I was recruited by Michelle Ng and Without Limits to write about my experiences in my final season of College Ultimate. 2011 has many possibilities...let's see how they pan out. E-mail me (robyn-fennig@uiowa.edu)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The "Play-After-The-Play"

Last night I was on the phone with Dave, talking about ultimate. What's new, right? I found myself re-visiting a concept that I credit to my high school softball coach, Mr. John Rosenberg: the-play-after-the-play.  This concept has been drilled into my head for years. "Fennig, think about the play-after-the-play."

What did this mean?
It meant to think ahead. See what was unfolding on the field before my opponent did. I realized that I do this all the time on the ultimate field. I honestly thought something was wrong with me. So many of the top players say "I don't think. I just react." Well, I'm sorry, I think all sorts when I play. I haven't been playing forever and require the whole thinking thing. Sometimes, I think too much. Sometimes, not enough.

The Play-After-The-Play really is about one thing: field vision.

How to See a Play Develop
I feel that this skill is learned through time and practice, just like any other skill a player learns. For me, that meant changing how I watched the game. As a new player, thirsty for knowledge about this game I was so desperately falling in love with, I spent so much time watching college nationals games (CBS Sports at one time had all the finals footage online for free before Ultivillage took it over...). I remember sitting on my computer at home in Muskego with my Dad, streaming the 2007 National Championship games. I spent so much time during the summer of 2007 watching and re-watching the Hodags win the over Mamabird. Both teams had ridiculous chemistry, and just had such strong players. At first, I'd spend time watching the disc moving, but found that I was overlooking the real action.

Just like the days of watching basketball game footage, I began focusing all of my attention on the off-disc action. At the time, I was a cutter. I sat at the computer and watched Will Locke get the disc deep, and watched Drew Mahowald set up the play-after-the-play as soon as the disc went up to Locke. I recall this moment quite exactly, because, it was the first time I actually thought critically about what was happening.

Over the years, I have had many teammates ask me how I got to the point I am at with how I think about the game. At this point, I simply start spamming them with all sorts of links with games to watch. I tell them to watch it, and we typically will meet up for coffee or something over my laptop. I'll ask, "What did you see." At that point, we'll talk about big plays, we'll talk about big throws. But then I'll ask if they saw the off-disc action. The answer is usually no, unless it's an iso situation.

When you watch film, watch off disc movement. Watch how the players are clearing. Watch how space is created and how the secondary cuts are timed. Handlers, watch how the handlers get open and create space. Watch the give and go--focusing on the secondary cuts. There's so much off-disc stuff to focus on. I find that talking about the stuff that's going on is crucial. Don't just watch film by yourself, watch it with a friend/captain/coach/player. Not everyone sees the field the same.

Bringing Your New Mantra To the Field
Me and Roxie talk options.
So now you're seeing all sorts of awesome things develop. There are a few ways to bring this to your team.

1) Helping Your Noobs
Watch your teammates. Sideline talk is important, but even more so is using practice time to help your rookies. Grab a rookie on the sideline. Watch a veteran. Watch them set up the play-after-the-play. Explain to your rookie about what's going on. Point out when your vet sets up a secondary play. When they're clearing space or setting up the next cut, or just streaking down field. From my experience, in women's ultimate, true rookies (who have no experience) take a bit longer to develop the field awareness of seeing plays develop. It's okay to take someone aside and help them see the field the way you now do. But it's important to also try to understand how they see the field. If they saw another option, make sure you tell them that your suggestion is another option.
Pat Niles helps Anna Hettler between points.

2) Helping Your Vets
When you're being a kick ass teammate, you can help your vets. Personally, I'm not a fan of sideline talk on offense...it can be difficult for on-field players to communicate when everyone is yelling and screaming.This means, if you see a vet who isn't busting it or someone who didn't take a good opportunity, encourage them to do it. "Hey (Name), you had a really good opportunity to set up a good deep cut when (Other Teammate) had the disc off that strike. You had your defender beat. Totally take advantage of that match up." The same can be said of when you're on the field between points. Note: don't be a jerk about it.

3) Setting Up Situations
Situational scrimmages are key. As a captain/coach/person who plans practice, incorporate this into your practice plan.
**I'll talk about teaching skills in a later post, I promise. I got an e-mail asking about that last week. I promise that I'll get to it in the next week or two!

4) See all the options
Try to see off-disc movement better when you have the disc. This really is improved with more play time. Seeing the best option, not necessarily the first, is something that everyone really should work on, even if they think they're pros.

Most Important, Practice what you Preach
If you want your teammates to respect you, you have to follow through. Work on improving your field vision is a constant process. It is something to keep working on and developing as you continue to play. It is a process, and it doesn't happen over night.

The same high school coach who drilled the "Play-After-the-Play" into my head, also taught me something key: to be a student of the game. Always be learning. Never be complacent. Your knowledge can grow even when your skills and physical ability cannot.

Wanna watch some clips and don't have time to search YouTube for something you haven't seen. Go here!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Iowa Indoor Scrimmage: North Central Top-5 Division I Preview

So the Indoor Turf Practice Facility, aka "The Bubble," played host to a little round-robin style tourney January 22-23. With arguably the top five teams in the North Central Region there, it was an early season opportunity to get some extra practice in before major College Season participation. Here's a little breakdown of the teams...according to Robyn (hey, that's me!) Really, there is no rhyme or reason to the way I wrote. Just whatever team was there I thought of, in no particular order.

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, SOL (Eau Claire, WI)

SkydMagazine Preview
SOL Blog
My undergraduate alma mater. *Sigh* It sure was weird finally playing against them. The team is rebuilding. Coming back from the huge personnel and leadership losses from the 2009-2010 College Season, SOL is fighting the good fight. Offensively, SOL is anchored by the handling core of captain Brit Gartner (#11), captain Iansa Zaldarriaga (#5), and transfer from Loyola-Chicago Meredith Bray. These three clearly keep the offense going; however, running an offense with three experienced handlers can be difficult. Melissa "George" Jordan (#23) got some experience with Drag'n Thrust. Cutters like Estelle Taquet (#24), Tracie Anderson (#45), and captain Heather Wroten (#41) are much improved, but they need to assert themselves more to really have the same offensive impact they had in previous seasons, especially with the shift to a side-stack offense. Right now, the cutters are marked by inexperience, and seem like they need to know where to go for continues as they explore the side-stack and isos offensively. Jess Haller (#1) and Melissa "Brownie" Brown (#7), in my opinion are the two most underrated, and under utilized players in the SOL roster. Both are splitting time between handling and cutting. It would be great to see them busting deep more...utilizing height, air skills, and their uncanny ability to read the disc. Granted, it was SOL's first time playing since before winter break, I am interested to see what is coming from this young, budding team. Coach Pat Niles has some work to do fixing his chest hair...Ryan Cabrara isn't a good look for him. However bad his chest hair may be, he brings much needed experience to the young team. As he continues to be integrated into the program, he can use some of his world championship (with CLX 2010) knowledge and help get rookies up to speed. I'd like to see him implement the same systems he did for SOL in the past...I would say we were successful with it.

Iowa State University, Women Scorned (Ames, IA)
SkydMagazine Preview
Women Scorned Blog
Jasmine "Jazz" Draper (#12; 2010 Callahan Top-10) returns for her controversial fifth year of eligibility. That's a huge story in and of itself. I don't think her field presence can be over-emphasized. The point of this post is not to go on and on about how good she is. I mean, we all get that. But she brings a ton of experience and some leadership to the team. Personally, I like seeing that Magon Liu (#08) and Jessie Erickson (#14) have finally come into their own and have asserted their field presence. Magon's backhand huck is practically unstoppable. Even though she's short, her high-release backhand huck is phenomenal. She's quick. Stopping her strike cuts and keeping her momentum to a minimum is key to getting other handlers to step up. Lindsay Gapstur's (#02) much improved forehand brings added versatility to a solid handler core, combined with Sarah Pesch's (#97) sick lefty break throws. They got some pretty good rookies, like high school stud Cami Nelson. In my opinion, you're going to concentrate on the people I've mentioned. But guess what, the real underdogs here are Becca Miller (#47) and Caitlin "Bosco" (#03). Watch these two. They are fast, have ridiculous hands, and are the pinnacle of the horizontal/split-stack offense. Becca, Jessie, and Bosco tend to get the big gains under, utilizing their speed and read on the disc, looking for continues (not necessarily the big throws). The big throws are left to Liu, Jazz, and Gapstur, who like to put the big ones in the endzone.

Carleton College, Syzygy (Northfield, MN)
SkydMagazine Preview
Syzygy Site
Their roster is stacked. That's all there is to it. Anna Snyder (#23) and her little sister, Julia, have some ridiculous throws. Elise Rasmussen (#25) is sick. Personally, my favorite player on their team is soccer player, Marlena  "Marley" Hartman-Filson. Though they have taller players (i.e. Flannery McArdle), Marley is the most athletic tall player in the region, if not in the country. Dead serious. Put her up there with former Bella Donna Sandy Jorgenson. But what makes Marley so freaking good: she has phenomenal disc skills to match her athleticism and ability to read the disc as a defender. Oh yeah, she can run you into the ground. I was disappointed that Merritt Swain (#17) wasn't playing. She had ankle surgery in fall, which is sad. I hope she recovers soon and is back on the field. She's another one of those girls I love playing against. This team is stacked from top to bottom with more experience than any other team I know (most of these ladies have been playing forever...well, they have lots of youth and junior worlds experience to boot). They look deep a lot offensively, using their height for isos underneath. They don't do anything snazzy. They play good hard D, and smart O using their height and athleticism.

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bella Donna (Madison, WI)
SkydMagazine Preview
Bella Donna Blog
I'll be honest. I thought the Bellas would be hurting more than they were. The roster I saw in fall is significantly different than the one they brought last weekend. I was wondering: where did all the vets go? But rest assured, like half of the semi-finalist team from last season is back again. Emelie McKain (#17, FOTY '08, All-Region Selection), Al Ellis (#16, Central FOTY '10) and Rebecca "Reebs" Enders (#12) anchor the handlers. Without the cutters from last season, it's giving long-time players like Becca Ludford and Rachael Westgate (#26, Central FOTY '09) the chance to shine. And shine they will. Both have great hands, great throws, and make great decisions. Sarah Scott (#31). Get used to hearing that name. She was a noob on Bella last year. Mikey and I call her "Torpedo Girl." She's so explosive in her layouts, she gets picks up trash like you wouldn't believe. I like her playing style a lot. Coach Courtney Kiesow (Multiple All-Region selection, Callahan Winner '08) brings more experience and knowledge of the program. Defensively, the Bellas are bringing back the poachy zone look that they introduced last spring. Though it gave them some troubles in the semi-finals at nationals last year vs. UC-Santa Barbara, the look proved particularly useful against the more inexperienced teams/players. Offensively, McKain and Reebs are looking for the hucks, while Sara Scott and Becca Ludford look for the cuts.

University of Iowa, Saucy Nancy (Iowa City, IA)
SkydMagazine Preview
Saucy Nancy Blog
Where to start with our team. I feel like I talk about us enough. I mean I could do a breakdown of our whole roster, but what fun would that be? I feel like it would ruin this whole blog thing right now. I'll be writing more about us as the season goes. But here's a taste, I guess. Me...well, I like throwing and wearing skirts. No shocker there. Preferably to Chelsea Twohig (#10), she's good...she was super sick this weekend and actually didn't play on Saturday (which saddend me). Katie Johnson (#7), you can read all about her athleticism and stats HERE. Liza Minor (#3), good. Jen Nowak (#49), good, wears neon, and doesn't like basketball jerseys. Audrey Erickson (#6), underrated and fast. Good hands. Kristen "Apple" Appelson (#1), fast. Bekah Hickernell (#13)=chill, jack of all trades. Head Coach Mikey Lun (Multiple All-Region selection, CLX standout) brings experience and fundamentals to the team. While assistant coaches Steve "Birdman" Hanson and Dan "FBO" "PDA" "DK" Kresowik are able to add even more one-on-one time and expertise to the team. Our team is young, lacking some high level experience that the players on Bella and Syzygy have, but we are eager to learn and thirsty for success. The Saucy O is about taking advantage of mismatches, especially from the pull.  There's not a ton to do against it but play good D. As the season goes on, look for us to be more conservative with the disc, and our young core of handlers to keep improving the chemistry. Though we lack the swing looks now, it's definitely a point of emphasis. Defensively, I would predict us to play lots of man, as we continue to work on the fundamentals, and take advantage of the raw athleticism our players have.

I mean, I'll do a thourough D-III and Conference Previews for D-I closer to tourney time. Much season left to go!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unrelated, Unnecessary Bragging

Look how cool UIowa is.

<-------We practice here all winter! Welcome to The Bubble. Or as I call it, Heaven. (Or at least as close as I can get while I'm living in Iowa City for the winter...). I literally got chills when I walked in for the first time last night. Let's be honest, I think I'm allowed to be spoiled, after spending three and a half years in Zorn Arena.

Oh yeah, Saucy welcomes Iowa State University Women Scorned, Carleton College Syzygy, University of Wisconsin Bella Donna, and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire SOL this weekend for our indoor scrimmage tourney. It takes place in The Bubble. So excited.

First Practice: Expectations

**Fun fact: I said some version of the word "expect" a whopping 35 times in this post.

The importance of understanding what expectations exist cannot be stressed enough. Understanding what is expected of me from my teammates, what I expect from myself, and what I expect from my team is important. I feel like expectations have to be assessed before any sort of goal setting can take place. I would like to think that many of you have assessed expectations. However, I waited until my first practice back to really try to analyze the expectations.

Why wait until now? Well, I had knee surgery the day after Thanksgiving.(While all of you were chowing down on some delish food in a gluttonous fashion, I was fasting for my 6 am surgery on Friday. Boo) I mean, I wanted to see where I was when I came back before I even set tangible goals. Last night, Saucy Nancy had it's first "Official" practice of the 2011 College Season. I have to say, as my first practice back to the realm of ultimate since Club Nationals 2010, I had fairly low expectations. It isn't because I have low expectations for me or my team. I tend to think I am fairly realistic.
What are Expectations
Expectations are different than goals. Google says that  expectations are belief about the future. Something you anticipate with confidence. Goals on the other hand are an objective that a person plans or intends to achieve. Expectations are something that you expect will happen. Goals are something that you hope will happen.

Personal Expectations
Personal expectations are always a bit more difficult for me to assess. I seem to do this thing called overanalyzing, and I tend to be on the pessimistic side of things. Prior to practice, here's what I thought about. I call these Robyn's Pre-Season Reality-World
1) I have not played ultimate since the end of October.
2) I have not sprinted since the end of October.
3) I threw a few times over winter break, nothing substantial.
4) I am lifting more than I thought I would be at this point post-op.
5) I felt as though I could have "worked harder," but I'm not sure that was the case. I made the decision to ease into things more slowly than I typically do after an injury.
Needless to say, I didn't suck as much as I thought I would have. I mean, I am a bit sore today, but I would expect nothing less. It serves as some motivation, that is for sure. But my personal goals for this season can be reassessed. I'll put that off until after this weekend's scrimmage/tournament.

I feel that my team expects me to be a handler who gets the disc a lot. Not saying I'm going to control the game, but I know from convos with Mikey, what my coach expects me to do in game situations. I know that my teammates expect me to be active on O. They expect me to get open for dumps, or make the strike cut up the line to make a big throw. They expect me to be smart with the disc and not throw it away. My teammates expect me to get big in the air in our zone D. My teammates expect me to pull the disc consistently.

Team Expectations
When it comes to the big picture of a team; however, I feel as though I am better at assessing where we are at the moment. After watching my teammates doing some intense plyos and lifting before practice, I know that I have never been on an ultimate team quite like this.
I'm seeing rookies making progress. People I wouldn't expect to get up a few inches, are jumping that box with one foot. I'm seeing people adding weight to the bar on their deadlifts, and squat form improving tremendously. The off-the-field drive, desire, and time is being put in.
Personally, I have the basic expectation that when I show up on Tuesdays/Thursdays/Fridays/Sundays, people are working hard. I expect that every single one of my teammates will continue to lift, condition, and train intensely throughout the season, tracking their improvements, taking Mikey's recommendations to heart. I expect that my teammates respect and encourage each other. I expect practices to be challenging, and that all players experience personal growth this season.

I also expect my team to not turn the disc over on O a ton of times; that we capitalize on every opportunity and make smart decisions. I expect that we will out-D our opponents, beating them with our legs and depth.

If all of my personal and team expectations are met, I expect to be playing in Boulder with my 28 teammates.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Preparing for the Season Ahead: Lifting

**POST EDIT: Katie Johnson in Skyd Magazine. This girl is my inspriation

Saucy has been hitting the weights since November. We've been working in phases. We expected everyone to have been working hard all winter long. From the throngs of e-mails about lifting, working out, etc. I've seen flooding my inbox as I'm in Muskego, I'd say it's happening on a large scale.

Team accountability is helping me with my personal accountability. It's definitely helping me stay on par. I'm making some noticeable gains since surgery in November. It's hard to take it slow and realize that this is a long-term process, no matter how many surgeries I have had, or how much experience I have had with strength training.

This team has a unique approach. Everyone holds everyone accountable. Holy crap. It is not something that is dictated from the top down. Saucy has a very "bottom-up" approach. Yes, our head coach (Mike Lun) holds us accountable, but he has such success because every Saucy is committed to making team (and program) as strong as possible. Improving individual skills, fitness, strength, explosiveness, and power are the fundamentals we want to build our team on.

Twice a week, we have team lifting sessions in the Old Rec building. These sessions concentrate primarily on power/explosive lifts for lower body, like squats, dead lifts, RDLs, etc., mixed with plyos. Many girls do independent upper-body workouts outside of these sessions, more tailored to our individual goals and expectations. It was exciting to talk to Mike and have him say that he sees noticeable differences in the explosiveness of individual players. From what I understand, this is the first time Saucy has done a mandatory team lifting program. The team is already reaping the rewards.

When we return, we will add conditioning workouts to the mix. Much of the work will be done on the indoor track, but it sucks that I'm not ready to participate in them. I could get down about it, but I'll be hitting up the pool at least twice a week to be focusing on low-impact training for a few months during the cold Iowa winter.

So as I prepare to head back to Iowa City next weekend, I'm still lifting. I may still be able to sky Katie Johnson, but it wouldn't hurt if I had a vertical like hers....see picture to the left. That would be her showcasing her 28 inch vertical at college nationals last year. This is my motivation for training. I know I can get myself in better shape. But even more, I know that my team benefits from me and the rest of my individual teammates working hard. I'm excited to go back to Iowa City and keep going.

 If you're new to lifting/training for ultimate. Check out these links. I find them especially helpful.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011: An Exciting Year

Michelle Ng sent me an e-mail, asking if I would want to contribute to a blog for women's ultimate. I mean, this is a pretty broad subject...so where do I go from here? I do not think I am the most captivating of writers, but to be quite frank, I am passionnate about women's ultimate.

Here's the two minute elevator speech: I started playing in spring 2007 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. There I learned all about the struggles of creating a new team in a location that gets dumped with snow and is bitterly cold. (As I write, they have somehwere like 30 inches right now) I learned a few things about how crucial the indoor season is to areas like the North Central Region. I graduated in 2010 from UW-Eau Claire, to pursue my Masters in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa. I am fortunate enough to have the chance to use my final year of college eligibility, in what will be my 6th year in college. Making the transition from one team to another was surprisingly easy. Honestly, I love the Saucies. I love the team. I love the program. I buy into it. Well, it was easier than I ever imagined it would be.

As for what I envision for this blog. I'm not sure at the moment. I guess all of the topics will relate to the 2011 College Season in the North Central Region. Specifically, my experiences with Saucy Nancy (University of Iowa) and development of women's ultimate in the North Central Region. Adjusting to a re-surging team that is making a run at 2011 College Nationals while recovering from knee surgery while being indoors is a challenge in and of itself. Maybe I'll let you all know how that's going (considering I actually started lifting two days ago with the go-ahed from the surgeon, my legs absolutely HATE me). I'm planning a skills clinic/development weekend in Madison in April, and there will be something here about that before, during, after. On top of that, add some USAU restructuring that has essentially changed nothing in our region, other than the name and bid allocation system. But the North Central Region is lucky enough to have some teams that are on the cusp of big things, and I'll be more than happy to share everything I know that Skydmagazine hasn't already shared about them. them.

I think I've sufficiently either bored you or peaked your interest for one post.

Hugs, hucks, and high fives,