Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Slackline


Fugue got us a slackline as a thank you gift for the season. It's been great. After one frustrating session of trying to get it set up, (stupid knots) I think I've figured it out and now can set it up pretty quickly.

We're setting it up in the pasture, using the wedding tree and one of the nearby chestnuts. It's hard to imagine a more idyllic setting for it. Last night, I set it up in the afternoon and Opal, Lucie and I played on it for a while. Lucie figured out how to put one foot in front of the other and Opal was content to bounce up and down and then jump off. Finally, Lucie got grumpy and we went in. After the girls were all asleep, Mizu and I made a traveler and went back down. We took turns on the slackline until well after dark. The moon was three-quarters and the frogs and birds were fighting to see who could be louder.

We're still waiting for the big break-through. No one can do better than 5 staggering steps.

Here's Helen:
video

And Opal:
video

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Scrapple

This is hodgepodge of stuff that didn't fit anywhere else in the write-up.

The Tent
I discussed this elsewhere in the write-ups, but the tents were essential to our success. I won't be able to think back on this Nationals without thinking about the tent: the closeness, the stepping over piles of stuff but oh, the relief from the sun!

Quite strange to abandon the sidelines, but definitely the right choice.




Worlds 2006
This group of women: Emelie McKain, Georgia Boscher, Shannon McDowell, Anna Snyder, Claire and Molly Suver, Emily Damon, Leila Tunnell, Shannon 'Malley....what a team. And who'd they beat? Anne Mercier's Canada.
As I look back on ultimate the last few years, I am amazed at the impact this team has had on our sport. Again and again they have provided the leadership and excellent play that has propelled women's ultimate to new heights. Hats off!



Individual Honors
There are all sorts of problems with any kind of award system, but the biggest is that they too often are votes based on reputation and not performance. This is true from the biggest stages (NBA All-Star game or NFL Pro Bowl) down to our little stage in ultimate. With that caveat, I am going to try to name a starting seven from Nationals. Here were my guidelines:
1. Nationals performance. How'd they play at the show counts here, not how good they are.
2. By position. I took a page from the NBA and will name three 1s and 2s, two 3s and two 4s.
3. I had to see them play (this is connected to #1 - how could I rate them without watching?)
Without further ado...
The 1s and 2s: Kaela Jorgenson (UCSB) Molly Suver (Oregon) Julia Sherwood (Oregon)
The 3s: Georgia Bosscher (Wisconsin), Carolyn Finney (UCSB)
The 4s: Tina Snodgrass (Oregon) Sandy Jorgensen (Wisconsin)
Do you want to try to score on that line up?
Honorable Mention 1s/2s: Emelie McKain (Wisconsin), Emily Damon (Stanford), Shannon McDowell (Oregon)
Honorable Mention 3s: Bailey Zahniser (Oregon), Cree Howard (Cal) Hawkins (UCLA)
Honorable Mention 4s: Kelly Tidwell (UNCW), Marie Madaras (UCSB)

Fury Getting Richer and Richer
I was looking at Cal State photos and who do I see in Fury jerseys? Emily Damon, Cree Howard, Georgia Bosscher and Kaela Jorgenson. The rich get richer.

NW v SW
Frankie discusses this here, but I thought I'd chime in with my two cents. The NW has played the SW in the finals five straight years, with the NW winning four of those games. (Stanford x 2, UBC and Oregon.) Amazingly, UCSB has played in four of those games, topping Washington in 2009. If you look at semi-finals, the both the SW and the NW have filled 9 of the 20 teams over those five years, the last two spots going to Wisconsin in 2006 and 2010. All in all, an amazingly even record.

Media Exposure
Not enough. The last two years have been awesome for women's ultimate and there has been total silence (well, almost) since the demise of IC Ultimate. I had a conversation with Gwen and Michelle about this at the beginning of the season and we all got excited about the possibilities, but no one wanted to be in charge of making it happen. Certainly, that's part of my motivation with this blog. Anyway, here's the challenge for someone, somewhere, with some time to step up and make it happen - I think the writers are out there, you just have to find them.

Video
While we're on media, boy did I watch a lot of video this year. I had never really done that before, but we made a point to film pretty much everything and it was so, so helpful. So time consuming, though. I like to watch once for narrative and then go back through and chart each point, which takes about 5 minutes a point. It was really good for helping me see patterns that I'd missed live or that I'd misassigned importance to.

Next Year
Fugue came out to my house a couple weekends ago for an end of the year get-together. Porch, potluck, bonfire, camping, breakfast - it was awesome. Then they all left and I realized (as I should have known) that that was it. That team would never be together again. Seasons come and go and teams endure and teammates endure, but a particular team only lives for one season and will never exist again. So cherish the moments you have with your team - they'll only happen once. I was sad. It was a special team.

A couple of months ago, Julia asked me if I was planning to coach again next year, which is always a bit of a question considering that I have a family and a job and live a long way from Eugene and I said, "Yeah." We got to talking about what it was going to be like and how hard it was going to be with everyone leaving (it's a scary list.)

What I tried to impress on her was that the challenges will be different and the expectations will be different at the beginning and the team will be different, but that it was going to be great. A great, fun challenge.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nationals: The Finals

The eerie thing about the Finals was how it had been played before. Twice. Once, though, the ending was different.

Two teams meet. One team has been absolutely dominant all year and rolled through its competition at Nationals. One team has had its ups and downs, including a disappointing Regionals. But this team has shown up at Nationals playing beautiful ultimate and beating great teams in the process, including an upset of a title-contender the round before. This year's finals? Sure, but also last year's semifinals. Just reverse the teams. Instead of a fresh and rested Oregon taking on a tired UCSB just off of a rousing win over contender Wisconsin, you've got a fresh and rested UCSB waiting for an exhausted Oregon just off an emotional win over contender Ottawa. In 2009, was the game even (11-8 Oregon, actually) except for a 4-point run and a 3-point run to end each half? Yes. In 2010, was the game even (8-8) except for a 3-point run to open and a 4-point run to close the game? Yes. Did the underdog fight and battle behind some superb individual performances before eventually succumbing to a deeper, fresher team? Weirdly the same game...

Two teams meet. One team immediately dominates by playing fast and aggressive and athletic. UCSB falls quickly into a deep hole. Desperate to stem the tide, they switch to zone. The game slows, then begins to turn as the UCSB zone generates one turnover after another. This could be the semis versus Wisconsin or the finals versus Oregon. But at 12-8, the story splits. In the semis, Wisconsin's defense falters and they drop 8 of the next 10 points to lose 14-16. In the finals, Oregon speeds back up and runs away to the 15-8 victory. But boy, that hinge moment was so strangely the same...

I kicked myself later for not watching the USAU highlight video or Dugan's interview, as either would've helped me prepare the team a little better. I had spent so much time all season watching video and heaps leading up to Nationals, that I feel sheepishly stupid for leaving this opportunity unwatched. Dumb.

Longest, strangest warm up ever. We got there in time for a leisurely warm up should the men's game end in time for us to start at one, but as we all know now, the men's game was incredibly slow. So we farted around and cagged and danced and farted around some more. Our posse came through with sandwiches and we made everyone eat, even if they didn't want to. We made everyone drink ice water even if they didn't want to. (Aubri: "What if one of us has mono?" Me: "Then next week, when it doesn't matter, we'll all be sick.") After we'd been there for a while, Santa Barbara came through looking for the warm-up field. We were prepared to share with them, but they looked like sour milk when they saw us and I knew they were in trouble. It probably didn't help that we were singing and dancing when they came through (yeah, Papa!) Anyway, they moseyed on to another field around the corner. I wanted to prep us for SB's big cup (both tall and loose,) so Jackson came over to be Karba. A couple of our handlers like to throw little scoobers and backhands over the middle-middle and I wanted us to get a good view of 6'1" before game time. We didn't talk about dealing with Kaela's style of deep-deep. Dumb.

All through the interminable warm up and then the pre-game show, we were focused and cool. (I was nerve-city, but that's par for the course. As a coach, I hate warm ups; nothing to do but get nervous.) The whole first half of the game went exactly like we wanted: fast, fast, fast. They came out and played a poachy man-to-man and we walked through it. Then, they dropped the third pass and we scored just like that. Both teams were playing man (us fm and them flicks) and the points were flying by. The air temp was probably 80, but the field itself was 110-115 (too hot to walk on barefoot,) so both teams were hurting from the heat. Halftime 8-3 in a heartbeat.

We made two mistakes at half. First, that little ten minute break let the realization that we were going to win set in. We didn't say anything, but we all felt it. So for the first time in two days, we took our foot off the gas just slightly. Our defense out of half would suffer from that lost anxiety and urgency and our offense would suffer from the lost sense of need-to and focus. Second, I strategically lost the battle. Dugan and the Skirts desperately needed to slow the game down and we wanted to keep the pace high. I chose for us to come out playing fm to force them to run, but it wasn't successful. They were able to create space and clarity for their big cutters (notably Finney and Madaras) and score easily on it. A quick transition would have been a better choice - the junk to muddy the waters and then man to make them run. Hm. I also didn't specifically address the SB zone. Big mistake. Without that little piece of discussion, we did what we'd practiced: inside the cup and then through the cup and then huck. The problem is that Kaela is lurking back there waiting for the ill-advised shot and we obliged her.

They got two quick out of halftime to make it 8-5. We immediately righted the ship defensively and started playing tough, but we continued to throw jump balls on offense. We missed a lot of them. Neither team could score upwind. The wind wasn't that bad, but it was just enough. From 8-5 we traded all the way out to 11-8. I was getting more and more agitated. I talked individually with our throwers about chewing up the zone in the soft-spot underneath Kaela, but I wasn't getting the message through. I was talking to too many individuals and not the team and that was keeping the deeps and target on a different page from the throwers. Finally, I lost it. Right in the middle of the point, I start yelling and carrying on. I don't lose it very often as a coach, so everyone was surprised, including myself. We scored. Whew. I called time out. and what proceeded was one of the most memorable huddles I've ever been a part of. We come together and I am trying to figure out what to say...so I say, "Sorry." Then I turn to Julia and say, "Julia," meaning "Your huddle" and I walk away. I have no idea what she or anyone else said, but it must have worked, because we scored the next three to win, the last coming on a high-count jump ball to Malina, who went up over T and Kaela. 15-8. Champs.


There's a moment that comes after you win, after that initial mind-blowing exaltation, where you feel "Now what?" There's nothing more to push against, nothing more to figure out, no more sprints to run or rehab to do or cool down even...no more any of that. I knew that moment was coming, but I also knew it was going to pass and be replaced by a deep and abiding satisfaction. So when Malina caught the game winner, I just stood and watched the celebration and felt really, really, really good.

Oregon's Experiment

Ok, I lied. The next post after this one is going to be about the finals. This one is going to be about spirit of the game. Lost in all the hullabaloo about the travesty of the men's final was what happened in the women's final. Do you know how many calls went to the observers? Zero. It takes two teams to make that happen and UCSB certainly has proven themselves to be a great and spirited team. I'd like to explain a little about what Oregon did this year regarding spirit of the game.

Before I go much further, I had better put a personal disclaimer in here. Those of yall who knew me as a player will justifiably question my credentials to speak on spirit of the game. Fair enough. But I know better than most the cost and consequences of poor behavior....

At the beginning of the season, we decided two things. First, that spirit of the game was important to us and that we wanted to be a spirited team. Second, that we weren't as spirited as we thought we were. I made the case that spirit is about much more than making the right call. You can always make the right call and still be entirely unspirited. Spirit is about respect for your opponent. So to build this respect we made a rule: no contest.

Rather than assess each call and each player for correctness, fairness, advantage we would extend to everyone we played the respect that they were spirited and trying to do the right thing. The team and I were a little skeptical about how it was going to work, but they were willing to try it and so we implemented it at Bellingham Invite and Prez Day.

It worked far better than we had anticipated. Our games were fast, fun, pleasant and we walked away from them feeling good about our opponents. It wasn't without hiccups. We had a couple moments here and there when we got drawn into old habits of arguing or making snide comments, but over the course of the season, this happened only two or three times. In fact, it was such a positive thing for us that we decided to make it an on-going part of our team policy.

We ended up facing two unusual challenges: observers and teams we didn't respect.
It was odd, but our spirit was actually worse in games with observers. I think we had set a pretty high standard for ourselves and that standard extended full respect to the other team. With observers, you have the option to abdicate responsibility to a third party. The goal of our experiment was to take full responsibility to do the right thing, so observers undermined what we were trying to achieve. Our observed games actually felt chippier than our other games, just because the observers were there.
Where we really struggled was when we played a team we didn't respect. (Not their skill, but their spirit.) We played a team who we felt made calls to their advantage, made marginal calls and manufactured fouls to maintain possession. As the season went on and we saw this happen again and again, it became harder and harder for us to hold on to the core of what we were trying to achieve: respect for the other team. In the end, we had to settle for pretending. We said, "Go out and do the right thing. Go to the observer if you need to, but never argue. Be polite and respectful. Smile, check it in and play."

We weren't perfect. We continued to work on our spirit all the way up to and through the finals. We will continue to work on our spirit next year, maybe in this way, maybe in another. I was reluctant to discuss publicly what had been an internal team philosophy, but spirit is an integral part of our sport and it needs public as well as private support.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nationals Part 6 of ?

We were in and set to play UCSB in the finals. The last two seasons have seen a lot of big games between SB and Oregon and it has quietly developed into big rivalry. In 2009, we played them in the finals of Prez Day (lost 7-9), Stanford (lost 12-15) and semis at Nationals (lost 11-15.) This year, we played them in finals at Prez Day (won 12-10) and semis at Stanford (won 15-8.) Despite the stakes, none of these games was characterized by chippiness or bad calls. I'll hand it to SB for setting a tone that was about making plays, not calls. As we worked to improve our spirit this year, they were a team we felt like was doing all the right things and wanted to emulate.

How they got there:
The Skirts had walked through most of their competition. They handled Washington (15-8), Harvard (15-7) and Michigan (15-9.) They won a barn-burner against Colorado (15-12) that I missed entirely while laying in the hotel with ice on my face. Their quarters match-up against USC was a repeat of the Regional finals (a 15-14 USC victory.) But USC didn't show up and the Skirts won easily (15-9.) Then of course, they played Wisco in the semifinals. Holy cow, was that a sweet game. We got to walk over after our semifinal and watch the UCSB close the gap and then win. Final UCSB 16-14. SB's cumulative score was 91-59, 150 total points played.

The SB - Wisco Semifinal
This was the game of the weekend. For myself and Fugue, the tournament and the finals will be special for us forever, but this is the game that will be discussed next year and the next. If you haven't seen this or this, you should. Wisconsin came in as a short-list team to win and the only other team to really be given a shot to beat us. Mostly this was because they had put together a nice season, capped with a Centex win over us, 10-15. No one had given SB much of a thought after their Centex collapse and Regionals loss to USC, but as I watched both teams play it was clear how well SB was playing and how inconsistently Wisconsin was playing. In pool play, Wisconsin almost lost to Stanford after being up 14-8 and almost let Maryland take the lead at 12s or 13s. Throughout the weekend, Wisconsin was buoyed by a huge home crowd. The Ho-dangs got knocked out knocked out in pool play (yeah!), so no one was watching them play anymore, instead transferring their hopes to the title-contending Bella Donna. The crowd for this game was the biggest for a women's game all weekend except perhaps the final. Dugan's interview sums it up pretty well, but what I saw was UCSB take control of the pace and style of the game with their zone. The zone took away Wisco's deep game by forcing them to throw at Kaela, with minimal success. Offensively, UCSB was fearless and clutch. Twice down the stretch they hucked it at 5'2" Finney defended by Sandy Jorgenson and then Georgia and landed both of them. Ridiculous.

What happened to Wisconsin?
For a team that started the season as the favorite to win it all, returned the most talented player in ultimate, added a coach and got Nationals in their backyard...semifinals had to be a disappointment.
1. They were offensively inconsistent. It just came down to too many turnovers that didn't have to happen. It's hard to point at any specific reason, but I think part of it is that they were comfortable with a lot of turnovers. When they beat us in Texas, a huge part of their advantage in the hurricane finals was their comfort level with that kind of game and our frustration. We weren't used to turning it over that much, but they didn't seem particularly bothered by it.
2. No 2s. They had the best 1 in the game (Emelie McKain) and the best 3 (Georgia), but they didn't have anyone to tie them together or create offense if Georgia wasn't getting comeback cuts. It definitely hurt them against Santa Barbara's zone - they couldn't really move the disc against it unless they hucked.
3. They were scared to lose. They thought they should win and 'should-win' is dangerous thinking.

Overall, I was happier with our SB match-up than a Wisconsin match-up. We had been calm and confident throughout Nationals and to play the only team to beat us and to play them in their house would have been a bit more challenging mentally. As it was, we were able to maintain the same sense of focus and purpose we had carried with us through the first three days. I was a little disappointed not to have the opportunity to remove the asterisk from our season and a lot disappointed not to play in front of a huge crowd.
I also knew it meant a friendly, call-free final. (I don't say unspirited and I mean that. Wisconsin is a team that likes to not like their opponents while they are playing. Actual quote: "Playing you [Oregon] is hard because you're so nice." But frowns have nothing to do with spirit and Wisconsin doesn't have much of a call game and the ones they make are fair. Also, Malacek is a yeller and that always changes the tenor of a game.) Most of all though, I was happy we wouldn't have to flip for yellow.

Next post: The finals!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Interlude

Leslie Wu of UltiTraining asked me a few questions in the comments section and I thought I'd move them up to post-status.

Here
is the text of the original questions. I am going to skip question one since it is the hardest and most complicated.

I should preface everything with a disclaimer that almost everything I do I learned through on-the-job training. I ran track in high school for a program that was okay, but I graduated knowing nothing about how to train. I played four years of CUT and ten years of Sockeye, squeezing four years of coaching Syzygy and seven years of captaining in there somehow. (Don't do the math - it doesn't work.) I've been involved with Oregon now for three full seasons.

Tapering
I am a big proponent of tapering, particularly before the final tournament of the season. You lose a little bit of polish, but more than make up for it with the improvement in health and freshness. Particularly for a team that has been playing seriously for five months, a week and a half break isn't going to seriously affect your chemistry. You have to prepare for the break mentally and be ready for the first game to be a bit shaky, but after a half, you'll be fine. At a tournament like Nationals, you can usually afford a rocky half at the beginning of the weekend. (Usually.)

Typically, the last weekend before Nationals I like to run a practice that is warm up and then game to 5 and then done. It leaves people with an unexpected 90 minutes and hungry to play more. Perfect.

I also like to run a sharpening track workout about four days before play. It is a series of sprints with full recovery. Four 20s, four 30s and four 40s. When I was still playing, I would take a book or crossword puzzle, set a timer for five minutes and run on the beep. Then go back to my book. The only issue is staying warm, particularly late in the club season. Oregon did this workout twice this year: once before Regionals and once before Nationals.

Both Oregon and Sockeye employed a double taper: once for Regionals and once for Nationals. When I was coaching and playing at Carleton, we worked right through Regionals because there was never any doubt that we'd qualify for Nationals. (CUT and Syzygy went 56-0 at Regionals during those years.) Additionally, the Minnesota weather is a bit difficult to play outside in until April. So that's really something that depends on your circumstance as a team.

With Oregon, we also changed what we worked on as the season went on. Throughout January, February and March we really focused on sprint endurance in practice. We run a lot, but always with the disc. Instead of running 70s, we'll do a huck drill. Instead of running 200s, we'll do a couple sets of no-defense up and down the field. The challenge is to get the team to run these at full speed and for that you depend on your leaders to set the tone. As April fades, the focus begins to switch to speed. Distances get shorter and rest time increases. Again, running is always done with the disc involved. It is only at the very end of the season that we did any running without the disc.

Injuries
The longer I am involved in ultimate, the more focused I become on injury prevention as an essential element of training. If I could change one thing about my playing career, it would be to spend more time doing core strengthening and in the weight room. Yoga (which I think is actually bad for ultimate) and pilates (which I think is good) weren't really in popular culture when I was playing, nor was the idea that core strength was an essential component of fitness.

Oregon was actually really lucky with injuries this season, losing only one player for the season. (And that was to an undiagnosable quad problem.) Going into the last couple of weeks we had more than our share of 10 - 20% injuries, but only one big injury, which was Kimber's ankle. As a team we were very good about working out individually and a number of women took weight training as a class both winter and spring. The instructor took their needs as ultimate players seriously and even came out to watch us play to learn more.

Clearly, the biggest issue in women's athletics is ACL injuries. Three seasons ago, we lost three players (Gordy, Marie and Kate) to blown knees, but since then we've been lucky. Gordy blew hers again in 2009, but played Nationals anyway (baller!). This year, we had none. My experience has been that you're due for one a season. This year, though, there doesn't seem to have been that many in college ultimate. Atari blew hers at Prez Day, but that's the only one I know of. I don't know if it's luck or improved training. Probably, its a little of both. My experience tells me that most knee injuries can be attributed to playing out-of-shape or fatigued or both. As preseasons have gotten longer and teams better prepared for them, you have less tournaments where just-out-of-the-snow players are going full tilt for eight games.

Hamstrings are the bugaboo of ultimate. Mine dogged me for years before it ended my career. Regardless of what type of training you do, it is impossible to equal the miles we put on our legs and backs throwing, drilling, scrimmaging and practicing. The unbalanced nature of throwing really stresses the upper hamstrings (particularly on the step-leg), lower back and S-I joint. I know that core strength and pilates really made a difference for me, but it was too little, too late.
What I emphasized with the Oregon players who had bad hammies was management, not prevention. I have three big rules: do your core work, always wear pants and warm up early.

I'd be quite interested to know what kind of suggestions people had for knee and hamstring injury prevention.

Coaching
Whew! That's a big one. It'll have to wait for the end of school.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nationals Part 5 of ?

As soon as we had won in quarters, my mind turned to semis. I made sure the team was settled, fed and drinking then Gordy, Ryann and I raced over to watch the end of the Cal-Colorado quarterfinal. It was a dog fight.

11-10 Cal when we got there and Cal quickly punched in another to go up 12-10. "Done deal," I thought. (Of course, I had walked away from the Colorado - UW pool play game when UW was up 11-6ish, so that shows what I know.) Colorado just wouldn't lay down. They are old school - hard running, force flick, classic dump-swing-attack offense, but above all hard-nosed and tough. (I am always amazed at how often teams end up expressing the playing character of their coaches.) I don't know if it was the defense (which was good) or the fatigue (which was there) or strategy (which it could have been,) but two-thirds of Cal's possessions ended in an An-Chi forehand huck, often to Cree, but they weren't landing all that often. For the next forty-five minutes the game goes back and forth with Cal hucking it and then Colorado inching it up the field, one comeback cut at a time. Cal's hucks aren't paying off consistently and Colorado picks up the two breaks to take the lead. On double game point, Cal pulls ob and then sets up the zone. As a coach, I cried. A brick is always painful, but doubly so when you are trying to play zone or junk. The offense sees the d, gets set, the disc is centered, the best thrower gets to scan the field...agh! Sure enough, Colorado walked it the fifty yards, throwing backhands the whole way. Game over, we're playing Colorado.

Colorado's run through Nationals was impressive. First, they knock off Washington after being down 6-12. They scored eight in a row to win! Eight! Then, in pre-quarters, they knocked off Stanford after being down 10-12! Then in quarters, they knocked off Cal after being down 10-12, again! What an awesome, fun ride that must have been. Much props to Tina McDowell for getting Kali to where they are - nice job, mom!

Weighing all those pieces together, I decided to come out and run with them. It seems kind of contradictory to try to run with a running team, particularly when we had the flexibility to come out playing junk. However, I knew they were tired and that we were fresh. If we play junk, that's an opportunity for them to rest. I felt like they really needed their defense to generate momentum, so I wanted to keep a portion of their energy focused on offense. We did opt to play middle; not because we are particularly good at it, but because most teams' offenses are bad against fm. Just another way to try to make them uncomfortable.

We came out fired up and rolled, running out to 5-0 and 10-1 leads. Colorado got a break in the second half and our man-to-man slackened, so we put it away and ran junk the rest of the game.


It was a very weird semifinal. The game wasn't in doubt after the first fifteen minutes or so, but there was still a long way to go to finish. Because of the point-spread, no one was watching. We were still employing the "don't get out of the tent" rule, so our sidelines were completely empty. The game was strangely quiet - a huge contrast from pretty much every worlds or nationals semifinal I've been involved in. Absent was the ravening emotion, the crazy drive to make every play, the desperation and exultation of every turnover so when Aubri hit Shannon for the game winner, there was a pause and then Holy! Shit! Finals! and joy broke out!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Natties Part 4 of ?

Most of this post is going to be about quarters and UCLA, but before I get to the game proper, I need to set the stage.

Coming out of pool play the message was two-fold. First, pool play doesn't matter. Nationals is two tournaments and the goal of the first (pool play) is just to make it to the second. Once you make it to the second tournament (bracket play,) it doesn't matter what you did in pool play - good or bad. This is a lesson vividly learned by Sockeye in 2004 and 2008, but even last year Wisconsin and Ottawa went 4-0 in pool play, earned the bye and then lost in quarters. Second part of the message is that it was time for us to come out and really play. As a team, we often set our throttle to our perceptions of how good the other team was and how hard we were going to have to work. (This kind of drove me crazy as a coach, but we always answered the call when necessary so I just swallowed my nerves throughout the season.) Typically, when I said this to the team, they all nodded in agreement and started getting themselves mentally ready for quarters.

After I recovered for heat stroke, I went back to the fields to watch UW v. UCLA in the pre-quarters. Having played UW four times this season, I knew them well and a Korb-coached team is a Korb-coached team, so I felt like I knew them well. My trip was one third scouting, one third rooting interest and one third the right thing to do. (It's my job as coach to watch that game.) It was a great game. It wasn't necessarily the best game for awesome play because both teams were exhausted from the heat, but it was amazing for the pressure and consequences. Neither team was playing particularly great defense, so there was a lot of scoring and minimal turnovers. Down 7-8 at half time, UCLA got three separate breaks in the second half and never gave one back to win 16-14.

UCLA looked poised, patient and fearless. I think they stared down thirty stalling 8s and patiently found one out after another, whether breaking to the front of the stack with the inside-out or breaking to the wide comeback cut on the around. Kodiak and Jolie held down the fort and Hawkins made all the big plays necessary to break the game open.

Washington looked tired, frustrated and scared. They'd already lost to UCSB (not really an upset) and Colorado?! (giving up 8 in a row to lose.) Cyle's two-woman game works well when it works (Florida men 2010, anyone?) but it can roll downhill in a hurry. Mix together heat, lots of close games and struggling stars and you've got real trouble. (Florida men 2009, anyone?) The problem comes when you start giving up runs. The offense (and particularly your stars) have to stay out on the field, getting more and more tired. You've never equipped anyone else to carry any weight and so they can't. I was also surprised at how dependent UW was on Lindsey's (remember, she's a lefty) reach-through-draw-the-contact-call-the-foul-backhand. We had always forced forehand against them, figuring it was better to deal with one hucker (just Lindsey) rather than two huckers when you force backhand (Lindsey and Shannon.) However, I watched UCSB, then Colorado and finally UCSB have incredible success forcing backhand. Without that move, Lindsey was half the thrower she had been throughout the year and the UW offense had no dependable way to move the disc downfield other than chipping and putting, which hadn't ever been their game.

So UCLA won. We went home to bed. UCLA stayed at the fields (maybe winning, although our support staff of Danielle, Kelly and the Gremlin claimed they won them in our name.)

Next morning we got up late and farted around before hitting the fields around 11:45. (I actually got up at six, ate brekky and went to the fields to talk with Deaver, then went back.) I had formulated a plan for UCLA based on what I'd seen the day before. I wanted to minimize separation. I knew UCLA's patience would generate high counts for us and I wanted to take advantage of this by preventing the late-count bailouts that had been so successful for them in the prequarters. The danger here is that you get punished on the live side, but I was confident in our athleticism to take that risk. We focused on match-ups for Hawkins, Kodiak and Jolie. Hawkins is a receiving 3 who is a classic tweener: if you are bigger than her she'll run by you and if you're faster than her, she'll out muscle you. We figured Tina would give her a mess of trouble and she did. (Tina gave everyone trouble.) The challenge with Kodiak is managing her as a creation thrower. Most of UCLA's offense is very conservative, but Kodiak adds that very needed creative element with a dazzling array of breaks: low on both sides and a lovely hammer. I wanted to make her work to get the disc so she was never able to achieve a sense of poise and balance when she had the disc - so her attention was always on getting open. I had watched Jolie do a brilliant and subtle job of maintaining possession for BLU in the pre-quarters, both getting open and hitting breaks. She was either first or second in touches in that game and I wanted to get a good match-up on her and try to deny her the disc.

Offensively, I wanted us to run and push the tempo. I know that's what we always do, but I knew UCLA wasn't ready for that pace of play, so that's what I emphasized.

As for the game itself? We did everything we said we'd do: came out focused and playing 100%, played nasty tough d and ran like crazy. Ten minutes into the game, it was 5-0 and we had yet to turn it over.

Later in the game, we switched to our junk to conserve energy and Kodiak started punishing us with hammers. BLU's flow off of the hammers never really materialized, but she still kept putting them up for twenty or thirty yards. Gordy and I had a discussion about how to stop it: should we play two deeps to protect the weakside more or should we roof-mark her. In the end, we chose to roof-mark her which was kind of effective although we still bit on her forehand and backhand fakes the first couple times until we really committed to it. In the end, it didn't really matter as we continued to pull away and won 15-5. On to semis!

I'd like to close with a big congrats to Korb and BLU. To go from seeded out of the dance at Regionals to finishing tied for 5th is an awesome accomplishment. Way to play your best when it counts!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

There's life beyond frisbee?

A little reprieve from Nationals coverage to check in on the week. It's been raining like crazy here; one of our neighbors claimed it rained four inches Tuesday night and that doesn't seem like a bad guess. Our summer bridge usually looks like this. We try to put it in before Opal's birthday, which this year meant the third week in April.


It immediately began raining like crazy and Pop went down and lashed it all together and to the bank. We felt pretty good when we got a nice run of good weather at the beginning of May. Then three storms in three days, culminating in Tuesday's deluge. Pop went down to check it out Wednesday morning. It didn't feel right when he walked out on it and he realized it was floating. He turned around and went back up on the bank to watch it. Thirty seconds later it flipped, parted and mostly disappeared. There were a few pieces ledger-locked together. Those are what I'm on in this video:

video

When the water drops, Pop and Kaki are going to paddle down toward the Deadwood store and see if they can find the tables. If they can find them and if they are recoverable and if they are accessible we might be able to resurrect the summer bridge without too much difficulty. We aren't really looking forward to rebuilding it entirely, but we just had dinner at Pop and Kaki's and it sucked to drive.

In other news, Mizu and I went frisbee golfing:

video

And Lucie is awesome. She and I played this game for about fifteen minutes while Helen watched Dora. Dora :(

video

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Natties Part 3 of ?

I forgot to mention in the last post that our subbing and strategy was very altered by Morgan's absence on Saturday. She was feeling better, but we had planned to sit her anyway and watch for symptoms.

We played our junk against Pitt, but we usually rotate Tina and Guns as the 1 once we start rolling a team. Against Pitt and Carleton we had to press Shannon into service and she did great. Still, it introduced a weird kink into our subbing system, but Ryann rolled with it and figured out how to make it work.

Playing Syzygy is always a little weird for me. I coached there for four years (1997-2000) and it's hard to put into words what that time meant to me. (I might try another day in another post.) This is my third shot in three years at coaching against them (lost in Boulder 6-15 and won Prez Day this year 15-3), so I've gotten over it, but it's still weird.

Syzygy was one of the few teams that challenged us in the first few points of the game. We tried playing our junk, but it just didn't work very well against them. All year our junk worked great against bad teams, allowing us to be lazy and conserve energy. It worked great against everyone, if we were willing to work. It didn't work against good teams if we were being lazy and we were, so Syzygy scored on it. Interestingly, we ended up running away from them playing force middle, which was more work. A lot of it had to do with the type of work, though. We were fired up and determined, but our brains were cooked from the heat. We were hesitating and reacting on defense, which is the death of junk. When we switched to middle, we didn't have to think, we just had to run and so we did. Syzygy also made an adjustment and began to back all of our receivers. Smart plan and a pain to deal with. You'd think the free twenty yards would be nice, but we were slow to adjust. Syzygy never gave up and so we had to work a lot harder than the 15-4 final would suggest.


Syzygy entered our game 0-2, having lost to Pitt and UNCW.
Texas had done them the favor of beating Pitt in the afternoon on Friday, so they still had hope if they could pull out the point diff on the three-way tie with Texas and Pitt, but they needed to win by 9. As a coach I was mystified (and alum frustrated) by Syzygy's decision to play tough in our game. My rough estimate is that Anna Snyder played about fourteen of the nineteen points in our game. Their sideline was up and vocal and pouring energy onto the field and they played tough, man-to-man defense the whole way. They did beat Texas, but by six.

After our Syzygy game, we made everyone leave the fields and go back to the hotel. There was a lot of anxiety about how the boys were doing and people wanted to stay, but it was crazy hot and so we left. I had planned to stay, go for a run and scout games but I felt so ill that I went back with the team. Good thing. In my concern for the team's health, I had forgotten to eat, drink or stay out of the sun, so I collapsed. Gordy fed me and Chris brought me Gatorade and the only lasting consequence was that everyone nagged me all weekend to make sure I was eating and drinking and not over-heating.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Natties Part 2 of ?

Part 2: Texas, Pitt, Carleton

After the UNCW game, we sent everyone off on their own to ramble around for four hours. In retrospect, it probably would have been better if we'd sent everyone back to the hotel to lie in the AC, but it was nice to get to visit.

I had a long chat with Gambler about women's ultimate and then walked over to see watch Julia Weese-Young (of Syzygy and Riot) coach the Wash U women. When I get there, she's in the huddle coaching her team and momming Ayla, who needs a nap. But then Ayla consented to let me hold her for the whole second half, playing with my Clown Tent bracelet and walking around after dandelions. It made me miss Lucie and soothed the pain a little at the same time. I am impressed and amazed at the job Julia did while working as a mother at the same time. Both she and Tina McDowell (Colorado) balanced momming and coaching all season long with awesome success. I think about how distracted and stupid I am when I've coached with my kids around and I'm not sure how they manage it, but they do.

Then I scouted the Pitt-Texas game.

We met up at our tent (thanks Cheryl!) at 4 to warm up and I quickly decided we didn't need but 40 minutes of warm up on account of the heat, so we faffed around until 4:50 or so and then warmed up. Lindsey and Terry (Texas coaches) were miffed that we didn't want to flip, but seemed to get over it after Ryann and I apologized 90 times. Like most of our pool play games, we rolled Texas, but it was a lot of work. They are a huck-it-and-make-you-go-70 team and while we got the d, we weren't as efficient at going 70 as I would have liked. I guess that's the beauty of the huck-and-70 strategy. (Shoot, that's how Syzygy '00 won.) The biggest bummer here was two bad injuries. First, Morgan got a concussion from sitting on a woman's head (I'll add the photo later if it ever appears) and then Aubri popped her hamstring stepping in a hole. Morgan's was pretty scary as she flipped over the woman, smashing to the ground. I was right on top of the play and the first words out of her mouth were: "I can't see." She recovered fairly quickly, although we sent her back to the hotel with Gordy to lie down and rest. The whole thing discombobulated the coaching staff and we ended up eating a couple time outs to get it sorted out.

Somewhere in this sequence we switched to playing our junk with two deeps. Since Texas was going to huck anyway, we just set two players back and packed the rest in. The mid-range game was left wide open, but Texas never took advantage of it. Final score 15-3.

Then we won the fields. Cheryl and LT came through with a huge stack of pizza, the sun went down and we just hung out and chilled. We won the fields, finally sending two cars of Pranksters to a silver medal around 9:15. Take that, Middlebury! Since winning the fields is one of my three favorite things about ultimate, I was happy.


We got up the next morning and straggled to the fields. Fugue + AM = Ugly. Still, we did it. Early in the season we'd struggled Sunday morning (Hello, Eau Claire!) but we were so focused in Madison, our late arrival and sluggishness didn't matter. Our warm up is fast enough to get us physically ready to play in thirty minutes and our focus took care of the mental.

I knew from watching Pitt play that we wanted to stop Christie Lawry (#1) and Kayla Kleynen (#14.) I also had seen that they were a classic small team: less about offensive structure and more about knowing each other and your teammates. (Western Washington and UCSB are also great examples of this strategy.) Both Christie and Kayla have lovely forehands that'll shred you on the i-o break or on the shelfed-out 40 yarder, so we forced backhand. We played our junk as well and that also gave them fits. In the end, I don't think they were ready for our speed of play and the final was 15-4 or 15-5.

At some point during the Pitt game (although maybe it was the Texas game,) we banished the team to the tent. We took our whole sideline, all our players and said: "If you're not playing, you're in the tent." It took Gordy,Ryann and I a bit to remember to call forces and ups and all that old-school rookie stuff and it took the team a bit to find their focus without the sideline to support them, but it really made a difference physically.

In 2002, Sockeye went to Sarasota and handed everyone their asses for two days. Then, on Saturday we played Ring in the semifinals, Giora had heatstroke and was lying under a table and Pat Hard killed murdered us. Then, in 2004, we went back with tent, coolers, ice towels and won. That's a story for another day, but success at a four day tournament is so dependent on just surviving the first couple of days as healthy and freshly as possible.

Natties Part 1 of ?


This picture is Nationals for me: Pure joy. Pure yellow.





Thanks first. I don't think we did what we did without the awesome alumni/family support from Danielle, Kelly, Hannah, Mackenzie and Cheryl. They all gave up their whole weekend, not to be alumni, but to work. They fetched water, carried bags, went to the grocery, made lunch, forced us to eat and drink and mommed us through a physically demanding four days.

For me personally, a big thanks to Mizu. There's no way I could have done this without your help!

Once again the UPA/USAU has raised the bar on itself for quality of product and professionalism. It was an awesome, well-run tournament. In both the men's and women's division there were crazy upsets and collapses which led to some surprising Semifinalists, but in the end, some not-so-surprising finals. The weather was (and always is) a huge factor in the outcome of the tournament. The heat was absurd and managing it became a major issue for us. We managed it well and it showed. Other teams, particularly on the men's side, did not and it showed. The wind was nice. It changed over the course of the weekend ranging from still (pre-quarters) to hammer-difficult (quarters) without ever verging into offense-shattering. Of all my nationals, this was the best wind-wise because it presented teams with a variety of conditions without ever being prohibitive.

Part One: UNCW
One of the things I really like about the new 20-team format is the schedule. I like two games a day and I like getting to watch and visit. Most of all, I like that everyone's schedule is different and that planning for your schedule is an important part of your tournament preparation. We were going to open the tournament in Round 2 with Seaweed and then carry a double bye into Round 5, 6 and 8 games. The tough part was that Round 5 was 530-715 PM and Round 6 was 830 AM. I was also concerned that we were going to play our most difficult game first when we were least prepared and they were freshest. That led me to divide our pool play into two parts: UNCW as the first and Texas-Pitt-Carleton as the second.

Not much stands out from this game; mostly because it has faded into the haze of the weekend. We were still pretty ragged from our two-week taper. We tapered harder this year than in past years because of a number of injuries accrued at or after Regionals. (Hamstrings: Q, Julia, Aubri, Claire. Knee: Butters. Ankle/Foot: Kimber, Nij, X. Stress fracture: Tina. Shoulders: Molly. In the end, everyone played although Q and Aubri were limited) Essentially, our last full practice was two weeks before the tournament. It was a pretty tricky decision, but in the end I chose healthy over polished.

Rather than run with Seaweed we chose to play junk. It was pretty effective throughout the game, although it left Kelly Tidwell to run free across the middle of the field which lead to some obvious problems. Sara Casey played well in leading their throwing attack, but generally they played very balanced and never left us with any single player to key on. I was most impressed with Weed's refusal to lay down. Every time we went on a run, they'd answer back with a little run of their own. Our runs were threes and fours, but theirs were twos so the final ended up 15-9.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Here we go

After years of thinking and talking about it, we're going for it! I'm going to try to get some Nationals write up later today.