In my recent write-up on Nationals, I stepped in it with this line: “A fundamental element of the Condor’s zone strategy (the originators of the 2-handler set) is to spread out so that once you beat the cup, you have a numerical advantage downfield.” This was the second time I had alluded to the 2-man zone offense as the Condors’ work and that was more than Jim Parinella could bear. What followed was part history lesson, part discussion, part strategy session as Parinella, then Alex Defrondville (the Count) and finally Steve Dugan all weighed in. The conversation went all over the place; here’s the condensed version:
Jim: You can ask the old Condors, they took this directly from us. We played this since at least 1992 or 1993 (i.e., pre-DoG), though it was probably 1994 when we really started pushing the wings downfield. And we had to get it from somewhere. Did NYNY do something like this too?
Me: My experience as a defender is that the trio (playing in pairs) of Studaris, Taro and Dugan played this offense differently than any other team I’d seen. In particular, their willingness to play their handlers close together seemed new and innovative. I played the two handler set with Sockeye (learned it from Jonny [Gewirtz of NYNY]) but we spread the handlers.
Jim: I am watching the 1994 semis. The critical elements of the two handler set are: a) no dump-swing. The first look after the dump is often right back to the dumper b) no “popping”. The poppers work the area behind and to the side of the middle middle, sliding around in that area. c) deep wings. This creates space for the poppers and gives the option of the hammer. [Lou’s note: Jim also sent me a great article he had written a while ago that hopefully can be made available.]
Count: I think NY definitely did a little of the two handler set, based on Danny Weiss pushing the disc, similar to what Boston did with me. But they didn’t do it exclusively like we did. We definitely always focused on losing as little space as possible on the dump. [Another] rationale behind the close dump is based on the number of dump/long swing turnovers that occur. Our 2 handler zone O was actually based on having the defenders stationary, not trying to take advantage of seams opened by having the zone in motion. Far safer to identify the open receivers and deliver based on a stationary defender than to lose track of a defender while the zone was in motion.
Steve: The Condors did get the idea from DoG. The main part we added/developed was the handler catching short passes moving forward into the cup. This gave the handler vision of the field while putting him closer to the gaps in the cup.
Lou: This is the piece that really identifies the Condor system and distinguishes it from previous 2-handler sets.
Steve: The other concept was the one man advantage upfield. 5 on offense vs 4 on defense. We stressed the idea of using that advantage after the handlers got a pass through the cup. We termed it “off to the races”. [Lou’s note: this is the piece I felt Riot was missing.]
Lou: The advantage of outnumbering the defense was always there [in the 2-handler set], although Sockeye’s 2-handler sets in the late 90s [using a 2-post] were much slower and that the outnumbering piece was often limited to the two poppers in the middle of the field, typically Federbush and Ahouse. Steve, did you all put much structure into where the downfield players went? As a defender, I always felt like they were just drifting in an open, unstructured way.
Steve: We had a 3 popper, 2 deep structure. The deeps stretched the field and stayed toward the sideline. This forced the deep defender to choose a man to cover. As the disc broke through the cup to the poppers, we had 1 deep cut in along the center line while the other deep cut away, usually giving the poppers a short pass to the deep coming in. With the poppers, we stressed just shifting away from defenders while keeping the field spread horizontally. The shifting was just walking away from the defender, not cutting. The key part was keeping space between the poppers so that 1 defender could not cover two poppers. I always thought of it as if the 5 upfield were centers of circular areas and good spacing meant the areas had very little overlap.
Count: We [were] definitely looking to go through and/or around. [Lou’s note: There was a mistake here in the original text. It should say through and/or over.] What I find disappointing, especially at the highest levels (watching some open points last weekend) is how few people go over, and I’m talking the 10-15 yard hammer/blade to someone who is pretty much wide open. [Lou’s note: I totally agree with the Count here.] But as Steve said, the goal was always to get off to the races once we punched it through however we did it.
Jim: We pretty much stopped practicing zone O in about 1997. We still played it when we practiced our zone D, but we didn’t really work on anything. Alex would handle, I’d pop, and the others would play off of us.
Steve: This brings up a very interesting difference between DoG and Condors. DoG had/has very specific people in specific positions and had defined O and D lines. Condors used various people as O handlers and switched up the O and D lines.
At the end of this email conversation, Steve was nice enough to take some time to chat with me over the phone about the development of the Condors’ zone offense and share a zone offense and defense drill with me. (See below.) We talked first about the development of the crash-first method of zone offense. Steve wasn’t exactly sure on the date, but he said it definitely came after they adopted the 2-handler set from DoG following the Condors’ loss in the 98 final. That would be the 1999 season. I remember Studaris victimizing Sockeye in this offense at the first ECC in 2001. Dugan credited Vince Birch with the crash into the cup reset; Vince used it to such a degree against trapping zones that the Condors called this move the “Vince Break.” Beyond that, Dugan couldn’t really point to a single moment when the crash-first became the Condors’ zone o, but he did site Studaris, Taro, Jason Seidler and himself as the main handlers involved. (Condors played open subbing at that time and were much more flexible with assignments than most teams.)
What’s all this mean?
The 2-handler set is old as dirt. DoG used it as early as 1992-3 and maybe got it from NYNY. DoG’s system was a lose-no-yards system that went around and over. [Lou’s note: same mistake here as above. It should say through and over. “We NEVER went around,” adds Al.] Sockeye played this system as early as 1996, my first year on the team. Sockeye’s system was a slow, 2-post system that went through and around. The Condors began using 2-handlers in 1999 and at some point turned it into the crash-first system so popular today.
Dugan’s Drill: First, the goals of the drill. For the defensive wings and deeps: to communicate and work together. For the cup: to recover and reset. For the downfield offensive players. To keep the disc moving quickly (with short, crisp passes.) Now for the set up. Place two lines of cones across the field 6 -10 yards apart. (Adjust distance according to need.) These are dividing lines to section the field. The cup (2 points and a middle) and a handler (with disc) are spread out on the first line of cones. The downfield defenders (2 wings and a deep) and the downfield offensive players (3 middles and a deep) are spread out anywhere they want beyond the second line of cones. The downfield defenders communicate how they will cover. Disc is checked into play with a throw from the handler to whoever is open. Disc is live. The offense will try to keep the disc moving and score. The defense will try to slow play long enough to let the cup recover. If the cup ever gets to “Stall 3” play is dead.
- pages 139-142 of “Ultimate Techniques and Tactics” covers the two-handler zone O
- Zone O article from UPA newsletter 1999 (dumped into my blog because the eArchives haven’t reached 99 yet.)
- “Death to the Dump Swing” (Google PDF) [pictured above]
Photo of Ring’s Bret Matzuka against the dreaded Sockeye 4-man cup (ECC 2011) by Scobel Wiggins