Driscoll, New Look Texas Team, Have Title Aspirations (Team Preview)

Texas' Will Driscoll catches a pass at the 2013 College Championships
Photo by Nick Lindeke — UltiPhotos.com

From an outsider’s view, Texas has been running the same vertical stack for over a decade. They drill the disc into the end zone with a rigid system and positional offense. Handlers handle; cutters cut. No piece of field goes unused. The disc blazes from hand to hand so quickly that it often requires the offense to make a mistake in order to generate turnovers. And they don’t make mistakes often – at least not for a college team. Before you know it, Will Driscoll or Mitch Bennett has the disc in the end zone.

What if I told you that coach Calvin Lin – who has coached at Texas since 1996 – wants to be more flexible? 

Texas has no plans of setting offensive and defense lines in stone. They are even running players out of position. “We’re versatile enough that we don’t need to be that predictable. And I think one result may be that we’ll play a little faster,” coach Calvin Lin said.

So their end result may look the same, but Tuff may be taking a few steps outside the box this season with their vertical stack.

A New Definition of Team Depth

In order for Tuff to win Nationals – captain Jon Clutton’s goal for the season – the Texas players will have to shred their title as “role player” and make their style of player more holistic. Clutton said the young players must “take advantage of what they’re good at but also take what they’re not and improve it.”

“We probably have 16 to 18 really good ultimate players, each one of them have a specific roles…,” Clutton said. “We’re trying to understand the game as a whole, and be able to understand what comes together in order to make a complete team.”

Texas lost 11 players to graduation. One of their key players, fifth year Trey LaMastres, has not gone far and is helping coach this season. Tuff lost fifth years Andrew Klotz, Danny Broberg, Peter Clarke and Chris Casey; they also lost seniors James May, Hunter Ruffin, and Marty Martinez. Coach Lin went on to name almost all of his graduating players. All of the departures have, as is typical for college teams, left some big vacancies in the handler positions. That is, the entire set of starting offensive-line handlers is gone.

This list of players is a huge reason why Texas won the South Central region for the first time since 2009. Tuff had a dominant 15-12 performance over Colorado, where they picked their matchups, got breaks early, and never relinquished control of the game.

Nationals, however, was another story. Lin was particularly disappointed and seemed caught toying with “what if”. He liked his chances against Central Florida, as Texas had beaten UCF three times last year. Had Texas beaten Dartmouth, perhaps Texas could have taken UCF’s path to the final, where it would have faced Pittsburgh. At least in terms of points, Texas gave Pittsburgh their toughest game of the tournament in a 15-13 loss (ignoring their game against Arizona in which they rested starters having secured the top seed in their pool). Had Texas gotten through prequarters, could they have given Pitt a run for their money in the finals?

Lin didn’t dwell on “what if” and “perhaps” for too long. He thinks Tuff has the potential to be better this year. At Missouri Loves Company, where Texas came in third, losing only to Illinois by one, coach Lin explained the role players from last year are becoming reliable starters. With no Will Driscoll in the fall, they had no choice.

“The guys [that the role players] are turning to usually to take care of business are not there,” he said.

Captain and handler Chris Brooks thought the tournament was great for the rookies to assimilate to the rigors of a weekend of ultimate. And the bottom half of the Texas squad is catching up to the top-heavy roster.

One thing that Brooks acknowledged was the team’s weakness: playing down to their opponent. Texas has at least five games that were within two points with close games to Wisconsin, Iowa State, Missouri and two games with Illinois.

Something that might help: the return of Driscoll.

Flexibility and Match-up Exploitation — Smart Frisbee

The 2013 Callahan nominee and NexGen star can take over the field. He has just returned to practice, rehabbing an injury from Club Nationals. Driscoll and Bennett are offensive weapons. Driscoll’s play caters to Lin’s hope of mixing positions, as he has great hucks, break throws, and even better speed and athleticism. Driscoll had 14 goals and 21 assists at Nationals last year. He and Bennett will play both ways and contribute to the malleability that Lin hopes to unleash upon Texas’ opponents in the upcoming season.

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Lin hopes the offense, in particular, will play smarter.  He wants them to be more flexible and aware of the defense their facing, and improve at identifying “where the mismatches are.”

Texas’ vertical stack allows it to take advantage of these matchup issues. Any of Texas’ seven can become the go-to-guy if he’s winning the matchup. Bennett used to get great matchups. The former 5A high school track star sometimes wears a do-rag and doesn’t look like one of the best cutters in the nation – but he is.

“People grossly underestimate him,” Brooks said. “He’s got speed for days.”

It’s hard to imagine that he will avoid the attention any longer. But tougher matchups haven’t stopped him. He had no trouble in the series getting points, finishing nationals with 10 goals and eight assists.

Drawing from the pool of strong B-team handlers, Tuff will field a group of smart and dynamic playmakers. And the only question that remains is whether Tuff can bridge the gap between the top of their roster and these newcomers.

The veterans are certainly ready to take the region again. Driscoll has the most experience, having played Doublewide and Nexgen. But Brooks and teammate Carlos Vargas spent the summer playing club with Dallas Plex, Chase Cunningham played on the Austin mixed squad La Cosa Nostra, while a few other players played the more-local club team Hip. The group of returners are experienced playing both for Tuff and for club teams.

“It’s our fifth year and we’ve played in Cal[vin]’s system for a while now to the point where we can get the most out of our endurance playing both ways,” Brooks said. “Driscoll, Mitch and I are really asserting ourselves and not holding back because this is our year.”

Coaches:

Calvin Lin (head coach)
Matt Bierschenk (assistant)
Trey LaMastres (assistant)

Captains:

Jon Clutton
Chris Brooks

Tournaments:

Warm-up
Stanford Invite
Centex

  1. Henry McKenna
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    Henry McKenna is a reporter for Ultiworld. An experienced sports journalist, he played ultimate for four years at Colorado College while pursuing a creative writing degree. He played for Inception and has coached in China and Spain.

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