New SW Region Promises Fierce Competition

by | August 15, 2012, 1:27pm 0

For decades, sports fans have been mesmerized by crosstown rivalries: Sox/Cubs, Jets/Giants, Clippers/Lakers, Man U/Man City. Mixed Ultimate has its own rivalries in the San Francisco Bay Area, a hotbed of top tier Ultimate competition. This club season’s regional redraw serves to boost the competition in the Mixed division as defending national champs Blackbird and runner up Polar Bears will be joined by fellow national contender 7 Figures from Los Angeles. However, the new division means that the strong Bay Area teams will no longer have to duke it out with Northwest powerhouses like Wolverines, Team Fisher Price, or Dogfight. This, coupled with the annual influx of new Mixed players and a new system for strength bid allocation could set the stage for an unexpected face at nationals this year.

Blackbird – The Team to Beat

The defending national champions came together just last year under Brian Garcia, the bulk of whom were veteran Open and Women’s players that had accumulated years of experience and titles but were looking for a less rigorous practice schedule.

Some might write this group off as a group of individuals that had their run. After all, mixed clubs often have a fickle life expectancy; no one has produced back-to-back national championships since 2003.  But it may very well have been their team mentality that sets them apart from typical mixed teams.

“It’s not just about the highest level of skill, but about working with the team that can learn a system very quickly,” said Garcia.

What’s intimidating is that Blackbird was able to adapt a “system” after admittedly very few practices and some poor showings at early season tournaments. After finishing behind Polar Bears and other national-caliber teams at last year’s ECC and Labor Day, Blackbird was able to pull it together just in time and put on a show in the series, finishing second in their region and, of course, first in the nation.

Due to their victory in the Fall, Blackbird was chosen to represent America in the World Ultimate and Guts Championships in Sakai, Japan this summer. They drastically juiced up their practice schedule early in the summer to prepare for such an honor.

“We had very few practices throughout the year. We’ve already had 50% more practices than all of last year. We understand Worlds is a great responsibility. We want to put aside the fact that we didn’t want very high-level commitment.”

Their practice schedule may have been the biggest change this year. Blackbird only turned over 6 players, and they are bringing in nationals experience from Women’s, Open, and Mixed divisions.

Between more practices, little turnover, and an influx of talent, it’s hard to poke holes in Blackbird’s game. Despite their relative age, the players still pride themselves on individual athleticism, which has helped create a tight, hardworking, man-defense in the past.

The biggest news about Blackbird this year is their disappointing loss to Japan in the bronze medal game at the World Championships. What is less known is that Blackbird asserted themselves in the U.S. early this season, winning Cal States in June. This may not be definitive proof of Blackbird’s dominance, but it’s certainly a sign that they will be the team to beat this year.

Polar Bears at this year's US Open. (Photo by Kevin Leclaire -

Polar Bears – The Competition

This young, athletic team burst onto the scene three years ago ready to make some noise. Back then Greg Marliave was captaining a small open team in the Bay Area that was finding itself on the bubble when it came to competing with other elite open teams. In 2010, he was able to recruit a number of girls from the area, and together this group marched their way to a national championship.

For the 2012 season, Polar Bears turned over about nine players. Marliave admits that they “definitely lost some big contributors,” although he didn’t name any specific players.

That perhaps showed a little bit at the U.S. Open, this team’s first tournament with a set roster. After the first three days of competition the Bears edged their way into the championship bracket with a 4-3 record. However, this deep, athletic team, as many of their opponents describe them, was able to persist and come up with huge wins on Sunday.

Energy and endurance are certainly staples of this young team’s game, but whereas some teams might coast on those advantages, Marliave explains that the Polar Bears are constantly looking to better themselves in every way possible, and aren’t focusing on any strengths or weaknesses.

“We have a lot of people that are hungry to get better. They want to practice and they want to work hard,” said Marliave.

As for the redraw, Marliave seemed less concerned with the series, and more concerned with earning bids in the regular season.

“With the change of bid structure I don’t know what to expect. If you get all of [the bids] you don’t have to worry,” he explained.

Two weeks ago, Polar Bears took first at Revolution in California, but they didn’t just win, they won big. Marliave and his went undefeated, taking every game by a margin of four points or greater. However, due to the absence of Blackbird that weekend, Polar Bears have had to wait until this weekends Emerald City Classic to prove that they are the number one team in the region, and perhaps the country.

7 Figures – The New Kid on the Block

Even though 7 Figures is the only team in this preview that is not changing regions, they still seem like the new team in the neighborhood. This L.A. powerhouse will be returning for their third year, coming off of their first trip to the Club Championships. Although they no longer have to face previous regional rival Mesteno (who has moved to the south-central region), they are now stuck with the top two teams from last season. With that in mind, team captain Sam Regnier knows that securing a third bid will make the road to nationals much smoother.

“We have to be absolutely prepared for every tournament we go to. We stress the importance of focus on every game,” said Regnier.

Before this squad can focusing on winning games, however, they are going to have to rebuild a new team with only 10 returners – only three of which are girls.

Fortunately, some of 7 Figures’ pickups are coming in with Nationals level experience, but when asked about their most exciting additions, Regnier replied that the captains “don’t list individuals when [they] are asked for contributors.” Instead, they try to build a mentality around playing as a team and relying on every player.

This will especially translate to their offensive play this year, which Regnier said will “transition away from a reliance on individuals or specifics.” 7 Figures will spend a majority of their time drilling a systematic style of play.

A third-place finish at the early season Cal States seems promising, but this revamped squad will have to go through an almost immaculate season if they want to clinch a third bid for their region.

GrasSFace after the 2011 Northwest Regional Tournament. (Photo by Adam Farren.)

GrasSFace – The Wild Card

This group was a fresh face in the Bay Area last year. They consisted of a skeleton of a ten-year-old CTR mashed up with the relatively young Funk club. The result was a rollercoaster season of big wins, big losses, and tight games with good competition that ended with a seventh place finish in arguably the most competitive region in the nation.

Team captain Adam Farren described last season’s team as “competitive and significantly better than the bottom of the region, but unable to get over that hump.”

Now with more experience with each other and with their system, GrasSFace is looking to secure one of top spots in the region. In addition to experience, GrasSFace wants their mentality will set them apart from other mixed teams.

“We really want to play true coed style, and focusing on women is a huge part,” said Farren. “The best teams learn how to use their women.”

In line with their theory, GrasSFace was able to recruit a few notable women: Rachel Holz and Elle Huftill from Zeitgeist and Sam Applegate of Jacks on Jill.

GrasSFace made it clear at Revolution that they will be vying for a top spot in the region this year when they made a run to the semifinals, losing in a very close game to Mischief 11-12.


BW – The Underdog

There are a number of reasons why a mixed team might be formed: experience, numbers, relaxed atmosphere. But for BW? Among other reasons, they didn’t feel like driving to the other side of the bay.

Their name isn’t exactly recognizable. In fact, their first season was cut short after just missing out on a bid to Regionals.  But with the disbandment of some Bay Area teams like Death Star, BW has a good shot of snagging a bid, and they are looking to make some noise in the region this year.

BW did lose out on some key man power: both Andy Kuneda and Adam Brown will be taking their names off of the roster. Their pickups, however, hope to more than make up for their losses.

Matthew Natali and Jason “Soda” Millard, both ex-Double Wide players, will be joining the BW ranks this season. In addition, Radhika Bhargava, a University Michigan Flywheel alum, will be looking to add some top tier college experience to an athletic core of women.

The obvious hurdle BW has struggled to get over is inexperience. With the most senior member being only 28 years old, BW will certainly make mistakes that more veteran players have had time to smooth out.

“We make a lot of mistakes right now,” said captain Rob Srinivasiah, “which comes from being a young team playing well but making dumb turnovers.”

Will BW come out absolutely dominant this season and in the series? Probably not, but if they can tighten up their game I think they will cause some upsets and come out ready to punch unsuspecting teams in the mouth.

The Best of the Rest

This is by no means a comprehensive look at every “good” team in the southwest. Capitol Punishment, from Sacramento, is no doubt set to avenge their 15th place finish at last year’s Northwest Regionals, but they will have to fight their way through the thrall of juiced-up Bay Area teams, including American BBQ and Mischief. BBQ’s fifth-place finish in the Northwest region last fall is proof enough that they are ready to hassle the top of the region and will undoubtedly be the final roadblock for teams vying for the last bid to nationals. Mischief, one of the oldest teams in the area, comes back year after year with impressive results. Last year, after taking on a hefty amount of talent, Mischief still found themselves in the bottom half at Regionals. This year they saw a good amount of turnover, but that hasn’t seemed to impede them from returning as a top competitor. They scraped into the finals at Revolution, but lost to Polar Bears 15-9. Down south, San Diego’s On the Rocks has gone toe-to-toe with many of the Bay Area teams, and is looking like the next top competitor in the southern California section after 7 Figures.

With a lot of movement and recruitment in the off-season, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect at ECC and Labor Day. What we can expect is a 2012 nationals lineup thick with Southwest representation.

Don’t agree? Interested in previewing your own region? Feel like writing about a Mixed team? Let me know at I’ll be looking for all the help I can this season to cover the top Mixed teams in the nation. Get at me! 

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