I was chatting with a player on the CSU team today and somehow I started down the nostalgia road, barraging him with the history of Club Ultimate in Fort Collins. This is turn led to me looking at old UPA score reporter results and a flood of amazing memories coming back from the past twelve years of playing ultimate in Fort Collins.
Let me preface this (like I do with so many entries) that all my details most likely aren't 100% correct. I'm not a journalist. This is mostly being done from my own personal memory and experiences. Some things may be off, some things I may not have the full story on and there may be some details here and there that may be a bit foggy.
2004 - A Fresh Face (The Daredevil Cats)
I played organized ultimate for the first time during the 2003-2004 college season. I absolutely fell in love with the sport and my captains left me with a resounding "play as much disc as you can, wherever you can" message as we wrapped up that college season. My buddy Dan "Rambus" Delude and I promptly signed up for Boulder summer league, Fort Collins summer league and began practicing with the local mixed team, the Daredevil Cats (DDC).
At the time, DTL (Drive Thru Liquor) was the elite mixed club team in Fort Collins (there were no open or women's teams). They were made up of many of the best players in town including two of my college captains, Mickey Thompson and Ben Aldridge. As a young player, I was in awe of DTL as they had been nationals qualifiers in both '02 and '03.
Having just finished our first college season, Rambus and I settled onto DDC nicely. The team practiced twice a week, but it was pretty laid back with a lot of people coming and going. It was an opportunity for the non-DTL players in town to still play club. There were no tryouts and the energy surrounding the team was very positive.
The clearest memory I have from that season was from the "Lungbuster" tournament in Breckenridge, Colorado. It was a rainy weekend up at 9600 feet. We were playing at a very nice local school complex that had raised fields for drainage.
Rambus was always a big bidder (he had a skating background and as such, had no qualms about throwing his body around). Somebody threw a swing pass to him and he had a monstrous layout to make the catch, sliding down the sloped side of the fields a good 10-15 feet. Right as he bid, a huge lightning strike clashed and I have this perfectly ingrained picture of Rambus, fully horizontal, with the lightning streaking across the sky. The tournament was put on lightning delay after that of course.
Anyway, DDC was a great group of people. I learned a lot and even got to take on a bit of a leadership role, helping develop their horizontal stack with my experience from college. It was a great introduction to the club scene and I have so many fond memories of that season, even though the team didn't participate in the series.
Meanwhile, DTL finished 7th at nationals, losing in the quarters to the eventual second place finisher the Chad Larson Experience (CLX) from the Midwest.
2005 - Moving On Up (DTL)
After finishing the 2004-2005 college season, our college captain and my mentor, Adam Zwickl, got me and another friend from the college team, Joey "Griz" Griggs, an invite to DTL tryouts.
The tryouts were intense. Every DTL practice started out with a TON of throwing with a heavy emphasis on varying release points, throwing angles and throwing velocities.
I remember warming up with Zwickl for college sectionals in April of 2005 and the conversation turned to throwing as we tossed back and forth. I had a disc golf background before playing Ultimate so I came onto the team as a first-year with a bit of a leg up on many of the other raw players from a throwing standpoint. Anyway, we were chatting and Zwick asked me how I felt about my throws. I responded with "they're good enough." He just laughed.
Fastforward to DTL tryouts and I finally realized why he laughed. Watching the best throwers on the team (like Brian "Rup" Rupert). I knew my "good enough" was a complete joke. Throwing with Rup was just another level. He'd wing the disc at you at 50 mph. He'd get low and flick his wrist on his backhand for ridiculous rotation while still keeping his momentum moving forward for the throw-and-go. He could bend his flick inside, flat or outside, while still staying balanced.
We had a good college team, but the focus that those DTL practices had on fundamental specifics was fascinating and challenging. They ran a similar horizontal offense to what we ran on the college team, but the added dimension of mixed gender and the differences in the strategic approach both as a mixed team and with a much higher fundamental baseline, were excellent for a young player eager to learn.
Despite this, the biggest thing I took away from tryouts was that the reason this was a good team was the fundamentals of the established players. These people were simply a heck of a lot better than what I was used to: everyone just had all the core ultimate skills.
The Season (through Regionals)
I knew that this was a qualifying year for worlds in Australia and the team had their sights set on a top four nationals finish and worlds qualification after finishing 7th in the nation the previous two years.
The season was a blast. From the outside, the team had seemed intimidating and unapproachable, but from the inside, it was both a wonderful group of players as well as friends. There was some mid-season drama that led to Zwickl losing his spot on the team, but other than that hiccup, the team was doing extremely well heading into the series.
Denver had it's own elite mixed team, Bad Larry, with whom we had a healthy rivalry (or so I learned as the season progressed). The previous year Bad Larry had beaten DTL at sectionals, only to stumble at regionals, finishing second behind DTL without a rematch, but still earning one of three nationals bids. At nationals however, Bad Larry had exacted their revenge, beating DTL 15-4 and finishing tied for 5th.
This year we had split the regular season games with Larry, 1-1, and heading into sectionals the team was intent on winning the section and taking a top seed into regionals. Larry had very strong women and usually played their O points against us with a 3/4 split. DTL had added Jess Kuzma to the roster this season, a 5'11 beast who had previously played with me and Rambus on DDC. After breaking her collar-bone on a layout at our first tournament back in June, Kuzma was finally healthy by sectionals and the team felt like her size and athleticism would help to mitigate some of the advantages Larry usually had.
We stomped through sectionals, capping it off with a 15-9 victory over Bad Larry in the finals. I wasn't super involved in the history of the rivalry, but I knew this was a big win. This secured us the top seed heading into southwest regionals. The seed gave us a nice advantage as the two pool format at regionals left Bad Larry and the Gendors (the other nationals contender) in the same pool.
We rolled through our pool, meeting Gendors in the finals after they dispatched Bad Larry 11-2 to win their pool. The winner of the finals would be the first nationals qualifier for the southwest. Gendors was a super top heavy team out of Santa Barbara with ultimate legend Steve Dugan and Asa Wilson, arguably the fastest player in any division, being on the receiving end of the most of the Dugan bombs.
The game was played out in dreary, rainy conditions and Asa had suffered a hamstring tweak in one of their previous games, significantly slowing him down. With their top receiving threat slowed and with depth significantly in our advantage we dispatched them 15-7, in our most complete game of the weekend, securing our nationals bid.
Bad Larry again showing they could win when it mattered, beat Gendors in the backdoor game, 15-4, taking the second bid.
The final tournament of the season started off poorly. Griz and I arrived at our captain, Chad "The Difference" Smith's house at the correct time to leave, but Difference seemed to have miscalculated how long we would need to get to the airport in time to catch our flight. He drove like a crazy man down the interstate, but we still didn't arrive in time to check bags and unfortunately we had the team shade tent and other gear that could not be carried-on.
Difference stuck with the original flight while myself, Griz and the team gear got onto a later flight which routed us through Philadelphia. We finally got to Sarasota and settled into our beautiful rental condo, the excitement of the day behind us.
The nationals format at the time was a four day romp: day one was standard pool play, day two power-pools/pre-quarters, day three quarters/semis and day four was finals.
We were seeded 7th overall, leaving us in pool B which included Hangtime, CLX and Mischief. Hangtime was the overall two seed, a (physically) huge team from Dallas. CLX, from Iowa, was last year's runner up and to this day is a perennial nationals powerhouse. Mischief was a new team from San Francisco in their first year at nationals. They would make a huge leap in the years to come winning it all in 2006 and being another perennial contender to this day.
Our first game was against Mischief. They were young and bit outmatched as far as big game experience and we easily dispatched them 15-9.
My first nationals points came in this game. I got my shot on an early d-line, spelling one of the veteran guys after we scored two breaks in a row. We got the turn and marched down to the Mischief goal-line. I attacked up the line from behind the disc and caught the pass five yards out from scoring. Clayton "The Ageless Wonder" Hurd was open for an easy score, attacking horizontally across the field. I threw the pass slightly behind him, giving the Mischief defender a layout block... a legendary start to my nationals career.
Game two was against CLX who had eliminated DTL the year before in quarters. It was a tight game from start to finish with layout Ds and big skies going both ways. My favorite moment of the game came with CLX's 6'4 deep threat streaking downfield and my old college captain, Ben Aldridge, covering him. Benny was a fairly tall guy with long arms, but wasn't necessarily known for his deep defense. He maintained perfect position on the CLX receiver and got the D, despite being 4 inches shorter and forty pounds lighter. Me, Griz and his roommate and college co-captain, Mickey Thompson, went absolutely nuts. We ended up taking the game on universe point 16-15, which secured us a spot in the power-pools for Friday.
Our final game of the day was against Hangtime. The winner would take the pool. They shellacked us 15-8. A lot of our offensive success, previous to this game, came from the dominance of our downfield height. Unfortunately that was also Hangtime's strength and they were way taller than us (3 guys 6'5"+). Mickey told me after the game that we'd lose that one 9 times out of 10.
At least we had finished second in the pool, securing us a place in the power-pools for day two:
1) Hangtime 3-0
2) DTL 2-1
3) CLX 1-2
4) Mischief 0-3
Over in pool C, Bad Larry would finish third-place with a 1-2 record.
The nationals format placed the top two finishers in each of the four day-one pools into power-pools (4 teams in each pool). You entered the pool with the other top-finisher from your pool, and your day one result against them would either set you up to start 1-0 or 0-1 in the pool (in our case 0-1, having already lost to Hangtime).
The bottom two finishers in each day-one pool (CLX and Mischief for our pool) were placed into their own pools of four, with the two overall winners of those two pools playing the last-place finishers of the power-pools in a "pre-quarters" play-in game. What this meant was that if you didn't make power- pools, you had to win-out to get to bracket play against the team that had finished last in one of the power-pools. The top three teams from each power-pool went straight to quarters.
This left us in a power-pool with Hangtime, Six Trained Monkeys and Ror$hack (originally Whore$hack before the UPA forced a name change for nationals), and an 0-1 record to start.
Hang-time steamrolled the pool, taking first, while we struggled mightily against the other two teams losing to Ror$hack 15-11 and Six Trained Monkeys 15-7, finishing last and dropping us into pre-quarters.
1) Hangtime 3-0
2) Ror$hack 2-1
3) Six Trained Monkeys 1-2
4) DTL 0-3
Across the complex, Bad Larry had finished 3-0 in their non-power pool, securing their spot in one of the pre-quarters play-in games. CLX, meanwhile, went undefeated in the other non-power pool, and, to avoid a pool play rematch, we ended up against Bad Larry in the first elimination game of the tournament, Friday afternoon.
After the 15-9 victory at sectionals, the team was confident heading into this game. But Larry had proven time and time again that they play their best when the most is on the line and this game was no exception.
It was a battle from start to finish. It remained tight with a couple of our main players struggling with turnovers, perhaps fatigued from the other two games that day or just from the strain of the elimination situation.
When your main players are struggling, your role-players need to step it up and my college teammate and fellow first-year, Griz, played amazing. He took on significantly more of a thrower's role than he had in any previous game and made many clutch plays, shining under pressure.
The game came down to universe point, with us pulling. Larry turned the disc over on a deep huck before forcing a turn and getting the disc back. Their main handler, Beebee (I never knew his real name), took off deep with our main handler, Rup, pursuing. A forehand huck went up with a slight outside edge to the disc. Rup layed-out shoulder-height, and hit the disc, but was only able to get a finger on it, knocking it further down-field. Beebee layed-out and grabbed the trailing edge for the score and the win.
In that single play we lost our season and chance to be one of the USA's representatives at worlds. Larry went on to beat Slow White in the quarters before losing in the semis to Ror$hack. However, the top four finish secured their 2006 bid to worlds.
I don't believe there was any ill-will towards Bad Larry for ending our season and for qualifying. They had played extremely well and proved that being able to play at the top of your game when it mattered most was a huge strength of their team. There was a lot of respect between the two teams both after that game and in general.
For Saturday's placement games the captains opened up the lines and everyone relaxed a bit in a couple of meaningless losses to Method and Hot and Sweaty for a 12th place finish.
In bracket play, CLX ended up winning the rematch against Hangtime in quarters before losing to eventual champion, Brass Monkey in semis, leaving them tied for 3rd with Bad Larry. I know there are several factors that played into the nationals format change, but this specific year, with both Larry and CLX making semis after not making power-pools, the powers that be had to re-assess the value of the format.
It was a disappointing end to the season, but I had a wonderful time and I learned so much. I don't know how much would have been different had we won that final game against Bad Larry, but DTL was headed for some drastic changes in the years that followed... part II.