Imagine a world in which 75 percent of a club Ultimate team’s roster did not have to come from the same region. And imagine that a group of fifteen super-talented college kids that travels together on a cramped bus for over a month isn’t ready to splinter apart by the end. Could that group take on the country’s top teams on the sport’s biggest stage and win?
This year’s NexGen tour has begun to raise that question after winning six games straight against just those teams. After losing to Denver’s Johnny Bravo in their very first game together, NexGen hasn’t lost again. Even facing an 8-3 halftime deficit against New York’s PoNY on Tuesday, they never looked intimidated and rallied back to win 15-13.
But winning games in the early summer when most club teams aren’t even practicing (PoNY took all of July off before meeting for one practice last weekend) isn’t necessarily championship material. Could NexGen really challenge these teams at their peak?
Consider this: NexGen doesn’t plan their offensive and defensive sets. At all. Dylan Freechild, who is in his second year with the tour, told Ultiworld on Tuesday that on defense they just send three guys down to pick up the handlers and take it from there. Sometimes they match up their tall players.
But what about offense, we asked, assuming they must spend all that time on the bus writing up plays. Nope, they mostly just run a vertical stack. They basically go out and play pickup.
And yet they still win.
PoNY tweeted yesterday, “By the way, those kids are good. Like Sunday-at-club-nats good.” And yet they’ve only played seven games together.
When asked directly if NexGen could win Nationals, Freechild said, “We would need more. But this year and last year’s NexGen could win, if we had the full 22 man roster.” He suggested that with a couple of warmup tournaments, maybe four practices, a combined 2011/2012 NexGen squad would win it all.
And, amazingly, that doesn’t sound crazy. This year’s team has already beaten Boston’s Ironside, last year’s Nationals runner-up. Add back some players like 2011 Callahan winner (and current Ironside player) George Stubbs and give them a chance to gel — that’s a dangerous team.
PoNY defensive handler Chris Mazur said that there were moments where he was playing defense and a NexGen huck would go up that he assumed was a turnover. But suddenly, out of nowhere, there was a cutter there and they scored. It seemed to Mazur that NexGen has already found a great ability to see cuts develop and play together.
If a NexGen team were able to form to head into the Club Series, that ability to play together would likely be the key to their success. Things don’t always run smoothly. Even after their comeback victory yesterday, Freechild wasn’t happy about their performance. He said, particularly of their poor first half, “We didn’t want to root for each other.”
They will need to do that, as some of their toughest competition on the tour is yet to come. Every team will want to be the one to break the win streak — and shut down the Nationals talk.
But there is no question that this team is for real. Ignore the chatter about the club teams playing to showcase the sport and not to win — they definitely want to win. Johnny Bravo tweeted, “We wanted to win, and we would’ve dangled a pocket watch like a pendulum in front of [NexGen's] face if we thought that would do the job.” And Jack Marsh, PoNY’s captain, told us they played to win.
NexGen is legitimately beating elite teams. Just imagine if they practiced and ran plays.
Additional reporting by Wesley Cronk.