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KEAY NAKAE

Inducted: 2012 - Player

Hometown: Mill Valley, Calif.

Born: Feb. 3, 1959

 

A lightning quick all-around player, Keay was one of the few true stars who could be distinguished from the highly athletic and talented players on the Santa Barbara Condors. Feared first as a top notch defender and later as an unstoppable handler, Keay was a master practitioner of his defensive craft. Often referred to as the top defender of the mid-‘80s, Keay was one of those rare players who could dominate a game with his defense, and he led the Condors to many victories with countless layout blocks in critical situations and unshakable transition offense.

From the Hot Sox in the late ‘70s to the Condors in the ‘80s (with a national championship in 1981) to the Iguanas in the early ‘90s, Keay was respected and beloved by his opponents, despite the fact that he shut most of them down. Although he was as tough a competitor as they come, Keay was always a champion of Spirit of the Game. He believed that for Spirit of the Game to be relevant, it was the responsibility of the high profile teams and high profile players to exemplify the best of behaviors, which is what he always strived to do.

Keay lives in Mill Valley, Calif. with his wife Nancy and their two daughters.

         

 

Playing Career | US Nationals | WFDF Worlds | Contributions & Service | Interview

   

Playing Career

Year
Team Name
1979-1980   Woodland Hills Hot Sox
1981-1987, 1995   Santa Barbara Condors
1991   Los Angeles Iguanas
1993-1994, 1997   Santa Barbara Beyondors

 

KeayHOF 

US National Championship Tournaments

Name    City    Year    Division    Placing
Condors   Santa Barbara   1981   Open   Champion
Condors   Santa Barbara   1983   Open   Semifinals
Condors   Santa Barbara   1984   Open   Semifinals
Condors   Santa Barbara   1985   Open   Pool
Condors   Santa Barbara   1986   Open   Pool
Iguanas   Los Angeles   1991   Open   Semifinals
Beyondors   Santa Barbara   1993   Masters   Champion
Beyondors   Santa Barbara   1994   Masters   Semifinals

 

 

 

 

 


WFDF World Ultimate Championships

Name    City    Year    Venue    Placing
Beyondors   Santa Barbara   1997   Vancouver, Canada   Champion
             

 

Interview

Q: What position(s) (e.g., handler, deep cutter, middle middle) did you usually play?

A: On offense I played every position. I followed the typical path of evolving into a primary handler over time. On defense I was the team's shut-down defender.

Q: Please describe your major accomplishments - both as a teammate and individual.

A: By far, my greatest accomplishment was winning Club Nationals with the Condors in 1981. I was a first-year player on the team that season, and this was really my first oppotunity to play big time ultimate against the other top teams outside of the Western region. I was really looking forward to competing against players that I had only heard about up to that point like David Barkan and Mark Orders. In the finals against the Knights of Nee, we found ourselves in a big hole at halftime, trailing 10-6. As a result of this circumstance, our defense was on the field most of the second half as we fought our way back into the game. I had wanted to cover Frank Bono, but there was already a long line of teammates who wanted to guard him, seeking to exact revenge for their losses to Glassboro in '79 and '80. So, I focused my efforts on Toby Hankins (who was the tournament MVP), and his brother Joe (who had the greatest overhand wristflip pull that I have ever seen). We finally were able to tie the game at 12, and went on to win 15-13. As my first and only Nationals title in the open division, winning it in the manner that we did puts it at the top of my list.

In my subsequent years on the Condors, we were a strong contender each season to win Nationals, but were never able to again achieve this goal, which is all I wanted to accomplish as an individual. Like everyone else, there were many moments playing the game that I remember fondly. One in particular was ironically related to a game that was never played. During most of the 80's, it was clear that winning Nationals would require a run of victories over some combination of New York/Boston, Windy City/Tunas, and Condors/Flying Circus. The teams knew each other well and could strategize accordingly. One year, at the tournament party after the finals, some members of the championship team revealed to me that they had actually formulated a contingency plan should they end up facing us in the semifinals or finals. They were going to have the person that I guarded just stand in the middle of the stack and do nothing, in order to prevent me from disrupting their offense. That was the ultimate compliment for a defensive player.

Q: Please explain why you stood out among the elite players of your time. What was it that you did best, or were known for?

A: I was an all around skilled player who could play any position. I was blessed to be faster than most and to be able to outjump taller players. My willingness to aggressively lay out for the disc made this skill another weapon and, some have described as, an "art form". I was also one of the first to exploit the use of the lefty backhand, which was especially useful to break the mark, of which I am happy to see is finally being used with greater prevalence today. Where I believe that I really seperated myself from others was on defense. I always matched up against the best player(s) on the other team and had conned myself into believing that it was actually possible to totally shut them down. My approach to playing defense involved much more than just hustle and desire, as I wanted to shift the inherent disadvantage of playing one-on-one defense from just reaction to informed anticipation. I was fortunate that the Condors had so many talented players, each with their own individual strengths, fakes, cuts, and go-to moves that they relied upon to get open, which allowed our team practices to become the perfect laboratory for me to experiment with different concepts and techniques that helped me to hone my craft. My goal was to understand how to  stay on-balance, which could then allow me to remain close enough to the person I was covering to either discourage a throw or make a bid to block one. Further, I sought to always win the fourth quarter, hoping to wear down my opponent both physically and mentally by applying pressure throughout the game, so that when fatique errors invariably began to occur, I could gain an advantage. Finally, and most importantly, I could not accept that my efforts had been successful in any game, or on any play, unless my opponent also felt that it was achieved in a fair and clean manner.

Q: What role did you play on the best (or most overachieving) team that you played on?

A: The important part of my career was playing on the Condors. Like any normal person, I thought it was more fun to play on offense. However, as a first-year player joining an elite team that was loaded with established talented players, it was clear to me that showing them that I could be effective on defense would be a good strategy to get more playing time. It turned out to be the right move as I did get to play a lot that first year, especially in the finals of Nationals against the Knights of Nee. From there, my role on the team evolved into something more significant. As it became clear that I was distinguishing myself as a premiere defender, it was also clear that focusing on this was how I could continue to make the greatest contribution to the success of the team. Thus, I essentially entered into a covenant with my teammates. I would defer my spot on the field during most offensive points to one of my talented teammates in exchange for being given free reign to play as much on defense as I wanted. Fortunately, our team always took pride in playing tough defense, so this provided ample opportunites to play offense after we forced a turnover. I would also still play on offense if our regular line was struggling, as well as at other critical points in the game. As older players moved on and were replaced by younger ones, I began playing more on offense as one of our primary handlers while continuing to be the leader on defense.

Q: What year was the peak of your career? During which years were you playing as the "stud" of your team? If you continued playing after your peak years, how did your role change? In what year did you stop playing at the top competitive level? 

A: During my entire time on the Condors, I was an important player on the team. I would say that 1983-1985 were my absolute peak years in the sport.

Unfortunately, my career as an elite ultimate player was shorter than most. In 1986, I decided to return to college at Cal Poly. While it was not my focus for being there, I started practicing with their college team as it was the only game close by. As fate would have it, I hurt my knee playing in a college tournament, when a player on the other team ran into me from behind as I was about to unleash a backhand bomb. After taking several months off, I resumed playing with a knee brace. I took on a more significant role as one of our primary handlers, as we had added a number of first-year players. I was still an elite player that season, even being a half-step slower, and the team did well, losing to Boston at Nationals in the quarterfinals. However, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), once stretched, is vulnerable to further injury, which happened again the next season (1987), damaging my knee even worse, At that point I decided to quit playing, at an age (28) when many ultimate players are in the peak years of their careers.

In 1991, after a four year absence, I returned to competitive play with the LA Iguanas. Due to a combination of rust and being just one year post ACL reconstructive surgery, I was now just an average player at best that year. Still, I really enjoyed being back on the field and the team did well, losing to Boston in the semifinals at Nationals. At the end-of-the-season team party, I was surprised to learn that I had been voted by my teammates as that year's Most Inspirational Player. This clearly was more of a statement about my character and being a good teammate than about the level of my play that season.

In 1995, I return to play one final year of open with the Condors. This was also a season of no significance as far as my candidacy for the HOF is concerned, but was personally very rewarding. This was now a completely different Condor team, with a new generation of players, most of whom were still in college on the UCSB Black Tide team. Although another four years older, I was actually a better player than in 1991, with my knee now fully rehabilitated, and no longer needed to wear a knee brace. I was one of the primary handlers on this team. It was fun to play with these younger players who were so enthusiastic and willing to learn from an older wiley vet like me. It also caused me to take a much greater interest in their future progress, as I enjoyed watching them continue to get better as a team and as individual players in each subsequent year, which eventually culminated in them winning their own back-to-back Nationals titles in 2000 and 2001.

Q: Have you served in an official capacity as an officer, committee member, coordinator, or voluteer for the UPA or other recognized ultimate or disc sports organization, or as a coach of a team? Describe role, dates served, accomplishments:

A: I coached the Cal Poly SLO men's college team back in 86-87, and coached a Bay Area mixed team, That’s What She Said, in 2010.

Q: Have you made other contributions to the development of ultimate?

A: Over the years, I have helped to organize and have been a volunteer at numerous ultimate tournaments and demonstrations of the sport at schools, camps and community events. I have also served as the captain of recreational league teams where the focus was on teaching new players the game.

Q: Why do you believe you are worthy of being inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame?

A: I don't have much more to add to what I have already written about my accomplishments on the field, other than to say that like most of you, I believed that in my prime, no one could cover me, and like fewer of you, I also believed that I could cover anyone. I hope that you will view me as my teammates did, as the primary antidote to quell the fear represented by the top player(s) on the opposing team, I did want to comment briefly on the Spirit of the Game. I have always believed that for the Spirit of the Game to continue to work, it is the responsibility of the high profile teams and high profile players to exhibit this behavior. Hence, this is what I strived to do. I was fortunate to learn how to play the game within the culture of the Woodland Hills Hot Sox, and subsequently play for the Condors, which were both teams started by groups of lifelong friends who had long standing mutual respect for each other. My attitude was also shaped by the fact that I won Nationals in just my third year of playing ultimate. Thus, I was able to realize early in my career that the rewards for capturing the highest achievement in the sport, while real, were also entirely intangible, consisting of the shared sense of achievement with your teammates and the enhancement of your reputation among your peers. Of course the latter was only bestowed if the manner in which you played was respected.

In summary, I would want you to know that I loved and respected the game, left it all on the field, and comported myself with class. As for that guy that caused my knee injury, he played for Stanford, and went on to become the CEO of a successful biotech company, who I now interact with as part of my current job. I still play some pickup ultimate in my community, and I am happy to say that my ultimate experience has now come full circle. I have devolved into that player that I secrectly always wanted to be: the guy that hucks bombs without conscience and doesn’t even pretend to play defense.

 

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