Thursday, March 08, 2007

SLUJ Spring League Preview

Below, you will find a long-winded and mostly uninformative preview of the SLUJ (St. Louis Ultimate Juniors) High School Spring League. It’s biased, opinionated, and I offer no guarantees of accuracy. I tried to be as fair-minded as possible, but if you happen to disagree or take umbrage with any of the below, forgive an excited league organizer who just wanted to tell the world about the incredible juniors ultimate being played all around St. Louis, Missouri. Our league continues to grow: 8 teams in 2005, 12 teams in 2006, 14 teams in 2007! As the number of players grows (I’d estimate around 400 this year), so does the level of competition. Check it out.

Parkway North: After unseating Kansas City powerhouse Rockhurst in the state tourney last year, PNH is back to defend their champion status, but they might as well be competing under a different name. As far as I know, less than 10% of last year’s team is still around after they graduated a senior-heavy roster in 2006. One of those graduates was Brian Parrish, the team’s star handler, and most importantly, son of the team’s VERY knowledgeable coach, Doug Parrish. This year, the team is going coachless, and from what I can tell, starting from scratch. It appears that hungry teams might have a shot at the champion this year.

Marquette: Nearly the exact thing that happened to Parkway North also happened to Marquette, with the slight difference that my sources inform me that THEIR very knowledgeable coach, Jack Curran, is still somewhat involved with the team. Last year, he was able to turn a team of rookies into a team of very talented handlers. Will he be able to work the same magic this year? Depends on his level of involvement, I’d say. The more he’s around, the better Marquette will be.

Parkway Central: The Chillaxers were a team with major potential that just couldn’t get it together last year. Dwindling attendance had them forfeiting their last couple of games, and showing to at least one that I know of with only five players. After talking with their captain, I get a frighteningly similar impression of this year’s team: athletes who play other sports who will “try and make time” to attend ultimate games. Their competitiveness will pivot on the buy-in that the team’s captain is able to achieve.

Desmet Varsity: Coach Pete Lenzini is back again with the maroon tide! This year, to be sure developing players get enough touches during league play, he’s split the squad into a JV and Varsity. It’s bound to benefit the varsity team, and since Desmet’s teams perennially have some of the best fundamental skills in the league, look for them to get hungry and push for a return to dominance this year. On a side note . . . Last year, I slandered the Spirit of Desmet’s players, even cast a shadow of doubt on Pete himself. This year, I’m here to say that I was wrong. Desmet was a frontrunner in the spirit voting at last year’s state championship, and our encounters during the league were better than civil, they were positively bursting with the “basic joy of play.” Rules were followed, applied fairly, and disputes were resolved amicably.

CBC: Three coaches. THREE COACHES?!? Yes, CBC has three coaches. It was neat to see the team progress last year. They may not have been the most athletic team in the league, but they ran a technically sound zone defense and worked hard to maximize the possessions they earned with that zone. If I remember, the team was young last year, too. Look for CBC to climb the ranks this year, but unless they’ve added some athletic talent to the squad, I’d bet they’ll hover somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Francis Howell Central Varsity: This is the team I coach. We only lost three seniors last year, and I’ve shortened the roster a bit and made playing-time a little more competitive, a tough decision for someone who got into this only to advocate the sport, but the more I thought about it, the more I decided that it was an appropriate move for a growing program like ours. Last year, our program’s second year, we also ran a JV team, and this year we’ve been able to draw a few of the more talented players from that team to fill the spots left by the graduating seniors. Due to the depth of our throwing talent, I’ve been able to move things around and hopefully open up the deep game a little. Once again, I see us as quicker, higher-jumping, and smarter than we were last year. With FHC, though, our success has always turned more on our mental/emotional game, rather than our physical/technical game. If we can get over the obstacle of our own self-doubt, we could easily surprise a few of the more established teams.

Clayton: This team has a pair of very experienced coaches working with it and a reported roster of over 30 players! Many of these, though, are reported to be “part-timers,” showing up to the occasional practice and not investing much in the team. In the past, they’ve been a bottom-half team. They’ll need to gather a core of dependable players from that list of 30 if they want to compete with some of the more organized teams in the league.

Priory: The Spirit winner at last year’s state championships, Priory is back with their brute-squad of six-footers. Reportedly, they’ve added a few more Adonises to the list; however, strategically they didn’t do much last year other than outrun and outsky people. I almost hope they never get a coach. If they did, we’d all be in trouble. Fun to play, fun to watch, but I fear they’ll never be a true contender until they have someone to teach them at least some of the more fundamental concepts of the game.

SLUH: They’ve regained their school-sponsorship and picked up a coach, and although they were a fairly young squad last year, they improved dramatically over the course of the season. With the new sense of legitimacy and the new leadership, look for SLUH to vie for one of the top spots, no doubt. They always do a great job of mixing it up defensively and making the most of their personnel on offense.

Vashon: A brand new team to the league in 2007, this is reportedly another team of pure athletes (basketball, football, track, etc.) None of them, however, have EVER played the game before. They do have a talented coach in Ben Taylor, but I’d bet they don’t hit their stride until after mid-season. Established programs should out-think them early in the season.

Francis Howell Central JV: Lots of new faces on the JV this year, and a roster of 17 means lots of fresh subs. It’s so interesting to see the JV squad improve and grow together over the course of the season. With a few new teams in the league and lots of turnover on the older ones, JV just might surprise a few of them.

Lindbergh: Now-senior and three-year captain Kevin Kneupfer continues to lead this team in 2007. These guys (and, occasionally, girls) play hard and with great Spirit, so they’re always a threat and always fun to compete against. They may have picked up a coach this year in local player Allen Moentmann, although I can’t confirm that he’s actually been involved. If so, the focus on strategy that he may provide might give Lindbergh the edge it needs to finally move up from the middle of the pack.

Kirkwood: Like Parkway Central, this team collapsed mid-season in 2006 due to inconsistent attendance at games. This year, the “Godfather of St. Louis Ultimate,” Buck Schnieder, is coaching the team. Still, there seems to be some question of whether or not they’ll be able to consistently field a team this year, since just getting their formalized roster ready in this week before league games start. If it happens, this team will actually be composed of players from three local schools (Kirkwood, Webster Groves, and Ladue) pulling the most interested and dedicated players from each of these schools (each of which has unsuccessfully tried to start a program in the past) may result in greatness.

Desmet JV: I have no idea what to expect from Pete’s JV team this year. Two years ago, the school’s JV team won a surprising amount of games in a league with mostly Varsity-only programs. I’m just glad that FHC’s JV will have a counterpart somewhere in the league. I hope that, as local programs grow, we might be able to move to a JV division . . . but with only two right now, we’re just not ready.


Coach Becker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, you have at least 14 teams in St. Louis area alone, right? Wow.

How many in Missouri/Kansas total?

Coach Becker said...

Kansas, I can't account for.

In Missouri, it's tough to say. I know of at least 15 (Yes, 14 in St. Louis plus Rockhurst in Kansas City). There are, reportedly, local juniors teams scattered throughout the more rural areas of Missouri, but they rarely come to local tournaments.

On a side note, It's been a mystery to me why there aren't more teams out in Kansas City. If anyone from Rockhurst is reading--why is that?

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what teams have been accepted into the YCC's?

Rockhurst said...

There are a few teams from Kansas City around, however they are mainly just kids who like to play pick up after school. None of them are very competitive.

Coach Becker said...

Why doesn't someone stand up and organize them into a league? If you build it, they will come.

The said...

coach becker-
leagues are totally for swill monkeys. Pickup is the most SOTG you can get. Sure leagues organize things, but once organized everyone is so focused on winning. Next thing you know, you'll see refs, sorry OBSERVERs, at every tourney. who wants that?
Anyway, don't be a swillster and good luck with your team.

Coach Becker said...

I'm not sure I understand just how having scheduled games necessarily leads to poor spirit and the end of self-officiation. Slippery slope, anyone?

Leagues legitimize our sport in the eyes those who know nothing of our sport. If you have a league, you have an establishment--not just a bunch of folks who sometimes show up to play. Then, if it runs for a few years, more and more people will hear about it; more and more teams will join because Spirited ultimate is FUN. Plus, beginning teams don't often START OUT with the support, resources, or will to travel to distant tournaments. Pickup is righteous, but for those who love the sport and would like to see it grow, youth leagues are a vital and necessary part of that puzzle.