1. College Nationals was fun!
Woo! Another good time watching ultimate for two weekends straight. Here’s a highlight video, and of course there’s all the USAU/ESPN stuff floating around from the semis and finals. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think the talent level in D3 is catching up to D1, and while it isn’t quite there, I don’t think a Puget Sound or Middlebury would do worse than the lower-finishing teams from Madison did. I do hope that in the future, USAU/ESPN can pick-up some of the pool play/quarterfinal games, even if they’re only taped for later consumption (not that what Ultiworld put out or NGN did in the past was bad, more complimenting the job USAU/ESPN did with it).
2. Where is the MLU at?
Well in the Eastern Conference, I’m not too surprised at the fall of the Spinners. While they were the AUDL champions last year, and did start off strong, lately they’ve faltered. They should still make the playoffs, but they’ve all but lost the conference championship, and are stuck battling for a playoff spot. While the Rumble and Current started off slow, they’ve been winning and playing closer games lately, and that has Nathan Jesson and his playoff odds putting them not too far out of a playoff spot. I think regardless, Boston will roll over them for a spot in the finals.
Over in the Western Conference, the Dogfish and Rainmakers are the two teams on top, and while they’ve most likely held off the Nighthawks and Stags for a playoff spot, they’re still fighting for the first place finish in the conference. I like the Rainmakers to stay on top, contrary to what Jesson wrote. They get the Dogfish twice, but the Nighthawks once; two wins (I think) should be enough to keep them on top of the conference. Either way, it’s going to be exciting to see the two teams that will be competing for the spot in the finals go back and forth twice over the next weeks – I wonder what strategy and lines will be tested out in order to game plan for that important game.
3. And the AUDL?
The biggest surprise has been the surge of the Rochester Dragons. In his AUDL playoff odds, Jesson questions the Dragons chance to make the playoffs. They definitely have to win out their remaining non-Rush games, and perhaps steal one of those games. That’s a possibility considering the fact that the Rush have pretty much clinched a playoff spot, I wonder if they’ll rest starters on away games (especially that game in Rochester). Out of the now playoff teams, I think the Phoenix seem the most vulnerable. As Jesson pointed out, they have four two-game weekends to finish off the season, and that along with the close calls they’ve already have, it’s reasonable to assume they’ll falter. In the end, I think it means Rochester goes from bottom of the league to playoffs in the season, with big help coming from their college players returning, and strong play around them from the AUDL-vets (Hunters players).
Over in the Midwest Conference, it seems like a Wildfire and Radicals showdown, regardless of the other team that qualifies for the playoffs. Unless the Wind Chill (or even Mechanix with Ken Porter?) get things together, and rattle off a big win streak while getting some help, I don’t think the Radicals will be challenged. Jesson gives the Wildfire and Radicals an (almost) 50/50 shot at making the finals from the Midwest, with the Wildfire a slightly higher chance to become AUDL champions. I think that’s right, and will certainly make for a great game. To make things even more interesting, they do meet once more in the regular season towards the end of the month – I expect similar things that would happen in the Dogfish/Rainmakers matchups to happen here, game planning for the future matchup.
4. NexGen Rosters
Watching a lot of Eli Kerns and the UC-Davis Dogs at Nationals, the fact that he is now a member of the NexGen Bus for 2013 isn’t that surprising. When on the field, especially in the pre-quarters and quarterfinal games for the Dogs, he was noticeable at all times. With 22 assists, Kerns had a great tournament even as Ego ousted his team in quarterfinals. He’ll be joining the tour with Tim Morrisey of Colorado Mamabird, replacing Nick Stuart (injuries), and they combine to form another great roster to take on the top club teams. Some have speculated that this roster isn’t as good as previous years, but where this one might lack in size, they make up for in speed and playmaking-ability. What this roster brings to the table, is the ability to win in different ways. Should games become a shoot-out, they will have the pieces necessary, but should the game become a grind-it-out style of play, they can do that as well. I don’t doubt that once they have their feet underneath them, they’ll be able to hang with any team they face.
I’m also wondering how the tour will effect practice and other things for the U-23 team. Both of the new additions made the team, and several other players on the NexGen roster are on their countries’ teams. Obviously, they’ll be in game shape having just come off playing on and off for a month. But I do wonder if players on the U-23 team will miss any dates because of being on the bus?
5. Talking Club
With college ending, even with the pro leagues going on, that means it’s time for club. It does around from how they’re normally done – totally understandable. As of right now, I haven’t caught any rosters going up – also understandable – but three questions I have regardless of rosters are: Can Ring of Fire improve on their semi-final appearance? Was Sockeye’s strong year a fluke? And lastly, where does Rhino finish this season? These questions could be totally dumb with how little we know about the season so far, but regardless…
For Ring of Fire, they improved from 2011 by making the semis this past club season, and looked strong throughout Nationals. Part of that was breaking seed on Thursday, and then culminated by taking down Sockeye in quarterfinals. Improvement this year could come by playing a tighter semi-final game, they were beat 15-9 by Revolver last year, but it could also mean making finals. I like Ring’s chances to improve upon their semifinal appearance by playing a tighter game, not sure if the team is ready for the finals just yet.
Meanwhile, Sockeye is still questionable in my eyes. Yes they returned off of the low-bid year of 2011, and made quarterfinals to follow up on a strong spring that included a Labor Day tournament victory. Could this year trend down though, especially with the Rainmakers possibly providing a distraction and double-peak situation? I don’t think Sockeye will make it past pre-quarters this year, if not for the long season some players will endure, for the talent in the teams surrounding them.
Rhino sits similarly with Sockeye – the Stags may prove distracting for the players that do crossover onto both teams. After finally making Nationals, to be bounced in pre-quarters had to be defeating. But with the drive no longer being to overcome the fact that they hadn’t qualified for Nationals, and instead on improving on their performance, I think Rhino improving to quarterfinals is more than likely, and semi-finals not too far out of reach.
6. Throwing Mechanics
Reading about this case study, and then finding a link to this already-happened case study really fit in with this Grantland article on Aussie’s and their sport science. The first link, is a study that will be going on in Scotland on throwing techniques, where they’ll be looking at the differences in throwing from people with experience, to those with none. The second is an older Japanese study, summarized by Melissa Witmer, and (to me) it sounds like a fairly similar study. The difference (I think, please correct me if I’m wrong) is that the first study will be conducting the research with greater participation numbers (hopefully) and therefore will have a larger amount of data to draw conclusions from. And the last link (from Grantland), ties this entire thing together; in that article, it talks about how the Australians focusing on sport science has helped their Olympic teams achieve success (i.e.: medaling) a lot more than you would expect of such a small nation. Due to their focus on the sport science aspect, they’ve been able to level the playing field so to speak, with advances in every part of the respective sports (it looks like a lot of training improvement especially).
Now to combine these things, it would be amazing to see an increased number of studies, like the first two listed, and their improvement on the international level of competition. This could eventually change how everyone from the top club teams, to college and high school teams, train and compete in the sport. Where the article mentions that some sports-people have been reluctant to except the science behind the findings, I think ultimate is at a distinct advantage in not having this happen because it’s such a rapidly growing sport whereas the others are very well established on all levels.
7. UNC goes to Guatemala
And to finish this off, some well wishes to the UNC Darkside and Pleiades team members who are down in Guatemala to teach impoverished youth the sport of ultimate, and SOTG. From the moment I started to look ultimate up online, and discover the rest of the happenings of the sport’s community, the amount of foreign trips to teach really stood out to me. I know many of the top club teams have something, and there are organizations as well, and to see a college team getting involved is even better. Good luck down there, and have fun!
Photo of Seattle Rainmaker Mark Burton. (Photo by John King – Ultiphotos.com)