The DC Breeze know they didn’t get their franchise started on the right foot. No team wants to have to let a coach go before their first game even takes place. And they know the most people outside their own team aren’t expecting much from them. Most of the elite players in DC ended up playing for the Current rather than the Breeze. They don’t have players on their roster that most fans would recognize. But the team’s leadership is focusing on what they can control, and is convinced they will surprise the critics this season.
When the team let go of Tom Coffin in late March they were correcting a mistake. The only regret seems to be that it wasn’t done sooner. “We didn’t feel like a team when Coffin was coaching,” says DC Breeze captain, Liam Shramko. “Communication was poor, and even though he was well qualified he didn’t have the leadership necessary for this team.”
So the team is moving on with a new coach, Thomas Johnson, and looking forward to getting on the field. The players on the Breeze come from several regionally competitive clubs, the most notable being Medicine Men. A little more than 1/3 of the Breeze played for them last season. Medicine Men have been a staple of the Mid-Atlantic Region for years now. Though they have never broken through and qualified for the Club Championships, they haven’t rolled over for the top teams in the region either. Last season at Club Regionals Medicine Men played Southpaw in the quarterfinals. With only one bid for the region, the loser would have their season end early. The game was back and forth, the Med Men D-Line put up eight breaks on Southpaw. Unfortunately Southpaw’s D-Line was able to do the same to them plus some, and ended up taking the game 15-12. But players on the Breeze point to this game as an example of the kind of intense Ultimate they expect to play.
Of course the team is not composed entirely of Medicine Men players. Players from mixed teams like Death by Jubilee and American Hyperbole compose a large part of the Breeze, along with one player from the 2011 Southpaw squad. While the Breeze don’t have any of the top names in the game, they’re doing what they can to get ready for the season. “I’d like to think of our team as University of Florida Gulf Coast basketball team in this year’s NCAA tournament,” says Breeze captain, Danny Dennin. “We are not well known but we have the talent necessary to knock off top teams.”
The more well known players are playing for the DC Current, the MLU team. Despite the two teams playing in front of fans in the same city, the Breeze don’t regard the Current as their rival. “I think people just want to watch good fun ultimate games being played and root for the home team,” Dennin says. “I intend on going to their opener after our game this Saturday and I’m hoping for a Current victory.” This kind of attitude could be beneficial to both organizations, since there won’t be any games this season when both teams will be playing home games at the same time.
So far Breeze practices have been incorporating AUDL strategy, planning when to double team, how to use the width of the field, and their 10 second offense and defense for the end of quarters. With so many new teams in the Eastern Conference of the AUDL, the Breeze aren’t the only team focusing on how to adjust. Only the Rochester Dragons (formerly Buffalo Hunters) return from last season, and they finished 3-13. So there will be a learning curve for each team.
The Breeze start the season hosting a very strong Toronto Rush team, comprised primarily of club players from GOAT. If they keep this game close it would be regarded as a success. The second week they play the Rochester Dragons. That is a game they have to win if they hope to climb out of the bottom of the rankings. Their road trip the next weekend in Philadelphia and New York will show if they’ll compete for a playoff spot. If they can win one of those road games and stand at 2-2 heading into week five, they have home games scheduled three weeks in a row, which could solidify them in the standings. But if things don’t go well those first few weeks it will be difficult for a team that doesn’t have the kind of top talent or cohesion present on many other AUDL teams to turn things around.