Thursday, April 28, 2011

Metro East Regionals Preview

In lieu of writing another summary, I've included just the Metro East Regionals Preview that I wrote for the USAU below, which can be found at


It’s been two weeks since Conferences and the Metro East Region is gearing up for Regionals in Princeton, New Jersey this weekend. Conferences in the ME Region seemed to be pretty predictable with Ottawa and Cornell handily taking 1 and 2 in the Western New York Conference and UConn and NYU taking the top spots for the Eastern Metro East Conference. EME faced a lot of upwind/downwind games and had a considerable amount of jockeying for the top spots with Rutgers and Yale coming in close behind. There could definitely be a battle at the top this weekend considering that there is only one bid to Nationals on the line – but Ottawa is the favored team at this point.

The revised regions for the 2011 College Series have definitely shaken up the Metro East by removing some of the best teams in the Region, particularly Maryland and Pittsburgh who earned the coveted bids to Nationals in Wisconsin last year. Ottawa is looking like the prime team to fill in this void and represent the Metro East in Boulder; but the Lady Gee Gees are being realistic about the negative side of seeing a smaller pool of competition. As Captain Kathryn Pohran has explained, “While the idea that some of the tougher competition will be gone is good, the fact that there is now only one bid from our region does not change our game plan. We still want to go in with the most competitive attitude - we know that nothing is going to be given to us and we have to work to get it as there are no second chances.” The other teams in the region are more than aware of this as well, preparing themselves for some tight games in which anything can happen.

Shockingly, it seems that the top two teams from each Conference have not played each other during the spring season. All four teams have been diversifying their playbooks, looking to throw new defenses to surprise unsuspecting teams – and in turn trying to prepare their offenses to adapt to whatever is thrown back at them. UConn showed off a pretty impressive zone that stifled NYU’s upwind game twice at Conferences and Ottawa has specifically been working on their Zone O at practices lately in order to counteract the numerous zones that have been thrown at them. With so many competitive teams trying to figure each other out so late in the season, there are bound to be some interesting games that require a lot of quick thinking. Some of the close games may come down to the team best able to adapt to these conditions which will be a true, and exciting to watch, test of preparation and mental fitness.

As the Metro East teams ramp up their intensity this week, they are looking forward to what should be a gorgeous weekend of competitive ultimate with sunny skies and warm weather. It should be an exciting weekend for players and spectators alike with a tight race to the top and a single-elimination bracket on Sunday that can only end with one team headed to Boulder.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Eastern Metro East Conferences Recap

Quick recap of the NYU Femmes at Conferences:

Pool play was basically all based on upwind/downwind games that were won or lost on the flip. We handily beat SUNY New Paltz and looked good with our upwind throws - but we couldn't carry that through the rest of pool play. We lost on universe to both Rutgers and UConn after losing the flip. We were able to break upwind on UConn once, but that was merely to get back on serve because they broke us once early in the game. Our loss to Rutgers put us 3rd in our pool.

Crossover game against Yale was a very different game because we switched fields and therefore had a heavy crosswind with just a bit of an upwind/downwind slant. We ended up winning on universe point in a low-scoring game. It was good to beat Yale to get pumped up before having to face UConn again on Sunday morning.

Sunday morning, we played UConn in what was basically semis and ended up losing 10-8. We played pretty well but a large number of drops during key points really hurt us. There were a few points in which we worked really hard for an upwind break, only to have a drop by a wide open player in the end zone. It was a very frustrating game, but still fun because UConn is a very spirited team that is always fun to play. We definitely developed a good relationship with them and although we're dying to beat them if we meet them at Regionals, we still have a lot of respect for the way the play and how much fun they have while doing it.

We then beat Hofstra and Rutgers pretty handily in the next two gams to take 2nd. It was good for us to come off of a hard loss against UConn and be able to keep our energy up and play with a lot of intensity for the next two games. That is something we have struggled with and I was proud of the Femmes for being able to really rally at Conferences and take 2nd place.

On to Regionals!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Captain's Toolbox

This semester, I've been struggling a lot with just being a player and not letting my captain-minded thoughts get in the way of my role on the team. I share many of my ideas with some of the leadership as well as some of the other veterans who are looking for solutions. I really pride myself on being able to not only point out what is going wrong and what needs to change, but actually offering concrete solutions to specific situations that arise. Oftentimes, I find that it's not my place to give advice, that others don't want to hear it, and that what I'm proposing will not always be able to be effectively and quickly implemented. But, I have a lot of faith in the potential of teams and individuals to be able to accomplish a lot - and I have high expectations. I give people the benefit of the doubt and more often than I not, I err on the fact that my team CAN: CAN learn a new defense, CAN handle adaptations on the fly, CAN run 2 more sprints, CAN devote 2 more hours a week to ultimate, CAN change their dump cuts this late in the season if they need to change. By outlining some of my tried and true methods of effective captaining, hopefully I can put some of my thoughts out there in order to help other captains and teams supplement their own styles with some new ideas and change more of those "CAN"s into accomplishments. (I would love to hear back from others about their tools, so that I can make my repertoire more complete! Really, I would love to write an entire guidebook on how to be an effective captain comprised of the best advice from lots of captains around the country. Maybe when I'm old and rich and playing ultimate in women's masters and getting paid for it (a girl can dream), I'll do it).

These tools are in no way exhaustive. You can't just use them and expect big results. You can't use them without lots of other strategies. And I am in no way attempting to prioritize these particular things over others that may be more fundamental, more obvious, or more relevant to your team. Take this for what it is. Think about your reactions and your experiences. Give me feedback if you feel strongly about something. Use it to think about your own tools or what you would do if you were a captain. Share your ideas with others!

1. Be open, honest, and transparent.

This will give you authority and respect, and it will help to build trust. It will also foster these qualities in your team and hopefully they will be open and honest with you. If the team is seen as a safe place to express opinions and feelings, communication will be better. If you are open about the structure for determining playing time, there will be fewer mumblings amongst small cliques who grumble about playing time, and more players who come to you with "so I know that playing time is decided this way, but I feel like I'm not receiving my due because of X, Y, and Z." Communication. Communication. Communication.

2. Explain WHY.

As a captain, you have to make hard decisions that are not necessarily what the team thinks they want (sprints after practice? probably only a few people on your team will do this voluntarily...). If you explain why you're making these decisions and what the purpose of them is, then players will be able to recognize that you are not arbitrarily making unpopular decisions. There is a reason - and that reason is important. This also helps with building a system that players will buy into (#8, below).

3. Utilize the skills of your veterans.

For example, when I played during undergrad, I was almost purely a handler. The only time I ever cut was as the first out of the stack or as an iso in the lane. I understood cutting on a theoretical level, and I understood it from the perspective of a handler. Clearly my authority on the subject was somewhat tempered by the fact that I just could not be an example. I was constantly going to one of our best/most experienced cutters (best friend and personal life hero, Lindsey "Screech" Cross) and discussing someone's cutting problems with her, and then enlisting her to be both of our voices when speaking to that player. For one, she carried more authority than I did in that area. Secondly, she was just plain better at helping someone understand the nuances of cutting. And thirdly, she had examples and demonstration skills that I did not. She was a huge resource for me and the rest of the team, and I definitely could not have achieved many of the things that I did as a captain without her and other veterans stepping up to the plate.

4. Be serious...and a little bit ridiculous.

It's important to show the whole team that you have a game face, that you take things seriously, that everything is not fun and games, that you are willing to put in the time and the work. But that doesn't mean that you can't temper that attitude with a side of you that knows how to be funny, play games, and be outright ridiculous (always, of course, in the appropriate situation).

5. Learn how to read your team. If you can't, seek out who can and listen to them.

I cannot emphasize how incredibly important this is. Gage where people are coming from and what they need. Maybe they need to run sprints for 20 minutes, and maybe they just need to be able to go home from practice 20 minutes early. Decisions regarding the team are just as much about general strategy as they are about what your team needs right then and what is going to bring about the desired result. If you can't read how the team is feeling, then find a few people that can - maybe a rookie who is aware of how all of the rookies are feeling about time commitment and playing time, and a veteran who has insight into how tired the team is getting of early morning practices. And then actually listen to them and use what they say in order to cater to your team's needs.

6. Address difficult situations.

This goes hand in hand with explaining why. Discontent is bred by confusion and a lack of trust, so don't ignore awkward conversations or decisions that might not be popular. Address them with individuals and the team and you will command more respect and happier players, even when the decisions happen to be unpopular.

7. Think about the Little Things.

See previous post.

8. Convince everyone to buy into the system.

I think this is far and away the most important thing you can do as a captain. If you can do this effectively, then the rest of your job is relatively easy. If everyone understands the system, and believes in it, then you will have a content, hard-working team. Part of this is every person understanding what her role on the team is and how to go about filling that role. If she understands how she fits into the team and why she is important, then she will probably not need to complain about playing time, sprints, or mandatory conditioning. In addition, if players trust the overall structure of the team and the decisions made by the coaches and captains, they will be more willing to give their all to something new. For example, if you change up the default cutting structure in your ho stack, you may have a few skeptics; but if all of the cutters understand why you're making changes and what the intended result is, they will probably dive head first into working as hard as they can to make this new offense work. Accordingly, the chances for a successful transition increase. The joy of this tool is that it works no matter what system you have as long as you can articulate what that system is and how you're going to achieve its goals as a team.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tournament Recaps - FINALLY

I had high hopes of giving detailed re-caps of each Spring tournament that I attended with the Femmes. Sadly, and unsurprisingly, pesky law school got in the way. So, in an attempt to rectify the situation, I'm going to give smaller recaps here that really just go over some of the highlights. So far this Spring, we've attended Hellfish Bonanza, SMUT Love, and High Tide. (Yale Cup and Keystone Classic still ahead, before the Series!)

Hellfish Bonanza:

Forgive me for the terrible recap about this tournament, but it was awhile ago and it was my first East coast college tournament so I had no idea what to expect, who to look for, etc. Plus, I was mostly focusing on my team, trying to figure out how to work well with the individuals on my new team and to show them that I was indeed a good player.

Highlights were playing Delaware and Maryland.

We played Maryland and beat them for the first time in years. It was a good game because they had a few big huckers and we really needed to focus on shutting down their hucks and their deep cuts. That was definitely something we had been struggling with, so it was great to be challenged and meet that challenge head on.

We lost to Delaware in the finals. The Femmes obviously let Delaware get into their heads at some point over the last couple years. The team's demeanor changed before the game. When we were tied, girls on the team would make comments about "getting back in the game." I just couldn't figure it out. I'd ask, "aren't we on serve right now?!" We had some ups and downs, some good learning experiences and some moments of "how are we making these ridiculous mistakes?" Delaware did some particular things well: they threw a junk defense that they used just often enough to keep us on our toes, but not often enough to really let us get into a rhythm with it, and they played hard start to finish without any lulls. I think the game left us feeling like we're dying to play them again and show them how much better we were than in that game.

SMUT Love:

This was a good tournament to get a lot of our younger players in the game, playing a lot more than usual, and getting to really implement some of the things they had been learning in practice. Our first real challenge came against Towson, in pool play, in a REALLY windy game in which they threw a good zone and we just couldn't handle it. I think we had more drops in the one game than in all of our other games this semester combined...times 2. No joke. So, we lost by 4.

We met Towson again in the finals and really stepped up. I believe that the most important part of this game was our mental strength. We felt like we had been destroyed by them the day before, but we came out firing and only let them score 2 points against us for the whole game. It was a big step for us to be able to bounce back so quickly and with so much confidence that we could play the way we knew we could.

On a side note about Towson, I love that team. Towson up by 8 and down by 8 is the same team. They know the rules. They are spirited. They work hard. They care about each other. Their coach really seems to care about the team - not to mention that he was hilarious. He also knew the rules (perfectly, as far as I could tell), and he made sure to enforce those rules with his own team whether it helped or hurt them. And if there was a discussion on the field, he stayed out of it. These things seem like basics, but it is amazing to me how very few times I really witness this in a team (post coming soon about Rules!!).

High Tide:

It was great to get to see some teams that we wouldn't ordinarily get to see, even if it was at a Spring Break tourney. The highlights of the week were playing Smith College, Iowa, and CSU.

Smith College is worth mentioning mainly because they had 1 really great player who just tried to dominate their offense. I don't know who she was, but she was wearing a Brutesquad t-shirt and her skills only re-enforced the fear one can instill with a shirt like that. We haven't seen a lot of teams where 1 player can really make the difference and our success turns on shutting her down. She played well, and we worked hard to limit the impact she could make. Ultimately, we were successful, but it took a lot out of our best defensive players and was a great learning experience about high level women's ultimate players.

I don't know very much about Iowa, but glancing at their RRI, their past tournaments, and their undefeated record, I was surprised I hadn't heard more specifics about them. The first time we played them at High Tide, we lost. In the championship bracket, we beat them. We didn't play well in the first game, but we played very well in the second. They weren't quite playing up to the expectations I had for them, so maybe they were missing some key players? Still, a good team that it was a great morale boost to beat.

We lost to CSU in power pool play, and then again in the finals. I was STOKED to play CSU and I think that they provided the Femmes with an eye-opening experience. I remember them always being strong opponents, even though they were always in a VERY difficult region where they were often over-shadowed by UCSB, Colorado, UCLA, and USC. I constantly get questions about what it's like to play on the West Coast, and I generally stick to the same themes in describing what it's like: it's much faster paced, there's more team defense, everyone lays out more, players constantly bait on defense, they mix things up more, among other things. We go into the first game and what happens? CSU was playing hard. They came out sprinting, laying out on defense, playing hard dump defense. In the championship game, they threw a straight up mark with poachers in the lane, moved all of the downfield defensemen under, and trusted the mark to stop the big hucks. When the disc was swung, they played harder dump defense than I had seen yet this year. We were left in the huddle with fundamental questions about our playing: why aren't our dump cuts working? How do the cutters need to adjust? How do we motivate each other to run harder? While I wasn't happy to be losing, I'm glad that CSU exposed so many fundamental issues with our offense and showed the Femmes what level we need to work towards to really compete with these teams. We were able to re-adjust in the second half and ended up losing by one after being hard capped. Bummer. But CSU outplayed us and deserved to win that game. Thankfully, they better prepared us for all of our future games. And I have to admit, they represented the West Coast in a way that made me proud to say that's where I was "raised" (in ultimate, of course), and in a way that makes me hope they continue to do well throughout the rest of the season.

Looking forward to Keystone Classic especially so that we can finally see our Regional rival, Cornell!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Little Things

As dedicated ultimate players, we all put up with the questions and criticisms that exemplify the view that Ultimate is somehow less of a valuable commitment than other parts of life. We've all heard them: Ultimate isn't a real sport. Why do you waste your time throwing around a flat thing? I can't attend parties with you anymore because all you and your friends do is talk about ultimate. And on and on and on. I have plenty of thoughts on whether or not Ultimate is a real sport and why. I also have plenty of great comparisons about Ultimate as compared to any other sport, past time, hobby, experience, etc. But that's not what I really get to thinking about when people ask me about why I think that Ultimate matters so much. Specifically, they ask me why I care so much and why I sweat the little things for ULTIMATE. Going to my first Femmes practice made me really think about the little things and exactly why I do agonize over the small details of practices, warm-ups, games, social events, and correspondence in the context of the team.

I see all of the little things as tiny building blocks - practical tools that I can control and that can be used to accomplish a goal. It is the sum of all of the little things that really defines a team's personality and characteristics. I always believed this, but it's even easier to see as I play on different teams and meet new "little things" and their corresponding team personalities. I can actually see the way that a captain's favorite mantra that is used over and over again transforms itself into a team value...or falls flat on its face. I believe that effective leadership analyzes how all of the little things are done and determines what the outcome of each little thing should be. I think that one should think about why you're saying something, why you say it in a certain manner, when you choose to say it, who you direct it towards, whether or not you back it up with examples or long speeches or personal stories, etc. For all of the skeptics out there who think it's no big deal to just say things off the cuff to a group of 20 women college ultimate players who come from different backgrounds and have different skill levels and different perspectives, try to think about the way that you would have received that comment. Is it different than your best friend? Than the girl who has been playing since she was 5? Than the rookie who has never played a team sport? It is amazing to me whenever I find out which tiny things were picked up by others as being of the utmost importance. I wish that people told me that my pre-game speeches were inspiring and a big part of the reason why they ran so hard that first point. But, I've never heard that. I have been told about some of my most effective actions: the facial expression I always have in a huddle, the tone of my voice when talking to an opposing player, the ridiculous dances that I do on the line to lighten the mood, the surprise warm-up games I throw into Monday practice when we've had a rough weekend, the way I pick myself up after a particularly grueling collision with the ground. Most of these things are something you might be unaware of, but others are watching. Collectively, these little things add up to how you set the tone for the team.

In the same vein, every part of practice sets the tone for how practice is run in general, how welcome people feel, how hard they're willing to run that day. The personality of the team is palpable in the way a drill is run. I often think about how the way rookies are greeted when they walk into a room of returners translates into how much initiative they take on the field, or how confident they act when they are faced with an unfamiliar situation on the field. The seriousness of plyos and how much emphasis is put on doing them correctly rather than quickly can translate into how seriously one concentrates on her mark and the fundamentals of the game.

So, sometimes, it's ok to sweat the small stuff.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hello. My name is...

Uzi (my Dad even calls me Uzi these days), I'm 22 years old and I'm from St. Louis, Missouri. I started playing Ultimate my freshman year of college at the University of Southern California (Hellions of Troy). I played all 4 years of my undergrad, captaining for the last 3 years. Two years ago I played club for the SoCal Mixed Team LA Metro. After graduating, I moved to New York City to attend New York University School of Law. I played the club season with District 5, a Mixed team out of Connecticut. College women's ultimate is one of my favorite things in the whole world, and despite the seemingly impossible task of studying for 1L exams and attending Regionals, I am going to finish out my eligibility with the NYU Violet Femmes this spring.

Ultimate-wise, my first reaction to the east coast was "What in the hell is this!?" My second reaction was, "Seriously, what is going on?" Needless to say, I'm still amazed and intrigued by how different the game is on this coast. Although I am trying to take it for what it is, I constantly find myself comparing everything to SoCal and the West Coast as a whole. Therefore, you'll probably be subjected to an endless list of comparisons: USC and NYU, east and west, undergrad and graduate, captain and non-captain, sunny/warm and snowy/cold, and on and on and on. Since I am new to this Region, I'm learning the ropes: the teams, players, coaches, strategies, etc., so bear with me as I struggle to process all of these new experiences, as well as re-examine my thoughts about women's college ultimate in general.