wisconsin game and the young guys proved their worth, consistently running our offensive sets well and playing smothering defense en route to a good, solid win.

We then had a bye (?!?) before our next game against the winner of Iowa State/Notre Dame.

Hib 5-1

Game 7 vs Iowa State

Iowa State was an interesting game. I hadn't thought we looked fatigued at all during the Wash-U game, but our marks specifically were extremely poor for the duration of this game. Perhaps the weekend and our mid-bracket bye had finally caught up with us.

We run a defense predicated on containing the outside throws and our marks just couldn't make the appropriate shifts to stop the Iowa State around looks.

We ran much looser lines than earlier in the day, (as did Iowa State), but each team was only able to break the other team once, leaving us on serve at 10-10. We stacked a D-line, intent on finally taking the lead and some lock-down man-defense led to a high-stall huck from Iowa State which we converted to take a break.

We broke the next point as well to take a 12-10 lead, then finished the game on trading out with Iowa State scoring the final point making it 13-12, with hard-cap having already sounded, game over.

During the second half the Illinois captains informed us that they beat Purdue on the other side of the bracket but would be forfeiting the ninth place game, citing a long drive.

Hib 6-1 - Final Placement: 9th

Final Tournament Thoughts

I've coached at MLC for 7 of the past 8 years. The tournament directors and organizers do a wonderful job and the tournament is consistently one of the best-run tournaments our team attends. Even in past years with inclement weather, the organizers have done well with alternate schedules and field sites.

My only complaint (aside from weather in year's past) has been the format. Large tournament formats are very difficult, I understand this. I also understand that to attract elite programs to a tournament like this there has to be an incentive like power pools.

However, there are always teams that end up in a pretty crummy situation come bracket time, and the four round Sunday (especially with the bye thrown in this year for placement brackets) is brutal for teams (like ours) that have a long travel time.

People saw that Missouri made semis and immediately they're the surprise of the tournament. All the credit to them for doing well in their power pool, but the format gave them a very favorable quarters draw.

 I'm in no way trying to disparage any of the teams involved, and Wisconsin clearly was the top team at the tournament, but I believe places 2-10 came down to the dart-board of pre-quarters match-ups: either who was lucky enough to get one of the weak power pool teams, or unlucky enough to get one of the strong non-power pool teams.

I think Northwestern was a much bigger surprise of the tournament. They max scored their entire non-power pool, 13-2, 13-6, 13-2 and 13-6. They stomped an Illinois team 13-6 in pre-quarters who had beaten CUT and Minnesota in pool play. Their quarters match-up? Colorado: a super tight game and 12-13 loss to the team that won nationals a couple years ago. Their final game was a 13-8 dismantling of Texas.

Where does this leave us?

7-1 Iowa finishes 17th - their one loss on universe.
1-6 Notre Dame finishes 16th.
6-1 Northwestern who finished tied for 5th (their one loss by one to Colorado).
6-1 Colorado State team who finished 9th (their one loss in a tight game with Wisconsin).
A 10th place Illinois who had a strong Saturday only to face one of the top teams at the tournament in pre-quarters.

I understand the logic behind why Wash-U, Luther, Notre Dame were in power pools. This isn't mean to be a hindsight gripe, nor am I bashing these teams that didn't do well. It made sense within the format to place the teams where they were. The TDs did a reasonable job of placing teams based on the available information.

I just think given the nature of the fall and the unpredictability of which lesser-known teams will be decent is reason enough to discuss changing the format to something not so heavily favored towards the power pools. Perhaps dropping the last place finisher from the power pool out of the championship bracket or having them face the one-seed from the opposite power pool in pre-quarters.

I personally am in favor of changing the format of the tournament to two separate 20 team tournaments (tier 1 and tier 2), but that kind of change opens up a bevy of new problems.

I'm not criticizing the TDs for where they placed any team in the format, there is no way to know how these kind of things will shake out and I do think it's just a coincidence (not a home-team conspiracy theory) that Missouri ended up where they did. I'd just love to open up discussion for some potential changes in future formats, and if I'm in the minority on this issue, then I'll happily shut my trap.

Regardless, it was an excellent weekend. I was very happy with the organization of the tournament, the weather and our team's results. I enjoyed our games and felt like we gained a lot of very useful experience.

Nice job Hib!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Men's South Central Regionals 2015 - Colorado State

Colorado State Hibida entered this year's regionals as a five seed, much to the chagrin of the reddit trolls. Mizzou's upset at the hands of Wash-U at their conference champs knocked them down to a seven seed; with their head-to-head win against us at Huck Finn not giving the Ozark conference enough weight to bump both Mizzou and Wash-U above us in the seedings.

For anyone who would still like to complain, I would like to make it clear that in no way did we lobby for the seed; we wouldn't have cared had we be the seven instead of the five. We employ the "whoever is in front us, is fine by us" mentality.

With the triple-elimination(ish) bracket-format at regionals, the five seed put us on the side of the bracket with both Colorado College and Colorado, which meant a replay of our conference championships if everything went to seed in the first round.

Overall, we didn't expect to play flawless offense going into the weekend given the inexperience of our young but athletic squad. We instead were counting on our stout defense and athletic play-making ability to cover-up some of the fundamental flaws we had on the offensive side of the disc.


Our first game was against Texas Christian High Noon, a team I had zero experience coaching or playing against. We watched some film of the from their conference tournament after seedings were finalized, identified a couple of their main throwers, and went into the game with a solid game-plan: heavy pressure on their resets.

They had a couple of good players and employed some good bump-oriented offense, but they looked jittery in the first half against us, with a lot of unforced errors and loose defense. We came out strong and turned their sloppy play into an easy 7-2 half.

In the second half High Noon lost the jitters and battled back, breaking our offense a couple times and playing significantly cleaner on both sides of the disc. They brought the game back to 9-8, before we put them away, scoring four of the final five goals en route to a 13-9 win capped off with a monster layout catch from all-freshmen candidate Jack Hinchsliff for the game winner.

Our quick game gave us a chance to swap sidelines and watch the end of the Colorado College/Houston game, which was still going on and was surprisingly close. We cheered on our local brethren as they closed out with a couple of breaks to beat a scrappy Houston team 13-11.

We were glad to have another chance to play CC. They had beaten us in the finals of Trouble in Vegas on universe point. They had put together an awesome game at conferences and crushed us 13-8. We were ready for a chance to redeem ourselves.

We had planned some specific disruption D for the first several points I thought would give us some early break opportunities and when we won the flip we quickly chose to pull.

The first point we settled on with a 2-3-1 zone with all-region candidate Cody Spicer playing hard person-defense on specific handlers in the CC backfield as the 7th member.

The first possession, CC looked frustrated and forced a hammer over the top giving first year David Miller, a nice layout D. We reset off the sideline then forced a huck into double coverage giving the disc back to CC near their endzone.

We settled back into our 2-3-1 and CC again struggled to advance the disc, moving further backwards into their endzone. Sten Larson, the 6'4 anchor of our cup, got a tip on a swing pass then layed-out to catch the disc for the callahan.

We continued throwing our zone for a couple more points, with CC getting more patient, clearing the covered handlers out of the back-field and finding holes in our front and mid-lines.

Defensively, they came out in their own zone look: a very solid 3-3-1 force-middle. Our O-line struggled mightily, throwing significant numbers of passes several points in a row, but not being able to punch the disc in effectively. We didn't have the over-the-top throws to break the zone open (there was almost no wind), and every point was a grueling series of 5-7 yard swings.

They ended up getting the break back on an incredible goal-line stand where we swung the disc 7+ times across the field, unable to find a hole in their zone for the last five yards for the score, before finally forcing a throw around the sideline out of bounds.

We traded points for the rest of the half, ending 6-7, back on serve.

The second half was much of the same: we struggled to score our offensive possessions, unable to consistently beat their zone. Our defense got us two more breaks, but the O gave up three more for an 11-9 final.

This dropped us out of the first place bracket into a game against Texas State who had eliminated St. Louis University from contention in their previous game.

Texas State had a small squad and seemed a bit gassed. They had one stand-out player, but his supporting cast couldn't keep up with our legs and athleticism and we cruised to a 7-4 half and a 13-6 victory. This left us awaiting the winner of the Baylor/Arkansas game, which ended capped with Baylor on top 10-7.

We had assumed this would be our last game of the day (as was on the schedule), and given our significant numbers advantage, our pre-game huddle was focused on winning the game with our legs. My exact quote in the huddle was "I don't care if we go down 0-5 as long as we're running them into the ground; we'll win the attrition battle."

Be careful what you wish for, because Baylor came out extremely strong, steamrolling out to a 4-0 lead behind some very athletic defense and nice hucks to complete the breaks. We took a time-out and re-focused. We adjusted our defense, putting Cody on their main handler (#10) and I don't believe he touched the disc the rest of the game. Without a key cog of their offense Baylor struggled and we scored four of the next five to tie the game at 5s, then traded out to half, down 6-7 but back on serve.

In the second half, our defense clamped down further and we didn't allow a Baylor score, finishing the game 10-7 at cap.

Jeff Berget, the TD, had mentioned we may have to tack on an extra round Saturday afternoon to avoid weather Sunday, so I jogged over to tourney central to check, and sure enough we had another game (our fifth in a row!) against Texas on the docket. I brought the news back to the team and much to the guys credit, nobody grumbled a word; we just picked up our stuff and headed across the complex, pumped to play another quality game.

By the point in the afternoon the wind was picking up. It wasn't enough to make the game up-wind/down-wind, but certainly enough to be a factor. We won the flip and chose the upwind endzone. Chase Cunningham deferred their decision to Coach Calvin Lin who curiously chose to receive (I assume he was anticipating that we would be in the same upwind situation out of half).

We came out strong. Texas lived up to their reputation as a big hucking team, but our force-middle defense, coupled with the stout breeze, limited their deep looks and after a quick turn we easily punched in the first break.

We then traded points to 3-3 but on the next offensive point we had a deep turn and Texas broke us on a beautiful break-mark huck from Chase Cunningham, giving them the lead 3-4.

We scored our subsequent O point, then got our break back on a huge sky from big man Andrew Spada (playing in only his third tournament ever!) on a huck from all-freshmen candidate Jake Servaty.

After that point, Jake came out and told me he was feeling stress pains in his leg; a leg he had broken at YCC the year before. After a brief discussion with the trainer we decided it would safest for Jake to take his cleats off to avoid re-injuring the leg.

We traded out points to half, up 7-6 and receiving in the second half. At this point the wind had completely died (sorry Calvin, in Colorado you can't count in the weather to do anything consistent). However, Texas came out clearly emphasizing more defensive pressure on our resets. Cody was forced to put a high-stall huck out to second year Mark Stratford which came up just short on a nice defensive play from #13 on Texas and lead to a Texas break tying the game at 7-7.

We traded to 8s, but then the scouting report must have reached Calvin and Texas did what I had been fearing the entire game:

We finally punched in an O point and got a break after Cody shut Chase down on a handler cut, but the damage had been done. We traded out the rest of the game, forcing a turn at 11-12, but not being able to beat their zone to complete the break, final score: 11-13.

The best subplot of this game was definitely watching the Cody/Chase match-up. It was a battle from start to finish and it was pretty clear by the end that Chase was getting frustrated by the high-pressure defense he was getting on every cut he made.

Big props still have to go out to him for carrying his team to the win: a very clear-cut all-region player and absolute monster thrower.

Despite the loss, we were happy to be one of six teams still playing games Sunday morning, that third nationals bid still on the table.


Sunday morning the rain was already kicking up as we got the fields at 6:55 for warmups. We got a lot of throws in and prepped for what we knew would be a tough game against Wash U Contra.

They came out clean, effortlessly scoring their first O point then setting a 2-3-2 zone on ours. Luckily, that is one zone we're relatively decent against. Unluckily, this was when we decided it was finally time to put something over the top, and Alex Antrum got an amazing layout D on our early hammer, leading to a break.

This was the story of the first half: they made huge play after huge play. I have to give them credit: they had throwers who had absolutely no fear of throwing hammers and blades and their receivers came down with everything, even in heavy rain. Several of them were wearing gloves and our St. Louis native, Luke Doyle, mentioned that this was the kind of weather they were used to all the time out in Missouri.

The first half was gruesome. They looked like they outclassed us. They looked like they were going to stomp to a 13-4 or 13-5 win. We were down three breaks at half and had no wind in our sails.

We had struggled all tournament to score our O points and were receiving to start the second half. I told the O-line that all we needed was to get this first point out of half and get the D on the field.

Upperclassmen Luke Doyle and Scott Wheeler answered the call, taking the reigns of the offense and storming straight down the field for a quick, efficient score, attacking the line ruthlessly from behind the disc.

We got two breaks immediately after that point, slowing the big-play Wash U offense with more disciplined marking, closing the gap and making it 6-7. They scored their next offensive point and again we struggled with ours, giving up another break 6-9. The next point we turned it on a line throw and they immediately put out a 50+ yard line-drive hammer that Antrum made an unbelievable layout catch on: 6-10.

We swapped some personnel and scored the next O point getting our D back on the field.

A big sky from Contra on the subsequent point put us right back where we didn't want to be: receiving the pull (weird, I know). They broke us yet again, shutting down our resets and forcing a floaty huck for the turn. They were uncharacteristically patient on offense and calmly walked down the field for the score 7-12.

Again, I asked for one clean point: punch it in, and get the D back on the field. Again, Scott and Luke took over, attacking the line over and over before Luke hit Scott with a big line throw for the score. We took a timeout with the score 8-12, game to 13. We grouped up, arm in arm, and looked around the huddle. I told the guys to play each point like it was their last (the guys didn't know the score, they never do, but they knew it was close to over).

We set up a line that was six first years and our only graduating senior, Logan Stagg. A huge poach, layout D from David Miller led to a break: 9-12.

We swapped out the other six guys around Logan for the next point and Cody got a big layout D on an under which again led to a break: 10-12.

We swapped out the six guys around Logan a third time. Wash-U had an uncharacteristic drop which we turned into yet another break: 11-12 with the soft-cap horn sounding.

Logan took a sub and we set up another D line, the electricity on the field was palpable. We got a game saving D in the endzone on a Contra break throw followed by a falling-down football-style catch by Sten for the break: 12-12.

We got Logan back on the field and assistant Coach Popp set up another supporting crew for him. As we had been the whole game, we stuck with our force-middle scheme and emphasized marking angles. We had a deep pull and Contra swung it to the backhand sideline with our marker settling on flat. Their lefty-handler wound up for a big backhand and the mark shifted inside to stop the huck; the throw still came off but the mark had done just enough to force it low. Logan layed out and smacked the disc down for the clean turn.

Cody took off deep and the huck went up, but it had a bit of an outside edge and was trailing away from him as he ran. The outside-edge proved too much and his bid was just short.

We ended up getting the disc back on a Contra huck turn, but a miscommunication on a handler cut led to a swing pass thrown out to nobody in our endzone, which Wash-U ran out for the easy callahan and their first point in close to 25 minutes: 12-13.

Hard cap wasn't on yet, so the game was still win by two. We still had a shot, but it was going to have to involve an O point. We received the pull and an uncharacteristic mental lapse from captain Noah Brown led to a stall 9 floater which Contra went up and D'd. They had a short field and went for the win on a blading, lefty forehand which Noah got a hand on. Foul called. No contest.

They walked the disc out to the goal line and their primary defensive handler Evan Karson attacked up the line with Andrew Spada on him. The throw went up and Spada accelerated, smacking the disc out of bounds. Celebrations were cut short: a foul was called on what appeared to be minimal contact. The disc was sent back and after a swing, Karson again attacked up the line for the clean score and win.

Congratulations to Wash U for a well-fought victory. They're always a pleasure to play against and they really brought it all of Sunday, taking Texas to the brink for that third bid.

The loss left us with a 6th place finish overall. We were disappointed in the loss but very proud of our season. We knew our strengths and our weaknesses and the wonderful part about having a young, athletic team is there's plenty of time to figure out the harder parts of ultimate offense.

Great season Hib!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why bother with a force? Part 3 - The Strategy

OK, I'm finally done with the anecdotal entries. It's time for the meat and potatoes: the strategy! If you haven't caught up with Part 1 or Part 2 please do so.

Part 1 - When?

Let me preface this by saying that what I'm outlining below is assuming a certain level of play. If you are still playing in league/college/club where people are consistently struggling with basic forehands, then this is all moot; force them forehand!

The game of Ultimate has changed significantly in the last ten years. People like to argue this player from this era versus that player and whatnot, but let me say what I believe has changed: the overall depth of talent in the sport. I don't believe today's top players are better than the top players ten or fifteen years ago, but middle-of-the-pack players are unbelievably more skilled than when I began playing. Ultimate players, in general, are starting the sport earlier, dedicating more time to developing their skills and I think overall the depth of play is way beyond what it was in the early 2000s.

This is partly why teams I'm in charge of have moved away from a traditional force all the time. Every single decent team has strong throwers who can huck, break the mark and consistently make tougher passes. Down-field defenders simply cannot cover enough space because too many players have strong throws and more space on the field is threatening than ever before as a result.

Part 2 - The Challenges

Let's break down traditional man defense with a force: why is it difficult?

1) The offense always has the advantage (this is true for any kind of defense).

The offensive dictates what is happening on the field and the defender is forced to react. Good defenders anticipate, dictate and force cutters into uncomfortable situations. However, the nature of the game, as a non-contact sport, gives a huge advantage to the offense. Good shut-down defenders tend to be players that are simply better athletes than the cutter they are covering; they are able to shut their man down or get a block simply because they're quicker, faster or can jump higher. However, even the absolute best athletes in the sport still get beat on defense because of this offensive advantage.

2) Down-field defenders are given the difficult task of covering both the underneath cuts and deep cuts.

I can confidently say I can take away an force-side underneath consistently, even without being an elite athlete, but that leaves the deep open and vice-versa. Some of this can be mitigated with good help defense, but without a significant athletic advantage, a defender simply cannot shut down the entire force side of the field by themselves against a decent cutter.

3) Dump defenders are given the difficult task (depending on setup) of covering both the line and backfield cut.

To shut a cutter down 100% as a dump defender, you have to prevent both a line cut and a backfield cut, which is challenging without a significant quickness advantage over the person you're covering.

4) The throw-and-go.

If you are covering the thrower, you are positioned on the wrong side of the after they release the disc. Not every offender will take advantage of this, but they absolutely should. After a throw-and-go the defender has to make up ground and reestablish their force-side presence, which can be extremely difficult against a team that moves the disc quickly. Teams without a lot of depth can base their whole offense around one player who can throw-and-go and get the disc back after every throw.

5) Defense is grueling in Ultimate.

There are few sports where the competition structure (tournaments) and game structure (everyone playing both offense and defense), has the players running as much as Ultimate. Yes, fitness is 100% in your control and you never want to be the guy being "out-ran" by the other team, but the fact is that it is next to impossible go 100% every point. Inevitably players concede a handful of easy catch-and-throws simply because their tanks are running low.


Part 3 - Overcoming The Challenges

First and foremost, this defensive structure (or any) does not work without confident, consistent marking. Yes, a good thrower can always break a good mark, but unless your marks can consistently offer up some disruption to the thrower with shifting, employing the marking triangle and understanding throwing angles, then this defense (or any) will fail. If your team hasn't spent significant time on core marking principles, then stop reading right now and go do shuffles for the next six weeks. Defenders have to be able to to trust their marks. Assuming a baseline of decent marking, here's the strategy breakdown and why:

Don't pick a force on the line. As the field shortens and there is less and less deep space, a traditional force becomes easier to maintain because down-field defenders can commit more to the underneath cut. However, off the pull, rather than a forehand or backhand force trying using this priority order for a force communicated on the field in real-time and on the sidelines:

                a) Back towards the direction the previous throw came from
                b) Towards the wider side (where there is more space) of the field horizontally.
                c) Towards the side of the field the offense has their dump set up on.

Why back in the direction the previous throw came from?

First of all it helps to mitigate the defensive disadvantage of the throw-and-go. If the marker knows the next marker will send the disc back in the direction it came from, then the original marker is already on the correct side of the disc when thrower takes off.  You don't have to overextend yourself trying to re-establish position which can oftentimes lead to being beat back to the force-side anyway.

Secondly, a lot of offensive structure is based on the idea of attacking a specific side of the field with a succession of throws. Vertical stacks in particular tend to generate offense from several breakmark throws in a row. If the breakmark side of the field changes every other throw, this significantly disrupts down-field continuation. It may not stop it entirely, but it still disrupts the desired flow.

Why towards the wider side of the field?

This is firstly to help the down-field defenders with covering their deeps. This tactic is all about taking advantage of poor deep spacing that comes with the deep cut originating from the force-side of the field.

The easiest deep looks are generated from the break side of the disc. The less and less break side of the field there actually is, the harder it is to get a space throw off and the more the mark can flatten out.

Think about a disc trapped all the way to one side of the field. The benefit of a trap, in theory, is that a thrower has next to no force-side field space to throw the disc. However, the entire field is now break space that the marker needs to cover and any force-side deep throw that comes off will be be to a cutter with good horizontal deep spacing (aka a throw that's easy to get good distance on while still being easy to read)

Now leave the disc on the same sideline but flip the mark around, forcing the disc back to the wide-side of the field. The entire field is now 'force-side' space technically, but it makes both down-field defense and handler defense easier.

The mark can now flatten out completely. Break-space is covered by the sideline. Instead of the mark feeling like they need to take everything away (as with a trap), they can stay flat and shift liberally to cover inside-out throws.

Down-field cutters can feel very safe taking away the underneath cut because a deep throw from this spot either has to come off inside-out against a flat mark or has to bend around the width of the field, which, even for an above-average thrower, is significantly more difficult and will not travel as far. These throws tend to float and give even slower defenders a good opportunity to make up ground and get a D.

For handler defenders in this situation you know that the up-the-line space is covered by the mark and the sideline. So instead of worrying about taking away the up-the-line as you would with a trap you are free to position yourself on the backfield threat, trusting your mark to contain the line.

Certainly there are still throwers in this situation that can break the mark for the up-the-line throw but just as with the deep throw from this spot, it is more challenging.

As the disc moves further and further away from the sideline the mark can't stay as flat (the sideline covers less break space the further you are from it) and the down-field defense has to feel more and more threatened by good deep shots coming off. Adjustments in positioning will need to be made.

In general though, the more open field there is on the force side of the disc the more the defense can cover the underneath cuts from the down-field and the backfield cuts from handlers, aka the meat and potatoes of most offenses.

Why force the disc towards their dumps?

As third in the priority chain, forcing the disc towards the dump(s) is pretty straightforward. Dump defense is easier on the force side of the disc because the throw up the line is a break throw. As outlined above the closer and closer the disc gets to the sideline, the flatter the mark can and the more the dump defender can focus on taking away the backfield reset.

The other advantage you get with forcing a disc towards the dumps is the handler defender can sag into the throwing lane (or lanes against 3 handler sets). From the middle of the field this will force the disc closer to one sideline or the other (assuming the thrower hits their poach) where then establishing the best mark (as outlined in the previous section) becomes more obvious.


Part 4 - What are the main problems?

Part of what makes this defense challenging is it's dependent on every one of the seven defenders on the field playing the same way. A mark the wrong direction or a loose defender can break the defense wide open very quickly. It takes a lot of practice to execute well, and when it's not going well it looks terrible.

Mistakes are also punished more heavily. One leaky mark or a good bump back to a thrower can break down the whole defense. When the downfield is counting on well-spaced hucks being shut down, they are significantly out of position if they do come off.

To combat this, there has to be a shift in defensive mentality for a lot of people. The top priority for a defender has to be that around contain (sending the disc back towards the previous throw). This means that defenders have to stay in control of their body. They can't over commit to getting a big D. They can't jump the inside lane of throw unless they're confident in getting that D because around-contain will be impossible afterwards.

Recognition of when your tight defense has to loosen up for the containment of the next throw is absolutely paramount, and what younger players struggle the most with. You can't take the shortest path to the disc, you have to understand where your next threat is; and will an ever-changing force, the threat will always be the around.

Overall, it's difficult to execute well, but when it's clicking, it can be unbelievably frustrating to play against and can take even a disciplined offense out of their comfort zones.

I apologize for the delay in posting this entry (I was waiting for my team to finish up at Pres Day) and I apologize for the lack of diagrams (I'm terrible at them). I'd be happy to answer any questions to alleviate any confusion. Yes, this is really just a slightly more in depth force-middle.