Thursday, April 27, 2006

more discussion on traveling

There is a thread on rsd about a clip of the day on ultivillage about whether a throw is a travel.

There is another factor at work here in determining the callability of the travel. I am distinguishing callability from legality here.

What makes a violation likely to be called? Two that spring to mind are:
1. Egregious violation
2. Clear advantage
2a. Breaking the mark
2b. Getting power on a huck

Some will argue about whether 2b is worthy of a travel call or not, and I'm not going to get into that today. But I read the commentary here, then I watched the clip, and came up with another factor:
3. Violator makes no attempt to avoid the infraction.

A defender who appears to try to avoid contact on a layout is less likely to be called for a foul than one who does not, even if the contact is the same. In this case, the hucker doesn't even seem to pay attention to his back foot. He just lets his back foot slide. It didn't drag, and it didn't simply roll over to his toe because he was exerting effort to keep it down and he made a powerful throw. A spectator or player who sees this play might intuitively feel that it's a travel not because he can actually tell that the foot moved before release, but because the thrower did nothing to prevent a travel.

I've made a few petty travel calls in my life, and have been irritated quite a few times by small travels, and I think those were due to factor #3 here. An example is the "handler hop" you'll sometimes see where a handler will catch a swing pass flat-footed and will take a little hop-step to the continue side. Beau's travels might fall under this category, too, as he walks back and forth about the same spot but isn't really setting himself up for anything.

Frank H might be on track with his belief that the soft love policies of ultimate that have allowed these routine, no-need violations to go unpunished have resulted in a less fundamentally sound game. But that, too, is a discussion for another day.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

score one for the forces of good

Word on the street is that Zip decided to renew his contract with DoG for another year. And the rumor mill (which apparently is two steps less reliable than the street) is saying to expect that at least one top player from out-of-town will be wearing the DoG orb this fall. Combine those with the return of old stalwarts Jim and Al, increased confidence and experience for the rest of the boys on the heels of our surprising performance at Nationals last year, and things are looking brighter for DoG than in any year since at least 2002.

Ever the pessimist or possibly realist, I had some discussions with DoG leadership over the winter and suggested that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that whichever team that the Pike guys signed with would be the stronger team (and one might almost hope that those guys had enough confidence in their own abilities that they felt that way; I think most gamechangers actually do feel this way, but only the more obnoxious actually say it to others). But not any more. Last year it took me until sometime between the end of Regionals and Day 2 of Nationals to really believe that the team could achieve something big. This year I’m sold already.

Now, back to college seedings.

Monday, April 10, 2006

claw vs pancake

I posted this to rsd the other day in response to someone’s claim that pancaking is the only way to catch:
[quotes from Zaz’s book deleted]
If I had to give a single rule of thumb, I'd say that you'd catch more passes using the pancake if all you're doing is standing and catching with someone, but you'd catch more passes in a game using the rim catch. I'll cite an example from yesterday. In the first point of the Fools semis yesterday, I cut back to the disc with Jay Dono close behind. The pass was about head height. If I was by myself, I could have taken a little hop and pancaked it at chest level, but if I tried that in this situation, Jay would have had the time to get there first. Instead, I ran through it and clawed it, and even then I think he touched it enough that it almost spun out of my hand. Pancake = block (but not a drop), rim catch = chance for a catch. Had I not caught it, someone could have cited this as an example of why the pancake was preferable, but they would have been wrong for this situation.
I liken the pancake catch to a two-handed catch in baseball. It’s how beginners are taught, it’s more secure on your basic catches, but there are plenty of circumstances where it’s not the right catch: a first baseman stretching for a throw, an outfielder diving for a catch, a shortstop going into the hole. And for an experienced, athletic player on a routine catch, it’s just as secure and might help the player get in position to throw.

I know that some good players (even a great one like Paul Greff) swear by the pancake and I’m not going to try to convince them to switch, but the rim catch is a more natural catching motion. We have opposable thumbs for a reason. A rim catch is just two one-handed catches happening at the same time.

The real benefit, though, is that it can be easier to catch in a game. You don’t have to slow down to catch the disc (and you can avoid getting run over by a flailing diver), you can reach a few inches further, and you have better feel (once you get used to it). Additionally, since the disc is already in your fingers, you can quickly take your grip for the next pass (and if the pass is at head height, you don’t have to hop as with a pancake).

If the disc is at chest height, I’ll usually pancake it, especially if it’s windy or if there is no pressure from the defense. But for higher passes or ones where a block is possible, try running through the disc and catching it with your fingers. And take a look at the book for more info.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

“This is our year”

The mantra of the ShortFatGuys, mostly jokingly, I think. (It’s hard to tell whether a team with this name could possibly take itself too seriously. But I’m further polluted by the fact that I speak only in clich├ęs (e.g., at double game point, I might say, “This is an important point, guys”) during tournaments like this, except for the rare moments where I completely lose myself in the game.) Borrowing from Groucho Marx, I said more than once that I’m not sure I would want to win any tournament that the ShortFatGuys could win. We’ve all read about the origins of the SF(^O)G over on Billy’s blog, I hope. The team has been around for 20 years now and has never won a tournament. We’ve been in the hunt each of the past three times I’ve been at Fools with the team, but we blew a huge lead against WeSwill in the semis the first time, got outmatched last year in the finals by some offshoot of Pike, and lost a close one to eventual champ BOMB this year.

We’re an old team (on Friday, we could not put out an under-40 line), but almost everyone either still plays club ultimate (although mostly Mixed) in the fall or once played on the DoG O. Most of the older guys are also more handler than receiver. These two things allowed us to play something not completely dissimilar to a motion offense. We certainly didn’t kill the other team with hucks, but still moved the disc around in all directions just fine. We did suffer at times from unforced throwaways, but we can easily attribute that to rust. I also gladly credit goaltimate with one of my throwaways as well as a once-in-a-lifetime beauty of a sharply-bending beach backhand for a goal. Goaltimate encourages quick decisions and throws, and while that is good for speeding up your thought process, it’s bad if your brain already moves quickly. Thus, I found myself a yard from a goal looking for a 2 yard push pass for the score, and instead saw a 15 yard cut. Instead of switching to a forehand grip, I simply lowered my hand and threw the disc how I was holding it.

We started the weekend off slowly with a loss to Middlebury. What killed us was our huck defense. Our strategy appeared to be to encourage them to throw deep (not that they needed any encouragement), then trip over ourselves to give them easy catches. I think it was in this game that I went from baiting the silly long throw after a turnover to giving up pursuit of the long cutter within a second. Next up was the Mennonites, who kept the faith despite having difficulty scoring. 15-6, SFG. They finished in last place, so this may have been their best game of the weekend, but they probably should have scored even more goals against us, making several turns near our end zone. Final game of Friday was a rematch of last year’s final, with similar results.

I felt, well, not exactly tired, but weak that day, as if I was recovering from the flu. I wasn’t wheezing or feeling like my muscles were going to snap, but I felt a bit old again and not particularly excited about another year of playing. But things improved markedly over the next two days as I got my second, third, and nth winds, almost enough for me to become overconfident in what I can still do. Damn kids got nothin’ on me, still. You’re all punks, too. You know who you are.

This left us ranked 11th of 18 after Day 1, with games against the 6th, 8th, and 12th ranked teams on Day 2. The Canadians (winners in 2004) were first, sporting all-white ensembles complete with sporty hats. We jumped out to a big lead, and I started to worry that maybe we’d crush them and demoralize them so much that they’d fold up and do badly the rest of the day, thereby hurting _our_ ranking in the “juggle format”, blatantly and without credit ripped off from the Pittsburgh scramble format. But then they scored a few to close within 1, and we eked out a 3-point win, which did nothing good for our ranking. I noticed that both teams occasionally employed one of my most brilliant defensive innovations, the Indefensible, which leaves a deep cutter open by 10 yards for a 60 yard throw. It turns out that this throw is incomplete a shocking percentage of the time, even for those who consider themselves huckers. Keep an eye out for this. A real key to this is that the throw has to be a really long one that requires the thrower to put everything he has into it. Most guys have big enough of an ego to think, “I got that throw.”

Next up was an Ironman-less Penn reunion team. Things started out bad for them and never improved. We played well, but the 15-5 victory was more indicative of the way they played. My beach throw probably broke their backs, I reckon. On the sideline between games we discussed variations on the theme of calling a player’s girlfriend’s name in order to get him to cut. Best story came from Billy about some anal guy on the West Coast where they called his girlfriend’s name and everyone on both teams as well as on the sidelines cut at once. Also a good “nice ass” story from Marshall.

The wind picked up for our final game against the Plonkers, perennial contenders at this tournament. We managed to score an upwinder against their zone on the first point, added another right after, and soon found ourselves up once again by a bunch. A few giddy points later, we’d rung up another 15-5 pre-cap victory. I was a little fearful of the mighty algorithm still, afraid that our vanquished opponents would be ranked so lowly that our wins wouldn’t count for much, but when the final rankings came out, we found ourselves 5th, just ahead of our old friends WeSwill.

A bunch of really young kids were at the party that night. All weekend long, I would look around the breakfast area at the hotel or across the line and not be able to recognize (let alone name) more than one or two people (and they were on my team). It’s now been 20 years since I first almost made Nationals (losing the game to go with Pittsburgh in the Mid-Atlantic region in 1986 after being up at halftime). If a typical career is 10 years long, I’ve been through two full generations of players, with yet another one bursting onto the scene. UPA ultimate has tripled in that time. More potential customers, I guess.

Quarters began badly, with us reverting to our turnover-laden (no offense, Billy) ways. Luckily for us, the Wilmington team wasn’t so efficient themselves, and we were only down 2 or 3 when we started playing a little more cleanly. Worm finally showed up after his ride was an hour late due to forgetting about daylight savings time. At halftime, continuing our philosophy started the day before, we looked ahead by exactly one game, picturing ourselves down by 4 at half in the semis to BOMB, and reminded ourselves to stay within 2-3 to keep it respectable. Returning to the present, we continued to play well, stretching it out to a 14-11 lead before closing them out 15-13. Overall, despite their hailing from Wilmington and us knowing it all, the game was pleasant and without incident. For the weekend as a whole, the only real contention came from an overeager young Canadian marker who had a few too many legitimate fouls in a row to be forgiven easily.

Repeating a stock line, I asked the captain of our semifinal opponent if he wouldn’t mind getting started since we had another game to play after that. We scored to start the game, but not before a humorous trip over your own feet, bobble it three different ways drop in the endzone by one of our players. We managed to nearly fulfill the prophecy, as we found ourselves down by 3 at half, then gave up the first goal of the second half. I saw my wife, told her that we’re down, they’re better than we are, but we still might win, and it looked like we might, as we clawed back to tie it and even took the lead as the cap went on. But it wasn’t to be, as they scored their next three possessions while we turned our next two, and the ShortFatGuys were able to keep their streak alive.

Our success, such as it was, is a testament to experience and skill, such as they are. We did better in windy conditions, worse when it was just a matchup of athleticism (even on long throws, which are both skill and strength). It does seem amazing that a team with a median age of at least 40 could still do so well in a tournament like Fools, which despite being much less prestigious and competitive than it was a few years ago, is still tough to win. Overall, I sensed a little too much of the West Coast philosophy of huck and hope, while simultaneously being a little envious of the free-wheelin’ fun.

Props to the weather for being warm this year instead of floody, and to the beer truck for being open during our fourth-round bye the first day. They should have provided more chairs right next to the taps, since my back and legs got stiff standing there for an hour. Jeers to the beer truck for not operating on Sunday, and for being too far from my fields on Saturday.

And for those interested in whether I’m playing again, yes, it looks like I am. I felt pretty good running around those last two days, didn’t have any real aches or attitude problems, and got that first tournament out of the way. Guess it’s time to buy another pair of cleats for the year.