Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Classic City Classic XLI

Classic City Classic XLI – The Dirty Details

I’ve been saying this for awhile, but only the Midwest was really listening. Wisconsin is good. Like really talented, scary good, like never lose again good. Frankly, the Hodags have almost forgotten how to lose. After the most successful season in history with 48 victories and 7 tournament wins, many of the returning Hodags have become accustomed to the feeling of domination. As Adam Drews comments, “I am 64-3 as a Hodag, Wow.” Yeah holy crap, who else can even say that in his first season? But enough sweet-talk, let’s get down to business.

There is a reason Wisconsin is the hardest team to make in the country. It starts with defensive intensity and ends in focus. Although coping with the departure of 8 players, three of which won the title in 2003, there is no doubt about it; Wisconsin is a different team than last year, but no less deadly. There are new faces and stud athletes with different strengths. But it becomes clear that once they put on the baby blue their play elevates due to the contagious emotion and overall team speed. Soon enough teams will see the throwing lanes shrink and offensive opportunities wane as every player is being shadowed by his defender. The crazy part is that Wisconsin got younger, faster and taller losing in sheer experience and dominant leadership. Veteran players will need to step up and take control of roles on a team still without a coach. Enough hype right? Without further ado, I give to you CCC XLI.

The Classic City Classic might be one of my favorite tournaments. I guess I like it almost as much as I love Clip of the Day from Rob. But after a finals loss in 2004 and victory in 2005, it was still the premier tournament of the fall. Needless to say, Wisconsin approaches every tournament with the intent to win. But seriously, we drive 15 hours south and find frost on the fields? I mean what sort of trick is that? It should just be always nice in the south. Anyway, warm-ups looked… well actually I didn’t make it there in time for warm-ups, because my car left Madison at 6:15pm Friday night (Thanks Q) and had not quite made it to campus. But when I finally made it to the fields and got my cleats on, well, it was a little swilly. There must be something wrong with this Frisbee, is that a Wham-O? Why is it being dropped and turned over with such little regard? I mean, yeah it was cold, the sun was right in your eyes, but Jesus guys, catch the disc! I guess both teams were “feeling each other out” for the first half, turnovers mainly within 3 throws. Playing time must have been a little loose and kids were trying to learn and figure some things out. Maybe it was the anticipation of not knowing how the ‘07 Hodags would play because this was the first time the entire team had been together. But with the 6th seed in pool D, our day looked forward to many many field changes.

The Central Florida Dogs of War looked pretty intimidating for the start of the windy, cold and yet glaringly sunny Georgia morning. The wind would actually be a pretty big factor throughout the day and could be attributed to the plethora of turns early. Despite the sloppy play and miscommunication between handlers, Tom Annen found Jack Marsh for the first score of the season. I was worried as I warmed up on the sideline if Wisconsin would be as good as I expected us being. I guess it took about half the game for new players to get on the same page and for our Offense to start dominating.

The O line isn’t that bad… it’s not like they get broken over and over again so the defense just has to watch from the sidelines. I mean the defense didn’t just work incredibly hard to get that one super important break and the O just gives it right back… it’s not like that, no seriously. So with Wisco up 2-1, lil’ Rilers is looking to throw a pass through the cup, but manages to hit a defenders chest for a Callahan. After this the D line decided to take up the responsibility to carry the team this year. Now with the game tied 2-2, Foster busts out the big forehand and finds Heijmen for the score. The game was close early 3-3 and then the calls started. At first, they were only kind of shady. But soon, the desperation in their eyes showed as bad calls amplified and the legend of Bulge became a little more transparent. Flashback… (Cloudy smoke) à Bulge is that really unspirited club team from Florida, not that one, the other one. I’ve never seen the cheat to win philosophy played out so well. They make calls like it’s their job. It’s like these stubborn old men get a little bit of contact when he was reaching for the disc and suddenly his world ends and he is rolling in the fetal position on the ground screaming bloody murder. There will be finger pointing and obscenities slurred, somebody might need to hold back Rocky. Well I guess a couple of the young kids at CF took notes and thought it was cool to make calls. It blows to play against that without observers and that’s why Central Florida struck me as odd when they made some pretty unusual calls. Either way it didn’t matter as the Hodags began working things out and the deep looks started finding their man. It was pretty much the Dan Miller Show going upwind snagging deep discs and even Skywalker got in the action bitching some awkward looking freshman to capture 2 straight breaks. Madison takes a 7-4 halftime lead with Pearce finding Heijmen again in the end zone. The zone was also coming out, with both teams trying it both ways, setting up some ruthless cross field hammers downwind. The Hodag end zone offense seemed confident and relaxed, patient yet purposeful. I think Dan “Bonkers” Schmit had some nice throws upwind and Tom Animal was wearing socks on his hands, both racking up 2 D’s each. And then there was Riley, he was like doing his own thing. One time he was running so hard that he punched the other kid in the face. Well something like that, but Kevin was kicking defenses in the face, especially on the marks as he threw a break goal to Rebholz for an 8-5 advantage. The Hodags run off 4 straight breaks in a row and cruise in the second half for a 13-6 win over CF.

Round 2 was against upstart team Indiana “Hoissiermama”? It was pretty nice to move to a bigger field and change wind directions. However, Indiana actually thought that they had a chance in this game. Probably because after they dropped the pull on the first point, we spiked the disc out of the end zone. Well actually, Heijmen spikes the disc for a turnover because apparently there was a red line and a white line, so when Dan catches the break for the would be goal, as fellow Hodags were screaming for him to not spike the disc, he promptly takes two steps and flips that shit like a hot pancake. I guess this fired up Indiana who was so hilariously pumped to score that they spiked the disc with contempt and seemed to think they were awesome at ultimate every time they made a play. This tactic worked until the Hodags got pissed and began exerting their will and shutting down every single player on the field with some suffocating defense. Seth Meyer, the new Dan Miller, of GOP origin, showing some skills, catches a pass from Adam Drews for a break and finds Ryan Ingersoll on the very next point for the second break to take a 3-0 lead. Freshman Cullen Geppert also got into the action marking up two layout-in D’s, one on a player like 9 inches shorter than him with a ponytail, so let’s just keep things in context. But it did feel really good to break Indiana down like that. On the next point, Wisconsin keeps rolling, with Muffin finding his deep game in a big huck to a streaking Drew, but not before punching his mark in the jaw with the off hand (!) calling the goal back. Nevertheless, we struck out 4-0 before Indiana scored 3 of 4 to bring the game back to 5-3. At this point the Hodags freaked out and with Scallet getting D’s in the air all over the place and Even Klane bombing forehands, we steal half 7-3. Anyhoo, with the larger field (yet smaller end zone) and nice crosswind, the floodgates of deep shots exploded. Jim Foster began dropping bombs to Jack Marsh, who was clearly looking to impress the only Wisconsin fan at CCC, his dad. Yes, that’s right, I said it. Jack Marsh, yeah you jealous? I bet your school could pick up these big name transfers too; yeah, you wish. But seriously the J-Fo-to-Harvard-combo is absolutely unstoppable already. And then, you know what really turned the tide in favor of the baby blue, Dan Heijmen. This guy is the truth. Give this man the biggest burden and he will carry us through the pain. Dan was marking up fantasy points left and right dropping deep bombs. And then Heijmen got into this shouting and flexing contest with these Indiana punks who were trying to call this catch a goal but the dude was OB, but they were just trying to walk off like a goal. I think Dan ripped his shirt he flexed so hard, and after that, Indiana yielded and finally had to double score it to count. We crushed some more and quickly finished 13-4 final.

So after a full warm-up game, we were finding our rhythm and especially our deep game. The best throwers began to look to jack the disc deep with some regularity and the D line was garnering confidence. This set up William and Mary coming off a close game on another field. It’s never good for the other team to show up to find Wisconsin scrimmaging or competing against itself, because that means people are getting serious. The team’s stifling defensive pressure (including super sick Drew Mahowald poach layout D in the lane) set the tone for the game. Wisconsin scored fast and efficiently, ridiculously rolling. W&M had some nice break throws but just couldn’t complete more than 3 in a row before giving it back. They timed their deep shots well, but failed recognize the poachers as Wisconsin began eating the disc on every possession and then scoring as if it was nothing. Somebody must have hooked up the game-genie and despite W&M having more talent and overall skill than some of the teams we already played, they just could not score and we yielded no mercy. I would recommend relying on the dominators and speaking of dominators, Jim Foster is ridiculous at ultimate. With every component of the game in his arsenal and at his disposal he is an unstoppable force. This one time, I think he might have even skied Heijmen… but we rarely speak of such for Dan’s wrath would be terrible. Jon Gaynor was also dominating this round, getting 3 D’s, one a super sick over the shoulder layout D (injuring his foot in the process for the weekend, unfortunately). Also playing some defense, the Bucket of K-Fed gets a mack layout D out of bounds to save a goal when W&M almost scores, but in the end we successfully crushed in a 13-0 slaughter.

A fast victory set up a large gap giving us plenty of time to cruise around and check out some of the other top teams. I mean right? Wouldn’t you be curious as to whom Colorado showed up with and just how bad Florida is? It was also pretty funny to see a sweet Richmond layout D on a Minnesota player and then snap his fingers just like Ali G, Booyakasha Respec!

When we again changed fields and re-warmed up after the long delay, the intensity just wasn’t there. Players were already feeling the affects of stiff legs and easy wins, not as focused on the game as earlier when Madison was building steam. But then we realized it was just Davidson and decided to punish. I guess they only have like one thrower. It’s the FOTY or something and apparently he is the shiznit, like the bombast throws in all the AC. So naturally, all we needed to do was stop that guy and let the rest of the players prove to be the difference. But really, the Wisconsin playmakers still showed up. With Bobby Lau’s Callahan, Jack’s dropped Callahan, and Q-Tips straddle Callahan, we almost had 3 in the game and a 7-4 lead. Dan Heijmen was rocketing deep shots upwind and the offense played well when the defense wasn’t dominating as much, with Rebholz keeping the disc chill. I think Davidson got some lucky crap and good deep match ups to score. The conquistadors of defense were still contributing with Heijmen and “ass clown” Gaynor finding their hands on the disc for turns, and helping Wisco roll in a game not as close as the score indicates 13-7.

Our last game on Saturday to finish undefeated was against National qualifier Pittsburgh, who we actually played at Nationals in pool play last spring. You know that really tall handler. Yeah him, with the goggles. He can throw the disc pretty far and was hitting receivers left and right, putting the game at 2-2. With some actual competition and a good game brewing, Wisconsin freaked out and cracked in two breaks for a 4-2 lead. It was probably the Red Bull Girls because they supplied the caffeine and sideline intensity to promptly get Wisco fanatical about defense. At 6-5, guess who? Jim Foster gets a ridic layout D to set up the score for the double break before half 7-5. Pitt stuck with their strategy of hucking early and finding good match-ups like unknowing freshman to keep the game close at 9-7. However, the end of the day was within sight and food was calling so the anger spewed forth as the lines tightened and we proceeded to roll to a 13-7 victory. So 5-0 in pool play and a top seed in the quarterfinals put as exactly where we expected to be. However, Florida somehow lost to NCST, so since they took the #2 seed in their pool, we were set to play Florida in quarterfinals first thing on Sunday. Ridiculous!

Olive Garden for a team feast and free beer at the tournament party (for those with energy) made for the good end to Saturday. However, as Sunday came into view, it became clear that our road to the title would be more difficult than in past years. Soon, the surprise turned into excitement and anticipation to have an incredible Sunday. Actually, we had the hardest road possible to a victory. Florida (National Champion) in quarters, Georgia (National Semifinalist) in semis, and Colorado (National Quarterfinalist) in Finals. It seemed like a daunting task really. However, all returners who were part of the team last spring came out with more focus and determination to play well than I have ever seen. We would not accept bad play and the importance of beating Florida was at the forefront of our minds. The stud power-players would be asked to make plays on some of the best players in the nation. Namely Stud Space Cadet who would be guarding the top 3 Callahan frontrunners in order: Rook, Dylan, Beau. The defense responded to the challenge and while being inconsistent they were certainly incredibly clutch throughout the day.

So UFUCT. Yeah, I agree, ha. Florida has lost 2 players from last year and most of their team had played in Club Nationals the previous weekend. The game started in controversy with Cycle going deep from Rook and calling a foul on a Heijmen poach deep D. The call could not be rationalized and eventually sent back again on a morally questionable call. Their tactics worked as they punched in the end zone set for the first point for a 1-0 lead. The Hodag O gets on the field and scores efficiently sending an early message 1-1 with Tim Pearce finding gainers all over the place. With Gibson continually jacking flicks, Wisconsin was getting the disc often, not with turns but with 13 actual D’s. With the disc in our hands and poaches all over, we punched in two breaks with Mahowald (4 D’s) finding Heijmen (2 D’s) twice in a row for a 4-2 lead. It was awesome to see Madison players actually getting D’s rather than just turfs or turnovers. By this time Kurt was playing both every point and Cyle was counting his calories. After some trading, the Wisconsin D cracks down on Kurt’s touches and finds high stall counts for another turn and Wisconsin break for a 6-3. At this point King Rook and evil Rasputin Cycle are the only handlers in the game staring at unflinching vertical stack and just screaming at kids to cut and make plays, just barking out orders. It might have worked actually, but someone hit the relax button? Who did it? Florida scores their O and capitalizes on deep Hodag turn to get back into the game at 6-5. The freaking O almost gets it together and scores to go up 7-5. However, after Florida gets a foul on the goal line to score the O 7-6, a quick Wisconsin in-cut drop by Miller gives Florida the opportunity to cash in and tie the game at 7-7. The O finally converts when it matters with Heijmen throwing his big flick to Jack for the score 8-7 Hodags.

The game is going late with long points so the cap is inevitable. Wisconsin tightens the lines but it doesn’t matter as the O gets broken again for the 8-8 tie. The defense meanwhile is getting pissed. All those breaks we cashed in earlier… I mean really? The O holds and the D goes out and brutalizes for 2 straight breaks 11-8 with Drew sniping a foot block on another of Kurt’s forced deep looks. Florida holds as the cap sounds for 11-9, game to 13. Once again, the D breaks Florida at their convenience to win 13-9, ending on defense. That was awesome and all the veterans absolutely loved the feeling of beating Florida, a team that had haunted our dreams for months over the summer. It was a feeling of accomplishment and relief to win that first game on Sunday with a new team.

In semifinals, we met the home team Georgia who appears to be a serious contender for the Championship this year. We started on D and were still really pumped from beating Florida. However, Georgia came out strong, throwing deep to Dylan every single time he cut there. And well, Dylan played like a stud and pulled down just about every bladed disc coming his way in the first half. Jojah clearly relies on him as a receiver and on several possessions it was first pass huck turnover from Georgia against a first pass huck turnover from Wisconsin, back and forth in the deep game. With the game tied as 2-2, Wisconsin broke the tension with the first break of the game, a deep shot from Heijmen to Ben Feldman. However, Georgia immediately responds scoring their O with more hucks to Dylan and cashing in a break on the Wisco O 3-4 GA. It was a game of runs and breaks and with Muffin playing 5 points in a row (including 2 hammer goals), Wisconsin scores 4 of them to lead 7-5, ready for the O to take half. And then I remember why I hate the Offense so much, ah yes, they are constantly getting broken. Georgia steals back one break before half 8-6 Hodags. Wisconsin was in control of the game, but we weren’t generating as many D’s and this made us nervous when we really needed breaks. As the second half began our O was broken again for only an 8-7 advantage. The O finally takes care of business on the next point, with Rebholz and Animal getting the up-line at will; Wisco up, 9-7. The D line was faced with the decision to save the day and with Heijmen making perhaps the shadiest decision of the weekend throws a stall 9 ¾ hammer blade straight to Chris Doede’s defender, right? Wrong. Chris takes an aggressive angle at the high hammer and goes up with one hand to stick an amazing catch, firing up the sulking Wisconsin sideline. But Georgia was determined to stick around, scoring another break to bring the game to 11-10 Wisco. The game was coming down to the wire and the Hodags needed some big time production. We scored 4 of the last 5, breaking twice for the 15-11 victory. We even earned the Badger theme song from Mr. Marsh on the guitar for our efforts and leapt into finals.

In finals, (a familiar place for CCC) we met Colorado, a team we didn’t see at all last year and a team we had lost to quarterfinals of nationals in both 2004 and 2005. The majority of the current Hodags had never beaten Colorado, much less never played them. Mamabird does have 3 of the most dominant cutters in the nation with Beau, Jolian and Martin all being over 6’2 and very very fast. This game had a huge crowd, and I love playing in front of crowds (probably because I get heckled often). However, CO came out with the intent to win, playing their best lines over and over again.

They broke us first and were up 6-4 with major momentum (with Mamabird starting on O). They were making our O line play marathon points with 5 turns by both teams before anyone scored. On one of those marathoners Wisconsin turns the disc deep in the end zone and Colorado takes an injury. Dan Miller then demands that a Wisconsin player leave the field as a sacrifice for fresh legs to match. Insert Rabbit, insert Heijmen. Rabbit was clearly the strength of Colorado’s handlers, getting very involved until that point. But Heijmen had his own idea, getting 3 D’s, two of which were point blocks (one upheld through observers), leaving hecklers calling out for the hand-block hat trick. However, they still clearly had the advantage and were making our offense work incredibly hard to score. Our D line was getting antsy and nervous. However, after noticing that they had limited throwers and great receivers we started playing zone, trying to slow down the game. Colorado doesn’t ever really slow it down, still looking to "Zone-Break" the Z with a huge huck to one of their big time receivers for the 1-on-1 match-up. Wisconsin was having some success with the zone (Drew Ding Beau in the air!?!), but with Colorado up 7-6 and posed to break the Hodags again for the halftime lead, we have a Pontiac Game Changing Performance. In the end zone set it was Beau on the goal line being guarded a little too closely on the break side by one Q-Tip Miller with the forehand force on the short side of the field. Rabbit was eyeing up the easy toss to a clearly open Kittridge. But then, a certain Kevin Riley catches his eye, “breaks him”, and reads his mind. As the flick is about to be released, Bucket is already 3 and ½ steps in and accelerating from his defender in the back right corner of the end zone. With Sir Longshanks already contemplating his spike, K-Fed explodes and gets a layout in-D on Beau, saving the would-be break and half. Wisconsin praises the Gods and immediately jacks the disc deep for a goal. The D, finally getting on the field and again being super clutch, break for half with a Heijmen bomb to GOP future Hall-of-Famer Seth, who showed some hustle making a nice, diving catch; 8-7 Wisconsin! In stealing those last two points to take half we were freaking out and gaining confidence and energy back, Heijmen played 9 straight points and scored 6 times. The second half can only be described as an explosion of pain given out by the Hodags. First, the Hodag O had to hold and Rebholz came out bombing to Heijmen for the 9-7 lead. At this point, Muffin was told not to leave the game, playing 5 points and scoring 4. Freshman Ryan Ingersoll even got into the action, throwing a low release air bounce backhand about 2 yards, just hovering above the grass. With Colorado faltering and players pushing to injury, Mamabird relented – giving up pick calls for scores and playing the lines more open near the end. Madison was all set to cruise to a 15-8 whomping with 9 of 10 straight scores but then there was this beautiful backhand huck down the line by Animal and Adam Drews had beaten his man by like 35 yards and was all set to clap this guy in and quick think of a game winning spike, but in the confusion, Drews clap spiked for the drop. Colorado scored for the second time in the half and instead 14-9 setting up the finale. On game point, the handlers are working and Rebholz finds Riley going “oven” and with an open field Jack goes deep. Kevin throws this brand new high release 6 finger inside-anvert-out forehand that just goes forever. Jack gets on his horse and runs to position, but the disc hangs a little (still anverting), and he makes a great sky while at the same time being sandwiched between two swooping Mambirds. What happens when you can make plays that sick? You can spike it however you want. In Jack’s case, this includes a sick round-off back-flip, and the fan (1) promptly stormed the field. It should be noted that Colorado was very spirited down the stretch, allowing a final unrelated injury call to go unnoticed. So BOOM 8-0 and CCC Champions for the second straight year and third straight year in finals. We collected our victory cups, breathed a collective sigh of relief, and *snap snap* took that winning team picture! Now that was an incredibly hard day of ultimate and getting to see all the teams that we wanted was awesome. It was great to win, but this lion is starving.

For the next 7 months – not until the final game – The desire to win means nothing without the desire to prepare.

PS: News on the street is that the Bella Donna are wrecking some havoc on the women’s competition, getting their much desired revenge on Stanford from the National Semifinals in Columbus last spring. They will only be stronger this spring with the key pick-up Junior World’s dominator Georgia Bosscher. Coupled with superstars Holly G and Claire M, not to mention the-up-and-coming stars in Steph Knell and Courtney K, Wisconsin will have some strong leaders. Watch out ICUltimate, Bellas back.

Pictures -

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hodag Tryouts

Join the 2006 National Finalist UW Hodags Ultimate Frisbee Team

Tryouts Begin Monday September 18th at University Bay Fields
Practices Will Be Mondays and Wednesdays at 4:30pm

No Experience Necessary
Do you have a competitive nature??
Do you want to have a great time being part of an awesome team??

Come see what the Baby Blue is all about!!

Friday, August 11, 2006

College Championships

After Nationals concluded and several year long goals extinguished, we felt unfamiliar. It was the feeling at the end of a season, of loss; it was that your 23 best friends were no longer playing college ultimate together. This remarkable team of top to bottom studs will never again have the chance to play together and all be focused on the same single goal, a national championship. It has taken almost a full month to really be able to reflect on the whole experience, without doing it an injustice. For the extent of the finals loss was overwhelming, a devastating blow and hardly a day passed in the next four weeks that many of us did not think about playing Florida at least twice a day. However, some will get another chance next year, but we might have missed our best one.

The UPA College Championships is really the pinnacle of college ultimate. It does not matter if you won every game all season because it was all a warm up for the Series, when your season could end at any moment. Nationals are the most important stage and to not perform at this point in the season would be to choke under the pressure. In Wisconsin, peaking for this tournament was a fact with a finals appearance in 2002 and a championship in 2003. However, the team in 2004 was not nearly as prepared, not quite understanding the true intensity of the tournament and losing in quarterfinals to Colorado. In 2005, the Hodags were playing awesome Frisbee, but we came to realize just how difficult it is to win 6 games against the best competition when the games mean the most. As this season has come to a close, it is clear to most that the 2006 Wisconsin team is absolutely amazing.

The Wisconsin Hodags had a breakout year. No one on the team would have predicted we would be a giant among boys. But Madison cleaned house all season winning 5 straight tournaments, winning 36 matches in a row and running a record of 43-2 up to Nationals (58-2 if you add the fall season). Against teams at Nationals, we had a combined record of 14-1 and came in as the #2 seed. All season the Hodags had been placed in the top 2 in all 3 major ranking systems. Therefore, you could say we had a good deal of confidence entering the final tournament of the season. As you probably guessed, College Nationals was awesome! If asked to use 5 words to succinctly describe what this tournament will bring out of a competitor, you could call them in order: Anticipation, Excitement, Nerves, Pressure, and Love.

The last weeks after school ended and when the Nationals date loomed closer than ever, the May rain came in waves. Several of our last workouts were canceled and moved to different locations attributed to the rain. But with summer upon us, the Hodags made Frisbee a number one priority spending over 3 hours a night at practice when we got the chance, playing well into the darkness. Even more time was spent with the team with video watching, team meetings, and pasta eating, making time very scarce. Packing was always left for the absolute last minute and all of the team had left Madison by Wednesday night to be sure that we had a relaxing trip out to Columbus as well to be on time for practice at the game fields at noon on Thursday. The extra day and preparation in Ohio helped as the team was able to prepare and enjoy dinner prior to our final team meeting before pool play began on Friday. Wisconsin came into the games positive and poised, knowing that we could outplay and overpower all of the teams in our pool. If we needed even more motivation, we had let Michigan keep the game close at Centex, 15-12, therefore giving Michigan an excuse to think they could play with us. Several inside sources warned us that Michigan was going to give us their best shot, definitely believing they had a chance at pulling the upset as a surprise in the first game. These rumors only ensured that the Hodags would not come out slow, adding more motivation upon incensed eagerness.

On Friday morning we arrived at the fields an hour and a half early, having already practiced the pre-game routine the day before. The best throwers made sure to thoroughly warm up both their forehand and backhand deep throws, knowing precision laced deep shots would not come easily. As the clouds loomed, the pullers especially tried to find their range going upwind. Early on Madison became accustomed to the hot and humid conditions, with heavy overcast clouds frequently threatening. The fields had gotten a good night of rain which made them slick and fast, definitely playing a factor in the games. The wind was very slight and the eerie calmness before the first points was unnerving, as Wisconsin began our quest for a National Title.

Right from the start, Hodags began to assert their dominance. Rodrigo Valdivia, eager to be a difference maker whenever on the field, found his deep game early hucking to Jim Foster for a score. Other 5th year cutter Ted Tripoli was getting open at will and caught a break-mark goal to put Wisconsin up 4-1, with 3 early breaks. The defensive offense was clicking with the disc was moving quickly and efficiently. The wind picked up and Michigan threw a junk zone, trying to slow down Wisco’s man-on-man offense. Fellow 5th year Nate Hurst finds Andrew Mahowald for the ridiculous sky goal and Wisconsin stretches our lead to 5-1. Will Lokke puts his stamp on the first half, skying for a huge D and then winning his match-up again, catching the goal for another break 6-1. Michigan is failing to convert on offense and begins trying to steal points by hucking the disc and putting on a hard zone. The Hodags are not impressed and with only one deep defender, Hodags continue to bomb away with the disc as James Scott throws a beauty of an upwind flick to the gliding Mahowald for an 8-1 halftime advantage. With the first half jitters out of the way, Wisconsin was nothing short of perfect. With an outstanding deep game and stifling defensive prowess, we shut down Michigan’s deep game and managed zero turnovers! As the second half began, our insatiable urge to destroy was not fulfilled as we add another break before Michigan slows down the game, and works it slowly to the goal line. On a swing break for the goal, Muffin accelerates into the lane and gets his hands on a D near the sideline. With the disc at his feet and without thinking, he instinctively grabs the disc and looks to strike, throwing a huge upwind flick narrowing missing the close sideline to a free running Will Lokke. About 65 yards later Will makes the easy pass to team Captain Tom Burkly for the fast break score, making it 10-1. Michigan attempts stop the rout, throwing a 50-50 ball to their best deep threat, who manages the grab on the second attempt, after Andrew almost gets the D. With the newfound confidence Michigan finds a break of their own, throwing another floating disc which is caught on the third attempt, now 10-3. As Michigan tries to pull Wisconsin down to their level, each team turning the disc 3 times, Dan Heijmen eyes up Tom Annen with a sweet cross field hammer to take a 12-4 advantage. The Hodags continue to show no forgiveness for sloppy play, with Tripoli throwing the hammer back to Heijmen to lead 13-5. Now going upwind, a midrange pass is precariously floated up field, and as 5 people converge from all angles, Dan Miller completely and utterly skies the pile and then throws an invert forehand for the goal to bring the match to game point. The defense continues to dominate, with Mike Ottum ripping down a deep disc in the end zone for another break, quickly finishing off Magnum 15-5. The first game came off almost flawless, with the Hodags playing their best ultimate of the year! It was that swagger of confidence and urge to have fun that gets the Hodags rolling. All we need is one big play to get the team pumped, to smell the blood, and to pour it on. Michigan did not see us coming; they got rocked, blinded, overwhelmed and it was as if they had expected it to be easy. Every turnover they threw was one too many and the defense scored without prejudice. It seemed like everyone was throwing big hucks and making good decisions.

After finishing Michigan, we took advantage of our extra time to glimpse Texas battle out the last few points with Pittsburgh, scouting players, before gearing up for the second game of the day. Pittsburgh, much like Michigan, was completely overwhelmed immediately. With no signs of slowing down, Wisconsin longed to send a strong message to the rest of the teams. Do not even think about beating the Hodags! Wisconsin’s performance was hot to the touch, as we broke En Sabah Nur out of the gate and streaked onward to a 5-1 lead. It was 8-2 before Pitt even blinked and Wisconsin was well on our way to rolling this team. The Hodag goals came fast, early and often, with the defense wanting to score so intensely that there was no need to even call an offense on the turnover. It was Nationals and the Hodags were just murdering teams, playing ridiculous hard for only 1-2 points and getting fresh hungry legs in riding the team energy. Our man defense was just outstanding and we frustrated and shut down receivers. It helped that we were collectively faster and more aggressive than any of our opponents. The glaring patience and perfect hucks had to leave Pittsburgh in complete disbelief. The team could sense that the confidence was swelling; each player knowing to make a difference, he had to make a play. But when you put a bunch of playmakers together on the same field, there can only be one Frisbee. With every Hodag working harder that his individual match-up both physically and mentally, the opportunities to make plays and shine came often. Both offenses were clicking and no one had seen Wisconsin play so well all year. Our deep game was very difficult to stop with little wind and it was the best conditions the Hodags had seen all year to put the disc deep. We have played in cold, howling winds, downpours and driving rain, reduced visibility the list goes on, but now, it was merely overcast, calm and prime to shelf a disc at any spot on the field. The D line players knew that as soon as we got the disc that we would score immediately and En Sabah Nur would have no say on the outcome in any decision Wisconsin made. At 10-2 with the game completely in control, the skies opened and huge droplets began to fall. It did not matter, and the second round ended just as quickly as the first, 15-4 on a barrage of heat seeking motion sensing deep shots. Perhaps the best part was that everyone on the team was contributing, making it difficult for opponents to concentrate their defensive efforts on any one player.

At this point Wisconsin was 2-0 and slated for a bye round before taking on the #7 seed Texas for the bye into quarterfinals. With a whole round in between games, we found food and checked out several teams we could possibly play on Saturday. However, after fully relaxing we regrouped and began to warm up for the second time, which was very difficult in the hottest weather the Hodags experienced all year. When the game started Wisconsin seemed to have lost that extra energy we had early in the day. However, Callahan nominee Rodrigo Valdivia, playing his 5th Nationals tournament was focused and ready to lead the team to victory. On the first point, Gigo gets a hand block on the mark, upheld by the observer and finds Dan Heijmen in the end zone for a 1-0 lead. But unlike our first two games, Texas was not going to roll over so easy, hucking the disc downwind and answering 1-1. As the teams squared off, the deep throws were coming from everywhere and Rodrigo pulled down a big huck in the end zone for a 2-1 lead. A couple of points later, the defense stiffened as both teams suffered several turnovers before Heijmen discovers Tripoli deep for a 3-2 lead. Soon after Will Lokke decides it is finally time for his coming out party. Will gets 2 huge D’s in the air and on the second, dumps it to Jim Foster before going deep and pulling down the forehand huck down the line for a 5-2 lead and forcing Texas into a timeout to recover. It was 5-4 when Michigan puts on a tight zone with Wisconsin going upwind. The disc swings to Muffin on the sideline who swiftly sees roommate Ted Tripoli pointing deep. He bombs a huge forehand over the deep in the zone to help the offense get going, as Tripoli finds Miller who gets it to Rodrigo for the goal 6-4. Texas answers with a deep catch and Tripoli answers that by burning deep again to keep the lead at 7-5. More hot defense and opportunities propel the Hodags to a 10-5 lead, but we had to work for the disc, with Texas not willing to just turn it over without severe pressure. TUFF refuses to go away, being this the third time we have met this year, and uses possession ultimate to keep the score somewhat close at 11-7. On a very long point, with several point blocks and even more foul calls, our ridiculous defense gets nasty and Madison scores to take a 12-7 advantage. Rodrigo continues to hold down the O line, scoring twice more before the game ends at 15-10. The score was closer than the game was in actuality, with the Hodags in control all the way. With that victory we win the pool 3-0 and get the cherished bye into quarterfinals. This is a huge advantage because we do not have to play pre-quarters like many teams on Saturday, giving the 4 pool winners a distinct advantage in regard to rest.

We have a team meeting that evening and together resolve to extend our season one more day. Our course was set and we know we need two wins to land ourselves in the finals of Nationals. Wisconsin hardly expected that Saturday would be even more magical than the incredible first day, with harder competition waiting.

As we arrived and moved to the showcase fields for Saturday’s games, the greatest feeling of excitement and focus ran through the team’s veins. The Hodags wanted every throw to be perfect, their defense to be destructive, and the deep throws to be the best out there. This Saturday morning was no different and we wanted to endure the anticipation and calm the nerves before game time. We lost the flip and began on offense. It was sunny, hot, and calm as the offense looked extremely jacked up. With every O line cutter looking to make the play, we had 2 hucks miss within the first several passes. However, San Diego was in a little worse condition, missing on 3 deep looks of their own as Wisconsin finally punches in the disc for a 1-0 lead. As the D line took the field, it was becoming clear to the Hodags that San Diego did not want to win the game and was content to give us the disc freely. We remembered the tired San Diego of Centex who buckled under the pressure of exceptional team speed and mind reading abilities. Godrigo, whose hair looked perfectly groomed, proved once again that his talent and athletic ability could not be stopped when his mind was made. Veteran James Scott fires a textbook low release forehand straight up line to a streaking Valdivia who absolutely annihilates 2 defending Air Squids in the air for the 2-0 break. The following point, San Diego is still overthrowing some deep threats, but their biggest deep #10 makes a nice grab to get on the board 2-1. The Wisconsin Offense has rejuvenated with a Kevin Riley big time backhand to Q-Tip cutter Dan Miller for a quick score, 3-1, staying up two breaks. After another UCSD hold on offense, Wisconsin gets down to business and the O line looks to get on track for good. Despite Daniel Heijmen missing with a bladey huck, Tripoli busts out his bladey hammer to Daniel Miller in the back of the end zone for a 4-2 lead. With San Diego still missing their deep receivers by as much as 10 yards, Muffin locates the disc and launches a forehand huck to Lokke just waiting for the clap score, adding more breaks and a 5-2 lead. A week before, Chris Doede ruthlessly rolled his ankle which swelled the size of a large ostrich egg, and had not taken off the air cast until this point. He hobbles his way onto the field, and runs his defender as hard as he can. Chris gets the disc on the in-cut and turns up field into power position on the break side with Steven’s Point crony Mike Lang flying deep. Dades lets his sick backhand fly which lands Lang on the goal line before nailing Godrigo for the 6-2 lead. The Air Squids are suffering in the warming conditions and continue to miss anything over 30 yards. Muffin picks up the disc and walks to the line seeing a backhand force. He calls Jimmy Foster’s number looking for a deep run. Sure enough, Foster takes off and a perfectly timed fake moves the mark and Muff has a wide open backhand throw to the break side, floating about 68 yards downwind to a 1 handed Foster sky. Lokke burns his defender to the open side for a backhand goal, sticking in the fourth break in a row, 7-2. The offense on both sides of the disc looked like a well oiled machine of professional all-starts versus a ragtag team of amateurs. As Hector put, “a case study in punishment”, as the Hodags put in the last break for a halftime lead of 8-2. During halftime, we were excited and passionate, willing ourselves to improve every half of ultimate we play, challenging each other to play even better. UCSD Big Meat #10 grabs a spectacularly big catch over Valdivia for the hold 9-3. The defensive offense was still showing enduring patience with the disc, putting in another break before going downwind, and discovering a big huck going up to first timer at Nationals Adam Drews. The 5’8 Straight Drooze pretty much burns his defender to the spot and makes the good catch. When the disc goes back on a travel call, the thrower is resolute and the idea is rekindled as the huck goes right back to Drews who this time has to make a play, skying the disbelieving Air Squid for the 11-3 lead! San Diego was suffering from what Wisconsin considers in-your-shorts man-on-man defense or “Man’s D”. It was Hodag upon Hodag asserting their dominance on each and every player they matched up on. With no victims to speak of, the scary D line begins to start warming up, showcasing the need to look sick with full extension layouts and a ridiculous deep game on both the throw and catch. Going upwind now, James Scott again proves he can throw anything buttery, unleashing a floaty flick to a match-up everybody wanted. Big Cheese vs. Big Meat, and it was Shaner getting his dinner, with nice position and good looking catch over #10, for a 12-3 lead. However, UCSD who appeared in semifinals last year was still fighting, working the disc better and forcing it to #10 with a midrange huck for a score, 12-4. The O line was downright silky as Tripoli jacks his backhand to a wide open Tim Pearce, who was getting open all over the field 13-4. Nate Hurst rocks his own pull as San Diego was still hucking to Big Meat, missing yet again, another Wisco break to go 14-4. With all 23 players on Wisconsin waiting to step up and perform, the game ends 15-5, once again improving on the previous half, scoring every time we got the disc, throwing zero turnovers again! With everyone on the team playing and contributing and the intensity of our play and focus on the goal of finals, Wisconsin must have been a truly terrifying force.

As we thanked our alumni and families who filled our home sideline, we meandered to the other quarterfinals game between Georgia and Colorado. In a surprising twist of fate, Wisconsin did not meet Colorado as guessed. We were disappointed to not be able to revenge our season ending losses the last two years against Mamabird. And to our complete surprise, we get to play Jojah. Just for fun, let us recap what we have done to Georgia this year. In front of their strong home crowd at CCC, we won in semis 15-4. In the finals of College Terminus, their home tournament in front of their home crowd again, we beat Georgia in the finals 17-12. And best of all, we had successfully neutralized their biggest and most depended upon receiver, Dylan.

As Wisconsin prepared for the final game of Saturday, the focus and determination reappeared. We play a quick end zone game just to make sure that our decisions and play are excellent. Wisconsin starts on offense, with the starting seven easily moving the disc for a 1-0 lead. With the D line on the field, the Drew vs. Dylan match-up was the place to be. With hard marks and scary looking dudes like Shane Hohenstein playing his absolute hardest, the Hodags force a turnover. A swing to Hurst with an up field strike to Foster is knocked off the cast on his throwing hand; with second life Georgia places a nice curling backhand to the end zone who is caught on a huge layout 1-1. The O line once again must prove their dominance and invincibility, with Annen and Rebholz burning past defenders for the 2-1 score after Miller misses big on the foul. With the D line quickly back on the field, Wisconsin knew we would break. The pull is huge and the defense hustles down, ruining the first cut with faster anticipating Hodag D. Tom Burkly gets his hand in the lane and D’s a close disc in Georgia territory, giving Hurst the break to Lokke for the 3-1 score. At this point, we want the floodgates to open so we put in a ridiculous D line: Drew, Muffin, Shane, Freddy, Gigo, Tom and Langer, and of course we scored again on a quick turnover 4-1. Rodrigo and Shane are displaying some full extension waist high fully stretched layouts across the center of the field almost every other, causing mayhem and destruction with every bid. Actually, the layouts are coming from every direction, with defensive specialists looking to backpack players on any in-cut. Georgia continues to turn the disc on faster and overall more talented Hodags, pumping up the pressure with sticky man defense and forcing Jojah into things they were not used to. At 5-1, we get a deep turn and work it up the field, with Drew finding Muffin on the strong sideline. Muffin, who is always ready to dominate, feels like he can throw anything so he quickly looks for the best receiver on the break side who can run deep, immediately finding Godrigo and throwing a huge outside in forehand to the middle of the end zone.
Rodrigo, who showered minutes before, fixing his hair and grabbing a fresh jersey, was in absolute prime position to murder, seeing how he just finished his 9 week course in Acceleration and is running about 37 miles per hour (22 real time). Well with that kind of leg work, Rodrigo chases the disc well into the end zone and launches himself forward, clapping the disc at waist high, putting in another break to lead 6-1. (CSTV highlight clip of the tournament!) Well Jojah can not handle and calls a timeout to regroup. After an off side call, Georgia begins to bring their looks in short, maintaining more possession and making it a 7-3 game. With our offense in, a break huck by Miller goes to Tim Pearce running free. Tim goes up for the easy pass with 2 hands only to see the disc fly high and have to stretch for the left handed grab, snatching half at 8-3. Again, after the first two points, Wisconsin is perfect with the disc, not turning it once in en route to several breaks in a row. Out of half, Andrew starts on Tunnell, getting the layout D on the in cut, but fouling no contest. Frederick and Heijmen begin to take advantage of their match ups finding their hands on the disc often with hand blocks and layout D’s respectively. Rodrigo Valdivia puts up the sick looking hammer to the one-handed Jim Foster skying Jojah for the 9-3 lead, which was just ridiculous to see. With both teams missing long once, Andrew point blocks a Dylan huck, getting the disc on the goal line and finding a darting Rodrigo for the 11-3 break. After a patient Georgia hold to go 11-4, the O line uses Bucket and Tripoli resets, who just as patiently finds Dan Heijmen for the 12-4 response. Freddy again gets a D in the air and the D line punishes teams for missing deep, scoring for 13-4. At this point, Georgia finally pulls it back together, managing their first break plus several more on the offense due to miscommunication between players or near miss turnovers. Before the match ends, Tom Burkly wants of a piece of the action and decides to be the deep threat on a point, finding himself open by almost 20 yards deep in the end zone. The huck comes but it is mistimed and very floaty, giving Dylan an opportunity to get a D. So Tunnell takes off from at least 25 yards away and as the distance is closing, Tom gets a perfect read and quite stylishly pulls down the disc just as Dylan has a chance at it, getting the “Kodak moment” on the hard working and generally unlucky Dylan. At 14-6 the Central support was extremely loud and humorous; the sideline maxed out with friends and family. The alumni support and parents made the weekend perfect and the team had never played better. Nobody wanted to let down, especially with the fans coming out to watch you, so the Hodags played harder and with a chip on our shoulders. It was really that Wisconsin was unstoppable, not giving the team the disc for long stretches a time and scoring so efficiently that the game was over almost immediately. When the game ended fittingly with a Valdivia sky 15-7 and we knew we had earned another day in our college season, the best thing happened; our Alumni begin to dance and sing, pulling up household Wisconsin favorite VARSITY. At this point we wanted to play Florida, because it was a killing on the field. Wisconsin was on a mission and we could not be denied. We were outplaying anything, running harder, faster and deeper than anyone, just rolling most teams. We wanted Florida then, but they would have to wait. At least seeds never really mattered, we made it to Finals just as predicted. Madison had one last goal in our season to accomplish, to break seed and become heroic National Champions.

The feeling of busting through to finals was amazing. It was like conquering the world and defeating every foe imaginable. We ate a late team dinner (thus missing the tournament party), saw pictures of ourselves dominating Michigan in the local paper, and resolved to visit the stadium that very night. We found the school and stared at the perfect looking field, licking our chops to get on the grass. However, the field was locked so we decided to have our team meeting just outside of the stadium gates. In a strangely informal fashion, we sit in an open circle on the ground, going around one by one and saying whatever you like about the last day of our season together. At first it was originally expected for people to talk about match ups, strategy and the like, but when the first Hodag began to talk about what this team meant to him, it was a slippery slope towards team bonding, emotional confessions, and relapse about the season. After everyone had their say, we loved this team more than anything in the world. Wisconsin was so confident that we would destroy Florida in the morning and the faith we had in each other was unshakeable. We had truly convinced ourselves that playing ultimate for Wisconsin defined you as a person and each Hodag had a new angle of expressing his feelings for the team. We went to bed feeling good, confident and wholly assured that as a team of 23 dominating individuals that we could beat Florida when it matters the most - National Finals.

We had watched the finals game from the stands the last two years at college nationals. It looked so exciting and simple to play in a stadium full of hundreds of cheering rivals. However, from the sideline you never can appreciate the on field atmosphere with observers and cameramen. Now these dudes with cameras have never played ultimate so they have no concept as to what space is and where it is. So during drills, during points, after scores and before pulls they will be right in your face with the camera, like inches away. It was a little distracting, but it was nothing compared to the noise the crowd could make. If you listened you could hear every jeer, heckle and cheer, although we shut out some of these.

Wisconsin arrived well before Florida with some players being almost first at the fields in the morning, watching the field being set up and pre-game operations going on by the UPA. After cleating up, Madison began to throw around with most players not throwing anything over 35 yards before we regrouped for a jog and warm-up routine. After getting our legs working and doing box and attack drill, there were four people who were told to go practice pulls: Muffin, Hurst, Gigo and Drew. Rodrigo wanted to play handler D on Gehret thus would need to be hustling down on pulls and Drew needed to run the drills, so it was only Nate and Malecek to practice pulling deep in both directions. We soon realized that there was a fairly stiff wind going towards the parking lot which was mischievous and difficult to really find. Wisconsin chugs some red bull and waits for the roster announcements and national anthem. Before we realize it, the game has begun, with the O line trotting out, going downwind. Tim Gehret pulls a floaty backhand which Annen catches and hits Rebholz immediately to start the set. Reb swings it to Kevin to gain yards who sees Tripoli going deep. Riley sets and zips a deep backhand, overthrowing a wide open Ted by about 15 yards. Florida with the turn begins as chilly as the Hodags were hot. With patient looks, many to stall 8 they would hit one of 3 people: Gibson, Cyle, or a mack back to Gehret. With in looks up the line and Kurt making nice catches on some intense Heijmen layouts, Florida moves it up field and punches in the score for a 0-1 break. It began the exact same as Centex only the roles were reversed. It was as if the coaching or poaching or slight wind made the difference, but Florida’s game plan was very tight. Before anyone realizes it, deep hucks were missing and Florida was scoring with the deliberately patient looks and continued high release O2 strikes to take another break at 1-3. Wisconsin calls a timeout to regroup, clearly surprised and stressed from our horrible start. We calmed it down, clearly concentrating on bringing the offense under and finally hold with Tom Annen and Heijmen getting solid touches for a 2-3 game. With the defense back on the field, everyone could sense the impending break and everybody in Blue wanted a D. With the increased pressure and layout attempts on nearly every throw, Florida finally cracks and begins to give us the disc, deep in our end zone going in a blustery up wind breeze. Our hucks are forced, easily anticipated and well poached with as many as 3 Florida players defending deep and we traded again to 4-5, still down two breaks. As the sun truly reveals itself, so did the Wisconsin defense, as it stepped up its play earning 4 chances to score the disc, but alas we could not convert and it was 4-6. We were so close, on the doorstep and all we needed to do was break through once to get some momentum. Both offenses continued to hold with patient work underneath, Wisconsin taking the easy big gainers through the poachy zone, 6-7. With the crown getting into it and the Hodags desperately needing the defense to score, the heat is not slowing down Florida in only one game and they convert for the 6-8 halftime lead. Wisconsin brings it in at half, with Brown, Hector and Paradise urging words of encouragement, we discuss what had just occurred. Save the first couple of points, both teams converted all O point opportunities for the rest of half. The feeling in the huddle is tightness and uneasiness, for the first time all weekend the defense is not scoring and we are losing. However, Heijmen reassured the Hodags that nothing has been decided and that he still believes we will win. His unwavering confidence is inspiring and contagious and many attitudes in the huddle change, with blind faith we depend on each other just like all season. The D line plus several key studs take the field, pulling upwind. The defensive intensity begins to flourish, as the number of foul calls increase and crowd support peaks. With all-out-effort, the Wisconsin D finally gets the disc on a deep drop on our goal line. With the same backhand force, Muffin ruthlessly breaks the mark to hit Heijmen who quickly moves the disc as the D line advances. The D line finally finds some flow and manages the upwind break to start half 7-8. Finally, the break came! But Florida continues to play patient and goes upwind easily, holding off the next D line to score their O 7-9. The Hodags need another spark, still down 2 points, and the O line looks to take care of business. About 25 yards from the end zone, Tripoli looks for Miller up the crowd sideline, but with fast D by Gibson, Dan must incredibly leap out-of-bounds snatch the disc mid air and blade it back in bounds to save possession. Teddy Tripoli skys for his own disc, completing “the Greatest” and keeping Wisconsin in flow, with Matt Rebholz finding Annen working hard on the scoring move to hold the upwind O point to cut to the lead to 8-9. The ballsy play by Miller gets the D line all fired up who finally does their job and scores the downwind break to bring the game even at 9-9. So all game we had thrown a plethora of defenders on Gehret in attempt to slow down his up line and deep cuts. Tripoli decides to give it another go and responds to the deep throw, stopping Tim deep and continuing the message to Gehret that he could not go deep on Ted. The D line cutters are hungry for the disc as a floaty throw goes up on the far sideline. Brodie “I’m 6’5 and still a victim” Smith gets great position under the disc and jumps to D it, however, Rodrigo swoops in from one direction and Andrew Mahowald from the other, precisely skying each other at the exact moment, with both players clutching the disc with their life as Brodie is posterized x2. However, the sick play would mean little as the observer calls Drew out while instantly Rodrigo lands in, it is a turnover. With transition D, the original match-ups are lost and Hodags look hard to find the prey. Will Lokke matches up well and on a stall 9 throw, gets a ridiculous wrap around the body layout D on the line. Florida continues their shady calls, whining for the foul, but the tested veteran observer looks to more physical play and fewer dives, as Lokke smiles, knowing how he D’d the disc before Brodie had reached it. But the defensive heroics, meant little with another Hodag quick turn on the in cut, giving Florida super field position and an easy end zone set punch-in 9-10. The untested O line must respond again with Rebholz taking command of the backfield and finding power position often, tying the game at 10-10. Both defenses are pulling up wind and both offenses are scoring fairly easily, especially with the break and deep throws. Florida is consciously looking off players and keeping the disc in only 3-4 players’ hands. They realized that it was really only Tim and Rook that could keep them in the game and the constant Wisconsin layouts would surely be successful if they distributed the disc. Near 11-11, Tom Annen makes the play of his life; getting an over the shoulder layout D catch on Gehret in the backfield to give Madison a great opportunity to score easily. However, Riley eyes and pump fakes to a dancing Dan Heijmen and telegraphs his high release break throw to almost everyone on the field, as a poaching Florida defender snatches back our 2nd and last D of the day and goes up 12-11. Florida can sense it and turns up the pressure on Wisconsin, almost taking a two point lead on an exhaustingly long point, but the Hodags tie things up at 12-12, game to 3. We put another sick D line out on the field and Muffin is pulling upwind. The concentration was there as Malecek had not yet turned the disc over in the strangely gusty wind, keeping all pulls up to this point in bounds. This one is not good as the disc bumps off his chest just before the release and turns directly over, blading out of bounds not even fully to the brick. With the short field and mark with a step off, Gehret loops a huge break mark backhand around the field to back corner of the end zone as Gibson runs a textbook perfect criss-cross cut, pulling Andrew around and through the stack and sprinting to the back corner, 12-13. Gehret proved himself much more capable in the backfield handling than downfield cutting. His deep throws were perfect on the weekend, with great float and hitting cutters, well Gibson, in stride. His high release forehand looked as silly as Goldstein’s but proved just as effective jamming it down the line on long O2 backfield cuts. Tim played very well in the backfield, but no one respected his speed downfield as his short frame made for good match ups on the turnover. However, for as many turns and chances Wisconsin got in a fairly clean game, we could not score the goal. With the O line on the field going downwind, Miller misses Tripoli a little too deep on the long backhand to the end zone. Florida would not let that error slip through as they converted upwind with a huck and quick goal, 14-12. With the game on the line, Wisconsin puts in the a strong throwing line, looking to keep possession going upwind and for sure score the O point. With the pull, Wisco moves the disc quickly and effectively gaining yards and playing a little too aggressive. A swing from Rebholz puts Riley in the middle third of the field, looking off the full swing to Muffin. As the mark comes around Riley fakes the low release forehand break and then immediately throws it, tempting the last handler defender into the break lane and then D’ing it. Florida quickly gets the disc into Tim’s hands, who rips a huge downwind hammer to near the back line, to whom else, Gibson for the 12-15 win. Florida stole the last 3 points of the game in a heartbeat as the O line faltered just enough to give Tim and Rook a chance. Florida celebrated its Cinderella season, doing the unexpected and winning it all. I would credit the whole Florida team, however, literally only two players were making things happen, maybe why Tim won the Callahan. The Hodag defense was actually quite incredible with possibly 20 layouts that just missed the disc. Again, Florida would not throw to their weak links and it paid off with one of the cleanest final games in memory. Wisconsin should be immensely proud of our year and our accomplishments on the season. It was truly amazing and even a finals defeat cannot overshadow the big picture of Hodag success in 2006.

The final can be viewed for free on the CSTV website under ultimate, . Scoreomatic updates can be found here: . Official results can be found here: . You want proof the sickness that is the Wisconsin Hodags, check out the pictures.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Central Regionals

This was a weekend of fate. For over 11 months Wisconsin knew this weekend would come. We remember clearly being in Corvallis, checking the final results and realizing the obstacle that had been placed in our path. A regional championship and nothing less if Madison wanted another shot at the college championships. This one game became a looming barrier that held importance beyond words. The alarming reality that only one team from the Central Region would be in Ohio sunk in quite quickly, and the knowledge that an entire season of hard work and dedication could be ruined by just one game was absolutely terrifying. With all of this hype and attention, this single task became a larger than life event; something incredibly valuable and loaded with expectation. The fact that Wisconsin had won 4 straight tournaments meant nothing if we didn’t convert in regional finals. These are the mental struggles that the Hodag’s faced and needed to overcome.

I think the final outcome started with our preparation. Over the summer when many college players started playing club together, we wondered about Carleton. Before the fall season even began Wisconsin was organizing a bid to attempt to bring regionals to Madison. When the Hodags had tryouts it was all about the last 20% and selecting the group of competitors that could defeat Carleton in finals. As the spring season began this goal was within our sights. This objective crystallized and began to prickle after losing to Carleton in Vegas. The impact of that loss stuck with almost everyone, putting more focus and effort on improving. From that point on everything Wisconsin did was gearing up for this weekend. We planned for this one game, we studied our enemy, we had a practice run the weekend before, and we prepared ourselves 100 times more effectively than last year. We timed our workouts to have our bodies be in excellent condition and we thought we had everything figured out. But nothing can confuse and devastate a team’s confidence and momentum like the predictably precarious Midwestern Spring Weather.

The anticipation for Iowa City was overwhelming and coupled with finals growing close made for a stressful week. No one could think about school because the most important weekend of the year was approaching fast and we were running out of practice time. Wisconsin held the one seed and had a pretty easy pool. However, the driving rain, cold conditions and blustery winds made it pretty miserable. Our first game was against our B-team the Pimpdags. They surely wanted a piece of us and at 1-1 the intensity was there as they believed they had a chance. The Pimpdags were the only team on Saturday that had the throwers to accurately huck the disc. But at 4-1 that feeling of rivalry faded as the conditions worsened, drops increased, and best throwers proved themselves, riding the storm to a 15-2 victory. This was a glimpse of the future, teams laying down and not giving their full effort late in the game. Next was Marquette who despite having some athletes could not handle the increasingly crappy driving rain. Turns came by the handful and we cruised in for a 15-0 win. They almost scored several times, but the weather was extremely bad and the drops hurt them. They were having fun though, some sliding around shirtless in the rain and making the best of the awful circumstances. Our last game of the day was against Carleton-GOP. With the intent of finishing games quick to get out of the cold rain and get our rest we were damn ready to finish the day. GOP did their best with the conditions but unquestionably surrendered a 15-1 finish. However, GOP was definitely the funniest team we played all day because they dressed up of course. Overall, a combination of the weather and fast starts made for a speedy finish and opportunity to scout CUT play their last pool play game against Winona State. We huddled in our cars as we watched a 10+ turnover point. We built confidence right there, seeing Carleton struggle in the rain when we dominated our opponents.
“Dinner with the Enemy”
We showered up and decided to go to “The Mill” which apparently has really good pasta type food. With many of our parents with us, several who came as a surprise, we had a large group of 34 people. As we order our drinks and find our seats, guess who wanders in the door? Carleton?!? Oh… hey guys. They sit on the other side of the open room with a small stage in between us. Two examples for how much we loathe Carleton: 1) Rodrigo and Dan are in the bathroom and in walks Ben Hahn from Carleton. They immediately recognize each other and don’t say a word. No smile, no sign of friendliness, it was an uneasy silence. 2) There is some joking around because how on earth did the Hodags and CUT get into the same dinner room?? So Ted Tripoli stands up, walks around the booths to the other side. As Tripoli moves the room murmurs, and everybody was watching, thinking Ted was going to strut over and talk to those guys. However, he turns sharply and grabs the blinds and loudly pulls it over, taking CUT out of view and saying, “I don’t even want to look at those guys.” Carleton laughed and even bought us 3 pitchers of beer which was pretty amusing. Over two hours later, after several wrong orders/running out of food, we left for the hotel, grabbed our dried clothes and went to bed after a convincing and compelling team meeting.

Sunday morning rumors swirled about tournament format, fields closed, lost alumni and the like with bad weather still coming. We managed to start quarters against Iowa State just before it started down pouring. With a certain amount of confidence and swagger in the air, Madison was ready to prove that this tournament belonged to us. Although it was a close game early, 3-2, we made it into a 15-5 drubbing. Despite the wet conditions, Madison was still able to throw several nice deep shots in the rain. All day the handlers were the key to our success, moving the disc quickly, effectively, and killing with the up field reset (Thanks Tyson). ISU only had 2 good throwers and couldn’t handle the zone and stiff wind. They continually punted, but our consistent O2 resets and chilly offense were pretty vicious. After this game, we lost the fields. The Iowa complex had already shut down 3 fields yesterday so they added in the bye rounds, but this time because of the continual rain, we lost them all. So for semis we had to change fields and locations. We went to a random city park to finish the day. A line of 18 cars struggled to caravan to the new playing site. The start times were pushed back an hour and it landed Madison all by themselves at the new site to throw around and try to stay warm as the other teams finished their quarter’s games and headed on over. During this time lag, as Carleton and Minnesota stayed dry in their cars, it down poured again and became so windy that 10 yard passes upwind were a luxury. Another question: Have you been to your nearest city park lately? I never used to notice how tall those dandelions grow, just how thick the grass is, or just how many gopher holes there were. Basically, it was playground country style and the observers had a talk with the captains about how they would interpret throws skimming the tall grass and dandelions. These fields seem better to support a local spring league game rather than the finals of the Central Region, but at least the ground was soft.

When Minnesota, Carleton and St. Cloud State finally arrived and emerged from their shelters we started our games in some brutal wind. We effectively mixed our zone and man defense, getting valuable practice for the upcoming final. Most importantly, SCSU played some zone defense, giving our zone offense a chance to work out the kinks. We finished quickly 15-5, with St. Cloud again conceding the game after a big lead. St. Cloud wished us luck and told us to beat CUT, but not before Naz continually ruined marks and made people look as silly as Andrew Brown usually does. I should mention that Naz looks pretty silly and lanky, but his confidence with the disc is rock-solid.

Finally, we had done it; we had made it to finals and the game to go to nationals versus our biggest rival Carleton CUT. The alumni, parents, fans, girlfriends, and other teams had to be fenced off to keep a decent sideline for this game. The sun broke through right before the game started and the conditions drastically changed from wet, cold, and windy to warm, sunny, and windy. In what would become an upwind-downwind game CUT won the flip and astutely chose the wind. Wisconsin’s “Seattle drill” before the game began was clean and crisp, with rocket passes slicing through the wind and sure hands sticking to discs. As the game started, the crowd was loud and omnipresent. With a steady 20-25 mph wind to the face, going upwind seemed nearly impossible. With several huge CUT pulls, Wisconsin took two or three possessions to just be able to finally work it out of the end zone before the turn and quick Carleton conversion. Carleton looked really good early, the zone appeared unbreakable, the offense was smooth and efficient flowing off the break throws and Wisconsin seemed slow to react and timid. Last year the youthful Hodag’s might have been more nervous and worried, but it was so much an upwind-downwind game that a 2/3 field pull was pretty awesome and scoring downwind was extremely easy. And then it happened. CUT broke our zone and quickly worked it up the field and then scored the upwinder as if they had been doing it all day. The momentum swung instantly. Carleton was playing harder with more intensity, had louder sidelines, and had scored the unthinkable unwind break. It was as if the world had stopped rotating. The Wisconsin fans were shocked and the overall tension and pressure increased dramatically. As we called our zone offense and awaited the pull, the fierce wind and Northwoods cheerer’s made any noise coming from farther than 10 feet away completely inaudible. This was just another unexpected obstacle that found its way into the finals. Well, the pull landed deep and rolled out, trapping us on the sideline. They pushed us all the way to the back of our end zone before we changed the game. Dump swing, dump swing, dump swing as fast as we could before a desperation hammer that didn’t even reach our front end zone cone for a turn. We got the disc back on a backfield miscommunication by CUT giving Heijmen the disc. An initial rapid succession of throws got the disc quickly up the field. Several more key breaks through the zone by Riley and Muffin punched the disc through the cup and pushed us closer to the goal line. Once in range of the end zone, one final break of the cup to Rodrigo Valdivia created a Carleton defensive meltdown and left an easy open pass for our own upwinder. We had taken the momentum right back and immediately scored the downwinder as well. This is where the tide turned, with Wisconsin fans really getting into the game, and the Hodags reversing the pressure back on Carleton.

Punting became a big time strategy going downwind and even hammers to no one were an alright solution, as Rebholz began to jack some giant laser hammers out the back. He threw one cross-field to Heijmen who perfectly boxed out Leon, Carleton’s deep, and had an easy pass to Rodrigo for the score. The trading continued to 7-7 with both teams scoring easily downwind. The intensity of the game was growing and tempers flared early with several hard, but smart, fouls. I even heard fans jawing at each other from the respective teams. I think we had failed to realize from the start that CUT would do anything; I mean anything to gain an advantage. They fouled us hard and often, called me by my first name, had that patented fake niceness, contested obvious fouls we called, trying anything to get into our heads. It was 7-7 and we were pulling upwind to CUT with our stud-laced zone offense. We know a break here would count double (Carrington and Paradise reminded us) if we could hold downwind after half, so it’s a crucial moment. We got a good pull and on one of the first in throws Drew Mahowald put his mark on the game. Ben Hahn made the in-cut and Drew laid out making up several feet to get a sick layout D near midfield. This was huge because CUT wasn’t in zone; we had the disc at midfield, and the crowd as going wild. We worked it up field but squandered our break opportunity on the would-be scoring pass. Carleton gladly punted the disc and we moved to work it up field again. A swing and floaty O2 pass in traffic (4 CUT players converging) came down in the confident hand’s of Matt Rebholz, and he immediately hucked his backhand as far as he could to Rodrigo who was sprinting deep. In probably the deepest upwind throw all game, Valdivia had just enough time to perfectly read the throw and catch it flatfooted near the upwind end zone sideline. Carleton’s Jacob Goldstein initially tried to call him not in, but Gigo definitively called himself in and waited for the observer who quickly agreed. The upwind break for half 8-7 Wisconsin completely changed the game. The Hodags began to guard their upwind end zone with their lives, punting anything and everything in our half of the field we are defending. Since we were only punting downwind, why not send several receivers down field so we can catch the mack or tip? Carleton never quite understood this strategy, so with several 3 vs. 1 in the end zone we scored consistently. Our punts were mostly scored with Tripoli running really really fast to floaty deep backhand hucks. We switched defensive strategies and go man defense as well, pumping in continuous downwind goals. Dan Heijmen continued to dominate getting a ridiculous wrap around layout D from behind a Carleton player. Mum was the word on score with no one asking and no one even mentioning it until 13-10. Superstitions got us as CUT scored an upwind on a close call on the sideline with Hahn toeing the line. It was Jacob that broke it through the cup on several occasions manufacturing the break upwind. CUT closed the gap with an easy score downwind, bringing it to 13-12. Carleton, going upwind, got the punt turn and the crowd went nuts! They worked the disc within 20 yards of scoring upwind. Some stifling defensive intensity by Tripoli, Valdivia, and Heijmen on the handler weave left Chris Rupp with no options and stall 8. In desperation he pivoted forward and attempted to draw a foul on the throw. His mistake was actually throwing the disc, which popped up and flew back over his head about 15 yards. Dan, who played with Rupp with past Club season with Sub Zero, knew Chris too well and told him he was going to the observer when Rupp only wanted a contest. (Note: This is the second time that Chris makes the turnover that killed the cat, see Quarters vs. Furious). Dan argued that he was stationary and that Rupp was trying to draw a on the step and that he was completely motionless on the throwing foul and the observer agreed. Turn. Riley directly dumped the disc to Tripoli who…..
Flashback: It’s midweek Spring Break at Tybee Island. We had punked out on playing with the girl’s team and were playing capture the flag on the beach instead. We did some miscellaneous throwing around and Ted Tripoli began just bombing hammers downwind off the ocean breeze like 70 yards. It turned into a competition and Ted announced that he had the best downwind hammer, just chucking it like 90 yards to people not even moving. He beat everyone, even Freddy, but we were like, “Great Ted, you are the best at throwing 70 yard hammers straight downwind. Good job. Who cares?” Who knew this would come back huge?!?
So Ted got the dump and immediately …throws a monster 60 yard hammer goal to a motionless Valdivia in the back of the end zone behind an unsuspecting Hahn to take the 14-12 lead. We put in another sick defensive line, wanting to end it here. We got the turn and after a sick upwind hammer to Tim Pierce and an overruled travel call on Pearce’s immediate O2 pass to Miller on the sideline play stopped. It was Dan Miller with the disc and Shane Hohenstein with a couple of steps on his man, and his eyes on the end zone. It was a no-brainer backhand huck that Shane immediately spiked to end the game. Two transfer students from Winona State finished the game and we went crazy. It was several minutes before the teams shook hands.

The ecstasy of winning the title and extending our season was dampened by the thought of ending Carleton’s season. I was overjoyed to win, but felt abrupt empathy for their position, a place that we could easily have been if the game had played out differently. While I maintain that I hate CUT with all my soul, I did feel particularly sorry for them for awhile. The end of a season is an emotional time. I think I hugged each and every one of my teammates I could find, all of us euphoric to finally break through and win Regional finals for the first time since 2002.

Overall it was funny that we won the game with a strategy of punting the disc and playing defense, but I guess we have pretty stingy defense. Many times it was our D line scoring the offensive points downwind with the offense trying to score the crucial breaks upwind, presenting a definite role reversal.

Several other things: This weekend was the weirdest tournament format with less fields than expected, changed times for Sunday, new locations, getting the new directions to all of the alums, playing in a city park, heavy rain, and an incredible wind. Nate Hurst played a super game at handler, shredding the Carleton zone late in the game to help cash in last couple breaks upwind. Rodrigo Valdivia played outstanding all game and pretty much all day. He seemed to teleport all over the field and was in all the right spots at the right time. To repeat, in the beginning of the game, CUT was playing with an anything to win mentality (like Florida?). They were fouling on purpose, contesting calls, grabbing jerseys, and playing mind games. Although the game cleaned up considerably, I almost punched Leon for one foul in particular that rubbed me the wrong way and pushed him away when he tried to play nice and give me a hug. However, the outside support was tremendous. The alumni that made the trip and especially all of the parents were really great. Although several parents had to miss most of finals to catch their flights back home, that fact that they made the trip was strength enough. I also think that the parents came to realize just how much ultimate means to each and every player on the field and how much time, effort, and energy we give to this sport. And lastly, the crazy windy game conditions. Who knew there would be 25-30mph gusts with a straight upwind-downwind game?? Wow, just ridiculous. One last thing: we promise to earn a strength bid for the Central Region next season, because the amount of time I spent pondering not going to Nationals easily outweighs time spent thinking about anything else. It is a damn shame that Carleton will not be in Ohio because they clearly deserve to be there. One of the biggest rivalries in college ultimate, both teams obviously deserving a spot at Nationals, and the Metro East is going to send two teams to Nationals that won’t win a game. CUT could have quite possibly made quarterfinals and they have been replaced by Delaware, or Dartmouth, or whatever. What a tragedy that those 4 not-very-competitive teams from the ME and NE have to pull down the caliber of this prominent tournament. But we’ll be there with our minds and bodies focused on winning it all.

I think all of the focus on this one game began to overshadow our larger goals for the season. When we were picking the team back in the fall, our season goal was very clear to everyone. It was to win a National Championship. That was it – to be the very best and win the hardest tournament of the year. Winning the Central just became another step towards that goal. I think we lost sight of that goal for a little bit. However, the team has refocused at the task at hand. With such a magical season so far, we need to keep working hard to keep improving to have a legitimate chance at going 6-0. We still have National Champs on our team so we know we can do this.

Wisconsin Hodags Central Champions 2006!

pics here:
and here
blue/black pics:
alum game pics: