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Could NexGen Win Nationals?

by in Featured, Opinion with 13 Comments

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.

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About Charlie Eisenhood

Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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  • Thedude

    I think they’d do well at Nationals, but they still probably wouldn’t beat Revolver.

  • D-Dawg

    I don’t know whether they’d beat Revolver or not, but it seems like they’d have more pure talent top to bottom than any team in the history of Nationals. It makes for an interesting debate between experience/chemistry vs. sheer talent.

    • Roll Slower

      Whoa. Teams like championship vintage NYNY, DoG, Condors, Furious, Sockeye, Jam, Chain, and Revolver ALL should take exception to this.

      That hypothetical NexGen team would have lots of talent, but so did all those teams. Those are the teams, essentially, that win titles – the ones with the most talent top to bottom.

      Well, that and the accumulated toughness and experience of winning at that level – which took more to acquire than a handful of practices.

      With all due respect to folks like Freechild and the PoNY guys – do they really have a bead on what it takes to win club nationals?

      • D-Dawg

        “That hypothetical NexGen team would have lots of talent, but so did all those teams. Those are the teams, essentially, that win titles – the ones with the most talent top to bottom.”

        Right, but would those teams have the kind of elite players to the bottom of the roster that NexGen has?

        “Well, that and the accumulated toughness and experience of winning at that level – which took more to acquire than a handful of practices.”

        Which is why NexGen might not win. I’m not saying they’d be the best team, just that no other team would have that concentration of talent from top to bottom. Or it doesn’t seem so to me anyway.

        • Roll Slower

          “Right, but would those teams have the kind of elite players to the bottom of the roster that NexGen has?”

          Yes, I’m saying those teams won in large part _because_ they had the bottom of their roster (of say, 22) equivalent or better than the bottom of the nexgen roster.

          A couple more seasons experience, particularly at playing their role, might change that assessment for Nexgen, but not a few more weeks.

          • Rob

            I’d actually argue that one of the things that differentiated the championship teams from the mere contenders was the very tops of their rosters. All of those teams (well, certainly the dynasties) probably had 2 or 3 players who could legitimately enter the argument for being the best Open division player during their championship year(s). If you were to make a shortlist of players who have credible claims to being the very best Open player in North America, does anybody from the NexGen roster make it? (not a rhetorical question)

  • http://www.myalleycats.com Michael Potter

    “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?”

    Welcome to the AUDL. It isn’t the biggest stage yet, but it is growing on you. I know it is. How about 16-18 webcast games per year with 600 – 1000+ fans in the seats. Games in Chicago, Madison, Toronto, New York, Philly, and Indianapolis. Hmmmm, those cities and this format sound familiar.

    Pick your city gentleman and make it happen.

    Why give any attention to the AUDL? Because this is what the ultimate community wants to see. Secretly the community is rooting for this to happen while they outwardly pick it apart. The best want to play with the best, the community wants to show the best, and the fans want to see the best.

    Ultimate!

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  • anonymous

    Other than Ironside, who exactly have they beaten? They have 1 quality win (when you are talking about elite nationals level teams) and then a lot of mediocrity after that. None of the other teams they have beaten have made semis in a long time (Goat in 2008?) much less been in contention for the title. Some of these teams won’t even make nationals this year. Many of the teams listed mark their best accomplishments as “playing close games with Ironside in July” give me a break.

    Nexgen is awesome. It’s easily my favorite addition to ultimate in recent memory. But it boils down to the idea of watching a college player come in to elite level club tryouts. He is going to be in shape, coming off of college regionals or nationals. He will make tons of great plays and his throws will be crisp and on target. He will make older guys look silly a couple of times. Then at the end of the season everyone has caught up to his fitness and it all levels out. These kids are the best of the best, so the effect is even more pronounced. They will beat good teams sometimes (Ironside, Chain, DW, Revolver) they will destroy mediocre teams like Pony and Machine. They will split results with quarters level teams (Truckstop, Ring, Goat, Bravo)

    Would they win nationals? No. Could they? Maybe if everything broke exactly their way. Maybe.

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  • anon

    PoNY player here. I think that tweet from our squad was a little hasty, but the consensus among us was that the team has more top-to-bottom talent than any squad on the club scene but Revolver.

    Of course any proclamation that they would win it all takes into account the idea that they would live in the same place, practice, and have a full season. If that were the case, top four is completely feasible. No one is talking about the squad as it stands today, five games into existence, dropping into nationals and winning.

    They are not college players who show up to elite level club tryouts – every one of these players will start for their club team in the Fall, many of them on Saturday-Sunday level teams.

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