The unreasonable effectiveness of Jenny Fey

After watching the All-Stars play Scandal I was thinking about how incredible it is that everyone can now see the best players in the game play on video essentially anytime they want. There are a million reasons to be thankful for the great video coverage, but the reason I’m going to focus on for this blog post is learning about the game.

Jenny Fey on Scandal is one of the best players in the world. What puts her on an even shorter list than “one of the best” is that she’s as good handling as she is going down the field. This enviable combination of skills makes her nearly impossible to guard. Fey had an incredible game yesterday and the film from the game gives everyone an opportunity to do more than just appreciate her skill (which you should absolutely do first!), but to learn from it, too.

So, with a hat tip to Eugene Wigner for the title of the post, here are a few examples that caught my eye:

(1) Here first touch – she didn’t waste any time!

There are a couple great lessons here:

(i) Watch her initial cut and how she pushes her defender backwards to open up space underneath.

(ii) After she catches the disc, watch her survey the field and evaluate her two main options – the shorter throw to Itoh or the throw she takes.

(iii) The throw is so beautiful but something you can definitely learn from. You have to put a lot of extra energy into these i/o backhands because their flight path causes them to fall short. A flat pass thrown with the same energy as Fey’s throw probably goes right out the back of the endzone. Fey’s throw drops right into the receiver’s hands!

(2) “When people talk about Jenny Fey’s vision . . . . “

The throw here is perfect throw out to space.  The receiver – Sarah Itoh – is the only person on the field who has a chance at making the catch.  Things to study:

(i) Watch how Fey sets up right as the disc is put into play.  Here positioning moves the mark over just enough to give Fey room to throw this backhand.

(ii) The replay gives a better view of where the Scandal players were on the field prior to the throw than the “live” shot did.  Study that replay and try to reconstruct the position and understand why that wide side of the endzone was open for Fey’s throw.

(iii)  The outside in backhand from Fey is sensational.  Watch the throw a couple frames at a time and look at how Fey turns her body 180 degrees to get the throw off – simply amazing form!

(3)  Fey cutting deep

Here Fey’s defender – Alex Ode – is trying to deny Fey’s in cuts to prevent her from handling.  Ode is doing a great job, too, but Fey adjusts her game incredibly quickly.  Watch:

(i) Fey and Ode from 0:06 to 0:13 in the clip to see Fey survey the field and switch from a handler mindset to a cutter mindset.  Watch Fey’s movement at 0:12 especially.

(ii) Also watch how Fey is constantly surveying the field.  When she turns to cut deep for Radcliffe at 0:14 she knows that (a) Radcliffe has an open throw, and (b) that the deep space is also wide open.   This isn’t just a random deep cut for the sake of cutting deep from Fey – in the blink of an eye she’s gone from center handler to goal scorer!

(iii) Fey’s movement while the disc is in the air is super instructive.  Watch how she moves to the sideline and uses her body to cut off Ode’s path to the disc.  That movement makes catching this throw a piece of cake.

(iv) Also note the 2 handed catch.

(4) Winning a point with smart play

For me zone O is not about running or swinging the disc, but rather about finding dangerous spots on the field and letting your teammates get you the disc.  Fey’s play here is a illustrates this idea perfectly:

(i)  This is exactly the same setup as in clip #1,  but Fey doesn’t get the first pass this time.  After not getting that pass she turns and heads down the field to a nice open spot. You won’t believe what happens next 🙂

(ii)  She just stands there . . . like a boss.

(iii)  Once she gets the disc she throws the same i/o backhand huck as she did in the first clip, and Scandal scores just as easily.

The lesson from Fey here isn’t about athleticism or throwing, though, it is about finding understanding the game at a deep level to be able to find dangerous spots on the field.

(5) Moving the mark

In this clip Fey picks up the disc near the All-Stars’s goal line after a turn.

(i) Watch how Fey moves the mark.   I’ve talked about this skill in prior posts with other great handlers like Nancy Sun and Claire Chastain as the examples.  Fey’s a master at moving the mark, too.

(ii) The scoring throw is  another great lesson – nothing is forced, the throw is a simple throw out to space.

(6) Another deep cut – this time to take half

The overall play here is similar to (3) above.  Ode is making it difficult for Fey to come under, so Fey changes her plan.

(i) You have a much better view (compared to (3)) of how Fey is constantly surveying the field.    During the game I got this tweet from Ultiworld’s Sean David Childers:

While Fey may indeed be better than the average human at knowing where players are on the field, if you study her you’ll see that this knowledge doesn’t come to her by accident.  She’s scanning the field every single second she’s out there.

(ii)  Watch again how Fey cuts off Ode’s path to the disc with her body and then catches the goal by extending her arms in front of her.    Cutting isn’t all about speed, it at least as much about timing and positioning, and you’ll have to look pretty damn hard to finding someone who does the timing and positioning part of cutting better than Fey.

(ii) And, yeah, these first 6 examples are from the first half of the game.  A full season long Fey “Callahan” video would be . . . . well, can you even imagine!

(7) A Master Class level deep cut

Just watch from 0:13 to 0:16 again and again and again.  Look at the deep space, look at Fey’s positioning to set up the cut (how she’s not coming across the field until well into the cut, for example), and watch carefully how the change in speed from a jog to a cut leads to an easy goal.

Also, once again a two handed catch.  If one of the best players in the world catches with two hands, you can (and should!) too.

The throw here from Itoh is also super impressive.

(8)  What if 3 defenders guard her – would that work?

As absurdly impressive as this goal is, it is still actually a really instructive clip.  Watch Fey’s movement from 0:06 to 0:08 as she realizes that there’s no good cutting lane (for the moment).

Just a couple of seconds later, though, there is a tiny window open as one of the deep defenders has her back turned for just a split second.  Look at 0:11, Fey turns her head down field, sees the defender with her back turned and the one or two steps she gets from seeing that tiny little defensive mistake creates enough room for the goal.  The cutting exhibition from Fey here is incredible.

(9) A nice hammer for a goal to cap it all off

What seems like it might be a risk throw really isn’t quite as risky in this case.  The throw here is really just a nice throw to space (albeit tighter space than the examples above) and the receiver is wide open.

Watch Fey’s subtle turn to the backhand side when she gets the disc and how that movement impacts her mark.

Also, on the replay watch how Fey is scanning the field.  After the replay go back and watch the “live” clip and watch how all the defenders move with the cuts to the force side.  Sometimes all it takes is a little nod of the head to move the defenders a couple of steps.  You can see in the “live” clip that Jenny Wei is standing in the lane that Fey would have to throw through to score on the force side – so that throw really can’t happen.  Yet all of the defenders move that way after Fey looks over there – magic!

So, as I said at the beginning of the post, one of the best things about all the game film that exists these days is that you have the opportunity to learn from the best players in the world. Studying Fey should be at the top of your list of things to do if you want to improve your own game. I’m so glad that I have the opportunity to watch and write about her play.

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