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.