Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Five Things I Learned at College Nationals

Colorado State attended nationals for the first time this past weekend in Mason, Ohio. Beyond my own club experience from  more than a decade ago, the team had exactly zero members who had played on a stage this large - our closest comparison being several guys with YCC experience.

Results-wise, we didn't have much success, finishing without a win and tied for 17th. After winning our Conference and Region we had some momentum heading into nationals, but the logistics, format and planning were something new to the team and myself - I had only ever attended club nationals as a doofus kid who had no part in the planning or preparation process.

Despite not putting any wins on the board, the team had a wonderful time. We more or less scored and broke the same amount of times each game regardless of opponent (except for UBC when we ran open lines), but other teams consistently made fewer unforced errors and that's really what it came down to - catch and throw better, win the game.

Here are five things I learned as a first time nationals coach:

1) Don't Trust (just) the Film

I watched a lot of film between regionals and nationals. Early on, I set up some seeding projections and tried to watch as much footage of teams I expected to be in our pool. When seedings were finalized, I doubled down on the efforts to game-plan. In general, I take pride in preparedness. If we lose a game, I'd like to think it isn't because someone threw a curve ball we weren't expecting but...

Washington ran a split stack I had never seen on film and we struggled to generate pressure.

Stanford, a team I had expected to be huck-happy and force discs to a couple of big targets, were impressively patient and had several offensive possessions where they threw 25+ throws comfortably.

Umass and SLO largely played as expected.

In general, my film study wasn't overly helpful and in the case of Stanford actually a bit hurtful as we stuck with our FM a few points too long and didn't develop our zone enough to the point where we could challenge and pressure their offense consistently. In hindsight, I should have focused more on making our team more offensively dynamic rather than trying to further disrupt other teams based on incomplete or inconclusive film details from earlier in the season.

2) Player Lines/Observers on Every Field are Wonderful

These two things are lumped into one, but I can't emphasize how much the sideline buffers and observers make a difference. Not having to navigate players/bags and easily having vision of the field from the sideline, especially as a smaller person (I'm little), made life so much easier.

As far as observers, enough can't be said about the work that those folks put in at nationals and in general. I actually appreciate them more for keeping time and for their active calls rather than their rules mediation.

This is a point I made to my team before games on Friday and a point also brought up by other coaches that I think everyone should absolutely keep in mind: Observers should not automatically be referenced when a call goes against your team. The call should be appropriately discussed between players and if an agreement can not be reached then the observers should be brought in to clarify and make a ruling.

I think every competitive game benefits from having observers, but I also believe that if players don't take the time to arbitrate appropriately, we're losing the whole point of self-officiation. Learn the rules! Make the right calls at the right time regardless of whether that outcome benefits or harms your team! If an agreement can't be reached - that's the time for an observer.

Thanks to all of the hard working folks who observed our games over the weekend - wonderfully done!

3) You Have to be Top Heavy...

We'd spent our entire season rotating our whole roster through tournaments. We played three lines deep and purposely made sure we stayed just tight enough that we'd secure a nationals bid for the region. Our depth was solid at nationals but it turns out, with the forgiving nationals format (pool play games spread out over multiple days, huge breaks between games, etc), your depth matters less. You don't grind out wins late in the tournament simply because you're winning the attrition battle - you're seeing fresh, elite players at every phase of the game.

Our team didn't really win games during the regular season at match-ups 1-5, but rather more down towards 17-26. That's really where we shine and that's why we largely had weaker Saturdays and stronger Sundays (see regionals) throughout our season. Unfortunately, winning games late in the tournament at the back end of the roster just does not come in to play at nationals when you can't get out of pool play.

I can say now, from personal experience, playing 25 different players ranging in skills from above average to very solid will net your team consistent 11-15 (or so) losses at nationals.

This isn't to say I don't think our team can't compete at the highest levels with our current personnel. Our core of players is largely young guys lacking in elite reps. Now that the whole team has nationals experience and many guys are seeking out more club playing opportunities this summer, I think we'll develop more and more consistency at the top end of the roster.

4) ...But You Also Need Depth to Truly Contend

I'd venture to say that every men's college champion in the past seven years has been the deepest team in the field. I think Carleton winning this year really affirms that notion. I can't speak to women's as I'm not as familiar with the division, but even the Nethercutt and Mickle led championship teams had such a huge quality of play behind their superstars that they overwhelmed their opponents in the finals.

I'm really excited (as a coach and fan of college ultimate) that while it does seem like you do need a 'superstar' to contend, depth does matter when it comes to deep bracket play. I love a good underdog story, but I think it's appropriate that the teams winning the titles tend to be the best all-around teams, not just the best all-around 2-3 players.

5) Nationals is Fun

The atmosphere. The fans. The parents. The alumni. The commentators. The food (!!!!). The staff. Take your pick, it's fantastic.

Thanks to all the hardworking volunteers and staff members in Ohio this weekend and thank you Hib for working so hard and giving me an opportunity to experience nationals as a coach for the first time!






Friday, May 12, 2017

South Central Regionals 2017 - Colorado State



Colorado State Hibida went into regionals as the top overall seed. After upsetting Colorado at conferences and Texas upsetting Texas A&M at their conferences, the path was set.

We were confident in ourselves, certainly, but every team in the top four was threatening. Colorado was "coming back for [their] region." A&M had given us our only bad loss of the entire season at Centex and Texas was finally getting their very talented core of players healthy.

Saturday morning we arrived at the fields extra early to circle up and do some team building - reminding each other why we were there (to support each other) and how we got to that point (by supporting each other).

There was a slight breeze that made the games somewhat upwind/downwind and it stayed a factor throughout the weekend. Here is the full schedule and results.

Game 1 (pool play) vs Saint Louis University

Despite the high energy from team-building, we came out flat in our first game. SLU had a big thrower (#29), some good athletes down field and made nice plays early to jump out to a 4-1 lead. We reeled off three in a row to tie it up 4-4, but they broke us again before halftime and went into the break down 6-8.

There was no need to panic. We were running some new personnel on O together and the chemistry wasn't quite there, yet. Defensively, we planned out some adjustments for their huck-heavy approach.

In the second half we flipped Spicer to D, set a zone, and had Spicer go person-to-person on #29. The strategy proved effective as the rest of the team struggled with their "every-other" guy locked away from the disc. SLU fought admirably but we went on a 9-2 run to close out the game, 15-10.

SLU was a solid crew. They ended up fourth in the pool but played hard through consolation brackets for a seed-breaking, 9th place finish overall.

Game 2 (pool play) vs Baylor

We won the flip I elected to take offense, hoping Baylor would take the upwind endzone so we'd be attacking into the wind. I trusted my thrower-heavy O-line's ability to score upwind and I expected Baylor to struggle in the same situation. Even if we were broken to start, I was confident we'd get the break back out of half - the wind was supposed to pick up as the day went on.

My assessment was correct as we scored the first point upwind, then broke Baylor's first O. The rest of the first half was trades, but our offense scored with ease while their offense battled it out with our two D lines. Our D wasn't able to complete the upwind breaks, but we had the two break buffer and I expected that to increase that with Baylor receiving into the wind in the second.

I specifically steered clear of putting extra handlers onto our D lines to help offensively. With the longer pool play format, we knew we'd have 7 or 8 games, all on very hot turf, and we wanted to have every bit of extra gas available for Sunday bracket play.

The second half played out much like I expected - we broke out of half and Baylor lost a bit of steam. We traded several holds, then finished the game with two breaks - the first on bookends from freshman, Sean Peskin, and the second with our "Grandpas" line (our four graduating seniors and some other, older players) upwind, for the win, 15-9.

Overall, I was impressed with this Baylor squad. They had several very big athletes and spaced themselves well to take good deep shots. They won their crossover after pool play and played Mamabird tight in the quarterfinals, losing 11-14. In the end they finished 8th overall breaking their initial seed significantly.

Game 3 (pool play) vs Wash U

Let me start this with something from my regionals write-up from last year that 100% still holds true: "Wash U is one of our absolute favorite teams to play and I think we've played them every year at least once for the past five [six] years. They're competitive, spirited; they don't ever let calls from either team become a defining part of the game. I will gladly play them every year forever, win or lose."

Wash-U is also always a tight game for us. In 2015 they eliminated us from regionals. At 2016 regionals, they took half and and nearly eliminated us again, before we rallied late to win.

We started the game strong, getting two breaks and a 3-0 lead, but Wash-U fought back. We gave them a short field four or fives times this game and they capitalized every time. We stacked some D lines (the only game all weekend that we did so) to get a couple breaks back before half but they still held a slim 8-7 lead.

I doubled checked the point differential at half between Baylor and Wash U earlier in the day (Baylor had won that game) so I knew exactly the margin we'd need, even if we lost, to still win the pool. We had a bit of a buffer, but not a huge one.

Out of half we broke twice and took the lead back 9-8. I exhaled, figuring we'd gotten over the hump for this particular game, but Wash U again proved their mettle - holding to 9-9 then breaking back to regain the lead 10-9 when we again gave them a short field. We traded out to universe from there, stacking a line to try and win it, but they patiently worked the downwind, and won the game with a crisp break throw and score - final 12-13.

I knew the margin of loss was within our buffer to win the the pool, but this was a disappointing loss and still the only game all weekend we played with kill lines - no excuses. Props to Wash-U for a well-fought game and hard-earned victory. I love their program.

They ended up third in the pool on the point differential but continued on to win their crossover before losing to Texas 13-10 in the quarterfinals and a seed-breaking 6th place overall finish. All four teams from our pool finished in the top 10, with both the 2 and 3 winning their crossovers for a quarterfinals berth - clearly the strongest pool at the tournament.

Game 4 (crossover) vs Texas

This game was for position within the bracket - win or lose we'd be playing against the winner of a 2/3 crossover, so while we certainly wanted to notch a win against a quality Texas program, the pressure of the game wasn't significant, as the consequences of a loss were minimal.

Texas, with a healthy Dillon Larberg and Joel Clutton, had ended our 2016 season with a 16-14 win in the backdoor bracket at regionals. We knew that they'd struggled with injuries all season, but the buzz had been that their main players were back and their win over A&M at their conferences seemed to affirm that.

The game started shortly after our loss to Wash U, which had gone to cap, and we carried a little bit of that disappointing finish into the start of this game. Texas jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead before we re-established ourselves mentally and got our breaks back, coming over the top for a 6-5 lead. Texas was doing their Texas thing: feeding Larberg the disc every other throw and sending #29 (Logan Kinney?) deep.

We rotated different defenders onto Larberg, not giving him the full Spicer treatment, as we largely wanted to save the match-up for Sunday if we saw them again in bracket play.

The game went back and forth with both teams breaking the other before we finally arrived at 11-11 with the game capped for universe. We took a timeout and the players picked their own universe line - one player to start, that player taking someone on the line with them and the next player doing the same, so on and so forth. We were pulling with Texas going downwind.

Texas worked the disc to 15 yards out of the endzone before we forced a turn. We began working the upwind but an untimely drop on a tight pass gave them a short field. They capitalized on the transition and scored after several patient swings, 11-12 final.

It was a disappointing loss, but it changed very little - we likely now were just going to hit Colorado in semis rather than finals. In the past that may have been our kryptonite, but after our conferences win, it didn't feel like that big of a deal.

In an unexpected turn of events, A&M pulled off the 15-13 win over CU in their crossover (coming back from 7-2 deficit) to flip their side of the bracket as well - both crossover 'upsets' meant that nothing changed beyond the quarters match-ups - we would hit A&M in semis and CU in finals if all went according to plan.

As far as Texas, it was pretty clear that while their main players were playing, it was a gritty, teeth-clenching effort. Larberg played almost every point, but he threw literally just one flick - a low inside huck that was blocked - I'd guess there were some lingering issues from his broken collar bone. Clutton made some nice plays, but I was pretty sure he wasn't moving at full speed. Even speedy #29 looked like he may have tweaked a hamstring in our game.

It's disappointing for them as they faded out Sunday - getting blown out in semis by CU and losing in the backdoor finals to A&M. I'm pretty confident saying that had their core stayed healthier throughout the year, we'd have been a four bid region.

Saturday Night

Saturday night we debuted Spicer's Callahan Video. The team was really excited and proud of Cody for all the work he's put in these past three years to help bring us into the national picture. The video is wonderful (thanks Chuck!) but still doesn't do Spicer justice - we don't have the pool of footage to truly show the impact he has on the field.

Beyond tasty taco dinners and highlight videos some of the team had to deal with huge blisters covering most of their feet. A few of the guys (including Spicer) who wore thinner socks throughout the day in the hot and humid Texas weather + rubber bits from the turf surface, had feet that were absolutely destroyed. I ran to the store to get needles and moleskin and we went to work fixing up them feet for Sunday morning.

Game 5 (quarterfinals) vs Texas State 

Our blister crew spent most of warm-ups at the trainers getting their feet as ready as they could while we prepped for Texas State. Despite the lingering foot problems we were feeling good. We're built for Sunday, playing deep into our roster all season (one of the ways we've been able to stay as healthy as we have), and the goal is always to ramp up the energy come bracket play and finish as strong or stronger than we started.

Texas State had a small team and couldn't match our energy from the get go. We broke early and often taking an 8-3 lead and not letting up, cruising to a decisive 15-6 win.

Most of the team flipped our sideline to watch Baylor/CU which was tied at 10s when our game finished. Baylor was putting it all on the line, but in the end the cool-headed play from Mamabird prevailed. The final score was a cross field floater to the downwind end-zone.  One of athletic Baylor defenders emerged from the pack to knock the disc away, but Mark Rauls made a huge layout catch on the tipped disc for the 14-11 win.

Game 6 (semis) vs Texas A&M

We wanted this game - like "circle this one on the schedule in big, red marker" wanted it. We've had a few losses this season - one point loss to Minnesota, three point loss to Umass, two point loss to Washington etc - but there's only one game, that we look back on the schedule, and are truly disappointed by the outcome - A&M's 15-6 shellacking of us at Centex. That rainy afternoon in March they had dominated the game from start to finish and this was our chance to prove that no single game would define our season. The winner of this game would secure at least second place and a spot at nationals.

Energy-wise, the team was ready for this one. The wind was picking up and there was a large crowd albeit mostly A&M supporters.

Our pre-game huddle was pretty straight-forward: "A&M has a super high ceiling but they're not consistent. They can go on huge runs in either direction - don't let a big lead or a big deficit change your game. They came back from 7-2 against CU - let them fluctuate - stay consistent, support each other and we'll have success."

We won the flip and I elected to take the upwind end-zone. The wind was stronger for this game and I wasn't sure how exactly we matched up, so we played it safe, taking the wind. A&M chose to pull.

The O punched in the first down-winder with freshman Will McDonald finding deep space on a big flick huck from 2016 south central freshman of the year, Jake Marrapode (ONE YEAR LATER HE'S FINALLY HEALTHY!!!).

We forced a turn on the subsequent point with A&M struggling to find space offensively and our D line handlers, Hudson Martin and Jack Hinchsliff, relentlessly attacked the break side from behind the disc to complete the break.

Jack got a layout block on the next point we secured the second break downwind and a 3-0 lead. We traded downwind O points before breaking again on a perfect upwind huck from Hudson to big man, Sten Larson. A&M again struggled with their upwind O and we completed the second break to make it 6-1.

A&M took a timeout to regroup and we stayed calm - "Be ruthless. Don't let up. They came back in this situation yesterday."

After the timeout, we traded to half, but our offense felt effortless and their offense still looked phased. We didn't play perfect, but Spicer had the deep space absolutely locked down after the turn. A&M clearly felt comfortable airing it out to certain match-ups and they didn't complete a single one with Spicer on the field - it didn't matter if it was his guy or not. "Stop throwing it to 34 [Spicer]" echoed from their sidelines.

The final point to take half we ran a simple deep iso for our Callahan nominee and freshman Mo Scott put out a perfectly placed huck for the layout two-handed score for Spice and the 8-3 halftime lead.

Early in the second half we traded holds with Spicer getting a huge bookends on a deep sky into a monstrous layout score going the other way.

They came close to an upwind break shortly thereafter, but missed an opportunity in the redzone as our defense clamped down on the short field. We held that point to make it 10-5, broke twice immediately after for a 12-5 lead, then traded downwind points to a 15-8 final and nationals berth.

There were a lot of stellar performances in this game, but Spicer's stat line was one for the ages. He scored seven times, had two assists, tallied up four blocks and players he covered combined for ONE single touch for the entire game. He did this playing all the O points and only two D points. The final, most gratifying part of his performance, was that despite four fouls being called on him by A&M, every single one of them was overruled by the observer - there was no overly physical play from our best player (a criticism of him in the past and something he's working to improve) - he just exerted his will all over the field.

In the other semis, CU dismantled Texas 14-6, and the stage was set for finals rematch - CU was ready to avenge their loss at conferences.

Game 7 (finals) vs Colorado

There was supposed to be a bye before finals and we had cleats off, with a few guys already having left the complex to grab some food. After CU finished off Texas their captains came over and asked if we wanted to skip the bye and we absolutely did - we had a 16 hour drive ahead of us. We secured a field, confirmed with Calvin, the regional coordinator, and prepped to finish up our regionals. The only real problem with doing a round early, was Spicer had already taken off all of his blister prep, anticipating the two hour break. When I told him we were playing in 15 he gave me the "How much do you want to play in this one, coach?" puppy dog face. I glared at him and he hobbled over to the trainers to get everything re-done.

The plan for this game was no different than what we planned to do in the conference finals. If we won, we were going to do it with every member of our 25 person roster (Cole Turner broke his thumb in A&M game and had been to go to the ER) contributing on the field. Strategically, we had a few tricks up our sleeves, as I assumed they'd be better prepared for our defenses than they had been at conferences. However, they seemed pretty content to stick to their game-plan and we kept the extra tricks in the bag for nationals.

We started the game on fire - receiving downwind and punching in a quick O before trading holds then breaking them twice for a 4-1 lead. Spicer spent those first five points at the trainer still getting his feet prepped but it didn't matter - the team was too energized to even realize he was gone.

Mamabird held to 4-2 with Spicer finally getting onto the field on D to get his legs back on under him. We traded out several points before they broke us to make it bring it within one 6-5. The O-line easily punched in the upwinder after that however which allowed our energetic D-line to get back on the field and break for half 8-5. Bird looked deflated. They had some of their usual fire, and Rauls was making some impressive plays on the field, but they just didn't have the energy we did. We had our sideline channeling our inner Wombles - getting loud (annoying), crazy and keeping the field energy high.

In these second half we held to 9-7 before Bird gritted out a couple of good break points to tie it up at 9-9 - back on serve. We traded to 11-10 before putting together two more breaks (yes the upwind was still significant) and a 13-10 lead. We traded to 14-11 then tried to win it on D with the Grandpas. Bird wasn't having it as they cleanly punched in their score. Our O would score the next point for the 15-12 victory.

For those who thought the conference finals were a fluke or an off game for Boulder, sure, conferences upsets are often that way and you may have just thought my conferences piece was a proud coach of a mid-tier team who finally got a big win. But I'll just say this: I'm an objectively fair person to a fault (ask my wife). This game was not an upset. We controlled the game from start to finish. Bird never led and only tied the game up once. No one player carried us to victory - this was our whole squad capping off a solid weekend with a win against another very good team.

For those of you that still want to doubt, let me throw some information your way:

We're 5-5 against the nationals field this season with a +/-  in those games of +3 (with a 9 point loss to A&M dragging that number down). All five losses were early season. Five of those games were against likely top 10 seeds. Our best player can match up on anyone. Our team is close to 100% healthy. Our team only has four graduating seniors (Spicer is not one of them). Our O line is largely first and second year players who are still figuring out their chemistry. We may not win a game at nationals (we're still working on consistency) or we may win quite a few - honestly that's not our focus or concern. The point is, Colorado State is here to stay.












Friday, April 28, 2017

Cody Spicer - Top 5 Match-Ups




I put together this list per a reddit suggestion made and I couldn't think of a better topic for a celebratory, 100k entry.

Let me preface this with the fact that Spicer is not big on attention or praise. He's a very humble person and is the kind of guy who, given the opportunity, would deflect as much attention as he could to his teammates. I'm writing this without his approval or knowledge.

The Match-Ups

5) Jason Finkelstein (Kansas) - South Central College Regionals 2016

This was an extremely fun game and match-up to watch. Finkelstein was truly an 'every-other' guy for Kansas and we matched Spicer on him for a large portion of the game.

It was a battle of attrition. The challenging part about Spicer's defense is that he's very physical and knows how to utilize his body incredibly well in different levels of space. A lot of defenders tend to specialize in backfield or downfield defense - so when a player on another team recognizes a match-up that is giving them trouble, they'll often attack from different space. Tough dumps? I'll head downfield. Lock-down speed? I'll go behind the disc.

Finkelstein didn't do that. He stayed backfield the entire game. Spicer contested every single reset. Finkelstein got his fair share, but having to make 2-3 cuts for every 2 yard pass took its toll on him mentally and physically.

After a particularly contentious attempt by Finkelstein to force his way up the line and Spicer beating him to the space, he finally yelled at the observers "Can you do something about this?". He was met with a shrug - there was nothing wrong with the defense; it wasn't dangerous; it wasn't illegal; it was just frustrating.

We led 11-8 but Kansas scored the final four to win it after our main handler (Jake Servaty) went down to injury and we struggled to score. I have to give a lot of props to Finkelstein - he really carried an unbelievable load for his team and led them to victory - this was a fun one, but Spicer dictated the match-up.

Advantage: Spicer

4) Chase Cunningham (Texas) - South Central College Regionals 2015

This was Spicer's first year on the team and and only his second college series. We played Texas in the final round of the day Saturday at regionals and it had been a long day for both teams - we were playing our fifth game in a row and I believe Texas their fourth (the schedule was accelerated to avoid Sunday weather).

Similar to Finkelstein, Chase stayed backfield almost the entire game and was the main engine behind Texas' offense. He made some unbelievable plays and throws, the most notable that I can remember being a ridiculous break-mark huck from the sideline. Spicer was on the mark at the time and I was right next to the two of them - Spicer and I both looked at each other, wide-eyed, after the throw came off - one of the best throws I have ever seen.

Spicer, however, was able to force a couple of turnovers, locking Chase down in the backfield. The match-up culminated in Chase going up big for a reset pass, catching the disc, immediately crumbling to the ground with cramps and calling a timeout so he wouldn't have to take a sub.

Chase recovered fine and in the end Texas won the game 13-11 and continued on to finish their season tied for 5th at nationals. It'd be interesting to see this match-up again with Spicer having a couple more years under his belt - perhaps it's in the cards for club this season.

Advantage: Chase


3) John Stubbs (Harvard) - Centex 2017


Getting both national finalists in our first two games at Centex was a really exciting time for the team. We'd fought all year to get the most competitive games we could and we were grateful for the opportunities the power pool schedule afforded us at Centex.

I felt confident that Spicer could contest the Stubbs matchup enough that we'd be able to win the game further down the roster where I believed depth was largely in our favor.

Stubbs began the game behind the disc. Our game-plan was to poach his throwing lanes and when he swung, have Spicer clamp down on the reset back to him - pretty straight forward: keep the disc out of his hands. The strategy was effective early on, with some of the Harvard players struggling to make the tighter dump throws necessary and ending up having to look back downfield at an eight or nine stall count.

At one point, Stubbs cleared straight deep from the handler position and they aired one out to him - the disc trailing the full width of the field. Spicer tried to make up the ground and bait Stubbs into going up too early with a big bid, but Stubbs didn't bite and easily caught the score.

In the second half we held Harvard to only one point: Stubbs scoring on a ridiculous layout catch after a deep shot to him was tipped by freshmen Dylan Custer (the one point Spicer did not cover him). On Sunday we again played Harvard, but Spicer was out sick with food poisoning for this game and the rest of the Harvard squad was out of gas. Stubbs took his cleats off once we were up four breaks.

On the surface it would seem like Spicer won this match-up but I believe this was more of a push; they both had their moments. There were some solid players around Stubbs, but I think he held his own as much as could be expected and his disc skills and athleticism were on full display, even with Spicer making him work as much as he did.

Advantage: Tie


2) Ben Jagt (Minnesota) - Centex 2017

As soon as the Centex schedule came out and we knew we were playing Minnesota we began prepping for this match-up. Spicer and I discussed at length how to approach Jagt's ridiculous combination of height and speed.

In a 50/50 jump ball, Jagt has the advantage, no question about that - but we weren't going to let the fear of the big sky allow Jagt to run the offense with his excellent and further-developed throwing repertoire. 

"I don't care if he skies you, contest the shallows, trust your reads and if he goes over you, he goes over you."

Taking a step back, Spicer certainly can go up big, but his greatest deep strength is his ability to adjust and maintain position. He's one of the best I've seen at running people off their reads then adjusting back for easy catches or maintaining the inside space and not allowing the other player to find the space they need to get a good jump off. It's a combination of his basketball background and being tall with elite "short-guy" quickness.

As it turned out, Spicer used this as a game to prove to his coach that this wasn't a match-up in the air he was going to lose. Jagt made long cuts all over the field ("He's running laps out there, coach!") and Spicer stayed tight the whole game. Minnesota aired out only two deeps to the big man. Spicer outright D'd one and held his inside space on the other, not allowing Jagt to get a good jump off, again forcing the turn.

When the end game stats were tallied, Spicer had two blocks, one hand-block, scored three goals and had two assists - Jagt scored zero goals with Spicer on him (Jagt did not play D for Grey Duck so most of Spicer's offensive stats were not against him).

I have a lot of respect for Minnesota and it has to be noted that they didn't play Jagt or other O-line starters on D this game - winning 11-10. I also think Jagt is still the most threatening player in the college game, but on this particular day, Spicer won the individual match-up.

Advantage: Spicer



1) Cameron Wariner (SLO) - Santa Barbara Invite 2017

[I wrote this the day before Cameron's sick callahan video dropped - both his blocks I describe below are in the video - look for the sweat pants!]

This was a flipped script relative to the rest of these matchups. Cameron takes SLO's big match-ups so rather than Spicer flipping to D here, this was Cameron finding Spicer on O.

This game was SLOPPY. I don't believe Cameron or Spicer had a turnover (unless you count them D'ing each other), but the rest of both teams were apparently looking for as many opportunities as possible to let these two go at it. Early on, I'd give Cameron the advantage. He got a layout block on a backfield fill, he swatted a huge deep with Spicer bracketed by him and Nate Pettyjohn, and he scored a couple goals on break cuts.

Honestly, beyond the highlights, some of the best action between the two was off the disc. They both dictate with physical positioning very well and seeing the two of them battle to even begin to cut was spectacular. Neither of them ever got chippy with it either, it was an accepted level of physicality they both acknowledged and I think enjoyed.

I had spoken to Spicer early in the year about toning back some of his try-hard. I know it may sound a bit odd, but he's a motor guy - it doesn't matter if it's pratice, league etc, you get 110% Spicer and in the past we'd had to limit his points because of it. So, we had discussed perhaps having him take a couple easier match-ups here and there, give him a chance to be an offensive presence on those points and not kill himself locking down the other team's top threat all the time.

In another "f-you" scenario to coach, Spicer spent winter break on a new diet, slimming down 5-10 pounds, and working further on endurance. He doesn't know any other way to play so rather than concede to my point, he proved me wrong.

As the game wore on, Cameron wore down just a little bit and Spicer began to gain the advantage. It wasn't so much within the match-up 1 on 1, but rather the effect that Spicer had elsewhere on the field. He secured eight blocks this game, only one on Cameron, but many peeling off his match-up and swooping in on unsuspecting players around the field.

I'd say overall Cameron is a slightly better athlete - his highlights are unbelievable - but Spicer's tenacity and heads-up play made this game, in my opinion, a push. 

Advantage: Tie

Monday, April 17, 2017

CSU vs CU - 2017 Rocky Mountain Conference Finals

Both CSU and CU had relatively easy days leading up to the Conference Final in Boulder this past weekend. With only two bids to Regionals on the table and both top seeds sitting in the top 20, the rest of the field was largely playing for pride. 

I personally have been a player or coach in fourteen sectionals/conference games between CSU and CU. Even in the mid 2000s, when CSU floated around the top 20, we had some mental block when playing Bird, and the games were almost never competitive. In 2008 (my fifth year playing) there was a decent 13-15 final, but beyond that one year, Bird has dominated the match-up for the past two decades.


For this game, there was a slight breeze with the weather hovering right in the high 60s. This game was largely defined by both teams' defensive disruption and pressure - Bird employing good brackets and intelligent poaches and us largely running our force-middle, person-defense.  

We opened the game with break as they struggled to find their spacing, but then gave the break back after we struggled against their brackets. Our offense worked through the appropriate adjustments and Bird's O moved to a no dump set to alleviate their spacing problems. After trading to 4-4 we broke again on a huge layout block from freshman, Dylan Custer. The kid's been lockdown for us all year - taking tough match-ups in every game and always contesting them - easily top three on the season in total blocks. 

We broke again after Mark Rauls went for a tough wide-side huck to Wes Chow, boosting it too far. Junior big man, David Miller, made a big layout catch on a trailing huck going the other way and we took a two break, 6-4 lead. We traded to half 7-5, receiving upwind in the second. 

Bird broke us twice out of half, securing some some impressive defensive blocks on our deep shots and a goal-line hand block, tying the game up 7-7. We punched in a clean O finally then threw out a 2-3-2 zone point, seeing if we could catch them off guard and get an easy turn. They patiently worked the disc down the field, then broke a hammer over the top and scored shortly thereafter 8-8.

We scored our subsequent O the broke again to take a 10-8 lead.

Rauls, (who played just about every point in the second half I believe), secured a monstrous layout block after we traded to 10-11 and Bird broke to tie to it, 11-11. We scored our O to make it 11-12 then we sent out our normal D line to win it. Bird overshot a break throw on an under and we put out a deep huck to 5th year captain Sten Larson, which was blocked by the Colorado defender. Bird fed the disc to Rauls and we locked down the other six members of their line, twice forcing contested stalls. On third attempt, Rauls swung it to the front of the stack and Larson got a lanky arm on the disc, knocking it to the ground. We worked it down the short field - swung a couple of times waiting for the good break look, then scored, game over 13-11...

Winning without a kill line was kind of the whole point of the game for us - it wasn't about having Cody Spicer and Jake Servaty and Jake Marrapode playing every point (none of whom played a single D point). It wasn't about getting Spicer to match-up on Rauls or Chow like we'd had him match up on Stubbs and Jagt in other games this season. In the scheme of our season goals and plans, winning this game didn't mean a whole lot, technically. The 1-2-3 seeds at regionals are going to be CSU, CU and A&M (barring an upset in Texas next weekend) and winning or losing this game would change that order only slightly.

This game was our team's affirmation and establishment of ourselves as a legitimate, nationals program. It was about knowing that we not only matched up 1-5, but that the work we've put in the past three years (after not qualifying for Regionals in 2014) is not about a couple of elite players that happened to come to our school, it's about a program and a system, on par with something like Colorado (of which I have the utmost respect for). A system where you win games both at the front and back of your roster. A system where you cultivate a hard-working culture, develop good spirit and while you certainly allow some players to do the heavy lifting, you trust that your whole squad is ready to rise up to the moment at any level of play. 

I don't mean to suggest that our win, playing deep into roster, vs Bird playing tighter means we're the better squad. I'm not that guy and I don't think that's the case. We had everything to play for and this was just another competitive game for them. We haven't qualified for nationals yet this year, and this game certainly doesn't change what we need to do at regionals to really affirm our status on the national stage, it's simply one step closer...

When we scored the final goal, the team went nuts. I was down in the far end-zone, opposite sideline from most of the squad. I walked down the field and got in the back of the line to shake hands. Guys kept jumping in my face, shaking me and wondering why I wasn't smiling or cheering. I'm sure I've lost more games to Mamabird than any other single player/coach in the country, and I doubt that's a record that will ever be broken. Why wasn't I jumping up and down and screaming along with the team? "I knew you guys were good enough to do it." 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fort Collins Club Ultimate - The Katfish Written History - Part 6: 2016 - Hops/shame./Trainwreck/Force Collins

Part six is here! We're finally caught up and it only took 15 months. Check out 2004-2005, 2006-2008, 2009-2012, 2013-2014, and 2015.

2016 was easily the most successful club season for northern Colorado, at the very least, since DTL's nationals runs in the early 2000s. I think it's a reasonable argument to mark it as the best club season for the area ever, given the depth of play across so many different club teams. 

Trainwreck

For years there had been a push to start a women's club team in Fort Collins. There were subtle whispers here and there, but it never fully came together until 2016.

Again, my 1st hand knowledge of what exactly finally happened for all the pieces to come together is non-existent, but I know that these whispers became meetings, mixers and full-on conversations in early 2016.

Lance Everette took on the role of coach with a core of players drawing from shame., Force Collins and other women around town. Surprisingly there wasn't much (or any) of a presence from the college women, as many of those ladies elected to play for Small Batch out of Denver.

At their first tournament as a team, Fort Collins Solstice, Trainwreck struggled, winning only one game, but playing Jackwagon (Denver) close. They didn't elect to travel out of state for any other tournament. They initially considered Ski Town Classic in Salt Lake, but weren't able to drum up enough interest to submit a bid.

At sectionals, their season of work culminated in a win over Jackwagon and a second place finish behind top-select qualifier Small Batch. The ladies were proud of their result, but again couldn't drive up enough interest to travel to Tulsa for regionals and declined their bid.

To my knowledge, there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the 2017 season to perhaps expand the travel schedule beyond the local options and to compete at a regional level. Regardless, the ladies are talented and have a great team culture and work ethic.

Force Collins

Unfortunately, the forming of Train Wreck hurt Force Collins' female numbers quite a bit. Additionally, a couple more of their players from the previous season joined Hops and shame., further weakening their core.

They did put together a team for sectionals and I wish them the best in their upcoming season, but the total numbers may just not work for this small(ish) community to support four club teams; we'll see what happens...

shame.

Technically, shame. finished 8th at 2015 regionals. However, I think just about everyone with any knowledge of the team knows they had a much higher ceiling than that finish would indicate.

For 2016, big man Jake Juszak doubled-down his efforts to recruit more impressive athletes to the squad. He knew they needed a deeper roster and I would guess this motivated him and new captains, Nate Roth and Kelcie Glick, to expand their recruitment efforts.

They added some unbelievable talent to an already loaded roster: Nick Snuszka, Mike Lin, Henry Adams, Zack Fleming, Jade Mclaughlin, Doug Stenclik, Joel Anton, Joshua Ackley (although I don't believe he played a point)... the list goes on and on.

They steamrolled the regular season, losing only one game,  on universe point to Love Tractor in the finals of Solstice. They secured an additional nationals bid for the region then stormed through regionals as well, capping off the finals with a win over Public Enemy, and looking like the class of the region and perhaps even a national contender.

Nationals didn't quite confirm their 'contenders' status as they technically finished 16th, but that placement was similar to their regionals placement in 2015. I don't think any team at nationals questioned the talent they had; they simply punted the placement games after a tight loss in quarters.

I was really excited to see a Fort Collins team back at nationals for the first time in 11 years. I loved watching my old teammate, Nick Snuszka, finally get the opportunity to show the entire country how dominant of a player he is. I'm not sure exactly what Jake, Kyle and friends (hue) have planned for upcoming season, but I wouldn't be shocked if they reloaded with even more all-star players and made a run to semis or better at nationals. Best of luck to them!

Hops

2016 was a pivotal year for Hops. Both Chan and myself knew that the 'ringer' team wasn't going to happen. Team members loved the core principles. The attitude and team culture was strong. People enjoyed playing for Hops, there was no question about that. However, we knew the team's ceiling wasn't particularly high unless we asked our team members to buy in more to growth of a system and commitment to a season.

We decided to make practices required (with a few allowed absences). We asked that all players attend the full tournament slate across the season. We knew this was going to cost us talent. Our top all around player, Stephen Gross, joined Inception (he couldn't commute up for practice). Two of our top athletes, Nick Snuszka and Mike Lin, joined shame.. John Marcy, another key playmaker, moved on to Sweet Action.

All of these guys very much enjoyed the team and didn't bail because they were averse to practicing, they just couldn't reasonably commute. Snuszka didn't cite that specifically as a reason he joined shame., but both Chan and I understood and supported his decision. He's easily one of the best athletes in the sport (anyone who has seen him play knows that) and he'd never been to nationals; this isn't what he told us specifically, but I assumed this was the case.  We knew we weren't competing for a nationals berth and shame. certainly was.

The plan was to re-load the team with a younger core. A group that would grow together, improve as a team and continue to build the team culture. We were losing some experience and athleticism, but we were banking on chemistry and system to prove more valuable to us competitively in the long run.

At Solstice, our growing pains showed. We took an early loss to Iso Atmo, a rebranded and refocused Vertigo squad from the previous year. We lost to Inception in quarters and won out our placement games for a 5th place finish.

At Ski Town Classic we posted a 3-4 record, but didn't even make the championship bracket out of pool play.

Our struggles continued all the way through sectionals where the only win we secured was a forfeit. We still qualified for a bid to regionals, but some of the frustrations were palpable within the team.

Chan and I pleaded with the guys to stay patient. It was all about 'the process.' Our one competitive goal, set at the beginning of the season, was to secure select-flight status (within four spots of the final nationals bid at regionals), and while our results thus far weren't stellar. we were still completely on track to achieve that goal. We had rotated our entire roster through every tournament. We had focused heavily on playing our game; accepting in-the-moment struggles for long-term growth. The pay-off, we told the team, was going to be regionals.

At regionals, Hops was seeded almost dead last: 14th. This didn't matter. We were finally going to cash in on a season's worth of growth and get some results that were truly reflective of the quality of our group. We opened the tournament off with a universe point upset of #8 seed Space City Ignite. We lost to Bravo shortly thereafter, then rounded out pool play with another upset win over Supercell 15-12, finishing 2-1 and second in the pool. We won our 2/3 crossover over 9th seed Premium 15-9; securing our spot in the championship bracket quarterfinals for Sunday.

Sunday morning we started the day off with a game against #2 seed HIP, a very athletic group who took us down 15-9, en route to securing the second nationals bid out of the region behind Bravo.

This dropped us down into the second place bracket against Plex. We fought valiantly, but lost the game 12-15. This was a fun game and disappointing loss, but the goal of select flight was still firmly in our sights. A season's worth of hard work and struggles all came down to a final game against Dallas United: Desperados. Hops responded well in our 8th game of the weekend, securing a couple early breaks then holding tight through the second half earning a 15-12 win and 2017 select-flight status.

We were ecstatic. We never billed the team as a nationals or bust. It was simply a group of solid players who would set realistic goals and work hard to improve our results every single year. In 2013, we didn't make regionals. In 2014, we finished 8th in the region. In 2015, we finished 7th in the region, In 2016, we finished 7th again, but also secured select-flight status and hopefully with it, an invite to the Select Flight Invite tournament for the 2017 season.

Both Chan and I  are very proud of the past four years of this team. We also knew that regardless of the outcome of the 2016 season, this was likely our last. Chan has joined the Peace Corps and is leaving for Namibia in April and I'm taking the season off to prepare for my own new adventure: fatherhood! I wish the new leaders the best of luck building the team and taking Hops to new heights!






Friday, March 17, 2017

Centex - Colorado State


Colorado State came into Centex ranked 12th in the USAU rankings. We were excited to play against some other top teams on what we knew would be sublime fields.

We packed up, anticipating heavy rain, and drove the 15 hours to Texas. We stayed just north of Austin in Georgetown, avoiding some of the South by Southwest prices and traffic.

The initial schedule had us slated to start the day with two games against the defending national champs (Minnesota) and the national runner-up (Harvard). We were ready to play the best.

Game 1 vs Harvard

Harvard had supposedly lost a large portion of their nationals core from the previous season, but they still had superstar, John Stubbs. We felt confident in our ability to match-up against Stubbs with our own lock-down defender, Cody Spicer. We hoped that our depth behind Spicer would be able to secure the win. Teams with a specific standout, high usage player tend to be our bread and butter since we have someone who can take any match-up.

It was drizzling by game time, but since we played the weekend out on brand new turf, the field surface was never an issue. The rain intensity increased throughout the day.

We started the game out with a young line: athletic freshmen who I knew were chomping at the bit to prove they could play with the big programs. They didn't disappoint as freshman Dylan "Slendy" Custer secured a nice layout block that we punched in for a quick break to go up 1-0.

Harvard held and on the next point we dropped a pull to give them the break back. We broke again to make it 4-3; they were struggling against our force-middle. They decided on a new tactic: they isolated three handlers shallow and sat their stack 40 yards deep of those three. They threw ~20 passes without gaining much before finally getting around the mark for a big huck and score.

They broke twice more, as our offense struggled to find a rhythm and we found ourselves down 5-7. We steadied the ship and were able to get one of the breaks back before they took half 7-8.

The second half we clamped down defensively. We only allowed one more score: Stubbs making an amazing trailing edge catch after Slendy tipped the deep shot to him - finishing the game on a 4-1 run and securing the 11-9 win.

The Spicer/Stubbs matchup was the story of the game. Stubbs certainly lived up to the hype, but Spicer contested him on every cut, specifically making him work on his backfield resets, shutting down several that lead to turns for us. The pundits said it best:


Game 2 vs Minnesota

We had a bye before the Minnesota game and we took the opportunity to cheer on our B-team as they took on Texas A&M B.

We were excited to play Minnesota. We played them twice in the 2016 season, knew what they liked to do, and were confident our defense could contest some of their better looks. Nobody shuts down Ben Jagt, but we also knew Spicer would do fine with the match-up.

We started on O, punching in the first score, then had a marathon D point, where we forced 3+ turns as they struggled to find space against our force middle. Despite the defensive effectiveness, we couldn't complete the breaks. They finally scored the point after a time out and traded subsequent points to make it 3-3.

They secured the first break of the game to make it 3-4, then a couple points later broke again to make it 5-7. We punched in our O and Spicer D'd Jagt on the next D point, but they got a layout block to get it back and took half 6-8.

Out of half they held to 6-9 then broke us again to make it 6-10; the game felt like it was slipping away. We could force turns on their O but were struggling to complete the breaks. We held to 7-11, then finally found some D-line offense as we rattled off three straight points to make it 10-11. Unfortunately, it was too little too late as cap sounded and we went through the ignominious routine of scoring the final point, but losing the game.

Despite the loss, the guys were happy that we had finished strong. Defensively, we held our own and offensively we knew what we needed to improve - cleaning up our decision making.

Game 3 vs Illinois

The rain really began coming down at this point with the wind kicking up just a bit to make the conditions slightly more challenging than in our previous two games.

Both us and Illinois played a surprisingly clean first half. We broke once, but they returned the favor to finish half on serve 8-7. This was the first team we'd played that ran a horizontal offense and we struggled to generate appropriate pressure with our downfield positioning. They also seemed the most comfortable against our FM look, which again was surprising as I originally developed it to challenge horizontal based offenses like split and spread back in 2007. They even played FM against us one point (a mistake, we practice against it all the time). I'll have to check in with one of our alum who coached at Illinois and see what the deal is with their preparedness... KIDDING!

In the second half we traded to 10-9, but it felt like our defense was generating more pressure than the first half. We finally secured another break to make it 11-9, but immediately gave it back to tie the game up at 11-11. We scored the final point as cap sounded, finishing with a 12-11 win.

I have to give them props, whether or not it was just the nature of how they teach their horizontal offense or that they studied up for the game, they were one of only two teams all weekend that didn't need an adjustment period (A&M being the other) to account for our atypical base defense.

Game 4 vs Texas A&M

Despite being a fellow South Central team, we hadn't played A&M since a 13-15 loss at 2013 regionals. I was excited for the game as A&M tends to play a fearless, athletic game, which usually plays in our favor given the limited deep spacing we allow with our base defense.

However, A&M came ready to play and we did not. We had another bye after Illinois and this game started at 4:45pm. We had been at the fields, in the rain, for 10 hours when the game began. On the very first pull, we signaled readiness, then the disc slipped out of our puller's hands, giving them the disc on the goal line. This pretty much summed up how the game went. The rain was pouring, we had multiple turnovers from hard fakes that slipped out of our throwers' hands, and we just didn't put a reasonable amount of energy onto the field. A&M, to their credit, was super energized and pounced on our miscues aggressively. We fell behind 0-4 before we knew what had happened and despite a time out to regroup; we just couldn't recover.

The conditions were no excuse; they were the same for both teams. A&M was ready to finish their day strong and we were not. There isn't much more to say than that. They cruised to an uncontested 15-6 win. I won't say that we're the better team by any stretch, but we're certainly better than that score.

We huddled up and discussed, as a team, what we can do in the future to better prepare for late afternoon games and challenging conditions. I got some good feedback from the guys on why they felt flat and we tweaked our Sunday warm-ups to account for some of those factors.

Props to A&M for a very solid weekend. They may have lost in pre-quarters but they put together very strong games against good teams and their point differential should be enough to secure, at the very least, a second nationals bid for the SC; perhaps even a third.

Game 5 (pre-quarters) vs Arkansas

Between daylight savings and the 12 hour Saturday we were a little sluggish getting to the fields, but still managed to be the first team warming up. The big story from Saturday night was our main man, Spicer, getting food poisoning. He spent the whole night sick and likely wasn't going to be able to play Sunday.

There wasn't any rain but rather a pretty distinct wind that was cutting across the fields, making the games significantly upwind/downwind. We knew Arkansas had a standout player, Kaplan Maurer, and the game plan had been for Spicer to take the match-up. With Spicer sidelined, we rotated a combination of different defenders onto him that would contest his play in different ways: length, quickness and speed - but the task largely fell to second year player and Austin native, Hudson Martin.

Due to the nature of the wind we also changed our O/D structure. Our D line played downwind offense and our O and secondary D played the upwind points.

They got the first upwind break of the game after a drop on a swing pass but we broke back quickly to make it 3-3. Our youngest line, the "BGs", promptly broke again upwind to make it 4-3. We traded upwinders to 5-4 then the young guys broke again to make it 6-4. We traded out to 8-6, the final point on a beautiful, pinpoint huck from freshman Mo Scott to freshman Will Mcdonald. Both Will and Mo are huge, core players for us: #allfreshmenlocks

Kaplan did everything he could including some big over the top throws against our zone, but in the end our depth proved too much for Arkansas. Even without our top player we were able to break twice more in the second half and secure the 13-9 win and quarterfinal match-up against UMass.

Game 6 (quarters) vs UMass

We were stoked for another fun game against elite competition. I don't know UMass well, but I like their approach to the game. I come from the school of scheme, disruption and smart play and it seems as though they do the same. I expected several different zone looks from them defensively, including their infamous 1-3-3.

We punched in our first O against their zone. It wasn't the expected 1-3-3 but rather what looked to be a 3-3-1 with additional defenders having the freedom to stay shallow and even enter the cup at times. We're a pretty solid team vs zone as we practice against non-person defense quite a bit ourselves and this look didn't give us that much trouble.

We traded to 2s, forcing a few turns but being unable to complete the breaks against their very athletic O-line. We dropped a wide-open deep on the our next O point and they worked down the field for the break and the 2-3 lead.

They would get layout blocks on both of our ensuing O points to secure two more breaks, jumping ahead 2-5. We punched in the next O then broke to make it 4-5. From there we traded out to half 6-8. They threw one point of 1-3-3 but beyond that seemed pretty committed to person defense and their 3-3-1.

In the second half we traded to 9-11 before fifth year, Jordan Trepp, got a catch block and we worked up to the upwind end zone and took a timeout. They set a cup on the disc and after three lateral passes got a hand-block and quickly punched in the down-winder. It was a pretty big disappointment as this was the golden opportunity to bring it back to within one and potentially double up the break with Umass having to score offensively, upwind.

Both teams would secure one more break before the game's end but we wouldn't get within striking distance again and finished the game with a 12-15 loss.

Just based on the buzz around what we'd heard about the team, we were keying our top defenders on Tannor Johnson, but by far the MVP of the game for them was their shorter, lefty handler, Ben Sadok, I believe. He broke the mark at will. They weren't short, easy to contain breaks. They were huge, field chunking breaks. He single-handedly destroyed our FM. I had planned on Spicer matching up on Johnson, but had he been available we would have quickly shifted him over to Sadok. I was extremely impressed with his skill-set.

Game 7 (semis of 5th) vs JBU

John Brown may be a DIII school but I was mightily impressed with their performance. Their top 2-3 guys were excellent players, and while we certainly had depth significantly in our favor we didn't match-up well against #14 (Ethan Penner?) and #15; both extremely talented.

The first half stayed on serve as we found space against their zone and they beat our FM with nice high-release passes. We rotated heavily through our younger core and I felt confident that our fresh legs would start to win out in the second half.

This indeed was the case as we broke several times in the second half, culminating in a 14-10 lead. We put our 'future' line (7 first year players) out to try and win it for us on D. JBU put up a trailing huck to the endzone with big man Mason Kiefer in good position to get a block. The JBU receiver, with Mason tight on his back, jumped from in-bounds and flipped the disc back for a pretty impressive greatest score.  They fed off that energy and broke us twice more before we finally put the game away 15-13.

I think this squad was our favorite opponent of the weekend: a very spirited, hard working crew. Between Air Force, Colorado College and JBU, the south central looks like a DIII powerhouse.

Game 8 (for 5th) vs Harvard

We finished our weekend the way we started: with a game against Harvard. I was concerned initially, knowing we didn't have the match-up for Stubbs with Spicer out, but that proved to be a non-factor. Harvard played admirably but didn't have enough left in the tank to run with our young crew.

We had rotated pretty liberally through our 26 person roster on the weekend and this game was affirmation of our depth. We largely ran our youngest guys through this game and they didn't disappoint. After a tight early game and a 3-4 deficit, we broke through and would finish the game on a 12-3 run and 15-7 final.

Stubbs still did some Stubbs things (a couple of crazy 40+ yard hammers), but his supporting cast couldn't keep up and around 10-5 he took his cleats off. Huge props to our young guys finishing the weekend strong and a shout out to old man Jordan Trepp (Dr. Flick) for one of the cleanest layout Ds I've seen in five years of coaching him.

With the exception of the A&M game, we were very happy with our weekend and very happy with our Sunday performance. The team showed a great deal of maturity adjusting to Sunday games without a guy who is so integral to our O and D in Spicer. Younger guys like Hudson Martin and Mo Scott really got to showcase what they're going to bring to the team for years to come.

Great job, Hib!

All Tournament Team (from just the teams we played)

Cody Spicer (CSU)
John Stubbs (Harvard)
Kaplan Maurer (Arkansas)
Ben Jagt (Minnesota)
Ben Sadok (UMass)
Tannor Johnson (UMass)
Ethan Penner (JBU)








Monday, March 6, 2017

Stanford Invite (M) - By the Numbers

Another "By the numbers" piece for the Stanford Invite. If you'd like to check out the evolution of these pieces, here is the Santa Barbara InviteFlorida Warm Up numbers and Warm Up Pool Play.

The conditions at the tournament made for some interesting results, but I think that in the end, the reasonably typical format and good seeding made this the least surprising piece I've done thus far.

I've again updated my strength of schedule formula to factor in USAU rankings rather than tournament placement finish.

The full tournament results are here.

The full numbers are at the end of the piece.


The Final Standings/Rankings


Final PlacementStrength of SchedulePoint Differential+/-
Pitt1st3rd2nd+19
Colorado2nd6th3rd+16
Oregon3rd7th4th+7
Georgia4th1st5th+6
Carleton5th4th1st+31
Wisconsin6th8th9th-2
Stanford7th5th12th-7
UBC8th2nd7th+1
VTech9th16th8th+1
Tufts10th10th14th-16
Uconn11th9th15th-16
Texas12th12th16th-16
Washington13th14th6th+2
SLO14th15th11th-6
Oregon State15th13th10th-4
Auburn16th11th13th-14

Strength of schedule = average opponent win/loss percentage + opponent average USAU rank

Oregon and Georgia technically tied for third as I believe this game wasn't played out.


Projecting the  Results with the Algorithm Seeding

Program reputation sways the seeds! I have absolutely no issue with how this tournament was seeded, but the reality is big, historic programs get seeds higher than they sometimes deserve (Oregon, in this case), given their current results. By the end of the season this often corrects itself and it makes sense in hindsight. Heck, USAU even adopted the exception to the "regional-finish ranking" rule a couple seasons back. But let's look at what kind of match-ups we see in the bracket if we seed purely by USAU rankings (aka math) and projected the results. 

The result projections are based on head-to-head from the actual results and final actual placement. E.g. UConn over SLO because UConn finished higher than SLO. 

Initial Seedings


ABCD
PittColorado GeorgiaCarleton
WisconsinSLOWashingtonStanford
Virginia TechUBCTexasOregon
Oregon StateAuburnConnecticutTufts

There's some shuffling at the bottom but the big standout situation now of course is Pool D, where Oregon is a 3 seed. 

After Pool Play


ABCD
PittColorado GeorgiaCarleton
WisconsinUBCConnecticutOregon
Virginia TechSLOWashingtonStanford
Oregon StateAuburnTexasTufts

Stanford comes out on the short end of this with two brutal pool-play games which leaves them with easily the toughest pre-quarters match-up in Wisconsin.

Projected Bracket


Pitt
UBCPitt
UBC
WashingtonPitt
Carleton
UconnCarleton
Uconn
SLOPitt
Colorado
VtechColorado
Oregon
OregonColorado
Georgia
StanfordGeorgia
Wisconsin
Wisconsin

The quarterfinal participants are largely the same, we've swapped Uconn for Stanford. Who's playing who is mostly different as well. What the 'over-seed' of Oregon did in the real results relative to these projections was keep a Uconn team out of quarterfinals - a team that vastly over-performed in pool-play relative to their ranking (aka they beat 10th ranked Washington). 

This would lend to the idea that seeding Oregon at 3rd, based on program history, was fair; it gave us very competitive quarterfinal match-ups.  However, the actual quarterfinal match-ups ended up the way they did only because of Oregon was upset in pool play. In that sense, you could argue that Carleton got the short end of the stick as they should have gotten Wisconsin (had the Oregon 'upset' not happened), Connecticut or even perhaps SLO (projected pre-quarters teams) in quarters rather than Oregon. 

The last piece little bit of the rabbit-hole (straying from math into speculation here of course) is whether or not that first round bye was a disadvantage given the conditions. Two of the four one seeds have pretty confusing results in their quarterfinals losses, not because Oregon and Georgia didn't deserve their wins, but because the margin of victory seemed greater than should have been given what Saturday play had told us. Perhaps a game to get used to the fields/conditions/wind ended up being a boon for the pre-quarters winners as even the Colorado and Pitt wins were closer games than the team's previous results would suggest should have been. [EDIT - It's been pointed out to me that the pre-quarters games were played out Saturday afternoon rather than Sunday morning so this whole paragraph is completely inaccurate. That's why I should stick to MATH! Thank you TDs]

End all be all, the placement in the tournament really doesn't mean anything. Carleton may have boosted their ranking more with blowouts in the placement bracket than they would have playing out semis/finals anyway. Whether they'd prefer a shot at Pitt or Colorado I can't say, but overall, I can't imagine they're unhappy with their performance. 

Thanks for reading!

The Full Numbers


USAU RankWinsLossesWin %OpponentsOpponent WinOpponent LossOpp Win %Avg Opp Rank+/-
Pitt1601.000UBC, Texas, SLO, Stanford, Oregon, Colorado18.0020.000.47416.17+19
Colorado2510.833OSU, Tufts, Stanford, UBC, Georgia, Pitt22.0021.000.51222.83+16
Oregon15420.667Auburn, Vtech, Wisconsin, Tufts, Carleton, Pitt20.0016.000.55625.17+7
Georgia6420.667Washington, Uconn, Carleton, Texas, Wisconsin, Colorado18.0017.000.51421.00+6
Carleton7510.833Uconn, Washington, Georgia, Oregon, Stanford, Wisconsin18.0018.000.50019.83+31
Wisconsin14330.500Vtech, Auburn, Oregon, Georgia, UBC, Carleton20.0017.000.54123.17-2
Stanford9340.429Vtech, Tufts, OSU, Colorado, Pitt, Carleton, UBC26.0016.000.61923.86-7
UBC32340.429Pitt, SLO, Texas, Uconn, Colorado, Wisconsin, Stanford22.0021.000.51218.57+1
VTech36330.500Stanford, Wisconsin, Oregon, Auburn, Uconn, Tufts15.0022.000.40532.67+1
Tufts50240.333Stanford, Colorado, OSU, Oregon, Texas, Vtech18.0018.000.50021.50-16
Uconn65240.333Carleton, Georgia, Washington, UBC, Vtech, Texas18.0018.000.50019.83-16
Texas28150.167SLO, Pitt, UBC, Georgia, Tufts, Uconn19.0018.000.51427.50-16
Washington10230.400Georgia, Carleton, Uconn, Auburn, SLO14.0016.000.46726.40+2
SLO11240.333Texas, UBC, Pitt, OSU, Auburn, Washington15.0020.000.42925.50-6
Oregon State39230.400Colorado, Stanford, Tufts, SLO, Auburn13.0018.000.41923.00-4
Auburn43150.167Oregon, Wisconsin, Vtech, Washington, SLO, OSU16.0018.000.47120.83-14