Friday, April 28, 2017

Cody Spicer - Top 5 Match-Ups

I put together this list per a reddit suggestion made and I couldn't think of a better topic for a celebratory, 100k entry.

Let me preface this with the fact that Spicer is not big on attention or praise. He's a very humble person and is the kind of guy who, given the opportunity, would deflect as much attention as he could to his teammates. I'm writing this without his approval or knowledge.

The Match-Ups

5) Jason Finkelstein (Kansas) - South Central College Regionals 2016

This was an extremely fun game and match-up to watch. Finkelstein was truly an 'every-other' guy for Kansas and we matched Spicer on him for a large portion of the game.

It was a battle of attrition. The challenging part about Spicer's defense is that he's very physical and knows how to utilize his body incredibly well in different levels of space. A lot of defenders tend to specialize in backfield or downfield defense - so when a player on another team recognizes a match-up that is giving them trouble, they'll often attack from different space. Tough dumps? I'll head downfield. Lock-down speed? I'll go behind the disc.

Finkelstein didn't do that. He stayed backfield the entire game. Spicer contested every single reset. Finkelstein got his fair share, but having to make 2-3 cuts for every 2 yard pass took its toll on him mentally and physically.

After a particularly contentious attempt by Finkelstein to force his way up the line and Spicer beating him to the space, he finally yelled at the observers "Can you do something about this?". He was met with a shrug - there was nothing wrong with the defense; it wasn't dangerous; it wasn't illegal; it was just frustrating.

We led 11-8 but Kansas scored the final four to win it after our main handler (Jake Servaty) went down to injury and we struggled to score. I have to give a lot of props to Finkelstein - he really carried an unbelievable load for his team and led them to victory - this was a fun one, but Spicer dictated the match-up.

Advantage: Spicer

4) Chase Cunningham (Texas) - South Central College Regionals 2015

This was Spicer's first year on the team and and only his second college series. We played Texas in the final round of the day Saturday at regionals and it had been a long day for both teams - we were playing our fifth game in a row and I believe Texas their fourth (the schedule was accelerated to avoid Sunday weather).

Similar to Finkelstein, Chase stayed backfield almost the entire game and was the main engine behind Texas' offense. He made some unbelievable plays and throws, the most notable that I can remember being a ridiculous break-mark huck from the sideline. Spicer was on the mark at the time and I was right next to the two of them - Spicer and I both looked at each other, wide-eyed, after the throw came off - one of the best throws I have ever seen.

Spicer, however, was able to force a couple of turnovers, locking Chase down in the backfield. The match-up culminated in Chase going up big for a reset pass, catching the disc, immediately crumbling to the ground with cramps and calling a timeout so he wouldn't have to take a sub.

Chase recovered fine and in the end Texas won the game 13-11 and continued on to finish their season tied for 5th at nationals. It'd be interesting to see this match-up again with Spicer having a couple more years under his belt - perhaps it's in the cards for club this season.

Advantage: Chase

3) John Stubbs (Harvard) - Centex 2017

Getting both national finalists in our first two games at Centex was a really exciting time for the team. We'd fought all year to get the most competitive games we could and we were grateful for the opportunities the power pool schedule afforded us at Centex.

I felt confident that Spicer could contest the Stubbs matchup enough that we'd be able to win the game further down the roster where I believed depth was largely in our favor.

Stubbs began the game behind the disc. Our game-plan was to poach his throwing lanes and when he swung, have Spicer clamp down on the reset back to him - pretty straight forward: keep the disc out of his hands. The strategy was effective early on, with some of the Harvard players struggling to make the tighter dump throws necessary and ending up having to look back downfield at an eight or nine stall count.

At one point, Stubbs cleared straight deep from the handler position and they aired one out to him - the disc trailing the full width of the field. Spicer tried to make up the ground and bait Stubbs into going up too early with a big bid, but Stubbs didn't bite and easily caught the score.

In the second half we held Harvard to only one point: Stubbs scoring on a ridiculous layout catch after a deep shot to him was tipped by freshmen Dylan Custer (the one point Spicer did not cover him). On Sunday we again played Harvard, but Spicer was out sick with food poisoning for this game and the rest of the Harvard squad was out of gas. Stubbs took his cleats off once we were up four breaks.

On the surface it would seem like Spicer won this match-up but I believe this was more of a push; they both had their moments. There were some solid players around Stubbs, but I think he held his own as much as could be expected and his disc skills and athleticism were on full display, even with Spicer making him work as much as he did.

Advantage: Tie

2) Ben Jagt (Minnesota) - Centex 2017

As soon as the Centex schedule came out and we knew we were playing Minnesota we began prepping for this match-up. Spicer and I discussed at length how to approach Jagt's ridiculous combination of height and speed.

In a 50/50 jump ball, Jagt has the advantage, no question about that - but we weren't going to let the fear of the big sky allow Jagt to run the offense with his excellent and further-developed throwing repertoire. 

"I don't care if he skies you, contest the shallows, trust your reads and if he goes over you, he goes over you."

Taking a step back, Spicer certainly can go up big, but his greatest deep strength is his ability to adjust and maintain position. He's one of the best I've seen at running people off their reads then adjusting back for easy catches or maintaining the inside space and not allowing the other player to find the space they need to get a good jump off. It's a combination of his basketball background and being tall with elite "short-guy" quickness.

As it turned out, Spicer used this as a game to prove to his coach that this wasn't a match-up in the air he was going to lose. Jagt made long cuts all over the field ("He's running laps out there, coach!") and Spicer stayed tight the whole game. Minnesota aired out only two deeps to the big man. Spicer outright D'd one and held his inside space on the other, not allowing Jagt to get a good jump off, again forcing the turn.

When the end game stats were tallied, Spicer had two blocks, one hand-block, scored three goals and had two assists - Jagt scored zero goals with Spicer on him (Jagt did not play D for Grey Duck so most of Spicer's offensive stats were not against him).

I have a lot of respect for Minnesota and it has to be noted that they didn't play Jagt or other O-line starters on D this game - winning 11-10. I also think Jagt is still the most threatening player in the college game, but on this particular day, Spicer won the individual match-up.

Advantage: Spicer

1) Cameron Wariner (SLO) - Santa Barbara Invite 2017

[I wrote this the day before Cameron's sick callahan video dropped - both his blocks I describe below are in the video - look for the sweat pants!]

This was a flipped script relative to the rest of these matchups. Cameron takes SLO's big match-ups so rather than Spicer flipping to D here, this was Cameron finding Spicer on O.

This game was SLOPPY. I don't believe Cameron or Spicer had a turnover (unless you count them D'ing each other), but the rest of both teams were apparently looking for as many opportunities as possible to let these two go at it. Early on, I'd give Cameron the advantage. He got a layout block on a backfield fill, he swatted a huge deep with Spicer bracketed by him and Nate Pettyjohn, and he scored a couple goals on break cuts.

Honestly, beyond the highlights, some of the best action between the two was off the disc. They both dictate with physical positioning very well and seeing the two of them battle to even begin to cut was spectacular. Neither of them ever got chippy with it either, it was an accepted level of physicality they both acknowledged and I think enjoyed.

I had spoken to Spicer early in the year about toning back some of his try-hard. I know it may sound a bit odd, but he's a motor guy - it doesn't matter if it's pratice, league etc, you get 110% Spicer and in the past we'd had to limit his points because of it. So, we had discussed perhaps having him take a couple easier match-ups here and there, give him a chance to be an offensive presence on those points and not kill himself locking down the other team's top threat all the time.

In another "f-you" scenario to coach, Spicer spent winter break on a new diet, slimming down 5-10 pounds, and working further on endurance. He doesn't know any other way to play so rather than concede to my point, he proved me wrong.

As the game wore on, Cameron wore down just a little bit and Spicer began to gain the advantage. It wasn't so much within the match-up 1 on 1, but rather the effect that Spicer had elsewhere on the field. He secured eight blocks this game, only one on Cameron, but many peeling off his match-up and swooping in on unsuspecting players around the field.

I'd say overall Cameron is a slightly better athlete - his highlights are unbelievable - but Spicer's tenacity and heads-up play made this game, in my opinion, a push. 

Advantage: Tie

Monday, April 17, 2017

CSU vs CU - 2017 Rocky Mountain Conference Finals

Both CSU and CU had relatively easy days leading up to the Conference Final in Boulder this past weekend. With only two bids to Regionals on the table and both top seeds sitting in the top 20, the rest of the field was largely playing for pride. 

I personally have been a player or coach in fourteen sectionals/conference games between CSU and CU. Even in the mid 2000s, when CSU floated around the top 20, we had some mental block when playing Bird, and the games were almost never competitive. In 2008 (my fifth year playing) there was a decent 13-15 final, but beyond that one year, Bird has dominated the match-up for the past two decades.

For this game, there was a slight breeze with the weather hovering right in the high 60s. This game was largely defined by both teams' defensive disruption and pressure - Bird employing good brackets and intelligent poaches and us largely running our force-middle, person-defense.  

We opened the game with break as they struggled to find their spacing, but then gave the break back after we struggled against their brackets. Our offense worked through the appropriate adjustments and Bird's O moved to a no dump set to alleviate their spacing problems. After trading to 4-4 we broke again on a huge layout block from freshman, Dylan Custer. The kid's been lockdown for us all year - taking tough match-ups in every game and always contesting them - easily top three on the season in total blocks. 

We broke again after Mark Rauls went for a tough wide-side huck to Wes Chow, boosting it too far. Junior big man, David Miller, made a big layout catch on a trailing huck going the other way and we took a two break, 6-4 lead. We traded to half 7-5, receiving upwind in the second. 

Bird broke us twice out of half, securing some some impressive defensive blocks on our deep shots and a goal-line hand block, tying the game up 7-7. We punched in a clean O finally then threw out a 2-3-2 zone point, seeing if we could catch them off guard and get an easy turn. They patiently worked the disc down the field, then broke a hammer over the top and scored shortly thereafter 8-8.

We scored our subsequent O the broke again to take a 10-8 lead.

Rauls, (who played just about every point in the second half I believe), secured a monstrous layout block after we traded to 10-11 and Bird broke to tie to it, 11-11. We scored our O to make it 11-12 then we sent out our normal D line to win it. Bird overshot a break throw on an under and we put out a deep huck to 5th year captain Sten Larson, which was blocked by the Colorado defender. Bird fed the disc to Rauls and we locked down the other six members of their line, twice forcing contested stalls. On third attempt, Rauls swung it to the front of the stack and Larson got a lanky arm on the disc, knocking it to the ground. We worked it down the short field - swung a couple of times waiting for the good break look, then scored, game over 13-11...

Winning without a kill line was kind of the whole point of the game for us - it wasn't about having Cody Spicer and Jake Servaty and Jake Marrapode playing every point (none of whom played a single D point). It wasn't about getting Spicer to match-up on Rauls or Chow like we'd had him match up on Stubbs and Jagt in other games this season. In the scheme of our season goals and plans, winning this game didn't mean a whole lot, technically. The 1-2-3 seeds at regionals are going to be CSU, CU and A&M (barring an upset in Texas next weekend) and winning or losing this game would change that order only slightly.

This game was our team's affirmation and establishment of ourselves as a legitimate, nationals program. It was about knowing that we not only matched up 1-5, but that the work we've put in the past three years (after not qualifying for Regionals in 2014) is not about a couple of elite players that happened to come to our school, it's about a program and a system, on par with something like Colorado (of which I have the utmost respect for). A system where you win games both at the front and back of your roster. A system where you cultivate a hard-working culture, develop good spirit and while you certainly allow some players to do the heavy lifting, you trust that your whole squad is ready to rise up to the moment at any level of play. 

I don't mean to suggest that our win, playing deep into roster, vs Bird playing tighter means we're the better squad. I'm not that guy and I don't think that's the case. We had everything to play for and this was just another competitive game for them. We haven't qualified for nationals yet this year, and this game certainly doesn't change what we need to do at regionals to really affirm our status on the national stage, it's simply one step closer...

When we scored the final goal, the team went nuts. I was down in the far end-zone, opposite sideline from most of the squad. I walked down the field and got in the back of the line to shake hands. Guys kept jumping in my face, shaking me and wondering why I wasn't smiling or cheering. I'm sure I've lost more games to Mamabird than any other single player/coach in the country, and I doubt that's a record that will ever be broken. Why wasn't I jumping up and down and screaming along with the team? "I knew you guys were good enough to do it."