The X-Factor: Humboldt State Hags

by | May 21, 2012, 11:13pm 0

20 Days of Nationals and the 2012 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate

It’s hard not to argue that the post-season’s biggest surprise was Humboldt State. While they played at many of the season’s most competitive tournaments, they never really broke into the top tier. It was thus all the more stunning when the Hags took first place at the NorCal Conference Championships. Teams started to take note – was it safe to chalk up the results to the heat of the tournament? Was it because other top teams were playing a larger rotation? The Hags knew otherwise. The came back in full force at the Southwest Regional tournament in Arizona and set the field on fire. They rolled through some tough games against these top teams, coming out on top time and time again. After beating UC Davis to secure their trip to Nationals, they moved on to beat UCLA and Sonoma State to finish out second in one of the season’s toughest regions. We reached out to coach Matt Kissman to get some insights on Humboldt’s evolution and preview what the Hags have in store this weekend.

Let’s start at the top: what have the Hags been focusing on throughout the season? What have the overall goals been?

Coach Kissman: The Hags have been putting an emphasis on conditioning and strength training, skill development, and just plain hard work. A major goal at the beginning of the season was consistency, not only in competition but also at practices and workouts. From the beginning of the season we knew we wanted to get into the top 8 at Regionals. This last goal quickly changed to top 5 as the team realized their potential. My personal goal was to develop a cohesive team that could outwork anybody.

Snagging a disc over a close Davis D (Photo by Kyle McBard -

Humboldt has come a long way in a few short years – tell us about that development.

Coach Kissman: The key was working with what we have (we’re consistently a very small team by season’s end) and developing athletes. Not only do we try to recruit and retain athletes, but we also strive to cultivate girls who maybe never played sports before into competitors with sports specific exercises and strength training. Simplification of our offense and defenses has also been key to developing players that actually understand the “how and why” of our strategies.

Tell us about your roster – Who can we expect to play a big part of your O and D?

Coach Kissman: Our captains, Kristin “Charlie” Eide and Natalie Green have been putting in work all season. Charlie is a workhorse on both sides of the disc and will straight up run past you (and probably me) even after playing ten points in a row. Natalie has turned from a more happy-go-lucky player to a beast. She’s a smart player and creates opportunities for us to score often; I have a lot of trust in her. Mary Colleen Hannon is a second year player and probably knows our “set” better than the 5th years and can be a layout D machine. Georgina Tetlow is a deep cut boss and will D you too if you aren’t careful. Kathleen Johnston stepped it up on D big time at Regionals. We have many roll players that come up with big plays all the time!

What was your favorite tournament of the season? Why?

Coach Kissman: I have two for very different reasons. The first was a small Fall tournament put on by Sonoma State. It was an optional tournament, so we only brought eight girls. We ended up doing well though losing a close game to Sonoma, but it was the first time that I realized that these girls could really mesh and turn it on when they had to. The second was the Stanford Open. We knew we could be a good team and had just been invited to the Santa Barbara Invite and Pres Day, but not the Stanford Invite (we won the Open last year). I got the feeling that most girls felt like we deserved to go. We played okay at the Open, but were inconsistent. I think it clued some people in that we would have to work for everything we wanted and nothing would be- or should be- given to us.

Tell us a little about your trip to Boulder. What was your hardest game at Regionals?

Coach Kissman: That’s debatable. Our loss against Cal was tough because we had done so well against them at Conference, but they are very well coached and are a match-up nightmare. The Santa Barbara game was tough because it got a little chippy and they have some exceptionally talented players and a team full of athletes; it was an important one for us to win (the pressure was palpable). Our game against Sonoma was physically and mentally challenging. Everyone was extremely tired during this game and we already knew we were going to Nationals. The challenge was to keep on pushing and stay focused. Luckily, both teams are extremely friendly (from coaches to players), so we made the best of it.

Humboldt State Hags and Coach Matt Kissman at the end of a tough Regionals weekend (Photo by Kyle McBard -

How has your team grown all season to qualify for Nationals? What strategies have you been working on?

Coach Kissman: They’ve gotten more consistent and realized that they can play with, if not beat, any team out there. They’ve also become more adaptable which is essential when playing so many excellent teams. On offense, we’ve been working on being more dynamic, always having multiple options available, and always being on the attack. On the other side, we’ve been focusing on team defense. Not necessarily how individuals can create D’s (though we do  like that), but more how we can take away another team’s options by having everyone on the field do their job.

What are you most looking forward to at Nationals? Who would you most like to face?

Coach Kissman: I’m really excited to see what these girls can do. I think we got a glimpse of what they are capable of at Regionals, so I’m thrilled to see how far they decide they want to go. Perhaps it should be who I don’t want to face… There are so many good teams. I would be interested to see how we do against teams with unconventional defensive looks and high fire offenses like Oregon. I would also like to see how we fare against teams that we know very little about like Michigan and the Iowas.

What will the focus be on until Boulder?

Coach Kissman: The number one focus will be hard work, but we will also work on fine tuning the little things and building confidence. As always, an emphasis will be placed on staying healthy until the big show.

Feature Photo by Kyle McBard (

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