Friday, April 29, 2011

Conference Recap

Somehow we tricked Washington, UBC and Western into driving all the way to Eugene to play Sectionals. Then we lost in the semis.

The final standings were UW, us, UBC, then Western. All four of those teams had substantial talent still standing on the sidelines. The top three teams are all separated by a hairsbreadth. The scores of the three games they played (13-12 UBC over Oregon, 13-12 Washington over UBC and 11-9 Oregon over UBC) are a good indicator of how close these teams are. Western is the clear 4th best team in the conference/region. (We have so few teams out here in the sprawling West that our regionals will be a repeat of conference play for 7 of the 8 teams.)

Our first game against UBC was back and forth the whole way. We took a 4-1 lead, but after that no one ever lead by more than one. We gave up the lead, then took half, then gave it up again and couldn't regain control down the stretch. UBC played a great game point completing ~15 passes without a turnover against some pretty good man-to-man defense to win. UBC is a really interesting team. They are incredibly deep and resilient. Although I think they have the players who could be superstars, they don't play that way. Instead, each player does her little part. They don't quit either; they just keep plugging away. The depth they have lets them play a bit of a different game from most teams. It is very much a 15-15-15-15 game as opposed to the 5-5-5-50 game we play.

After we lost we went down onto the dirt road to play OSU, who we beat 15-1. Their entire team pretty much graduated last year, but they miraculously put together the foundation of a good team. They are entirely freshmen and sophomores and there are a few women on there who look to develop into good players. Then we played Western. The weird thing about Western is that they are clearly the 4th best team in a Region with 3 bids. They know it. We know it. UBC and Washington know it. It is a strange situation. We started off playing very flat. We were stilling feeling the UBC game from earlier. Then Cali (sp?) hurt her ankle and that was pretty much the end of the game. (Western is very reliant on 3 players: Cali, Lindsey and Katie.) We woke up and went from 6-6 to 15-8.

Meanwhile, UBC coughed up an 11-8 lead and lost the finals to Washington 12-13. I watched most of the end of the game. Washington just quit turning it over. UBC's offense didn't look all that much worse than it had earlier, but Washington did a really nice job of cashing in their opportunities. The cool thing about UW's game is how pleasantly old school they are. They run a vertical stack and they bring their high count bail off of the front of the stack. It isn't the 80s-90s vert stack that Seaweed runs, but more of a 1998 DoG vert stack. Short, tight and crowded.

We were very excited to play UBC again. They were very bummed to play us again. A front came through ten minutes before game time and the weather went from 65, still and sunny to 45, windy and gray. Very windy. We were pumped. They were not. We were happy to turn it over and play defense. They were not. The final was 11-9, but at one point it was 11-7 with 6 minutes left before the hard cap. Again, testament to UBC's resilience that they scored the last two.

Looking ahead to Regionals, it is a coin flip for who wins. It is a coin flip for who has to play Western in the game to go. Whoever plays well at the end of their games against each other (of the big three) will win. Whoever doesn't will lose. I am very curious about are whether or not Whitman (who accepted the bid up from D-III) has enough game to challenge Western. I am curious how Western will manage their scarce resources. Will they try to sneak attack in semis? Or will they rest and rest and rest and go all out in the game to go?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Conference Week 1

My brief (and based only on the results page) thoughts on the first Weekend of Conference Championships are mostly about parity, parity, parity. Not every favored team lost (see Michigan or Ottawa), a lot of them did. Here are the highlights.

1. UW-Eau Claire over Wisconsin. 9-8. Has Sol ever beaten Bella? UWEC, which looked like a non-contender in the Cold and Snow Division behind Syz, Iowa, Iowa State and Wisco, suddenly has inserted themselves into the discussion.
2. UNC over UNCW. Three weeks after a disappointing (18th) finish at Centex, NC got a second straight victory of Seaweed (who lost in the finals at Centex). Both these teams, cushioned by 3 bids, are going to Nationals, but this rivalry just gets better and better. I can't help but think that they're going to meet at Nationals with a lot on the line. (Again.)
3. Colorado doesn't make Regionals! This is biggest shocker. They were in semis last year! I am stunned. I am saddened for their coach Tina, who has been a co-traveler with me my entire career. (I played against her at College Nationals in 93 and 94, when she was playing Open with Jojah.) I think this will be another stick of wood on the Colorado-Should-Be-It's-Own-Region discussion. (It should be.)
4. I think I missed a game....

This weekend
1. Northwest. We play the same teams this weekend and then again at Regionals. How good are all of us? No one knows. Has Western grown enough to challenge UW, UBC and UofO for a spot at Nationals? We'll see.
2. Southern Cal. Can UCLA challenge UCSB? Historically, the Skirts have played inconsistently at Sectionals and Regionals. They do what they need to to make the Show, but don't seem too stressed out about winning it. (They lost one or the other of these the past couple of years.) UCLA sure could use the win.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Power of a Name

A conversation I had this week got me thinking about the power of names...

Following a disappointing season in 1998 (including the nastiest dirt road ever) and several years of internal acrimony (several posts in its own right), Sockeye fell apart. Eight guys, mostly older, left to join up some Rhino and NYNY guys to make the super-whore-team Blaze of Glory. Those of us who were left set out to pick up the pieces. It was clear right away that the team was going to be nothing like it had been in the past. Whole sections of the offense (Shekky, Tommy, Federbush) had left and big chunks of the d-team's ability to score (Keith Monohan, Ricky Mel, Gary Brady, Jonny G) had gone too. We were a new team.

We recognized we were a new team and planned for a new name. I can remember sitting around in the Jaded House and throwing around possible names: Emerald City, Pod, who knows what all else. Nothing seemed any good. Finally after two weeks of one idiotic name after another, we gave up and became Sockeye again.

Immediately, the expectations and attitude of the team changed. We weren't some young, dumb upstart team anymore we were Sockeye! We were legit! We were contenders! (We weren't really, but that's not the point.) When we kept the name, we kept all the expectations. We kept the attitude. The three consecutive trips to finals in 95, 96 and 97? Ours. World Gold medal in 97? Ours.

Without the name would Seattle have still turned into the dominant team it was 2004-2008? Maybe. But maybe not. There is no way we would have won without the return of all the great Seattle juniors players (Nord, Chase, CK...), who at one point made up a third of the team. I know that a big pull for them was to play for Sockeye. Not Seattle necessarily, but Sockeye. All through those dark years of 99-03 (which Roger and I still call the Dark Years), we were buoyed by our expectations. By our Sockeye expectations. We kept chipping away at our inadequacies until we met and surpassed what had been.

Names have power. They carry with them the weight and strength of past achievements and expectations. That's why I get a little smile every time I see that Ring is still Ring and Chain is still Chain and the Lady Condors are still the Lady Condors. That's why I mourn a little for the loss of a team like DoG or Godiva or NYNY or Windy City.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Greatest....

On a lighter note, I found this book at Smith Brothers this past weekend. Without question, the most insightful (and funny) book ever written about Ultimate. I read it pretty much straight through in the car when I was supposed to be going to the grocery store. In a bemused and somewhat embarrassed way, I felt like I was reading my own biography and finding out it that it had been filed in the Sports-Humor section. Hm.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Centex, Bids and More! Part II

There are several really interesting comments to yesterday's post and my replies out-grew the comment box, so here they are in their own post.

On the bid allocations/Centex format:
One unfortunate consequence of the bid allocation and the format was the last round game for 17th between UNC and Texas. UNC had to put most of their team on airplanes and had only 8 women left for the game. Texas wanted to play (probably partly to avenge Saturday's 11-12 loss) and refused the double forfeit. How much of this decisions was influenced by the bid process? How much was influenced by just wanting to play? I can't help but think that it is influenced by the anxiety about bids. Every team from every region felt it. Everyone was watching how their worst-best-team was finishing. We were watching UBC struggle. The Central teams were watching ISU and Syzygy. The California teams were watching UCLA. UNC was worried about their own finish and Texas, as the best finisher in the South Central could do no better than 17! (Thanks to Lindsey for taking the time to explain some of UNC's thoughts on the system. My own frustrations were with the format and less with the bid allocations process, so I was probably projecting a bit.)

on Going forward/Next year
It is unclear how teams and tournaments will react to the system. It is pretty clear that there will be some changes because the current way the system is set up doesn't work. The early spring tournaments were set up to get people a lot of competition against a lot of teams. Wins and losses had no real consequence beyond team psyche. Experience and practice were the goals. Obviously, that is not the case. Here are some real changes that are likely:
  • Western goes to Midwest Throwdown. Western went to Stanford Invite this year and lost every game. 3-15 is a rough record. Had they gone to Midwest Throwdown, they would likely have come out at least .500, maybe better. As the 4th team in our Region (this year at least) they need to do something to bolster their chances of a 4th bid.
  • Teams 'mess up' rosters. Both UCLA (no Korb, no Kodiak) and us (no lots of people) would have been wise to not turn in rosters for Centex. Is this legal? I think so. Is it ethical? Good question. I don't know if Ottawa intentionally failed to submit a roster to Prez Day, but it would have been smart of them. They're flying across the country. They are leaving behind their star, Anne Mercier. They are playing westies who've been outside for months and there is still two feet of snow on the ground at home. This seems both smart and ethical. Is it ok for a team to decide two weeks before a tourney that they don't like there chances and then not turn in a roster? That seems a bit more dubious.
  • Tournaments restructure. I think Lindsey's concerns about experience and pressure a good ones. As teams begin to reevaluate their decisions about what tournaments to attend and how to approach them, there will be pressure on tournaments to change the way they are doing business. There was a similar change 10-15 years ago when the early spring tournaments really blew up. Prior to 2000, teams didn't travel all that much before spring break. At Carleton in the early 90s, we didn't even throw outside until Saturday morning at Easterns. Fly to Vegas? Fly to San Diego? Fly to Palo Alto? In February?
  • All this adds up to the fact that the landscape is changing. How will it end up? Who knows. Will it get to a good place? Who knows.
On parity
There is more parity this year than last year, partly because of natural fluctuations in the development of teams, but also because there is more talent across the board. Last year saw four teams (UW, UCSB, UofO and Wisco) at the peak of long periods of improvement. All four of those teams are worse now than they were at this time last year. That doesn't mean they won't surpass their previous incarnations; it's just a measure of where they are at this moment. At the same time, there are a number of teams (Cal, Stanford, Carleton, Wilmington, UNC, Michigan, UBC, UCLA...) who returned to the season largely intact and on the rise. The result is a whole lot of teams converging at the top.
Coaching plays a huge role in parity because it keeps teams from collapsing. Michigan is a great example. (Although if I'm wrong on this, Flywheel, let me know.) Their great 2009 E-Bae led team just missed quarters and then a ton of their players graduated. Historically, player-led teams collapsed at this point, sometimes folding up completely. This didn't happen and I would credit it to the continuity that coaching provides. While Flywheel is the example I used, it is by no means the only one.
As to our own (U of O's) losses and injury struggles: a loss is a loss is a loss. Teams beat us. I don't think you ever want to ignore a loss ('97 Sockeye, anyone? '05 Sockeye, anyone?) and you don't want to make excuses. If a loss is out of your control, how will you change it?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Centex, Bids and more!

Sorry for the long delay in writing. I have been sending out reams of emails to Fugue about this-that-and-the-other and not really had time to write. It's another in a long line of conflicts between myself as a coach and as a commentator. (A conflict which probably deserves its own post, but not today.)

Centex In General
I'm going to say some nice things and then complain a bit.
1. Well run as are all of Michelle's tournaments. She just does a good job of making sure that all the details are attended to. We have gotten a bit spoiled over the last few years as the institutional memory in our sport has gotten better and better and the tournaments have steadily improved.
2. It was very nice to go to a women's only tournament again. Last year, Prez Day and Centex were only women. These were the first tourneys I'd been to that were only women and I was surprised how much I enjoyed them and how little I missed the men's teams. Since I don't give a rip about the social scene and don't really care about watching men's teams play (except to see CUT paste the Hodangs) I don't miss the boys. Unlike Prez Day and Stanford, at Centex this year the best women's games got the best and most central fields instead of being delegated to the secondary locations.
3. I hate the format. I am reminded very much of the old Chicago Tune-Up format which in the late 90s was to Club what Centex has become to the college women. Every team in the country went and that glut made an unmanageable format. In an effort to please everyone and make it possible to have a divided and yet open format both tournaments had a huge number of games squeezed into a very small amount of time. At Tune-Up it was 6! pool play games on Saturday. At Centex it was 4 games on Sunday starting at 8AM. If these games were against SW Wichita State and Olympic Peninsula Forestry College and are going to wash out at 15-2, no biggie. But our four games were against Wisconsin, UCSB, Washington and Stanford. Nobody reached 11 points in any of these games. Bah!

Centex for Fugue
We staggered into the tournament with major injuries all over the place. Here is our out list to start the tournament: Julia (concussion), Bailey (hamstring), Krista (foot), Rachel (ankle) and Lily (ankle). Butters played only Saturday (Achilles), Sophie (hamstring) and Aubri (ankle) didn't play the last two.
Nonetheless, we managed to eke out a wins over Stanford (Sat) and Wisconsin (Sun) with some great defense and just enough offense. We dropped one to UNC that we shouldn't have. We were up 8-3 and lost 11-12. Four first-pass turnovers probably hurt us. Credit to them though-they played very well and cashed in on the opportunities we gave them. We played great defense in the quarters against UCSB and had plenty of opportunities to win, but couldn't cash them in. We lolly-gagged on the field switch from the Wisco game and weren't ready to play. We went down 0-3 and couldn't close the gap and lost by the same margin 7-10 or 8-10.

Bids to Nationals
Weirdness in the bids. There is far more parity in the women's division than anyone expected and some strange things happened.
1. State of California?! After their reputation got the rules rewritten, the state of California failed to cash in and has only three bids. Yikes! The new adage that You Region is Only as Good as Your Worst Good Team really was proven here. UCLA, Korb-less and Kodiak-less plummeted through the standings at Centex and cost California a bid. I wouldn't count them out at Regionals, though.
2. Cowboy Region?! The region strength bid came through for this group. With a mess of good teams, (Colorado, Co College, WUWU, Texas...) but no great ones they get two bids which I think they deserve.
3. Atlantic Coast. I talked to Lindsey Hack on Sunday and she was PISSED about the schedule and the format and the bid! But it all worked out. UNC's finishes elsewhere in the season prevented a total collapse ala UCLA and UVA's nice results propelled the Atlantic Coast to 3 bids. Wahoowa!
4. All in all, despite some weirdness in the actual placement of teams (like UW being 2nd despite not making semis in any tournaments this year) I think the bids were allocated fairly. If I'm wrong for any reason, I'd love to know.

The Regular Season
Here's my problem with the USAU's system. Now is the time we should be ramping up. Now is the time I should be getting freaked about the games within my Region. UW. UBC. Western. But those games don't really matter until regionals. A month and a half in the heart of the season will pass without a meaningful game. It doesn't make sense that we are all stressing about games in February and then not about the games in April. In every other sport, the regular season is against the teams in your division/conference/region that matter, not so much. I spent a lot of time this year talking with Danny (UW), Tasi(UBC) and Jinny(Western) about other teams and scouting reports and whatnot. Can you imagine Les Miles co-scouting with Nick Saban? Or Gino comparing notes with Muffet?