Sunday, May 07, 2006

06 NE Regionals...from my perspective

Well...I guess Neva was right.

Coming into the tournament, our primary outcome goal for the season was to make the second day of Regionals. Certainly, many established programs might chuckle at such a goal, but for us, after losing in the backdoor quarters last year, I felt that it was an appropriate, if not ambitious goal. I think that some teams probably felt that we "didn't belong", but we were very clear that our concern was getting to Sunday and not proving anything to anybody. This goal carries historical weight for our program as well. I think, coming into the weekend, the Whips felt still under the shadow of our 03 class of 14 talented seniors. Nell and Naomi, our captains, played on Wellesley's first and only (so far) B team that year, and the A team lost a 10-9 heartbreaker to Tufts in the backdoor quarters that year. My understanding is that the only other time Wellesley made day 2 was in 2000, when Andrea lead the team to the game to go. This all might seem quaint, but I was talking with Bernie from Tufts during our semis, and, as a contrast, Tufts has made day 2 every year, except last year, forever. When discussing this goal with the team, we talked about the sacrifices necessary to achieve this goal, and the team, as usual, was up for the challenge to our commitment as well as bucking a historical trend.

As I packed for the weekend, I was most anxious about the fact that we did not have a format and a schedule yet. At about 9:30pm, I finally received an e-mail confirming both. The lack of such info basically meant any preparation during the week was guesswork, and we happened to guess right as the format was indeed the standard double elim bracket. I guess there was some issue with field availability, but the experience certainly informed me, as a UPA coordinator, about what information is necessary and when it needs to be disseminated.....but that is fodder for another post.

ROUND 1:
Every game goes to seed except Yale over Harvard. As I said in my previous post's comments section, I had Yale at 9 instead of 10 to begin with, but I do feel the data supported Yale at 10. As I hung our during our bye, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Northeastern's Coach, Jason Adams, and he said that they had a nail biter with Williams 15-13. If I recall correctly, Williams went up 7-2.

Our day opened up against Smith. I had heard that they liked to huck and play zone, so we decided to back them. It was just windy enough to help our zone, and we took half 8-3. We were able to open up the roster a bit, so that was positive. In the second half, we continued to open up the roster, but each time we did, Smith went on a mini-run. We were able to close out the game comfortably at 15-9.

ROUND 2:
I believe everything went to seed in this round, in both brackets.

For us, it was our big game as the winner went on to semis and, more importantly, Sunday. Also, as not the biggest squad, I felt it was vital to avoid the fourth round backdoor quarter game. So this was the time and our opponent was, as expected, Northeastern. A few of my players were a bit nervous before the start. Tyke said she felt nauseous. We received going down wind, and they broke us and then scored downwind. We were having trouble with their 4 person cup. We were able to get some breaks as well and started to break down the mark of their cup. It was pretty windy, so neither team was that efficient, but we were able to secure half, 8-5. We traded to start the half, and then we seemed to make some mental errors. We had decided not to take undue risks in our own red zone, but we made some casual passes, they broke us twice, and it is 10-9. We then bear down and go on a 4-0 run. They score to in row before we close it 14-11. The game is long and ends 3 minutes after semis is supposed to start. We take a moment to recognize the achievement of our outcome goal before heading over to play in semis.

ROUND 3:
In the other semi, Dartmouth beat MIT. Brown, Williams, Vermont, and Northeastern win their games in the backdoor.

I had some ideas about tweaks for Tufts, but I was concerned that we were out of gas. We talked briefly about what we wanted to achieve in this game. We decided to go all out for a few points and see where that took us. Pretty much the only glimmer of light from Sectionals was our zone, so we decided to commit to that. The first point had a few turns, we had success with our zone and scored 1-0. After that it was, I swear, the closest 15-1 game ever. Tufts played great, but we never gave up. We were able to open up the roster a bit and some of our newer players made some good plays. Marisa popped well, and Kat made a nice block to save a goal. Good stuff. While it is always frustrating to lose in that fashion, I am always proud of how mentally even my girls are. We never get too up when we have success, but we also don't get too down when we lose....especially if we feel we played good Ultimate.

ROUND 4:
I left as Brown was up on Vermont 10-8, and they won 13-11, so we would play them in the morning. Northeastern beat Yale in the other backwater quarter. So a good showing from the Metro Boston Section.

We had a team dinner and bonfire at Tories house in VT afterward.

SUNDAY:

MIT beat Northeastern 14-11 in the other backwater semi.

I had scouted Brown during their Vermont game, so I was pretty familiar with their sets and calls. I thought we would have success with our zone, but they are talented, fundamentally sound, and a very difficult opponent. Plus their coaching staff is much smarter than I am.

We receive going downwind. I think we trade and then they break us and score downwind. We seem to wake up and have good success running our offense upwind. We are able to tweak our zone a bit, and we go up 7-3. I remark to the team that I love the fact that you can't tell how we are doing during a game. No big celebrations after we score, no cheer, but our heads are up when things are not going well. Bernie from Tufts said we play with heart. I hope that is true, but I know that we do not rely on emotion to stoke the fire.

Brown, however, for a young rebuilding team, has a lot of heart and fight as well. They start going over the top of our zone, and they go on a BIG run. We are finally able to score downwind and take half 8-7. We decide during half time to have LB push more aggressively as deep deep to help Naomi as short deep. We are also saving a point of man defense as we have not shown that the entire game. We pull to them and trade to 10-9, cap is on, game to 12. We are pulling to them upwind. We decide to play man for the first time, hoping to surprise them with pace. We pull, get our marks wrong, and are lucky that we get a drop. We are, after a while, able to score upwind. 11-9. We get a turn and can't convert. After a controversial catch which gets sent back (I don't even need to acknowledge my obvious bias, but I felt it was clearly not a catch), we get a turn and score to win 12-9.

I must mention Ted Munter's positive sportsmanship. At one point in the game, one of their defenders knocked down Angie as she was going for a catch. This occurred right in front of Ted. Angie went down and held onto her head. After a few moments, Angie was able to get up, but was pretty disoriented. It was an awkward moment as it was clearly a foul, but I try my best (and fail sometimes) to let things go their way on the field. As I was helping Angie off the field, I felt my only choice was to ask her if she is going to call a foul. Clearly a leading question, but a question nonetheless. Angie says "Yes, I think so." The defender contests, but Ted jumps in and says "I don't think you can contest. It was a foul". She rescinded the contest.

THE GAME TO GO TO THE GAME TO GO:

MIT. It came to my attention during the week that some of the MIT players took issue with my comment on a previous post that "me and the Tufts coaches enjoy the chess match". I must have missed the rule that one can't use chess as a symbol for Ultimate strategy as putting Ultimate into the same sentence with chess denigrates the proud heritage of such a real intellectual pursuit. I am pretty sure I meant it as a turn of phrase. In any case, my apologies to the chess folk. Of course, this mandates that I must use chess as a symbol for the entire summary of our game....so here it goes.

Like the seven distinct chess pieces (horsey, turret thing, etc), MIT in white, and Wellesley in black lined up on the field of battle. As is customary, the game begins with the first moves (called the "Startings"). Wellesley gets the first move as they are black.......

Ok, enough of that. It takes too much research.

We had to move to another field, so now there is a distinct crosswind. MIT mixes up their defense sets while we settle in on adjusting our zone. It is back and forth, but MIT is having success at breaking our trap by throwing up the line and around our wing. About mid-way through the half, MIT comes with a cup and man downfield. It takes us a bit to adjust and they take half 8-6 (Nancy even mentioned to me in an e-mail that they were doing this but I forgot to prepare. Damn.)

During half, we discuss some adjustments to their man/zone combo. We are getting open, but we are not cutting under enough. We also tweak our zone a bit. Petek, who has played maybe 3 points all weekend, basically focuses us on the how we are going to stop the up the line throws. She is a model for any player who does not play a lot, but remains focused and talking on the sideline.

MIT keeps up with man downfield and the cup underneath. We get good swings that result is open looks. Tyke makes a perfect cut deep for LB, who makes a great pass, but Yelena makes a HUGE block and they score to make it 11-7 game to 13. We have success working up field, but turn it. Our zone is working well and there are a number of times where they put up very risky long passes. On this point, however, one of their receivers catches it, and calls a timeout. During the timeout, I can see that Naomi is emotional. I realize that she is starting to wrestle with the end of her college career. I check in with her, we play good defense, but they score...12-7. I walk back to the line with Naomi and it is very emotional, but very few words are spoken. At this point, there are few adjustments to be made. I really can't talk other than bleat out something about playing with heart............ which I pretty sure most everyone on both sidelines is quite happy about, so the team makes it own calls. I am thankful that we have a "bottom up" foundation in terms of decision making. We score, and then score again. Digging deeper, running on fumes, playing with heart. Langdon makes a huge grab in the back of the endzone to make it 12-11. We pull and get the disc back. Ralph makes a great cut and Nell puts it into the endzone, but it just goes off Ralph's fingertips. MIT works it and has success with a deep shot. They score. Game over. 13-11.

My girls were remarkable in being able to take the loss in stride and will take pride in their achievements. I am especially proud of what Nell and Naomi have achieved over their careers at Wellesley. They have worked very hard and become leaders of a team that rose to the occasion and achieved its goals in a clear way. The team was remarkably selfless and focused on the concerns of the whole. It was a great weekend and a fantastic season.

Congratulations to Dartmouth and Tufts for earning the spots to Nationals. They dominated the region this year. I wish them best of luck.

7 comments:

Libby said...

Hey, I just discovered your blog. Thanks so much for this post! I won't be able to make it to the alum game this year, but please pass on my congratulations to the team!

shiv said...

congrats GC and the Whips. it sounds like a great step in the evolution of your program.

-shiv
portland, or

Marshall said...

Congratulations to you and the team, George.

Despite my clearly-failed intent to get out and support your efforts, I learned quickly in meeting the team a couple times that they are dedicated, very committed to learning, and truly enjoy the sport and each other. Their successes are both a reflection of their committment and of your efforts for them.

gcooke said...

Hey folks,

Thanks for writing. I am tired in that wrung out kind of way.

Marshall,

Don't worry...I am going to get you to be a "throwing doctor" next year. Lord knows, my gals don't want me teaching them that.

-G

Neva said...

Sounds like a great weekend for you and Wellesley, despite the loss. I think by "forever" Bernie must have meant "since 1999"; I seem to remember losing very early to MIT my freshman year. It's nice to hear Tufts has a solid base to build from and a successful B team. For years and years we were jealous of Brown and their "robots", teams full of girls with solid fundamentals and the occasional super star. It sounds like Sangwa and Alicia are bringing something like this to Tufts, and it can only be good for the competitiveness of the region as a whole.

Is it hard at all to deal with the more open display of emotions in the women's game? I think CP was sometimes nonplussed by our outbursts, especially when we'd make each other cry.

gcooke said...

Neva,

Nice comments.

I think the girls were so happy with the weekend. They seemed to be able to appreciate what they achieved right away.

If I recall the conversation correctly, I think "forever" might be my words, not hers.....

I agree about Sangwha and Alicia. They are doing a great job there, and they have been there as long as I have been at Wellesley......I think? I started in the fall of 02..........

In terms of the emotional side of things, that is a very interesting question. My girls have never made each other cry at practice. This is not to say that there is not stress or drama or tension. I do think that they maintain very good perspective and the team is very focused on the task at hand.

-G

Neva said...

We never made each other cry at practice; we saved it for the important occasions, like big games at Easterns.

But in all seriousness, one of my worst moments was losing at Regionals sophomore year; our team just sitting there silently in a big circle, with our one senior quietly sobbing. I'm guessing there are times like this in the men's game, but I imagine they take a different form.