The Ultimate Nation - DeAnna Ball & Mike DeNardis (March 6, 2014)

Posted: March 7, 2014 02:05 PM


Ultimate Nation: 2014 Episode #3

Host                     Guests 
Bourland Matthew    Headshot DeAnnaBall Headshot MikeDenardis 

 Matthew Bourland
Manager - New Media
USA Ultimate


DeAnna Ball
Head Coach
Ohio State Fever

Mike DeNardis
Head Coach
North Carolina Darkside

Note - the following is a transcript of this week's show, lightly edited for clarity:

USAUltimateLogo 200x200

Well hello everyone. Welcome back to the Ultimate Nation. Today we have the pleasure of talking to two college division head coaches, DeAnna Ball of Ohio State Fever and Mike DeNardis of North Carolina Darkside.  DeAnna, Mike – thanks for joining us today.

Headshot DeAnnaBall   You bet.
Headshot MikeDenardis   Thanks for having us.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200  

Well, before we get started, just a reminder that if you have questions for today's guests, use the Twitter #ultimatenation, and maybe we'll read your question on the air. We already do have a lot of good questions, so we'll get right to it.  This first question is from us, though.

Mike/DeAnna, for those who might not know you, give me some background on your ultimate career and what led you to where you are right now.  DeAnna, could you start?

Headshot DeAnnaBall   Sure. So, one of the interesting things that comes up often is that I've been around ultimate and playing ultimate longer than most of the players that I coach now have been alive, so that's one of the interesting tidbits that comes out often. I did play competitively in the women's division for awhile.  I played with Clutch, Collide, MOJO, and those teams at one point or another made it to the national field.  And then back in 2006, I was approached by some of the Fever players, their coach was moving, so they asked me to step in and start coaching them, so I've been working with the girls for - this is my eighth season with the team now.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Wow.  And you, Mike?
Headshot MikeDenardis  

Yeah.  I start playing at the University of Iowa.  I actually went to Iowa to try to wrestle, unsuccessfully, and after about three months, I did some cross training with ultimate, and after about three months, I stopped wrestling and went solely into ultimate because I immediately fell in love with it. I'm from Chicago, so after college I moved back and played on Machine. I had a small team with my ex-Iowa teammates for a little while. I played on Machine for the majority of the time. That's where I started coaching. I coached Northwestern for four years.

I had a job opportunity in 2007, and I moved to North Carolina. I started playing with the team called LOS there because I thought I wasn't going to playing too much more competitive ultimate, and that team got me hooked, and I met one of the players named Mat Thomas who was a senior on UNC, and I asked him since I coached Northwestern, if I could help him out. Jared Inselmann was the coach there, and he left the next year, so I've been the coach ever since.

USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Nice. Well, I think we're going to dive into some of the questions we got from people who sent them in.  This first one comes from board member Mike Kinsella. He asks:
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Mike, if you could start that one, that would be great.
Headshot MikeDenardis   TYUL, or Triangle Youth Ultimate, in the last couple of years has built a pretty strong base of players through high school. And just the TFDA in general is a large organization, and they'll help us with matching funds for Nationals.  Conversely, they have a coaching program, so some of our players will get credit for this sponsorship for Nationals, and they'll coach some of the youth programs, so it’s a nice symbiotic relationship where they'll provide us some funds for Nationals, we'll give some support staff. A lot of our players have come from the Triangle system, so it has benefited both of us to a great deal.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   That's great.  And you, DeAnna?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   Yeah.  So CUDA here, Columbus Ultimate Disc Association, which is one of the USA Ultimate Affiliates, they've been an enormous support for us. Similar to what Mike was saying, we've been able to work with them and have the girls handle some duties for some of the league work, some of the local tournaments that happen, and we get funds via doing some of that work, so it is sort of like a work for hire, but it helps us out a great deal in terms of our funding and our programs.  Of course then, as a result of that, we're able to help the organization run some pretty decent events and keep ultimate growing in this community. We have leagues all year round now, and they're always shooting back to us and giving us great support.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Fantastic. We're going to move on to another question. This comes in from Bill Bourret. He asks:
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   DeAnna, if you could start, that would be great.
Headshot DeAnnaBall   I'm guessing the pressure is different because I'm not out there on the field trying to do the work.  So, in that regard, I can probably carry more of the nerves for the players if need be. I like to think that my nerves are running a little more ragged than theirs are when they're out there trying to do the work. I can go back to prequarters in 2012 in Boulder at Nationals, and I remember that game was immensely tense. The wind had picked up. It was one of those windy days in Boulder. Certainly, the emotion usually comes out after that too, right, so you have a lot of nerves going, and some good things happen, and it has to let go at some point. I'm sure that the nerves are similar, and just watching them perform, particularly when they perform well, is quite a joy for sure.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   I was actually there. I watched the end of that game. That was pretty exciting.  Mike, and you?
Headshot MikeDenardis   I've been coaching for awhile now, so my nerves aren't the same level they were as when I stepped on the field at Nationals as a player the first couple of times. I tend to remain poised because I know that generally with young people there's a ton of energy there, and I need to be that calming presence. I'm definitely a vocal coach, but I don't necessarily get nervous at this point in time. I mean, there will probably be a level that there might be some butterflies still, but right now, I try to be steady for the team as much as I possibly can.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Nice, and on a related note, and this is a question from us, how would your upperclassmen describe your coaching styles? DeAnna?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   I think it is continually evolving. I think the group of girls that I would consider upper-class, you know we have one player that has been with us for five years now, I think she would consider me pretty involved. I like to be involved with the rookies when they come in. I know keeping the background interactions with the team positive and keeping everything moving forward is important. I think I put a lot of personal involvement into that, and I think that continuing to do that helps build the program.  It is not just about building a team every season, it is about building a program. I think it is important to keep that piece moving the team forward. 
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   And you, Mike?
Headshot MikeDenardis   Yeah, I agree with DeAnna. Specifically, our senior class has seen a pretty big change in me because of where we came from. Their freshman year, we didn't qualify for regionals, so it’s basically, I went from being more of a disciplinarian or authoritative figure, to running it more democratically where I take feedback from the captains. I'm less vocal in terms of trying to motivate the team to just letting them run themselves. I solicit as much feedback as I can from our captains because I trust them, and that's the system we're running now. I trust them fully at this point in time, so I use their feedback as much as possible to aid myself versus basically demanding whatever comes of them every step of the way.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   It’s also a lot easier to trust your team when you guys are winning as much as you have. 
Headshot MikeDenardis   They make it easy on me.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   We're going to move on to another question. Again this is from Mike Kinsella. He asks:
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   DeAnnna, you want to go ahead with that?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   Sure. Repeat the first part of that one?
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Sure. What advice do you have for new coaches, and how does coaching mindset differ from playing?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   I think the advice for new coaches is a lot of patience, and of course it depends on a lot of where in the program's system you come in. Whether you're building a team from scratch or whether you're trying to continue with the success of a program. So it can kind of change depending on that situation. I think that the mindset of coaching – someone asked me that fairly recently, what it is like, or how I got to be where I am in terms of the coaching and the way I think about coaching. It’s a lot different than playing, and there are things on the field that happen that I never was able to put into words or explain very well as a player, even though back when I was playing, it was all players doing the coaching, or whatever, but now I have to find the words and find different ways to explain it. Different players learn different ways. It’s just more a little bit mental and sort of teacher-student almost I would say.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   And you, Mike?
Headshot MikeDenardis   I would say just try not to be overly passionate. I think anybody who coaches ultimate has passion for the game, but I think there's varying levels of player success that come into coaching and experience, and I think the one thing that I've learned through my time coaching is that you should have passion, clearly you don't want to lack passion when are doing stuff and not be inspirational, but also I've seen people become overbearing in that passion. I think that's the biggest thing I've learned through the years, that you want to show people and guide them, but you also don't want to become a burdeon on them because you are over-passionate through coaching.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   That's a great perspective. We're going to move on to another question. This also from Mike Kinsella. He wants to know:
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Mike, if you could lead with that, that would be great.
Headshot MikeDenardis   I think the general answer you'll find is soccer players. You'll find a lot of cross country runners come to ultimate because they cross-train with ultimate. But I think just in general, soccer is the stock answer, but what I've found is that football players make incredible players, depending positionally. Like, we have three or four ex-football players, and they are all, they picked up the game so fast because of how football's taught, where it’s a bunch of breaks. It's more quickness than speed, and that's how ultimate's run. So I think football's a – the difference is a lot of football players tend to come in bulky, so they don't have a lot of endurance, and that's something you have to manage when they come in. But, in terms of just probably the biggest sport that I think translates, its probably football. The other one I'd say, which is strange, but tennis. I think tennis – in terms of throwing, the reaction, and the body mechanics – is so much similar to throwing a Frisbee, that some of the best throwers I've seen are ex-tennis players.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Interesting. DeAnna, I imagine you aren't getting a lot of football players on your team?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   Yeah, not so much. I will say though, Mike, I thought I was going to have a unique one, because I was going to say tennis as well. We've had a couple of tennis players, and you are exactly right on the throwing. It’s pretty interesting to see that evolution from a tennis swing to a throw. I totally agree with the soccer. We've had basketball players, we've had volleyball players that have come, we even have a rower currently. Interestingly enough, one of our players, she's not with us this year, she graduated, but we had her for a couple of years. She was a hockey player, and strangely enough, I think it’s a little weird to maybe go out on the ice to find people, but I think that field sense that you see with soccer and the like also translate from hockey from being on the ice. I think anything that does give you sort of that "knowing where everybody else is in the particular space" is going to be something that translates pretty well in ultimate for sure.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Interesting. Let's move on. We have another question, it’s from Robert Gough. He asks:
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   DeAnna?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   You know, that’s interesting. Right now, I would say in the time that I've been in place, our girls do most of the recruitment, and I'm assuming that what he is asking is how we advertise the sport and how we get people to come into the program, and that is in large part based on what the girls do, and what they do in the fall for recruitment. It’s certainly not that the coaches don't play a role in that. We'll try and attend any of the gatherings when they are trying to bring people out, and we'll talk to people and actively sort of encourage them to consider playing ultimate and the like. In terms of on-campus things, for the most part we stay kind of behind the scenes on that.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   And as a follow-up DeAnna, did any of your freshman this year see you guys on the semis last year?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   We have the luxury of having that play on ESPN through YouTube, so we've been able to show them that. I don't know if they saw it ahead of time. I actually don't know if anybody saw it ahead of time. I think that kind of promotion has worked well because certainly there are freshmen who come to us because they know about us ahead of time. It’s not that we have to seek everybody out anymore for sure.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   And, Mike, what about your recruitment strategies?
Headshot MikeDenardis   Most of our stuff is done through the TFDA/TYUL. That's our best recruiting tool right now, besides results. I think it’s amazing, after we won Stanford, there were three kids that already emailed us that are sophomores that said, "UNC's on my radar, just wanted to let you know if there's anything I need to do." It opens your eyes to see these kids are taking notice now. But it’s mostly driven through the TFDA and TYUL, and we have a Nike Camp on campus now, and we had 100 kids the first year. So that's a recruitment tool. Our coaching, we have five or six coaches that coach the local teams, so obviously that helps, but I think it’s all driven through our Triangle Area organizations.
Headshot DeAnnaBall   I would like to add, too. I had sort of left out that piece too in terms of CUDA, our local organization, and Mike you reminded me. We're getting a pretty strong high school contingent of coaches and the like here now, too, and that's been beneficial. I just got an email the other day from one of our high school coaches about someone we should come look at, so that's definitely another avenue we've been able to look at.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Well, success breeds success it sounds like. Well, speaking of success, let's move on to this season. The first set of the rankings just came out. Mike, your team is #1 after winning both events you went to. DeAnna, your team is #2. You're both up-and-coming programs that have been getting stronger and stronger over the last few years. What is it like now, being a team that no longer is surprising everyone?  Mike, could you start with that?
Headshot MikeDenardis   We haven't changed our approach in the last couple of years. Since we've realized that we can be successful doing what we do, we continue with the principles that have guided us. The short of it is, we try to play perfect games every game. It’s generally unattainable. At no point in time have I said, "Guys, you played the perfect game." But to strive for it is important. From where we started to where we are, if we continue to strive to that, we're going to continue to get better. That's the short of it. It’s simple in how it’s laid out, but there's a process to it, but that's the short of it. Even if you're #1, if you're continuing to try to be your best, then you're never going to really be satisfied.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   What about you, DeAnna?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   Yeah, I totally agree with that sentiment – the never being satisfied part. You always just have to be striving to move forward. Despite our past successes, I don't think we take for granted, or have some sort of underlying expectation that it is just automatically going to happen. Every year, we go through the similar motions in terms of how we approach the teaching piece in the fall and the implementation of strategies. I think one of the differences is, because we've been seen a little bit more, maybe people are paying attention a little bit more. I feel like we have to add a little bit to our strategy and change things up, so that way we have something a little bit different, a different look to give to people, and of course we have different personnel, so we kind of have to re-look at everybody and figure out where they best fit into the systems and the like. But it really is just pushing forward and not looking at where we've been. We love where we've been, and we appreciate all of that, but it really is about just continuing to improve the system.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   That's a great point. And actually, Mike, your team's offense was broken down strategically on an UltiWorld piece earlier this season. What kind of adjustments did you have to make after that came out?
Headshot MikeDenardis   Yeah, it’s interesting to see this new media, and I welcome it. It’s great for our sport, but clearly we have a target on our back by everyone, and I'm sure Stanford's not going to help. I run our defense, but my co-coach Matthew Scallo runs our offense, and we have to break down the same stuff that everyone else is breaking down and add wrinkles. I don't think anyone's going to change their structure because somebody did an analysis of them. At the end of the day, your players still make plays, but you definitely have to put wrinkles into your offense when everyone sees it. There's a lot of good teams with good coaches out there constantly analyzing stuff, as we are too. When there's more film on you, it’s definitely something you have to think about more than you'd like to.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   That's definitely true. Speaking of players and playmakers, who are the unsung heroes of Fever and Darkside, and the up-and-coming players that people don't know about that are going to be turning heads, so to speak, in the series? Mike, could you start?
Headshot MikeDenardis   Sure. I just want to start first with the guy I want to mention, and he's been just lights out for us all year is a kid named Tim McAllister. I don't think he's got any notoriety, but he's been playing amazing for us. He plays on our D line, and we have him matching up against a lot of people that are bigger names in the sport. He matched up against Trent Dillon almost exclusively in the Pitt game. He matched up on Tim Morrissy on D in the Colorado game. He just, he played great, and he's been playing great all season, and he's one of the guys to watch. I think that most of the other guys that we have, one of the other guys that we have that came back was Charlie Shaffner. A lot of people call him Chuck the Truck. People I think know, he led Nationals in blocks by a wide margin last year, but he didn't play in our first two tournaments, but he came back and made some amazing plays for us. Those two individuals really helped from where our defense was a little bit earlier, end of fall and earlier this spring. It made a huge difference having those guys contribute at 100 percent. So those are two names.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Nice. And you, DeAnna? What about for Fever?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   You know, we've got two girls that played U-23 over the summer: Cassie Swafford and Paige Soper, or Diddy. So those are the couple of names that a lot of people know and hear when it comes to Fever, but you know we've got a large, so we've got a lot of other people that contribute great. Cait Harley always comes through for us. Katie Backus, or Zeus, she always comes through for us. And we have a couple of rookies, Alaine Wetli comes to mind, that are going probably be pretty important people for us out there on the field for sure. It’s always fun to watch the girls evolve through a season, and you know we had practice last night, and watching where some of our rookies are from a just a few months ago to where they are now, it’s pretty amazing. I think we're going to see a lot of contribution from a lot of different people.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Nice, and most people are familiar with the first two names you mentioned. How close is Fever on making its decision on a Callahan nominee this year?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   Well, we've made that decision, but I will wait til that goes through official measures before I announce that.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Fair enough. I think we have time for one or two more quick questions. This one comes from Rob Gilmor. He asks: 
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   And let's preface that by saying that aside from your team, who else are you looking at as being contenders that most people aren't expecting?  DeAnna?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   Well, the not expecting part, if you go back a few months, I would have said Central Florida, although we have faced them a lot, and I know that they're constantly improving and growing, and obviously their results at Stanford were great even though they didn't kind of finish probably where they wanted to. So I don't know if I'd call them a dark horse because I think they're already kind of in, and a team that everyone's looking at. I think Western Washington, we've haven't seen them, but from what I hear, they're going to be a team to contend with. And we've faced Northeastern a couple of times, and I'd be curious to how they're going to fare to coming out of all this.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Nice. And you Mike?
Headshot MikeDenardis  

I think the big one that I've taken note of is Florida State. They are just crazy athletic. Probably one of the most athletic teams. I think we're pretty athletic. Colorado is really athletic, but they're right there. We've played them twice already.  Our game at Stanford was pretty windy, but in the fall, we played them in a no-wind situation, and they just lay out for everything. They have a kid named Chris LaRocque I think his name is. He's a very, very strong handler, but they have a bunch of different handlers, a bunch of different athletes that touch the disc, move the disc, and they're a fun, fun team to watch. So I think they'll be one of the teams that will end being – they got some good wins at Stanford – but I think people are looking at them as a second-tier team, but I don't think they are. I think they are right up there with the top five in the country.

And then Havard also is a very solid team. I don't recall their coach's name, but he's done a really good job of instilling discipline in them and running their system really well, and they have little Stubbs, that, you know, he's just amazingly athletic already for a freshman.

So, those two teams are the two teams that I think will exceed expectations come this spring, come the tournament.

USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Well, we'll find out in a few months. I think we'll do one more quick question, and this is just a general from us. What is the outlook for the rest of the season? What tournaments are you going to? DeAnna?
Headshot DeAnnaBall   We're headed to Music City this weekend, and then we're going way out west to face some of those west-coast teams at the end of March. We're going to go up to the Northwest Cup, Kyle [Weisbrod]'s new tournament, so we can get some exposure out there. Those are two big ones before we head into the series. 
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   And for Darkside?
Headshot MikeDenardis   Our major tournament left is Easterns. We'll have that and then just a little bit of a layover until conferences. We'll probably schedule some scrimmages against Ring or UNC-W, just some top-level competition to work us into the series in that lag time in between. But Easterns will be a pretty tough field also, so we'll see a lot of the same teams from Stanford and some new ones. 
USAUltimateLogo 200x200  

Nice, we wish you the best of both, huh, both of you the best of luck the rest of this season. You can be on the lookout for feature stories about both of these programs in the upcoming spring issue of USA Ultimate magazine. Also, after we have the transcript up for this, probably tomorrow, there will be a short clip from Tom Crawford as he talks about the Carleton tragedy.

DeAnna, Mike - thanks so much for joining us and hope to see you later.

Headshot MikeDenardis   Thanks for having us.
Headshot DeAnnaBall   Awesome, thanks. Hey, I'd like to give a quick shout-out to the other two coaches that help out, too. Brent Reebe and Nick Hamilton, so I just wanted to make sure that they got their kudos as well for helping this team out.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Nice. Well, take care and thanks for joining us.
Headshot DeAnnaBall   Thanks a lot.
USAUltimateLogo 200x200   Thanks, bye.


Ultimate Nation Extra

The following is an Ultimate Nation extra clip (including a transcript) by USA Ultimate CEO Dr. Tom Crawford.  In this clip, Tom addresses the recent tragedy at Carleton College.



So Matthew, thanks for another great Ultimate Nation and thanks to the coaches for their insights and their time. I really appreciate it.

This week, rather than reflecting on activities going on here at USA Ultimate, just wanted to take second to pass along, again, our thoughts and prayers to the entire Carleton community, to the families, to everyone that was touched by the tragedy that took place with the accident. 

We are coming into work every day with very heavy hearts, and just want everyone in the Carleton community, and really the entire ultimate community know that the entire staff here, our board, and really everyone in the community has everybody in their thoughts and prayers every single day.  And, we are constantly thinking about everybody and hoping for the very best in the recovery of the young men that were injured and that the Carleton community get through this as best as they possibly can, and that the families feel all of the support that all of us are trying to send their way.  And, thanks very much for the time.


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