Monday, April 13, 2009

2009 St. Louis Ultimate Juniors Midseason Update

Ultimate fans, I apologize. I missed the season preview this year. Something about having a 1 year-old that tends to shuffle the priorities, I guess, but with a giant stack of essays to grade laughing at me from the corner of my desk, I finally found the motivation to do a league write-up. So here it is, folks, and let me not begin without my usual disclaimer: The following information about St. Louis Ultimate Juniors and the people involved is a bunch of hogwash, not fit for washing the lowest hog in need of the most washing. All opinions expressed are just that, opinions, and I welcome dissent, because I once earned a little silver medal in debate at a summer camp for nerds, so I will probably pwn if we argue. League records in parenthases.

Blue Division

Desmet (3-0): Anchored by a pair of very talented handlers and with coach Pete Lenzini at the helm, this year’s Spartans may be the best high school team to come out of St. Louis—ever. They play tough shutdown D, using layouts judiciously but needing them only rarely. They use give-and-go cuts from the handlers and can jack it deep just as easily as they can cut under and take the 25-yard gainer. They can get it off the line effectively. They even have good fashion-sense (see Adidas uniforms). In short, they’re hell to coach against. When we play them, I always start to feel like the playing field has somehow gotten wider, and I think that’s a testament to the ease and creativity of Desmet’s attack. This year, I haven’t seen them play as a unit yet, and in fact, their league games keep getting rained out and forfeited; however, their JV team last year knocked off several varsity teams in the league, and I predict total dominance at the state championship this year. Since Desmet has not yet faced the other top teams in this division, though, much remains to be seen.

Francis Howell Central (3-0): My team. Best handlers I’ve ever had, each of whom can throw downfield effectively and has a quick first step to help move the disc around and get new angles of attack. Our success this year will again depend largely on how a few key recruits are able to contribute. If they go big, so will we. Good signs early, though, when, on a relatively calm day, we bested a very athletic Marquette 15-7, and although we lost the scrimmage 13-15, watching us outscore SLUH in the second half 12-7 also seems a good omen . . . but perhaps I’m partial.

Marquette (3-1): As I said, this is a very athletic team built around two senior handlers, one named Chase and one named “That other quick kid with the yellow cleats”. In the past, everyone on the team could break marks effectively; however, when I saw them two weeks ago, our zone defense was able to effectively cause many turns amongst the handlers. Still, they have some exceptional players on that squad, and let us never underestimate the potential impact of an angry stud.

Kirkwood (2-2): Coach Buck Schneider has told me that they are much-improved, but I didn’t really see much of them last year aside from the broken-down yet high-Spirited bunch we faced at the state championships, so I don’t have much else to tell about them this year. At that time, they barely had seven rumpled bodies to put on the line, but this year, they’ve already knocked off CBC & Clayton, while losing to Desmet & Marquette. This would seem to place them in the middle of the pack, but it’s an improvement from last year.

CBC (1-4): Veteran coaches Matt Reardon and Billy Downs bring a wealth of ultimate wisdom to this team, and I’ve never seen them fail to improve greatly over the course of the season, so it was no surprise to me when they posted a win over Clayton last week. As a result of this improvement, I am hesitant to say anything about their style of play, but when we saw them in week 2, people seemed to be jogging around a lot, not really 100% there, if you know what I mean. Look for them to surprise a team late in the season or at the state tournament who doesn’t take them seriously, though.

Clayton (0-5): Again, I only saw Clayton when we played them on March 8th in gale-force winds that were blowing from end to end of the field, so I didn’t learn much about how they play the game. I would have picked them as an early candidate for the spirit award (we had an awesome experience with them) were it not for the fact that they’ve had to forfeit a game. Even so, I will not make the same mistake as I did last year. I had written them off after watching FHC drown them 15-0 or 15-1 early in the season, only to watch that bunch of shirtless goofballs drag us up and down the field at states. Captain Julian Katz will always be a threat when he cocks back that monstrous forehand, so don’t sleep on Clayton, folks.

Red Division

SLUH (5-0): What can I say? Coach Eric Weiss has had these boys play 16 games to the rest of the league’s 4 or 5, and as you might imagine, it’s paid off! His team isn’t particularly tall, or fast, or have especially flashy handlers, either. No, where SLUH will get you is on the turn. Watch for the disc to shoot from the general cluster-smudge as if hurled from a medieval trebuchet, and watch for a single scout to already be booking it down the sideline. That said, the experience these kids have gained this year has them clicking as a unit, as well. I thought our cup zone was pretty tough, but SLUH shredded it, methodically swinging the disc, flooding our wings, and working the fast-break. But . . . .

Priory (4-0): . . . despite their lesser experience and slightly worse win-loss record, I pick Priory to win the Red Division over SLUH. They play SLUH this weekend, and it should be a killer matchup. As usual, the Jeromans’ attack features a slew of high-flying, balls-to-the-wall madmen who also happen to be some of the nicest, most articulate kids in the league when you see them on the sideline. It’s an impressive culture of competitive sportsmanship that Brother Alban, Brother Maximillian, and Matt Heiter have fostered over there, and I expect big things from the Priory squad. They looked a little rough when I saw them face FHC’s JV team—a lot of unforced errors—but if they’ve been improving, look out. Just one thing: Does anyone know what the heck they say when they break the huddle? Is that Latin? My team always thinks it sounds like a decimal: “0.151 . . . Jeromans!” Also, they make sweet highlight videos—see Youtube.

Desmet JV (2-2): Well, here we are again. What’s supposed to be a JV team is beating up on varsity squads. Howie, Pete! Leave ‘em with a little pride, please! Bested by Priory early in the season and defeated roundly by SLUH last week, though, it doesn’t look like they’ll challenge for the division. I haven’t seen them play yet, myself, but my fear of losing to a JV squad has me hoping they go 3rd or worse in this division!

Vashon (2-3): It’s tough to write about Vashon anymore. I’m weary of using the tired vocabulary we use to talk about teams with unlimited potential and minimal results. Raw athleticism . . . tall, fast . . . dangerous . . . dark horse . . . they all work, and you’ve heard it before. Coaches Ben Taylor of former Big River and OTP fame and league-organizer Chris Martens are undoubtedly working hard to help them improve, but they haven’t yet seemed to cross the divide between prospect and contender. For all that, though, the fact does remain . . . raw athleticism . . . tall, fast . . . dangerous . . . dark horse . . . stop me if you’ve heard this one . . .

Parkway North (2-3): Coach Chris Scribner and his slithering offspring anchor this swarm of really . . . really excited kids. They LOVE ultimate! After offing FHC’s JV team, nearly the entire squad hung around for over an hour to play pickup! And it was fun! When I watched them play, though, decisions seemed rushed and many bad choices led to turnovers all over the place. If they can bottle some of that unbridled energy, use the dump a bit more, work the disc a bit more, they have great potential to improve. Heck, that sideline of 20 kids shouldn’t hurt.

Chaminade (1-3): Truly, I’m at a loss to explain Chaminade’s 1-3 record. I watched them swamp FHC’s JV team 15-0 when they played half the game with ONLY SIX PLAYERS . . . and when they didn’t have six, they had ONLY FIVE PLAYERS! Connor Noyes of the Noyes dynasty in St. Louis juniors ultimate is the heart and soul of this group, from what I can tell. When you see him walking, you might not guess that this broad-shouldered young man can kiss the sky like Hendrix and has any throw he wants--he looks more like a defensive tackle to me. I get the feeling, though, that sketchy attendance is holding this team back and keeping them from gelling. When will they get it together and break out? Stay tuned, sports fans.

FHC JV (0-4): Not gonna lie, our JV team has had a tough go of it this year. They took 5 from Vashon and 4 from Parkway North, but that’s the best they’ve done. Plagued by problems with clogging cutters and drops, the kind of things that just take all the wind out of a team’s sails, the one bright spot has been our cup zone, which caused Priory fits and gave Vashon a tough time, too. Undoubtedly, they’re looking forward to the end-of-season crossover games so that they can be sure to see some competitive play.

So there you have it. As the State Championships draw near and the crossover games start happening, the competition will keep heating up. In case you didn’t know, the league’s been around for 5 years now, and we’re really starting to feed the local college programs and produce some high-quality players. Feel free to drop by the Yahoogroup (you must join first) to see the game schedule and come out to support the next generation of St. Louis ultimate talent.

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