Monday, May 21, 2007

Traveling Well

Nope...this isn't about taking advantage of SOTG.

Club season is beginning to kick into high gear and teams are starting to travel all over the place to tournaments. Many times, it seems to me, the "home" team, or at least a team in the very near vicinity, wins tournaments. Obviously, there are no frothing crowds to create a home field advantage, but perhaps we don't travel that well as teams. Certainly, there isn't any kind of structure or the type of amenities that even a professional minor league team demands, so I do think that traveling does test a team in terms of its ability to create a sense of structure(off the field). It also tests the team goals and the individuals responsibility to take care of the things they can control. In a sense, most teams rely of their specific level of athleticism to get them through, but there might be ways to increase a teams performance by paying attention to the details of traveling.

So, what are some things that a team can do to travel well? I don't suspect that many folks will want to reveal their company secrets, but I am curious as to both the positive and negative experience that folks have had.

Here are some things I have noticed have worked well for me:
-Having a set time to get to the fields in the morning. I think it is important that there are some kind of consequence for being late.
-A defined and set routine for warming up.
-Getting enough sleep.
-Having good directions to the fields.
-Clear process and outcome goals for the event.

As an individual, I had a pretty OCD routine for the morning of tournaments:
-cleated up and warming up 45 minutes before the first pull
-arrive at the fields 1 hour prior to the first game
-breakfast(plenty of water, 2 egg and cheese sandwiches, small coffee) 2 hours prior to the first pull(varied a bit depending on driving time to the fields)
-wake up, long hot shower and stretching 2.5-3 hours prior to the first game.

So, if games started at 9am, I was up at 6-6:30. This was hard when I had arrived the night before and if there had been time zone changes.

I think teams can place a bit of time and energy into planning and thinking about how they travel as a team. I will be looking at this a bit s the summer progresses.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Wellesley Alumni Game

We had our annual Alumni game yesterday. Beautiful weather this year. Last year it rained so much we had to play indoors. This year we had eight alumni ranging from the class of 02 to grads from last year. The alumni game is an important day for the team as it is a chance for connection. New players to the team get a chance to see where the foundation of the team comes from. Seniors get a chance to demonstrate the work that has taken place over the past years. The alumni get to reconnect with the team and see the changes that have taken place since they graduated. It is nice to visit with the alums. Folks are still playing, working, traveling, etc. I have been thinking a lot about values over the last week or so, and the alumni game is a time to be reminded that core values run through the years like a stream. The sense of community, respect, and fun that were important to the team over 5 years ago are still part of the basic make-up of the team today. Probably most importantly, everyone can check in on the perspective that the team is bigger than all of us and the game is a chance to celebrate our accomplishments and the investment that everyone has made.

It is also a bittersweet day, of course, as it marks the last time we will have our seniors as part of the team. This group of seniors, especially Tyke, Ronnie, Ace, Langdon, and Jess, should take a great deal of pride in the way the team has progressed over the last four years. Four years ago we were a young team that barely qualified for Regionals. These seniors have guided the team to a time of growth in terms of numbers, and, of course, great accomplishments on the field. To leave the organization in much better shape than when they arrived should be a source of pride.

I will, in particular, miss Tyke very much. Tyke pretty much "bought in" to Ultimate from the get go, and her enthusiasm and hard work was for me a great source of validation as we began to build the program up after the spring of 03. As I have said before, her selfless approach after her knee injury this past fall is a remarkable testament to courage, discipline, and sense of team. Tyke would make any coach feel proud and I was lucky to have worked with her for 4 great years. All of our seniors brought something to the team, and as every year, it is hard to imagine the Whips without Ronnie's sense of humor and unstoppable cuts at high stall counts, Langdon's calm leadership, Jess's throws, and Ace's play against a zone offense. We will get a chance to be reminded of these things when they return as alums in subsequent years.


Monday, May 07, 2007

NE Women's Regionals Write-Up

Regionals is the best time of year. There are time where I think this sport is going to kill me, and perhaps the excitement of Regionals is due to dancing close to the line in terms of stress. We were lucky to have a gorgeous weekend up in Hanover, NH, and the first thing I must say is a big thank you to Kendra who served ably as our RC this year. Kendra was highly organized and communicative. I hope all the teams are able to drop her a line and thank her for her time. Congratulations to Dartmouth and Tufts who deservedly earned bids to Nationals by playing playing very good Ultimate and carrying themselves with class and positive spirit. I am sure that the region is wishing them the best and hoping that they represent well in Columbus.

There seems to a rumor floating around (it even came up on RSD this morning)that using brackets as our format was somehow different and/or new. We have actually used the pool play format only once, and it was when we had 14 teams. My perspective is that pool play has always been a West Coast thing (my sense is that the extra game makes the sense of traveling in a large region easier), and that the story this year was actually Regions like the AC, and ME going with pool play instead of the usual brackets.

Pete and I met in Waltham at 6am and headed up to Hanover on a beautiful day. We arrived promptly at Sachem fields at 8am and pulled in behind the girls, who had stayed at Dartmouth overnight. Our first game was against Vermont, who had, in talking to their coach Darren Byerly, lost a bunch of seniors from their successful 06 campaign. In watching them warm-up, it was clear that they had some quality players, so we certainly were not looking past them. There wasn't a breeze in the air when the game started, so we decided to test the work that we had done on our person D over the past few months. With the proper focus on defensive positioning we were able to get some turns, and although nothing was easy, we were able to get some short goals with a minimum of possessions. My concern was offensive efficiency. I wanted to minimize our possessions and save energy for the later rounds. We were pretty successful at this and were able to secure a 15-7 win.

The news in that round was BU beating a very good Yale team(please give me some credit on saying that BU was a VERY TOUGH first round match up and an very dangerous 11 seed) and MIT beating Williams. Go Metro Boston. It doesn't escape my notice that Metro Boston teams were only eliminated by other Metro Boston teams over the course of the weekend, and we placed 3 teams in the semis. Our sections final placements were: 2,3,4, tied for 5th, tied for 7th, and 9th. Nice work.

Our second round match-up was Wesleyan, who beat a Leila Tunnell lead Conn College teams. I knew very little about Wesleyan other than they were "scrappy" and "gritty", in the words of Mo McCamely, from Brown. It was getting windier so we had success early with our zone. Langdon scored 4 of our first 5 goals, or something like that. We had a hell point at around 4-1 that concerned me greatly as we just seemed unable to throw and catch. This lead to bit of lack of focus on our part as we went deep into our roster for a few points to rest the folks that had been on the field for a long time. It was wonderful to have a pretty deep team this year, and, when called upon, folks like Ronnie and Ace stepped up, and we had great contributions from our first year class of Moody, Gabrielle, Caroline, Min, and Bizno. Wesleyan made a run at us at this point, though, and tied it at 6-6. I was a bit pissed that we let them back in, but I felt confident that we could win if we got our offense back on track. We managed to to get a zone back in gear and, again, get some short goals. We emerged with a 15-10 win, and, indeed, Wesleyan never goes away. Their coach, Jayadev, wrote me back in the fall about beginning work with that team, and I got the sense that they were very much in a rebuilding phase. They made remarkable strides this year. Hopefully they will continue to build on their success.

The win in qtrs got to semis vs Tufts, and, importantly, a slot on Sunday (remember back to last year? This is still not "expected" territory for us). we moved over to field 3 which was upwind-downwind instead of crosswind. It was very windy. 25 mph gusts. I was actually happy as we had played Tufts closely at Sectionals in similar conditions and it certainly helps to minimize the damage created by their very talented throwers. I was quite interested in the flip, and I was surprised when Tufts won that they elected to pull. It seemed to me not unreasonable that they would want to set themselves up to break us upwind early, though, so I guess I wasn't that surprised. We took side and so received downwind. We scored going downwind and some success with person D, although the wind made it hard to take much comfort in our success. Tufts was able to get reasonable even despite a very strong headwind. Most likely those passes are complete without the wind. One of my big goals for the game was to establish our offense going upwind, even if it meant giving them some short goals. I felt that we were too quick to pull the trigger at Sectionals and that are upwind looks were basically punts. We got a turn from Tufts, and found our offense. We were able to throw and catch, break the mark, etc. Angie played big with good break mark throws and she scored the goal to secure the break 2-0. We pulled and played zone. Most teams do struggle against our zone, but Tufts plays a 2-handler set and they are are not most teams. They have very good throwers and poppers and they will exploit whatever crossfield opportunity we give them. They score upwind and then downwind 2-2. We score downwind and it is 3-2. Looking back, I probably should have taken a timeout to just reset our focus, but I was afraid that Sangwha would get mad at me. All kidding aside, in hindsight, Tufts puts so much pressure on our offensive efficiency that I think a stoppage of play here would have been prudent. Tufts went on a 4-0 run here. We were able to get turns on every possession in this stretch, and play good offense, especially upwind. Jersey and LB had some very good deep throws that we were able to complete, but we had a few instances of pressing for the score and not continuing possession, even if it meant taking a 1 yard pass while we reset. We are able to go through their 1-3-3 and score a couple in a row to take it to 6-5. Tufts breaks us again and takes it to half, 8-5. As I have said before, if you give a good team like Tufts 40 looks at your zone, they better break it. The second half was remarkably familiar to our sectional game against Northeastern. We seemed to have the ability to hang with Tufts through almost the entire first half, but then our energy collapsed, we started dropping the disc (I think back to what might have happened if we were able to cut our possessions against Wesleyan in half), and Tufts O really got in a great groove. They bageled us in the second half and took an impressive 15-5 win. I told Sangwha that I was very impressed by the mental focus of their team. Good work there.

We had a team dinner after the game, got some ice cream, and then Pete and I crashed in a local hotel. We talked about some adjustments and things we wanted to do on Sunday. I learned later that BU and Williams had won out in the back door, so the matchups for Sunday were: Wellesley vs BU, Northeastern vs Williams, and Tufts vs Dartmouth(who had beaten NU 15-9) in the final.

I knew going in that BU would put a lot of pressure on us. They play very good defense, have very good athletes, and a legitimate force in Mackenzie. What we do depends on whether she is on the field or not. They are also very well coached by Kathy Dobson, who perhaps, along with Mike from Dartmouth and Jeff from Harvard, defines a calm approach that I respect very much. This game to me came down to our ability to convert turns created by our zone D. We could throw and catch well enough to get away with a 15-9 win. BU is a very passionate team. They have done a lot of work and it was no surprise to me that hey went deep into this tournament.

Very much on a side note, I spent the entire game on the home side, which is unusual for me, but I really couldn't deal with the BU boys on the other sideline(in my experience, the Williams boys are equally as obnoxious). I think if I had been over there I would have gotten very pissed at folks I consider friends. Pete made sure that I stayed on the home side as he said "You don't want to hear what they are saying about the girls". It wasn't totally bad. I was grateful, for example, when one of the BU boys helped us out by pointing out where the disc should be put into play. That kind of input is valuable when the game isn't observed. Oops, my bad, the game did have observers who seemed quite capable of managing the game. Pete did convey to me that the boys were heckling us us based on some disc space calls that we made. My opinion is that there were a lot of marks over the weekend, but also in the BU game that were legal 10th edition, but not 11th edition marks. I felt that the conversations that took place between the players to be reasonable in terms of defining the "appropriate" terms by which we were going to play.

I very much enjoy the opportunity to play BU as they fully challenge us to play our best. That is program building upon its history of success and we are lucky to have them in our section. Our win meant that we played Northeastern in the backdoor final. I felt we were in a good place for this game as compared to last year as we seemed to have more gas in the tank. We had been thumped by Northeastern two weeks before, but again, I felt with better execution that we would have a shot at playing with them. What I didn't know (Jason said the same thing to me later) was that Jersey was going to have a monstrous game and launch us into new territory. NU went up a couple early. We kept the focus on throwing and catching though and managed to get a couple of breaks back and go up 4-3. NU runs a good zone, which we were having better success with, but we were really struggling to contain them with our D. I decided to call a time out after we scored at 4-3 to reset and refocus. Maybe try to learn something from the Tufts game. NU was running very good give and gos from the front of the stack and we were getting beat to the open side, so we had to do a few tweaks and revisit the offense. The time out didn't really work, though, as NU took half 8-6. We were having good moments, though. At one point Gabrielle caught a pass near the end zone, but turned it over. NU scored and she apologized on the line. I said that we just needed to play without fear. She went out and caught and threw passes on the next point, and just moved on past the error.

Something had to change after the half, and it did. I had little to do with. One of the big things is that NU lost two players to a concussion(one due to dive during our game, the other happened in the Williams game). I didn't realize that Courtney had to go to the hospital until about the end of the second half, but this was a huge loss for their team. The fact that they played so well speaks to their depth and talent. The other was that I started to play Tyke while Northeastern was playing zone. Tyke and Ralph started to play deep and on opposite sidelines, essentially creating a choice for their deep-deep. Somewhat counter intuitively, this left our first years like Min, Caroline, and Gabrielle as our poppers. They did a huge job of making big catches and throws to keep the disc in play and not let the NU wings to overplay on Tyke and Ralph. Meanwhile, LB was able to get some effective long throws which allowed big swings to Jersey who threw HUGE bombs for goals to Ralph and Tyke. I think she threw like 6 goals in the second half. Basically put the team on her back and carried it. In big games against very talented teams like BU, NU, etc, someone has to step up and it was Jersey. The effectiveness of this basically gave us a big run and we pulled out a 15-11 win.

I went to check out the Dartmouth-Tufts game, which Dartmouth won. Lots of zone D and many, many passes on both sides.

So, we found ourselves in the first game to go since Wellesley played Smith in 2000. Exciting stuff. Tufts was a bit down after their loss, but I was not going to even mention that to my girls. They are experienced and talented enough that they will get up and move on. Which they did. Tufts played great against us, and we did not throw and catch well in the first half, which they took 8-1. In the second half, we played a lot of Senior lines, and got big plays from Ace, Ronnie, and Ema. We went on a little run to 12-6, before Tufts closed it out to earn their spot in Columbus. I think my girls truly enjoyed the experience. I heard Bizno say that it was the most fun tournament she had been to. That is awesome.

I would just like to finish by offering my NE Coach of the Year. I think Mike from Dartmouth is the obvious choice. Most folks had written Dartmouth off this year with the losses of Shmi, Rory, and Liz M. They had a rough spring and lost in qtrs at Yale Cup. It seems to me that they timed their season perfectly, and peaked right at the most important time. I knew that they were a young team last year once you got past the stars and I felt that they would be a force in the region for a while. They are a talented team that has a positive system. I am sure they will do great at Nationals.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The hardest thing to do in Ultimate is..... d...and it is the most overlooked. Sure, the O guys get all the attention, but, remember, they have an advantage. Here is a partial list of what someone playing man d downfield must keep track of:

-where the disc is
-keeping their hips turned such that they can see the disc
-where their person is
-what the habits and tendencies of their person are
-what the strengths and tendencies of the thrower are
-the force
-where the person they are guarding is in the stack
-what the weather conditions are
-knowing that what you are giving them is what you are supposed to be giving them
-anticipating that they will cut to the space that you are giving them
-communicating with your teammates
-knowing if you are last back

I think I take it granted sometimes that all of the above (plus what I have omitted) is understood.

Having said all of this, perhaps it is true, then, that the hardest thing to do in Ultimate is play man d in Mixed there is many more opportunities to create isos downfield?