This interview appears in Skyd Magazine Vol. 1, Issue 1 – now available on Amazon.
Skyd: How did you first get into ultimate? What did you like about it?
Peter Prial: I first started throwing around a in high school, but didn’t begin playing organized ultimate until college at Middlebury. Having played sports my whole life, I didn’t want to stop after high school, and ultimate was a great way to continue. I loved a few things about ultimate when I first started, all of which continue to hold true today. There is a great community, the sport itself is great, and I love the fact that all you need to play is a disc.
What was ultimate like at Middlebury? What type of player were you then compared to now?
Middlebury’s team, the Pranksters, was the perfect introduction for me. One of the great things about the team was how it was about so much more than just ultimate. Like many people, I had a difficult transition to college life, and the team really welcomed me with open arms. Some of my best friends are people I met through the team at Middlebury, and playing ultimate isn’t the reason we’re great friends. We struck a good balance between competitiveness and a fun atmosphere, especially by my senior year.
In terms of player type, I actually think I’m more like the player I was in college now than I was a few years ago. At Middlebury, I was more of a distributor and less of a goal scorer. Early on in my career on Ironside, I was relied on to use my legs to get yardage. The last few years I have moved back into a little bit more of a distributor role, trying to get the disc to my teammates in good positions to attack.
Who are some of your ultimate mentors and why?
I think the two people who have influenced my ultimate career the most are Jeff Graham and Josh McCarthy. Jeff was such a great leader on the first few Ironside teams I played for – you never wanted to do anything to disappoint him. Not only was he a great leader, but he was also a great player, and I learned a lot watching him on the field. I also learned a lot watching Jeff lead a team, and I think it’s made me a better player and leader.
Josh is a great motivator – although he’s very smart strategically, I think how hard he can get players to work for him is the biggest reason he is such a great coach.
How did you get your start in club ultimate? When did you start playing with Boston Ironside?
I started playing club ultimate the summer of 2008. Chris Farina, who had graduated before I arrived at Middlebury, invited a few people to come try out for his club team, Slow White. Playing on Slow White was a great learning experience for me, and I was able to bring a lot of what I learned back to Middlebury for my senior year.
After graduating from Middlebury, I moved down to Boston and tried out for Ironside. Although I sprained my ankle during the last stage of the tryout process, the coaches and captains saw enough in me to take me onto the team for the season. That first year on Ironside was an adjustment for me on a number of levels. I was used to being one of the best players on a team, and on Boston I was the low man on the totem pole. I didn’t get a ton of playing time early in the season, and when I did play, I didn’t feel the team fully trusted me with the disc. A common scenario that season, after I would catch a pass, would be the other six players on my team running right at me looking for me to get rid of the disc as soon as possible. Throughout the season, I kept working hard in practice and during track workouts, and by the time Regionals and Nationals rolled around, I was trusted with the disc and played more points than I had at other tournaments.
What was the Boston team culture like when you played for them? What were your primary roles with Boston?
Ironside has always been a close-knit group of guys. Spending every weekend together for almost six months over the course of a few years does wonders for making friends and becoming invested in the lives of your teammates. People loved playing together and competing with one another every week.
My role on Ironside definitely evolved over the five years I played on the team. My first two years, I was predominantly an offensive cutter who the team looked at to gain yards with my legs and keep my turnovers to a minimum. After Jeff Graham left the team, I was relied on a little more to help get the offense moving, both cutting and with my throws. By 2013, my last year on the team, I would also play a handful of defensive points each tournament, often for important points. I loved the fact that Josh McCarthy trusted me enough to put me on the field in these situations, and no matter how tired I felt prior to hearing my name, I always got a boost knowing that I was trusted to help get a break.
You recently moved to DC and started playing with Truck Stop. What was that transition like to start with a new club team?
The transition from Ironside to Truck Stop was easy, both on and off the field. Having played on the DC Current beforehand definitely helped.. Will Smolinski coached both teams and Keven Moldenhauer coached the Current and played on Truck, so there was a lot of familiarity in terms of the systems. Obviously tons of players also played on both teams, which made playing on Truck easier as well.
As a team, Truck Stop last year was younger than Boston teams I had played on. That, coupled with the fact that I’m older now than I was then, allowed me to have a larger role on the team than I did when starting out on Ironside. I was more experienced as a player and as a teammate, and having been in many high-pressure situations during my time in Boston, I felt like I was able to have a calming influence on the team during stressful points and games during tournaments.
Strategically, Truck Stop plays a little less systematically than Ironside does. I think part of it is the fact that the team is so young, and another part is the fact that Truck Stop hasn’t had one coach for many consecutive seasons like Josh McCarthy in Boston. But with the players down in DC, playing a little looser works. Lots of guys have great vision with the disc and a great feel for the game, and the team just goes out and plays. Defensively the team is more structured, and Will spent a lot of time working on the defensive game plans he put in place.
Before heading to DC, you played a championship season with the Boston Whitecaps in the MLU. What made you decide play pro, and what are your thoughts on the pro game vs. club?
I decided to play pro in 2013 for a few reasons. Tahnee (my fiancé at the time, now my wife) was going back to school, so I had some extra time to spend on ultimate. In addition, I wanted to play with some Boston-area players who were not on Ironside, specifically Jeff Graham and Chris Waite. There was also the allure of playing on the first professional team in Boston.
As for the club vs. pro debate, I think there are lots of positives to both. I love the fact that I get to play every DC Current game in front of 500 fans. I also really appreciate not having to pay anything to play on the team. Each club season costs multiple thousands of dollars, and I pay that amount because I love playing ultimate and being a part of a team. However, it’s really great to get paid a little bit of money to play and be provided jerseys and travel for free, especially because I’m in school.
I enjoy the club game as well – being able to play four or five games in a day at a tournament is a lot of fun, and there is more diversity in opponents. Moreover, because there are lots of teams at any given tournament, it is a great way to interact with far-away friends and meet new members of the community.
Even though I have had positive experiences playing club and playing in the MLU, there is definitely the possibility of change for the better in both. Lots of what I think on the subject has already been said, much more eloquently and in much more detail than I could, but I think both USAU and the MLU are making steps to improve the player experience.
What was that championship season like? Did the team feel challenged at all? What did hoisting that championship trophy mean to you and the Whitecaps?
Going into the 2013 MLU season, I think everyone on the Whitecaps was fairly confident we were going to win the championship. Although we knew there were other good teams in the league, everybody had this great belief in the collection of players that were assembled in Boston. Our offense had a ton of talented throwers and receivers, and all the guys on defense were willing to throw their bodies around to get blocks, which is crucial on the larger MLU field.
Even though we were confident going into the season and remained confident throughout, there were definitely times when we were challenged, particularly the second week of the season when we played at DC. We only won the game by a point, and there were numerous times throughout when we were down by a few points. I remember it being my first game and personally not playing very well, but the defense came through late in the game and got a few breaks back allowing us to snatch a win. I think that game made the team realize that we were not invincible, and would really need to put in a bunch of work during the season in order to improve enough to win a championship.
In 2014, you went on to have another championship season with the DC Current. How was winning a championship with the Current different? Do you expect such success as you were joining the team?
In DC, I knew there were a bunch of great players on the Current, but I didn’t really know how competitive we were going to be. After beating Boston in the second game of the season, I think something really clicked for everyone – we knew we could compete with any team if we put together a full game. We took this boost in confidence with us for the rest of the season. I also think, although we likely weren’t underdogs in games later in the season, we still played with an underdog mentality. The trademarks of the Current last year were hard-nosed defense and a willingness to grind down the opposition.
There were fairly large differences in how the Current in 2014 and the Whitecaps in 2013 played. In Boston, we played with standard vertical or horizontal stacks, something Ironside had done for years and the Whitecaps used to great success. Jason Adams also took a very hands-off approach to coaching, allowing the players a lot of room to improvise and construct our own plays and movements. Conversely, the Current played a live side offense, really trying to open up one huge lane in the field while at the same time not stranding throwers by being too far away. Keven and Will were also a little more hands-on in their coaching style and the way they liked things to be run. Both worked well for each team, and I don’t think each team would have been as successful if the coaches were switched. Keven, Will, and Jason (along with Whitecaps assistant Mike Wiseman) really set the perfect tone for their respective teams to maximize success.
You are a dangerous and consistent cutter. How did you hone your cutting skills? Who is the toughest defender you’ve faced in your career?
Back when I was starting on Ironside, I spent a lot of time watching the great cutters on the team. How did Jeff shake his man on that under? How did Danny get so wide open on his deep cut? When does Cricket make his move? Studying how great players were able to lose top defenders definitely helped me learn how to do so. In addition, working with the various trainers Ironside has had in the past (Tim Morrill in particular) has helped me focus on my footwork while cutting and using my entire body to get open.
The best defender I have ever faced in Colin Mahoney, who used to play on Ironside with me. He was a phenomenal athlete, but he also the best I’ve ever seen at using his body to prevent cuts before they happen. He did his best work in the few seconds after I made a cut. Colin would put in tons of effort to get back into a good position so he could triangulate and then dictate where my next cut would have to go, then go out and shut it down.
What are your goals in ultimate? Do you have any interest in where the game goes in the next 10 years? How do you feel that the pro leagues are handling Spirit of the Game?
Spirit of the game is extremely important to me. Although I can’t speak to how the game is played in the AUDL, I have noticed that the players in the MLU do a great job of displaying sportsmanship and spirit. One initial concern I had joining the MLU was the impact referees would have on the players. I play in adult soccer and basketball leagues and know that players in those leagues will intentionally break the rules, hoping that the referees will not see every infraction. Although the incentive is there in the MLU, players don’t take advantage of this. There is always going to be fouling and contact, but the games I have played in where this was the worst have been in club tournaments, not professional games. If this weren’t the case, I certainly wouldn’t have signed to play a third season in the MLU.
I’m very interested in seeing where the game heads in the next ten years. Although I won’t be playing at that point, I will still be a fan of the game and want to see it flourish. The ESPN deal for USAU has been great for getting more exposure – some of my law school friends got together to watch the 2013 semifinals when Ironside played Sockeye, something they likely wouldn’t have done without the legitimacy ESPN brings. With that being said, there are lots of good things that the MLU is doing to showcase ultimate to more people. I played in from of more people in two seasons in the MLU than I had my entire career prior to that, and everyone who comes to a DC Current game loves it. I would really love to see USAU and the MLU try to work together expanding the sport as opposed to what is currently happening. In my mind, the best ways to grow the sport are getting people to come out and watch the best players, as well as getting children playing at a young age. I think USAU does a great job of promoting the growth of ultimate in schools, while the MLU does a great job of showing fans how exciting the sport is.
As for my personal goals, there are lots, certainly too many to list. I would love to win a club championship. I would love to play on a US national team at some point. I would love to spend a season playing on a team with my former Middlebury teammates. I would love to try a season playing almost exclusively on a defensive line. There are really tons of things that I would love to do over the next few years, and hopefully I will get the chance to do some.