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.