This week’s USA Ultimate Rankings are more mixed up than usual. Last year’s champs don’t even break top 16. Last week’s top seed comes in fifth. The dominant Polar Bears even come in second to this week’s #1, Minneapolis’ Drag’n Thrust. In 2011, Drag’n took second at Regionals under Chad Larson Experience and went on to finish ninth in the country. This year, they kicked off their season with a win at Wisconsin Swiss, a near upset against Slow White at the US Open (where they finished tied for third), a first place finish at the Minnesota Ultimate Disc Invite, and most recently another first place finish at the Chesapeake Invite. I took a few minutes to get some insight from Anna Hettler, Austin Lien and Josh Hemmesch, captains of this year’s squad.
Maya Ziv: First of all, congrats! How does it feel to be sitting at the top of the rankings?
Drag’n Thrust: It’s a whirlwind of emotion. We’re excited about the ranking, but we also know the rest of the field will be gunning for us. Overall, it feels like any other day. We know we still have work to do before we reach our team goals, so although the #1 ranking makes us smile, it ultimately just makes us focus more on what we want to accomplish.
MZ: You guys just came off a successful weekend at Cheasapeake Invite, arguably the east coast’s most competitive Mixed tournament during the regular season. What did you do this year to pull out a first place victory?
DNT: Our strength comes from the depth and athleticism of our team. We feel confident playing any of our 27 players in any given moment and that allows us to keep massive amounts of energy on the field and sidelines throughout a tournament.
MZ: Which game was your favorite at Chesapeake, and why?
DNT: We really enjoyed playing against 7 Express because it was highly spirited and hard fought. They didn’t give up when we took the lead, instead fighting hard. But they also didn’t get pissed off or super fouly or anything. It was just a really fun time.
MZ: Who has been stepping up for your team this year? Are there any new players that came on we should keep an eye on through the Series?
DNT: We have 11 rookies and you should look out for all of them. Claire [Oakley] is a D machine, we call her the “Hurricane.” Sarah [Meckstroth] is our new premier deep threat, and has been holding her own despite fighting through injuries. Jess [Haller] can launch the disc as well as she can cut for it. Jay [Drescher] and [Brian “Strings” Schoenrock] are two of the top defenders in the division. [Ryan] Pekarna and [Jordan Hupp] are stellar cutters. [Jake] McKean drops dimes. [Dan] Kaler can do it all. Patty [King] and Erica [Baken] are quasi-rookies since they have played mixed with some of us before, although both at a young age, and they have brought their talents and experience back into the fold and are immediately huge contributors to our O line.
MZ: What have you guys done this season to turn up the intensity?
DNT: We took on two handfuls of new players and told them that 2012 is the Year of the Dragon and they better not screw it up for us. So far that’s been working well.
MZ: Tell us a bit about your on-field strategy – what works best on O and D?
DNT: A good combination of experience and athletic freaks. Offensively we like to keep things simple and boring. No Hero. On defense, we’ve stacked our roster with some of the most athletic men and women that money can buy. They just know how to get the job done.
MZ: What’s on the docket between now and the series?
DNT: We’ll be taking a week off to heal up some injuries and refocus mentally before continuing to dominate throughout the series. Obviously we’re looking forward to the challenges that our sectional and regional rivalries will present and we’re always excited about matching up against CLX, hopefully in the regional finals game.
Thanks to Dave Klink for helping to facilitate this interview and to Ultiphotos for the pictures.