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