Friday, August 18, 2017

2003 - Hibida Hall of Fame - Josh Tabije

2003 - Josh Tabije

The 2002 and 2003 entries will be structured slightly differently than the other entries. Thanks to Mickey Thompson for spearheading these two seasons. For all the hundreds of questions over the years about the "Hibida" name, it seems appropriate that the big 'reveal' be here. 

"Josh Tabije graduated in 2003, as the real founder and eponymous of "Hibida" He was the true embodiment of what Hibida was all about. His big-boy frame and history in disc golf created monster throws and deceivingly nasty breaks. Tabije could get you the disc no matter where you were on the field. His step around/over backhand was legendary at practices - many tried to replicate it but nobody could ever pull it off as majestically as the big man. Tabije was the first Ultimate player to become CSU Club Sports President [not to be confused with team President] and worked to legitimize our presence in the Club Sports world at CSU - getting us funds, fields and respect. Tabije would prove to be a great teacher for the next generation of Hib players - as a natural mentor he helped guide the future of what Hibida became in future years."

-Mickey Thompson 

"On and off the field Josh is a true leader, he took freshmen under his wing, integrated them as part of the team and taught the values of Ultimate - the Spirit of the Game as best he understood it. He encouraged involvement in the local ultimate community as well as pushed players to participate in club when his playing days stopped. He continued to offer support by coming out to local tournaments in Santa Cruz to watch me play on Bravo and expressing interest while I completed on a high level. Josh was an outstanding leader, mentor and still a friend today."

-Brett Kolinek

"The truth about our team name. For 17 years CSU Ultimate has played under the team name, Hibida. Where did that name come from? What does it mean? Is it an inside joke? Is it a mythical beast? Is it a drink? As a player, I fielded these questions on a regular basis. As an alum, I still get asked about it every now and then.

The answer. It's a made up word. Our Captain, Josh Tabije, made it up. It came from his off-kilter mind. It doesn't mean anything. There's no inside joke. It not a mythical beast, or a drink.

Tabije enjoys a good joke and it wouldn't surprise me if he's kept what Hibida means to himself all this time. The genius of letting Hibida be a made up word, is that it can mean whatever the team wants it to mean.

In the mid 00's, the closest thing to a consensus definition of Hibida was, something that's there, but probably shouldn't be. Like a piece of La Luz burrito that fell onto your shirt. Where Hibida went from there, well, I don't know. It's a made up word.

Shouts to Tabije for gifting the program a team name with such versatility and staying power. Few people can pull a word straight out their butt and 17 years later we are all ecstatic to still be using it.


In the spring of 2002 Hibida went to Austin, TX for Centex, a tournament hosted by the University of Texas. At the time, using CSU's Motor-Pool was the best way to travel to a tournament. It was far cheaper than flights and much much easier to organize (aka herd cats). What was not easy in 2002? The internet. Well, unless you wanted to download tons of, "free" music. 2002 internet was stupendous at free music.

2002 internet was not great at directions, but if you knew what you were doing, it was potentially better than an atlas. Our Captain, Josh Tabije, was a true pioneer of technology. Using MapQuest, and a fair amount of computer lab paper, he painstakingly mapped every Dairy Queen, and every Dairy Queen Brazier, from Fort Collins to Austin.

Things like; smart phones, Google Maps, and Yelp would make short work of the same task today. However, this is not a story explaining to the youngsters how tough it was back then. It's really a story illustrating what a character Tabije was. Seriously, who needs to know if it's a DQ Brazier or not? Is it even necessary? The state flag should replace that star with a DQ logo. In other words, DQ has a big footprint in Texas. We were going to run into a few.

A great benefit to being a part of an uncommon sport is the uncommon people you meet. It's doubtful that I'm able to give Tabije his just due, as this is just one of many examples. Maybe though, you got an idea."

-Ben Aldridge

2002 - Hibida Hall of Fame - George J Barthel

2002 - George J Barthel

The 2002 and 2003 entries will be structured slightly differently than the other entries. Thanks to Mickey Thompson for spearheading these two seasons.

The 2002 Spring Season was the first year of Hibida as a team name. This was the year that the team re-branded and refocused on being a "competitive force in the southwest." It is fitting that one of the two captains from that season, Jay Barthel, be honored with the first spot in the Hibida Hall of Fame. 

"Hibida became the idea of a team that whatever you put into it and whatever you wanted out of it could be achieved; it was all encompassing to us to ensure Hib meant we competed and had fun. "The Most Fun Wins" from the Wright Life and general Fort Collins community helped fuel that mantra for change. IMO Hibida would never have existed without Jay... [he] probably deserve[s] credit in the history books as much as anyone.

Jay Barthel graduated in 2002 and was know for his "statue of liberty" fake. Quality disc skills fueled his game as a silky smooth lefty with a crushing backhand, a mastery of squirrelly cuts, and tireless effort - Jay was Hibida's first MVP. I don't think I ever saw Jay in a bad mood, he was always upbeat and trying to progress the team forward while having the most fun doing it.  

Jay went on to play some high level ultimate in the LA area on and off for years, but found his passion in biking and continues to work in the industry as well as ride."

-Mickey Thompson

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

CSU Men's Ultimate - Hall of Fame

Colorado State Hibida - Hall of Fame

This recognition is given to the graduating player who most embodies Hib's core values of hard work, competition and their contributions to the success of the team both on and off the field.

Each Monday*, I'll reveal and have short write-ups for 2-3 new inductees starting on 8/18*/2017.

*EDIT - Within an HOUR of posting this one of the old school players sent me over some selections for 2002 and 2003 - the first two years that Hib was Hib (previously Maddog). I will include those selections in the reveal and we'll get them added to the official plaque next year when we add the 2018 member. This now officially has every single year of Hibida as Hibida.

The real version of this plaque is glorious!
2002 - George J Barthel
2003 - Josh Tabije
2004 - 8/21/2017
2006 - 8/21/2017
2007 - 8/28/2017
2008 - 8/28/2017
2009 - 8/28/2017
2010 - 9/4/2017
2011 - 9/4/2017
2012 - 9/11/2017
2013 - 9/11/2017
2014 - 9/18/2017
2015 - 9/18/2017
2016 - 9/25/2017
2017 - 9/25/2017

How did you decide who received the past years' recognitions?

My own experiences as coach of the team for ten years and a player for the five years prior were the factors. It's not the most objectively fair way to do it, but trying to contact hundreds of alum and have them nominate and select their candidates is just too much of a task. I don't think many people would argue with my selections - there's some healthy debate for sure (2006 - oh my), but all these people are pretty beloved in Hib history. 

In your justifications for the selections, are you factoring in post-Hib playing experiences? 

I couldn't ignore what past players have done since their time on Hib. It's just too much a part of the players they are to me. We've had some amazing players who have finished college and been done with the sport, but we also have some players who are still trucking away, playing everything from rec leagues to elite club - I feel like a players post-college career can also say a lot about that player's commitment and potential in college. 

How will you decide future inductees?

The team will vote for the yearly selection for all future years.

What's special about starting in 2004?

Spring 2004 was my first college series. There were some amazing players prior to my time on the team of course, but I don't have the perspective to appropriately award them. I would absolutely be willing to recognize earlier players, but I'd need help from some old school folks to do that. *UPDATE - I got an almost immediate response for the 2002 and 2003 seasons (see above).

Why only one player per year?

My idea was to select the player who best embodied the team core values for that given year, not to compare year to year. Some years we had several seniors who all fit the criteria. Some years there were single individuals who put the team on their back and kept pushing us forward.

Why are you starting this now?

Hib competed at nationals for the first time in program history in 2017. We won the region for the first time, had the player of the year, coach of the year, freshmen of the year, three players on the all-freshmen team and two all-region players. We have positioned ourselves, not just for a return to the big dance in 2018, but hopefully for many more to come. 

Having been a part of the team for 15 years now, I wanted to put something out there to remind both current and past players that every single one of the young men who has donned the Hib "H" (or one of the many variants) have had a part in the program we've become. It's not just about the guys who stepped onto the field for us this past season, but about everyone who's put a part of themselves into our sport, school and team. 

The current team's competitive success couldn't have happened without the ground-work layed for many years prior. I'm so proud of all the current and past players! 


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."