The upstarts from 2018 are hoping they've matured enough in the years since to achieve their lofty ambitions this week in Cincinnati.
July 27, 2022 by Lorcan Murray in Profile with 0 comments
LEBANON, OH – Time is not a flat circle, it just looks like that when it is spinning past us. In 2018, I was fortunate enough to be granted an inside look at the young upstarts of European Ultimate, Amsterdam GRUT — an acronym of Get Rekt Ultimate Team — as they made their impudent ascent up the standards of elite international ultimate. A campaign driven and hampered in equal measure by the innocence of their youth, and the ambition it facilitated.
At the last World Ultimate Club Championships, GRUT were a popular dark horse pick to challenge the American dominance at the event. Instead, they struggled through the opening days, losing their first three games in Cincinnati before recovering to make a run all the way to quarterfinals. Given the path they tread, a seventh place finish simultaneously felt like a major achievement and yet still a disappointment — a reflection both of their precocious ability and the impatience of youth.
In the four years since, the terrible toddlers1 of the Netherlands have undergone a transformation in structure, spirit, and mentality. I spoke with their three captains: Lola Dam, Walt Jansen, and Daniel Eppstein as well as their new coach Hans Lommen to get an insight into the lessons they’ve learned since 2018 and the fresh approach driving their renewed campaign for gold.
A key aspect to growing is understanding the mistakes of the past. In 2018, GRUT had the ability to put themselves in the position to be successful, but the shock of adversity rocked their young core and shook loose the less experienced elements of their squad. In preparation for their return to midwestern America, the GRUT leadership recognized the changes they had to make to their culture.
“It’s completely different [this time],” explained Jansen. “I think last time we went in with 19 [players]. And after the first day, we were down to 17. Now we’re 23 strong.”
“I think we have way better preparation than four years ago,” agreed Dam. “We have a bigger team and that’s a lesson we’ve learned. We trust everyone to do their job. That’s a big lesson we’ve learned from last time.”
Building the Squad
This changing of the guard has not been a straightforward process, but definitely a necessary one. They have retained only eight players from their previous excursion in Ohio, which has required a concentrated tryout and training process over the past year.2
A key figurehead amongst this influx of talent is Daniel Eppstein, an American who has cut their teeth at Colorado College and a collection of New York club teams before moving to Europe.
“I’ve lived in the Netherlands for the last six years. And have played for various club teams there. I was named captain of one of the defensive lines when we shifted some things around to optimize our lines. I took charge of one along with Lola.”
His defensive presence and emotional maturity have added extra bite to GRUT’s championship hopes.
“As the team went from 18 players to 23 players that incorporated a lot of new faces, you also have to play with discipline. The type of discipline that I bring to the team, as a leader, and also on the field, I think has translated into it. I think we are well prepared to make a run deep into the tournament.”
Adding players to a group as tight knit as GRUT is a delicate process. They have always considered themselves a family, rising up the ranks of European ultimate, learning to run on junior teams before getting Airborne.3
“Personally for me [I was] a little bit [nervous],” admitted Dam. “I’ve really felt like we’re a family, but we’re focusing on how to improve our team. We did some team building stuff to really become a team and really, really trust each other and really love each other. So we can work hard for each other.”
“For me, I think it’s felt very seamless,” said Eppstein. “The culture has stayed similar, and I think [the change] was all very welcomed.”
“We really had to reestablish that connection emotionally, to get the trust out on the field,” confirmed Jansen.
Working together as a unit on and off the field has allowed GRUT to move forward into the future collectively. Striving for the success they have always dreamed of with the same familial base, but equipped with fresh tools to work their way through the challenges that have undone them in the past. Though the heart cannot succeed on its own, a lesson they learned the hard way in 2018, and the flying Dutchfolk knew they needed to add more experience and insight to their side, along with talent.
Building the Playbook
It seems unfair to describe GRUT as one dimensional, given that they excel in the flashiest, most entertaining elements of our sport. Huge throws and spectacular grabs certainly send electricity around stadiums, but when relied upon as the tentpole of your offense you’re mostly going to stun yourself. We saw it happen in the opening showcase game of 2018 and again in the quarterfinal.4
In the attempt to counter this, GRUT looked for a coach that could bring a depth to their tactical approach to the game. Something they believe they have found in experienced Dutch coach Hans Lommen. Jansen explained the change in direction.
“Jeroen5 is more about emotions getting the team together as a group, Hans is more tactical, practical, much more directing in how we want to play, which has helped us a lot.”
“I’m really proud to say that Hans is our coach,” continued Dam. “We just thought he would really fit in our team as a coach. So we asked him, and he agreed.”
Lommen is a legend in the Dutch ultimate community, an experienced coach who has orchestrated national and junior teams to great effect. His first interaction with GRUT came when he coached the 2019 U24 Dutch Mixed team.
“I started already with my own ideas,” explained Lommen. “Because we all know their playing style, [they] like the big hucks and the big plays. So we’ve been broadening our playing style, making sure to [retain] their eagerness for the disc and the quest for gold was sort of the top priority, and to make sure that with the new players joining the team that were able to continue with that.
“I think it’s essential to realize that we want to use the full width and strength of our team, not just our top players. I think we do have a variety over there. So that is sort of one of our strengths that we wanted to be able to give or set on the field what is required in that game, so we will definitely be giving different looks.”
“He brought peace or more like, chill,” explained Dam. “More handler play, like not only deep shots about what we used to. I think he really respected our playstyle and he just adjusted it.”
Jansen agreed: “The roster has a lot of depth. So we are able to move some pieces around to adjust to our opponents, which is also new for us.”
This versatility was sorely missing in 2018, when GRUT were forced to rely on the incredible individual athleticism of players like Ben Oort, Floor Keulartz, and Basten de Jongh whenever an elite team put their backs up against the wall. Armed with a fresh arsenal of defensive structures and a newfound appreciation for handler movement,6 GRUT have the looks, though without Jeroen Oort’s steadying presence, do they have the heart?
In the vacuum of their old coach’s emotional guidance, the brash youth of GRUT’s core has been called upon to bring security, support, and sincerity to the squad.
“I think we have as a group, a better connection amongst each other. So normally, previously, Jeroen would be [the] speaking point. Now with the three captains we are talking much more; with everybody checking in with each other, talking [to] you a bit deeper in a way. So talking about ‘how [do] you feel I was today? Can we change anything for you? Was that okay for you? Can we give some feedback?’”
We all grow old, tossed about in the ball of timey-wimey stuff that we call life, but we don’t all grow up. The past year has been an exercise in experience for GRUT. They have taken stock of their past efforts, measured and weighed them on the scales of their history, and come out wanting more.
The pool stages at WUCC 2022 represented a test run, one that their new tactics and teammates have passed with flying colors.7 The true challenge still lies ahead, waiting for them in the coming knockout stages. Can they surpass their previous campaign and go beyond the quarterfinals?
Only time will tell.
One translation of their team name. ↩
Their intentions started two and a half year ago, but understandably the pandemic got in the way. ↩
The first club team the GRUT core played together on. ↩
Both losses against Boston Wild Card. ↩
the 2018 coach ↩
Outside of routinely putting shooters into power position. ↩
5-0 with a goal difference of +43 ↩