Friday, February 06, 2009
College Trouble in Vegas 2009
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Winter break was good to the Hodags. All of the top players were in the gym nearly every day – lifting weights, running on the track, or polishing up their beach bodies. The semester snowed, sleeted, and froze itself forward while the Hodags were blessed with more than anticipated indoor time for the early season. With four field practices, the Hodags immediately taught the major set plays, the complicated defensive sets, and a plethora of Hector-induced technique drills – specifically tailored to the current Hodag’s shortcomings. Overall, Madison was determined to ingrain these skills into the noobdags as quickly as possible.
Yes, these winter months were good to the fresh crop of extremely athletic first year players, many of whom were taken on potential alone. These raw players were blossoming into ballers on the field – already skying for scores and making significant impacts. On the indoor field – Wisconsin is frighteningly fast! The windless drills looked spotless, but the sideline intensity was still a work in progress. However, the biggest obstacle for Wisconsin will be mentally getting their disc skills up to par. Wisconsin is routinely sloppy and their youthful energy sprinkled with experience will surely be tested at Vegas. The last indoor practice before Vegas was particularly fast paced and frenzied, as the speed of the game was reaching its fastest yet. The final huddle emphasized overcoming execution errors and beating teams with both legs and heart. The Hodags as a team are young, but the individual experience of the top players is nearly unprecedented for college ultimate. Here’s hoping that the inconsistent defense can score more breaks that the streaky Hodag O-face gives up.
Trouble in Vegas – Day 1: Wisconsin was only sending 19 players off to Las Vegas, notably without top defensive studs Cullen Geppert and Matt Crumb. The raw talent of the Hodags also had a surprise visitor at the airport: freshman and first-time airplane flier Jon Armstrong was greeted by his concerned and doting mother, who was sending him unchaperoned to the City of Sin.
The weather was nice at first, and the wind mildly calm to start the morning. It would be the same festival atmosphere the Culimate-hosted Vegas experiment bragged of creating. Wisconsin was set to play Virginia first, and oddly, the game started late. The first two offensive possessions included bone-headed execution turnovers and non-existent defense after the turn. Virginia struck hard and fast, breaking the shell-shocked Odags twice before the dust even settled. The slight, initial wind allowed Virginia to connect on their first several deep hucks, perfectly past the defenders. Wisconsin responded and snatched the lead back momentarily as the wind went from whisper to howl. Virginia was ready to drop a tight zone and Wisconsin let the breaks go one after another. The semi-open defensive lines couldn’t put any pressure on Virginia, who rotated throwing perfect deep hucks to 1 on 1 match-ups or abusing the break side under. The legendary Hodag defensive pressure was not a factor – as players were not mentally prepared to execute a physical game plan. Apparently Virginia had one taller handler who could also bomb a little bit upwind and he was giving the Hodags fits. Wisconsin’s deep help was habitually late, wolfpacking maybe 1 of 15 opportunities as the game progressed. The hard cap loomed and Wisconsin put out the universe line for the last marathon point only (with 4-5 turns each), but offensive cutter’s legs ran out of gas, their inefficient disc movement ruining Wisconsin’s ground assault. The cutters were working hard but gaining nothing as the risk-averse handlers were showing their inexperience. The game ended 10-8 on hard cap and Wisconsin was left to hang their hands and wait 1.5 hours for the next game against Arizona to begin.
Wisconsin needs to only finish in the top 8 to make quarterfinals on straight up record, so a 5-1 or a 4-2 finish would probably give the Hodags a nod into bracket play. But Wisconsin was apparently still playing indoor ultimate – chipping throws into the wind and not playing physical in your pants defense at all. If only Hector and Muffin were present – the backlash to such an effort would have been most severe. But alas, the captains of the Hodags need to get the team on the same page, and hopefully ramp up some intensity as Wisconsin wasn’t able to effectively utilize their superior depth. The only bright performances were Tom Annen’s dominant and unstoppable hucks, Tom Murray’s highlight catches and grinding defense, and Gaynor’s utter disregard to his body’s cries of pain when hitting the ground. Basically, Wisconsin is really struggling with their fundamental Frisbee skills and was disappointed to not assert their style of play – a physical grind it out mentality. The wind contributed to spotty play all around and the early inconsistencies of the O-face were obviously detrimental to the overall performance and flow of the game.
The winds are gusting upwards of 20 mph now and a change of attitude needs to occur soon for the Hodags to rebound. Top defensive handlers Jon Masler and Thomas Annen also need to load the cannons and take repeated deep shots. Wisconsin plans to move Jon Gaynor over to help the fledgling defense and put Chris Pearce on the O-face. Overall, Wisconsin needs to shake off their young and uncertain look and play with some attitude and confidence. As Jake Smart put bluntly, “We’re not that good right now.”
But don’t lose ye faith yet Hodag Nation. Wisconsin took that long bye round and did some soul searching. Actually, they were deciding which souls to sacrifice with all the anger that was radiating from Captain Foster’s vengeful eyes. The Hodag Offense talked out some of their differences while the Defense received hateful rant after determined embarrassment talk from the most passionate among them. The decision was made – Arizona must die. The wind had picked up significantly by now and it was going to be a straight Zone game. Arizona’s offense was punting and playing zone because it was becoming terribly windy. The Hodags went along, playing zone for the first part of the game before getting annoyed. The D line broke immediately to start the game, but Arizona stormed back to score and break twice, probably 3-3. The teams compromised to trade until about 5-5, before Wisconsin turned to the dark side. Animal and Gaynor completely took over and the Hodags basically broke repeatedly to finish. It wasn’t quite an oatbag, but it was surely a steady handling of Arizona near 13-7. It had taken the Hodag O a little while to smarten up and get some confidence after their flat start. They finally stumbled upon working the zone across the field and finding flowing grooves. And after a sincere Hodag love circle jerk, the logistical changes worked to Wisconsin’s advantage. Alter and Bergen were bringing up their game and Captain Klane was playing solid enough. However, Feldman was still taking silly risks, giving up too many opportunities. The hero of the day was Monster Masler, who was ripping the disc while sporting his beautifully spaced cornrows.
The last game of the day was against co-arch-nemesis Florida. They loved to cheat, especially Cole “Troll King” Sullivan. The game began ugly, the first point lasting easily 25 minutes, with countless calls and punts – very chippy. But the Hodags finally hit stride, moving the disc to within 5 yards before punching in a Manny hammer score 4-2. Wisconsin’s Offense was even getting a little cocky, popping scoobers over Florida’s zone and working it, instead of punting for field position. Tom Animal was dominating like nobody’s business, while Jimmy Foster was taking care of every foreseeable problem. Reports of Cole Sullivan cheating ran rampant down each sideline, and Evan Klane responded to these reports by hand blocking Sullivan, and throwing a nasty dirty break to put the Hodags up 5-2, energy exploding. Wisconsin was finally putting the screws to Florida and jammed in its 3rd break in a row. Madison’s exuberance was to be short lived and was eventually bogged down by Florida’s style - as constant stoppages dampened the outlook. And even as Wisconsin tried to take command of the game – it was Florida responding. Brodie Smith was playing the role of main handler – dumping it 10 times in a row and holding it until the wind died, before jerking something swilly boner check as far as he could. The wind was almost completely cross-field, but slightly directional as the Hodags began to let up just a touch, and their aggressive decisions were falling to the wayside. As soon as the game heated up, so did the wind, as it became increasingly difficult to catch the disc. Florida’s schemes began working as the Hodags dropped countless discs and were scored upon 4 straight times to give Florida the lead 5-6, mostly on swilly transition goals. It would take some extra effort from Mr. Sullivan, who was definitely in an angrier troll mood than usual and straight up lying for the majority of the game, above average cheating. The hard cap sounded and the Hodags finally scored a 20-turnover marathon point to force universe point. Wisconsin pulled and Florida sent 4 receivers deep only to jack the disc OB. Wisconsin worked it until Manny was forced to turn a hammer, as no one was open. Florida used a couple of break throws for yardage before squeezing in a quick IO for the 7-6 universe point win. The undefeated Belladonna looked on horrified, dumbfounded how the Hodags could possibly lose to Florida after leading by so much? Georgia Bosscher was overhead, “Shikies, that didn’t even look like a Frisbee game. It was more of a punt fest – in between bad ultimate and a playing in a tornado.”
Clearly Wisconsin was bummed about how the first day turned out, however they were taking the lost with a grain of salt due to the ridiculously poor conditions. However, Foster is now ready to kill everyone for messing up his last season and illustrious career. Perhaps Wisconsin needed more moral support or maybe just a steady dosage of hate – either way they need a kick in the pants. It was tough to call any sort of lines, as most players who couldn’t throw in the tough wind didn’t get into the game. Despite the rough first day, the Hodags were confident, knowing they needed to win all their games the next day just to have a chance as the bracket format no longer put fate in their hands. But where was the overpowering intensity? The conditions were terrible to the Hodags as the brutal wind made for extremely long and sloppy points. That made it hard to really get pumped when they finally scored on some swill, after a million turns – I guess it’s not really an accomplishment. Worse than that – several brutal goals were dropped, Gaynor an especially painful one, giving Florida too many opportunities down the stretch. In the end it was resolved as a call fest.
Trouble in Vegas Day 2: Wisconsin was not playing well. The lines were tight and the studs were not getting the job done. Rain was setting in and conditions were worsening. Wisconsin was tussling with Washington and the game remained close throughout until late execution errors (drops) caused the Hodags to drop another game on the weekend 11-7. At this point the screws came undone and Wisconsin showed its first real sign of weakness. It was torrentially down pouring, freezing, no one able to catch the disc, and veterans were struggling. With no answers, Wisconsin opened up the lines completely and adjusted their attitude. Oregon played well and put the hurt on Wisconsin, converting in miserable conditions while Madison could do no right. Oregon used tight D and calm executing to put the hurt big time on Wisconsin. Everything was going wrong for the Hodags – short staffed and after the poor showing the first day – the wheels came completely off. Drops were now as common as Hodags falling over – as the 2 inches of mud made solid footing a luxury. Multiple Hodags were falling down on every point, super fucking slippery fields only intensified the mistakes on defense as Wisconsin struggled. The last game of the day was against Colorado. The Wisconsin game plan was still to play it loose and open – no chalk talks and just trying to have any sort of fun or enjoyment in the freezing cold. Wisconsin would drop the last game to Colorado as well 6-10, a little closer than the Ego affair, but still not impressive. Near the end of the game – it was so absolutely shockingly cold that Gaynor and Drews couldn’t re-enter the game – as their joints had frozen and iced up after the hurricane storms. Current record for the season, 1-5. Wisconsin rushed back to the cars – just happy to be a little warmer and dryer.
You lost all three games? In all the annals of Wisconsin ultimate lore – there was never a day that the Hodags went completely winless – save 2002 and 2006 May Sundays. The schedule for Sunday includes Santa Barbara in the morning, and then anywhere from the ninals bracket to the 18th place game. As the day finished, Wisconsin was just glad to be out of the cold, hopefully warming up their hands so they can catch some discs tomorrow.
Day 3 coming shortly...
As promised, the third and final day of Trouble in Vegas. The Hodags were shocked, tired, and not to mention running short on numbers and experience. There was still one more pool play Cultimate scheduled game against the Black Tide. Despite the brutal setbacks of a winless day, at least a decade since that was plausible, excluding Championship Sundays, Wisconsin wasn’t overly concerned with the results. This was obviously a new team that wasn’t as used to winning. Having graduated the best class in ultimate history as well as losing 5 other starting line up players to other facets of life – the team is in full-fledge rebuild mode, except for the fact that they still have 11 National Champions and all the pieces to do the unthinkable – win a third straight title. But without the proper motivation and killer mentality of having to win all the time – there was a clear lacking of intensity. Even Colorado mentioned it, asking why not fire starters and usual in-your-face-intensity. Mental and emotional problems aside, there were going to be clear logistical problems with the status of the fields. J-Fo recounted that they got to fields and waited 40 minutes to see if the Vegas Parks Department was pulling the plug. Feldman strolled right up the heated discussion with Cyle and Skip vehemently arguing whether the original contract stated that the fields could be used during rain or poor field conditions. When that whole catastrophe was smoothed out (cash in the pocket), the Hodags had 20 minutes to warm up. It was a new day, but Santa Barbara scored their first O point and broke 3 straight times. That pretty much screwed everything. There wasn’t much more to say about it. Wisconsin was playing D lines with a less chance to break than Colorado 2005.
Meanwhile, Belladonna was not phased by the weather and finished third, much better than the Hodags and a higher finish than the men for he first time in several years. The Hodags regrouped one last time and decided to beat some crappy teams before heading back the Madison, which probably had better weather overall anyway. Wisconsin was able to take down Duke and Tufts in the last two rounds, as the wind picked up dramatically. Overall, the timing of cuts was off and general impatience resulted in many turnovers. Manny was the only player on the field with a 40-yard upwind huck and the blade turns from Wisco’s Offense were hurting. The Hodags could not find any footing with the mud situation, which just contributed to the soft D. Most of the TiV results are trash because of the brutal conditions and it was also the first outdoor tournament for Wisconsin. However, it will affect seedings for Nationals no doubt.