20 Days of Nationals and the 2012 College Tour are presented by Spin Ultimate
Every year we see another team break through to nationals which has been a result of years of hard work, planning, and change after change. Central Florida has gone through the five year plan from almost beating some top contenders, to finally breaking through and winning the region. Andrew Roca has been a big part of that, taking the path from player all the way to coach. He was kind enough to share their story, starting in 2008.
“We had Cameron Amey and Bill Igar captaining and a former alumi-turned-coach Shane Steward. (Bill/Cam played Club National team Vicious Cycle two years before with Kurt Gibson and Tim Gehret). It was great year with good results at good tournaments.”, said Roca. Central Florida came into Stanford as the bottom seed in their pool, beat Santa Cruz on universe, while losing games North Carolina and Whitman by a combined total of 4 points.”, said Roca After falling hard to Wisconsin, the Dogs of War upset Pittsburgh and Whitman to a 13th place finish. While there had been some achievement in the past, Roca remarked, “This year felt like we had the best chance to go to Nationals riding on the back of players like Cameron and Bill with a large supporting cast.”
However, things did not end up as planned. “At Regionals we got to the game to go to the game to go against UNC who we gave a close game before at Stanford. Although we lost the game 17-12 the game was definitely a lot closer than it seemed and our players were gassed. Any hopes of a nationals run was lost because we would lose all our foundations of the team in the next year.” Teams run in cycles, and it’s no surprise that it took 4 years for Central Florida to regroup.
From 2008 to 2010 it was a rebuilding period with new coach and alumni Bill Igar. He set out to just rebuild the foundations of a team without play makers like himself or Cameron. That year I stepped up to be a captain with Morgan Bambace and Phil Stokes. The year was sloppy, but we managed. It was hard transition from player to coach for Bill and even harder transition from up and coming Cinderella team to a bunch of nobodies. Even though the play wasn’t as amazing as years before, we did still have the ability to surprise teams when we turned it on, because of this tall, ambitious rookie… Mike Hickson. A 6’5” kid who dominated lanes.
In Roca’s last year as a player, 2010, the team saw a first, their first tournament victory. Unfortunately, an early season knee injury would prematurely start his coaching career. With the rise of Mike Ogren and B team product Matt Carlson, Central Florida took the Southerns crown by beating Florida State 13-2. The story of that tournament was captured below.
However, once again, the team came up short. With Roca now officially taking over coaching duties in 2011, a gem that any ultimate team would be salivating over came out for recruitment.
Then from amongst the clouds a giant approached our fields and I was not gonna let this shy kid leave without seeming him play. His throwing was awful. His coordination was amazing. His hands were astonishing, His name was Mischa.” With the addition of 6’8” Mischa Freystaetter. With Quint Wharton at the helm, and names like John Best, Jeremy Langdon, and Robert Balletine coming into play, it looked as if Central Florida would have a real shot at nationals. After a win over Florida at sectionals, nationals looked like an incredible possibility. Although, once again Central Florida didn’t make the cut, let alone the game to go.
The Turnaround: 2012 – The Writer’s Perspective…
Coming into the early 2012 spring season, Central Florida started things off with a victory at T-Town Throwdown. The scouting report was simple, the offense worked it up the sideline until Mischa was free for a huck. Change the force? They’ll work it up the other sideline and attempt the same strategy. No utilization of the break side, simple but effective strategy that should be shut down in due time. Although the Dogs of War would surprise us with a few early season triumphs.
As in years past, Central Florida would start things off with an agonizing 16-14 loss to Pittsburgh, but that was only the start. Starting offensive and defensive players, Garret Pelton and Terry Murphy went down with season ending injuries, However, the team’s resilency had already started to show. Pulling out victories over Carleton and Georgia Tech, had them qualified for the championship bracket. After interviewing Andrew Roca that day, we chatted for a bit and he was ecstatic. “It’s nice to come and finally beat these teams”.
That sentiment certainly resonates for anyone who’s been in that situation. Taking down the defending national champions in one game is no small feat, but ultimately it matters where you are at by the end of the season. Reliance on a 6’8” receiver to bring things home did not seem like the path to a winning season. Alas, to my chagrin, Central Florida stormed to the finals on Sunday. In their path they beat Georgia Tech in another close game, while dominating Wisconsin 15-11. As the Wisconsin game progressed, I was waiting for the classic Hodag comeback, but instead I was charged with commenting on a Pittsburgh-Central Florida championship game.
What I saw in the championship game confirmed my suspicions at the time, that teams would eventually figure out Central Florida’s method and counter it. Pittsburgh went up early, and continued to cruise to a 15-11 victory. “We showed up to the finals dead but with a little fight, you can tell on that first point we just weren’t as fresh as Pitt. After they got one look at us, they strategically shut down our options and our movement.”, said Roca.
I boldly told Zack Smith and others around Skyd that Central Florida would come in as the favorite for regionals, but be the odd team out in the Southeast Region. However, there were changes afoot. Roca said, “After Warm-Up I instituted Kung Fu throwing on every Tuesday. It worked out in pretty much everyone on our teams advantage as you can tell this year. I would say our younger guys lack the IQ to know when and where to throw, but as for the throws themselves… they have them. probably better than most if we have been doing it since Warm-Up. Throwing builds confidence, confidence builds on-field IQ, on-field IQ builds chemistry and chemistry builds teams.”
Coming into Easterns, I expected to see teams clamp down on Central Florida’s strategy, but that simply didn’t happen. With Freystaetter out for the first day of play, Roca had already made changes to the line up. Robert Ballentine found his role on defense, marking the main distributors. Matt Carlson was stepping on defense, and they were finding ways to play without their big 6’8” man. Roca recalled, “The O line moved very smoothly in our Dartmouth game, [so] it seemed like it would be best to put Mischa on D.” However, in a messy match against UNC-W, things didn’t go so great.
“However in the UNC-W game is where it showed we need [Freystaetter] most. Without Mischa on the field, UNC-W was not afraid our deep game, [and] they played us severely under… we weren’t comfortable throwing to anyone else deep. Especially during a severely windy and rainy game like that. However, we worked the unders and the zone. Got comfortable throwing hammers, and some quiet players started coming out of their shells throwing wise (Alex Bullock, Mike Ogren). We won that game closely but we valued our ability to dogfight it out. We would have to value that again come time for regionals.”
Sunday was a completely different story. Whatever team had appeared at Warm-Up was long gone. With Freystaetter on defense he was able to choose his match up, guarding smaller handlers. On a turnover, no one had the ability to compete with his 6’8” frame and speed. With Michael Hickson putting hucks out in front, the defense was able to get breaks with ease. The offense had started to gel on the play of John Best, Alex Bullock, among others. With consistency, and a new look, Central Florida actually utilized the break side. Instead of seeing the team that was one dimensional, forcing it up the sideline, we saw a multi-dimensional offense that did not rely on Freystaetter to always be the go to guy.
However, the region still wasn’t looking like a cake walk. Georgia, Florida, and Georgia Tech looked to be formidable opponents. Their mettle would be tested at conferences, falling short of a 1st place finish. After losing 10-9 to Florida in the semi finals, the Dogs of War would come in as the second seed at Southeast Regionals. “We used our depth strategically on Saturday to be in prime performance for the Semis. During the Semis its safe to say we came out playing the best defense that I have ever seen in my 7 years at UCF.” said Roca. Central Florida came out and wasted no time building a lead on Georgia Tech. Mike Ogren was charged with the task of guarding Jay Clark, and came up with several of big layout blocks. The game plan to keep Nick Lance in the backfield worked as they came away with a 15-8 victory.
Despite Roca’s insistence that it was the best defensive effort, Central Florida saved their best for last. They jumped out in the finals to an 8-3 on the play of tight man defense that gave no space to the receivers. Florida’s vertical stack would work it patiently up the field, but cuts were so well covered that the gains in yardage were small. With everyone shut down, Florida throwers were forced to go with more risky decisions. Florida even abandoned the use of their patented vertical stack for a horizontal stack that I had not seen in use all year long. The victory was decisive, 15-7, and Central Florida has booked their ticket to Boulder.
Often times, a team making nationals for the first time in team history is simply happy to be there. Central Florida will is seeded 5th, and a has real opportunity go deep into the tournament. The 5 years has certainly been a journey, for all of those involved. As Roca aptly put it, “I am who I am today because of my teammates, leaders, coaches and most of all my players now.”
Feature Photo by Christina Schmidt of UltiPhotos