Thursday Mailbag: Media Coverage, Best Rosters, US Open

In this week's Mailbag, Charlie Eisenhood talks club rosters, the US Open, and media coverage of ultimate.

Mailbag time! Starting to pay a lot of attention to club…

Q: With the rapid growth of widespread ultimate news resources and the sheer mass of available video, how do you see ultimate changing as the next generation comes into the college and club game after growing up with this access to ultimate coverage?

– Tim S.

A: I love playing basketball. It was my first sport and the one that I’ve loved the most as a kid and continued to play since I was about 5 years old. I’m lucky to live about five minutes from some great courts in Brooklyn, and I play out there a lot. I’m a decent player — I have an above-average jumpshot (for these courts) and a pretty good court sense from having played for so many years. I can hold my own.

But there are some guys who show up who are just bigger, faster, and stronger. Anyone who plays pickup basketball knows what I’m talking about. A dude rolls up and just smokes your entire team — drives, pull-ups, threes, dime passes. The level of athleticism is just a huge cut above.

That’s not so often the case in ultimate. Sure, there are some select guys who are above your level, but if you’re athletic and reasonably skilled, you can often be one of the better players in a given city. You probably don’t often get totally smoked.

That’s what’s going to change. It’s already changing. The level of athleticism is skyrocketing, and it’s no longer good enough to be a good thrower or come to college having played some in high school. The game is being played at a new pace — see what Scandal did last year in the Women’s Division.

Does access to news resources, video, and analysis help foster that growth? Perhaps at the margin. I think the growth of media is more likely to help grow the spectator side of the sport than the on-field play. (Although I do think advanced statistics and video analysis will also push the sport on the field over time).

More than anything, having more kids involved in the sport early — and identifying those next level athletes early — is what is going to differentiate the next generation of players.

Q: What do you think of GOAT this coming season? They came into 2013 Nationals super hot, then choked and underachieved in spectacular fashion.

A: Good news! We have a great analysis piece about GOAT coming up soon that should shed a lot more light on what happened last season.

Here’s my take: GOAT was a really good team that relied on a very precise offense to almost never get broken. The GOAT defensive line was not particularly effective — usually they required a huge play or two (Anatoly Vasilyev always seemed to be making them) to generate turnovers. They gave up a lot of easy points.

When they were hot (at Pro Flight Finale and vs. Ironside at NE Regionals), their offense was just doing everything right. Brilliant, creative handling from Derek Alexander and Mark Lloyd, perfectly timed deep cuts, some bailout hero plays. They basically didn’t get broken.

The problem is that the system can fold under its own weight if everything isn’t clicking. Teams keyed on Alexander at Nationals and made it harder and harder for him to find space and get off his crafty throws. Timing broke down. Nerves clearly played a part. When GOAT went down, they didn’t have the defensive unit to get back into the game.

The talent on the roster is really undeniable. But they may actually need a slightly more rigid offensive system that doesn’t constantly rely on individual brilliance and instead allows for some more “system” style cutting and handling. When you have ingrained patterns of movement, it can be easier to get open than when you have to keep coming up with unbelievable break throws.

They is surely semis-level quality talent on the team, but they have to put the pieces together better this season. I’m sure they learned a lot from Nationals last year.

Q: Which club rosters are going to surprise us this year? Which will disappoint?

– John A.

A: So I have to admit that I am writing this as the US Open is wrapping up its final round of the day, so I am coming at this a bit biased. But I will try to ignore the results of a tournament that is far too early in the year to tell us a whole lot.

Johnny Bravo: Will dominate early, but something tells me they won’t just ride out easily to a national title. They’re going to have some kind of struggles — rotations, internal strife about roles, something. It just can’t be as easy as gathering up all of the free agents onto one team and winning everything. Right? Right?? But they just crushed Revolver 15-8!

Sub Zero: Dark horse semis qualifier. Roster isn’t exactly under the radar, but the team has been. They were actually really good last year and Chesapeake wasn’t a fluke. They may have played their best ultimate that weekend, but they also showed up and played quite well at Nationals. They’ve upgraded at a few positions and should be, quietly, a dangerous team.

Ironside: My pick to disappoint. Something seems a bit off in Boston right now after the Whitecaps MLU season. Lots of Ironside on that team, and they were just off all year. Drops, miscues, struggles for the defense. Obviously, they are a much different team than Ironside, but some of the key contributors to Ironside’s success might just be past their prime. The loss of Peter Prial could also be a real challenge for them.

Revolver: Picture of consistency. Semis, no problem. Finals? We’ll see.

PoNY: Down year for the New York squad after a very good 2013.

Machine: This may be Machine’s best year to date. The Madison pickups are a bigger deal than many may realize. They need some focused coaching and a little bit more flexibility in their approach. But they have the best talent they’ve had in years.

Fury: They’ll be back in the finals.

Riot: Very high on Riot this year if they can stay healthy.

Scandal: Will have to adjust to the adjustments their opponents will bring. Plenty of talent, but will they lack that same hunger this season?

Brute Squad: May have some chemistry problems after another year with big turnover and lots of new faces. But the talent is unquestionably there.

All other Women’s teams: I’d be surprised to see anyone else in the semis this year, honestly.

Q: How seriously are teams going to take the US Open? What about the Pro-Elite Challenge (Chesapeake Invite)?

– Alan T.

A: Last year, the US Open was really a bizarre experience. Teams brought skeleton crews, ran wide open rotations, and didn’t really seem to care too much about winning or losing. Certainly the allure of winning the Triple Crown Tour was just not there.

The US Open this year should be more intriguing, just because of the roster changes and Worlds on the horizon. But, still, October ultimate it is not. And Pro-Elite Challenge — featuring teams that aren’t trying to peak in four weeks — may be even more of a sloppy, development-focused tournament.

Perhaps not. The teams know that the Series is moving to the summer very soon, and may recognize that the opportunities for high-level ultimate are so limited later in the summer that they have to take advantage now. But some teams haven’t even set a roster. Truck Stop (Washington DC) is using the Pro-Elite Challenge as a tryout tournament!

It’s not ideal for spectators, and it shows the inherent tension between the more spectator-focused stylings of the Triple Crown Tour and the player-focused singular focus: winning Nationals. The prize money isn’t enough to matter; the prestige of winning the TCT pales in comparison to winning a National title.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    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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