Monday, July 26, 2010

Throwing or running: Which will benefit you more?

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of getting a ride to and from (not to mention playing) Wildwood with Josh Markette. This was the most we’d hung out in a few years, so there was a lot of chatter about ultimate-related and non-ultimate-related things. At one point, Josh mentioned that he’s not as comfortable with his throws as he used to be, because he never throws regularly anymore—outside of practice, all his workout time is dedicated to the track or gym.

This really struck me—this is Cricket we’re talking about; when have his throws not been there?—but it’s something faced by a lot of players. After a certain point (likely post-college), for those continuing to play at a high level, all of one’s discretionary workout time becomes focused on getting stronger and faster, and less on disc skills. It’s a lot easier to hit the gym for an hour than it is to find someone to throw with in the middle of the day.

Despite working out hard all winter, a friend of mine did not, as she hoped to, make BENT this year. She came to tryouts in great condition, but she’d hardly touched a disc in the preceding months. And this player is a capable handler with a monster forehand, so I can’t imagine her throws had seriously degraded since last club season. Regardless, they were not as practiced as the BENT captains would have liked to see.

Many players, looking to get to the next tier, have found themselves in situations similar to the above examples. Whether it’s the offseason and staring down tryouts, or the months of preparation leading up to the club or college series, there’s never enough time to do everything one wants to do to feel prepared. So ask yourself what’s going to benefit you the most in coming weeks: hitting the gym or track for a few more reps, or finding someone with whom you can fine-tune your throws? To further complicate things, it’s likely the answer will change over the course of the year.

Physically, I felt better at Wildwood than I have at a tournament all year, but I had some gruesome turnovers on throws I used to be able to make, so I have an idea what I could be focusing on in August.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

USUA Nationals


Coaching a college team has come and gone for me (for now). What a blur. On one hand, I'm thinking a ton about what I would have done differently, what I could do better, suggestions for the team next year, etc. On the other hand, I'm enthusiastic about just being a player again.


I can't help but think that this was a down year for college ultimate, talent-wise. I never saw a team dominate a la mid-2000s Hodags or Tim Gehret's Florida. It seemed like in a group of 6-7 elite teams, and the team that had the best few days any given weekend could win that tournament. The weekend of Nationals it was definitely Florida. Top to bottom, it seemed like they rallied around Brodie extremely well. Also, props to Chris Gibson for being the workhorse of that team, guy was always guarding the other team's best player.

My coaching performance:

Overall, I was pretty happy with it. I had a couple of players tell me that I seemed to grow into the role more at this tournament than at any other. I feel like in a couple of our wins I suggested some strategic adjustments that contributed to our success in those games.

One interesting idea that I came away from the games with was the unique way in which the overall amount of time on the field associated with ultimate affects coaching performance. As a player, the way that muscle fatigue over the length of a day, then the length of the weekend affects your ability to sprint, cut, and throw is pretty obvious.

What became clearer to me this weekend is the toll that playing 2 games a day for 3 days takes on your mind and on your voice. As a more vocal coach, I was unable to speak above a squeak on Sunday. More importantly, following an emotional and high-adrenaline win over Oregon on Saturday, I had trouble staying zeroed in on what was going on against Cornell later that day. As players, we tend to eat well, drink, stay in the shade, etc. to keep our bodies prepared for more exertion. I'm curious whether there are good ways to fight mental fatigue over the course of the tournament (this is of course relevant to both coaches and players.

The tournament itself:

The layout, schedule, format, facilities, and amenities were top-notch this year. I was impressed with how observers handled games, Player packs were actually full of stuff people wanted, which I'm sad I can't say is true of my only opportunity to attending natties as a player last year. I thought this year's nationals represented an awesome step forward for the sport and that Madison, which is full of ultimate enthusiasts who were fantastic as volunteers all weekend, was a great venue. I think future championship sites based in ultimate 'hubs' (ATL, Pacific Northwest, Minneapolis, Boston) would be wise choices.

Coaching certification:

Travis and I attended the required clinic for coaches who wanted sideline access during semi-finals (a credential we wouldn't end up needing, sadly). Overall, I thought that the most useful aspect of the meeting was an opportunity to get to know the other coaches that were at nationals and to learn a bit from the ones with more experience. We were generally in agreement on most subjects and I think having met some of the other coaches sets a good precedent for cordial interactions when teams meet in tournaments.

The material we covered wasn't all that interesting, mostly common sense stuff. I understand the necessity from a liability perspective, but I wasn't floored by the amount of depth that the USUA (still weird) was able to present in a shortened session.

What bothered me most about the presentation of the coaching clinic was the guy responsible for presenting and what appeared to be a "one-size-fits-all" approach to coaching. What we were presented with was clearly geared toward high school coaches and I don't believe our presenter had ever actually coached any level but high school. The presenter had this obsession with the "soccer parents of the future," an assumed demographic of moms and dads who are hyper-controlling and obsessed with their kids' well-being, even after they have left the nest and started up with college ultimate. I have yet to see one of these parents in an ultimate program I have been associated with. Moreover, I haven't seen many infringe on college activities generally.

To me, there are some obvious differences between age groups in question including, but not limited to: a) athletic ability, b) competitiveness, c) capacity for rational thought. What resulted was a program that was less geared toward players on clubs that have a lot more autonomy. The bulk of responsibility for both Georgia and Minnesota fell on the captains. I'm not totally sure that the University of Georgia's administrative folks even had an awareness that Trav and I were involved with the team, aside from spillover from when Trav dealt with them as a player/captain. I think presenting as though we have some kind of liability/responsibility related to the University proper is a bit silly, honestly.

On a related note, the whole thing was presented in terms of some kind of idealized world, what I assume to be the USUA's vision of the future. This vision projects a lot more control onto coaches than we are actually shouldered with. The requirements of coaches under this rubric such as full attendance at every practice and tournament and responsibility for good facilities were better suited to paid employees of university sponsored athletic teams. As of right now, we are volunteers (consultants really), whose role on the team is subject to decisions made by captains and officers of sports clubs that are on the periphery of a school's interest. In my opinion, it would be a lot more helpful for the USUA to provide coaches useful information based on the realities of ultimate (i.e. where we should hope to b with regard to responsibilities/administrative stuff/shaping our teams' behaviors) today than to prepare them for what they believe the future might look like (this isn't to say that investment in training ideas for this future is necessarily a bad thing...)

The UPA's new "brand"

I can see the appeal of the name/image change, but I think there are more than a few problems. Some of these are unfounded fears and opinions about what we might lose by abandoning the upa. One of my favorite aspects of the old organization was how much they talked about it being a "grassroots" organization. Admittedly, this cliche is pretty devoid of meaning, but in reading about the USUA, I haven't heard any of the old democratic rhetoric being thrown around. Of course, I didn't seen a ton of anyone's suggestions taken up visibly by the upa, but I least there was some indication that the intention was there. Second, and this one's a little more silly, I'm not sure if the creating a United States Ultimate Association will mean that Canada can't play with us any more. It just seems like they've got such a strong base of interest in the game (Canadians seem to love weird sports) and their teams have provided a lot of history to our competitive Series. Who knows if these changes will actually happen, but it all seems like reasonable speculation at this point.

Probably my biggest concrete concern with these new developments is the hiring of the new "CEO of ultimate" (his words, not mine), Tom Crawford. Of course, the discursive suggestion associated with that self-given title should raise some eyebrows, given that he also told us he doesn't know much about our sport. Given his admitted lack of knowledge of the game, I wish he'd be more up front with the fact that he's more in charge of changing the public image ultimate than ultimate itself. I wouldn't want anyone with such an obvious expertise deficit to presume that he has a role to play in changing the essential mechanics of how we play, but it seems like that could be a possibility.

I saw the new CEO a couple of times over the course of the weekend. What struck me the most was his interest in telling people about the 10's of 1000's of coaches he's worked with, rather than taking an interest in our community. Despite his 'deep interest' in coaching development, he left the clinic before the coaches started talking about their concerns, leaving little chance that we could glean much useful knowledge from his experiences with the olympic committee, nfl, mlb, nasa and whoever else he's worked with. He seemed to spend a lot of time driving around in a golf cart and not much time watching the game. During finals, he tossed out hats with his new brand on them rather than actually watching Florida win the thing.

Suffice it to say, I wasn't really impressed with the UPA's choice of a fresh take on leadership.


Really the worst ultimate I saw all weekend, with bad calls on both ends. Of course, this is a shame given the amount of talent on both teams. Chippy calls, long delays, and some less than sportsmanlike conduct made a lot of the vocal displeasure coming out of the crowd reasonable. I had watched both teams all weekend and they were playing with less unreasonable calls and unnecessary physicality in every other game. The problem of lesser sportsmanship in games of greater importance in ultimate remains one of the toughest things for me about the game.

I've been on teams with rivalries with both of these teams, so it was weird to be rooting for Carleton. I've never had much respect for the style of modern Florida ultimate and this year was much the same. Their calls and physicality really bothered me less than what I perceived to be their disinterest in the game. Brodie and a few other key players never seemed to put their full effort into working for the win (note that this is totally different than making the game seem effortless) and to me this connotes a general disrespect for opponents as well as the sport. Couple this with (limited) media exposure from CBS College Sports and I think their win was not great for the game.

From a spectating perspective, despite being able to relate to their feelings about the outcome of the game, I thought that the crowd booing Florida after their win was totally bush league. For everyone who is unfamiliar with ultimate, it makes the players who make up the majority of live audience seem like petty folks and sore losers. I honestly would have preferred crickets.

The big finish:

I don't think I'll post much more on this blog. Honestly, I meant to write more over the course of the season. If I get time, I may do a few small things on some stuff that occurred to me while we prepped for natties, but we'll see.

Thanks for reading. Good luck in club.

Monday, May 31, 2010

CUT vs. Florida

First, congratulations to Florida. I went into watching this game the same way that I went into the 2006 Final against Wisconsin. I felt like there was no way that Kurt, Tim and company could stop an army of solid ultimate players. Again, I was wrong.

I feel like I should give a nod to Florida's strategy. Say what you will about their tactics, fouls and calls, they have reminded us all that a 3 man show can still win high level games (at least in college). They run very shallow and their big three are just hard to stop. They continually got the hucks they wanted to offenders that were (50% of the time) behind all of the defense.

Which leads me to the reason I wanted to post this here. From a coaching standpoint, I felt that I understood Florida's game plan, and was confused by CUTs. Florida slowed down the game with calls and TOs, relied on their athletic prowess to get Ds and avoided having long points. All smart with their team. Carelton moved the disc quickly, reversing the field well and forced backhand most of the game.

I was hoping someone could explain why Carleton continued to force backhand trough the end of the game. I think I understand it as an initial strategy: backhand hucks take longer to develop, Brodie has a monster flick, maybe the wind was a factor? But after watching the way that Cole and Brodie work with the disc it seemed like a losing battle.

Both Brodie and Cole would throw and try to get the disc back immediately. That's much easier to do off of backhand, where you are basically taking your first step, than off of a flick. That can easily be stopped by having your mark get the first step and stop the flow continuation, but Brodie and Cole made that difficult. Not only are they long pivots, but they continually squared their shoulders to the middle of the field. This forced the mark to shift over (more parallel to the sideline), or allow quick flick resets. Not to mention the added pressure this put on the CUT reset defenders who, despite getting some decent covers and a turn were often out of position to stop the down the line cut.

So, my question to all of you coaches out there. Is there something that I am missing behind CUT's strategy? I can understand starting backhand, but it seemed like CUT never adjusted to the way Florida was playing it. Someone please show me what I am missing?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The UPA Unofficial Ombudsman

I'm starting a new recurring "feature" where I talk about timely UPA issues and give my opinion and, where appropriate, offer suggestions. I know there will be some that say "Oh that Kyle Weisbrod, he IS the UPA." Yeah, I spent 4 1/2 years employed there and another 3 years on the Board. I still occasionally contribute to the magazine. But I work with the UPA because I care about the sport of Ultimate and felt the UPA was (and still believe it is) the best way for players to effect change in the sport. There are plenty of times when I've been frustrated by the UPA - both Board and Staff decisions and policies. There are also times when I've been proud of the UPA and what they are doing for the sport.

I also still have plenty of connections to the UPA - people on both board and staff, so hopefully I can actually get some of the inside reasoning behind some of the UPA's less popular decisions and give my subjective opinion on it.

So, here goes. The Ombudsman is open for business. What do you want me to opine on?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Summing up AC Regionals

I've been meaning to put some other thoughts up about team/coaching preparation for crucial tournaments, especially the series, but they're all still kind of half-baked. Hopefully, they'll be good fodder for later.

As for now, the fact that Jojah barely gritted out a qualifying spot at nationals seems more relevant.

A couple of observations:

-I think in Ultimate generally, but especially college, mental state has as much to do with a team's success as talent. I think it had something to do with Florida's failing to qualify last year, and we definitely had problems with it at Minnesota (as a team we were always terrified to play CUT and the Hodags when it mattered). This weekend, Florida was ready to play and play well, whupping us and everyone else they ran up against. Minnesota also seemed to get the monkey off its back with a couple of wins against Wisconsin and a close game with Carleton (this after losing to Carleton GOP at sectionals).

We brought the fire at weird times this weekend and in the end it came during our most critical points. Our game-to-go never got out of hand and the guys rallied admirably when we were down unexpectedly in an elimination game. While a couple of timeouts where Travis and I spoke (I usually yelled) about waking up generated a point or two of intensity, this usually fizzled pretty quickly. It was ultimately up to them to decide how bad they wanted it. This weekend, they wanted it just enough.

-My AC all-region based on what I've seen in the regular season and at regionals:

Rusty Ingold-Smith (UNCW)
Tyler Conger (UVA)
Nick Lance (GA Tech)
Brodie Smith (UF)
Chris Mullinix (UT)
Taylor "Tree" Goforth (Kennesaw)
Peter Dempsey (UGA)

FOTY: Fletcher Hartline (UGA). Clearly I'm biased by the fact that I coach him and by the fact that nobody from other teams has really mentioned their freshmen to me. Still, I'm confident that Fletcher played more crucial D points for us than any other frosh in the region. On the field, it's impossible to distinguish him from our best deeps.

-If I were to seed Nationals without much understanding of the rules beyond that you can't seed lower regionals finishers ahead at nationals:

1/ Oregon
2/ Carleton
3/ Colorado
4/ Florida
5/ Minnesota
6/ Wisconsin
7/ Cornell
8/ Cal
9/ Pitt
10/ Harvard
11/ UNCW
12/ Georgia
13/ Illinois
14/ Middlebury
15/ Michigan
16/ UCSB
17/ UCSD
18/ Tx State
19/ Iowa
20/ Kansas

I'm sure that some of the results I haven't looked over say different, but this is just where I would put them if I had to seed subjectively.

-Finally, damn it's exciting to get to coach for 3 more weeks.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Paideia Cup Finals

This past Sunday we (Paideia Men's Varisty) played Amherst in the finals of the Paideia Cup. We had played them on the last game of Saturday, losing 4-15. It was a solid drubbing where we failed to successfully deal with their 1-3-3. After a tough start to a semi-final against Columbia, we rallied in the 2nd half to win decisively (13-9). We had good momentum, and although a little banged up we felt prepared to face Amherst again.

The lone bright point from the previous day was that we knew we could play solid defense against them and get some blocks. We we're hoping to get a few of those breaks and stay in it this time. The game felt completely different than the one the previous day. We stopped their 1-3-3 and forced them to go man. We certainly made them work on offense. But, while we got a few blocks, we only mustered one break and lost 15-7.

This was my first time coaching against Amherst. What surprised me (although according to Mike this is normal) is that in a final that they had won handily they played only 9 deep. Don't get me wrong, I am no stranger to riding your horses when the time is right, and maybe it was out of respect for our team, but subbing only 9 deep felt strange. They didn't play as many points on the weekend as we did, so maybe that factored in, but Tiina told me (and I completely believe it) that her boys could run a few more like that if they had to. While our boys ran their legs off and did a great job against 5A athletes, I could see the struggle on their faces at the end of each point.

As Amherst went tight with their rotation we were "forced" to do the same. Only they have stronger horses and ours were destined to get tired in an ever losing battle. I don't normally call subs, but the times that I have my goal has been to use my bench to fill in space (on D) and run my best players hard in key moments to get breaks. Instead we ran just as tight, scored a few when things worked well, gave up breaks when they didn't, and aside from some spectacular single plays could never get those breaks back. I feel like I could have tried to sacrifice our defensive points with weaker lines in hopes of being more consistent on offense, but I don't know if it would have mattered much

Hats off to Amherst for a great tournament. I wont be there, but I will be incredibly impressed if any team can beat them at Easterns this year. If they win it will make 2 years in a row that Paideia has lost to an eventual "National" champion in the finals of our own tourney. If only we could find a way to play ourselves in the final.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Teachable Moments'

This is a question/thought that has been brewing since before I got permission to post. I'm pretty sure it's been addressed before, but I think giving a specific scenario will clarify things. At present, I'm working with a team whose talent distribution is clustered at the top and the bottom tails. We've had a TON of development, so this question is unlikely to come up much as the series draws nearer. Still, it's worth discussing.

Earlier in the season, we brought a raw set of rookies to their first spring tournament. As to be expected, when they got out there, they looked like puppies in roller-skates on a linoleum floor. Between games, one of our rawest rookies was throwing with an older teammate, and the vet was really loading him up with tips. Everything from how to dictate on defense to cutting break on the endzone line to where to put his knee in order to throw an IO break.

For me, it was too much. I asked the vet to lay off him, expressing that I'd given the rookie 2 things to work on all tournament and we'd get to other stuff in the future. We had an argument about how to teach rookies, and I played the "I'm the coach do it" trump card, game over.

The questions here are:

What is the best way to go about teaching a rookie who has little to no experience playing Ultimate the whole of the game over the course of a season? What times are best to offer advice?

The veteran in my story seemed to be employing a sort of inundation method for teaching the kid. Tell him everything he might ever need to know all at once and then hope that the stuff that doesn't stick immediately remains tucked away, set to emerge once the player finds him/herself in the appropriate situation. This kind of teaching might also involve telling a player ten things he or she did wrong after any given point. I guess doing this also means a coach/mentor rarely has to worry about forgetting what s/he wanted to tell the player at any given moment.

For me, early tournaments are an opportunity to for young players to play the game without necessarily having someone hold their hand. This year, I tried to give rookies two or three things to think about over the course of the tournament (lanes to cut into, look upfield then dump at 6, etc) and then remind them about those things, point to point. I think a lot of what new players need to learn are (relatively) intuitive, they'll learn them as they watch good players do them or as their fellow new players do them wrong. Additionally, overthinking every little aspect of the game and then being nagged about what you've done wrong makes the game less fun, jeopardizing player retention.

At practice, however, the training wheels are on. I'll comment on pretty much everything I see them doing wrong and I'll make a point of reminding them about it if I see it again or praising them for changing their habits. Still, I try not to ever give more than one criticism at a time as I feel like a player acknowledging one fault and applying themselves to changing it is preferable to them forgetting two.

Additional paths to player improvement?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Paideia Phenomenon

In a comment from a previous blog post "Mike" wrote "How did you (or your team more specifically) build up the ultimate culture to get where it is now at Padeia?"

It's a tough question to answer because I think there is a large confluence of factors - some of them controllable but many that happened by chance or circumstance. I'm guessing that's true for the other great Ultimate programs - Amherst, Northwest School, Hopkins, to name a few. I'll try to break down what I think are the main factors and other folks familiar with the program can add anything in the comments that they want. I'd also encourage those familiar with other top HS programs to chime in on how they became successful.

To begin with, it really is a strange phenomenon. Paideia, a school with under 400 students in the HS, has regularly been one of the top HS Ultimate teams. More impressively, the alums have consistently performed at the top level of College and Club Ultimate, winning championships and awards. Several alums have been named to the US World Games team including Dylan Tunnel ('02), Jolian Dahl ('03), Adam Simon ('01), and Miranda Roth ('00). The team started in spring of 1993 and has been at or near the top of HS Ultimate since 1996.

So, on to the factors, I'll try to go by timeline:

It would be impossible to explain how Ultimate grew at Paideia without talking a little about Paideia. Paideia is a small, private school founded by parents in 1971. It grew out of the same roots that the sport of Ultimate did: Informal, skeptical of tradition and authority, based in mutual respect. At Paideia, kids call their teachers by their first name. Few classrooms have desks in them. Students are given a good deal of latitude in terms of their class choices, dress, and behavior. It isn't uncommon to see barefoot students or a student wandering around the classroom while the teacher is lecturing (I'm looking at you, Will Arnold).

The school is supportive of student endeavors and it is easy to start new clubs and get official school sanctioning for them. While in HS, Moses Rifkin started a "Simpsons" Club (for watching the Simpsons) while a couple of us started a group called "Comemos Montanas" ("we eat mountains" a group dedicated to gluttony). While I worked at the UPA I heard from a lot of students and parents who had faced apathy, skepticism, or even serious pushback from their schools when trying to start an Ultimate team. I faced a great deal of apathy from the school I coached in Colorado. At Paideia there are no such issues. In fact, many of the players on the team are children of teachers at the school.

Also important to note, Paideia has no football team. I think this is both representative of the culture but also a serious advantage. When the Ultimate team started, soccer was in the fall at Paideia and so the only other spring team sport was baseball. If you liked to run, Ultimate was your sport.

Alexis Revilock-Frost
The player that probably had the biggest impact on the program is one most outsiders have probably heard nothing about. Alexis was Paideia's first stand-out player and he set the bar in terms of talent. He was 5'6" and incredibly quick and explosive. At the very first practice I attended in fall of 1993, Alexis, a sophomore, had a lay-out greatest. Imagine that? Moses Rifkin, Josh Markette and I had just joined the team and we thought that was the type of thing that was normal and expected. He was also relentless - always moving and running and working hard. But beyond his talent, Alexis set the stage for the culture of the team. Quick-witted, smart, fun, and positive, he had a personality that drew people in. Because he was a dominant player and we looked to him as our leader, those personality traits pervaded the team.

Atlanta Summer League/Ultimate Community
All of the most serious Ultimate players began playing in Atlanta's summer league early on and got a great deal out of it. The community loved the Paideia kids, we split up and played on a bunch of different teams and we were treated like the community's little brothers and sisters. The community was competitive but fun and very close knit and I think it made all of us even more committed to the sport. It's different now - the summer league is much larger, there are a lot more HS players, and the Paideia kids typically put together their own team. Players who play in the summer league can still get a lot out of it, but I don't think they get the same feeling of being "special" because they are the kids.

The US Juniors Team
In the summer of 1994, three players from the team Roxanne Reighard, Alexis, and myself played on the US Juniors Team. We competed in Colchester, England and finished 2nd to Sweden. That year all 20 people who applied for the team made it. While there may have been a lack of rigorous standards for making the team, it had a huge impact on the team back at Paideia. It exposed us to other HS players playing around the country (including Fortunat and Mattias at Scarsdale, Marlowe at Amherst HS, and Ben Worthen and Sam Rosenthal at Newton North) and made everyone realize how far we could go with the sport. We saw NYNY play toward the end of their dynasty and were inspired. And the attitude of worlds - the level of fun, competition, and respect resonated with us and reinforced our passion for the game. For those that didn't go, they realized that this was something to aspire to. I believe Paideia has put at least 2 players on every US Juniors/U-20 team since then including 4 girls and 3 boys on this years' teams.

Michael Baccarini
It's hard to put in to words the impact Michael has had. The first thing to note is that Michael wasn't Paideia's original coach. Jamie Epstein and Fred Peruvier were the initial coaches in spring of 1993. Jamie coached the team in 1993-1994. Michael began coaching the team in fall of 1994. Before he began coaching he worked in Paideia's after school program and began throwing with Josh Markette and Jason Simpson. Michael has a true coach's mind for the game. He is great at breaking down fundamentals and giving feedback. I guess, even before that, he is one of the best at identifying fundamentals, something that was generally missing from the sport through most of the 90's.

But beyond his skills as a coach, Michael has brought two other big attributes. Michael is a great storyteller. He has a keen memory for events and can take players that have graduated and make them heroes. He can make plays that you haven't seen (and even some that you have seen) legendary. Most of his stories involve a dramatic piece of flying, as if the player briefly defied the laws of gravity to make an incredible play. This sets players expectations for themselves high and makes them want to be in one of Michael's stories. (Unfortunately, Michael's favorite story to tell about me is a cautionary tale about me "losing my psyche").

The other huge factor that Michael brings is that he is the PE teacher at Paideia. Remember that Paideia is K-12, so Michael is teaching kids long before HS. He can get discs in their hand at an early age and get good athletes interested in the sport. I'll leave it to your imagination what that means.

Moses Rifkin and the 1996 Amherst Invite
Moses was a remarkably mature HS kid. Moses took it upon himself in the spring of 1996 to call up Tiina Booth and tell her that we were interested in playing at the Amherst Invite. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves in to or what to expect. Michael didn't even have a credit card. I have no idea how we got up there, but Moses made it happen. It was our first HS tournament and we expected to get crushed. Instead, we (a very scrappy co-ed team of 12 players) found ourselves in an intense game with Amherst (a varsity team of great athletes - all boys) in the semifinals. We lost 14-11 but it fanned the flames and that game and tournament was a watershed moment for the team. We finished 3rd and won the spirit award (we were exceedingly proud of both) Alexis graduated a few weeks later but that event made it clear that the team would continue long after him.

Early on in the Ultimate program, the parents of the Ultimate players recognized that this was something that their kids loved to do. Several of the parents got involved with Paideia's Sports Booster club. I remember many nights where my dad, Jason's Mom, Harper Alexander's parents and others would sell beer at the Georgia Dome for sporting events or concerts to raise money for the sports booster program. Once they'd established some clout they were able to make a case for the Ultimate team to get greater recognition, status, and access to resources. In 1999 Paideia gave the Ultimate team varsity status.

Ok, this is probably a Kyle-centric view of history. If so, I apologize. Several of the early Ultimate grads (Moses, Pauline, Harper, and me) ended up at Brown during the late 90's. At that point, Brown was at the top of the college sport. In addition, Brown was being directly influenced by DoG who was at the end of their championship run and the thought leaders in the sport for most of the 90's. We took ideas and concepts directly back to Michael and he incorporated them in what he taught the HS team.

Tony Carter ('00) and Miranda Roth ('00)
Another Paideia Ultimate alum you certainly haven't heard of is Tony Carter. The team had had other varsity athletes, some that excelled at those sports, but Tony was a bonafide opinion driver in the high school. A varsity basketball player who was universally well-liked, Tony started playing Ultimate his senior year. Younger athletes saw Tony make the jump to Ultimate and realized that is was a legitimate sport.

You've probably heard of Miranda. Miranda began playing Ultimate in the summer after her Sophomore year I believe. Girls soccer was a spring sport and Miranda was a captain of the Girls soccer team starting her sophomore year. Her senior year, Miranda quit the soccer team for the Ultimate team.

I would say that 2000 was another watershed moment for the program (along with 1996) - it was when the team evolved into full-fledged legitimacy because we got legitimate athletes. This year ('10) the Paideia girls have 7 players that are also on the girls basketball team (which finished 2nd in their division in the state).

I feel like that's a pretty solid synopsis of how Paideia got the way it is. I'd say you can get a pretty good feel from this how players like Rebbecca Simon ('01), Paul Vandenberg ('01), Adam Simon ('01), Dylan Tunnel ('02), Jolian Dahl ('03), Nate Segal ('03), Brad Cochi ('04), Eldon Creer ('04), Mike Vandenberg ('05), Leila Tunnel ('06), Maisie Richards ('06), George Stubbs ('07), Grant Lindsley ('07), Ollie Honderd ('07), Michael and John Terry ('08), Alisha Kramer ('08), Paula Seville ('08), Joe Reidel ('09), Julia Fuster ('09), Chris Kocher ('10), Sophie Darch ('10), Lane Seidor ('10), India Stubbs ('11), and Jericho Barbour ('11). I think that's all of the Paideia players named to the US Juniors team in the 00's.

At some level this is definitely a little self-indulgent. But hopefully this is also helpful to those of you out there hoping to create a successful Ultimate culture at your school.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

On Carts and Horses

During my rookie season at UMN, I saw a teammate throw a high-release flick, the first I had ever witnessed. Being the young, bright-eyed frisbee enthusiast I was, my I was soaked in admiration. Naturally, I asked said teammate to show me how he did it.

He laughed at me and said something smug about how I probably shouldn't add another bad throw to the ugly set I already had. I was insulted and dejected and I gave up on the throw at the time. The guy in question was arguably our best offensive handler that year, a presently dying breed of frail, slow and huck-less, but with incredible finesse on both sides. I really wanted his skillset. Ultimately, he didn't really teach me much that season, but that memory has stuck with me.

Now, I find myself playing the opposite role in that situation pretty frequently, both as a coach and as a more veteran player. Lots of times, I'll catch guys with atrocious forehands or backhands trying to summon a big hammer, a thumber, a scoober, or any number of other "special" throws while we're warming up or at throwing practice. I'm pretty inconsistent about how I respond. For some guys, I react pretty much in the way that the condescending handler did in my story. Sometimes I comment on the inadequacy of their other throws, sometimes I don't. For other guys, I'll give them tips about how to throw that "special" throw better.

Jim Parinella has a decent discussion of "junk throws" and whether or not they should be used here. What I'm interested in discussing here, though, is when and whether they should be taught.

To return to the personal anecdote: The following year, my flick was coming along nicely, my backhand had plateaued at mediocre. So I started throwing some hammers, taking a ton of advice from Charlie. Needless to say, I very quickly developed an addiction that haunts me to this day. From the push pass to the behind-the-backhand, I love 'em all. For me, having a very good scoober and a variety of release points and speeds on my backhand is a necessary thing. While my flick is excellent, my step out mid-to-low release ~20 yard backhand just stopped getting better, despite hours and hours of drilling and asking for help. Hence, I compensate for it by throwing weird, but 95% completed stuff.

So,"special throws" have become a very important supplement to my game. For others? Hard to say. Thus far, my opinion is as follows regarding how I approach my players who are experimenting with drugs...I mean unconventional throws:

-Special throws are vaguely tiered, with some (Hammers, scoobers, high-release backhand) sitting at generally nice to have but dumb to use all the time, others that are cool to know how to use but do you really have to? (lefty, push-pass, thumber) and finally absolutelynotImeanNO (corker chicken wing and friends). I encourage a healthy knowledge of upside-down throws SO LONG AS...

-The player can consistently complete a forehand or a backhand to a moving target 15 yards away. This is usually assumed at higher levels of Ultimate, but sometimes that kid was REALLY fast at tryouts.

-Finally, if I feel like there's a lot of room for growth in the basic throws, I'm more likely to encourage experimentation with angle, io/oi, and release point than I am to teach the finer points of the blade.

Still, I lean more toward teaching kids how to throw weird stuff better than chastising them for doing it at all. The jury's still out, though.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A quick introduction

So, my name is Kevin and I suppose I'm the latest addition to the blogging/coaching consortium that posts here at ultifris. Although it's likely to read poorly (see that first sentence), I thought I'd do this just to make it clear who I am and why I asked aj to start posting on the blog (many thanks to him for so graciously allowing me to do so).

About me:

I played four years of college frisbee at the University of Minnesota, which was a really unique experience where I got to see a team improve dramatically over the course of 4 seasons, starting as a High Tide attendance-type team and ending as a consistent top-20 team. It was also fun to take 3rd in a 2 bid region 4 years in a row. Last year, I had the privilege to play for Jojah during my first year of grad school at UGA. Finally got that national appearance under my belt, enjoyed playing with a team that thrived so much on camaraderie.

This year, suffering from massive college ultimate withdrawal, I asked to help coach the team. Initially, my role was a once a week throwing coach for a class of unusually uncoordinated rookies. I planned on attending half the tournaments and focusing heavily on school, but instead got promoted a week after Classic City Classic to co-coaching the team with Travis Smith, another guy fresh off his fifth year. Our age by itself has been a bit of a challenge, alongside all of the other stuff you'd expect to be rough about a first 'big time' coaching gig.

Why I'm writing:

I think like a lot of folks who write any kind of blog, it's because I have a bunch of unresolved questions about the game that I'd like to get down on paper (not paper). My college frisbee experience was awesome in that I got to play under three coaches who I believe to be among the best in the biz and who all go about coaching in dramatically different ways. At UMN, Charlie Reznikoff was a super-intense, passionate guy who could basically put the fire in an unmotivated team using his own will to win. He's also a patient teacher and a very smart guy. Our assistant, CY, had his own quiet intensity, but came off as a bit more cerebral and reserved. With Jojah I got to play under aj. He was more "hands-off" with us and seemed to focus most on the strategic side of coaching. Simply put, I believe that he has best mind for the game that I've ever come into contact with. I think that playing under these guys, along with my own idiosyncrasies has left me with a perspective about Ultimate that I'm still trying to refine. I'm hoping blogging will help some with that.

The second reason is less pressing. I feel like writing about Ultimate has sort of lagged for folks about my age. Aside from Muffin's limitless wisdom and folks like Mackey, who writes really well about the minutiae of the game, writing about how to play ultimate by up and coming players is pretty sparse.

Beyond the mid-20s void, there also isn't very much written about the pedagogical aspects of coaching frisbee. I've liked Hector's recent work, but you'll notice that there's only 2 posts tagged "coaching." AJ doesn't write any more. Kyle Weisbrod writes some about high school coaching, as does Luke, which is handy. The Huddle seems generally based around playing.

In short, coaching Ultimate as its an independent pursuit is an activity that's in its infancy, with the explosion of coaches at the college level coming within the last 5 years or so (yes?). I think that the more publicly accessible writing there is about how different people go about it, the better. If I missed anyone else who's writing, please comment. It'd be great to know more places to go and learn.

So...less quick than I'd hoped. I'll likely post something more substantive tomorrow, it just felt weird to launch into it all of the sudden.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Week 1 in the Books

The Padeia Girls began the 2010 season this week. Here was the schedule:

Monday - 3:45-5:45
Tuesday - 3:45-5:45
Wednesday - 3:45-5:45
Thursday - 3:45-5:45


Monday we had 10 girls out. 8 are still in the basketball season (4 JV, who we get back in week 3, and 4 on Varsity, who could be out until mid-march depending on how well the team does in the state tournament. They are highly ranked in AA and could make the finals). We had three that weren't there due to other reasons.

The first practice is always about teaching practice protocol. I like to have them run and stretch (led by captains) and then immediately break in to a drill. The drill should get someone a lot of touches and get them sweating. I usually start with the pendulum drill and then once we have some better skills move to the three-person marking drill. So, before warming up I taught them the drill. It's also important to set the tone of minimizing downtime between drills/talking etc. so that we can make the most of our time.

Once we warmed up we focused on the most important skill in Ultimate: Catching. I maintain that you can excel at Ultimate even without good throws. And in most situations you can't throw until you've caught the disc. We did a few drills to focus on catching with two hands, keeping your eye on the disc, and attacking it. We did some work on going deep as well. While we didn't spend much time on cutting or angles of attack all of the drills were set-up to encourage the right habits in these areas (sharp cuts, cutting off outside food, 45 degree angles). We finished with some 3v3 - which I love early in the season, not just because I don't have a lot of players out yet but because everybody gets a lot of touches and you don't have to touch on strategy at all.


As will happen frequently in February in March we were rained out. So we had a team meeting. I've got 5 or 6 team discussion topics up my sleeve for this type of occurrence. This time we talked about team goals. I started by having each of them say why they were playing Ultimate and I wrote the answers up on the white board. There were a lot of them that ranged from working hard to being challenged to being a part of a team with great dynamics to winning.

From there we tried to identify a tangible "goal" that we could use to symbolize as many of the reasons for playing as possible. We came up with "Win Paideia Cup and win whatever our end of season event is." (We don't currently have an end of year event finalized as we aren't able to compete at Amherst Invite or HS Easterns due to scheduling conflicts). The goal is in this first picture in green on the bottom right. The idea is that we need to achieve many of the "reasons" in order to achieve the goal and the goal will keep us directed.

From there we moved in to a discussion to start laying out "what we would need" in order to achieve our goal. This was a sort of tree structured brainstorming of skills and sub-skills, both team and individual, physical and mental that we would need to win Paideia Cup and win the end of season event. This conversation was a little more dominated by the returning players on the team who had been through this a couple times before and knew what we needed to do.

For example, under "Cutting" we have the sub-skills: spacing, timing, reset cutting, downfield cutting, and acceleration. This was only the beginning of this list and I plan to work with the captains on the next rained out practice to work go in to more detail. The point of this exercise is to:
a. To help the team "buy-in" to what we are doing at practice and give them a reason to learn what's being taught and work hard/push through challenges
b. Help guide the captains and I on what we need to cover over the course of the season.

From here I'll be sitting down and breaking down sub-goals and week-by-week schedule of what I'm teaching.

One interesting discussion developed in the middle of the "what we need" discussion. The players suggested that we would need to know the H-stack and/or the vertical stack. I said, let's hold off on that because I was interested in working on a new offense. I didn't want to flesh out man-O strategy beyond "Spacing" and "Timing" at this point. One of my senior captains asked, "what if this new strategy gets in the way of us achieving our goal?" I loved this question. It gets to the heart of why this process is important. It was her telling me that "the team has goals and everything we do should fit in to those goals." I told her that whatever we end up doing with our offense it will have the same fundamental concepts (after all "spacing" and "timing" are parts of Horizontal and Vertical) and we can reevaluate as get further in to it if we need to scrap the new offense. I also said that we've learned a lot of new things over the past two years (horizontal offense, two handler zone o, clam, trap-zone, etc.) and achieved our goals. But it is an important reminder to me that I can't let my desire to try something new trump what the players want out of their season.


We were back out on the fields on Wednesday. We had 10 again and we spent the whole of practice working on throwing. We broke down the backhand and the forehand from grip, through all of the mechanics (wrist, arm, shoulders, torso, hips) and practiced at each level by isolating areas and slowly adding them. We did: throwing while sitting, kneeling, standing but not pivoting, and then pivoting. There was noticeable improvement in almost all of the players throws (including some of the more experienced throwers). We finished with a quick three holes of disc golf.


Rained out again. I was hoping to get to the school to do some individual goal setting but I was slammed at work and at 3:20 when one of my captains called I told her to just let everyone leave. I ended up being at work until 8:30. I'm sure we'll get plenty more rainy days. But I've got to remind them to bring running shoes just in case we get rained out and we want to do a work out instead of talk.

So, week one is in the books. Week two we're going to spend some more time on throwing. Start getting some marking and pivoting and faking in. If we don't get rained out I hope to start focusing on cutting by the end of the week.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

On the eve of the 2010 spring season...

Tomorrow starts another year of Paideia Ultimate. It marks the beginning of the 18th year of Ultimate at Paideia. I believe this is the 9th year that the school has had a girls team. It is my seventh season coaching HS Ultimate. My fourth coaching at Paideia. And my third coaching the Paideia Girls.

This year will be a very different year than last year. In 2009, we had a very strong returning group and only a small number of new players. We graduated eight players last year, all of them knowledgeable and contributing members of the team.

This year we only have four players who have played for more than one season. We've got a handful of second year players and a large number of first year players.

The four players with experience, however, are very experienced. Two of them (both seniors) have played with Ozone (one for one season and one for two). The other two (a senior and a junior) played with Rival last season.

There will be a much higher level of focus on fundamentals this season - particularly throwing. The team will be expected to work on throwing outside of practice - and all of this work will need to be outside of their comfort zone - extending the distance on their throws and extending the release points away from their body. It is easy to casually throw in your comfort zone, not subject yourself to mistakes, complete the throws that you know you can make. But your progress will be much slower. We'll spend more time doing throwing "clinics" at practice and I'll be expecting my four most experienced players to contribute a great deal to teaching to allow for more personalized feedback.

We will be jumping into a high level of competition at practice very early on. One area where the team has been very successful in recent years has been their mental game. They consistently bring game/tournament like attitude to practice. With such a new team it will be critical to instill that culture early on. We will break drills in to multiple groups and have them compete. We will set goals for scrimmage teams that align with skills we are building (marks broken, # of players that throw scores for goals, extra points for goals from over a certain distance) and keep stats to meet those goals. Most of these stats will be offensively focused at the beginning of the season since possession is the most critical part of the game at this level (how valuable is a d, if there are 14 turnovers in a point?). As we gain offensive consistency we will start working on the defensive side of the game at a higher level and adding those to the scrimmages. I will work to split teams for scrimmages in ways that aren't equal so that players don't expect that games/match-ups should be even. I want them to understand how to focus on their own game regardless of whether they are winning by a lot or losing by a lot (because I'm sure we'll be in both of these positions a lot this season and it will be important for us to continue to improve regardless of how much better/worse we are then our opponents).

Along with this, I will be working with the captains early on to instill a culture of positivity. We will recognize small gains in improvement of newer players. There will be a ban on communication which is divisive and fosters negativity (sarcasm, put-downs - even joking ones, side comments about people, complaining). We'll work to identify and promote language that is constructive and positive (e.g. change "We can't keep turning the disc over" to "We're going to improve possession of the disc.")

Teaching strategy will be very limited the first few weeks. Where there is strategy discussion it will be about the space that we are looking to create and move the disc to. I'll let the players explore those ideas for a while before creating further definition around specific movement.

Our first tournament is scheduled for March 6-7th. If by then we 70-80% of the players with basic throwing and catching skills, a basic understanding of space, and have created a culture of competition and positivity we'll be where we need to be.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Top 10 Games of the Decade

What makes a game one of the best? Some combination of the history of the teams or players involved, exceptional play, and the meaningfulness of the game within a season or the sports history. Of course all of this is subjective. And on top of that the lack of media, especially at the beginning of the decade and at non-championship events makes comparing games difficult. I've had the good fortune to be at almost all of the HS, youth, college and club championships over the past decade as well as some of the World Championships. But despite that, there are going to be some oversights. Certainly some of the Northwest Open Regional games-to-go should be on the list, like JAM's 17-16 win over Furious in 2008 that kept Vancouver at home while JAM went on to win the UPA Championship. Or upstart Revolver's 11-8 win over Justice League in the 2nd place bracket in 2006. There possibly should be some College Regional games where the region only has one bid but has two or more potential contenders, like Wisconsin's 15-12 win over Carleton in 2006. Often regional games-to-go are more exciting than championships, but it rare that a regional game-to-go keeps a potential title contender at home. So, the large majority of these games are semis and final round games from UPA championship events.

Once again, I have links to media where I could find it. I'll add more if you post them in the comments.

10. 2001 UPA College Championships, Open 2nd Rd. Pool Play: UNC-Wilmington (17) – Carleton (16)

Beyond the Vagabonds win, this was easily the biggest upset of the decade. Loaded with talent including many of the players that would form the core of Sockeye for their championship run such as Phil Burkhardt, Sam O’Brien, Alex Nord, Jimmy Chu, and Chase Sparling-Beckley, Carleton, despite being the fourth seed, was many people’s favorites to win it all. UNCW, on the other hand was a small squad, twelve total players, with only three bona fide big names: Daniel “DQ” Qaurenta, Trey Snow, and Rhett Russ. Early in the game Snow broke his collarbone, but UNCW’s Tim Weigand and the rest of the UNCW “bench” stepped up to keep the game tight. Later in the weekend Nord would be named the 2001 Callahan winner, but Mike Gerics had been spending most of the college season touting Russ as the best player in the college division. Gerics claims were easy to laugh at but no one was laughing at double game point as Russ caught the game winner off of Nord’s tipped D. UNC-Wilmington then went on to lose to Wisconsin and UPenn thereby nullifying the actual impact of this game on elimination play. Despite that, this game sneaks into the top 10 of the decade.

Honorable Mention Upsets:
- 2002 UPA College Championship, Open Pre-Quarterfinals: UNC-Wilmington over Colorado (Score?)
- 2004 UPA Club Championships, 1st Rd. Pool Play: Pike (15) – Sockeye (12)

9. 2005 World Games, Finals: USA (13) vs. Australia (11)

The only game on this list played outside of the US is the one that made worldwide fans of the sport familiar with Australians Tom “Gaks” Rogacki and brothers Matthew and Anthony Dowle. After years of building Australia finally established themselves in the top tier of national programs with USA, Canada, and Japan. This game also included a high level of offensive efficiency as the USA only had five turnovers and Australia had seven. While the Aussies were able to complete a greatest for a goal, the US team (picked by application alone) was too much for them to handle. The US won their first World Games gold 13-11.

8. 2006 WFDF World Junior Ultimate Championships, Girls Finals: USA (14) - Canada (13)

If you find it hard to talk about a junior girls game in the same article as several of the best open and women’s club and college games of the decade, you must not have been in Boston for this spectacular display. The US had dominated Canada twice in pool play earlier in the week. They came in to the game with a cocky edge while Canada came in to the game having made some clear adjustments, taking the level of physicality up and tightening down the subbing. Future college and club stars Anne Mercier (Canada) and Georgia Bosscher (USA) battled point for point in a heated, physical match-up. The teams traded throughout with aggressive play, huge blocks, and occasionally heated discussion. The final point, at 18 minutes, was intense to the point of unbearable as the teams’ and crowd’s emotion swung drastically with every call and turnover. Claire Suver (USA) finally put the game away finding Patty King (USA) for a big forehand huck.

7. 2004 UPA Club Championships, Open Finals: Sockeye (16) – JAM (15)

Until their 2008 championship, San Francisco’s JAM had twice come within spitting distance of the cup. The first was in the brutal upwind/downwind final of 2001 against the Santa Barbara Condors which the Condors won 17-15 on the only upwind break of the game. The 2004 final featured the upstart Seattle Sockeye. Sockeye had recently added a lot of young talent that had returned to Seattle after college including Alex Nord, Sammy Chatterton-Kirchmeier, Jeremy Cram, Phil Burkhardt, and Chase Sparling-Beckley. This talent along with veterans Keith Monahan, Mike Caldwell and Roger Crafts carried Sockeye to their first championship. Sockeye led for most of the game behind great play by MC, including a greatest. JAM, down 11-9, pulled back in the lead to go up 14-13. JAM then had two opportunities to win the game on that point before Chase ripped one down over JAM’s Jim Schoettler before completing a pass to tie it up. Again, on double game (15-15) point, JAM turned it twice, both turns potential game winners from JAM’s Idris Nolan, before Chase pulled down a high-stall hammer from Roger Crafts for the game winner.

6. 2006 UPA College Championships, Women’s Semifinals: UCLA (17) – CU (16)

The biggest shame of this outstanding game was that there were not more people watching. Late on Saturday in Columbus the top two seeds out of the Southwest Region faced off in an epic game with the electricity and the emotion that makes sport magical. The two teams were closely matched. Over the 2006 season they had played each other three times, all in semifinals or finals of major tournaments, with CU holding a 2-1 edge and no team winning a game by more than 2 points. The two teams traded points and leads throughout the game as the intensity level ramped up. CU, led by fifth year seniors Alex Snyder and Carolyn Matthews battled against UCLA’s Pooja Shah and Anna “Mad Dog” Nazarov. UCLA edged out CU to qualify for the finals in their first trip to Nationals and in only their third year as a team.

5. 2005 Potlatch, Semifinals: Vagabonds (16) - Team USA (15)

I don’t care how you pick your National teams, they should not be beat by any squad of pick-ups, no matter how good. The one loss that the 2005 US team had was to a pick-up squad of mostly Oregon players with a few other northwesterners. What was striking about the Vagabonds was that each played at their highest possible level. Motivated by a mixture of a chip on their shoulder for not being on the team and the joy of playing the top players in front of a large crowd, Leslie Calder, Brian Snyder, Keith Monahan, Chelsea Putnam, Aaron Richards and the rest of the Vagabonds put on a display of talent that is rarely seen outside of UPA Club and WFDF World Championships.

4. 2005 UPA College Championships, Open Finals: Brown (15) – CU (14)

Amazingly, these two well matched teams had not played each other since 2002. But it didn’t take long for an old rivalry to be reestablished. This game featured incredible match-ups across the board including Beau Kittridge (CU) and Colin Mahoney (Brown), Colin “JV” Gottlieb (CU) and Dan MacArthur (Brown), Jolian Dahl (CU) and Neale Mahoney (Brown), Adam “Chicken” Simon (CU) and Ben “Raff” Wiseman (Brown), Jason “Muffin” Buckingham (CU) and Will Arnold (Brown), and of course 2004 Callahan winner, CU’s Josh “Richter” Ackley and 2005 Callahan winner, Brown’s Josh Ziperstein. Colorado opened up the game to an 8-5 half and looked to run away with the game at 9-5 but Brown clawed back to tie the game late behind hard, physical D and some CU miscues. This game also slowed during the middle due to a huge number of calls as neither team wanted to give any ground. The game’s outcome hinged on two incredible plays – a goal saving, twisting layout, help block by Brown’s Neale Mahoney on CU’s Josh Ackley and then Josh Ziperstein coming down with the high stall count bailout throw that had been mac’ed by multiple players to take the 14-13 lead for Brown.

3. 2008 UPA Club Championships, Women’s Finals: Fury (15) – Riot (12)

This game has become the inspirational speech for all teams down at half. It is a symbol of the tough mental game of San Francisco’s Fury. And it is a reminder that no game is ever won until the final point is scored. There are not many who would have thought that any team, no matter how good, would be able to surmount a 10-1 deficit. That is the lead that Riot built behind the exceptional play of Miranda Roth, Val Dion, and Liz Duffy in the 2008 UPA Club Women’s Finals. But it only took one score from Fury to ignite a firestorm of scoring from Fury who, led by a huge stable of championship minded playmakers like Alicia “A1” White, Gwen Ambler, Alex Snyder, and Enessa Janes, went on to outscore Riot 14-2 over the remainder of the game to clinch Fury’s third consecutive UPA Club Championship and fourth (out of five) in the first decade of the century.

2. 2007 UPA Club Championships, Open Finals: Sockeye (15) - Johnny Bravo (13)

This game reigns as the most exciting Club Open final of the decade. Both teams were stacked with big, athletic, receivers including Sockeye’s Mike Caldwell, Alex Nord, and Chase Sparling-Beckley and Bravo’s Jolian Dahl, Dave Popiel and Beau Kittridge and neither team was afraid of taking chances. The two teams traded leads against a strong crosswind. Between an early Callahan goal by Adam “Chicken” Simon, a disc that Alex Nord picked off of JD Lobue’s back, and an incredible read and grab on the sideline on a wind-taken disc by Michael “Whit” Whitaker, this game had a little of everything. Sockeye, down 8-6 and halftime, tightened up the handler D in the second half and pulled ahead 12-11. Late in the game Nord broke his finger as Whit came sliding in to clean up another misthrow for a goal. At 14-13, Sam O’Brien (Sockeye) dropped a pull, but Mike Caldwell was able to get the disc back on a huge lay-out block and Sockeye put it in for a 15-13 win and their third championship of the decade.

1. 2002 UPA Club Championships, Open Semifinals: Furious George (17) – DoG (16)

There is not much to be said about this game that has not already been said. All you need to know is that in thirty-three points in a top-level, elimination play game there were only five turnovers. That is an unbelievable 86% offensive conversion rate between the two teams. Vancouver’s Furious, on their way to their first championship, bested the six-time champions, DoG, at their own game of possession offense. Dominant players, Jeff Cruickshank, Andrew Lugsdin, and Mike Grant, supplemented by 19 year olds Oscar Pottinger and Derek Alexander (fresh off of a World Championship with the Canadian Juniors team that summer) played the best game of the decade by giving up one fewer turnover than the boys from Boston.

Top 10 Plays of the Decade

Ok, this is a little late (most top 10's of something or other should come out before the actual end of the time period and all), but here it is. I've got a couple more coming. This was inspired by this thread on RSD.

There are links to the plays (some video, some pictures). If you can take the time to find the others and post on the comments, I'll link them up.

10. Matty Lipscomb foul on Alex Nord (2000 UPA College Championships, semifinals: Colorado vs. Carleton)

At 14-14 game to 15, Carleton had possession 65 yards away from the upwind endzone and a spot in the finals against Brown University. This was one of the best rivalries of the late 90’s and early 2000’s with both teams playing in the same region up until the regional redraw in 1999. Colorado had never beaten Carleton in a UPA series game. Sam O’Brien puts up a long hanging forehand deep to Alex Nord, Carleton’s 6’5” receiver. Nord had two defenders on him as the disc was approaching and from across the field CU’s short, fiery defender, Matty Lipscomb, blazes in to the group. The disc goes over everyone’s head and Nord calls a foul. Nord is willing to send the disc back but Lipscomb insists on appealing to observer Mike Gerics, in perfect position. Gerics rules that Lipscomb undercut Nord. Nord takes possession and completes the game winner a few seconds later.

This play, notable not by the amazing play of the players involved but by the role of the observer, signaled to all the potential impact of observers on the outcome of games. Almost ten years later the question of how active observers should be is still being actively discussed and Mike Gerics is still pushing the role forward.

9. Derek Alexander to Oscar Pottinger to send Furious to 2002 finals(2002 UPA Club Championships, semifinals: Furious George vs. DoG)

Taken out of context, this play was not terribly exceptional. Derek Alexander completed a short backhand to an extended Oscar Pottinger (who was being guarded by a bidding Josh Ziperstein) for a score. But when you add the context: semifinals of the National championships in a game that many would call one of the top games all time, with only five total turnovers between the two teams, 16-16, and game to 17, Furious battling for their first UPA Championship and DoG trying to regain the title they owned for 6 years after two years of falling short. And throw in the fact that both the Furious players involved and the defender were all a mere 19 years old at the time and what you are left with is a climatic ending to an incredible game and a symbol of the potential impact on the growth of youth Ultimate on the sport.

8. Miranda Roth's catch on footblocked disc (2005 UPA College Championships, semifinals: University of Washington vs. Colorado University)

It is an unintentional slight that only one women’s play is included on this list. In an upwind/downwind semifinals in Coravallis, Oregon, Miranda Roth looked to throw an upwind IO forehand break being marked by CU’s Anne “Pogo” Pogoriler. Pogo gets a foot out and gets a huge footblock sending the disc fifteen feet in the air and behind Roth. Roth immediately turns, takes two steps and lays out to grab the disc blading into the ground. The bizarness of this play combined with Roth’s reaction time and phenomenal hand-eye coordination dropped the jaws of everyone watching.

7. Beau Kittridge jumping over guy on SDSU (2006 UPA SouthWest College Regionals, quarterfinals: Colorado vs. SDSU)

Unlike #9, this play needs no context at all. There was never a chance that Colorado was going to lose this game as they were cruising toward another Regional title. The defender, Dave “Flock” Runner, from San Diego State, at 5’7” was little more than a prop on a play that showcased the athleticism of Beau Kittridge and got Ultimate on its first top 10 on ESPN.

6. Alex Nord picking disc off of JD Lobue’s back (2007 UPA Club Championships, finals: Sockeye vs. Bravo)

In Sockeye’s championships in the middle of the decade it seemed that they always attracted crazy and exciting plays. And almost inevitably they wound up on the better half of these plays. In two consecutive championship finals (2006 and 2007) they retained possession when the disc landed on a player instead of the ground. This one had to be watched and rewatched to be believed. At 1-0 with Sockeye going upwind, a short forehand is thrown to Nord who is only a few yards outside Sockeye’s attacking endzone. Bravo’s JD Lobue and Hector Valdivia both have position on Nord; Valdivia on Nord’s left and JD laying out from the right. Valdivia makes the initial contact with the disc and then it appears to deflect off of his cleat before landing on Lobue’s back. Nord picks up the disc and throws the goal to a seemingly unaware Blaine Robins.

Honorable mention lucky catch:

- Disc landing on Matt “Skip” Sewell’s (Sockeye) legs in the 2006 UPA Club Finals (vs. Furious George)

5. Mike Caldwell’s greatests (2004 and 2006 UPA Club Championship, finals: Sockeye vs. JAM, Sockeye vs. Furious)

In the pantheon of highlight reel Sockeye playmakers of the 2000’s, there is only one player who completed a greatest in a club final. And this player completed not one but two greatest in finals. MC never received the same popular attention that many of his teammates on Sockeye did but it says something about your abilities when your teammates repeatedly put you in that position and even more that you are able to pull it off. In 2004, MC completed a greatest to Chase Sparling-Beckley to tie the game at 2’s against Furious. In 2006, it was MC again saving an out of bounds throw this time completing it to Moses Rifkin to take a 6-5 lead over Furious.

4. Chase Sparling-Beckley’s catch on Roger Crafts’ hammer (2004 UPA Club Championships, finals: Sockeye vs. Jam)

What was Roger Crafts thinking? 15-15 game to 16. Sockeye started the point on defense going upwind. Idris Nolan for JAM had already tallied two turnovers on game winning throws on the point. Crafts ended up with the disc forty yards outside of the upwind endzone and chooses a hammer into double coverage. Sparling-Beckley stabs it out of the air for the game winner – Seattle’s first championship and again JAM was left with a bitter end to the season.

3. Mike Caldwell’s Block in the 2007 Finals (2007 UPA Club Championships, finals: Sockeye vs. Bravo)

It is certainly another slight (albeit unintentional) to defenders everywhere to include only one defensive play on this list. This play stands out for not only the block itself, but the critical moment in the game and the wild play that both preceded and followed the play. Here’s the situation – Bravo is pulling to Sockeye down 13-14 and going upwind. Sam O'Brien drops the pull and Adam “Chicken” Simon picks up the disc about 10 yards outside the endzone with the opportunity to tie the game at 14s with Bravo going downwind. Colin “JV” Gottlieb cuts up the line from a handler position and Simon puts it up. MC explodes out for the block but macs it straight into the wind. The disc comes down in a crowd of Bravo receivers and Sockeye defenders before finding its way to the ground. The crowd then takes their first breath since the pull went up 20 seconds earlier.

Honorable mention defensive plays:

- Neale Mahoney’s (Brown) block on Josh “Richter” Ackley (Colorado) in 2005 UPA College Championship Finals

- Giora Proskurowski ‘s(Sockeye) on Ron Kublanza (Jam) in the 2004 UPA Club Championship Finals vs JAM

- Alex Nord’s (Sockeye) twisting block on Doug Moore (DoG) in 2006 UPA Club Championship quarterfinals

2. Josh Ziperstein’s catch after multiple macs (2005 UPA College Championships, finals: Brown vs. Colorado)

The 2005 finals was one of the best college games of the decade featuring two teams that matched up incredibly well and filled with current and future club stars. Brown had clawed back from a 9-5 deficit to tie the game at 13-13. On that point, Brown obtained possession and had the opportunity to gain their first lead of the game. Neale Mahoney ended up with the disc on the sideline and a high stall count. Unable to get the reset off against Jolian Dahl’s mark, Neale Mahoney put up a bailout to brother Colin Mahoney. Colin, covered by Kittridge was unable to come down with it. Brown’s Will Arnold and Colorado’s Jason Buckingham then vie for the disc but neither of them come up with it. Ziperstein, the 2005 Callahan winner, who trailed the play from the far side comes sliding in and comes up with the disc for the Brown lead as they eventually win the game 15-14.

1. Alex Nord’s catch over Mark Driver (2001 UPA College Championships, finals: Carleton vs. Colorado)

The pinnacle of one of the most storied rivalries in college Ultimate was the 2001 UPA College Championships. A rematch of the double game point 2000 College semifinals and frequent Regional championships before the split, Carleton and Colorado were loaded with talent that would make their mark on the Club division for the better part of the decade. The game was a dogfight and at 12-11 the game looked to be going down to the wire. Carleton’s Garret Westlake launches a huge hanging forehand deep to Alex Nord. Nord, being guarded by CU’s Mark Driver is out positioned; the disc is angling from right to left and Driver is on the left side. Nord goes up and over Driver, horizontally, making the grab and landing hard on his head, concussing himself and giving Carleton the 13-11 lead. The play said to everyone, “yes, I would have made the catch in 2000 had I not been fouled” and defined being “posterized” for that generation of players. 1:02 of