2013 World Games - East Coast Tryouts

Posted: March 28, 2013 03:49 PM

2013 World Games: The Journey to Cali
East Coast Tryouts

Team Four is dominating the men’s two-on-two field at the United States National Team tryouts in Washington, DC. Tom Doi has kicked his motor into full gear before others have even considered a second wind. Taylor Pope’s short throws are crisp and he is working well with his teammates. Brett Matzuka is taking full advantage of a game designed, it seems, specifically for his style of play, baiting his mark into lunging left so he can throw right and turning to get blocks on cutters before they even realize the disc has been thrown their way. George Stubbs is showing off the machine gun footwork, full arsenal of throws, and top speed that might just make him the most complete player at tryouts.

Two-on-two is as revealing as it is exhausting. Played on a field the size of a standard end zone, there is nowhere to rest when you’re too tired to keep cutting and nobody to help when you get beat deep. Demonstrating the ability to create and defend on an island at a tryout where the field is this deep—where the East Coast’s best are making sharp, powerful cuts, gritting their teeth to leap for aerial blocks and narrowing their eyes to show in-the-zone focus— is the first step toward earning a roster spot.

Matty Tsang is talking to the female group (players have been separated by gender for two-on-two) about momentum. Angela Lin and Lindsey Cross have just won a long point against Raha Mozaffari and Octavia Payne, and the assistant coach is reminding players that a willingness to grind for shorter throws builds energy that leads to more open hucks. "This is a mental exercise," he says as he urges the women to dig in. "When we force a turn, let’s have that killer instinct. Let’s say ‘Yes! I’m about to score!’"

"Sharpness," says head coach Alex Ghesquiere when asked what he’s looking for as the day moves forward. "It’s not there yet, and I want execution to improve. We need to see more focus." Ghesquiere speaks in matters of fact, delivering messages without beating around the bush or chastising.

"Let’s be willing to throw a couple more passes to open up our space," chimes in Tsang. He frequently articulates the how to Ghesquiere’s what, making for a duo that is highly effective at bringing out the best in such gifted players. "Learn from your teammates’ mistakes, and let’s be willing to work to make it easier on ourselves."

Players are split up for seven-on-seven scrimmages, the teams made of up 13 players each to replicate the World Games’ allowed roster size.

"A guy is captured by a barbaric tribe that has him write a statement," says Dan Heijman. "If it’s true, they’re going to throw him into a lava pit, and if it’s false, an alligator pit. But when he writes something down, they read it and let him go. What’s he write?" Heijman has stumped his afternoon teammates Peter Prial and Kath Ratcliff mid-warm up. Quick carioca shuffles and sprinters’ steps combine with skeptical, inquisitive grins to produce a relaxed intensity.

"I had to deal with this for five years!" jokes Matt Rebholz, a college teammate of Heijman’s. 

A team is coming together amidst a group of individuals.

Ken Porter, a long-time Ring of Fire standout, has quickly taken to calling Greg Swanson "Swanny," the nickname used by many of his Chain Lightning teammates. Robyn Fennig and Allison Maddux, one from Wisconsin and the other from California, share laughs over their differing definitions of the word "cold." And when Jared Inselmann, a 2009 national team member, pulls his hamstring, he replaces his cleats with running shoes and grabs a clipboard; he’s here to offer whatever support he can.

On Sunday morning, players are given personalized feedback about their Saturday performance. "Everyone had bad turns yesterday," says Ghesquiere. "It was universal." Bart Watson, a former national team member serving as part of this year’s selection committee, says feedback has three common themes: be more aggressive downfield, be less aggressive with throws and show that you can play defense.

The second day of play starts with a three-on-three mixed-gender end zone simulation in which the coaches give a familiar reminder of ultimate’s simplicity.  "It’s easy to see if we’re successful in this drill," says Tsang. "Are we using open space and giving the thrower two options?"

Full-field three-on-three, another test of players’ ability to perform in isolation, follows the end zone reps. Watching such talented players in so much space is a real treat: Stubbs is banking and floating break throws into difficult windows; Payne is taking off deep with 40 yards and no help defense to be found. And just as fatigue sets in and space starts to evaporate and players settle for iffy hucks rather than swings, lazy comeback cuts rather than big gainers, Becky Malinowski opens up her stride and finds herself wide open in the end zone, bringing down a mid-range flick to end a nearly nine-minute point.

"Want to go over there?" Dylan Tunnell asks Cate Foster. The 2009 World Games teammates are sitting on the far sideline, Foster icing a right hamstring that was tweaked when tryouts began and pulled on the last point; Tunnell is gesturing toward the rest of the tryouts, who are taking a water break. Though clearly in pain at the moment of injury, the only discomfort Foster now reveals is an aversion to the ice pack on her bare skin—today’s weather is significantly less windy and drier than yesterday’s, but it’s also a few degrees colder. She has opted, instead, to remind Tunnell of how much she loves him and sing the praises of his younger sister and fellow tryout, Leila. She tells him that she’s not sure she can walk yet, playfully answering his question with an eye-rolling smile that says "duh." He replies with the same expression, "I’ll carry you."

It’s all about match-ups when the group starts its final round of seven-on-seven.  "There are known entities now," says Tsang. "We want to see who has the skillset to match up with them." Sean Keegan and Nicky Spiva, two players that have shown impressive throws and endurance, go at it; Keegan denies two under cuts in a row, but when a break throw goes off, Spiva ends the point with a huck to the end zone. Tsang points also to Payne and Kath Ratcliff, a match-up of one of the tryout’s fastest women against one of its most savvy and dependable handlers.

Faces are serene in the final huddle, where Ghesquiere encourages a final push for a Dark vs. Light showcase scrimmage to 15. "This is our last chance to be shiny, Team USA."

Both teams hold their ground when the game starts, trading to 3-3. Spiva, having thrown a hammer to Chain teammate Tunnell for one of those scores, covers a lot of ground to sky Danny Clark and set Dark up for the first break of the game. Georgia Bosscher and Sarah Griffith test each other’s late-tournament speed; Sandy Jorgenson continues to patrol the deep space. Dark scores another break. Wary of a bigger deficit, Light’s Brett Matzuka goes to work against Ring teammate Porter’s mark: around backhand, lower around backhand, wider around backhand. Inside-out flick, scoober. Matzuka floats a swing over a woman’s head five or six throws later, but after his team gets a block, he throws the goal: 5-4, Dark.

Players are asking the score and patrolling the sidelines in what has taken on the feel of a tournament bracket game. Even the coaches feel it: Tsang is pacing the sidelines alone, notepad in hand, while Ghesquiere and Watson trade off sets of push-ups in between pulls. Momentum swings to Light when they break to 7-7, but Spiva catches a goal (his third of the half) and Dark takes half up a break.

It’s now a game to 10 thanks to time constraints. Light breaks to start the second half after a great point from Peter Prial—he gives-and-goes with Heijman for half the field before scoring the goal. But on the next point, Dark’s Greg Swanson shows what he has left in the tank, flying horizontally to save an errant swing before taking off to catch a deep goal from, of course, Spiva. White holds with a smooth, all force-side point, and Jenny Fey shouts from across the field to jokingly congratulate the coaches on their well-constructed teams; it’s universe point.

Stubbs pulls for Light, telling his teammates that he’ll go downfield after the turn—he has been handling all game. But a Dark line that features Keegan, Mozaffari, Spiva and Tunnell works the disc down the field. Tunnell takes over on the end zone line, and Mozaffari hits Sam McClellan on the break side for the win, 10-9 Dark.

Byron Hicks starts the post-game huddle by formally thanking everyone for their time and effort.  "When we go abroad," he says, "we go to win."

Tsang is the first of the coaches to speak. "I’m confident going into Worlds because of the learning curve we saw this weekend. You all gave parts of yourselves that will be in Colombia."

"That covers it pretty well," says Ghesquiere. "You gave everything you had, and this was a great conclusion. We appreciate you making our jobs that much harder."

Stretching complete and en route to the parking lot (goodbyes would be exchanged later, after food and drinks), Leila Tunnell remarks on the chemistry that was built throughout the weekend and the relationships she is excited to continue. "Everyone was so positive and excited," she says. "It took a while to figure people out and develop chemistry, but it never felt cutthroat."

"What Matty said was right," says Stubbs. "We’ll succeed because of the environment we created, where everyone is held up by everyone else wanting them to be successful."

More than just names on a roster, a true national team is emerging from out of the United States’ rich talent reserves. And for Colombia, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and Japan, here’s the scary part:

"I played as well as I could have," Stubbs says, "but I have more in the tank."

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