Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Spring Break was pretty awesome. After getting back into Madison and the swing of classes, we finally had an outdoor practice! However, the short week back in school disappeared in seconds and before I knew it, I was driving to Chicago and on a plane to Austin. We managed to get our new Patagonia jerseys freshly printed last minute and they are the nicest jerseys since the Under Armour of ‘03. The format for CenTex was just ridiculous. First of all, it is the most competitive tournament of the year because it is invite only and boasts teams from all over the country. Five games to 15 on Saturday in the Texas heat combined with 3 elimination games in the wind on Sunday made for some difficult playing conditions as the weekend wore on. We came in seeded second with a pretty tough pool. 3 of the 4 semifinalists from Nationals last year were on our schedule (Brown, Stanford, UCSD) and we knew we had to go 5-0 if we wanted any chance at taking home the hardware. Usually we have a team goal coming into a tournament, deciding beforehand if we want to try to win. I think it goes without saying that everyone wanted to do well at CenTex, but with more of a focus on playing well and avenging losses than winning the tournament. Why we declined to play in the showcase game, no one really knows…
Tom Burkly rules this team with an iron fist and despite late night March Madness, Tom instituted a bedtime and early ass wake up call at 6am! We arrived at the fields earlier than most teams, determined to get in a solid pre-game warm up before starting play. All week we thought about how we would start this tournament, resolute to not have another Luther performance.
We played Western Washington first. I think the only reason they made it into this tournament was because of early season success and the fact that they are coached by Ben Wiggins. It is quite ironic we played WW first because last year we played Washington first, who was then coached by Mr. Wiggins and somehow lost. Anyway, WW was definitely the worst team we played all weekend. They warmed with up the “pedophile” drill, need I say more? From what I could tell, both teams were playing pretty lackluster, but the Hodags took an 8-5 half and basically cruised to a 15-11 victory. The tempo seemed more like a summer league game and the slight swirling wind made discs float like they were at altitude in Colorado. Not much to say about this game except that Wiggins looks like a woodchuck, but I will say they are a spirited team that relied heavily on the break throw.
So no one on our team had ever beaten Stanford. No one. Actually, no Hodag since say 1999 had beaten Stanford and this perennial powerhouse has had quite a nice streak of Nationals performances. Wisconsin actually lost to Stanford last year at Nationals in our last pool play game, a heartbreaker on universe point. As if we needed any more motivation, I hear rumors of Bloodthirsty players (from Madison – not to name names *cough* Dougie *cough*) joking that they own Wisconsin, have us in their pocket, and that we can never actually beat Stanford. Those pricks. Anyway, Stanford had a bye first round, so the Hodags were their first game of the day. We took full advantage of their early morning sloppiness and took a commanding 3-0 lead and 4-1 advantage. Stanford called a timeout to calm down and get their heads back into the game. However, our Offense was vigilant and we took half at 8-4. Note this score, it will be repeated. Furthermore this was exactly the halftime score last year at Natties against Stanford. This time it wasn’t shock and celebration to be leading, but fierce concentration and focus on the last 20%. However, we missed that middle 30% and they broke us twice in a row out of half to tighten the game to 8-6. Both teams responded and each claimed another break before the notorious score of 13-11 Wisconsin was on the board, exactly like last year. The coincidences were piling up and Stanford believed they could pull it off again, completing the miracle comeback. Wisco remained strong, relying on the offense that held out, ending the game at 15-13 Hodags! The curse was over and the first monkey was off our backs. We had taken vengeance for our pool play loss and so many losses before that. We were super excited to finish that game out tough and a little more confident in our ability to win the pool and move onto to quarterfinals for Sunday. I should note that the game was extremely good spirited in the early going, with both teams taking back finicky calls like the jump ball in the pile with Frederick skying everyone, or the uncontested foul on offense when we caught the disc that resulted in a turn and even Drew giving up the down disc on the goal line for another break without a scuffle.
Round 3 was against Michigan, who was actually 18-3 and had made semis at Terminus. However, they didn’t give a great showing, with only 2-3 really good players and we took half at a familiar 8-4. We should have beaten this team by 6 or 7 points, but we played pretty uninspiring, winning 15-12 and expending a lot energy that could have been saved for later in the weekend. We have the tendency to start games fast and get those first few breaks. But then for some reason, we relax or get broken, letting teams stick around. After this game, we got quite a tongue lashing by our captains about our intensity, after winning a huge game versus Stanford and then just playing like crap against Michigan, it was not acceptable. I should also mention that we had a whole flock of parents and relatives on the sideline for this tournament. Keeping our expletives to a minimum was difficult and after awhile we completely gave up and they became as hardened to the swearing as the players.
Next up was Brown, defending National Champion. However, they lost 11 or 16 players from the previous year (conflicting info) and looked nothing like a champion. However, Zip and Vandenburg could be seen rounding the sidelines. We took half again, 8-4 and did a little better at finishing this game 15-7. This was pretty huge, because it gave us some extra time to watch San Diego finish up on universe point and get some water and rest. Colin Mahoney did his best, but with a broken index finger and no possibility to throw the disc it was pretty hard. Drew continued his streak of D’ing big name players, getting a flat footed jump disc on Colin. Zip's Tips: Brown you are not an elite team anymore.
So at this point, the long games to 15 and Texas heat had taken their toll. Many teams looked as if players were dying 1 by 1 on the sideline. We looked about the same, with players strewn about the sideline sitting or laying down, but we had already beaten 2 of the teams in Semifinals of Nationals last year and were slated to play the 3rd of 4, UCSD. When playing Brown, our main focus was to keep the sideline up, because when our sideline is into games we kill teams. But it was pretty hard to keep your head in the game when not playing, especially with all the distractions of pain, temperature, girls, etc.
San Diego had lost some players from the previous year as well and was relatively thin for this long tournament. We started our last game of the day with the wind picking up. SD had this junky zone that made our offense work incredibly hard and slowly to score. However, SD was hurting, taking an injury sub from cramps nearly every point. (The first game I’ve ever been involved in where subbing midpoint became strategic). However, the Hodags were sleepwalking again (why do we do this?). SD was playing with no intensity and we were playing down to their level. This lack of effort was infuriating several Hodags beyond belief. When Burkly reminded us at halftime that if we lost this last game of the day, that we could lose out on quarterfinals for Sunday on point differential with 3 teams at 4-1, the adrenaline started to kick in. I think we were down 7-8 for half and this is when I started getting agitated. Upon imaging what it would feel like to lose this game, miss out on quarters and basically make a waste of the most elite tournament of the year – I got fired up and decided right then and there that I would not let my team lose this game, making it my vendetta to instigate the rest of my team to turn up the intensity and just prove to SD that they did not have the drive or desire to run with us. Out came the motto, “We win with work” and “Fucking Prove It!”
It might have started with a layout. At first the communication was negative, but as it became more positive, and the anxiety increased, the Hodags hit their stride. This is absolutely when Wisconsin plays the best, when we get fired up. It was all of sudden that everyone on the team began to give a damn, with Tom “Animal” Annen ruthlessly climbing up an Air Squid’s back and just posterizing him. With the newfound strength, we started running our defenders into the ground and just working harder. It was all in the effort that SD would crumble because they didn’t have the legs to work as hard as we did. We went on 7-1 run out of half to win 14-9. During the almost OATBAG, Muffin threw 2 full field hucks for goals, hitting Shane and Drew in stride respectively. With teammates legs getting tight and cramps waiting behind every step, we finished the day with some serious momentum. Hodags feed on intensity on energy and when our opponent begins to play with passion, we are at our best.
We stick around and eat barbeque while watching the showcase game between Stanford and UCSD. With the game under the lights and so many people watching, our earlier decision to decline to be a part of this show seemed silly. The halftime performance was the fastest man competition, with our fastest guy, Mike Ottum bowing out in semis. But a 5-0 finish in pool play and a quarterfinal match up with Texas made it all good in the end.
Sunday morning quarterfinals versus Texas. Wisconsin was like night and day from Saturday. No more lazy defense or swilly throws, it was all business and Madison looked so good and crisp out of the gate, getting two quick breaks and a 4-2 lead. We took a breath and it was 4-4, mainly attributed to our defense working so hard to get turnovers and then dropping the first pass on 2 or 3 occasions. However, we took an 8-6 lead at half with some chilly O and nice huck from Scallet to transfer James Scott. Tim Pearce made a sick layout in the end zone, snatching a dying disc 1 handed in the corner for a score. We played even better in the second half, mixing man and zone to a 14-8 lead. However, our O got broken twice on the last two points due to the wind really getting nasty and silly errors after working the disc the entire field on about 60+ throws. We finally finish off Texas 15-10 and realize that we are in the same position as last year, quarterfinals of CenTex.
We move onto Semifinals versus Oregon (6-0 on the tournament). This is the second monkey. We lost the 3rd place game here last year to Oregon and really wanted to get into finals versus the winner of Colorado/Florida.
We change fields, get some much needed parental support and prepare for Ego. It is just ridiculously windy now, strongly upwind-downwind. We mix more man and zone, trying to take away their livelihood in the form of break throws. Dan Miller catches a D in the backfield, throwing a soft backhand upwind, with 3-4 players misreading it before Hurst cleans up the swill. We take a halftime lead at 8-6. We really concentrate on the last 20% and our offense is perfect, dominating their zone upwind and keeping the D line on the field. Kevin Riley’s well timed breaks off the sideline and occasional over the top keeps the zone O moving quickly. The solid O only encourages the D to get breaks and we find the game quickly ending at 15-9.
We finished our semifinal much more quickly than the other, getting some extra rest and a chance to watch the Colorado/Florida semi come down to universe point. The two semifinal games were very different. Florida and Colorado were satisfied to huck both ways in the very windy environment, while both Wisco and Oregon kept with short throws and possession ultimate. Anyway, Florida ends up nipping Colorado at the end and it is the match up everybody wants, #1 undefeated Florida versus #2 Wisconsin.
The sidelines are walls of people, the bleachers full, the hecklers and jeerers ready to go. Four observers patrol the sidelines as the game begins. We start with zone and Florida comes out with the same game plan as semis – to bomb away with the disc. Brian Frederick skies for the D and Wisco works it in for the break out of the start. On the second point, they huck it again, lose possession again and we score a break again. They continue this process with an ill timed hammer and a ludicrous sky D by Mahowald (actually leaping over Florida player) to make it 4-1 Wisconsin. Florida is not a very deep team so they used all of their timeouts effectively, trying to catch their wind (no pun intended). We take half at a familiar 8-6 and look well in control of the game. The sidelines seem for the most part to be pro Wisconsin so it was a really awesome atmosphere. However, the second half turns shady. Florida gets an up call in the end zone for a score and the hitch pass is called down, allowing Florida to get a quick break out of half. So basically, UFUCT (God what a stupid nickname) gets 2 goals on 2 shitty calls by 2 suspect observers who shouldn’t have made active calls anyway and either way, both discs looked exactly the same. I think both should have been called down, but whatever, roll with the punches.
So Wisconsin figured out this neat strategy in semifinals. It was called pulling downwind. Instead of the floaty guy, we started playing cower, as in throw the biggest ugliest blade ever and see if the offense tries to catch it. Fun right? Oregon was pretty smart and just let all those bad boys roll out the back. Well in finals, we keep using that same strategy… what a silly idea, because Florida has Mr. Gibson who has one of the biggest flicks in the game. Thus, Florida starts using our own tactics against us, tossing some ridiculous flick rollers downwind. Irresponsible Wisconsin seems to think that getting in front of the roller and stopping it is better than just letting it roll out the back. I think on 3 or 4 occasions we touch the disc as it skips out the back, forcing us to take it at the back end line. One sequence is just unbelievable – momentum swinger of the game! We touch the roller and get the disc in play just as the 4 man cup sets around Rebholz on the back line. A backhand throw turns into a 40 yard high blade on the foul and Rodrigo comes in from the opposite wing to one handed catch it in the a pile to save the Callahan and then throws one pass, gets it back and bombs a huge huck to Tripoli for the goal, quite a difference from a Callahan. This wasn’t the only tense moment in our upwind end zone, with a floaty swing getting caught in the wind/getting macked and tricking a whole crowd of people into a misread, the disc finds Burkly’s hands as he lays out to save the turn in our end zone and possible Callahan opportunity.
I’m pretty mixed up about all the upwind/downwind O/D points in the end so I’ll just sum up here rather then delving into the specific facts of holding or breaking upwind or downwind. We find ourselves at 13-12. A Hurst break huck upwind to Gigo puts us at 14-12, with a stranglehold on the lead. However, Florida hucks a desperation backhand upwind on a stall 9 and Gibson comes down with a huge sky to make it 14-13. Wisconsin has several chances to finish the game at 14-13. Madison falters when closing the game, turning several hammers and having increasing difficulty breaking the Z, as the pressure increases exponentially with each point. It all comes down to 14-14, Wisconsin receiving going downwind. Our offense gets trapped on the corner and a layout d in the cup lands Florida with the disc on our 5 yard line with a chance to win. The first throw near the corner is high and goes right through Gibson’s hands, giving Heijmen a miracle D. However, Madison is still trapped on the sideline, so a cross field stall 9 hammer is misread by the deep D Rook and Drew, but Rodrigo teleports over and comes out of nowhere to pick up the garbage. At this point Drew is streaking deep unguarded and a patient concentrated bomb finishes the game, 15-14 Hodags.
At the end the crowd was really into the game, booing calls and reacting to nearly every crucial throw. Definitely the most exciting ultimate game I have ever been involved with. There were actually 4-5 Wisconsin throws to an unguarded player in the end zone that were not completed due the strong wind and rushed throw. Either way, it was a fantastic game! We were super ecstatic to win the tournament and upset Florida. We received a $500 gift certificate to Gaia for winning and ultivillage recorded our end game huddle. It was so awesome to win, but I think it only deepened our hunger. At 32-2 and perhaps the #1 seed for Nationals with the regular season over, the clear cut goal of regional finals is the only objective in sight. None of this season will matter if we lose Regional finals, and I think winning CenTex helped us realize this.
Jim Foster’s parents took lots of pictures, so check out them out:
(http://jimfoster.com/v-web/gallery/Centex-2006?page=1). Rob from ultivillage also took fantasy stats for the final, so I would recommend checking those out. You can even vote on whose turnover it was.
All I can say is that it was teamwork, commitment, gritty hard work, tight ass Patagonia jerseys and Hodag Love that made winning this tournament possible. We beat all of the competition as a team; everyone plays and everyone contributes to everything we do. Truly HODAG LOVE!
“One thing that has allowed our team to be so great is our drive for excellence and perfection. Our unrelenting work ethic and meticulous study of the game and ourselves as a team and individuals has shown in our accomplishments. This past weekend legitimized all the work that we have been doing it has only strengthened my commitment to the hard work and dedication I have already given. We have to be perfect from here on out to win a national championship. I guarantee this last 20% is going to be a lot harder than the first 80. I am going to work as hard as I can for you guys because I know you are going to do it for me. Riley said it best, ‘WE WIN WITH WORK.’”
PS: This video is hilarious: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3442229429278068241