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On Winning, Losing, And Confidence: An Interview With Josh “Cricket” Markette

Learn more about Ironside, big game pressure, pro ultimate, the lifestyle of ultimate, and more in this interview with the veteran handler Josh Markette.

Photo: Kevin Leclaire -- UltiPhotos.com
Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

This past winter, I sat down with Josh “Cricket” Markette, a veteran Boston Ironside player, a 2009 National champion with Atlanta Chain Lightning, a 2015 Major League Ultimate champion with the Boston Whitecaps, and a possible future hall of famer. We had a wide-ranging conversation about his background, his time playing for Ironside, and what ultimate has meant to him.

Below is a lightly edited transcription of our conversation.

UW: I want to start by asking about your general frisbee background. When did you start playing? Where did you start playing? And how has your career evolved, for those that don’t know?

JM: I started playing in ’94, I believe it was, at Paideia. That was the first time I started playing organized, competitive, traveling ultimate. I was a freshman at Paideia. I remember that first year we were pretty ragtag and full of energy.

We would play in the Women’s Division a lot even though we were guys for the most part. I played those four years at Paideia. And after that, I didn’t really go straight to college like most kids; I regret it. I never really played on an organized college team.

I played on Georgia State for two years. We kind of just threw a team together and did OK. College was the one thing I never got to experience as far as frisbee goes. And then it wasn’t long before…the Chain guys were talking and saying, ‘You should come out.’ I never really thought that I was obviously of that…I remember watching those guys play. ’Wow, these guys are insane. They’re unbelievable, they’re men, they’re freaking athletes, they’re diving all over the place and they’re so much better.

I remember going to a tryout in ’99 or 2000 and didn’t just…I don’t know if you know Bug — Greg Alpo. I remember I turned upfield for a flick and he foot blocked and hand blocked me at the same time. And I remember just thinking, ‘Jesus Christ.’ They were all so good.

It was a tough practice, much more training-centric than high school was. I’m sure I had a good time but I never thought I could run with those guys and I never considered myself as someone they would be wanting or interested in. So I kinda never went back, at least that year.

One year, Chain Lightning changed its name to Atlas. A group of guys left; some new guys came in. They were basically taking a lot of different people. And I ended up joining that team. That lasted for one year and then they went back to Chain Lightning. I’ve been on that team ever since, until ’09 of course.

I remember Chain was a really bad team back then; I remember not making Nationals. I remember our first time making Nationals. It was just…the best feeling of all time. Some sweet, really good players on that team that I really enjoyed playing with. It was just an exciting time.

Of course we got our asses kicked. But we gradually went up from there. We made it every year after that. I think I’ve been to, I don’t know, like 14, a bunch of consecutive Nationals. That’s a pretty cool thing.

Eventually we ended up at the pinnacle. We won it in ’09, right when I moved out to Boston. So I played with Chain in ’09 even though I was living in Boston, and then I switched it up the next year. I’ve been on Ironside ever since. This is my fifth year.

And that’s been great. It’s been a great experience, the whole thing from the beginning to the end. It’s been a wild ride of friends and travel and athletics and competition. I guess that’s it in a nutshell.

I definitely want to come back and talk more about Chain. You mentioned that in the early years in high school that you guys were a ragtag bunch of kids. And you weren’t necessarily sure that you were going to be able to compete with Chain. When did you start to develop into the player that you are now, in terms of having what are widely considered to be what are some of the best throws in the game and great field vision?

Did that come from an early age? Did you feel that you were instantly able to see the field and have a natural aptitude for the game? Or was this a long journey of hard work and it took you years of club to get there?

So, I remember one of the first practices of Paideia. Maybe the first.

I remember picking up frisbees with Moses [Rifkin] and myself and Kyle [Weisbrod]. Specifically, me and Mo. We just picked it up and we just started throwing it and it was no problem. We were throwing flicks, we were throwing backhands. All the other crazy throws came along pretty shortly like hammers and what not. It was crazy.

To think back on that now — I’ve coached for six years — I’ve seen people picking up frisbees for the first time. There are players that pick it up and just go. And it flies flat and straight and nice. Me and Moses, we were those two guys.

There were other people that took a little longer. Obviously everybody was good at it. We had a really good team if you look back at it.

I remember, offense just made sense. I’ve played organized sports for my entire life since I was four. And it just made sense. All the field sense, all the throwing — it all came very naturally to me.

I would say the difference between me now and me then — besides experience — is confidence. The confidence was never there for the first 10 years. Even when I was on Chain and even when I was winning the National Championship. I was never like, ‘Oh, I’m the man. Or I could be the man. Or I should be the man.’

I never really considered myself one of the top players, even on that team. I mean, that team was sick.

The real change came when I was confident. And not that I was that much better after that, but, I guess, it was something that it was really lacking. And it felt like that was a very pivotal moment in my career.

When you say that was a pivotal moment, do you mean winning a National Championship?

No it wasn’t that. It was the first year of the [MLU’s Boston] Whitecaps. It’s so bizarre because I hadn’t even decided to play. I remember going into that season thinking, ‘This will be fun, we won’t take it too seriously.’

But that season I feel like I was one guy going in and a totally different guy coming out. And I never expected that.

Winning the National Championship with Chain, making it to the finals the next two years with Ironside. You know, I was a starter on the O-line ever since I’ve been on these top teams. I like to be involved as much as possible, but I never thought that I’m the go-to guy. Because I never really was.

We had a thrower that was our go to guy, like Matt Rebholz. We had cutters that were our go to cutters — AJ [Tiarsmith] and Dylan [Tunnell]. Or Jeff Graham and Peter Prial on Boston.

I never felt like I was on that level. But then after that first season of Whitecaps I started to think, that’s possible. I could be considered in that category of player.

MLU's Boston Whitecaps' Josh Markette. Photo: Marshall Goff -- UltiPhotos.com
MLU’s Boston Whitecaps’ Josh Markette. Photo: Marshall Goff — UltiPhotos.com

One thing that’s interesting about that is that even now people look at Ironside and they say, “George Stubbs.” Or maybe two years ago it was, “Peter Prial.” But we actually picked you as a 1st Team All-Club selection two years ago in 2013.

There were multiple reasons for that, but one of them was that that was the year we were doing a lot more advanced statistical work. And we continued to see that you were coming out on top of the offensive numbers for Ironside at pretty much every tournament.

Of course, this also happens to be right after the first season of the Whitecaps. Are those things linked? Do you feel like that was deserved praise at that point? It’s very interesting to hear that you didn’t feel like you were ‘the guy’ until then and for us to have picked you that particular year as one of the top seven in the country.

Did that come as a surprise or did that feel like, “Hey, I earned that!”?

To be honest, it came as an utter shock to me. And probably still it’s one of the most flattering things anyone has ever said about me, as far as my play. It was a complete shock.

When you talk about the numbers, I thought about those numbers and it made sense. Everyone on Chain used to say, ‘Oh we couldn’t have won without you.’ Or shit like that.

The top two players on offense on the team, they said, was me or [Greg] Swanson. I didn’t know if I believed that, but I had always thought that I’m a great role player. I kind of do a lot of things to keep it in our possession but I’m not the flashiest player. So at some point I said maybe that’s kinda just who I am.

But I guess when I saw those numbers, I knew…well who’s responsible for the most yards? Well I’m always the guy to cut first. So clearly I’m gonna get yards every play. Some guys don’t get to touch the disc every play, and I pretty much touch it every play.

So on some level I said, ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense. I’m involved in a lot of these plays.’ But I certainly never thought that I was responsible for that high of a percentage of total yards and that important to the team.

But I do think it’s linked to that pivotal experience I had with Whitecaps where I considered myself a guy who could and maybe should try to take over and win games for us. Even if it wasn’t in the flashy Peter Prial or Jeff Graham style. So yeah, I think it’s absolutely linked to that.

What about that Whitecaps first year and that experience seemed to open that door for you?

It was a couple things. So, Jeff Graham for the first half of the season was the star. He was the stud of the team; he was the stud of the league. He was going to win MVP by a landslide. And then I remember one game he came to me — because I’m an athletic trainer and strength coach — he comes to me and he says, ‘My hammy.’ He basically tells me he’s got a pulled [hamstring]. He’s halfway through the season and we’re in Philly.

I try to do what I can to help him out. But he was not the same guy in the second half of the year. And I guess people just kind of fill in. And I remember that game: I had a great game.

And I did all sorts of different things, great things. The season kept kind of going on in that vein for the rest of the year, culminating in the final, where I just blew up and had another great game when it most mattered.

It was probably the point total thing, where I was high up there in the total [goals and assists and blocks] in the league. You follow those things as a player. You dream about that kind of accomplishment. But you never actually think that’s going to happen, at least not to someone like me.

When it did, I was completely blown away. And it was an eye-opening moment for me. And it helped put my name in that category of player that is capable of doing that kind of thing on a consistent basis. And it wasn’t a fluke. I was able to do it consistently that entire year. Enough so that I was able to score the most points on my team, which was star-studded.

I guess that what it boils down to: the unfortunate Jeff Graham hamstring leading to someone having to come in and score points.

I want to go back to 2009 when Chain Lightning won the title. Obviously, you’ve won an MLU title. But that’s the only USA Ultimate title that you’ve won.

What was that experience like? And going from that and playing on a team that is consistently considered a team that has a real chance to win but not having won it again over the last four years?

I would love to hear a little bit about what it was like to win. Is it disappointing now that you’ve reached that pinnacle and haven’t been able to get back?

So the win…it was unreal. It was still the most nervous I’ve ever been in a game, by far. Well maybe with the exception of that Ring game this year at Nationals. [laughter] That was more insanity and frustration and everything boiling over. This was just the most nervous I had been.

I didn’t think I could catch the frisbee when it was thrown to me. I remember catching a goal and having to look down and make sure it was in my hands. I was just on edge for that entire game. It was not fun to play in, which I regret. So winning, inevitably, was just this enormous relief.

I remember being on the field and when Dylan caught the goal, I was just glad for it to be over. Which sucks, but that’s just the way it is. And then, the worse part about it is, I hung out for half an hour after the game, got my award, took the little picture thing. Before we could even clear the field and figure out what the next move was, I had to leave and go to the airport and fly back home to Boston.

So I couldn’t stick around, I couldn’t celebrate. I wasn’t in Atlanta after that to hang out with the trophy. I mean, Atlanta is the best social ultimate scene. So those guys, I know, were having the time of their lives and bringing the trophy everywhere and just having a ball. I missed all that stuff. I never even got a picture with the trophy or hang out with the trophy or have my day with it like everyone else.

But, obviously, the main thing is I got it, we did it. It’s the crowning achievement of my career so far. But that was kind of a little interesting twist to it for me personally.

So moving to Boston, the first year on the team, I remember thinking we have no chance. I remember telling guys on Chain — we have no chance of winning this thing, looking at the roster. Which is an insulting thing to say, but that was my belief. I thought it was going to take something like we had on Chain to do it again.

And we started winning games. We started winning tournaments. We go undefeated. We won ECC that year. I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is something special.’

I mean, we’re undefeated! We were 44-0 going into that game. And Revolver hadn’t won yet so I remember thinking, ‘This is ours for the taking.’ Everybody thought that. And then the next year we made it again, and we lost in the finals again to Revolver.

And what was the next year? Semis out against Doublewide. And then semis out against Sockeye. And then now, we lose in the finals again.

That’s insanely frustrating. The first year was fine. I was surprised; I was happy to be there.

The second year was very frustrating, but, hey, I’ve played in three finals in a row.

And basically the last three have been utterly heartbreaking, knowing that we could have been in that final game and come out on top. I’m starting to think about the fact that I may never get another one. And it’s everything you think it would be. It’s frustrating, it’s sad, it’s disheartening. It doesn’t seem fair.

This team I’ve been with — they work as hard as anybody. And you see these guys bouncing around from team to team winning championships with different cities. And, you know, you don’t really care about that, but it has to cross your mind. It’s gotta piss you off a little bit. But what are you gonna do? You can’t really do anything about it. You gotta try again next year. You gotta say all the right things and do all the right things. And hopefully you’ll get another chance in the following year.

But to answer your question, it’s very difficult to walk away from those last games not winning. It sucks.

Has it taken a toll on the team do you think? It’s been a super consistent team for the last three or four years, not turning over a lot of guys. And especially this one — you almost blow it against Ring, and then you win. And then it’s like, OK, can Ironside do it this year?

You were up in the game, your defense had gotten some breaks. But you couldn’t get over the hump once again. Is it starting to take its toll, on you or on the team?

Josh "Cricket" MarketteYeah. Yes. You have to start thinking…I know I have been thinking: is it in the cards? That thought crossed my mind every time. I remember thinking in the semis in the Doublewide game and in the Sockeye game. Oh my god, we couldn’t get it last year. You put it so much pressure on yourself and I think the team does itself.

And you can’t not think about that last year. You just can’t. Unless you train yourself not to, I think everybody out there is worrying about losing again. They’re worried about losing the big game.

I think if you look at the semis against Doublewide, if you look at the game against Sockeye. We didn’t play the way we had been playing up to that game. I think the pressure builds so much that you have to be so strong-willed to be able to get through it and not make those mistakes that you are not accustomed to making.

I think everybody gets into that zone and starts thinking about those things when the game is on such a big stage. I think, yes, Ironside does that more than others. At least I know I do. Perhaps because we have a history of it!

We’re the best team on paper. If you look at our stats and all of the wins and losses and how we’ve maintained our excellence over the course of the last six or seven years, but we’re the only team that can’t do it. And I think that creeps into people’s minds. I can say for sure mine. It definitely is something that I think about.

And I worry that it is getting stronger and stronger. And it will until we win.

If you look at the team, you’ve got a lot of guys that are getting older. You probably have some guys that are going to turn over this year — it’s been so strong over three years. And you’re coming towards the tail end of what are most people’s Men’s Division career, in terms of age.

Do you have another season? And I don’t necessarily mean you personally, but has the window passed? Are you worried about that?

Absolutely. There’s no question; I’m absolutely worried about it. I was worried about it when Will Neff left, when Jeff Graham left, when Colin left. I’m worried about it now: Russell Wallack and George Stubbs. Among other big names on our team: Jamie Quella, Seth Reinhardt. We’re going to be without a number of guys. This might be the biggest turnover yet.

So, absolutely. I’m absolutely worried about what we’re going to look like next year, and if we’re going to be strong enough to compete and get back to the final game.

But I’ve worried about that every single year. And every single year [coach Josh] McCarthy has put together a really good team. And the way that we practice and we create this team mentality and team first and trying to live in the moment: It always comes out with a hell of a product. You can’t deny that.

We’ve had our ups and downs as far as personnel changes and injuries, but we’ve always competed for a championship. And I don’t think that’s going to change this year. But I’m a guy that worries by nature and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about that stuff.

I would love to hear about some of the great moments of your career. Whether it’s a particular season, or a particular game, or a particular play.

The best play I ever made: I was marking Steven Poulos on the goalline, on his own goal line. And I had a pretty good mark on and he was trying to switch and pivot. And he tries to throw a little floaty backhand, high backhand to break the mark. I basically just block it, but as it’s floating to the ground, I run, I layout, and I catch the disc and tap it in the goal for a Callahan.

That was at a really fun tournament down in Savannah, so it wasn’t a huge crowd, it wasn’t a huge accomplishment. But just the fact that it was Steven makes it that much sweeter. Because that guy was real difficult to play against. That one felt good.

I got a sweet layout block against Revolver in the finals, double game point at ECC. I got a layout hand block — it was on video. That was pretty sick, we went down right afterwards and scored.

The game against Ring was just absurd. I don’t know how to describe it, just because I’ve never played in anything like it. I’ve always had this nervous energy when I play, but usually it’s good. I’m never happy with a 9-5 lead or whatever we had [Editor’s Note: It was an 11-6 lead.] Especially in a game like that, where it’s win or go home.

Once they started coming back…I’ve never been so frustrated at my own team, which isn’t good. And the sun goes down, the crowd’s getting bigger. The crowd starts to shift on you. The momentum is clearly, clearly not in your favor. You start to just…all those doubts, they start to creep in. You’re on edge — you feel like you’re about to develop a stomach ulcer before the game is over. It’s the worst, it’s the worst feeling to be in the game.

And the kid got hurt — Nethercutt. That was a freaky, freaky incident with blood gushing out of his eye. And back and forth, and then that final point that took like 20 minutes. I’ll never play in a more bizarre game, in a more tension-filled game, in a crazier game.

I remember having the disc on the goal line, where I’m usually money. Like I want the disc there, I’m not going to turn it over. I’m going to throw a goal nine times out of 10. And I couldn’t manage to throw a backhand to the in cut. It was just…ugh, it was the worst. I don’t know what the best moment was, but that was one of the most stressful that I was glad I was a part of.

I can always say it was amazing to win that game, but I wouldn’t say it was fun by any means.

Were you aware of the crowd loudly booing as the Ring guys were hyping them and booing themselves?

I kind of wasn’t! I was really just trying to get my team to stop hucking it. We could have almost just run the clock out if we had just played normal small ball. And we just kept hucking it right out of the gate. And it never worked!

I was beside myself about our decisions leading up to that.

And Ring was just getting the crowd on their side, which you have to love as a fan. You don’t like Ring, but whatever they can do to get you to like them — give them credit, that was smart. That was awesome. They definitely had the crowd booing for them, or against them, who knows? But it gave them the momentum. And it felt like the crowd was in their corner and cheering for them.

And everybody I talked to after was like: that was the greatest game I have ever seen. And I kind of surprised because it was sloppy and I felt like it was long and drawn out with tons of stoppages. But I think Ring had a lot to do with that with their little scheme with the boos. It was smart and it worked.

It seemed like watching from the sideline that it was just another time for Ironside to lose their composure in a big game. And obviously that didn’t completely happen but that had to be in your mind, right? You had to be thinking, ‘Oh God, here we go again.’

I wouldn’t say it didn’t happen. Of course it was in my mind. I thought we had lost the game; I thought the game was over multiple times. And I would absolutely not say that we kept our composure.

I think we were fortunate to pull that out. I think we completely shit our pants. I mean, that’s what we do. That’s what Ironside has done.

We actually played a good game against Sockeye when we played last year in the semis. We played a good game. Sockeye just happened to play the game of the tournament, of their lives. They played nearly perfect.

But Doublewide: we didn’t play our system. We tried to switch it up. And we didn’t really stick with it. And if you look at the Johnny Bravo game and the Ring game, the same thing.

When you have one mistake, it’s contagious. Something happens. Something happens and they start to pile up. I don’t know if people start to feel like it’s ok to get loose because that guy did it or if it’s contagious for another reason.

And it happens at practice. We’ll have a perfect practice. The O-line is smooth. And it happens all the time. One turnover leads to two, leads to five, leads to the D just crushed us out of nowhere. It’s always in the back of my mind. When is it gonna happen? When are we gonna do it? When are we going to start crumbling and get out of our system and when is the tide going to start to turn again?

That’s probably a bad way to look at it, but I can’t help but think that way.

It seems, though, that even as a bit of pessimist, you don’t seem to shy away from the moment. Everybody has turnovers, but you mentioned earlier that in the Chain 2009 National Championship game, you didn’t even know what was going on and you were just playing. And then you were able to step up in the MLU game.

Does that sort of nervousness help you stay focused and play well? Do you feel like you have a problem with choking? Or is it that it motivates you to stay on top of your game?

I definitely still get nervous, but it’s not like it was in the ’09 Chain game. It helps that I’m hyper-focused. I’m energetic. My desire is as strong as it ever will be.

I’m already aware of what I’m there to do. So I just kind of go and do it now. Where it hurts me is with taking big chances. Maybe I’m a guy that a coach or teammate would want taking chances in a big situation.

But when it comes to the finals or lose-and-go-home, tight game, stiff pressure from the D, turnovers are so valuable, I’m not going to be the guy to take a huge chance. I’m not going to huck the disc. There must be a couple of examples, but I don’t huck the frisbee in a game like that. I don’t throw deep in a game like that.

Stubbsy is going to pick up the rock and jack a 90 yard flick and he’s going to do that a couple times a game. Whether it’s complete or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to affect him as much.

The turnovers are so valuable to me in that situation that it makes me kind of tighten up and play a lot more conservative, which I don’t necessarily love about myself. That’s where it kind of comes to hurt me. I want to get out of that, but that’s where I’m at right now. It’s just so valuable and I don’t want to give it away.

But I am in the point of my life — I love that situation. I love being in that, I love the fans being there, I love having a crowd, I love the moment being big, and I love showing up for that. But I tighten up enough to where I’m not going to play that low percentage huck, I guess. Or I might look off a guy who is a little bit open but I’m not 100% sure that guy is going to catch the disc.

That may or may not be a bad thing, but I look at it like something that I want to change.

Let’s zoom out a little bit: what has ultimate meant to you? You’ve been playing for a very long time. You have a Men’s Division career that is longer than most. You’ve been playing for what, 14 years, in high level club? What has playing the sport and being a part of the community meant to your life?

Oh man, I don’t even know if I can put that into words. I don’t know. It’s kind of been the most important thing to me for the last…since I started playing. I remember playing at Junior Worlds in Sweden. And I remember playing in that tournament, loving every minute and every second of every day.

Everybody in ultimate — they’re educated, they’re smart, they’re funny, they’re laid back. You’re hanging out with all these great people.

Ultimate…it means everything. I’d put it first. I’d put it above the job. I’d put above everything else aside from my wife, I guess, I mean obviously. It’s always been the #1 important thing to do. Weekends — I find that life is good when you have something to look forward to.

If you don’t have something to look forward to, then that week sucks or that day sucks. But with frisbee I’ve always had something to look forward to. There’s always a fun tournament coming up or there’s always a practice I’m going to love coming up. Or there’s goaltimate every Sunday — I always look forward to it.

It’s given me goals, it’s given me an outlet for my creativity or my energy or whatever it is. I don’t think anything else could have done it — soccer wouldn’t have done it, basketball wouldn’t have done it. Two sports that I loved playing growing up. But ultimate is clearly different. I’m not even sure if I can even put it into words any better.

How many more years do you think you’re going to play at the elite club or pro level?

I plan on playing Ironside until I can’t anymore. Until I can’t be a main cog, a main asset to the team. If I can start on the O-line and be a guy that can contribute to winning, then I’m going to be on the team.

It’s hard to say. I may end up playing a year where that doesn’t happen. Because I didn’t realize it in time. But as soon as I realize that I’ll probably take a step back and start enjoying my life in other ways.

But I would say I’ll play this year. My body feels great. Perhaps another pivotal moment was when I moved up to Boston and went back to school and started learning how to train and take care of my body and fix injuries. That changed me into a completely different player as well. In fact, it kind of coincides with the whole confidence thing. I’ve slowly been accumulating knowledge on how to train.

I feel like I’ve been able to lengthen my career and continue to be quick and explosive in certain ways. Hopefully, that will carry on. I mean, look at Jim Parinella. He comes out and plays goalty with us. The guy is a freak! He still runs like a deer! He’s 48 years old and he’s got the stride length of a sprinter in college. It’s crazy.

I don’t think I’ll be like him. I think he’s just naturally gifted and athletic and blessed. But I do think as a result of my small stature, I don’t have a ton of weight, I don’t have any knee or joint problems, I don’t have a ton of force going through these joints like a lot of these other guys do. If I keep training, I think I can get two or three more good years, perhaps.

I don’t know — Trey Katzenbach is 42 [Editor’s Note: He’s 45.]. I don’t think I’d want to play that long, but I think maybe another two or three years. But if we win this year, or if we’d won last year, it might have been a good time to hang it up.

Here’s a random question: where’d you get the nickname Cricket?

I got the nickname from a guy named Grant Cashin. He’s an Atlanta guy that played on Atlas. It was my first year on Atlas, which is Chain. He’s one of the funniest guys — there’s a group of guys from Atlanta that were just…If you played with them, if you took a road trip with them, you just wouldn’t stop laughing, ever. My face would hurt. It got to the point where if I see them I start laughing, I start smiling because they were just so great. Cashin was one of these guys. He was silly and was giving guys nicknames in the van: We rented a van to drive to DC.

So he says everyone should have a nickname. So he said everyone’s got to have a nickname in this category. And when he came up with the animal category, he said everyone’s got to have an animal nickname. And he said, “Josh what’s your animal nickname?”

And I told him there was a play in high school that Kyle used to call where he would jack it to me deep and it was called Jiminy Cricket.

It’s not a great story, but it is a great nickname. I feel it kinda seems to fit. I’m small, I used to be pretty quick. Ever since then it’s kinda stuck. I guess that means it was meant to be.

I want to ask you a couple of questions, both related to playing ultimate for a long time but also about being a personal trainer. For players who are of a smaller stature who want to excel, what do they need to know? If you’re giving up a few inches to your defender, what do you need to know?

I think number one is to be comfortable with body contact. You can neutralize a guy if he doesn’t get that momentum, if he doesn’t get that step into a frisbee.

The first thing I do if there’s a hang ball and there’s a guy coming up behind me, whether he’s smaller or taller, I’m going to go get contact. I’m going to put my body between him and the frisbee and not let him do what he wants to do, which is just jump over you. And that’s worked remarkably well for me.

I saw [Josh] Ziperstein do this so many times. And Zip’s a guy that can go up and jump over a guy who’s taller than him. But it’s so smart to do this because now the guy has to go through to try to get the D.

So that’s a big one: body position. Boxing out, I guess, for lack of a better word. And being comfortable with that contact and establishing your position.

Muffin’s got great throws, but when he throws it to me deep, he almost always hangs it up there. I think it’s because he’s nervous — he doesn’t want to put it too far because I’m not quick enough to catch up to it. So he tries to put it perfect, but so many times, he just hangs it up there. So that’s what I’m forced to do: I’m forced to put a body in there and not let the guy get good position.

So that’s what I’d say to the little guy.

And I’m always a huge proponent of throws. You’ve got to have quick releases. You’ve got to be able to release the disc from different heights, high, low. It’s a small ball game, that’s the smaller guy game. That’s kind of what I do.

From a fitness perspective — I’m sure you work a little bit with some of your teammates in Boston — what do you see as some of the big things that people should be working to correct in terms of the way that they train for ultimate?

I don’t really know. I know Tim Morrill would probably have something to say here.

I would say — I don’t know if it’s right — but generally the thing that I find with athletes is that they lack glute strength, hip strength. People really on their hamstrings and hip flexors a lot. But their glutes could usually use work.

A lot of the main lifts in strength training involve powerlifting and olympic lifting. Squatting, deadlifting, hang cleans — they’re all designed to strengthen your hips. They’re full body workouts, all of them, but they’re really centered on the hips. If you do them right, you’ll get a phenomenal hip workout.

So I guess I would say, to keep it simple, glute strength. But I don’t know if that’s the best answer. There’s probably all sorts of asymmetries that people have — tight on one side versus the other. I address everybody on the individual case, so it’s kind of hard to generalize that.

Especially with running sports, usually people’s glutes are not strong enough, their quads are probably a little too strong, and their hammies could use a little strengthening as well.

A couple of little quick hit things: who are some of the best players you’ve had to go up against?

[Johnny Bravo’s] Ryan Farrell, most recently. He guarded me. The few times I’ve gotten to play against him, it’s always been a fun matchup. He’s always a tough, tough matchup matchup for me.

[Revolver’s] Sam Kanner. I’ve had a lot of experience playing against Sam Kanner. He’s just tireless — a tireless worker. He’s great at body positioning and he’s going to lay out for everything. To get open on that guy, I remember having to work really hard every time. And I feel like he did a good job nullifying what I wanted to do.

I’m trying to think…guys with the tough marks. I know that they’re out there, but I don’t feel like I can think of one right now.

Obviously, [Bravo’s] Jimmy Mickle. I’ve never played against him, but Jimmy was a nightmare for our team. He was just…he was in beast mode the whole time. He was unstoppable. It was like if Beau [Kittredge] tried all the time. That’s what Jimmy Mickle was to that team. And, potentially, with better throws. So a Beau, with better throws, who actually tried the whole time. That’s who Jimmy Mickle kind of was.

And that’s not meant to be a shot at Beau. But I feel like he does kind of take…he does the bare minimum to be effective. And obviously that’s always been more than enough. Because he’s so athletic and so smart.

Everyone says [Bravo’s] Kurt [Gibson] had a really great game and a really great tournament. I don’t doubt it. But I guess I was a little bit more impressed with Jimmy for some reason. I probably just didn’t pay too much attention to Kurt.

But I’d say Farrell. Farrell is a great, great defender.

Who else is out there? Who else is someone who would guard me? Byron Liu — you know that kid from Chain? Byron Liu, he’s a tough one to go up against.

It’s the handler defenders, really. The good, good handler defenders. I don’t know who the best ones are on the planet. Those three are probably the toughest for me because they know me and they’ve played against me and they know how to play against me.

You could give me a good handler defender and if he’s never played against me, I’ll probably get the better of him. That’s what I feel — that’s my experience.

But those kids, man. All those guys — they know me and they know what I want to do. And they make it really tough. They really do.

What’s your take on the current state of ultimate? We’ve got the pro leagues, we’ve got the new changes to the USA Ultimate Series, ever-increasing amounts of media. Do you like playing in the pro leagues? Do you think it’s something you think can last?

I think it can last, I do. I think there’s a market for ultimate. There’s a market for damn near everything. We’re lucky enough to live in a country where people have expendable income and they’re interested in watching sports. It might be slow — it’s probably going to be fairly slow — but I think there’s a chance that it could thrive.

The thing that I like is the exposure. People that would never have know about frisbee or heard about it now know about it because it’s been on ESPN. And that’s basically, then, the pro leagues. I think — do we all agree that it started when the pro leagues started filming everything? It wasn’t that it wasn’t happening, it was just that everybody got to see it.

They put a lot into organizing games and getting fans there and making it look good. If that wasn’t the case, then it wouldn’t have made it.

The part that I do miss is that kind of laid-back vibe that you’d get when you’d go play at Poultry Days or Mudbowl or all these fun, fun tournaments. It feels like it’s turning a little corporate at times.

I don’t want that to disappear. I don’t want that part of it to be lost to history. I don’t want the kids that are playing now to turn it into — or have it turned into for them — just another competitive sport where people get pissed at each other. We have plenty of those — we have plenty of other sports like that.

The thing that I loved about ultimate and that made me love it was going to tournaments. And no matter what the tournament, it’s just a fun social scene. And I’m worried that that’s going to get lost.

Speaking of getting pissed at each other, you were very heated at the end of your loss to Buzz Bullets at Worlds. That was a big tournament and I’m sure you guys had high aspirations as usual. What was that game like and did you come away from it thinking things needed to change?

I mean, that was a really great game to play in from beginning to end. I felt like we played great. We got broken three of the last four points, so another classic Ironside meltdown. Obviously that was something I was worried about throughout the game, such a tight game, an elimination game.

Good game, all in all. So many exciting plays.

I guess the thing that pissed me off was that it did seem like those were bad calls. The two calls in particular: the one where Russell got a D and the one where Muffin got a D. To me, from where I was sitting and from the replays, they looked like bad calls that were simply called to gain an advantage.

This is unsubstantiated, but there’s a feeling among the players that some of the Japanese teams pretend not to understand English when it’s convenient for them. And I don’t know if that’s true or not, honestly. But I do know that there was no communication about those calls. There was no back and forth. It was just — I’m making a call, that’s the end of it.

Maybe you point to WFDF and the way that the handle disputes like that, basically by not handling them. Maybe that’s the problem. I would have been much happier in that game if there were observers. But that’s kind of the feeling that I had.

And I don’t know those guys. I will never know those guys, because I don’t speak Japanese and I don’t know where they’re coming from. But if that was an American team, it would have been…it felt like they were making bad calls to help them win the game.

So I was totally pissed off because of that. I wish I didn’t get so pissed. But it’s hard not to — that was a big game. I don’t know, man. I really, really wanted to win that. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be back to another Worlds.

Do you think I overreacted? Do you think that I should have been more — this is the kind of thing that happens all the time, like I shouldn’t take it so personally?

Oh, I have no idea. I certainly understand why you would come away from that game feeling frustrated. Especially the way that it ended.

I don’t know those guys. I don’t want to say that they were cheating. But it seemed like those were bad calls. It seemed like they were obviously bad calls. It seemed like if you’ve been playing frisbee for that long, you should know that that’s a bad call.

The guy — the one with Muffin — immediately grabbed his back and pointed to his back, like, you hit me in the back. But then he changed his story to, you hit me in the arm. I mean, to me, that’s like you’re looking for something here. You’re looking for something that you can argue.

It just felt like we get screwed, and it still feels that way. I guess I shouldn’t have gotten so pissed, but that’s kind of the way it went down.

  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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