Friday, December 30, 2016

Fort Collins Club Ultimate - The Katfish Written History - Part 5: 2015 - Hops/shame./Force Collins

As always, you catch up on the previous four entries: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Early in 2015 there was a “meeting of the minds” between prominent club figures in Fort Collins. Myself, David Chan, Brianna Quigley (coach of the CSU women's team and ex-Rare Air player) and Jake "Jacuzzi" Juszak (ex-Bravo) all met up and hashed out some team planning for 2015.

Brie wanted to work with Chan and I to form a new mixed team with the Hops men. Jacuzzi wanted to put together some form of a mixed team, but I don't believe he had fully decided on exactly what he wanted to do. He seemed lukewarm on partnering with Hops, and Chan and I were pretty set in sticking with another season of Hops as it was constructed.

In the end, Brie and Jacuzzi connected and began planning out what would become "shame." and Chan and I began working on the framework for the 3rd season of Hops.

Hops

After much deliberation, Hops leadership decided to push a bit more towards the 'ringer' roots of the team, in that we eliminated the two per week mandatory practices, electing rather to go with a once a week optional "reps" practice and once a month mandatory extended weekend practice. The idea was that the practice flexibility would allow us to recruit more players from outside Fort Collins, expanding our skill-base. We had CSU alums Michael Lin and Stephen Gross commuting up from the Springs and Denver, as well as NAU alum John Marcy making the trip up. We were going to sacrifice chemistry for talent.

As an organizer and tournament director of the Fort Collins Summer Solstice tournament, I pushed to add a men's division to what had traditionally only been a mixed tournament. This was in large part to offer up a mid-tier men's playing option to teams in the central(ish) part of the country where there were (and are) very few options.

At that point, Hops' only tournament options to play men's at a non-elite level were to travel significantly (Colorado Cups non-elite division dissolved when the Cup was absorbed as a TCT event). I hoped that adding a men's division at Solstice would help Hops with its regular season requirements as well as encouraging other men's teams to form within the area where there were lots of mixed playing opportunities but very few men's and women's (again, outside of the elite sector).

We started our season with a strong performance at Solstice, finishing third behind a stacked Johnny Encore team (preparing for nationals and worlds) and Inception. At our next tournament, the Ski Town Classic in Provo, we struggled with a small attending roster and finished fourth. At sectionals we finished second behind Inception, easily securing a regionals bid.

Regionals was again in Tulsa and we were excited to improve on our 8th place finish from 2014. We struggled in pool play, losing tight games to HIP (Houston), Plex (Dallas), Dreadnought (Arkansas), and getting blown out by Doublewide. Our lone win came against Tune Squad, the third tier team out of Austin.
The 1-4 finish in pool play dropped us into the 7th place bracket, which still allowed us to achieve our goal of improving our final placement, but it would require winning out.


Choice City Hops and Fénix Ultimate
In quarters, we beat Riverside (Austin's tier 2 team behind Doublwide). Semis matched us up against Fénix Ultimate from Mexico City. This was by far my (and the team's) favorite game of the tournament. The Mexico group played extremely spirited and with a very cool, very different style (SO many short passes). However, our height and the stiff breeze played more in our favor and we finished out the game 15-11. Again, they were just a great group to play against and I was thrilled to meet our south of the border friends.

The 7th place finals were a rematch between us and Dreadnought. Technically, this game didn't mean anything. The select-flight cut-off this year was 6th place, but by the end of the round, it was pretty clear that this game meant a lot to both teams.

It was the 8th game of the tournament for us. We were tired, dusty (Tulsa!) and the wind was blowing heavily. We shuffled around personnel to compensate for injuries and played with as much energy as we could muster after a full weekend of games. This game came down to universe point, with us receiving going downwind. It was the only game still being played in the entire complex in any division. We worked it meticulously down the field and finally scored on a big layout grab from Garrett Idler.

It may seem odd to celebrate a 7th place finish, but we were thrilled. The team was exhausted but proud. We had made good on our season goals, played a strong tournament start to finish and had improved. I texted the score over to the TD and got a "Well done," response. I very much appreciated that they clearly understood that while the game had no meaning in the context of nationals qualification or even flight status, both teams involved were playing for their seasons.

shame.

Since the redrawing of the regional boundaries in 2012, Cosa Nostra, from Austin, had been the only mixed nationals qualifier from the south central region (taking the lone bid in 2012, 2013 and 2014). Jacuzzi and Brie were going to put Fort Collins mixed back into the nationals conversation with shame..

They recruited quality players from Fort Collins and beyond. The team was made up of a group of people that enjoyed playing together on the field and very much enjoyed their time off the field as well. After years of elite women's and men's, I think both captains wanted to stay competitive, but not put their minds, bodies and finances through the strain of playing Bravo or Molly Brown.

The team didn't practice much (to my knowledge). I know they had weekly stuff set up, but they were much closer to 'ringer' status than Hops had ever been.

They won Solstice handily, beating Mesteño (2011 nationals qualifier) in the finals. This would be the only tournament they would play in the regular season, which meant not only did they not earn a nationals bid for the region (they would have been near or in the top 20 if they had similar results at another tournament), they didn't earn the section a regionals bid either.

I can't fault them for their season plans. They were laid-back. They traveled as much as they desired and the team, as far as I could tell from the outside, thoroughly enjoyed their time together.

At sectionals they stumbled a little bit, losing to Love Tractor in the finals 5-15 and then to Mesteño in the second place game. This would set them up with the five seed heading into regionals and a pool play rematch with Mesteño.

At regionals in Tulsa, shame. didn't bring a full squad and fell victim to the injury bug, losing in quarters to RUA out of Arkansas then punting the placement games for an 8th place finish overall. Love Tractor would win the region over RUA and be the first Colorado mixed team to qualify for nationals from the south central region.

Force Collins

Force, unfortunately, is the team I know the least about. This season they had added a couple of newcomers into their leadership core in Chris Dorich and Jason Laxague. Beyond that, I know little about their team structure and goals.

They played Solstice and the Rocky Mountain State Games, completing the 10 game requirement for having their ranking count towards a regionals bid allocation, but did not rank high enough to earn the Rocky Mountain section the bid. They lost in the quarters of the sixth place bracket at sectionals to Spring Loaded from Colorado Springs and ended tied for 9th, not qualifying for regionals.

It's hard for me to say how shame. and Force felt about their seasons but all three teams were in for some big changes in 2016. Some for the better and some for the worse...

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fort Collins Club Ultimate - The Katfish Written History - Part 4: 2013-2014 - Choice City Hops

If you're curious as to the club events leading up to the 2013-2014 club seasons please catch up on Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

2013 - Choice City Hops

The groundwork for the 2013 club season began in late 2012 when Mr. David Chan approached me with a vision: He wanted to put together a 'ringer' men's team, similar to what he'd played on out of Boulder in the spirit of the Cougars and Masters of the Universe. He had spent 2012 travelling to Denver and playing with the men's team Inception and Killjoy the season prior to that. He wanted a change.

The goal was to recruit talented players who wanted to play on a team with a distinctly positive team culture. Chan was highly respected in town as an excellent player and a great person. He reached out to me because he wanted a counterpart who was interested in being strategically dynamic (we wanted to try weird, fun stuff) and because of my longstanding ties in the Fort Collins ultimate community.

We hashed out the details and Chan wrote up his first draft of the "Chanifesto," which outlined team goals and core principles which largely emphasized positivity and personal ownership.

As spring approached, Killjoy was still hanging on. The 2012 leadership had moved on, but some new, enthusiastic captains had taken over and they intended to continue the legacy that Lance had begun in 2009.

Unfortunately, Hops drew the majority of male players still interested in club and Killjoy just didn't have enough numbers to continue. A couple of their players joined Hops part way through the season and others migrated down towards Denver/Boulder or ended up not playing at all.

Hops had a very enjoyable summer. We ran some funky offenses (German iso!) and schemed with some quirky zones on defense. The overall skill-level of the team was a far cry from 'ringer' status , but it was still a great group that spent a lot of time together on and off the field.

Competitively, we only played one tournament before the series, in the non-elite division of Colorado Cup in Aurora, finishing 3rd behind Denver, Inception and the Salt Lake City, Powderhogs. Chan and I had discussed doing a second tournament, but instead we elected to do a team camping trip.

This year was the first year of the USAU Triple Crown Tour and club restructuring and while we knew that not playing 10 sanctioned games wouldn't allow us to secure extra bids for the Rocky Mountain section to regionals, we didn't think much of it. Prior to 2013 in club, if you wanted to attend regionals, there was almost always a spot for you regardless of what you had done previously, at least in Colorado.

At sectionals there were five total teams: Inception, Inception Red, Nomo Fogoho (mostly ex-Bravo masters players), Sweet Roll (from Albuquerque) and us. Of these five teams, only two had played enough sanctioned games to secure regionals bids, meaning five teams were playing for two bids. We had beaten both Sweet Roll  and Inception Red at Colorado Cup 13-5 and 13-7 respectively, so we felt confident that we could win those games and the second bid would likely come down to us and the masters guys (who weren't going to attend regionals regardless).

In pool play there was a mish-mash of funky results. We handily beat Nomo Fogoho 15-10, but lost to Sweet Roll and Inception. Nomo beat Inception but also lost to Sweet Roll. Inception Red lost to everyone. When the dust settled, we ended up as the third-place finisher out of the pool behind Inception and Sweet Roll and ahead of Nomo.

There were only two rounds of bracket play Sunday. We needed to beat Nomo once more then play the loser of Inception/Sweet Roll for the second bid. We lost that first round 13-15 to the masters guys who then went on to beat Sweet Roll for second place. Nomo declined the bid, passing it along to Sweet Roll who finished one spot above us, as the Sunday bracket play didn't afford us a chance to avenge our Saturday pool play loss.

It was a pretty unexpected and disappointing end to our season. We had taken for granted that regionals was on the table but neither did what was necessary during the regular season to secure our bid, nor played with the urgency needed to win one of the available bids at sectionals.

This would be the first time that Fort Collins would not have a team representing in any division at regionals, at the very least since I had been around, and probably long before that as well.

2014 - Choice City Hops / Force Collins

For 2014, Chan and I both had decided we'd travel more and secure that regionals bid for sure; the previous summer's failures were not going to happen again.

We also upped our practice schedule to twice a week and re-wrote the Chanifesto, still keeping our team culture very positive, but re-emphasizing an ownership principle as well (to play on this team, you must own your fitness, skill-improvement etc). The reality we had come to discover, is that putting together a men's ringer team didn't quite work like the mixed experiences Chan had had with Cougars and MoTU. Simply put, really good men's players either still played on really good men's teams (Bravo), or had stopped playing men's for specific reasons (age, family, moving on to mixed etc).

We learned that it's challenging to recruit players to new teams in the men's (and women's) divisions because the top-tier teams are so established. You can't say, "Hey, come join my team. We're going to beat Bravo and make a run at nationals." Guys who are Bravo-level players either play Bravo or aren't playing men's for other reasons.

Mixed, on the other hand, is all over the place as far as who's playing where and what ex-men's/women's players joined this team or that team or whatever. You can throw together a quality roster with a legitimate argument that you will make nationals (as shame. would prove in the upcoming years).

It hadn't been the original intention, but Hops was transforming into a regular mid-tier men's team.

For our first tournament of the 2014 season, we traveled to the San Diego Slammer. The teams in attendance were mostly upper-tier select teams and fringe nationals teams (Streetgang, Inception, Mad Club etc). As a team, we weren't completely prepared for the physicality and the intensity that hit us from the start of game one.

As we struggled to find our rhythm we learned a lot of what it was going to take to compete at that level. With the exception of myself and one or two other guys, nobody had club men's experience (beyond the previous Hops season, which was extremely minimal) and while the results weren't stellar (we finished 11th out of 12 teams), many of the other guys were finally thinking "Ohhhh, this is what it's going to be like. This is fun!" We had a great time on and off the field (the beach!!!) and the team gelled.

Hops didn't win many games during the regular season but between the Slammer and the Ski Town Classic in Park City, we secured an additional bid to regionals for the Rocky Mountain section.

We easily finished second at sectionals behind Inception and prepared for our first regionals as a team,  which this year was in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

We played hard at regionals, finishing 8th. For folks looking in from the outside, an 8th place finish may not seem like much to celebrate, but the team was pushing in the right direction and we were climbing the ladder of the TCT slowly but surely.

Elsewhere in Fort Collins another core group, led by Graham Tuttle, had taken Horseplay, the fun, less-experienced foil to Killjoy in 2012 and had re-branded the team "Force Collins." It was still a casual more laid back team, but Graham added more structure and competitive goals for the squad, with them finishing just one place out of regionals qualification at 2014 Rocky Mountain Mixed sectionals. My knowledge of the transition of Horseplay to Force Collins and beyond is very limited unfortunately, but it was another playing opportunity for folks in town.

2015 would again bring big change to  Fort Collins as a couple of elite ex-men's and women's players were looking to return Fort Collins to nationals for the first time since my last full season with DTL in 2005... part 5.