Nick Lance started playing competitive Ultimate in 2008, and the following year won a Club Nationals Championship playing with Chain Lightning. He helped guide Georgia Tech’s Tribe to their first Nationals competition since 1992 in 2012, and won the Callahan award the same year. He has quickly become a high impact D line teammate with Johnny Bravo this club season. In this interview he spills on his rapid ascension in Ultimate, what it’s like to play with three teams in one year, and what he’s most looking forward to at Frisco.
Let’s start at the beginning. 2008, freshman year at Georgia Tech, you start playing Ultimate after competing in High School track and cross country. What made you jump into Ultimate?
I started playing Ultimate on off days during the cross country season. When we were between cross country and track we had a lot of time where our coach would just send us out to play Ultimate. Before college, the only Ultimate I had played outside of pickup was a winter league in Houston, and a Texas state high school tournament. No schools from Houston had enough players to field a team, so we ended up taking a semi all-star team from the Houston area schools.
Do you think your background in track and cross country helped you excel in Ultimate so quickly? In what ways was it an asset?
In track I ran hurdles and did the high jump. Being fast and able to jump, especially while on the run, is a huge asset in Ultimate. I earned a spot on the D line at Georgia Tech. I didn’t have the technical skill that I have now, but I asked questions and learned quickly. By my second year I was captaining the D line due to a large graduating class and the experience I had gained playing with El Diablo in the summer of 2008.
You did a great job of turning around Georgia Tech’s Tribe in college, and helped guide them to their first USAU College Championships in 2012. What do you think you did differently or brought to the team that they hadn’t tried before?
The only major strategic thing that I can think of was trying to move toward a more simplistic team strategy. In the early years, we always tried to teach everyone the whole bag of tricks, so to speak. During my final two years, there was a much stronger emphasis on the vert stack. For a team at an academically demanding school such as GT, we had lots of practice absences. Because of the spotty attendance, we would always have people who fell through the cracks and would miss key parts of offensive or defensive strategies. This focus on simplicity smoothed out the bumps we faced with trying to bring the whole team up to speed on many facets of Ultimate.
Looking back on this time period, is there anything you would have done differently? Lessons learned?
In the end, I like the way things turned out, so it’s hard to argue for doing anything differently.
Between 2008 – 2012 you played with Georgia Tech’s Tribe (’08-2012), El Diablo, Chain Lightning (2009-2012), and NexGen (2011-2012). How did your body hold up to the rigors of year-round competition? What about your mental state? It can be hard to stay motivated throughout the course of an entire year – essentially with no off-season – year after year. Did you find that challenging?
My body was usually okay with the year-round competition. My mental state, though, would always flow like the tides of the seasons. I would usually bottom out right after Club Nationals when I was coming from elite Ultimate back to a new round of rookie recruits that were starting from nearly scratch. In the early summer months it was always great to get back with the club guys and elevate my game back to the top level.
Tell us about your NexGen experience. Did you feel like it augmented the skills that you were developing in college and club teams?
NexGen was a great experience. Getting to play such high level games one at a time and really give everything you have for 20-30 points a day is a nice feeling. The skill that improved the most for me over the course of the tours was how to quickly adapt to what your opponent is doing. I really liked to break down our strengths and weaknesses on film after each game and have the suggested changes ready to go before the next game was at hand.
After graduating from Georgia Tech with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 2012, you moved to Denver to join Johnny Bravo. Tell us why you chose to move West and what your attraction was to this team.
Ultimate didn’t really play too much into my decision to move. I got a great job offer in a place that I would like to live, and it just happened to have a great Ultimate team nearby. During the 2011 season, I commuted to play with Chain for a few reasons. I was rehabbing an injury to my hand that I incurred at college nationals that would eventually result in my having surgery after 2012 nationals. I would also be missing 5 weeks of the season for NexGen 2.0 and that would cut into the time I would need to feel at home with a new team with an entirely different system. But I could be okay commuting somewhere if my ideal job weren’t located near an elite team.
How has the transition to a new state and a new team treated you this year?
I love Colorado. After 23 years in the heat and humidity of Houston and Atlanta, I’ve finally escaped that swampy feeling of swimming through the air. I’m also a quick drive away from the mountains for weekend ski trips. Playing with Bravo has also been great.
What tops your personal highlight reel? What moments are you most fond of?
In the 2012 Club Nationals quarter finals against Ironside, I caught a tipped disk in my right hand after I broke my pinky earlier in the tournament. I managed to hold on to the disk despite the cast and throw a push pass to Nicky Spiva for the first break of the game.
Ever since your 2012 Callahan video hit the internet, your scoober has gained national attention. Scoober? Why did you prioritize this throw? Do you feel like it’s been an asset for your throwing bag of tricks?
I don’t feel like it was ever a priority. My throws mostly developed out of necessity. A teammate from Bravo who observed several of GT’s games at College Nationals was surprised at how little I actually threw scoobers. When you’re the main handler on a team matched up against quarters- and semis-level teams, sometimes the cutters need a little help getting open.
You’re relatively young at 25, but have accomplishments that most Ultimate players will never achieve. Where do you go from here? Do you think you’ll stick around in Ultimate for a while, or do you have your sights set on a new pastime?
Forward I suppose. I want to win another national championship that I contribute to more than my 2009 title with Chain. I would also love a WUCC or WUGC title. I have had my 2009 metal hanging in plain sight in my bedroom for years as a reminder to me of what I want to achieve. It’s nice to have around. So whenever I feel like skipping a workout or being generally lazy I can look at it and it will always motivate me.
Next stop is Frisco. Who are you most looking forward to playing against?
All of the predictions on seedings have Bravo and Chain in the same pool. In 2012 I was on the winning side of that matchup, I hope to do the same thing this year for my new team.
Ultimate heroes: Zip
Define your on-field style: Chicks dig the long ball
Favorite tournament food: Hot and spicy cheese-its
Pre-game music choice: Silence
Feature photo by William Brotman – UltiPhotos.com