Next stop: roster announcements.
February 25, 2020 by Daniel Prentice in News, Recap with 0 comments
ORLANDO — Matty Tsang set the tone for the USA National Team East Coast tryout from the opening huddle. He told everyone in attendance they were already part of a team together, and that they’d proven themselves to be exceptional players. He asked them to appreciate all of the work that had brought them to this point: the hours of training to get them in shape for a grueling tryout in February, usually the middle of the offseason for club players, as well as all the time spent developing their games over the years. Simply making the tryout for a team such as this is a tremendous honor, and a reflection on the caliber of players in attendance. But after the stirring words of encouragement from the women’s national team head coach, it was time for 100 of the country’s best ultimate players to work through two of the physically and mentally toughest challenges of their careers, all for a chance to represent the USA on the national stage.
The weekend was broken up into blocks of time, all about 50 minutes long. Players cycled through different stations on two different fields for mixed and single gender play. Saturday morning started with players warming up and groups and quickly transitioned to some simple drills. The initial drills were mostly for warming up, but simulation drills followed.
On the women’s field, players played three on three in a quarter field sized space, with the offense attempting to complete three passes against matchup defense. The mixed field employed a 3v3 drill as well, but on a larger field space, and if one team turned the disc over, the defense picked up the disc and continued trying to score on the same endzone as the opposing offense.
The men’s side went into a full field 4v4 scrimmaging that was clearly one of the most physically demanding portions of the entire tryout. These competitive drills gave way after lunch to some more traditional scrimmaging in the afternoon on Saturday, though mixed did play 6-on-6 rather than the 7-on-7 on the men’s and women’s fields.
Sunday, however, was entirely pure scrimmaging. Some wrinkles were added here and there, like the women’s teams playing some junk and zone looks in the afternoon, but for the most part it was simply half of the best players in the country playing the best ultimate you’ll see against each other.
Throughout all of this, players would rotate from station to station after each block, getting new opponents and teammates along the way.
Throughout the course of the tryout, a handful of themes stood out as defining storylines.
Windy Saturday Tests Throws
Saturday was significantly gusty, and caused issues for some players both upwind and downwind. More so, though, it allowed some of the premier throwers at the tryout to really shine through. Alex Snyder and Sadie Jezierski on the women’s side, and Johnny Bansfield and Mac Hecht on the men’s side shone in the windy conditions.
Beyond the handful who excelled or few who struggled in the wind, the conditions provided an extra test for players who largely weren’t used to playing with each other. The wind was basically nonexistent on Sunday, and Tsang was grateful the tryout had the variance of conditions.
“I’m glad we had both,” he said. “I think it was noticeable in the scrimmage [Sunday] suddenly, we got the type of offense this team is capable of and we were trying all day [Saturday], and I actually think we could have gotten closer to that but it’s just hard in the wind to be disciplined.“But yeah, I thought it was informative. I think if we didn’t have any wind we wouldn’t know what we looked like in the wind if it came up, so I think yeah, it was great.”
Adjusting to New Systems, Teammates
The wind made things tough on Saturday, but learning to play with new teammates in unfamiliar systems in such a short time frame was a test all weekend long. Being vocally supportive teammates came easy for most, but the challenge was learning to play for new teammates’ strengths and preferences. All weekend long, players would come off the field after a point and ask each other how and when they like players to cut for them, or whether they prefer their reset handler to wait for a throw to space or make a cut to get free from their defender first.
It was made a clear point of emphasis from the coaches early on that the best way to stand out at the tryout was to make plays for your teammates. The players took that to heart and across the board made a concerted effort to better play with their new teammates.
Even players who might have had an advantage by playing in a familiar system were taken out of that comfort zone. Sean Keegan, who plays for men’s head coach Ben Van Heuvelen’s New York PoNY in the club season, mostly played for Alex “Dutchy” Ghesquiere in scrimmages.
“I ended up with Dutchy a lot who runs an offense different than what I’m used to, where his main tenant is like stare down field for six seconds and that’s just not how I play offense,” said Keegan. “I think it was good that you know everybody is going through the same thing. I’m sure people were very comfortable at various points of the tryout. I don’t think anybody was able to play something the whole time so, yeah, I mean it was definitely a challenge at times but a fun challenge. “I think everyone’s kind of on the same page where even if it was the same system, it’s new people running the system you’re used to, so it’s always gonna be a variable of different things.”
One area where some players did find an advantage among on all the newness was playing with familiar teammates. Amber Sinicrope, who attended with eight of her Boston Brute Squad teammates, felt having players she knew around her was an even bigger advantage than having gone through the tryout process before four years ago. “To be on the field with people who know what you prefer to throw and you know how to read their cuts, that definitely helps you feel a little more at home,” she said.
Fatigue and Wear
Having a readymade support system was important not only for on field chemistry, but making it through the weekend emotionally and physically as well. There were limited breaks between action apart from lunch and the level of intensity always felt Nationals-bracket level. A few players missed the tryout entirely due to previously acquired injuries1 but the injuries acquired throughout the weekend piled up fairly quickly.
Luisa Maria Neves missed essentially the entire tryout with a severe ankle injury, though she stayed on the sideline all tryout long to support her teammates. Julianna Werffeli played most of the tryout with her left arm pinned to her body as if it were in a sling due to a partial tear in her shoulder. Anne Worth also injured herself before the tryout but played with a broken right hand and still managed to be one of the most dangerous cutters and most impressive defenders at the tryout.
There were other rolled ankles and tweaked muscles and plenty of cramps. And even players who didn’t pick up true injuries were clearly exhausted by the end of each day. On Sunday, players were caught between being desperate for the breather that lunch time would bring, and fearing having to start up again after sitting for 30 or so minutes.
The tryout was truly grueling. But every player there, whether it was through playing through an injury, or doing everything they could to support their teammates while unable to play themselves, proved how much the tryout meant to them.
“The physical demand is probably similar [to Nationals] but condensed,” said Lindsay Soo, who stood out as one of the stars of the tryout. “During the tryout weekend, you have to always be on mentally and physically. You get breaks but most people, myself included, didn’t even sit much throughout for fear of muscles getting tight. It is pretty exhausting to feel like you have to be presenting your best self as a player and teammate for eight hours at a time. Fortunately, I had several folks from my area going to the tryout as well, and we did everything we could to physically prepare, which made a big difference for feeling OK on Sunday.”
Cohesion In Mixed
At the East Coast WUGC tryout four years ago, one trend that stuck out was many of male-representing players struggling on the mixed field, or not playing to the strengths of their female-representing teammates. That was not the case this time around.
The mixed field was the most fun field to watch as players excelled at learning to play a version of the game most of them don’t play at a competitive level. Some players — like Sol Yanuck — stood out above the rest as bringing a very adept comfort to the mixed game, but as a general trend, the group did a great job of adapting their games and roles on the mixed field and seemed to enjoy the challenge of it.
Henry Babcock, who easily impressed as a handler on the men’s field, was one such player.
“It was fun. It was an adjustment,” he said. “As a handler, it’s just a bit different finding spaces. It’s a lot more straightforward in men’s, at least coming from a background where I’m comfortable with that…and mixed, it kind of turns into a different game. I was really enjoying some of the meta of like how to create switches and how to create gender mismatches offensively and stuff and how to, on the other side, poach effectively on defense. But it was definitely a fun experience. There’s a lot of new stuff that I haven’t really thought about before that was super cool.”
With so many elite players in one place, there was obviously an abundance of highlight reel caliber play, but here are some of the individual moments that were particularly impressive. Apologies to all of those that I surely missed.
- During a scrimmage on the mixed field, Claudia Tajima displayed unreal explosiveness to get to an upline throw that appeared to be too far in front of her. Tajima is a lock to make one of the national teams, due primarily to her dependable steadiness in the backfield and fundamental defensive abilities, but she reminded everyone watching she can make the eye-popping plays too.
- Sarah Meckstroth made an impossible grab to save an apparent throwaway near the endzone during a scrimmage on the women’s field. Maybe some still doubt that Meckstroth would be one of the best players in the women’s division if she were to leave mixed, but none of those people saw her at the Orlando tryout.
- Tyler Chan was an absolute block machine all weekend long. After one especially impressive layout block on the mixed field, a couple of his fellow attendees tried to count how many he must have had on the weekend. They estimated at least six.
- At 2-2 in a scrimmage to 3, Tannor Johnson‘s team was in the redzone looking to score for the win. Ryan Osgar snapped a forehand from one sideline all the way to the far side back corner of the endzone. It looked like a sure turn. Instead, Johnson somehow got to it with a massive layout grab over his back shoulder.
- Jacqueline Jarik burned her defender underneath and then immediately ripped a perfect forehand deep to the far corner to hit Jibran Mieser in stride during a scrimmage on the mixed field.
- Speaking of sick throws, no one had more than Johnny Bansfield. On both the mixed and men’s fields, Bansfield made some truly unbelievable throws throughout the weekend. Throws that others wouldn’t even dream of trying, especially in the Saturday wind, Bansfield put on a plate for cutters. No one at the tryout had a more staggering single skill point than Bansfield’s forehand hucks.
- At one point on Sunday, one player said to me, “Well, there’s no point in putting a mark on Amber Sinicrope. She’s just gonna throw it wherever she wants anyway.” Sinicrope absolutely destroyed marks all weekend long and was easily one of the top performers at the tryout to my eyes.
Below, some additional insights for subscribers on the selection process.
John Randolph and Anraya Palmer were both present at the tryout but didn’t participate, and Jessi Jones missed the tryout altogether ↩
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