The intensity and skill ramped up on day two.
March 14, 2017 by Patrick Stegemoeller in News, Recap with 2 comments
DALLAS — A cold Texas morning heated up in a hurry as day two of the Team USA World Games tryouts got underway. After a muted Saturday, Sunday’s action was everything you could ask for as a neutral observer.
The stiff wind of Saturday afternoon had dissipated, but following in its wake was a chill that seemed more at home in Rockford than Dallas. Temperatures hovered around 40 degrees when the players took the field in the early morning, warming up diligently for the task ahead. The coaches elected to eschew the drills that they had opened the day with on Saturday and get right into scrimmaging in an effort to get the players up to speed right away.
“We want to see that fire today,” said assistant coach and Team USA alumnus Mike Natenberg. “We want to see people go out and seize the opportunity.”
With few players really separating themselves on day one, the coaches wanted to push the players to their limits in game-like situations. When asked how much of the picture was clear on what the roster would look like after Saturday, Natenberg said certainly less than half: “There is a lot to play for today.”
Perhaps it was the knowledge that it would be their last chance to make a case for inclusion on the roster, but something clicked for the players on Sunday morning that was not there the day prior. The intensity was evident immediately: the full field 4-v-4 scrimmaging was a world-class showcase from the outset.
With six fewer players on the field than in regulation ultimate, the spacing of 4-v-4 gives an advantage to the offense, albeit an advantage that essentially requires you to be sprinting on a near constant basis. The offenses didn’t disappoint on Sunday morning, and throws that had been sailing past their targets on Saturday were executed with perfect touch.
Opi Payne, who had a somewhat quiet weekend given her explosive potential, dialed up a scything flick to the back corner, hitting Chris Mazur perfectly in stride. That throw, an O/I fade to the back shoulder, was a perfect example of what had changed from day one to day two. If executed correctly, it is essentially unguardable, but time and time again on Saturday, players were missing with it. On Sunday, it was money, even on the cross-gender hucks that had befuddled so many players the day before.
With the offense stepping up its game, the defense was forced to do so as well. Early on, Lauren Sadler and Sarah Levinn went blow for blow, trading layout blocks in quick succession before Sadler got the last laugh by worming her way free in the endzone for the bookends score.
The morning 4-v-4 session flew by and, before long, the coaches were bringing everyone together to huddle before transitioning into full 7-v-7. The 4-v-4 scrimmages allowed players to showcase their skills; 7-v-7 let the coaches see how they can apply them.
In the huddle, the coaches stressed that they wanted to see more structure than the funhouse mirror approach to ho-stack they had seen the day before. Some of the problems from Saturday remained, particularly issues of spacing, but they were much better. This, combined with manageable winds and an increased familiarity with mixed play, produced ultimate that was impossible to take your eyes off of.
The scrimmages built from an inauspicious start to a truly thrilling spectacle. Alyssa Weatherford sent the first throw back into her own endzone after a miscommunication with Jon Nethercutt, and it seemed that maybe Saturday’s problems would linger. The focus ratcheted up from there, however, as on the following point Matt Rehder heroically chased down Simon Higgins and made a last ditch bid, just tipping away the huck and saving a goal. This was followed by an insane sequence in which Ashlin Joye, Anna Nazarov, and Nancy Haskell all made consecutive possession-saving layout grabs before Weatherford made up for her earlier error by stuffing a high release backhand break on the goal line and saving a sure score. Game on.
As the intensity ramped up, the physical toll it took on the players led to some casualties. Both Jaclyn Verzuh and Johnny Bansfield shut it down during the first round of 7-v-7 for precautionary reasons. Neither player’s health seemed to be in long term peril, but the pace of play was so high that if you couldn’t go at 100%, you were going to get left behind. Both young stars had good overall performances on the weekend, looking to be aggressive with the disc and throwing their bodies around on defense. Some of their rawness, combined with the injuries, could conspire to keep them from a spot on the roster, but they certainly acquitted themselves well.
Teams continued to push the pace in the second round of scrimmaging, and players really started getting comfortable with cross gender hucks. Raha Mozafarri had a quick trigger finger, but her throws were on point and she was more often than not was able to drop curvy flick hucks into the hands of receivers, regardless of gender.
The round ended on an emphatic note, with Kaela Jorgensen sealing victory for her team with a put down the sideline to Sam Kanner, who out-ran and out-bid Pat Shriwise for the disc several feet off the ground before tumbling into the endzone for a score.
There were still some hiccups, though, particularly when it came to communication. Cutting from the middle of the field, Jesse Shofner took a few steps under, planted hard, and tore into the deep space. Seeing the disc go up, her teammate Goose Helton perked up from one of the wings and took off after it. Shofner had steps to spare on her matchup but Goose and his defender were closing, and she got stuck between going up strong for the disc and making space for Goose to catch it. The two players ended up essentially blocking each other as the disc fell to the turf without any defenders making a play on it.
On the other end of the field, Sarah Levinn had juked out her pursuer and was wide open in the endzone, coasting in for an easy catch. Or so she thought.
Hustling up from her blind spot after peeling off his man, Trent Dillon made a spectacular bid to knock the disc out of her waiting hands. It was an incredible play by Dillon, but perhaps could have been avoided if one of Levinn’s teammates had alerted her to Dillon’s incoming presence.
Seeing some of these issues cropping up as players got tired towards the end of the day, head coach Alex Ghesquiere called for a huddle before the last round of scrimmages to refocus his athletes and get them ready for the final push.
With under an hour left in the tryout and such small margins separating the player’s standing, they were fighting for every inch on the field. In their last chance to make an impression, every matchup and play seemed to carry extra significance. Jack Hatchett just couldn’t quite get up over Jimmy Mickle to make a block and it felt like real missed opportunity. Ben Lohre slipped, freeing Simon Higgins to go unmarked for a goal on a Freechild huck, and you could sense his disappointment from the sideline. Georgia Bosscher and Robyn Wiseman went toe-to-toe for a point, two ridiculously decorated veterans emptying the tank on every cut and clear, and you got the impression that they knew there wasn’t likely going to be room on the roster for both of them.
“It was really fun to play with people I have admired but not had the opportunity to play with,” said Wiseman while icing her recently reconstructed knee at the end of the day. “It was the most intense challenge I’ve ever had.”
There were more bids in this round of scrimmages than any other on the weekend, with players hitting the ground–hard–on virtually every point. Claire Desmond ran down a huck, reeling it in with a picture perfect two handed layout grab, and the force of the bid caused her to slide several feet on her chest. Chris Mazur just missed notching a block with a shoulder high bid on Cassidy Rasmussen, and slammed into the turf so violently you could hear it from the other field.
According to Mazur, who said after the tryout that he felt as though he had just been hit by a truck, the bid fest at the end wasn’t just about people trying to leave it all on the field, they were just that tired.
“Everyone is so good across the board that you’re either open or you’re not, and when people’s legs are fresh you don’t get those moments where it’s super close and people are laying out past each other,” said Mazur, the former PoNY and current Metro North standout. “But when people are tired and you get beat, sometimes the other person is jogging and you’ve got a chance to catch up and get a block.”
Whether it was because of collective fatigue or a semi-dangerous disregard for his own well-being, Trent Dillon and his bids were the most notable presence during the last round of play. The 2016 Callahan winner just never stopped moving on either side of the disc. Trailing behind Noah Saul who was cutting for a breakside swing in the endzone, Dillon launched himself at the disc without a real shot of reaching it, but the effort provided just enough of a hindrance to Saul that he was unable to cleanly read the disc and missed a goal by inches. The quality of play was so high that no one was bulletproof, and Saul would get Dillon back a couple points later with a goal-saving layout block of his own.
With the clock ticking down, players started to hit ‘E’ on the gas gauge. A straight footrace between Freechild and George Stubbs on a flat huck ended with both players wrecked in a heap. On the second to last point of the day, Wiseman beat Kaela Jorgenson up line and laid out to snag a low throw from Nethercutt for a goal. She remained on the ground for a beat, not because she was injured, but because she had truly just given everything she had to that moment.
The last action of the weekend was Amber Sinicrope launching a backhand to Marika Austin, who was one of the hardest working players at the tryout. Her engine never stopped on Sunday and it paid off when she caught the final goal to give her team the win on double game point. Her defender, Mozaffari, was only a few steps behind but didn’t have the energy that could have allowed her make up the five yards she would need for the block.
As Austin and her teammates celebrated, Ghesquiere and Tsang brought all the players together for some final words.
“I could compliment you all for hours,” said an emotional Ghesquiere as he addressed the team he had assembled one last time. “Appreciate the relationships you have with one another. This is a special group of people. Be proud of yourself and proud of this group.”
And with that, it was over. They came together for one last cheer, took a picture, packed, and left, dispersing to every corner of this gigantic country, separated by tremendous distance, but bonded forever by what they had left on the field in Dallas.