Stars Compete In Cold, Wind At World Games Tryouts

Coaches will cut the group down to 30 players before a second tryout weekend in late March.

Matt Rehder and Jack Hatchett were two of the standout performers at the first weekend of 2022 World Game tryouts. Photo: Natalie Bigman-Pimentel -- UltiPhotos.com
Matt Rehder and Jack Hatchett were two of the standout performers at the first weekend of 2022 World Game tryouts. Photo: Natalie Bigman-Pimentel — UltiPhotos.com

ROUND ROCK, TX — Adaptability. With seventy of the nation’s best ultimate players on hand for the first round of the US World Games tryouts, that’s the trait coaches articulated as what they were looking for, and it’s what the cold, windy weekend required of participants.

Athletes drew an unfortunate hand with one of the worst weather weekends for Austin in 2022, as temperatures on both days started below 40 degrees. Cold, blustery conditions on Saturday were described by Seattle Sockeye’s Matt Rehder as “slop.” Sunday was less dreary as the sun came out, but still quite windy. The steady 15 to 20 mile-per-hour wind caused trouble for even the best throwers in the country. What would normally be easy unders sailed over receivers’ heads and lots of resets were spoiled because a sudden gust caused the disc to drop to the turf.

The Saturday tryout, which was closed to media, had time blocks to get everyone on the same page with systems as well as to go through some isolation drills and scrimmaging.

On Sunday, after the first huddle, the group broke out into four teams for the day. Each team went through its own player-led warm-up routine and the deliberateness with which players went through their warmup was an early reminder of just how dedicated these players had to be just to earn a spot at this tryout. From there, the teams started with a handler-option cutting drill, played a game to three, and then transitioned into drills focused on downfield defense. The weekend wrapped up with a three-hour block of 7-on-7 scrimmaging.

Evaluating talent at this level of play is different from a conventional tryout. Former World Games player and current assistant coach Miranda Knowles along with U24 National Team coach and World Games selection assistant Nancy Sun emphasized how the focus of the weekend was less on demonstrating skill and more on demonstrating adaptability to different situations. Head Coach Matty Tsang echoed this sentiment. All the players who were in attendance had already been vetted for their skills. The questions now look at higher-order factors of play. How well can you connect with the other players? How well can you stop an under and guard a reset? And given how small the 14-person final roster for World Games is, are you position-flexible to play offense and defense, handler and cutter all in the same game?

Despite the windy conditions, players were still able to stand out. Opi Payne was a monster all over the field. Jack Hatchett was great on defense both in the handler space and downfield. Sarah Meckstroth and Kaela Helton were also among the standouts on both sides of the disc. Chicago Machine’s Nate Goff and Paul Arters were great tools to have on offense, Arters being one of the few players to consistently complete hucks upwind.

There were also some notable absences from the tryout. Allan Laviolette, Jibran Mieser, John Stubbs, Max Sheppard, and 2017 World Games selections Liên Hoffman and Nick Stuart were not in attendance. And unfortunately, there were some injuries sustained both before and during tryouts that sidelined players for the weekend. Two-time World Games star Sarah ‘Surge’ Griffith was out with a foot injury. Ryan Osgar was out on the first day with a sprained ankle and Michael Ing tore his Achilles midway through Saturday. On Sunday, Nicky Spiva left the tryout with a wrist injury.

While there were lots of veteran players involved, it was impossible not to notice the younger faces that were a part of this elite group. Coach Knowles noted how this is one of the rare instances where multiple generations of talent can overlap. You see people who have played on World Games teams before on the same line with 2021 college champions. Coach Matty Tsang noted how younger players now are “remarkably complete” compared to when he started coaching in 1997; skillsets that previously had been exhibited only by experienced athletes in their late 20s and 30s can now be seen in players fresh out of college. He attributes this to an expanding, robust USA National Team program that gives younger players experience competing at the highest level from an early age.

The value in the World Games process is not something lost on either players or coaches. Knowles spoke about how being a coach is both “extremely exciting and a huge responsibility.” Tsang spoke to how the World Games is unique in the sport because it’s not solely an “ultimate event” — it is closer to the Olympics. Everyone at these games is passionate about both what they do and the opportunity to share their skills with other athletes from around the world.

Tsang also noted how this World Games cycle was different because of the repeated delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tryout list was pulled primarily from the rosters for the 2020 World Ultimate and Guts Championships (WUGC) that were postponed and then eventually canceled. He expressed his gratitude to the invitees for their commitment to a tryout process years in the making.

For the players, the significance of the tryout process is something that extends beyond making the roster. When asked about preparing for the tryout, both Nashville Shine’s Jesse Shofner and Seattle Sockeye’s Matt Rehder spoke to the importance of putting in the work as an individual — getting on the track to get faster, avoiding those moments of apathy — but also about what it means to represent your community. It’s all essential to compete in this process.

Shofner, a standout on the weekend, gave lots of thanks to her Nashville community. She talked about how her community helped her train in the cold days leading up to the tryout. Shofner takes pride in representing her community, one that trained with her, even though they themselves had no tryout to prepare for. Rehder similarly spoke about the benefit of his personal experience in Round Rock, but also what it meant in a bigger context. He saw a real value in representing the Seattle ultimate community, his past and present teammates, and even the youth players he coaches. Both players acknowledge that caring about something like the World Games is a privilege; in a lot of ways, others can bear a similar burden of effort without ever reaping the reward of playing on a national team or even earning an invitation to try out for one.

For those who succeeded in showing off their adaptability this weekend, a second round of tryouts will take place on March 25 and 26, once again in Texas. Before then, the list will be culled to only 30 individuals still fighting for one of the coveted 14 spots to represent the country at the World Games this summer in Birmingham, Alabama.

  1. Chris Cassella
    Chris Cassella

    Chris Cassella is from Orange, Connecticut, and started playing pick-up at the age of 11. He is a graduate of the University of Richmond, where he played four years with the Richmond Spidermonkeys. While at Richmond, Chris won a national championship (2017), two High Tide titles (2019, 2020), and the “worst decisions award” four years in a row. He is a current graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, where he will play his fifth year with TUFF. You can follow him on Twitter (@nerdyboypolis) to see his daily takes about zone defense, political science, and I-35 traffic jams.

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