Celebrate Skyd with Skyd Fund 2014
To say it was an up and down year for Cincinnati’s Steamboat is an understatement. They did quite well locally, but their one big tournament (ECC) is littered with close losses to top-notch opponents. With the 2013 season now over the three captains, Eddie Mack, Kate McInerney and Joe Mozloom, agreed to an exit interview. But before you read up on that, make sure you peep their social media outlets: Twitter, Facebook and the Web.
Skyd Magazine: You guys had a very active regular season, five tournaments, including a trip out to Seattle for the Emerald City Classic. How big of a difference was the competition there from the rest of the tournaments you attended this past summer?
Steamboat Captains: ECC was a big step for us because Steamboat has been a very region-centric team for years — we rarely competed against teams from different parts of the country. We usually had a pretty good idea of what our opponents were capable of because we’d played them at least once in the last calendar year. Not knowing at all what to expect from the competition in Seattle was a new experience, and our players had to work out some insecurities during the first game (versus Wild Card). After that we got into our groove and posted some wins to break seed. It was huge to see (a) how teams who are comfortable with their elite status compete, and (b) that we as a team indisputably belonged among that group.
How did you guys feel about your results, and season? Did you perform at the level you wanted to?
Steamboat: We knew that, given the other top teams in the region and our own tournament schedule, it was very unlikely that the Great Lakes would earn a strength bid This allowed us to concentrate on the process rather than the week over week rankings. This year, we approached the regular season as a way to hone our chemistry and try out some different strategies. We had a lot of new faces on the roster and practice squad, including some new leaders, and made it a priority to build depth by incorporating the new talent and bringing the less-experienced players up to speed. Our goal was never Nationals (in fact, we were very conscious not to make it a goal this season as it had been a goal the past multiple years). Instead, we measured ourselves against individual improvement and our change in performance through the season. In that light, we were very happy with the season results. We had a number of new players who had never played club (John Siemer, Kelsey Gibboney, Kenny Paulin, Aaron Schwartz, Ashley Messina to name a few) that made leaps through the season and were a big asset in the postseason. Also, a few of our guys played with the AUDL’s Cincinnati Revolution (Eddie Mack, Isaac Jeffries, Will Huffer, John Siemer, and Ryan Gorman – who couldn’t play at Nationals) which provided improvements individually for each throughout the long year. The games we did lose, we worked very hard to gain knowledge from as a team and definitely leaned on those learnings at Regionals and Nationals. The end result was a season that we were extremely proud of!
After sectionals, not many saw Steamboat as the option coming out of the Great Lakes region for Mixed – what did you do differently that weekend with strategy, and playing the other teams?
Steamboat: Even at the time, our Sectionals performance felt like an anomaly. We’d just come off of a strong finish at Heavyweights and were feeling good about where our performance was heading, but something about Sectionals was just off. People let early errors on Sunday set the tone, instead of learning and adjusting. Regionals turned out to be exactly the opposite– everything came together for us and we had a fabulous Sunday performance when it really mattered. The strategy wasn’t markedly different from Sectionals, but the mentality was different: Play to win, not play scared to lose.
We were also just plain lucky in a couple of ways, including the disbandment of Overhaul (known since early in the season but still a factor) and the fact that Interrobang, who defeated us at Heavyweights, was unexpectedly knocked out of the Regionals competition by our Ohio rival, Santa Maria. We had faced Santa Maria at Sectionals and again on Day 1 of Regionals. The first half of that game went their way and everything that could have gone against us, did. However, the second half was ours, we made the right adjustments on offense against their zone, and our defense got us breaks to make it a 1-point loss. The game did not matter but we knew we had to win the second half for our confidence the rest of the weekend, and we did. We didn’t look back from there – and the semi-finals and finals games felt different, with our offense only getting broken once in the semis and zero times in the finals. Santa Maria battled against everything we threw at them. The second to last point where they laid out and just missed blocks on each of the 4 throws was amazing to re-watch on film as it just showed how focused everyone was because we did not want that open door to Nationals close. It made each practice and mini-adjustment in the game worth it, along with each line change and decision that much more critical.
Giant question alert. Since not many were expecting you, and with your regular season results, you didn’t earn the best placement in the pools – coming in at Pool D. You did have two relatively close games, including a one point loss to Cosa Nostra – what happened? How did your team approach pool play, and the tournament? And then, unfortunately, you guys didn’t register a win at Nationals either. Were there a lot of lessons to be learned from the weekend? From playing a lot of teams you hadn’t seen before?
Steamboat: Being at Nationals and putting up respectable scores against the best teams in the country was a rush and a big success. It would have been great to pull out the win against Cosa, or have figured out how to stop Drag’n Thrust’s four-point run to win in pre-quarters (final score 15-9), but we aren’t dwelling on the win/loss record. It’s more important to us to carry over the experience into next season so that we can continue to build the program next year.
Some of the lessons we want to take into next season include building on our strong offensive foundation with some more flexibility, since our offense wavered when Cosa shut down our biggest throwing threat, and increasing the depth of our defensive line. Some things that definitely proved valuable included our conditioning program, developed by a small focal group on our team, and our overall experience at ECC. Beyond this year, the ultimate we saw and experienced first-hand will lead to each player’s understanding of what it takes to get back to Nationals and how to consistently play with a national-level focus.
How did you feel about the tournament as a whole? Did you enjoy your time there, and the production that took place?
Steamboat: We absolutely loved the 2013 USA Ultimate Championships as a whole, from competing at the highest level to earning a T-2nd in the Mixed Division Team Spirit Rankings. Overall, the Captain’s welcome reception was a nice touch to start and USA Ultimate provided feedback avenues for the entire event. The fields were in top condition and playing under the lights as a club team added to the elite atmosphere. The setup for the semi-finals and finals were great and gave our entire team (especially the younger core) a chance to see what we can aim for together (and also show we are not that far away).
Any major changes you’d like to see in the TCT and USAU setup going into next season?
Steamboat: We would like to see how the TCT does in year 2 and what additional questions and changes come about from it. Knowing USA Ultimate is open to feedback from the players and has opened the lines and inboxes for improvements, we would like to see them continue to involve players on discussions – all for the correct growth of the sport. We also hope they do not forget about the non-elite players. Yes, elite play is great for ratings and to watch, but the core of ultimate and any sport is growing the other areas as well – including youth, plus local league and tournament play. We know they are looking to leagues and regional/sectional groups/individuals to really drive this part and be a resource because they need to be focused, but it will be interesting to see how they continue to work with the different organizations. The players can keep the great momentum going that USA Ultimate has started and run with the ideas on how to impact the sport from the bottom up. Also, it will be interesting to watch and experience from a different flight’s perspective in 2014 (elite vs. select) and how it impacts us directly. We were part of an early year conference call and hope the communication continues to improve and ideas are shared to keep advancing ultimate.
And finally, even though it’s early I know you’re already thinking about next season. Anything you can share?
Steamboat: We are excited to have additional opportunities next year with some of the TCT events and look to use 2013 as another step in building a national-level mixed program in Ohio. We can hopefully open more people to respecting the mixed division and gaining more interest from a fan base as well. Our local organization, Cincinnati Ultimate Players Association (CUPA), and our fellow Cincy ultimate players on the women’s (Flo), open (Hustle), and masters/grandmasters (Age Against the Machine) teams have given us a ton of great support – but we want to see more traction for mixed ultimate and what it can bring to a city/area. We hope Santa Maria, Interrobang, and others can rise to create a dominant mixed scene here away from the coasts to help build the entire USA Ultimate Mixed Division. This will hopefully allow for more exposure to the mixed division at future events (and not just the Club Championships).
Photo by Christina Schmidt of Ultiphotos.com