Monday, May 15, 2006

NJ Invitational 2006

In a word, Ouch! But more on that later. So my first tournament of the season was also the occasion for a return to my alma mater, Princeton to see what new buildings have sprung up since my last visit two years ago for the NJ invite 2004. Nothing notable there, so on to the tournament. Also, now that Parinella has posted, I can post this to get to the top of ultimate talk, as he says

I know I mentioned here about beginning training for the upcoming season, but there is really nothing that can truly prepare you for the first tournament other than playing (or having a full-time trainer on hand). Up to that point, you're still laying down the base, and my base is still pretty thin at the moment. The best part was the first round bye. So Friday night I pack up the kids into the car, drop by Jim's house to pick him up, and we drive on down to my parents place in Rye to stay the night. We get there around 9, put the kids down, and proceed to much on some food and do a Calvados sampling. And yes, Calvados leaves you with nasty mouth in the morning. Roll out of bed around 8, quick shower and breakfast, say goodbye to the kids, and then off to Princeton. Naturally, I haven't been there in so long that I take the wrong exit off the Pike (8), then 7, then we go back to 8, and fortunately Jim has a google maps so that we can improvise from exit 8 to get to the fields. After meandering through the backwoods of Windsor, we arrive at the fields around 10:30, plenty of time to get ready for our 11AM and catch the end of an exciting Twisted Metal/Potomac game. Apparently Potomac had taken half 8-2, only to watch TM claw back into the game, eventually getting to double game point pulling. TM gets the turnover, only to give it back and then watch Potomac win the game. TM carried this philosophy into the next game against NY, going down early, only to claw back into the game and then get to double-game point, pulling again. This time they got the disc a few times before finally punching it in for the win.

Fortunately, we were able to warm up with what was assumed to be an inferior opponent compared to some of the teams there (Truck Stop Glory Hole), but naturally we were tested early and often. I think we ended up winning 15-8 or 15-12 or something. It's annoying that pretty much almost all teams are worthy of respect now, and can steal a game away if you aren't paying attention or can't rally the troops.

The next game was against TM/Pike, fresh off their 2nd double game point game of the day. I only semi jokingly refer to them as Pike, as they have picked up Ryan, Danny Clark, and Bailey Russel (also revisiting his alma mater) from Pike. And watching their other games, those guys definitely played a lot of catch together on offense, often resulting in turnovers when they went outside their little clique. There was nothing particularly memorable about this game except maybe Ryan burning us at least 3-4 times on huge upfield cuts for goals. The end result was 15-10 in our favor, pushing TM to the brink for making one of the coveted finals spots on Sunday.

Just a quick word on the weather. As early as Friday morning, there was a chance that the tournament was going to be cancelled due to rain. As I'm sure people are aware, the Northeast has been AWASH in rain for the past week, and at least in northern New England, it has not abated, with NH, MA, and ME declaring states of emergency for various portions of their respective states. I found out from my wife (who stayed in town to enjoy a Mother's Day weekend to herself, complete with spa visit) that it rained non-stop since we left Friday night, and HARD. For Princeton, the forecast was favorable enough that they didn't cancel, and then lo and behold, as we arrived Saturday morning, the cloud cover started to burn off, and by noon, it was mostly blue skies and low 70's, and it stayed that way the rest of the day. People had to go to the bottom of their bags past all the foul-weather gear to find the simple layers that were required in the heat. I was annoyed because as I left Friday, I saw my sunglasses on the counter and didn't bring them because I was SURE they wouldn't be necessary. Stupid me.

Back to the tourney. The next round brought Pike. Pike would appear to be in the middle of a rebuilding year, with a significant pool of players to draw from, as Philly Rage has folded and the two teams are in the midst of combining. Naturally, we started off slowly, giving up two or three immediate breaks to go down big. We eventually got on track, but trying to stop the Pike small ball offense was very annoying, as they played a lot of give and go around the handler positions trying to set up the big strike. They were very good about keeping the disc moving, with even the upfield cutters turning and releasing the disc the minute they received it. We got the game tight at the end, but ended up losing 15-13, creating the immediate review of other games and results to see what we had to do to make the finals. Fun-boy and Jim were particularly involved in this kind of discussion throughout the rest of the day and following day, to the point that we had to create a cone of nerd silence around them.

The last round of the day matched us up with Potomac, who had a pretty small squad considering the distance, rolling out around 11-12 players. Talk about the
true incarnation of the huck and hope offense. We had noticed a number of times during the day peeking at other games that Potomac would put up the disc to a deep cutter who wasn't even moving AND had a defender right with him. It was amusing to watch after awhile, but they did come down with more than their fair share of these hucks. They held true to form in our game with them, putting it up again and again. They came down with some, but we were able to stop them often enough to come away with another 15-10 victory. This game was also a battle of two tired squads, as the surprising sunny, warm, and humid weather, coupled with small squads and early season conditioning lead to tired mistakes on both sides. Looking over at the two other games, it was clear that this was affecting all the teams.

Once the game was over, the all important trek to the Hoagie Haven, a sub shop in Princeton proper was next on the list as the entire team saddled up to drive over there. Naturally, I missed the turnoff from Route 1 and ended up going a different way which ended up being better by avoiding traffic, but still embarrassing. Let me tell, that pizza cheesesteak sub never tasted so good. The other members of the team dribbled in and we promptly took over the sidewalk outside the Haven with 14 players sprawled out in various poses munching on their enormous subs. After that, it was off to the Best Western up Route 1 to shower and watch the Dallas/Spurs game with Doug and Dallas betting another Hoagie Haven sub against Ben and the Spurs.

Next morning, fortified by the late night arrivals of Zip and Paul V. (we now have 16!), we start off with a game against PoNY, who attempt to make it interesting, do at times, but eventually succumb 15-10. I was mostly covered by Dave Colt, another 'old-timer' (but still young) who has had some success covering me in the past. It was good to catch up with him.

This leads to the trap game against Phoenix. Fortunately, despite a feisty showing, we have the opportunity to win yet another game 15-10 until Zip drops an easy pass for a goal and we end up winning 15-11 or 12.

In the finals, after talking about how we need to get up for the game, loud sidelines, etc., we start on D, get the disc off a Pike huck turnover, and promptly turf the first pass, immediately taking the O's psyche out of the game. The O then takes the D's psyche out of the game by getting scored on 3 out of the next 4 points (starting with a Pike goal line turnover by me on a lazy break mark backhand to Ben for a goal after a called pick that Troy (I mean Trey) d's. So we're quickly down 5-1. We battle back, going into half down 8-7 and receiving. Naturally the O quickly gets broken to start the 2nd half and we're down 9-7. There is another break somewhere in there, and then the Ouch! On a high stall count on the far sideline, after Paul V. has mysteriously not seen Jim wide open in the middle of the field to get it off the line, I cut up the line, Paul throws me a nice leading backhand and just before I catch it, my right thigh explodes in pain as Jim's defender poaches off, makes the D, and gives me the worst charley-horse I have ever had. After writhing on the ground in pain for a minute, I barely limp off the field, call foul, have the Pike guy scream at me that he got the disc first and contests, I don't bother to argue that he better make that play without completely taking me out, especially on a poach on my blind side, and naturally we quickly turn it over anyway and they score. I limp over to our sideline, get some ice from the Pike sideline, limp back, sit in my chair, get some Aleve, and barely follow much of the game because of the agony I am in. The D is playing 100% zone, getting D's, giving back a few, but apparently I miss some stuff, because at some point we score, somebody asks the score, and I'm figuring 14-12 Pike, and they say it is 14-14. I am stunned but happy. We trade out to 16-16, and with Pike receiving, go back down in zone. I am up and helping by now (sort of) now that my first 20 minutes of ice is done, and on this final point, Funboy gets a dump d right near the Pike goal line, a few passes later we score, and our only lead of the game is the one that wins the tournament (similar to the Brown 2005 Nationals victory). Woo-hoo! After a very brief circle-up, Jim and I head out for the long drive home, including picking up the kids in Rye, and venturing back into the sodden hell that is New England.

DoG 2006, now 2-0 on tournaments.


* Equalling my total turnovers at the 2005 Nationals in the first game (3). Those were definitely NOT the only 3 of the tournament. I definitely had some sloppy throws during the tournament, mostly choice rather than execution.
* Billy Rodriguez strapping on the cleats again for DoG. He is apparently mostly recovered from shoulder surgery to fix a problem that has been ailing his throwing shoulder for the better part of 10-15 years (finally, an excuse for that throwing style). I don't know if he is planning to strap them on full time for the fall, but it was great to have another one of the original DoGs on the field to keep Jim and I company.
* Jim observing that the best outcome of the Dallas/Spurs game would be one team winning a REALLY close game while having one of its players injured. His wish almost came true as Nowitzki almost fried his ankle at the end of the game. Regardless, it was an exciting game with lots of lead changes and stupid plays (missing the free throw on purpose the wrong way at the very end giving San Antonio a chance to win with 2.x seconds left on an inbound play).
* Jim remarking to somebody when I got hurt that he was bummed because he was going to have to drive now. And later on the sideline, after I remarked that I planned to drive to keep my leg moving, he was happy because 1) he had refused to ever drive a hybrid (I brought the Prius), and 2) if he did, he would have to turn in his Republican national committee card (or some membership to that effect). Dusty from Pike overheard and was greatly amused.
* Game highlights? None in particular. More discussion between Jim and I on the ride back about where this ranked in tourney wins, top 15, bottom 15, or other. Tournament amenities (or lack thereof), etc. Conclusion? Nothing official.
* I just noticed over here that Jim concluded that he had the ability to still be playing. At the beginning of the TM game, we had one sequence after an early turnover where I was covering some guy from Amherst. Naturally they called him in the play, and he 1) got open underneath for a 15 yard gainer, then 2) got open deep for the goal. And pretty easily. I walked off the field very unsure about whether I was ready to play for another season. By the end of the weekend, my second wind had kicked in, and my defense and positioning improved and I felt a little better about the season, knowing that I had a lot of conditioning, speed work, and, yes, some weight loss in front of me to help out. Also, Jim failed to note in his clam/zone busting comments, that I threw him every one of the breaking throws. It became amusing after awhile.
* I second Jim's conclusion that the tryouts were far more helpful than prior early season tryouts and had more potential. The tryout pool is promising to be very deep and very good this year. This might be the first year that we actually don't take one or more people that could actually help the team because of roster size.
* On the drive back, talking with Jim realizing how much institutional memory the two of us have of the last 21 years of ultimate, both at a high level and very much at the minutiae level.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

More interesting stuff

Hell, Jim posted twice in one day, why don't I? In one of the comments on Jim's post on Major League Ultimate, Anonymous (naturally) says the following:

Who on DoG deserves to be on the team beyond Fortch and Zip? Who would you throw in there with the NE, Jim? Obviously besides yourself and Alex, who are clearly an oversight on the part of the team manager.

Well, besides the obvious snub, Mr/Mrs Anonymous brings up an interesting point (although I'll go with Mr based on the seeming familiarity with Jim and I). When I look at the rosters, I could make some arguments for additional people to be added to the squad, but that is just it. I feel like I would have to argue. Other than a lifetime achievement award for Jim, nothing really leaps out at you and smacks you in the face about the DoG roster where you say 'I have to have this player or the rest of the ultimate world will think I'm crazy'. Hell, even Twisted had more players than we did, although you can attribute that to some Pike favoritism by the team manager (coincidentally a Pike player) That's not to say that we don't have those players on the roster, but the system doesn't expose them to the world.

The question to put out there is, do we maximize the effectiveness of our roster by absorbing players into the system, or would we be better off with another, flashier system (huck and hope (tm. Jim)) that might elevate the cachet of some of our players. Or are we kidding ourselves, and we really don't have those kinds of players and are maximizing our return based on the roster we are working with, and that maybe the 'superstars' are more interested in playing with a team like Twisted where they can flame on or out a little more obviously.

I put it to you, loyal reader, to answer that question. I have my own suspicions as to the answer... alright, I think it is more B than A, although I'm excited by the potential pickups this year that might allow for some 'adjustments' to the system. But I'll let the coach(es) worry about that. Yes, Wicks has been elevated to another 'official' coach from his last minute assistant coach status last year.

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Showcase games, etc.

Fresh off the Major League Ultimate snub, at least I'll be able to play in the little brother, or the Ultimate Showcase series in Massachusetts, which is being put together to try and promote ultimate in Massachusetts.
Hopefully I will be able to regain the missing shreds of my self-worth on the local playing fields instead of the emerald fields of Potlatch. They are going to mix up the DoG and Twisted Metal players (along with some college wannabes) over all of the 4 teams. It should be a fun time, and hopefully the weather will be nice enough that I can bring out my kids.

It seems like this stuff is happening all over, to whit the little home and away 'championship' they had a few weeks ago between Seattle and Furious. Could ultimate finally be hitting the tipping point? Or are we continuing to delude ourselves. From what I hear about the junior level growth, it appears to be real. Even my local high school in Arlington has a club team, albeit with zero affiliation with the school. I am trying to see if they are interested in some input.

Which, of course, brings up the second part of the recent growth/legitimization of the game. All of a sudden, coaching at the college level (and I guess high school) is rampant. Is there a top level team out there that does not have at least one coach now? What has changed that all of a sudden people want to give something back, as it were? And it's not just people coaching at their alma maters. People are almost chasing down opportunities to coach, as if it is the in thing. Is it? Stay tuned.

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