Thursday, October 29, 2009

Questions Answered (Womens, Mixed, Masters, Open) and Friday Predictions

Well, first, I'd like to point out that (so far) most of my questions were spot on. Specifically:

- Ozone could play with Riot (they were up most of the game)
- Showdown was able to beat Ozone after they lost a disappointing game to Riot
- Chase has come to play and Axis and MTF look like strong finals favorites
- AMP is not that good (meaning at the tier of Axis and MTF) and/or Bucket is better than most people think. I'll guarantee that if they meet again Bucket will not lose to AMP.
- The Beyondors are the clear team to beat in the Masters division. It's like watching an open team play masters teams.
- Despite Ironside dropping a game to Streetgang, all top four open seeds are going into the power pools with wins and look to have relatively easy roads to quarters.
- The two significant upsets came out of the Truck Stop - GOAT and Ring - JAM match-ups which I pegged as the ones to watch

What I didn't catch:

- Real Huck - surprise team of Thursday. Going 3-0 so far in pool play.

All in all, I'd say a pretty solid preview so far. There's a chance that CLX is at the MTF/Axis tier of teams (and I didn't see them play) but I'm guessing that they fall in to the Bucket/AMP tier.

Predictions for tomorrow:


- Pool E: Revolver, Ironside, Truck Stop, Double Wide
- Pool F: Chain, Sockeye, Ring of Fire, Bravo

Pre-quarters: JAM over DoubleWide, Bravo over GOAT


- Pool E: Riot, Capitals, Showdown, Zeitgeist
- Pool F: Fury, Brute Squad, Backhoe, Lady Condors

Pre-quarters: Zeitgeist over Traffic, Ozone over Lady Condors


- Pool E: MTF, CLX, Barrio, Quiet Coyote
- Pool F: Axis, AMP, Bucket, Doh!

Pre-quarters: Slow White over Quiet Coyote, Doh! over One Trick Pony


- Pool A: Surly, Troubled Past, GLUM, Boneyard
- Pool B: Beyondors, Real Huck, Mileage, Old Sag

Quarters: Surly over OLD SAG, Troubled Past/Mileage (toss up), GLUM/Real Huck (toss up), Beyondors over Boneyard

For all of you Ultimate junkies out there, where am I wrong?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nationals: What to Watch For (Womens, Mixed, Masters)

First, sorry for the Southern focus of this post. It's easier to write about what you know.


While the odds on favorites for the finals are still Fury and Riot, I think for the first time since 2005 it's not inconceivable that we'll get a different match-up this year. These two titans of the decade and the top two seeds look significantly less invincible than in past years. Riot has won the season series between the two teams 3-2 and Fury-to-Riot transfer Gwen Ambler adds some significant firepower to the Seattle squad. I'll definitely be watching Riot to see how Gwen is fitting in to the Riot line-up. I'd expect adding Gwen would allow Miranda to have greater flexibility in her role and better match-ups generally.

For Fury, I'm most interested to see how Georgia Bosscher is fitting in. I've enjoyed watching Georgia's aggressive and confident play at the Youth and College level for years and am excited to see her take her game to one of the premier club teams. Despite being the 4th consecutive year a Riot-Fury final has a whole lot of great match-ups to watch - especially if we get a non-windy final with more man-to-man defense. And if we do get that final, we'll get to see if Gwen is able to change the balance of power or if Fury can still edge Riot out with a superior mental game.

Despite their low seed, I'm really hoping to see my hometown favorites Ozone make the finals and I believe they have the firepower to do it. They've been inconsistent this season with a good Labor Day, barely losing to Fury. They faltered against Showdown in the finals of Regionals - I was playing on the next field over and was not impressed by what Ozone was showing when I did look over. There was one point that lasted around 8 minutes with several turnovers by both teams in little wind. Ozone has a lot of big name players between Deb Cussen, Angela Lin, Shanye Crawford, and Katherine Wooten. Throw in some great young talent in Rare Air pick-up Heather Waugh and home grown future stars Sophie Darch and Haley Reese and if they are able to put the pieces together at the right times Ozone could make a run. The first opportunity is the first round Thursday morning when Ozone faces top-seeded Riot. This is probably the game of the tournament to watch this round. I have a hard time imagining Ozone winning consecutive games against Riot and Fury but if they can win against Riot on Thursday and put Riot and Fury on the same side of the Saturday bracket...

Capitals brings the only undefeated season to the table. That's not saying a whole lot since, beyond Brute Squad, they haven't seen any top tier talent. Beyond the gifted Anne Mercier I have no idea who these players are. So the question is, who are their playmakers and can they match those of Fury and Riots? We probably won't get an answer to that question until a likely Capitals/Ozone game in power pools on Friday morning. That game should shed some light on what will happen in the Riot/Capitals game which will likely be for the top seed at the tourney going in to Saturday.

Perhaps I'm putting too much weight on how good I think Ozone is and their Regional final win over Ozone, but I think Showdown is also better than seeded. Their season results are overall terrible, but my understanding is most of these were without Cara Crouch who is arguably the top player in the division currently. I'd love to watch them some to see where they fall. Unfortunately, they have a tough road. If they are unable to beat Riot or repeat their success against Ozone on Thursday they'll be trying to climb up from the power pools only to play Fury in quarters if they are able to do it. If they can pull of a repeat against Ozone, I could see Showdown possibly putting some pressure on the top seeds and making a run for semis. Ozone could be coming off of a disappointing loss to Riot which may make this easier for Showdown.

As for Brute Squad, Backhoe, Zeitgeist, and Traffic, frankly I expect them to be about as good as they are seeded. I am curious to see how good a coach Brutesquad's Matt Kromer is - currently he's dominating in today's game in our fantasy football league so that bodes well.


I think the mixed division is a little more clear cut than it's been in past years.

The big question in Mixed is how seriously is Chase taking it? If he takes it seriously he will dominate and you can pencil Axis into the finals. But frankly at Chesapeake he appeared to lack focus. And somehow Axis lost to a less talented AMP team at Regionals. Axis isn't all about Chase either - Tyler Conger and Kevin Kusy are formidable players themselves, Conger being particularly hungry to show that he's a great player. He was the most impressive player on the field for Axis at Cheapeake.

Of course the Flycoons look good, but I don't plan to watch them play until at least the semis. I'm guessing they won't be involved in much drama until at least that point. They are athletic and skilled. Last year at one point while watching them play from a distance I was impressed by the middle-schooler they had out there playing big points - had to get closer to realize it was Tim Murray.

Finally, the other big questions for me in this division are: Is everybody going to request observers for Jukebox games? And are teams going to psyche themselves out when they play them because of all the talk on the interwebs about their style of play?

And can Bucket hold on to half time leads this year? They certainly have more talent than last year. I'll definitely try to catch a little of their game against AMP. At Chesapeake they were up 8-3 before giving the game away in the second half.


Masters gets more interesting every year. Maybe that's because as I get older I actually know who these guys are and saw them when they were dominating in the open division. The strange thing about Masters is that the newest players are typically the best so looking at past years' results is often misleading. And then there are so few masters tournaments that current year results aren't really helpful. So beyond the rosters, you don't have much to go on.

OK, the big one, is there really any chance that the Beyondors won't win this thing? I mean that roster looks like a quarterfinal open division roster to me. This team is stacked with talent, young, and have dominated divisions since they were in college together. Who seeded this team fourth?

That said, defending champions Surly don't look too bad either. They don't have the wealth of championships in college and open that the Beyondors bring but they've got a lot of former top tier open players including Eric "Turtle" Lonsdorf and Dave Boardman. But as noted, in Masters past results are no indication of future performance.

Like with most Canadian teams, I have no idea who GLUM is. Same goes for Mileage even though they are in my region (although I do know that big Tom Etchison is a serious deep threat and that Rex loves throwing to him). Both teams could be great or they could be average. I'll definitely be watching them early on to familiarize myself with their games and who their big players are.

Can DoG field a grandmasters roster of 20+ players with their masters team? I think so. They used to win open championships when their average age was masters eligible though. But at some point the physical decline quickens. As as side note, I think this is the first year that a college teammate of mine is playing in Masters. Yeesh... Go Josh Blouwolff!

Finally, Troubled Past is a little intriguing. With the old North Carolinian Brians (Snyder and Linkfield) and the Monohan brothers they've got some recognizable talent. I'm certainly curious to learn more about what they are bringing as well.

Games to watch in Masters:
Round 1: GLUM vs. DoG - Regional finals rematch and the loser will have a very tough row to hoe. This was a one point game in pool play at Regionals.

Round 2: Beyondors vs. O.L.D. S.A.G - Are the Beyondors that much better than the field? This will be our first indication.

Round 3: Take your pick of the 1v2 match-ups. I think Surly vs. Troubled Past will be the more interesting one.

Round 4: Definitely Surly vs. GLUM. Pool A looks to be significantly harder. And winning it (to distance yourselves from the expected pool B winner Beyondors) is critical.

Round 5: Troubled Past vs. DoG. Same comments as round 4.

Friday Quarters: I am keeping my fingers crossed for a 4th place finish for DoG because I would love to see a DoG/Beyondors quarters on Friday afternoon (or a 2nd/3rd place finish would work as well - I just think it's less likely). While most players in the other divisions and fans will be watching the typically uninteresting open pre-quarters game - this would be a classic throwback game to the late '90s/early 2000s.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nationals: What to Watch For (Open)

I'll be attending Nationals this year as a commentator for UltiVillage. My focus will be on the Master's division, but hopefully I'll get a chance to catch games in all of the divisions as there is intriguing competition and compelling storylines in each. What I'll be looking for in the open division:


Day one of Open is generally uninteresting. Teams are typically well seeded, the top teams don't show everything they've got. Given the format, teams don't have any incentive to come out with their full guns until quarters. And if they come out with the guns before that, you can bet they won't make semis. So the big question on Thursday and Friday is who tightens up the roster to try and get a win to either make the power pools or avoid the play-in game. I expect the top four seeds to cruise to the quarters avoiding pre-quarters. The Thursday games I'm most interested in are: GOAT - Truckstop and JAM - Ring. I think all four of these teams have outside shots at semis but being tossed to the lower pools will make it virtually impossible. I can only recall two pre-quarters winners that were able to win their quarters game - Sockeye in 2004 (who ended up winning it all) and Bravo in 2008 (corrected).

I think if JAM can make power pools their shot at semis or further is very good. I'm not sure what JAM figured out on Saturday and Sunday last year but for three games they played the most beautiful Ultimate I'd seen since Furious in '02. It was true team Ultimate, efficiently identifying and moving the disc to their opponents weak spots regardless of player or position. If they've managed to bottle that and can get through a rough first day with Chain and Ring at 2-1, I'd be nervous if I were crossing over against them.

I'll also hope to catch some of Chain. I've watched a game and half of Chain's this fall and while very impressed with the athleticism they bring I have not been impressed with their style of play - in the finals of Regionals, they seemed to really constrict the field and narrow their cutters' space and rarely used the break side of the field. Despite this they possessed this disc, turning it over only twice on offense. AJ has assured me that Chain attacks both sides of the field. I'd like to take a closer look. Considering Chain's athleticism, teams aren't going to beat Chain if Chain can create good space for their cutters, move the disc quickly to change the angle of attack, and force downfield defenders to account for the full 40 yard width of the field.

I'm interested in watching a bit of Revolver. I saw their come from behind victory against Chain (down 8-3 and won 12-11) at Chesapeake. Obviously I got to see a lot of their defense, and while their handler D was impressive (I really enjoy watching Jit Bhattacharya guard and mark handlers) Chain made a lot of unforced errors. Of course in a comeback like that I got to see little of their O-line. I've generally loved the Revolver offense but am curious to see how Mac and Beau integrate into it. Does Revolver step back and create space for the two of them to just make it happen or do they continue to rotate their downfield threats by position - meaning that sometimes Beau is creating space for others and timing cuts as fill instead of primary cuts?

After watching Doublewide at Regionals, I frankly don't believe the hype around them. Outside of their win against Revolver at Labor Day, their season looks pretty mediocre. Kiran Thomas has got to be in the top 3 or 4 in terms of speed in the division and he dominated Chain's Rob White early in the Regional finals but as soon as Chain put Joel Wooten on him it seemed like DW's offense stalled out. So I'd like to see if DW has a second top tier offensive threat. Without that they'll have difficulty against teams with deep defensive talent.

I have seen no Ironside or Sockeye this season. I'm curious to see how Ironside is working without Fortunat in the middle of the O and how Hodag pick-ups Matt Rebholz and Jim Foster, Bravo transfer Adam Simon, and Sockeye transfer Seth Crockford are fitting in. Looking at the Ironside roster, I see more specialists and fewer complete threat players than the other top seeds but no Ultimate city has historically put pieces together better than Boston.

As for Sockeye, they are probably happy that the focus is not on them. Here's a team only two years removed from the Championship, with a still stacked roster, and it seems no one is talking about them. Last year they had the challenge of gearing up for the "triple peak" between Dream Cup, Worlds, and Nationals. This year they were able to focus their mental energy and training on a single goal. Sources say Sockeye's year began with some turmoil over personnel but that has smoothed out over time and they know as well as anyone that the only games that matter in a season are the ones in October. This is also the last year that the 1993 NOMS middle school all-stars will be playing together as CK has moved to Atlanta and looks to be playing with Chain next year. I'm curious to see the role CK is playing without being a regular at practices. It sounds like Sockeye may be employing more vert stack as well and I'd love to see how they are running it. Like most people I expect to see Chain and Revolver in the finals but it wouldn't be wise for any of these teams to sleep on the Fish.

Mixed, Masters, and Women's post to follow.

Watch Nationals coverage at UltiVillage!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Which teams have coaches?

Of all the teams going to The Show, which have coaches and who are they? I'll update the post as people add comments.

Open Division:
1. Revolver -Chris McManus
2. Chain -No Coach
3. Ironside -Ted Munter and Greg Connelly
4. Sockeye -No Coach
5. Bravo
6. Doublewide
7. Jam
8. GOAT - No Coach
9. Truck Stop
10. Ring of Fire
11. Bodhi -No Coach
12. Madison Club
13. Machine -Brady Meisenhelder
14. Streetgang
15. Madcow
16. Pike

Women's Division
1. Riot -Karlinsky Brothers
2. Fury -Matty Tsang
3. Capitals
4. Brute Squad -Matt Kromer
5. Backhoe -Tully Beatty
6. Zeitgeist
7. Traffic -Cruikshank (Jeff?)
8. Showdown -Allen Clement
9. Ozone -No Coach
10. Lady Condors
11. Nemesis
12. Rare Air -Scott Gurst (limited roll)
13. Scandal
14. Safari -Cliff Smith
15. Pop
16. Wildcard

I took out the Master's and Mixed because we weren't getting any info on them, but things are shaping up nicely for Open and Women's. I'm fairly certain (especially with Gwen's help) that JD is coaching Zeitgeist, and then if someone is coaching Capitals all of the top 8 Women's teams have coaches. Meanwhile 2 of the top 4 Open teams have coaches, maybe as few as 2 of the top 8. In my personal experience with college I found it much easier to coach women than men, but presumably the reason for the discrepancy isn't because there aren't people willing to coach, but rather that Open teams don't actively search for coaches the way women do. Or I could be wrong. Thought?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Open Nationals Seedings

Here’s my first shot at Open Nationals Seedings:

1. Revolver (NW1) – Revolver is the pretty easy 1 seed. They have to be ahead of Sockeye based on regional results and they are undefeated against Chain (2-0) and Ironside (1-0).

2-4 Ironside (NE1), Chain (S3), Sockeye (NW2) –Sockeye’s seeding depends on how much weight you decide to put on ECC results vs. Labor Day results. At ECC a banged up Sockeye lost to both Chain and Ironside. At Labor Day Sockeye rolled through the competition and as a result have the highest RRI of any team. I think the options for Sockeye are either give a lot of weight to Labor Day and make them the 2 seed overall, or give less weight to Labor Day and make them the 4 seed overall. I can’t think of any reason to put them at 3 in between Chain and Ironside. I’m putting Sockeye at 4, but I can understand 2. That leaves us Chain vs. Ironside. The two teams have had essentially identical seasons. Ironside beat Chain 15-11 at ECC, Chain beat Ironside at Chesapeake 13-8. Ironside has a slightly higher RRI than Chain, but Chain’s victory was at a more recent tournament. It’s close, but I think you have to go with Ironside as the 2 seed based on last year’s nationals results, Ironside eliminated Chain 15-10 in the semi-finals. Also, Ironside is 1 point away (15-14 loss to Revolver in ECC finals) from being the consensus 1 seed. So:

2 Ironside (NE1)
3 Chain (S1)
4 Sockeye (NW2)

5-6 Doublewide (S2) Johnny Bravo (SW1)
Doublewide and Bravo are 1-1 against each other. Both of their games against each other were on the same day at Colorado Cup with Doublewide winning 14-13 in the morning and Bravo winning 13-10 in the finals. If you only look at Colorado Cup it seems that you should go with Bravo 5 and Doublewide 6…but I think Labor Day (the only other tourney both teams attended) results push Doublewide over the top (DW finishes 2nd, Bravo finishes 5th). So:

5 Doublewide (S2)
6 Johnny Bravo (SW1)

7 Jam (NW3) – This seems like the spot for the defending champs (0-1 against DW, 0-2 against Bravo). Truck Stop’s regional victory over Ring helps Jam since Jam is 1-0 against TS and 0-1 against Ring).

8-10 Truck Stop (MA1), GOAT (NE2) Ring (MA2).
This grouping is a little messy with GOAT being 1-1 against both Truck Stop and Ring. Also GOAT’s wins over the two MA teams came earlier in the season than their two losses to the MA teams. So you could definitely make an argument that GOAT should be below both TS and Ring. The problem with going with GOAT at 10 is that it forces all three MA teams into pool A (Pike has to be 16). So, you have to push GOAT ahead of 1 or both of the MA teams. I’m going to push them ahead of Ring but not ahead of Truck Stop. It’s kind of arbitrary, but basically, I’m gonna disregard GOAT’s 1 point win over Truck Stop at the Boston Invite (in June) while still giving them credit for their win over Ring at ECC (in August). So:

8 Truck Stop (MA1)
9 GOAT (NE2)
10 Ring (MA2)

11-15 Bodhi (NE3), Madison (C1), Machine (C2), Madcow (C3), Streetgang (SW2)
This grouping is a huge mess. Bodhi and Streetgang have mixed results against the Central teams. Streetgang (1-0 against Madison, but 0-1 against Machine). Bodhi (2-0 against Madison, 0-1 against Machine, and 1-1 against Madcow). I’m not really sure the best way to handle this, but given the confusing results I think one strategy is to keep the Central teams out of the same pools (since we “know” the order of the central teams based on regionals) and let the games on Thursday sort out the best way to order the central teams in relation to the non-central teams. Bodhi is definitely the team that gets hosed the most doing it this way since we end up valuing Bodhi’s loss to Machine more than Bodhi’s 2 wins against Madison. If someone has a better plan for this grouping I’d love to hear it. So I’m gonna go with

11 Madison
12 Machine
13 Bodhi
14 Streetgang
15 Madcow

16 Pike – has no results against nationals teams this year, but has losses to South 6, NE8, NE9…as well as 2 losses to MA4 at regionals.

To sum up:
1. Revolver
2. Ironside
3 Chain
4 Sockeye
5 Doublewide
6 Johnny Bravo
7 Jam
8 Truck Stop
10 Ring of Fire
11 Madison
12 Machine
13 Bodhi
14 Streetgang
15 Madcow
16 Pike

Which gives us the following pools:

Truck Stop


Johnny Bravo


Let me know what you think,


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bottom 7 (when losing is your optimal strategy)

This past weekend in the finals of the mixed division at South Regionals, Bucket jumped out to an early three break lead. Pulling at 7-4 I turn to a teammate and say,"if we score this point or the next one, Jukebox will start subbing deeper so they can rest their studs for the backdoor final." My teammate tells me I'm crazy, a team's got to play all out in a game to go . Jukebox ends up scoring that point and getting a break back on the following one to bring it to 7-6 before we take half 8-6, receiving to start the second half. Jukebox continues to sub tightly through the remainder of the game as we trade out to win 13-10. Jukebox then goes on to face Rival (in a game that has been written about elsewhere), a team they had beaten the previous day 11-4 and that on paper does not match up with them. At 6-6 in that backdoor final my teammate turns to me and says "maybe you were right." Jukebox ends up pulling the game out 15-14 (in controversial fashion) but I believe they could have locked up that second bid much easier by resting their top players in the front door game.

In most tournaments it's rarely a question if winning is your best strategy. But in some formats, particularly those where multiple teams advance to the next round are there times when losing is your best strategy? There are some obvious downsides to pursuing a losing strategy - the obvious one is that in most cases you are giving up an opportunity. In the Jukebox situation, sitting their studs in the second half means giving up the opportunity to take the front door bid and pinning all of their hopes on winning the backdoor one. Maybe a bigger downside than reducing your opportunity, there is a mental challenge to admitting defeat. How does it affect you and your team's mental game to at some point say "we have no chance in this game, let's rest up for the next one"? This can be discouraging to some, and it may be impossible to convince some teammates that losing is the best strategy. Finally, no one will ever fault a leader for trying to win. You try to win the front door and fail and then fail in the backdoor because you put your efforts in the front door and most people understand. But if you give up in the front door to put your efforts into the backdoor and then go on to lose the backdoor? ...well, I'll bet there'd be hell to pay for that one.

I don't have the games in front of me, but there were multiple situations in the late '90s in the Atlantic Coast college open division where the loser of the front door game to go would go on to lose in the backdoor game to go. Given UPA regional formats this is a frequent occurrence in two bid regions where the top three teams are around the same level and then there is a drop off. The front door finalists battle tooth and nail, while the back door finalist cleans up waiting for the front door loser to finish exhausting themselves in a tight finals game.

Another situation where I've experienced something similar is in the Club Nationals format. Club Nationals is a brutally long tournament where there are a handful of games that have little to no meaning beyond keeping a teams confidence up. As long as you are able to make quarters without going through the play-in game your chances are pretty much the same. In 2005, Bravo faced Jam in the final power pool game on Friday. The game was to determine who was the 2nd overall seed and who was the 4th overall seed going into the quarterfinals on Saturday. The winner had a marginally easier road in elimination play - either way though both teams would have to beat 3 good teams to win a title. The game was hard fought with Bravo subbing tightly throughout most of the second half. After we turned over three game point possessions Jam was able to punch in the goal on a sort-of greatest to win 17-16. Bravo was crushed. We had completely invested emotionally and physically. After the game finished the team acted like it had been completely eliminated from the tournament. Even though the champions the three previous years had each lost at least one game going in to bracket play, it felt like our season was over. At that point, playing DoG in the quarters and losing (15-8ish) felt like a simple formality. My take was that the investment in Thursday's Jam game had drained our ability to play. This probably was not a situation where we should have intentionally tried to lose, but in my estimation it was one in which we should have not put such weight on the game, subbed a little more openly, and kept better perspective of the long run goal. Others on the team have said that winning would have given us an easier game against Pike in the quarters and the mental boost from winning the tight game, winning the power pool, and beating a team we had frequently struggled against would have pushed our confidence and game to where we needed to be to make a run at the title. How should teams deal with games like this, both subbing wise and mentally?

In some situations, there is literally no format advantage gained from winning a game. In a four team pool if the 0-2 team plays the 2-0 team in the final round of pool play, the result of the game has no impact on the team's tournament match-ups going forward. In some situations, a team locks their pool play position up with point differential before winning a game such that points moving forward in that game have no practical impact on the teams chances in the tournament. One interesting situation like this occurred at 2008 UPA College Nationals. Pool D (as is often the case in this format where the 4, 5, 9, and 16 are in a pool together) was a mess going into the final game of pool play. The seeding stood like this:

D1. Michigan (1-1) (Loss to Georgia 13-15, Win against Harvard 15-12)
D2. Texas (0-2) (Loss to Harvard 16-17, Loss to Georgia 13-15)
D3. Georgia (3-0) (Win against Harvard 16-14)
D4. Harvard (1-2)

As it sat with the Michigan v. Texas game still to be played, Georgia had won the pool. In order to clinch second in the pool, Michigan had to beat Texas or lose by 1 point. Texas had to win by a point to clinch third in the pool, and two or more to clinch second. For Texas, at any point in the game the strategy was clear: win by as much as possible.

This game was an all out brawl with both teams going point for point. Harvard stood on the sideline, their day finished, knowing full well how the point differential worked out. They needed Michigan to win the game. At 13-13 Michigan held on offense to take the lead 14-13 and wrap-up the second seed. At this point, Michigan could gain nothing from fighting on. Like all of the teams in the pool they'd had a brutal day with all of the games being decided by three or fewer points. Michigan's top players including Will Neff, Dave Fumo, Ryan Purcell, and Ollie Honderd, were starting to show signs of wear only overcome by their competitive drive to win the game. Texas of course, had to continue to push. Without a win they'd be relegated to consolation, a bitter pill to end a promising season.

Michigan, either unaware of the situation, having decided that winning trumped the effort they would need to put in to win, or feeling like it was their duty to Harvard to play as hard as they could, kept their rotation at around 10 players. Neff, Fumo, Purcell and Honderd played almost every one of the remaining six points as the game dragged on to the final score of 17-16, with Michigan winning. And those six points looked like the hardest of the day for Michigan, long points with lots of turns. At one point Fumo got a goal saving lay-out block and landed hard on his hip. Neff was clearly struggling between points only to put his all in to each meaningless point.

Well, meaningless for Michigan. Michigan's win sent the Harvard team, watching on the sideline, into pure joy as they rode their own one point win over Texas in the first round to Saturday elimination play at Nationals falling to eventual champions Wisconsin in the quarters. Texas meanwhile, with 3 losses by a total of 4 points, wound up battling in the 9th place bracket. For Michigan, the fight at the end of the game seemed to have taken a real toll as they lost to Illinois, a team that Michigan had handled 15-11 in the finals of regionals, the following morning in the pre-quarter round.

I apologize for the length of this post. I thought it would be a good discussion following Martin's earlier one about when to play your top 7 and I've been wanting to write about that Michigan/Texas game for a while now. But I'm interested to know others' opinions on coaching/leading in situations like these. Have you ever found yourself in a winnable game but chose to pursue a losing strategy intentionally because of larger goals? What would you do in these types of scenarios? As a coach or captain, how did you communicate with your team so that they understood the choices being made?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Top Seven

So I'm walking on the sidelines of the backdoor finals, feeling decent about the game. Our defense got one break early, but our defense gave it back just before the half to keep things on serve (our opponent's advantage). Now we're in the second half (8-9), and things are still on serve when I walk by AJ. He asked me something along the lines of "when it is time to go top seven." My first reaction was the honest one . . . we don't have a top seven. I wasn't trying to make some bold statement about our team and how we'll play everyone regardless of the situation. We just really don't have a top seven. Realizing that was a somewhat unsatisfactory answer I was able to give it a second try and say somewhere around 11. AJ thinks earlier, but I worry about going top seven too early, getting a small push and then not being able to finish it out because our top line is too tired.

Rival has always been a team that uses its depth. Part of playing mixed in Atlanta is that between Chain and now Bucket, we're not grabbing insane talent that just shows up. We've got to grow our talent, and deal with the fact that we are going to have relatively few players that are awesome everywhere on the field. We maybe have a top 4 or 5, but after that we've got a stable of people who could fill in those remaining two spots. As the game pushes on to 9-10, I go with AJ's advice and tell our sub-caller to put in the best line we got. We score the O (10-10) point, and then keep pretty much the same line in for D. They work hard, but are unable to get the block (10-11).

Many of those players (top-seven) are cores to the offense, and we just ran them hard on a unsuccessful defensive point. So they go out there and get broken. Then it happens again. Now they are even more tired, and we're running into problems. We're down (10-13) and our best offenders have run the last four points at the end of a nine game regionals and have to go produce again. Say what you want about how we should have run more track workouts, our people are tired and we have to come up with a solution. We put in other players for this O point. None of us are two way threats when cutting, and we're not the best defenders on the team (just ran the last 4 and one of them is about to tear his hamstring). I'll reference my other post about mixing it up, but we score this point with relative ease, putting us back on defense.

Now comes the big question: who do we put in one defense? We're down 11-13 in a game to 15 and our best defenders have just gotten a point rest. Surely this is a time when we put in our top seven and get the breaks we need. But when look at the line, I see some of our youngest, least experienced players out there and another captain who I don't think will be upset when I call him "not fast." Players on our sidelines are getting antsy asking "is this the best line we can put out there?" I'm curious myself, and look to our defensive captain (who is on that line) and he gives me the "it's cool" hand motion.

That D line, featuring a slow guy, two girls around 5'2" and two guys around 5'8", threw a 3-3-1 zone and got the turn then the break as that "slow guy" lays out on an in cut for the score. Then they keep the line and do it again. The game is tied 13-13 and our best line has just gotten 3 points of rest.

The lesson I take from that experience is that "top seven" is the best seven at the time, factoring strategy into the mix. We hadn't been very successful against their offense all game. The players we put in (while good) were no where near our best players, but they knew how to run this one D (that we put in for rare occasions). By mixing up the defense (which we had done before) with different personnel we maximized the confusion as their handlers held the disc for a long time looking all over the place. Maybe when you have a lineup of people that can't be stopped the idea of top seven becomes less situational, but there is no doubt in my mind that our defensive captain (Michael Wood) knew what he was doing and that was the best seven we could have put on the line at that time.

One last thought. This reminds me of a post on Zaz's blog about all racing for the same end point. Zaz points out that many teams seems to be playing the same style which turns the competition into who is the best athlete or at least who is the best at Style X. Throughout the game Wood had learned that we weren't necessarily going to beat them at Style X, so we switched it up and learned that they weren't very good at Style Y.

Offensive changes

This is part of 3 different posts, but it's the first one so all the prep work is done here.

Unfortunately my team (Rival-Atl mixed) will not be attending the big show this year. We lost 14-15 in the backdoor game to go. I'll come back to that later. What I want to talk about now is some of the situations we were faced with as captains, especially on the Sunday of Regionals.

We had a huge amount of turnover from last year. Over 60% of the team wasn't on the rosters last year, and we went from having the oldest average age to probably the youngest in the country (we had a number of freshmen/sophomores in college as well as 4 high school players). The big question all season was whether or not we were going to be able to come together and play up to our potential. This was a particularly big question for our offense since none of our offensive players played those positions last year.

We struggled with offense all year, some times giving up 7 (!!) breaks in bracket play. I run the offense, so it was a tough puzzle for me to figure out. We tried line-up changes, but nothing seemed to work consistently. Towards sectionals we started to get things working, and we limited our breaks. Same with the Saturday at Regionals, up until we (pool 2 seed) played Jukebox Hero (pool 1 seed) and folded like a house of cards. Our offense looked inept, and we got rolled 11-4. This was still pool play, but we were out of the front door game to nationals and had to try to find a way to take the backdoor, which always seems to involve playing every team that has a chance.

Regionals was at home, so I got a chance to watch some tape from Above and Beyond, and read Jim's Mixing it up on offense. I decided that part of our problem offensively was that I was frequently using our "best cutter" as the first person out of the H-stack, and in general the sequences were too similar. My goal was to change that on Sunday, so we went in with a new offensive mentality. Almost every point we changed up the type of stack (vert, H, split, sideline) and we frequently put one of our handlers out in the string, with our "best cutter" back to handle.

On Sunday I believe we gave up a total of 6 breaks in 4 games. Never did we have sequential breaks and we went from being a team for whom pressure was put on the defense to stay on the field to a team that could bide our time until D could get us one. It was a satisfying experience, and it bodes well for the future since much of that line-up is young.

I can't directly explain what part of mixing things up strategy-wise tipped us over the edge. I think part of the problem previously was that as our main cutters got tired they would settle for bad away cuts, attempting to finish the point too early. I don't have a lineup of Zip and Fortch out there that can run full-tilt for a whole weekend and will be open no matter what. By shifting who our cutters were we gave up some options (no one fears me deep at 5'8" and 31 years old), but it also allowed our go to people to rest, or initiate from a different space. I should try to remember to do more of that in the future.