At 7 am, this past Saturday morning, I found myself standing on the New York City 1-train platform on my way downtown to the second open tryouts for the the New York Rumble. I arrived at my destination, Pier 40 along the Hudson River, already aware that my thin gloves were no match for that day’s morning chill, with temperatures hovering around thirty-two degrees. However, the thirty five players already suited up and throwing around seemed unfazed by the weather. Players were readying their skills for what would likely be three hours of intense play. Almost immediately after I arrived, Head Coach Daniel Quaranta and Player-Coach Ben Faust called everyone into a huddle. Coach Quaranta emphasized keeping a high level of intensity from start to finish. This was a professional sports team tryout. With that mindset the players broke for warmups.
I was told that Ben Faust, the man leading the warmups, would be a player-assistant coach. Older than most of the other players trying out, Faust played for George Washington University in the early 2000s, helping them to two nationals appearances. He was known as both a force on the field as well as a good sportsman. There was even a thread on RSD from 2004 started by a player from another team advocating Ben Faust to win the Callahan award. That year, he came runner-up. Since then, Faust has played with some of the top teams in the country including Twisted Metal and Ironside in Boston. He has helped shape PoNY’s workouts and as one player explained, “he is a machine.”
In talking with Faust about his responsibility as a player-coach, he noted that having a double role is much more in line with the traditional ultimate captain who helps plan and lead practices as well as provides on field leadership to players. He said that Coach Quaranta would definitely be the one running the team on gameday, as would a traditional club ultimate coach. Whatever his role, Ben Faust is well respected by his colleagues and he will have no problem providing leadership to the rest of the team.
Once warmups finished, the meat of the tryout began with a simple cut timing drill. Before anyone started, Coach Quaranta emphasized “No drops”, alluding to the previous tryout where, with a bit colder conditions there were more turnovers than the coaches would have liked. This drill went by fast, with players getting themselves and their throws warm.
Even though most players had barely played with the Innova Pulsar discs, they seemed to have a pretty good understanding of the change in mechanics. Innova primarily creates disc golf products, but recently the MLU announced Innova would be the official disc manufacturer for the league. There were questions in the ultimate community over how the disc felt compared to standard Discraft discs. For most of my interviews, the players said they adapted fairly quickly to the new discs, or that they noticed little difference from the start. One player said, the disc flew “so crisp”. As another put it, “At least they aren’t Wham-O.”
At this point, my toes were freezing and I was jumping up and down to keep warm. As I looked around, team personnel, from the interns to the team statistician, were doing the same. At least we were all cold together. However, most of the players were removing layers as the activity was starting to warm them up. The next drill was an iso drill in a rectangular box. It was easier to play defense as the offensive player set up very close to the handlers and couldn’t make large cuts, due to the box being 20 yards long. Because it was hard for players to get open, the skill came in timing the cut properly and accelerating quickly, something the coaches were looking for.
The next drill broke the players up into four groups working through three stations. The far end of the pier was used for a huck length drill. Tryouts hucked discs as far as possible from a standstill position while team personnel measured the distances. From what I heard, the farthest disc was thrown 80 yards, easily the length of a field. The middle of the pier was used for an iso endzone drill, while the other end of the pier was used for short scrimmages. In the iso drill many players had a hard time keeping their man on the break side of the disc, and most possessions were won with a cut to the force side. Since the MLU field will be wider, offering larger length horizontal cuts, players need be physical to stop their man from crossing to the force side.
Over in the scrimmage section I noticed many deep throws, several of which were pulled down easily by the offense. Joe “Smash” Anderson was one player that got the better of his man multiple times. Talking with Ben Faust after the tryouts, he believed that having a larger horizontal field negated the effect of the vertical game; smaller, quicker players would have an easier time getting open and steching the field, therefore evening the game out. In essence, teams could play the ultimate version of basketball’s small ball by placing an emphasis on shorter, faster players that have quickness and agility. It is yet to be seen whether New York will have the same height as other teams in the MLU. New York will need to work on some strategy to combat mismatches, especially when facing an O-line with many taller players. Coach Quaranta explained that stopping mismatches deep involved stopping the handlers, but from the tryout, this is something the Rumble will have to work towards. Coach Quaranta is right, but at the elite ultimate level it is extremely hard to shut down top throwers, meaning this must be an emphasis for the New York Rumble in the next few weeks leading up to the season.
By the time the players started to do some conditioning before the final scrimmage, the sun was out in full effect. The scrimmage was a standard tryout scrimmage, with players trying to show they had what it takes to make the Rumble. It gave me a chance to walk amongst the tryouts, asking them about how they physically prepared for the day. All worked out in the weeks leading up to the tryout but how they prepared varied. One tryout said they didn’t do anything hard as not to wear himself out leading up to Saturday, while others lifted and sprinted. While they prepared in different ways, it was clear that everyone had come ready to try out.
With the scrimmage over, so ended the tryouts. At this point, I talked to Coach Quaranta and Ben Faust. Quaranta started PoNY in 2005 but for the past few years has not been heavily involved in men’s ultimate. He assured me he had stayed in the loop, and I don’t doubt his ability as a leader. He probably won’t have any issues with player management as all the players respect him. I am curious to see Coach Quaranta devise strategies against other teams, and this will be a bigger factor in the MLU versus standard club ultimate. In tournament style play, a team will think about their next opponents only after having finished the current game. However, with the professional schedule, teams will play one game a week, giving them plenty of time to strategize matchups and on-field tactics against their next opponent, making this an essential part of the game.
With a professional attitude and teams built around ultimate hubs, the MLU is poised to build up a large fan base as the ultimate community gets excited at the possibility of top level games in big cities. As the other 7 teams build around the club teams in their regions, it becomes apparent that New York must also build around the elite club teams in the NYC metropolitan area. As Head Coach Quaranta put it, “We are getting the best that New York and the surrounding Tri-state has to offer.” It’s going to be intense competition, but from what I saw on Saturday, with a little bit of time and practice the New York Rumble will be ready to make some noise in this new league.
Feature photo by Sandy Canetti – UltiPhotos.com – Full Tryout Album