Johnny Bravo has been a force in the Southwest region since the early `00s. The Colorado-based team has yearned to return to the form of its semis and finals appearances of 2006, 2007, and 2008, after quarters and power pool exits in 2009 and 2010. The Colorado Mamabird pipeline has been largely responsible for Bravo’s rise, with Bravo utilizing current and graduated Mamabird stars for a few good years before they move on to other cities and teams. Though notable exceptions like Parker Krug, Steven Rouisse, and Josh “Richter” Ackley exist, household Frisbee names like Adam “Chicken” Simon, Beau Kitteredge, Hylke Sneider, and Mac Taylor have all followed this path, going from Colorado to Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle, among other locales. After shedding big-name veterans and rebuilding in 2009-2010, a new generation of Mamabird stars, including NexGen standouts Matty Zemel and Jimmy Mickle, has taken center stage on Bravo’s roster for the foreseeable future, and these players are looking to work with an influx of new talent to make a deep Sarasota run with its 2011 roster.
“Bravo is replacing twelve players from last year’s team, most notably starting handlers Steven Rouisse and Parker Krug,” explains Bravo veteran David Belsheim. Krug is (or was) widely regarded as one of the most talented and capable pure handlers in elite open, so his departure represents a huge loss that Bravo’s offense must figure out how to overcome. Rouisse is another sound handler who knew how to value the disc and play tough defense. His poise in high-pressure situations earned him a spot on the 2009 USA team that won gold at the World Games in Kaohsiung. Teammate Belsheim describes him as, “one of those irreplaceable players that made Bravo the club it is today.”
Despite these big losses, Bravo’s 2011 additions amount to one of the most impressive rookie classes across all of elite Ultimate. Cornell big man Ethan Pollack, who played well with Replicants last year, can now cut with David “Popes” Popiel, who returns to Bravo from a two-year hiatus in Alaska (both are 6’6”). 2008 Callahan winner Joe Kershner will be reunited in Bravo garb with his right hand man from Arizona, Austin Gregerson, and handler Evan Padget becomes one of the latest Mambird alums to flow through the pipeline to Bravo’s roster. Belsheim also expects Austin Gangel (from CLX) and Jesse Roehm (from Madcow) to cut on Bravo’s offensive line, with Dan Perl (from Hamilton) becoming a role player handler. “We picked up a few exciting defensive playmakers in Karl Doege, Jake Juszak and Owen Westbrook and we expect them to make immediate contributions on the field,” Belsheim adds.
Strategy, Leadership, and Philosophy
Bravo’s offense is its biggest question mark heading into the 2011 season. “With the departure of Rouisse and Krug, we’ll be adapting our playing style to Coach Krier’s model which is a more balanced attack with a faster tempo,” predicts Belsheim.
Coach Krier would be Bob Krier, a Bravo player up until 2006 whom the team asked to become coach in 2010. Krier played soccer in college, and “he brings a lot of the tactics and techniques from that game into our practices,” says Belsheim. Belsheim adds, “It’s really hard to find players with the knowledge, skills, intelligence, respect and desire to coach at the elite level. Bob has all these qualities and he’s really been pushing us skills wise.”
Bravo expects, “players like Jack McShane, Jimmy Hughes, Joe Durst and Jordan White to step up as veterans and lead the offensive line as we integrate some of the new players into the rotation.” That being said, “with the addition of so many new quick and tall receivers, we’re looking to take advantage of some of the mismatches that we’ve lacked since the departure of our top receivers in the 2008 season…We still haven’t set our offense and we may experiment with switching Jimmy Mickle and Andrew Mangan to the offensive line.”
Johnny Bravo’s defensive unit remains largely intact, with Zemel and Mickle there to anchor the D-line. Bravo prides itself on its traditional man defense, but like every other top team, it will experiment with transition zones and poachy looks throughout the year. “With all the changes in the offensive unit, it is encouraging to note that our defensive line is going to be solid right away,” explains Belsheim.
Bravo’s leadership recognizes the potential within its new, athletic roster, and it hopes to have everyone on the same page come October. Belsheim says, “We’re working on trying to build the team over the course of the season with a focus on peaking at the national championship. It’s a long race—we know that. We’ve got a young, exciting team that brings a lot of energy to the field and we feel that’s a great strength of ours that we’ve been missing over the past couple years. Coach Krier and captains Josh Ackley and Ryan Farrell have been emphasizing team building leading up to the season.”
Bravo did not attend any spring tournaments, but the team scrimmaged Mamabird several times and held open practices for anyone to attend.
Regular Season Schedule
Colorado Cup and Labor Day are the only pre-Series tournaments on Bravo’s schedule. It’s important to note that Bravo will be missing several players at their home tournament (CC) due to injuries, NexGen conflicts, and personal travel.
Belsheim: “We came to the conclusion that we’re going to set small goals for every tournament or goals for certain games, even goals for individual players. We’re still planning on a championship run come October, but this team is new and we’ve got a lot of work to accomplish along the way.”
Some Bravo players coach or assist local college teams like Mamabird and Air Force. Bravo also teamed up with Molly Brown to organize an advanced skills clinic for youth players this spring.
Bravo has the most potential to improve on the previous year’s Series finish, where the team missed out on pre-quarters by point differential in power pools. Yes, the departures of Krug and Rouisse are monumental, as they’ll force Bravo’s offense to develop an entirely new identity with players stepping into new roles and shouldering new responsibilities. But many of these pickups, like Gregerson, Kerchner, and Pollack, are starters that have proven themselves at the highest levels of college and club competition. Asking all twelve newcomers to gel quickly with the existing Bravo roster is certainly a tall order, and the degree of ease with which these new players mesh with their new teammates and new roles will determine how far Bravo can go in Sarasota. It’s far too early to make sound predictions, but here’s my take: if Bravo’s leadership really can get everyone on the same page come Sarasota, they can make quarters or semis; if not, they’ll leave a lot of potential untapped, much like Chain’s 2010 team, and be out by pre-quarters or quarters at the latest.
Johnny Bravo’s website, www.bravoultimate.org, is a great resource for learning about Bravo’s roster and history, and it will be updated throughout the season. The team also runs a Facebook page and releases tournament updates through its Twitter account (@BravoUltimate).