States… and Goodbye

by | June 16, 2014, 6:05am 2

Author’s note: This is going to be the last 175 Grams of the season. So I’m indulging myself (and hopefully you readers) by making it extra long. Enjoy.

Here we are. This is our first state tournament appearance, and we came in seeded 4th of 16 (although that became 4th of 11 because of several last-second dropouts). Regardless, expectations were high – shockingly so for a team in only its second spring season. Seeding says nothing of results though, and I knew nothing about several of the other teams at the tournament.

Saturday

We ended up in the three team pool (as opposed to the other two pools of four), with the following schedule: Game (vs 10) / Bye (2 vs 10) / Game (vs 2). This meant we opened with a winnable game, got a break, and then faced the high seed after they were coming off a game. It couldn’t have been a better starting schedule.

Game 1: vs School M

We had some nerves to start this game, and it showed as kids dropped some bunny passes. Fortunately, we managed to generate enough turnovers to give us time to calm down. The Magician was also still a few weeks away from getting back on the field, and he can only be so helpful on the sidelines.

They gave us a bit of a scare to start the second half, getting one break back and almost another, but most of our turnovers were, again, unforced errors. Like before, we worked hard on defense to push past the rough patches and cruised to end the game once the offense evened out.

There was one highlight I want to call out. We have a player I will call The Hammer, after his favorite throw. If he came to more games I would have started a ‘Hammer Watch’ specifically for him. They’re not graceful or powerful hammers– they sort of limp through the air– but ohmygoodness they are always on target. It is the worst and the best. About halfway through the game he got caught at the sideline and our dumps didn’t get open, so he unleashed his go-to move right to The Matriarch (who was hilariously open, per usual). This was my favorite play of the game.

Final Score: 12 – 6

Game 2: vs School H

That bye between games 1 and 2 was vital not only for the rest, but also for the scouting opportunities. For instance, we learned that School H exclusively runs zone defense, regardless of the wind conditions. It’s a legitimate strategy given that most high school teams lack patience of any kind.

My team is filled with patient handlers. Some of that is natural tendency and some of it is the result of having seven coaches constantly hollering, “Chilly!”  We also run a zone offenses that focuses around crashes from behind the cup, allowing for easy resets and less stress. Against School H, this led to some amazing points with over 16 completed passes before a score. Nothing flashy; the kids just methodically worked it upfield like a team comprised exclusively of T-900s.

We worked their cup so hard we forced them into man coverage for the last three points. (I didn’t see them run man at any other point in the weekend.) More than anything, this was a game where we out-executed our opponent from start to finish.

Final Score: 13-7

Game 3: vs The Rival

This couldn’t have been scripted any better. The last game of the day was a crossover between pools, and we were facing our Rivals for Sunday’s #1 seed. They had had an enormous day themselves, going 3-0 in their pool (including taking down last year’s state champions) despite coming in as the 9th seed.

They say winning cures all ills (cue my dad asking, “Who’s they? The communists?). In that context and in our Rivals’ case, a lack of rest could be said to be one of those ills. Despite playing three games with no bye, our Rivals came out in a fury, taking advantage of every mistake we made. What everyone expected to be a close game had the makings of a blowout, as we found ourselves down 4-7 at half.

I don’t remember what was said during half time, but it worked. We came out and scored two breaks to get within a point. And then came a marathon point lasting over ten minutes, one that we not only lost but that also triggered soft cap. Down 6-8 in a game to 10 with fifteen minutes left is not a good situation to be in. I told our O-line they had free reign to huck. They needed to score, and quickly, and that was worth the risk of turnovers. A few minutes later we were back within a point. Hard cap came during the next point, but an aggressive zone defense got us another turn and all of sudden it was 8-8, bringing us to universe point.

Zone saved us again. Our cup was hyperactive and got us the opportunities we needed. It took our offense three tries, but we pulled out the game and the #1 seed heading into Sunday.

To our Rivals credit, they gave us all we could handle, despite their obvious disadvantage of having played one more game than us that day. There’s a good chance we don’t win this game if the situations are reversed. Additionally, Teddy Roosevelt (their best player) left the game with an injury during the marathon point. He was okay (obviously the most important part), but their offense and defense both dropped off without him.

Final Score: 9 – 8

Sunday

Our side of the bracket had School H, plus two schools I had never heard of until looking at the tournament registry. Spoiler alert: we ended up playing both of the mystery schools. I was hoping for at least one easy game so we could get some rest between games, since I knew our rotation would only get tighter as the day went on.

Quarterfinals: vs School N

As the 1 seed, we had the ‘privilege’ of playing the 8 seed, School N. School N’s entire team consisted of Ents. Angry, fortress-destroying Ents. (They were tall, liked to throw little things like discs very far distances, and had green jerseys. What am I supposed to compare them to?)

We tried running some zone to slow them down. Historically, The Tornado tends to be our deep deep. He’s far from the tallest player on our team, but typically that position is more about making people look off the throw instead of getting actual blocks. Not this game. If there was any space to throw a bomb, it got thrown.

After a few points, The Tornado earned a break. And that’s  when we discovered something amazing: Take Two was God’s gift to our zone defense. We put him deep and he just went to town. I’ve seen him play insane man defense, but that usually meant just running really fast (which he’s very good at). I had no idea he could jump so high. He occasionally shared some of that deep defensive glory with Master Chief, and between the two of them (the shortest Twin Towers in history) we forced School N to rethink their offense.

Related: This was also the first game I remember seeing Inspector Gadget really jump. It was ridiculous. He took up an amount of air space that was downright unfair.

And that’s when we learned another amazing thing: against most teams, if we can force them to keep throwing the disc, they will make a mistake and turn it over. It seems silly spelled out like this, but ‘Make them throw’ became our strategy. So even though the wind was marginal, we just kept running zone. Take Two and Master Chief took care of the deep shots, and everyone else forced School N to take incremental gains. They didn’t have the patience or execution to do this, and we prevailed slowly but handily.

Final Score: 12 – 5

Semifinals: vs School S

I was really hoping we were done with big teams. Alas.

School S was the team no one wanted to face. They were tall, muscular, fast, and– no exaggeration (for once)– they looked like a college team. A sincere part of me was hoping they would get carded. Their reputation was such that they could sport homemade tie-dye t-shirts for uniforms and still intimidate everyone.

And they backed it up, too. They were playing School H in the quarterfinals, at the field adjacent to us. They finished their game while we were at half. As a coach, I’m supposed to keep calm in these situations, but internally I was an eensy bit concerned. I mean, they literally scored twice as fast as we did. Forget seeding – we were the clear underdogs here.

Using our experience from the last game, we opened with a lot of zone to try to restrict their deep game. It kind of worked, but they were still chucking it deep, especially if they had the wind. Down 3-1, we changed our strategy a bit. If they were going into the wind, we’d stick with zone., but if they had the wind, we would force under with a huge cushion.

School S seemed to be experienced athletes, if not exactly experienced ultimate players. We figured if we gave them the blatant in cut, they would take it– it’s what patient teams do. But this was not School S. The focus of this game again became giving our opponent enough throws to push them toward making mistakes instead of competing in areas they clearly had an advantage (being tall, jumping high, running fast). This also meant they had to run a lot more, and they only had ten people. Even with the rest from the first game, the constant in cuts and increased turnovers wore them down.

We ended up getting back the breaks and taking half on serve at 7-6. Their lack of subs (and chilly O) continued to hurt them and we went up several breaks. To their credit, they did not relent, and we almost got bit by subbing in weaker lines too early. They had one player in particular who went into Hero Mode and tried to quarterback their offense, getting the disc every other throw. He did a good job but it was too little, too late. We were able to rest our starters a bit, play the clock, and let hard cap take care of things.

Final Score: 12-11*

*There was confusion on the hard cap rule. The game should have ended at 12-10

Finals: vs School B

We made it. State championship game.

We were playing School B, who we played and beat once before this season. It’s an exciting matchup on paper. Each team is similar in size, has a handful of star players (especially handlers), a very good second tier, a lot of quickness, and, unlike most other teams, patience.

The big difference is that they’re deeper. We had around seventeen players this weekend, but were really only subbing twelve. They were in the mid-twenties and were running deep into their lines. After working their tails off against School N and School S, my kids were gassed.

It showed from the pull. We dropped some bunnies, had an increasingly stagnant offense, and handlers weren’t giving themselves enough space to cut. Meanwhile, School B was firing on all cylinders (despite playing a turnover heavy semis match that ended at 8-6), getting a ton of open deep looks and shutting down our handler movement (which, on a related note, had reverted to ‘jam it up the sideline’ as opposed to ‘swing and break the mark’). We were toast, both physically and mentally.

Suffice to say, we got hammered in this game.

Final Score: 4 – 12, and second place overall!

Notable Players

Frankly, everyone. It was a fantastic effort all around. But I have to mention a few people. Keep in mind, nearly all of the below are just finishing up their sophomore year!

Take Two – He stepped up his game more than anyone else this weekend. His defense was insane. And despite flying all over the field getting blocks and regularly being matched up against the other team’s best player, he still had the energy to be a top cutter on offense. He’s obviously at least 60% machine.

The Tornado – Just amazing. He led the team offensively, keeping the disc moving and driving defenses crazy. I could count the number of kids who had any success guarding him on one hand  – he made everyone else look silly. And of course there were a number of plays that just had the coaches shaking their heads, wondering how much better he can get by the time he’s a senior.

Master Chief – If Chief was an NBA player, he’d be Russell Westbrook – an excessively talented athletic maniac powered by a nuclear reactor. He turned it up to 11 and pulled out all his tricks this weekend, including some I didn’t know he could do (flick hucks!), and some he probably shouldn’t have done (stall 3 hammers!). As far as I could tell, he was the only person with enough energy left to be angry during the championship. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good sport, but he. was. pissed. His passion and intensity might be my favorite thing about him.

The Cog – He has the sickest IO flick break on the team. It should be in a museum. He worked hard on D and combined with The Tornado to keep our offense going. I don’t know if there was a single point that didn’t involve at least one of them. The Cog seems to have a phobia of backhand swings, but across the board he had the fewest mental mistakes on the team.

The Wrecking Ball – I was a little concerned about how he would fit in on offense after missing so much time, but those fears were quickly alleviated. He came out with confidence, connecting on his throws and making smart cuts. We couldn’t ride him as hard as the guys above because he’s still recovering, but he was a key player throughout the weekend.

Quotes of the Week

“Trail mix is just a series of obstacles to M&Ms.” – Pisces

“Sun’s out, guns out.” – Pisces (she was on a roll this weekend)

“I feel better since drugs” – The Hammer. That was his exact sentence, and the drugs in question were ibuprofen (promise).

“I don’t understand how we win. Everyone seems to be bigger and faster than us” – Master Chief

Plays of the Week

So many. It was tough to narrow anything down, so here are the top four.

4) A few points into our game against School H, we had broken their zone open and forced them to scramble to man right outside their endzone. The Tornado got the disc, stepped forward into a hammer fake (which the mark bit on!) and transitioned it right into a high release backhand that fell softly into The Ninja’s hands. The ‘oooohhhs’  from the sideline (coaches included) are audible on video.

3) Antonio had one of the most amazing layouts I’ve ever seen during the semifinal game. It’s not on film (batteries needed changing!), so when I sit down and try to make a highlight reel of our season, I will have to dedicate a few seconds to a stop-motion stick figure animation of this layout.

I can’t tell you the immediately preceding actions, how contested the throw was, or any of the other interesting details. What I do remember is Antonio, shoulder high in the air, reaching out, grabbing the disc and pulling it into his chest. He was hugging it like a security blanket. If the camera was on, we could have turned him into some sort of ‘Ridiculously Photogenic Layout’ meme.

2) We had a big spirit circle at the end of the championship game. I was so impressed with how graceful the players were on both sides despite the blowout. Both teams are on the up and up, and it’s great to know that each is full of not only great players, but also great kids. Oh, and the kids themselves initiated it before the coaches could suggest it. Awesome.

1) It was game point of the championship, and we ran a seniors and captains line. The disc bounced around a little between the captains, but then The Wrecking Ball took over. He led a furious charge upfield, with every single senior at the tournament (Pisces, The Matriarch, Black Odysseus, The Ninja, and of course himself) touching the disc for big gains and the eventual score. It was perfect.

The End

In our first state tournament, we placed second. Not bad for a team that’s less than a year and a half old.

Despite the obvious success, I went home afterwards kind of depressed. Not over the loss of the game, but over the end of the season. I’m moving in a few months, so this was my last time coaching this amazing group. I spend more time with the team than my friends during the season, and it’s tough to say goodbye. Part of the reason this piece is nearly three times longer than normal is because finishing it means another connection is ending. Stupid feelings won’t let me put that final period down.

I’ll probably look for a new team and continue coaching, but I will miss these kids immensely and wish them the best.

– Jackson (Action Jaxon) Dolan

 

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  • Alix

    I can't really put into words how much I've loved this column- your writing is perceptive, thoughtful, and laugh out loud funny. Thank you for a wonderful season. :)

  • This series has been fantastic, Jackson. Best of luck to you at whatever team you find in your new town, and also to the wonderful kids you coached this season.