1. U23 Recap
There are still a few more thoughts about the U-23’s that I’m trying to piece together, but I did have a lengthy talk with Tushar Singh of I Am Ultimate ( check out their videos from the tournament here) about why the US was able to dominate (my words, not his) the U-23 tournament by taking home all three medals. He told me that he was most impressed with what the U-23 teams the USA fielded were able to do over the course of the week. “You can see how the chemistry amongst the players developed over the tournament,” said Tushar. He didn’t think it was domination though, not at all. “Domination would be easy wins which is not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing other countries catching up with the wins not being as lopsided as before. Those countries still have a long way to go and it’ll be quite some time before the smaller countries can come close to challenging the US on equal footing.” An article below, from USA Ultimate no less, makes another strong case as to why it’s not domination. But when aside from a few games, the three USA teams roll their competition, and end up winning the tournament, that’s a pretty dominating performance in my book. When you can look at the different players from their rosters and give each and every one a game that they outplayed the opposing team, that I would think is dominating. Still, Tushar has a good point and I do think future USA players can’t expect to have as easy of a time at U-23’s and other tournaments.
Talking more with Tushar about the USA success, and if it is short lived or something we will see for a long time, he said he doesn’t expect it to be. Pointing to other international youth programs, he said that USA Ultimate has invested considerable money into their youth ultimate programs and that has produced results such as this. He also added an interesting thought, “as Ultimate is recognized as an NCAA sport more funding will flow to it and development will be more intense.” His thinking is that the college game will need expanding to match the youth and club options offered, and the NCAA is that expansion. That could be where the sport is heading as the professional leagues prove profitability, and it would only make sense for college programs and the NCAA to want to pick a sport up that would make them money. We both agreed that the ESPN and USA Ultimate partnership could be a positive step towards that, but also that if the tournament atmosphere was diminished as a result of that direction the game would suffer.
2. World Games Look
Being in Toronto I couldn’t watch too much of the World Games in real time, especially the finals – which you can watch here. So instead, I chatted a bit with Kyle Weisbrod, who was a tweeting machine during the tournament. First we chatted a bit about the US team, and how they won, to which Kyle pointed to the solid defense they were able to maintain against the Aussies even with imperfect offense. “For their part looked tight from the get go – that didn’t help since they were already facing a talent deficit,” said Weisbrod of Australia. That was something I noticed in some of the Australians games at U-23’s as well when facing the ‘stronger’ opponents, they looked tight out on the field (especially early on in Toronto). He pointed to Japan as one of the USA’s biggest challenges during the tournament, saying their zone “forced the US out of their game and minimized their size/speed advantage and played to Japan’s quickness.” In the end it was the “extreme versatility” of the US team that allowed them to win the tournament, with every player able to fit every role.
Since I was in Canada for U-23’s, I heard a lot about the expectations for the Canadian team, and it was certainly high especially after the success of the team at Poultry Days – beating the US team. Kyle was able to give me a bit of a history lesson, “Canada has fallen some since the heyday of Cruickshank, Lugsdin, Al Bob, Grant, Val Dion and others of the 2001-2009 era.” And along to what Tushar told me about how their youth development doesn’t compete with what USAU offers, Kyle also pointed to inconsistent play from the team at times from the team as a reason for their lack of success at the World Games, and the fact that they don’t have many teams in the USAU top 16 or even 20. Teams like General Strike on the open side are trying to change that for sure, but I agree. Without stronger club teams from throughout the country, an achievement that starts with a stronger youth development, Canada may have a hard time mustering up international tournament wins in the future.
3. Worldly Games Domination
See the above thought on U-23’s a lot of that domination talk up there ties into here. But I did want to share this USA Ultimate article, which details the 36-0 and four medal run the USA teams are on right now. In the article, it details some trials and tribulations, a preview of what’s coming up next for the USA, and some ‘food for thought’ in how this compares to past streaks. I don’t know if the USA teams streak will be able to continue like those, but be sure to give the article a read. Do you think it was domination we saw from Team USA? And will their winning continue in the 2014 Worlds events?
4. Thoughts on WFDF & Observers
A whole lot has been said about WFDF and the need for observers after the games that dragged on and on during both the U-23 and World Games tournaments. While WFDF has made it clear over and over again that they aren’t yet interested in adding observers full time, though the third parties in the finals at U-23’s were well received by all, I do think there is another rule change they need to look into. That rule change? Adding hard caps on games. It was extremely frustrating to be watching a game at U-23’s and have it go way over time, or even worse, have a game that went way over time effect the later rounds start times because there was no hard cap. In theory, I think just a soft cap could work. But with no observers, and then a few games with unspirited play in the heat of the moment, and you have games going half an hour or more over when the next round was supposed to end. In the distant future, we may see observers at WUGC, the WFDF Club Champs, U-23’s and every other event WFDF helps put on. But for now, please just add a hard cap.
5. US Beach Championships?
Ultiworld reported late last week that USAU was in serious talks to put together beach championships here in the US of A. As the article details, not only does USAU see it as profitable, but it could also be a stepping stone for the sport of ultimate into the Olympics scene, a la beach volleyball. Volleyball itself has been growing at an extremely high rate among females with high school and club team options, and only behind basketball and track and field for participation for the gender. But to say that, the sport has also seen relatively little growth in boys, with a National Federation of State High School survey detailing that participation at the high school level is 1 in 8 for males. The sports overall growth, especially among females, has been attributed by many (including beach volleyball great Kerri Wash-Jennings) as a reason for the growth.
I do think the comparison of growing beach volleyball and beach ultimate is an accurate one. I simply don’t think it should be looked at as the blueprint for its success, because it clearly hasn’t been successful across all divisions. Success across all divisions is what USAU would need, as international ultimate events are typically mixed – like the World Games for example. USAU has shown that youth involvement is a key factor, and I don’t think they’d move forward with any beach championships without figuring out a way to better include youth players, and involve them in that part of the sport. Once they figure out a solid plan, I can see a very successful tournament, and championships, being put on.
6. AUDL Finals & Offseason
The Toronto Rush capped off the undefeated season, going 18-0, and winning the second ever AUDL championship. There’s a not that bad write-up from the Toronto Star found here, and a highlight video from the AUDL out there too. Skyd’s own Nathan Jesson thought before the game that the Radicals could win the game over the Rush, having just taken down the Windy City Wildfire to get to the championships. The game was close for the majority of the time, 8-7 at half, and 16-14 in the finals. With the Rush capping off a great season, next year all eyes point to them repeating, or the Wild Fire, Radicals or maybe even a newcomer taking a shot at them.
Yes, you read that right – a newcomer, or should I see newcomers. During an AUDL Championship Weekend interview, Commissioner Gordon (yes, that is still awesome – he can never leave), said that the league hopes to expand to a total of 16-20 teams for next season, including out in the West – an area now dominated by the MLU. The league itself is starting to get more exposure, especially in local media, which hopefully drove ticket sales and merchandise sales up. If not, the league may be wading into risky waters with expansion. Not much more to get out of the interview, except to maybe take notice that there is still no bat signal appearance in the background.
7. Behind the Scenes at NGN
During my time in Toronto at the U-23’s, I was staying with the NexGen Network guys and gal. Staying with them while not at the tournament was just like staying with a team at any other tournament. You’re all packed into the hotel room, you trade stories on past tournaments, and find food wherever and however you can. The fact that we were in Canada made it all even better; for all those Oregon transplants, Bryan Jones and I had to introduce them to (the amazingly delicious) Tim Hortons, and we were all thrown off by the strange money and beer prices.
Come game day though, it was completely different than a tournament. There was no eye black and no gatorade, just sun screen, coffee and chocolate. For a few of the games that were on the showcase field, instead of journeying up to the press box, I either went down to the tents and watched the footage that NGN was filming as it all happened, or watched from their ‘crows nest’. It was a completely different experience to see it first-hand, all that raw footage coming in and being transformed into the product you all get on the other side. One of the main differences I noticed when we watched the World Games streams, something that not only the NGN guys were quick to say but everyone else and their mom’s on Twitter, was that the WG people need to zoom out. I was told it looked very professional, especially with all their multiple cameras, but that the local operators there in Colombia just didn’t have the experience filming ultimate. ESPN has typically been pretty good with their filming, but NGN did have a great way of doing it, something I assumes from coming in that most of their crew has an ultimate background. Not only in the pure camera work, but in how to structure the cuts between cameras during the broadcasts – when you want to see the endzone level view, the sideline view, or from up high – and the work put in during instant replay. Getting all of that right in real time too is difficult, so the fact that their output to the fans looks so polished is a great accomplishment.
Overall it was a great experience, one I hope to get again, and I now have even more appreciation towards NGN for the live streaming service they provide. Many thanks to Kevin Minderhout and the NGN crew for that. They’re about to put on the West Coast Cup in Seattle, with Revolver, Sockeye, Rhino, Johnny Bravo and the Buzz Bullets attending so be sure to tune into that on the weekend of the 17th and 18th later this month.
It’s that time again! The club season is kicking off in full swing, what with the Colorado Cup this weekend for Open and Women’s, and Emerald City Classic for Mixed and four women’s teams (including HUCK from Japan), the pro leagues have ended, and it’s August… So time again for another mailbag! In two weeks, I’ll answer your questions. For now, send me an email (email@example.com) or tweet me a question (Skyd_JLeppert) and I’ll choose the best for the mailbag. Hopefully this time any Mighty Ducks jokes will be a little more… noticed.
Feature photo by Ben Leung for WFDF U-23