The Wisconsin Hodags are one of the country’s most celebrated Ultimate programs. This is their 19th time qualifying for Nationals since 1990, with championships in the years of 2003, 2007 and 2008. Virtually everyone knows about the ideas behind their success, “Hodag Love” and their recent documentary. I got in touch with captain John Bergen to get an idea of the current season and how the Hodag’s adjusted since last year’s finish.
Last year was a relative down year for the Wisconsin Hodags, and that is saying something. They were eliminated from contention during pool play, by finishing 4th in the pool of death behind Michigan, Pittsburgh and Colorado. I asked Bergen, if there were any changes going into the 2011 season.
“The only change I can think of was a larger emphasis on the fundamentals. Every year this team is full of athletesand not necessarily ultimate players. Last year we felt like the depth of our offensive fundamentals let us down so we put a large emphasis on teaching proper throwing technique, how to pivot, and where to look with the disc. We also put a larger emphasis on getting everyone touches so they are comfortable with the disc. We still pride ourselves on shut down man defense and have a wide variety of ways to attack on offense.”
Through the spring season, Wisconsin has shown an ability to beat the top guns. They bested Florida and Carleton at Warm Up. However, they’ve also had relatively poor showing at the Stanford Invite, and were beaten by Florida and Colorado at Easterns. I asked Bergen if there were less emphasis on the regular season an attempt to gain depth.
“There is always an effort to develop players during the regular season as apposed to playing only our top players. At the beginning of the year, we set our goals as winning Regionals and Nationals. The tournaments in between are just practice and preparation for our final goals.”
With the up and downs throughout the season, Wisconsin battled through Regionals with a convincing win in the finals over Carleton to take the North Central crown. The Hodags have a constant stream of support coming from their alumni and Coach Hector Valdivia. I asked Bergen if there were any turning points during the season.
“I think one big turning point this year was our alumni weekend. This year, we got Sub Zero, Machine, and Madison to play us in a round robin tournament and then had a 4th game against our alumni. That weekend gave us a lot of confidence and reaffirmed our belief that we can be the best team in the country. As for staying focused and pushing hard all year, I will give Hector, our coach, a lot of credit for keeping us focused on our goals by calling to our attention when we may have been slacking and motivating us to be better.”
There are many names that come to mind when discussing the 2011 Hodags, Ben Feldman, Cullen Geppert, Dayu Liu, John Bergen, but it’s clear that you do not have success without having a deep squad. Wisconsin has proven that they have the athletic play makers time and time again.
“This team is extremely deep with talent and play makers. We nominated 6 players for all region and after regionals I wish we had nominated at least 3 more. This team has a lot of people who can step up and take over games. We pride ourselves on being a faceless army because we have a lot of great players and role players as apposed to a few super stars.” – Bergen
With Nationals appearing to be full of parity, every single game provides some level of intrigue. Rather than worry about draws, it may be best to just do, as the old cliche, says, take one game at a time.
“It is definitely one game at a time. Last year we over looked our first game
Michigan and lost a game we should have easily won and were out of contention
on Friday. Every point matters at nationals as it is a grueling tournament and
it is important to efficiently win games and advance in the tournament. It also
has been too long since we won a title.” – Bergen
3 years, definitely too long.
Check out some videos of the Hodags during the spring season