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.


Gambler said...

I guess I didn't know that the NE always uses the bracket format. I certainly didn't mean to start any false rumors on rsd!

In the NW, the women's division has had trouble fielding a full 16 team division, so pool play options are usually the only ones available. In the one year that we did have 16 teams while I was RC, I chose not to go with the bracket play option because of how few games it seemed to afford the lower half of the teams. Travel on the west coast probably makes this more of an issue, but when teams have to travel long distances it seems brutal to only guarantee 3 games--all on Saturday. I would think that might actually be a disincentive for many teams to come. On the other hand, lower teams get to play opponents on similar levels earlier in the tournament. I guess I was just trying to find out more information about how teams compare the bracket format to the pool play format that all non-Series tournaments use.

Congratulations on a successful tournament and season, George.

gcooke said...

Hi Gwen,

Thanks for writing. Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you had started the rumor. I actually had independent conversations with several folks who seemed to recall that we had done pools in the past. So, my comment was piecing together several unrelated conversations/comments.

I do think that geographic size and travel concerns can very much come into play in making this decision. I also think that while not a primary factor in and of itself, historical precedent can be considered.

I think another interesting discussion is the issue that brackets are different than the nationals format, so does having pool play at Regionals better select the teams for that format?

I am very curious about your original interest in players opinions about the experience of the two formats differ, so it would be great if folks could offer their insights.


jsa said...


Thanks for the props for Wesleyan. We had a great year, and made great progress. I wish I could have been there this weekend (stupid work) and gotten to talk to you in person again...

Congratulations to your girls on a great year, and hopefully we'll battle again next year.


The Carr said...

Hey George,

I just wanted to take this opportunity to let the readers of this blog know a little more about Emily 'Tyke' Jenkins, Wellesley's senior co-captain and Callahan nominee this spring. You can cue the sappy music now...

Before the year started she told me she wanted to lead this year's Whiptails to their best finish ever at regionals- a lofty goal since that meant finishing 3rd or better in a deep region. Then disaster struck: she tore her ACL at a scrimmage in the fall.

She never gave up though, and I have never seem anyone work so hard to recover. Her goal was to be back for Yale Cup, and she did it, taking the field against Williams on April 7th less than 5 months post op.

Unfortunately I didn't get to see her play much at regionals, but it seems like she was back to her old self- playing most of the points, catching deep scores, throwing low releases, and otherwise doing whatever she could to help her team succeed.

And succeed they did, as George describes above, finishing 3rd in the region, losing to Tufts in the game to go.

Yeah, I just thought people should know about that. And hey, while I'm at it, Tyke for Callahan.

A very biased,

Brett 'the' Carr

gcooke said...

Hi Brett,

Thanks for writing. Great comments. I think I keep some things pretty close to the vest during the year as I don't want to give to many tips about our team. I am probably remiss in generally not giving enough credit to individuals on the team. Perhaps I project too much "its all about the team" upon ourselves.

Having said that, it is very emotional for me to start to wind down on Sunday of Regionals and realize that I am approaching the end of my time with my seniors. To me, Tyke represents the beginning of a new era for the Whiptails, in that she was a first year in 03, when we had so much turnover. From the get go, Tyke loved to work hard. We were talking the other day about our first Sectionals, and somewhere during the middle of the first day, she does a huge layout right in front of us. Unfortunately, as the fields were crap, she landed in basically a pile of rocks and gravel. Never complained, though. The other thing is that Tyke, in kind of sick way, really enjoys "Three Points of Ultimate".

On a very personal note, I associate Tyke (and similarly Nell) with a certain validation of my coaching style. I have certain little phrases which I repeat inanely that probably drive most folks crazy. Things like "work hard, Whips!". I will say it over and over again. By the beginning of Tyke's second year, she would basically run with those phrases. It might seem quaint, but for me at the beginning of my coaching work, Tyke's embracing of our general apporach helped with my confidence. Another example is our zone, which I largely attribute to Tyke's interest and hard work.

Tyke did an amazing thing this year in her recovery, so I am glad you pointed this out. She spent a few days in tears after the injury, and she said on a number of occasions that she wasn't sure that she could be around the sport as it would hurt too much not to play. So, not only did she do the work to recover, but she was also there day after day, teaching, coaching, and making us better. She was able to remain both self-involved (needed for the discipline of recovery) and selfless(for the team).

She has had a great career as a Whiptail, and I am glad she was able to achieve her goals.

Finally, I just want to say congratulations on a great season to you. I am sure the loss to Williams is bitter, but in talking to you over the year, it seems that you guys played well when you needed to and you gave yourselves good opportunites to get to a good place.


Thomas Mason Pino said...
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gcooke said...
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