Learning from Riot’s Paige Soper

The first time Paige Soper’s play caught my eye was this grab in the 2014 college finals

Since then she’s become one of the top club ultimate players in the world. This year she’s also one of the captains of Riot.

On the 3rd point of the Riot vs Revolution game you won’t see any of the off carts plays from Soper like the one in the college championship. Rather, what I want to highlight is her incredible display of fundamental skills. If you want to understand the building blocks of what it takes to be a world class handler, Soper is the player to study.

Here’s the first 30 seconds of the point – Soper starts with the disc on the far sideline. Things to watch:

(i) Study how her arm moves after she releases her backhands. Note that it doesn’t come across her body. A lot of players learning to throw backhands have a follow through that is too long – that extra movement makes it much harder to throw with a mark. Soper’s backhand form is perfect.

(ii) Watch her fakes. Watch especially why she’s faking and what those fakes accomplish.

(iii) Every catch is with two hands.

A few seconds later in the point Soper’s movement gives a beautiful lesson in short handler cuts (and there’s a slo-mo replay of the cut at the end of the clip). Also note:

(i) Two handed catching again

(ii) The form on the forehand – look how wide she keeps her arm, and that she’s turned her hips and her shoulders to the receiver, for example.

In this last clip you get a master class in two different skills:

(i) turning in the direction of the throw. Look how easy it was for Soper to catch, turn and possibly throw if she thought Verzuh’s cut was open. Turing the opposite direction of the throw stops your momentum and is a much slower motion.

(ii) The around backhand. Not sure words from me would add anything -> this is a perfect example of an around backhand. Absolutely perfect.

If you are a handler looking for player to model your game after, my vote would be that you start by studying how Paige Soper plays. The lessons from her play will help you improve your own fundamental skills and will definitely help take your own game to the next level.

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One thing every team can take away from watching Revolution -> try their zone

Before moving on to the 2nd point of the Riot vs Revolution game, I wanted to put together a short post on Revolution’s zone D. It is a little different from other zone’s I’ve seen – and in some ways much more aggressive – but it is something that I think any team could play. In fact, I’d recommend trying it out.

The difficulty with trying out new zone D sets is that your team D is going to be awful for a while. Don’t worry about that – once your team gets comfortable with this type of D you are going to give your opponents fits.

I’ve pulled three examples – two from the Molly Brown game, and one from the first point of the Riot game. The Molly Brown examples also show how to beat this D, but I think you’ll agree that what Molly Brown does is not something that the majority of teams are going to be able to easily replicate.

(1) Molly Brown 26th Point

Here’s the initial set (with Elizabeth Mosquera of Revolution guarding the deep space off the screen).

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Revolution sends 3 players up for what would probably be a pretty normal looking front for a 3-3-1 zone but uses the other 4 players to completely stop Molly Brown’s pull play. The three Molly Brown players on the far sideline are essentially ignored.

(2) Molly Brown 16th Point

Here Revolution is a bit more aggressive (and again Mosquera is off screen guarding the deep space) – they are pushing super far forward. Here the D doesn’t look like a 3-3-1 at all. It is almost a 5-2!

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One interesting similarity with the prior example is that the far side of the field is again wide open. Revolution also dedicates a lot of resources to preventing the disc from moving down the middle of the field – no way any pull play is going to happen.

One last point – the throw from Chastain to Pitcaithley is the main weakness that this zone D has. But you can’t stop everything – challenge the other team to find and throw this pass. If they can complete it consistently, you probably don’t want to play any zone against them.

(3) Riot’s first point

This is what really caught my eye about their zone approach -> this is super aggressive and something that I think teams should try.

Here’s the initial set up. Julia Snyder finds the hole and puts up a pass to the open part of the field on the far sideline. This time it is Manuela Cardenas who is covering the deep space off the screen for Revolution.

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As that pass is complete, Revolution has 6 players behind the disc while Riot only has 3!! (Calise Cardenas from Riot is downfield off screen with Manuela Cardenas)

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A few seconds later you’ll see that Revolution is still challenging Riot to find a throw into the deep space – no panic at all. When there is no good throw down the field, the space 10 yards down the field is now pretty crowded:

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Here’s the film from the pull to Riot first turn.

I really do like how aggressive Revolution’s zone D is. Throwing a D in like this every now and then is something that any team can do and I think will create a lot of confusion for their opponents. Challenging the O to try to find the open spots and put up some longer throws will, I’d bet, generate a lot of turns.

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Dear Joel Prushan -> my answer to your question is Megan Cousins

Yesterday Joel Prushan posed this question on my blog:

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In December I’d written this comment about the play of Megan Cousins as we were starting to look at the Molly Brown vs. Revolution game in the group:

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Unfortunately Cousins tore her ACL in the Revolution game, so we only see her play in the beginning, but I still was able to write two blog posts about her play:

Lessons from the 5th point of the Molly Brown vs Revolution game

A nice example of finding space from Megan Cousins

Here’s another example of a seemingly simple cut down the field from Megan Cousins that puts two defenders out of position:

Here are two more examples of her great play to study from the 2016 Molly Brown vs. All Stars game from 2016:

So, my answer to Joel’s question is to study the play of Megan Cousins. Because of her knee injury you’ll have to look for Molly Brown games prior to the finals of the 2017 US Open. I’m sure there are several filmed games like that to find. Also the 2015 All-Star tour games are all on youtube.

4 ideas to take away from the 1st point of the Riot vs Revolution game

We are starting to look at the Riot vs Revolution game in the study group today. Since we’ve spent the last 6 weeks looking at the Molly Brown vs Revolution game, I’ll probably focus a bit more on the Riot players to start the game just to introduce them. My guess is that Revolution will give us plenty to study through the game, though!

Here are some of my thoughts from the first point:

(1) If you want to learn how to play ultimate – watch everything that Julia Snyder does on the field.

I’ve written a lot about how much I love her game before:

I really like the way Julia Snyder plays

In this game she touches the disc three times – you’ll see a beautiful forehand to space, a nice high backhand to the force side, and an easy backhand to space (after a miracle catch!)

In a way her game reminds me a lot of how Revolution’s Yina Cartagena plays. They both have fantastic field awareness and always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Both are also excellent at taking what the D is giving them. Snyder and Cartagena are a joy to watch and both make the game look way too easy!


(2) Surge is simply terrific

I’ve written a lot about her game, too:

Play like Opi and Surge using these 7 simple tricks

My respect for Surge is infinite

Surge has been one of the top players in the world for a decade and also gives back to the sport in more ways than I can count. In this point you’ll see a fantastic block and also a great example of how the thrower can help move a receiver’s defender.

(3) Learning from Qxhna Titcomb

Parts (3) and (4) are the same video clip – the 20 seconds leading up to the score, but I want to highlight the play of two different players.

First up is Qxhna Titcomb who throws the goal. She’s in the front of the stack when the clip starts. Watch her movement and watch especially how she works with Surge to get so wide open before throwing the goal.

(4) Learning from Nora Landri

Again, the is the same clip from part (3) -> this time, though, focus on the movement of Nora Landri who starts with the disc.

Downfield cuts coming from the handler position are always fun to study. Landri’s timing and positioning here are great. She doesn’t go down the field right away, stays wide, and times the cut perfectly so that Qxhna has plenty of space to throw in to. If you want to incorporate downfield cutting into your own handler cutting repertoire, Landri’s movement here is a great cut to study.

4 great individual plays from the 27th point

[sorry that I accidentally published low res versions of the videos 😦 ]

The 27th point of the Molly Brown vs Revolution game is wall to wall athleticism. Here are 4 plays that I thought were worth taking a 2nd look at

(1) Sara Taggert’s D to start the point

I love her footwork and how she keeps an eye on the disc.

(2) Claire Chastain’s block

The pass is just a tiny bit behind Cartagena, and Chastain shows off some incredible acceleration to the disc.

(3) Yina Cartagena’s hustle to get to the huck

Even though this play ended with a foul, that Cartagena got there at all is amazing. Don’t ever give up on a play!

(4) Victoria Elmore movement in the endzone

I love how she reacts to the poach and also love how she uses her body to prevent her defender from getting anywhere near the disc.

Stunning defensive skill from Revolution

We’ve been looking at the 26th point of the Molly Brown vs Revolution game and the fantastic goal from Molly Brown:

In addition to the Molly Brown goal, this points contains as impressive of an example of coordination on D that I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the position I want to start with ->  Elizabeth Mosquera is coming in guarding Claire Chastain, Manuela Cardenas has Lisa Pitcaithley, and Laura Ospina was guarding Lisi Lohre on the far sideline but is now moving to the middle as Sarah Pesch throws to Chastain.

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The movement from Ospina is the start of an amazing sequences of switches that happen seemingly effortlessly from Revolution.

Mosquera maintains her position guarding the downfield space and moves to pick up Pitcaithley.  Cardenas moves to Chastain, but also sees that Ospina is in a better position to pick up Chastain after the completion (note that the first two screen shots here are both at 0:19 in the film):

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Now at 0:21 Ospina is on Chastain, Mosquera has Pitcaithley after that switch, and Cardenas has Lohre in under control.    This triple switch happened in 2 seconds!!  I couldn’t believe this when I saw it going through the game to study this point.

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The position as the disc is in the air shows the only weakness Revolution had was Pitcaithley had room deep.  For me, though, the fact that Molly Brown executed perfectly doesn’t diminish the defensive play here at all.  Revolution’s team coordination is so good that they can execute switching like this without missing a beat.

And, by the way, when I say that Molly Brown executed perfectly, check out the cover photo for the film study group to see how close Mosquera came to getting the block!

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Breaking down a great Molly Brown goal

Molly Brown’s goal on the 26th point of their game against Revolution is fantastic:

Here’s what I saw:

(1) Molly Brown’s initial set up against Revolution’s zone

Elizabeth Mosquera is defending the deep space and is off screen. Molly Brown starts with a position we’ve seen a lot in this game -> three players on the far sideline and letting Liza Minor and Lisa Pitcaithley attack in the middle.  Counting Mosquera in the deep space, Revolution has 4 players defending Minor and Pitcaithley.

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(2) Molly Brown’s movement to find space against the zone

Minor and Pitcaithley move to the near sideline – taking two defenders with them.  Lohre sits on the far sideline drawing a defender to her.  That leaves Chastain moving down the field on the far sideline as the one downfield player that Mosquera has to pay attention to.  Sarah Pesch moves back into the open space to get an easy pass from Applegate.

All of this movement from Molly Brown is terrific.

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(3) All of this movement also opens up a nice throwing lane from Pesch to Chastain

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(4) As the pass from Pesch to Chastain goes up all three of the other Molly Brown downfield players attack deep.  The movement from each of these players is worth thinking through:

Lohre is unguarded on the far sideline,

Pitcaithley’s quick reaction will get her a bit of separation on Mosquera who has to switch directions

Minor’s defender is right with her.

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(5) The position when Chastain catches the pass is fascinating

Lohre is open on the far sideline – her position draws the attention of two defenders – Manuela Cardenas coming across the field and Laura Ospina marking Chastain.

Minor recognizes that she isn’t open deep and comes under

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(6) The result of all of Molly Brown’s great movement is that Pitcaithley has lots of room to attack the deep space on the near sideline, and Chastain puts up a perfect pass.

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