21 people in and around women’s ultimate you should meet

[August 2017 note – not a new blog post. Just moving an old one over from my math blog to the ultimate blog]

Sorry, another one not about math with my kids – maybe I should start an ultimate blog. Oh well not today . . .

In response to Skyd’s article –
http://skydmagazine.com/2014/05/21-influential-people-ultimate-today/

and in an effort to elaborate a little on some thoughts I had in a FB conversation, here’s my list of 21 people in and around women’s ultimate that i think you should meet. I gave myself an hour to write this so that it wouldn’t be too long and rambling. Also just wanted to try to come up with some ideas off the top of my head. Oh, and since Gwen, Matty, and Michelle are in the Skyd article, I’ll leave them off this list on purpose. To the other 4000 people I leave off accidentally, sorry 🙂

I have not yet met all of these people, but I hope to.

(1) Robin Knowler – 10 years coaching one of the top programs in the country, so she’s got plenty to teach you Go meet her and ask her how to be a better teammate / leader / coach / person / or whatever. I’d pick “coach” from that list and then just listen.

(2) Lou Burruss – I first met him in 1997 when he would fly back from Seattle to coach the Carleton women. Amazing dedication to the sport and hence one of the most successful coaches of all time. Ask him about moving to set up the next pass or how to play a 2 handler zone O. Also read “The Inner Game of Tennis” in advance of meeting him.

(3) Suzanne Fields – part of the first class inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame, and one of the speakers at this year’s induction. I’m always a little nervous around legends, but if I would have had the courage to talk to her at this year’s induction I probably would have asked something silly like if she could believe she was standing there watching Chris O’Cleary and Nancy Glass being inducted into the hall of fame.

With the passage of time I’d probably ask her if she, Kelly Waugh, Katherine Greenwald, and Katie Shields played Heather, Shannon, Mia, and Emily in a game of goaltimate, who would win?

(4) Chris O’Clearly – see above. One of this year’s inductions into the Hall of Fame and another legend in the game. Seemed like everyone who ever played for Ozone was there to cheer her on at the induction. An amazing leader and player. Ask her how to build a team.

(5) Nancy Glass. Also one of this year’s inductees. Another absolute legend and practically royalty in Chicago ultimate. Ask her about the tension between getting the sport to the “next level” like the Olympics or something and building the sport through grass roots growth.
(6) Jenny Fey. One of the best players of the last decade who just came off of a national championship with Scandal. Ask her how she sees the field and if she likes handling or cutting better. Also, do me a favor and figure out how to guard her because I’ve not been able to do that.

(7) Cara Crouch. Two time World Games team member, 2005 Callahan winner, and endless giver back to the game:

Ask her about the difference between the 2009 and 2013 World Game teams. Seems like the two teams had totally different vibes – what worked well and what would she have changed looking back?

(8) Dominique Fontenette – Stanford, Fury, Godiva, Brute Squad, World Games, Riot. As respected a player as there ever has been. Ask her about the influence that Molly Goodwin had on her. Sprout, too. Also, ask her to teach you to pull:

(9) Rohre Titcomb – One of the greatest minds in the game. I’ll never forget seeing her play for the first time – it left me speechless. Ask her to come to Atlanta and play a round of disc golf with Chris O’Cleary, ’cause that would be amazing.

(10) Alex Snyder – Multiple time national and world champion. One of the things I will always remember is how different the 2013 US World Games team played during the one game she missed. Ask her what she learned about the game coaching Wisconsin.

(11) Robyn Wiseman – A great young leader. Ask her what she learned taking over coaching Wisconsin from Alex.

(12) Enessa Janes – I was so happy to get the chance to meet her in person at the 2013 US Open. Played the single greatest half of ultimate that I have ever seen. Ask her about the 2008 finals.

(13) Katy Craley – National champion at Oregon and now a key player for Riot. Ask her about the transition from college to club. Ask her about giving back to the ultimate community in South America.

(14) Ren Caldwell – The trainer for everyone within 300 miles of Seattle, I assume. Ask her about the difference between training college athletes and club athletes.

(15) Claire Chastain – 2013 Callahan winner / U23 world champion and one of the best players I’ve ever seen coming out of college. Ask her how her mentors impacted her ultimate career.

(16) Peri Kurshan – leader on the field with Brute Squad and Godiva. Off the field with USA ultimate. Current Nightlock coach. As her about the transition from playing club to coaching club, and about the similarities between what Brute Squad looked like originally and what Nightlock looks like now.

(17) Erika Swanson – amazing player on both coasts and on the US Beach worlds team. Ask her about how she balanced playing top level club ultimate with MIT and Caltech educations. Ask her about how to defend the top cutters.

(18) Samantha Salvia – I’ve never met her, but her story is incredible. Ask her about transitioning from other sports to ultimate, and ask her to write some more!

http://skydmagazine.com/2013/04/an-open-letter-to-mark-evangelisto-general-manager-philadelphia-spinners/

(19) Blake Spitz – helped build Brute Squad up from scratch and eventually past Godiva. Ask her how to develop young players on a club team. Ask her how to compete and eventually win out against one of the biggest dynasties ultimate has ever seen.

(20) Lucy Barnes – Captained Harvard, Brute Squad and now lives in England. Ask her how far European ultimate has come in the last 10 years. Has the US come as far?

(21) Kyle Weisbrod – coaches UW Element and the US under 19 team. Ask him about the difference between the high school scenes in Atlanta and Seattle. How could another city copy what either of these cities has done.

My biggest “wow” of the US Open was Molly Brown’s Claire McKeever

Whem I’m watching games I don’t always follow the disc around. Sometimes I’m trying to figure out where the holes in a D are, or where the deep cuts are coming from. Sometimes I’m lazy and just follow the players I know!

Watching the semis and finals of the US Open, I was following players like Fury’s Anna Nazarov, Opi Payne, and Carolyn Finney, and Revolution’s Yina Cartagena, Manuela Cardenas, and Laura Ospina. It seemed like every time I looked at any of these players I was seeing #17 on Molly Brown. The problem was that I didn’t know who #17 on Molly Brown was.

That’s how I learned about Molly Brown’s **rookie** Claire McKeever who was casually guarding all of the best players on the other team. Damn!

Here she is going step for step with Finney:

and step for step with Nazarov:

And clogging up Alex Snyder’s throwing lane while guarding Opi:

And guarding Cartagena:

And finally Ospina, who maybe isn’t as well known, so let’s check in and see what Kyle Weisbrod and Jesse Shofner has to say about her during the World Games:

World Games

A big part of why I needed to write this blog post is because I’m so amazed with McKeever that I don’t know what to say! It is so impressive that Molly Brown trusts her to guard the top players on the other team (who were also all World Games players). Not throw away pool play games either – these clips are the semis and finals of the US Open.

So, I’ve gone from not knowing who Claire McKeever is to having all kinds of respect for her in just a weekend of games. The only other thing I can say about her now is that I’ve got a nice short essay for anyone applying to the 2021 World Games team:

Q: Why do you think you can contribute to the World Games team?

A: ‘Cause when we play Molly Brown, they put Claire McKeever on me.

Paige Applegate’s game is for real

I’ve been really excited about the journey’s that ultimate players have been taking lately. After the World Games I wrote about Anna Nazarov:

Why Anna Nazarov matters to me

Another player whose on-field journey I’ve been following for the last couple of years is Molly Brown’s Paige Applegate. Before writing this post I went back and watched the All-Stars vs. Molly Brown game from 2015 just to remind myself where she was as a player two years ago.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing players work hard and improve. It is hard to think of a player who has come farther that Applegate has in the last two years. If you run into her at a tournament you should ask her about what she’s been doing and listen carefully because you want to follow her formula (bad news, though, it is probably involves lots of hard work and dedication rather than magic beans).

What really impresses me about her play and her journey over the last few years is that it is really, truly hard to find the right balance between (what I think is) her natural “let’s take some risk” style of play and the duties of an elite O-line handler. It takes years of work and the list of players who tried and failed to find that balance is incredibly long. But players who make it out the other side of that journey like Applegate and Jenny Fey are so incredibly fun to watch, and also, for the purposes of this blog, so great to learn from.

So, below are 5 clips of Applegate’s play that caught my eye watching the Molly Brown vs Fury US Open semifinal:

(1) The mix of soft touch passes, great fundamentals, and attacking on Molly Brown’s second goal:

What I love from Applegate here is . . . well, everything.

(i) That soft little pass to Chastain. Handler to handler passes (swings or resets or otherwise) should be easy to catch. Turns on this passes are awful and Applegate (and really all of Molly Brown) did a great job with this skill all game.

(ii) The communication with her hands – we’ll see more examples of this later, too.

(iii) The little forehand fake to move Nazarov to the flick side! The 2nd replay really shows how effective that fake was.

(iv) Then that i/o backhand. That’s a risky pass and needs a lot of work to be game ready. Nazarov also uses it extremely well for Fury.

So many lessons from Applegate in this short clip!

(2) Similar to the clip in (1) but with a harder pass to the break side

Passes like the i/o backhand here are why I said above that it takes years to develop into the kind of player Applegate has become. It takes a lot of experience to learn when this pass is ok and when it just pushing the needle a bit too far.

The same nice soft touch passes and the forehand fake that were on display in the first clip are part of this clip, too:

(3) Fun physical play and great on field leadership

I’m sure that both Payne and Applegate walked off the field after this point thinking “that was fun.” I love the physical play from Applegate to get open and then to stand up after the grab and fire that pass down field to Megan Cousins (who, for the 1000th time just magically appears on the screen down the field standing around wide open . . . )

But watch Applegate raise her hands to slow everything down when Pitcaithly has the disc unmarked. It takes a very special player to throw the switch from “physical battle with Opi” to “time to watch the grass grow” in the space of 5 seconds. Smart play and super on field leadership from Applegate here.

(4) A small thing that I think she could do a little better.

The goal here is nice, but I was wondering why the first cut from Megan Cousins didn’t work out. Because of the way Applegate caught the swing pass, it took one extra beat to transfer the disc to her throwing hand. If she catches this with a (two handed!) claw catch instead, she’ll save a beat and be able to throw the forehand just a little faster.

Also, when the D knows that the quick forehand might be coming, you’ll suddenly have much more room on the backhand side, too, as the defender now has to take one extra step to close down the flick side.

(5) Finishing with a really nice and crafty goal.

I love how Applegate stays engaged with Chastain the whole way through on the cut that eventually scores. They way she uses her body to shield her defender from the disc is also great.

You’ll hear the announcers praising Applegate’s play in nearly all of the clips above. I’m glad that she’s getting recognized – that recognition is 100% deserved.

Also, I am totally serious about pulling her aside to talk to her if you are looking for someone to help improve your own game. After the journey she’s been on the last couple of years, if you are a young handler looking to improve there might not be a better person in the game to learn from.

Lisa Pitcaithley is a total badass

I’m really enjoying watching the 2017 Molly Brown team. This past weekend I was lucky to be able to watch three of their games and felt as though I could write 20 blog posts about them.

One of the players that I was super impressed by was Lisa Pitcaithley. She’s been a force in the club division for at least 4 or 5 years – I’ve lost count, but it feels like she’s climbed to yet another level this year so blog post #1 is about her.

I’m sure that everyone has seen the highlight plays over the years. Here’s just one – from the 2015 All-Star tour:

As I get into some of the clips below, note that not all of the passes are complete. The execution details are secondary for this point. I want you to study how Pitcaithley sets up her cuts, sets up her defenders, positions her throws. With two more months of practice the execution errors will melt away and the fundamental skills on display in the clips below will be what comes shining through.

(1) Downfield Cutting

If you are a downfield cutter, study these cuts. Watch how she sets up the defender initially, and watch how she uses her body to keep the defender away from the disc. I’d also point out that the two defenders here – Kaela Jorgenson from Fury and Elizabeth Mosquera from Revolution – are two of the best defenders (as well as two of the best athletes) in ultimate

(ii) Handling and touch throws

Pitcaithley’s game is more more than speed and downfield cutting, though, here are three clips show of her handling skills and some really nice touch on throws around the endzone.

One minute Pitcaithley is taking your best defenders deep, the next the announcers are taking about how great she is as a handler. Pretty amazing.

(iii) The long throws

Oh wow are these beautiful throws. Again, if you are a downfield cutter, what you see in this video is a large part of why I think Pitcaithley is such an incredible role model. If can get your long throws to look like Pitcaithley’s throws out to space, you immediately become a gigantic pain in the ass for the other team!

Note especially the sneaky fakes to the forehand side that set up the long backhands.

One last important thing to note – look at the small difference in the shape of the first and second throws. The second throw is what you want your throws to look like.

(iv) Field awareness

I loved this play during the game and I loved it even more when I was studying the film.

Look how far away Pitcaithley is from the intended receiver when the pass goes up, and look how quickly she reacts when she realized the pass is going to float.

Being a great player isn’t just about Sportscenter type highlights. The clip below shows why you want her on the field with you!

(v) Beating opponents with her brain

This clip was probably my favorite Pitcaithley clip of the weekend. Not a big run or a big throw, but simply standing around in an open spot in Revolution’s zone.

Great players like Pitcaithley aren’t just amazing athletes – they are really smart and great students of the game. The clips above from Lisa Pitcaithley show elite level cutting, handling, and hucking. They also show what an incredible and smart competitor she is.

If you are looking to improve your game, she’s one of the best players to study and learn from that you’ll ever find.

Learning from the Riot vs Eurostars game

I really enjoyed watching the Riot vs Eurostars game. The feed was a little fuzzy, but I’m still so amazed at being able to watch live games that the fuzziness didn’t bother me at all.

A couple of things caught my eye during the game and then this morning I had an unexpected free hour block, so I thought I’d turn those thoughts into a blog post. Normally with a “what to learn from” post I’ll watch the game 3 or 4 times before writing, Definitely not the case here – these are all “on the fly” thoughts from watching the game last night.

Still, though, I think there were some good lessons.

(1) Riot’s Alex Ode with some great handler D

I got to know Alex Ode during the 2016 All-Star tour and I’m a huge fan of her play. You’ll see some super handler D on display from Ode in this clip:

(2) Riot’s Lucy Williams in the front of Riot’s stack

Riot has been incorporating some vertical O into their game fro the last couple of years. It has been fun to watch since that’s the O I first learned back in the, um . . . ., 1980’s.

You’ll see a great example of play in vertical O from Lucy Williams in this clip. Look how she turns her head to check the space behind her. When you are in the front of the stack it is very easy (and can be very tempting) to cut and accidentally take away space from teammates cutting from the back.

The skill on display from Williams here is something that you want everyone learning about vertical O to see. Fantastic teamwork from her.

I’ve had a chance to see Maddie Gilbert play twice now – against Ozone in a game that Ultiworld filmed and last night in the Eurostars game. My status after those two game: super duper gigantic hugenormous fan.

I love the cutting skill on display here. The way she gets the defender to move and then the subsequent change in direction is something that I’d compare very favorable to the similar cutting skill I highlighted in the post about Surge earlier in the week.

I love this scoring play from the Eurostars. The pass goes from Laura Farolfi to Betty Schnedl. The throw is a great throw out to space and I love how Schnedl initiates this cut from the far side of the field and then attacks the disc. The Riot defenders have no chance.

Great fundamentals on display from the Eurostars here. If your team is struggling to create space for your cutters, the work form the Eurostars here is an important example to study and learn from.

Even thought the video quality in the first part of the game was a little low, there was a play that made me really happy.

In the Riot vs Ozone game, Riot’s Calise Cardenas was catching the disc down field, turning and throwing some fantastic hucks. That’s how the Riot got going in the Eurostars game, too.

Cardenas has been one of the top players in the US for the last several years and was part of the US national team last year. Watching the results of all of the work that she’s put in over the last few years is a real joy for me.

Between work and travel I haven’t been able (and won’t be able) to catch much of the Eurostar Tour. I’m happy I caught this game – it was a really nice way to end a great week of watching ultimate.

World Games commentating

I’ve been trying to write a post about how much I’ve come to love just about everything about Australian ultimate. They do a great job publicizing their players, filming their games, and they are incredible on the field.

But the pieces about Surge and Anna just to so much out of me emotionally, that I think I”m going to have to put that off until I get back from a trip to Scotland next week.

For today I wanted to talk about the commentating on the games. Early on I was annoyed and, as one does, I wrote a long rant on Facebook about it. Somehow that rant founds its way to the commentators who reached out to me the evening before the last day of games. We spoke for an hour (which, to their credit was from 1:00 to 2:00 am their time) and I think that they did a much better job on the last day.

But, happily, in the Australia vs Canada game there were two nearly identical plays within about 5 min of each other and you can judge for yourself if there is a substantial difference in commentary when men and women make the same play.

Here’s Canada’s Mark Lloyd with a nice hammer for a goal:

and here’s Australia’s Cat Phillips making exactly the same play a few points later:

Personally, I’m happy with both calls and I give the commentating team a lot of credit for their work to improve over the course of the tournament.

Why Anna Nazarov matters to me

As with the post about Surge – longer and more personal than usual . . .

The picture below shows the wall just to the left of my office computer. It is what I see every single morning when I start work. Going around the wall you have Nightlock’s Rachel Habbert, Molly Brown’s Megan Cousins, the 2015 All-Stars, Nancy Sun receiving the Kathy Pufahl award from Suzanne Fields, Riot’s Calise Cardenas, and in the middle is Anna Nazarov:

I’ve been rooting for Anna to get gold at the World Games since 2013. Hopefully I’ll make a good Dread Pirate Roberts because I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself now. But with so many thoughts about what to write running around my head since the US got the gold I finally settled down a bit and started thinking about why this all mattered to me so much.

Writing about Surge yesterday got me thinking about the 2013 US Open and the brutal combination of practice with the US Team and competition with their club teams that the players faced.

Then I remembered a play that Anna made in the finals of the tournament which by happy coincidence happened right in front of me. By even happier coincidence Ultiphotos still had the picture available for purchase – hello 4 future hall of famers!!

Anna

What the picture doesn’t show is that this catch was impossible. I don’t remember if Opi saw the lane first, or Anna zigged when Alex thought she was going to zag, but when this pass went up there was no chance in the world that Anna was going to get it. None.

And she did. 4+ years later I think that was my “wow” moment watching Anna play – the moment that I realized that she wasn’t just a great player, she was once in a generation special.

A few weeks after the US Open Anna found out that she didn’t make the final cut for the World Games in Colombia. The article she wrote about getting cut is one of the most moving and most personally influential things that I’ve ever read:

Getting Cut

Following the publication of that article came one of the most amazing 4 years of ultimate that anyone has ever played. The drive and determination to work and improve and lead the way in the sport was like nothing that I’ve ever seen before.

This throw is from the gold medal match with the US team at 2015 Beach Worlds in which the US won the gold:

This block is from the 2016 WFDF Worlds in which the US won the gold:

Watching her take the starting line in that game with Rohre Titcomb and Jenny Fey as teammates was a very special moment for me:

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-6-49-12-pm

Here’s a block in the 2016 US club semifinals against Riot at the exact moment that Fury absolutely needed a play:

and here she is once again taking the starting line – this time with the 2017 World Games team in the final against Colombia. Her pass to Carolyn Finney starts the US moving down the field and leads to a terrific opening score for the US:

I’ve already written about Anna’s D away from the disc in the final, too:

Anna1

So that’s 3 world championships in 4 years. In those games she’s – throwing brilliant hucks for goals, getting blocks in the cup, running Team USA’s O as the center handler, getting layout blocks on downfield cutters, and shutting of downfield cuts from the far side of the field. Basically anything that needed to be done on either side of the disc anywhere on the field, all while being guarded by the toughest defenders on O and taking some of the most difficult matches on D.

But it wasn’t just world and national championship competitions. Anna has given back so much to the sport through playing, promoting, clinics, and coaching the UC Berkeley B team. Here’s a nice little goal against the All-Stars in 2016 to represent all of that work (and even in an exhibition game you can see the quality – watch this video a few times to see where she is at the start!):

The reason that this post is so long is that I don’t have the right words. What Anna has done over the last 4 years is almost incomprehensible to me. I don’t know how she could have asked more of herself on or off the field or how she could have possibly given back more to the sport.

The journey from the “getting cut” article to the 2017 World Games gold medal game is one of the most amazing and inspiring athletic journeys that I’ve ever witnessed. It is an absolute privilege to be able to watch her play ultimate, and I am so happy to be around a sport that attracts people like her to it.