The Minnesota Ninjas, Drag'n Thrust, and US Women's National Team star talks college, mixed, and international ultimate.
May 19, 2016 by Charlie Enders in Interview, Sponsored with 2 comments
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Sarah Anciaux was one of the most dominant players in the college division this spring with the Minnesota Ninjas. And little surprise. As a two-time national champion with Drag’n Thrust, a 1st Team All-Club performer, and a member of the US Women’s National Team, she has a resumé few college players ever have been able to match.
Ultiworld recently sat down with Anciaux to discuss how she became involved in the sport, her college career, the upcoming WUGC tournament this summer, and what else the future may hold for her. Here is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.
UW: How did you get into ultimate?
SA: I started playing in 2011 because my fiancé (fellow Drag’n Thrust player Patty King) made me play. I didn’t want to play sports anymore. I played basketball in college, ran track, and was super committed — you know, six days a week practicing — and after that I was like “I’m done with sports” and took a year off, got really fat, and then Patty was like “you’re going to Ninja practice” and I was like “What are the Ninjas?” and then I just showed up at practice and that’s pretty much it.
It’s interesting, because I know a lot of people in college ultimate have high school experience, but it’s not necessary for you to be good. The sport’s got a steep learning curve but you can pick it up and get into it really easily.
Yeah. And if you’ve played any sport your whole life, the things you learn from like how to be an athlete and see the field or court or whatever, it is is a very easy transfer and it’s a lot easier to pick up stuff after you’ve learned one sport. It’s like languages. You learn one language, it’s a lot easier to pick up and learn more.
Do you like ultimate more than the other sports you’ve played?
Yes. A lot more. I mean, I love playing basketball and I like track a lot, but it’s so much more cut-throat, and even on my team people would be at each other’s throats at practices. In ultimate, you just don’t have that. In ultimate, it’s like everyone actually likes each other. I wish I would’ve started playing earlier, because it’s so much fun.
Well you still have how many years of college eligibility left?
I have one left, but I will probably graduate in the fall. Hopefully (laughs).
Well, the Ninjas will definitely miss you.
Yeah. I mean, we graduated like 15 girls this year or something? I don’t know, I made up 15, but it’s a lot. But the freshman are really good, so I think it’ll be good for them to just lose everyone so they can build their own team.
I was at [North Central] Regionals. That was a pretty brutal way to go out. Obviously you’re disappointed about it, but what are your other thoughts on the way the season ended?
Yeah. I think our team was really good, and I think we definitely had the ability to go to Nationals and to do well at Nationals, but we definitely shot ourselves in the foot. I don’t know if it was the inexperience of the team, because half our team was pretty inexperienced players. Even our seniors — a lot of them haven’t played Club. Our main thing, I thought, was we just couldn’t bust Carleton’s defense. Only a few people could figure it out and people couldn’t pick it up fast enough, and that kind of stuff only comes with experience.
Yeah. And I don’t know if you guys got down on yourselves or anything, but that kind of stuff can snowball really easily.
We were definitely shocked the first couple points, because Carleton came out gunning. I think we just underestimated them. The whole year, the coaches and I were like, “It’s Carleton, they’re gonna show up for the Series.” I just think a lot of people weren’t prepared for that, or just expected them to roll over for us. And they didn’t.
You guys had a great regular season, too.
Yeah, we were really good. Our defense was amazing, our offense looked phenomenal compared to the last few years, and it just didn’t come together in the end. And we told the young ones that, you know, this feels like crap, but this is what you’re training for now.
Let’s move on to some of your other ultimate opportunities. So you had Regionals two weeks ago, and three weeks ago you had that US scrimmage against Canada. Did you go to the tournament in South America [Torneo Eterna Primavera in Medellin, Columbia] that Drag’n was just at?
No, I’ve been busy the past four weekends for USA and Ninja stuff. So it went San Francisco for a weekend, then Sectionals, then Seattle, then Regionals, and then that Drag’n tourney. I really wanted to go, but for one I couldn’t miss that much work, and I probably had to take some time to sit at home and not play frisbee (laughs).
One of the things about US national teams, at least in years past, is that they have had less experience playing with one another than some of the other countries. Even though some of the US teams, like the women’s team this year, have a core of players from only three or four club teams and clearly have a little chemistry, National teams like Canada are filled with mainly one team (Traffic) or they’ve been practicing together for months before the US teams are even selected.
Yeah. I was actually in Spain when the Spanish and Portuguese teams were being selected, and they were put together in like November! The players knew they were on the team in November and had practice weekends that everyone can go to all the time, because they can just train and hang out with one another. And, for the US teams, it’s like, “We get three weekends! Cool.”
I think some countries know that they can’t really compete with the US on the talent side, but they bank on their chemistry being superior. Which a lot of the time, it is.
Yeah. We scrimmaged Riot a few weekends back and they gave us a really good game, better than our game against Canada.
Even though you guys have some of the best Riot players on your team?
Yeah. I mean we had great Riot players and a bigger team, but we just had miscues because we’re still figuring out our offense. And they [Riot] came out really hard, I think, because some of them didn’t make the team and wanted to show that they’re just as good. Which they did, because they’re all really good (laughs).
Definitely. So is it weird going from Drag’n, a mixed team, to playing women’s?
Yeah, it’s a little weird going from mixed to women’s, and it’s weird going from college to playing against and with the best players in the country. Like at tryouts, I’d cut way too deep because I’m used to playing with men that can easily throw the disc endzone to endzone. So that was a weird transition. And as far as the college thing, I’m used to [in college] being able to break the mark relatively easily. And then all of a sudden I’m at Worlds tryouts and I get hand-blocked three times.
After the tryout, did you think you had made the team?
I was pretty confident. I played really well at tryouts. I know I looked good compared to the people around me, you know, like I was at least at their level. But then at the same time I thought I could easily not make it because literally you can just close your eyes and pick 25 people and have an amazing team. But overall I thought I had one of the best tryouts I could’ve had. The tryouts were super fun but also, like, the most painful thing ever afterwards.
When you tried out, did you say you had a preference for a certain team?
I wrote that I didn’t have a preference, but I actually really wanted to play women’s. I thought it’d be super fun, because I love playing with the Ninjas, and I also think that mixed with a club team like Drag’n is fantastic, but playing high-level mixed with a bunch of people just thrown together is really hard. The men want to do what the men want to do and likewise for the women, and sometimes that just doesn’t work out because there’s not enough cohesiveness or chemistry figured out in that short amount of time. I’ve always said I love Drag’n mixed, but other mixed is hard for me. Like summer league, even.
Especially because the mixed team has a lot of men that play open, so they might not be used to playing with women, and there’s a definite mental adjustment that has to be made when making that transition.
Yeah, and they also have a lot of women that come from just playing women’s. It’s just a very different game. You have to understand, for dudes especially, when you’re getting your guy out of the way so a woman can take over, or girls knowing where to be so you don’t get taken out by a dude (going for a disc). There’s just a lot more thought into how the cutting happens. Like on Drag’n, we have a ton of set plays that are literally designed to get our dudes out of the way so our women can take over, and a lot of mixed isn’t played that way. So when you play with that and then you go to summer league, or USA Mixed, it’s just different.
So how many more practices and scrimmages do you have left before Worlds?
We just have the DC practice weekend, which is a three day weekend. It’s the end of May, during Memorial Day weekend.
So you’ve played Canada and you’ve seen Spain’s and Portugal’s players. Knowing what you know, who do you think will be your biggest competition at Worlds?
I mean, I’m the most inexperienced person on this team (laughs), but from what I’ve heard, Canada and Japan — those are the two big ones. Australia? They’re pretty good, right?
I think so. About Japan, though, the most recent US Women’s National Team (at U23’s) lost to them in the finals. They, and their men too, have this unique style of play where, since they’re generally not tall, they do so many give-and-gos, short throws, and breaks, that it’s really hard to defend.
I’ve heard. My coaches were talking to the captains and apparently they were saying that it’s going to be hilarious to watch me play Japan.
Because you’ve never played against a team like that before?
No, because I’m friggin’ huge compared to them and they might just dink off of me [if it gets physical]!
Do you have a designated role on the National team?
I’m the deep-deep in the zone on my line. The way we’re doing it is that we have two pods of cutters, and in my pod I’m the deep. There’s no D-line or O-line, you play everything. It’s Fury, basically. As far as cutting, a lot of us are really similar cutters, so the focus is to take over when it’s your turn but get out of the way when it’s not so there’s plenty of space. It started out rough, but it has gotten a lot better the past few weeks.
Whenever I see a team you’re playing on, all I have to do is look for the hat and the gloves to find you. Is that like your trademark, or what?
I actually didn’t used to wear either of them. I love the gloves, because I sucked at throwing for my first two years, then I tried them and was like, “Oh, I have more spin, this is amazing!” And then I would start catching things where I’d be like “How did I catch that?” And so I just decided I would wear them all the time.
Is it always the same hat and same gloves?
I go through gloves so fast. I rip ’em out. I have a practice pair that pretty much have the palms completely gone, and then I have a nice tournament pair. I prefer Friction gloves, but I’ve tried them all.
So last question: What is your goal for your ultimate career? Like do you want to win a World championship?
I’ve actually never been to an international tournament with Drag’n, so yeah that’d be pretty cool. And by the way, I know it’s really cliché, but our [US Women’s National] team is just so nice and everyone is so awesome. It’s just crazy to me how inclusive everyone is an ultimate.
Yeah, I think it’s super interesting how on teams like these, pretty much everyone — at least at some time in the past — has been a leader on their team in some way. So it’s like you have a team full of relentlessly positive captains. It’s pretty awesome.
Yep, that’s very true. And I was terrified because they all know each other and no one knows who I am. I play mixed, I’ve only played for a few year… It’s like, “Who the heck is this girl?” And I’m just like, “Hi guys..?” And they’re all like “I love you!” (laughs)
Sarah Anciaux is the Camp Director for Nike Ultimate Camp at the University of Minnesota.