The roster limit at Worlds was 28 players. For USA Ultimate this fall it will be 27. I have always been an advocate of small teams and am constantly blown away by how willing teams are to carry twenty-some players. The essence of the challenge is trying to balance depth and chemistry. A deep roster is a huge advantage, but if it can’t play well together it isn’t any good. A team with great chemistry is wonderful, but without the legs they’ll lose on Sunday.
Revolver carried 28 players to Worlds and struggled with possession through much of the tournament. Their D-team in particular had a hard time finding an offensive rhythm once they got the disc. Then, with Kurt Gibson, Mac Taylor and Tom James injured and out of the game, the Revolver D-team started playing better. This is not at all because those guys aren’t great (they’re all superb) but because the rotation got smaller allowing the chemistry to get better. Early in the tournament, it wasn’t clear whose D-team it was. Was it Kurt’s? Mac’s? Sherwood’s? You couldn’t tell. Dutchy was rotating guys in and keeping everyone fresh, but at the expense of rhythm. There were two challenges in here. First, it wasn’t clear who was going to get it done on offense once Revolver had earned the turn. There is only so much space in an ultimate game and there isn’t room for everyone. Also, it wasn’t clear what style they were going to play. Kurt wanted to play D-Wide style: hold and huck. Mac wanted to play big man handler: break and huck. Sherwood wanted to play small ball: chew yards with legs not throws.
Once the big guns got hurt, it was immediately clear that the D team was Sherwood’s and the style would be one that he wanted to play: fast and quick. It was a style that was much more reliant on short throws built on motion than on the big bombs Taylor and Gibson favor. This style also fit better with the rest of the personnel on that D line – Kanner, Levy, Wynne and Kawaoka are all much better suited to playing quick than they are to playing big. (In defense of Tom James, this style fits his game very well, but his injury did create space for another player to step up – in the finals it was Sam Kanner.)
Like most teams elite men’s teams, Revolver tries to mitigate this depth-chemistry issue by using O- and D-teams. The advantage is that instead of teaching 28 people to play together, you can split that into two smaller groups who develop chemistry amongst themselves. At Worlds, Revolver essentially played 8 guys on offense, leaving 20 for the d-team. It is no surprise that their d-team struggled with its offensive possessions, often requiring multiple opportunities to score.
Feature photo of Mark Sherwood (Photo by Neil Gardner – nzsnaps.com)